§ (Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, Mr. Secretary Matthews.)
§ [BILL 385.] COMMITTEE.
§ [Progress 26th November.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
, in moving the following new Clause—No advance shall be made by the Land Commissioners to any one tenant purchaser in respect of any application made, after the passing of this Act, exceeding the sum of £2,000 in all,said, the clause was of some importance, and was, he thought, worthy of the attention of the Committee. The object of the clause was to limit the advance to any single tenant purchaser to the sum of £2,000 in all, representing roughly a rental of £100 a-year. Any tenant whose holding was worthless than £100 a-year would come under the general definition of a peasant proprietor, whereas a tenant at above £100 a-year represented a totally different class. This was not the first time he had moved the same Amendment. In the year 1885, when Lord Ashbourne's Act was in 329 Committee, he had moved what was practically the same Amendment, and after some discussion the Government assented to a limitation, and the right hon. Gentleman who now represented the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, accepted the Amendment which he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had proposed. As far as he could make out, this limit was, on the Report Stage of the Bill, raised from £2,000 to £3,000, and elsewhere, in the House of Lords, he presumed, the limit was got rid of altogether, and the Act finally passed without any limit whatever in this respect. In the Land Act of 1887 a limit of £5,000 was inserted for the first time. Now it appeared to him that by extending the limit beyond £2,000, which represented a rental of £100 a-year, they were giving the money to an entirely different class of tenants. His object in 1885, and his present object, was to limit the scope of that Bill to that which was its avowed and ostensible object—namely, the creation of a peasant proprietary in the true sense of the term. By "peasant proprietors" was generally understood a class of persons who cultivated the soil themselves and did not employ labourers. When they went beyond that class to the class of farmers they would find a class of tenants who employed labourers and who were a totally different class of men. The terms offered by the Act were so extremely generous that, though it might be possible to justify transactions under it in the case of small tenants, for a political purpose—namely, the creation of a set of bonâ fide peasant proprietors, yet he contended that such terms could not be justified when it was proposed to extend them to the class of large farmers paying beyond £100 a-year for the purpose of converting them into owners. The Government had now supplied the Committee with figures which showed what had been the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act, from which it appeared that there had been 200 advances of between £2,000 and £4,000, representing altogether a sum of £860,000. The advances below £2,000 had been about 8,000 in number, amounting to £2,430,000. It was quite evident that if a limit of £2,000 had been inserted in the Act of 1885, 3,000 more tenancies at least might have been created, and 330 that fact alone showed what the effect must be of making advances to the larger class of tenant purchasers. In other words the money advanced by the State went a very little way in regard to tenancies of the largest class, whereas it went a very long way indeed in creating peasant proprietors of the smaller class of tenants. It appeared from the Irish statistics that there were in Ireland about 100,000 of the small agricultural tenant class who were mere labourers, and not farmers in any sense of the term. Next came the class of small occupiers who farmed the land themselves and employed their own labour on the land, but did not employ labourers. These constituted the main body of the tenants of Ireland, and they numbered about 400,000, or, perhaps, nearly 500,000. Lastly came the larger farmers who paid a rent of more than £100 a-year, and of whom there were certainly not more than 32,000 in number, although they occupied a much larger proportion of the total area of Ireland than might be supposed, for he found that they cultivated two-fifths of the total area of Ireland, and paid a total rental of £3,900,000 a-year. If, therefore, it was desired to effect any material change in the condition of the occupying tenants of Ireland, a very large sum of money would go a very little way in converting the larger class of tenants into owners, while it would go a very long way in turning the smaller tenants into owners. No doubt, when they came to deal with the class of farmers who paid beyond £100 a-year rent they might raise invidious comparisons as between the condition of English and Scotch farmers on the one hand and Irish farmers on the other, and so give rise to difficulties hereafter. He was unable to understand upon what principle they could justify the use of English credit for the purpose of converting large tenants in Ireland into owners and refusing the same privilege to English and Scotch tenants, especially when in the case of the Irish farmer they had already given him the immense advantage of judicial rents, fixity of tenure, and free sale. In the case of English and Scotch farmers they had done none of these things, nor did he advocate that they should do them. Then, on what principle were they to give the Irish tenant the 331 further advantage of converting him into the owner of his farm on terms so extremely favourable as those provided by the present Bill? When the Bill was introduced he had mentioned a case in illustration of his argument, and, with the permission of the Committee, he would repeat it again, because it was certainly a very remarkable case. It was the case of a tenant in the North of Ireland who farmed 250 acres, and whose rent two years ago was £229 a-year. He went into the Land Court, and got a judicial rent fixed at £160—a reduction of 25 percent. The farm was then bought under Lord Ashbourne's Act, and he got an advance from the State of £3,000, his annual payment in respect of it being £120, or a further reduction of 30 per cent on the rent. Of that sum of £120, however, £30 represented the annual instalment payable as capital, and must be deducted in order to compare his real payment. With that deduction it would be found that the tenant was really paying £90 a-year for his farm compared with £229 which he paid two or three years ago. Such terms were extraordinarily profitable to tenants of this kind, and would make the mouths of the English and Scotch farmers water. He had no hesitation in saying that this tenant farmer, after getting his judicial rent fixed at 25 per cent below his previous rent, could have sold his tenant right for about £1,200, and after the passing of Lord Ashbourne's Act he could have sold his interest under that Act for another £1,000. In other words, the effect of Lord Ashbourne's Act on this purchase was to give to this tenant farmer something like £1,000. There were two instances mentioned by the noble Lord who was Member for the South Molton division of Devonshire (Viscount Lymington) in a letter which appeared in yesterday's Times. The noble Lord said that—On the Fishmongers' estate in Londonderry a tenant named David Craig bought two farms of 41 acres for £550 and of 61 acres for £539, and sold them for £970 and £1,280 respectively.And this might be done without the person who purchased and resold ever having become the occupier of the farm at all. In the case of the Fishmongers' Estate, the transaction resulted in a clear gift to the tenant of £1,160, 332 although he was only in occupation of the land for a few months. The effect of the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act was to give to a man who was not necessarily an occupying tenant, but a mere speculator in land, such large sums of money as those he had mentioned. There was only one other point which he would venture to bring under the notice of the Committee. It was this—that in numerous instances where large amounts were concerned there had been a bogus manufacture of tenancies, and it was against that practice that the second clause which appeared in his name on the Paper was directed. Numerous cases had undoubtedly occurred in which estates had been divided among sons and relatives for the express purpose of obtaining advances of public money at 3 per cent; and these wore things that ought to be put a stop to. They had occurred openly within the knowledge of the Land Commissioners, and no complaint had been made. There was one particular case which he would mention by way of illustration in order to show what went on. An owner of land in Galway, who held under a perpetuity lease, subject to a rent of £150, made an application to be treated as an ordinary tenant, in order that he might obtain an advance from the State to pay off the head rent. He was actually treated as a tenant under the Ashbourne Act, and was allowed to borrow £3,000 to clear off this perpetuity rent; and he was thus enabled to reduce the encumbrance from £150 to £90 a-year. Transactions of this kind ought not to be allowed, as they were altogether beyond the purview of the Act, which was to create a class of peasant proprietors, in the true sense of the term, and not to turn large farmers into yeomen owners. The same amount of money would create a greater effect the more it was confined to small tenants. In sums under £200 there had been advanced only £500,000, but the advances in sums above £200 amounted to £2,700,000. Practically, the bulk of the money had been advanced to the larger tenants, and the scheme could be justified only if it reached a proportionate number of the smaller tenants. He, therefore, ventured to move the Amendment. He had, he thought, inserted in the clause a higher figure than he ought to have 333 done. He had fixed the limit at £2,000, but he thought it would be better to fix it at £1,000. He had, however, adopted the higher figure in order to bring the matter fairly under the attention of the Government. The object of the Amendment was to restrict the advances, as far as possible, to the case of the smaller tenants, and to enable the multiplication, for political purposes, of the ownership of the land in Ireland. The establishment of a peasant proprietary was, he thought, the only principle upon which the grant was to be justified at all; and he, therefore, asked the Committee to insert a limitation.
§ New Clause (Limitation of Advances,)—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
said, the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman was no doubt an Amendment of importance—of great importance—but it was also one which had been discussed by anticipation on two or three other Amendments which had been brought before the Committee. Therefore, in what he had to say, it might be necessary to repeat, although he should only do so briefly, some of the arguments which he had formerly enforced. It was rather late in the day to speak of legislation for Irish tenants producing jealousy in the minds of Scotch and English tenants, because Irish legislation had boon based on the recognition of an essential difference between the condition of Ireland and that of England and Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have foreshadowed an opposite proposition.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that, of course, all would agree that if a disproportionate number of large properties were bought under the Act to the exclusion of smaller properties, that would be an unfortunate abuse of the powers given to the Commissioners. No doubt there might have been, at one time, ground for thinking that some such abuse would take place, but such fears had been dissipated by the actual ex- 334 perience of the last few years. Anybody who looked at the figures which appeared in the Report of the Commissioners would see that the number of large holdings which had been purchased was so few that they could not be regarded as an abuse. At one time the theory was that it was dangerous to go too far in the other direction, and the natural anxiety rather was that the smaller tenants should not be turned into proprietors. It certainly appeared to him that if any error had been made by the Commissioners it was in the number of very small tenants who had been turned into proprietors, and not in the large number of large tenants who had been made proprietors. He found, for example, that there were 2,000 cases of tenants of £100 in value and under. He apprehended that the value of a holding which was not worth more than £100 would not be more than £2 a-year.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
would accept the hon. Member's correction and say £5; but there were a large number of them. Then he found that there were 2,050 cases in which the capital value was from £100 to £200, representing a rental value of from £5 to £10 a-year. It would therefore be seen that more than 4,000 out of 8,000 cases came under the two categories he had described—namely, holdings of which the capitalized value was from £100 to £200. He did not think, therefore, that whatever other charge might be brought against the Commissioners that it could be truly said they had ignored the claims of the smaller tenants of Ireland. He had a further argument against the acceptance of the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman himself would admit that, broadly speaking, limitation was an evil, and that no limitation should be introduced into the Bill without strong reasons. In a Report made by a Committee of which the right hon. Gentleman himself was Chairman, that general proposition was distinctly laid down. He was quite aware that the right hon. Gentleman was not connected with Ireland; but he had laid down certain theories in regard to laud purchase to the exclusion of all others. It was quite clear that to let any class of occupying tenants in Ireland feel that they were 335 excluded from the benefits of a great legal measure would be to make them the centres of disaffection, discontent, and agitation. He had used that argument yesterday, and he repeated it now. There ought to be no exclusion unless there was a strong reason for it. He did not think that the right hon. Gentleman had given any strong reason in favour of it; and there were strong reasons against it. As was pointed out yesterday, it constantly happened that it was most desirable, for the sake of tenants, of landlords, of encumbrancers, and of the peace of a district, that a particular estate should be sold; and probably it could not be sold if any considerable body of tenants, or any tenant at all, were precluded from buying. Therefore, if by this Act Parliament said, "You shall not buy," the effect of that would be that the people who desired to sell and those whom the right hon. Gentleman desired should buy might be deprived of taking advantage of the Act by the limitation the right hon. Gentleman was anxious to introduce. Therefore, the result would be that, so far from benefiting, as the right hon. Gentleman desired, the small occupiers as contradistinguished from the large occupiers, he would inflict serious injury upon the small occupiers themselves. For these reasons he hoped the Committee would not accept the Amendment. He did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it was not desirable to create a proprietary with farms of the value of £100 a-year and more. He maintained that if we were to build up a strong social agrarian fabric, it would be madness to endeavour to exclude a particular class of owners. The idea of the right hon. Gentleman was a vast number of very small owners, a few very large owners, and a considerable intermediate area covered by large farms. Personally he did not think that would be the most desirable state of things. He should like to see rising up a hierarchy of owners from the smallest to the largest, but by deliberately excluding a particular class of farmers they would interfere with the realization of this social ideal. By excluding farmers with tenancies of from £150 to £200 a-year, so far from furthering the establishment of that social ideal, they would probably do serious mischief.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he thought the picture the right hon. Gentleman had drawn in the closing words of his speech was a fancy sketch not likely to be realized. The Ashbourne Act proposed to create a large number of small tenants, who were to become the owners of their holdings, and the right hon. Gentleman said the Government proposed not only to allow that principle, but also to allow a considerable number of large tenants to purchase their farms. Did not the right hon. Gentleman see that so far as they allowed large holders to become purchasers to that extent they would shut cut from the benefits of their legislation a still larger number of small holders? The result would be that the hierarchy would be top-heavy. If he allowed any large proportion of farmers who paid an annual rent of £200, the hierarchy would not be properly graduated, and would be likely to topple over. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) told them that 2,000 tenants of holdings under £100 a-year had purchased under the Ashbourne Act and 2,000 more under £200. On an average the rental of a holding sold for £100 might be taken to be £6, and £12 in the case of one sold for £200; and this remarkable fact was deducible from the Returns, that only £500,000 had been advanced in sums under £200, or, in other words, advanced for the purpose of purchasing farms with a rental under £12. What reply had the right hon. Gentleman made to the forcible arguments of the right hon. Member for Bradford in moving his Amendment. The advances to tenants up to £200 was only £250,000, and it meant an advance at an average rate of purchase under the Ashbourne Act of 17 years. It was these tenants which Parliament had in its mind when the Act was passed—tenants who were subject to pressure from the landlords, who were deprived of their right to turbary and were rendered helpless serfs. They were the men upon whom Parliament intended to spend the money; but how much had been spent upon them? Out of the whole sum of £5,000,000 there had been £500,000 advanced to them—just one-tenth of the money. Where had the rest gone? In order to show the utter fallacy of the argument of the Chief Secretary that they were creating a hierarchy, he wished to show what the 337 effect had been of allowing the large tenants to buy their farms. The number of them was small, but the amounts advanced to them were large. It appeared that 249 persons had had advanced to them sums between £2,000 and £4,000, or an average of £8,000, and had absorbed over £750,000; while 28 persons had had advanced to them sums of over £4,000, and had absorbed £112,000, so that 277 persons had appropriated £859,000, while all the tenants of Ireland whose rental was under £12—an enormous class—had only received £500,000. Would the Chief Secretary stand up and defend that? For the sum appropriated to these 277 persons—this favoured class of tenants—about 5,000 small tenants could have been assisted to purchase, and it was just these small tenants whom the Ashbourne Act was intended to benefit. He maintained that there had been something more than the perversion of an Act of Parliament, and that there had been a deliberate fraud upon the public. He felt sure that when the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury), who was sitting beside him, and other hon. Gentlemen opposite supported the Ashbourne Act in its passage through Parliament, it was because they thought that it would benefit the helpless and unfortunate small tenants who were in difficulties with their landlords. Had that purpose been carried out? He was glad that the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington was in his place, because he considered it to be not only the proper but the essential part of economy, when money was voted by Parliament, to devote it to the purpose for which it was intended, and not wastefully and uselessly expend it. It was all very well for the Chief Secretary to say that previous legislation had produced inequality, but that was no reason why the inequality should be exaggerated. The right hon. Gentleman should be mindful of the fact that the Public Revenue was not derived from a small class of the community, but from the consumption of various commodities by the people generally, and very largely from the wages of working men. It would be difficult to go upon a public platform and defend the system upon 338 which this money, extracted from the pockets of the working classes, had been employed in assisting, not men belonging to their own class, but the gentlemen farmers of Ulster in securing a larger margin of profit for comfort and even luxury.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
wished to say a few words from the English taxpayers' point of view. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said that any limitation in an Act of this sort was, in itself, a defect. But there could be no greater calamity than to pass an Act of this sort without a limitation. But the right hon. Gentleman appeared to forget that there was actually a limitation existing at this moment. The story which had been told by his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford as to the proceedings upon the Bill of 1885 was somewhat mysterious, which was solved neither by Hansard nor by the Journals of the House. When the Ashbourne Act was passing through its later stages his right hon. Friend moved an Amendment fixing a limit of £2,000. The Government accepted the Amendment, but struck out £2,000 and substituted £3,000. The question was put "that those words be there inserted." Hansard reported that they were so put, and there was no mention of their having been struck out in the House of Lords before the Bill received the Royal Assent. So far as Hansard went, and his right hon. Friend's recollection went, the House of Commons did insert a limitation, although it did not appear in the Act. But whether that was so or not, by the Act of last Session a limit was fixed of £5,000. Therefore the principle of a limit was admitted. It was considered to be wrong to make any advance in excess of £5,000. That brought them down to a question of degree as to what the limit should be, and to a question of degree only because the principle was conceded. He spoke in the interest of the British taxpayer, and he would like to know what justification there could be for the English Exchequer being asked to advance money to enable occupiers of land in Ireland to purchase their holdings? This was not proposed as a great political scheme; the Government did not demand the passing of the Bill as a great measure dealing with the whole 339 question of land in Ireland. If they did, other considerations would arise. It was proposed because it was said that social order was imperilled in certain districts in Ireland, and it was said that, in order to tranquillize these districts, the British Exchequer might well incur some financial risk, which the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington pointed out the other night. The noble Lord was prepared to risk to a limited extent in order to produce a beneficial result. That was a strong order to the English taxpayers to begin with, that they were to provide hard cash for the purpose of bringing about social improvement in Ireland; but he would concede that, for this purpose, such risk might well be undertaken. But it was not right that the money of the English Exchequer should be used for the purpose of enabling the thriving tenant-farmers of Ulster to buy their lands upon specially advantageous terms. If it was proposed to do this for Ulster, why should not similar opportunities be given to farmers in Staffordshire or Essex, where there had been as great agricultural depression and distress as in any part of the United Kingdom. They would only be too delighted to be told that instead of paying their rent in future they should pay so much less, and in 49 years the holding should be their own. He was not sure that they might not some day have to deal with the English Land Question on a very different basis from what they had ever done before, and for that purpose the credit of the State might sooner or later be evoked. But that was not the purpose of this Bill. The avowed and only justification of the Bill, unless it were to apply to the farmers of England and Wales, was that it was calculated to restore social order in the disturbed districts in Ireland. Social order was only disturbed in the districts where there were wretchedly small holdings of £3 or £4 a-year, which rendered it impossible for the tenant to pay his rent, and where agrarian disturbance arose from the constant friction between the tenants and their landlords. There was no agrarian disturbance caused by the condition of the large tenants, though it was to these that the bulk of the money already advanced had been applied. There was no agrarian disturbance be- 340 tween the large tenants and their landlords, and no agrarian disturbance in Ulster. He must express his opinion that the case of the London Companies was one of the most flagrant cases under this Act. They had put in a claim for money which, when they got it, they were obliged to reinvest, and had received between £400,000 and £500,000. This money had gone into the pockets of the City Companies in order to carry out an arrangement which there was not one shred of social disorder to justify. The advance of money by the State must rest on the question of social order, audit was very well known that agrarian disturbances and social disorder arose only in the case of the poorest tenants, whoso holdings were much below even a £2,000 limit. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary further stated that there was great disadvantage in being obliged to retain a landlord who was himself the centre of social disaffection. That was only another way of multiplying the social grievance. He intended to support the Amendment of his right hon. Friend. He failed to see upon what principle a large tenant, paying a rent of £200 a-year, could be entitled to an advance from the State for the purchase of his holding, and he hoped that the Chief Secretary, now that the principle of some limit had been conceded, would accept the limit of £2,000 suggested in the Amendment.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, he did not at all concur in the basis of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler). The main object of the Act of 1885 had not been to restore social order in Ireland, though if it had had that effect so much the better. That, however, he did not at all hold to be the main object of the Act. The State assisted tenants to purchase land for the purpose, as he understood it, of getting rid of what was regarded as an incumbrance on the land which rendered it altogether impossible to bring about the development and improvement of the land. For that purpose Parliament had felt ever since the passing of the Irish Church Act that, as far as the cultivation of the laud went, the so-called landlords had been reduced to such a position that the sooner they were bought out the 341 better it would be. It was absurd to argue that the object of the Government had been to restore social order in disturbed districts in Ireland. The operation of the Act must, by its nature, be a chance operation. The Government could not pick and choose, and say "Here is a district which is disturbed; we will give the power of purchase here; but there is another district which is not disturbed and there shall be no power of purchase." But if by chance purchase occurred in districts where there had been disturbance, with the result of producing a state of great tranquillity, then obviously the beneficial result of the Act had been proved. Having thought it right to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it was possible to hold a different view to that which he had expressed, he would now turn to the argument of the hon. Member for West Belfast. The hon. Member stated with some positiveness that it had been the general intention of the Parliament of 1885, understood in all quarters of that House, that the Act should be applied mainly to small tenants. He could not at all agree with that view. He did not think that the Government—and he could speak with some authority on the matter—had any such view before them at all. The object of the Act of 1885 had been purely experimental—an experiment both in regard to the small, the moderate-sized and the larger farms. They had desired to find out what would be the effect on Irish land and on social order of dispossessing the incumbent; what was the nature of the security the tenant farmers of Ireland would afford to the State; and what section would provide the best security. If a limit had been introduced into the Bill it was a mistake, and he altogether disagreed with the view of the right hon. Member for Bradford. There was no limitation contained in the Act of 1885.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I must explain. At first I proposed a limit of £2,000, but on the Report of the Bill 342 the Government agreed to accept a limit of £3,000.
LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILI
said, that his recollection was altogether at fault in regard to the circumstances referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. But it must not be supposed that it all took place pending a General Election. The Bill was as nearly as possible shipwrecked at the last moment, and it was only by a rapid agreement outside that the Government were able to pass it. He thought there were hon. Gentlemen opposite who would confirm that view. The Bill was passed for an experimental purpose, and any limits that were introduced were a mistake. The limit of £5,000 introduced into the Act of 1887 passed without opposition, and he did not see why they should now go back from the limit of £5,000 which was introduced in that year. Take the County of Limerick for instance. There was a considerable amount of agrarian disturbance there, and surely it was desirable that the tenants, many of whom were substantial farmers, should be placed in a position to purchase their holdings. That advantage ought to be retained in the present Bill. The evil was that by inserting too narrow a limit they might, in some instances, prevent an entire estate from being sold when it would be for the benefit of social order that it should be sold. He had made these remarks because he did not wish to be understood to be altogether in accord with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire,) Arfon
would suggest that there was one practical way of meeting the difficulty. There could be no difficulty in making a further addition to the Bill to provide that where a large portion of the same estate was sold to small tenants the Land Commissioners should not be debarred from exceeding the limit provided in the Bill for the sake of effecting the sale of an entire estate. Anyone who had been in the habit of crossing the Channel would be aware that most tenants who paid a rent of £200 or £300 a-year would, on becoming owners, at once set up as landlords, and smaller tenants took holdings from them. It had been shown in the debates on former Bills—especially in connection with the estates of Lord Portsmouth—that the most profitable farms for 343 peasant owners' cultivation were those which were rented at from £20 to £30 a-year. Such holdings could be worked to great advantage and profit. Why then, if the Government were not disposed to accept a hard and fast limit, should they not agree to the Amendment with a proviso to meet exceptional cases.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said, he felt bound to condemn the system carried out in some parts of Ireland by which the land had been allowed to come into the possession of large graziers, the original tenants having been driven out in the famine years—1846, 1847 and 1848. As there was nothing to cultivate on the mountain and bog land in which these unfortunate peasants had been compelled to take refuge, he feared that in some of the congested districts nothing remained but migration or emigration. Only last year a case was taken before the late Parliamentary Under Secretary for Ireland—Colonel King-Harman—where it was pointed out that in one of the most fertile plains in Ireland there was no tillage whatever worth calling tillage. The whole was originally held by 400 or 500 small tenants, who paid rents of £7 and £8 up to £10 a-year, but these men had been driven upon the hillside and the bog, and one of the first questions for an Irish Parliament to consider would be whether the land was to be held by large graziers or restored to the Irish peasants who had been deprived of it. It was an important question whether these people were to dispossess the graziers or were forced to emigrate to America and the Colonies. At the present moment the Irish landlord was merely a rent receiver, who performed no useful duty. What was wanted was that these large grazing occupiers should be got rid of and the land restored to the people.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, there was a common, but an erroneous, idea that a large sum had been spent upon the farmers of Ulster who did not need it. A great portion of the money had gone to one of the most troublesome districts in Ulster, which did not at all partake of the character of the rest of the Province, and was certainly not loyal to the Party in power. The Land Act of 1881 was chock-full of exemptions, and as he was 344 against all exemptions, he would not be a party to the setting up of new ones.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, he did not concur with the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington that the Act of 1885 was passed in order to get rid of the incumbrances which then existed on the land of Ireland. He was sure that Parliament would never have consented to pour out the money of the taxpayers of the country for the mere object of paying up incumbrances on the land; or, in other words, buying out the landlords. The Act was passed as a political movement with a view of restoring social order. The Arrears Act and other Acts dealt with the small tenants on the land, not with the largo tenants. With regard to the large tenants the Act had been very much abused. Last night he had mentioned a very strong case, which he would repeat, in support of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment. It was a case in which an advance of £5,000 had been made to a man who was not an old but a new farmer, who had come in, within the last 10 years, under Lord Ashbourne's Act, to purchase 300 acres, and this man was also in possession of another farm of 400 acres, another of 100 acres, and several others, amounting to about 1,000 acres altogether. To enable a person of that kind to add farm to farm—a man whom hon. Members below the Gangway would call a land-grabber—and who would be a landlord and not a peasant proprietor, was a great abuse. There was another case which he had some delicacy in quoting, because it contained a reference to an hon. Member who sat on the Opposition side of the House. He quoted it from The Times, which stated that, by a process of family arrangement, on one of the principal estates in the North of Kerry, that of Mr. Gunn Mahony, his brother, Mr. Pierce Mahony, had purchased a farm upon it and had become a peasant proprietor. He was by no means averse to an arrangement of that kind, for it might be that in many instances it was desirable to divide big estates, but what he did object to was that they should be divided at the expense of the British taxpayer. Some hon. Members asked why he should be so little careful of the money of the British taxpayer; why should he want to give 345 it all to the small tenants and not to the large tenants? If this were not a financial transaction which set aside all the ordinary operations of finance, he should certainly agree with his hon. Friends, especially if there was any real hope to get their money back again. But he confessed that he did not expect to see again the colour of the money which we were lending to the Irish tenants under circumstances which the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them did not amount to a justifiable financial operation. As we were advancing our money to Ireland at three per cent when other people would not advance it except at five or six or ten per cent, it could not be a sound financial operation, and we were advancing money which we should probably never get back again. It was only by applying the money to the purchase of small holdings in order to establish a broad basis on which the future prosperity of Ireland should rest, that they could attain the object they had in view. Home Rule must come sooner or later, and they must guard against throwing good money after bad. He was much opposed to this operation altogether; he was opposed to the advance of the money of the British taxpayer for experiments when he did not think we should ever get it back again. He regretted that the Government would not accept the Amendment, and said it certainly appeared that they had come to the determination of rejecting everything that might be proposed.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
said, that he had taken very little part in the debates on this Bill. On the other hand he had listened with great attention to the whole of the important speeches which had been made, both that day and on other occasions. He had risen now to make some remarks in reply to the observations of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) upon the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler). There were two arguments in the noble Lord's speech which struck him as requiring an early answer, and he was anxious to meet those two arguments or objections as well as he could. The noble Lord seemed to suppose that the Act of 1885 was the original Act under which the principle of advances by the State was 346 conceded by Parliament, and the foundation of the present policy, and that that Act did not aim at securing social order in Ireland, but at ensuring that landlords should, if possible, be men of substance, so that those unable to improve their estates should be got rid of. Perhaps the noble Lord would allow him to remind him, that the Act of 1885 was not the foundation of the present policy nor the original Act in which the principle of advances made by Parliament was based. It was the Act of 1881 which was the original Act, and the Act of 1885 made two not very large differences from the Act of 1881. According to the Act of 1881, which laid down in much detail the proceedings for these loans, only three-fourths of the amount required could be advanced to the tenants. The Act of 1885 merely amended the fifth part of the Act of 1881, and provided that the whole amount might be advanced on the principle of Part V. of the Act of 1881, with the further provision that one-fifth of the whole amount should be temporarily deposited with the Commission. They had, therefore, to go back to the Act of 1881, and the debates which took place on that occasion, if they wanted to see clearly what the object of Parliament was in enabling the tenants to make arrangements with their landlords. By referring to the debates of 1881 it would be seen that the promotion of social order was the main object of the policy then adopted by Parliament, and not getting rid of certain landlords who are not in a position to do their duty by their tenants and to improve their estates. The noble Lord had also fallen into another error which he would endeavour to point out. The noble Lord had spoken of advances to the tenants under the Act of 1885 as if it was contemplated and requisite that when such advances were made that the whole of the estate affected should be purchased.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I did not say that it was requisite under the Act, but what I said was, that it would be of advantage.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he thought he could show the noble Lord that just the opposite was the case. The Acts of 1881 and 1885 contained provisions for both purposes. There was a provision which applied to the case where the whole of the estate was to be purchased, 347 and there was a provision for advances being made, but the two purposes were kept quite separate under the Act of 1881. Both that Act and the Act of 1885 put it into the power of the Commissioners, under certain circumstances, to purchase direct from the landlord the whole estate where they were satisfied that there was a fair proportion of tenants, he thought three-fourths or four-fifths—[An hon. MEMBER: Fourfifths.]—coming forward to purchase back afterwards from the Commissioners. That power, as he had said, was initiated in the Act of 1881, but it was quite distinct from the power to make advances to tenants to enable them to purchase their rent from their landlords, and if the noble Lord would look at the Act, he would see that there was no suggestion in that part of the Act that purchase should be made by the general body of tenants. The purchase might be effected by a single tenant, the words of the Act being that the Land Commission should give certain facilities to "any tenant" who sought to take advantage of the Act. On the other hand, in purchasing an entire estate the Commissioners were to be satisfied that the greater part would be bought back by the tenants. The effect of these two different processes under the Acts of 1881 and 1885 showed that they had to deal with two states of things—with estates in which nearly the whole body of the tenants were prepared to become purchasers, in which case the Commissioners purchased the estate and then re-sold it, and also with cases in which there was no presumption whatever that any large body of tenants would become purchasers, but in which advances were made to a single tenant to enable him to purchase his holding. He hoped he had succeeded in showing the noble Lord that two utterly distinct and different processes were contemplated under these Acts. No inconvenience had yet arisen, and no unfairness to the tenants, if there was a general wish to purchase an estate from a landlord, although some of the tenants did not desire to come in, nor if only single tenants desired to purchase. There was ample provision to meet each case. He would pass, however, from that subject to another part of the question, with which he thought he ought to deal. He confessed that he 348 had been very much alarmed by a statement which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that night. A similar statement was made in the earlier stages of the Bill by the hon. Member for the Southport division of Lancashire (Mr. Curzon), who went so far as to use the word defrauded. The hon. Member said that both landlords and tenants would be defrauded, and injustice would be done if a body of landlords and tenants, being willing to sell and purchase, were unable to do so owing to the limitation of the total amount of money to be advanced by Government. That was of course only the opinion expressed by an unofficial person who had no connection with the Government. But that night they had had from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland a declaration practically to the same effect. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be very unfair if one class or set of tenants were allowed to purchase under the Bill and another class or set were not so empowered.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that what he did say was that where the landlord was anxious to sell and the tenant anxious to buy, there would be a sore feeling towards the small tenants, whom hon. Members wanted to benefit, in consequence of the limitation.
said, the right hon. Gentleman went further; he compared two estates, in one of which the whole of the tenants might have purchased, and in the other might hereafter be debarred because of the large size of their farms. He wished to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the result, state it as they would, came to this—that if they passed that Bill without such an Amendment as that which was proposed by his right hon. Friend, after that declaration from the Chief Secretary, and after the remarks that were so much applauded which came from so good a representative of his Party as the hon. Member for the Southport Division, they would undoubtedly lay down the principle that all the landlords and tenants in Ireland were entitled to the benefits of the Bill, no matter what sums might be required to give them those benefits. The result might be that they would have an agitation of a most dangerous kind, under which a claim would be sent up to the British 349 Parliament for an advance of the public money on the ground that by the principle laid down all landlords and tenants in Ireland were entitled to receive an advance from the public money which might not be restricted to £5,000,000, £10,000,000, or £20,000,000. In fact, any amount of advances might be demanded from Parliament without a shadow of security to the British taxpayer, who would have to provide the money. He hoped the Committee would pause before they allowed such a principle to be virtually adopted by the House. So far it had not been contradicted by any Member of Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, that if the argument of the Government was worth anything, it was an argument in favour of no limitation at all, and it would be better to take the £5,000 limit out of the Bill altogether. The noble Lord had mentioned a grievance which existed in connection with an a state in the County of Limerick, where, but for the £5,000, the whole estate might be purchased and great good done to the cause of social order. If that were really so it would be better to establish the £5,000 limit altogether; if the argument was of any value whatever it went the length of requiring that they should sweep the limit away and clear the entire deck. When they were discussing the Land Bill last year, and the position of town-parks, leaseholders, graziers, and residential holdings, they warned the Government that they were sowing the seeds of future disorder. What was their position now when they came to deal with the question of purchase? He thought the Committee had a right to expect from the Government something more than an absolute refusal. He would not object to the suggestion of the hon. Member for the Arfon Division of Carnarvon (Mr. Rathbone), whose moderation, he thought, ought to commend itself to the Government, and who had not taken, so far as he remembered, any very strong views with regard to the present Bill. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Carnarvon was that there should be some elasticity in the limitation—that there should be a £2,000 limit, unless the Laud Commission found that by introducing that limit the sale of some large estate would be prevented. If the Govern- 350 ment would accept an Amendment of that kind it would go far to smooth the present situation, but they would not accept it. Unfortunately they had taken up the view that they would accept no change whatever, not even a comma or a line in the Bill. If the Government wanted to prevent the sale of an entire estate by reason of a limitation of this sort, why did they hesitate to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member? By so doing they would put up a beacon-light to guide the Land Commissioners, to whom they would give some power of expansion. If the Commissioners in some important case possessed this power, which need not be exercised with the assent of the Treasury, he thought it would facilitate instead of shipwreck the entire transaction where it was desirable that such transaction should take place. He, therefore, urgently commended the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It seemed to him that the Government wore perpetuating a very vicious system by some of the purchases which had already been effected, because, as his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) had pointed out, if they sold a holding of 2,000 acres to a large grazier he would soon sub-let to the men on the bog and the hillside who had been driven from the low-lying land, and they would perpetuate the very system against which they had been struggling. What would happen was that the moment the Act passed the men who held the large grazing farms would try to obtain subtenants from among those who had been driven to the hillside, and the system which was now so much deplored would be re-established. He thought that men in that position should be put in a kind of patria potestas, so that their power of alienation without the consent of the Land Commissioners should be limited. In the same way, when the State was giving these large sums of money, some regard should be had to the interests of the country; and, with that view, some powers should be conferred upon the Land Commissioners to enable them to check any of the scandalous transactions to which reference had been made on that side of the House.
§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
said, he hoped the Government would see their way, in some degree or other, to accept 351 the principle of the Amendment. He thought that it would be an immense advantage to Ireland to establish a system for the creation of peasant proprietors. He understood that the object of the Bill was to encourage that system, and that it was not introduced in order to enable large farmers to buy up their farms. The adoption of such a principle would be a complete abuse of the understanding upon which the grant was made; and he, for one, would enter a strong protest against it. He thought they ought to clear the ground, and understand thoroughly what they were doing, and not make the provisions of the Bill so wide as to admit of transactions taking place which lay outside the scope of the Bill. It was not the business of the State at all to enable large farmers to buy their farms, although he held that, under certain circumstances, it might be a satisfactory thing for the State to encourage the question of peasant proprietors in Ireland on the plan adopted by the States of Central Europe. He maintained, first of all, that the State money ought not to be given for the purchase of large farms; but, at the same time, he was of opinion that it ought not to be given for the purchase of miserable small holdings upon which they could obtain no security for the repayment of the money advanced. They must employ other machinery for aiding that class of tenant. They could not advance the money of the State for the purchase of holdings that were only worth £1 or £2 a-year with any reasonable expectation of getting the money repaid. Nor was it desirable to advance money for the purchase of farms with a rental of £100 to £200 a-year. The suitableness of this system was confined to the intermediate class who held farms of from £10 to £30 and £40, and, possibly, up to £100. They wanted men with enough land to live upon, and they ought to prevent any attempt to subdivision after purchase. It was the business of the State to see that those men paid due regard to their own interests, and to prevent them from cutting their own throats. They wanted to do something for the benefit of the mass of the Irish people, and not for the landlords or the large farmers. Nor was the system suited for the miserable holdings in the congested districts. They were legisla- 352 ting for that large class of the Irish peasantry who could give ample security, for the money advanced, to the State. Schemes of land purchase were required not so much for extremely poor and helpless people as for the average tenants with holdings worth from £10 up to £50 a-year.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not propose to enter upon a survey of the last part of the debate, although he confessed that a great deal had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) to which he should like to reply. He had only risen to say that he could not withdraw from the position he had taken up with regard to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). The hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) had accused him of being absolutely unwilling to accept any Amendments on the Bill whatever, of ignoring all the arguments and statements that had been made, and taking his stand upon the absolute letter of the Bill. Now he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) did not admit the "soft impeachment." He certainly could not withdraw from the position he had taken in regard to the Amendment then under discussion, and he must express his adherence to the views he had laid before the Committee. He could not imperil the sale of estates which probably ought to be sold and which would not be sold if the limitations proposed were introduced, but at the same time he thought there was a great deal to be said in favour of the suggestion which had been thrown out by his hon. Friend the Member for the Arfon Division of Carnarvon (Mr. Rathborne) and which was supported by the hon. and learned Member for North Longford. If words could be drafted embodying that suggestion, he believed it would give both the elasticity which he desired to see and also impose limitation up to a certain point in accordance with the wishes of the right hon. Member for Central Bradford. To that extent he was anxious to meet the general view of the Committee, and the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland would submit words embodying the suggestion.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin Uni-
said, he had adopted the words of the limiting clause of the Land Act of 1887. The words he suggested were—No advance shall be made by the Land Commission to any one purchaser of land under the Land Law (Ireland) Act exceeding the sum of £3,000 unless in the opinion of the Land Commission the advance of such large amount, not exceeding £5,000, be expedient for the purpose of carrying out sales on the estate of the said landlord.He thought the less they had of a hard-and-fast line the better. By this Amendment, in administering the Act, the Land Commission would be bound, whenever any advance was applied for exceeding £3,000, to reject it, unless they thought that the advance was desirable in order to facilitate the sale of an entire estate.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
suggested that the sumof£2,000 should be inserted instead of £3,000. He had based the whole of his arguments upon a limitation of that nature. Subject to that understanding, he was quite willing to accept the words proposed by the Government.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that an advance of £3,000 would cover a holding worth £120 a-year. He maintained that that limitation was too high, and that an advance of £2,000, which would cover a rent of £100 a-year, was all that was necessary. Farms up to that limit might very well be left to the operation of the exception. He had already pointed out that 277 tenants had absorbed nearly £1,000,000 of the first advances by the State, while the whole of the small tenants only got £500,000 between them. Suppose, for instance, there were 20 farms on one estate, each of which required an advance of £3,000 to enable the tenants to purchase their holdings, surely it would be a scandal for the Land Commission to advance to so limited a number of applicants so large a sum as £60,000. His own opinion was that there should be a limit to the sum of money which could be advanced in any particular case.
§ MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.)
said, he was grateful to the Government for having accepted the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford. It was his impression that the worst security they could obtain was the security they would derive from establishing a new class of landlords in Ireland. He remembered the time when 354 very strong objections were entertained in Ireland to what were known as middlemen. It was thought that if they got rid of the middlemen Ireland would soon be in a better condition than she then was. But, so far as he could judge by the provisions of the present Bill, they were going to increase the number of the middlemen by creating a large number of small landlords. One of the most dangerous things connected with Irish affairs was the desire that they there had to acquire land and to connect themselves with the small gentry of the country. It took away many industrious people from various employments, and turned the mind of the country entirely towards land. If any system could be adopted by which peasant proprietors could be established in Ireland it was, no doubt, a very beneficial object. But if they wanted to re-establish the landlord system in Ireland, and to convert the tenants into landlords, they would run the risk of losing the money they invested, and it would be the duty of hon. Members on that side of the House to give every opposition they could to the new class of landlords they proposed to establish; and for one word that might be said against the landlords of Ireland ten might be said against the graziers, for the feeling against that class was much stronger in Ireland than against the landlords themselves. Why should they give money to the Irish graziers—a class of men who had destroyed agriculture as a science in the country? Why should they make advances to those men, while the industrious and energetic farmers in Scotland and England, who really gave employment to the labouring classes, and protected their business in such a manner as to promote the general welfare of the country, were altogether ignored? He failed to understand why the State should give money to middlemen to perpetuate the pernicious system of grass-farming in Ireland, while they refused any assistance whatever to the Scotch and English farmers who cultivated the land in such a way as to benefit every class of the community.
§ MR. RATHBONE
suggested that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford should accept the words proposed by the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland, on the understanding that if it did not carry 355 out the objects aimed at it might be amended afterwards.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he was willing to accept the proposed words on the understanding that £2,000 was substituted for £3,000.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he was not quite certain about that, seeing that £3,000 was the figure fixed in the Acts of 1881 and 1885. Parliament, therefore, on two occasions had accepted that as the limit. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would feel that he had made a considerable concession to him, and that he would not press him further, all the more as those who were practically acquainted with the working of the Act were of opinion that the figure of £3,000 would lead to a better result than that of £2,000.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he would accept the figure of £3,000, subject to an inquiry as to what the number of cases were in which advances between £2,000 and £3,000 had been made. If it should turn out in the Report that a large proportion of the advances were between £2,000 and £3,000, then he thought that the lower figure ought to be accepted.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
, in moving the insertion of the following new Clause:—(Prevention of colourable transactions.)No advance shall be made by the Land Commissioners in respect of any holding which has not been occupied by the tenant or his predecessors in title as a distinct and separate tenancy during the period of not less than five years,said, the new clause he had to propose was for the purpose of preventing the fictitious creation of tenancies in order to enable landlords and tenants to avail themselves of the Act. To some extent the alteration the Government had consented to make met most of his views, but he was afraid that in some respects it might rather tend to add to the number of fictitious tenancies against which the present Amendment was directed. There were two other classes of fictitious tenancies created under the system. He believed there were not infrequent cases where a landlord wishing to sell had broken up his demesne lands, dividing them among his sons and relatives, in order to enable him to get the benefit of purchase under 356 Lord Ashbourne's Act. Numerous acts of this kind had occurred, he believed, within the last few years. He could not say that they were fraudulent, because the Land Commissioners had full knowledge of what was done, but he called them fraudulent cases of tenancy for the purpose of gaining the advantage of the Act. The landlord wishing to borrow money at 3 per cent. instead of having to pay the higher rate he would be charged in the open market, had broken up his estate and let it colourably to his sons. He had then applied to the Land Commission for an advance of money, and had been able to obtain it at 3 per cent; whereas, if he had gone into the open market, he would be obliged to pay at least 5 per cent. Those were colourable transactions which he desired to put a stop to. As he had said, eases of this kind had been agreed to by the Land Commissioners with full knowledge of the circumstances, under the idea that they were in accordance with the spirit of the Act. The other cases to which the clause applied were those which would not come within the limit of £5,000, but where a tenancy already existed of more than the value of £5,000. Such holdings had been broken up and re-let so as to bring them within the limit, and enable the landlords, acting in combination with the tenants, to avail themselves of the provisions of the Act. He believed that cases of that kind also had not infrequently occurred, and, as he thought they ought not to be allowed, the clause had been so drawn as to prevent them taking place in future. He proposed to make a small alteration in the wording of the clause, in order to prevent another abuse. After the words "predecessor in title," he proposed to add "other than purchasers since the passing of the Act." That would prevent cases such as those which had been mentioned by the noble Lord the Member for the South Molton Division of Devon (Viscount Lymington), where land speculators had bought up tenancies for the purpose of getting them converted into ownerships and then releasing them at a great profit. He did not see what there was in the Act, as it stood, to prevent a landowner from doing that. There was nothing to prevent him from refusing to sell to the tenant, then compelling the tenant to sell to him, putting in a bogus tenant, 357 and then re-selling the holding; the Land Commission having lent money at 3 per cent for the purpose of facilitating such speculations. It was to meet those three descriptions of colourable transactions that he proposed the clause.
§ New Clause (Prevention of colourable transactions,)—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman in this clause had proposed a remedy which would go far in excess of the disease he alleged to exist, and he had given no evidence of the existence of the disease itself. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that there were cases in Ireland in which a landlord had cut up his estate into half a-dozen holdings and put in his sons, or other relatives, as bogus tenants; and having thus created three or four bogus tenants, he had then applied to the Land Commission for an advance of money under the provisions of the Land Purchase Act at 3 per cent to his own great personal advantage. Now he did not think that such a state of things really existed; and, if a case of the kind had occurred, it must have occurred through some error on the part of the Land Commissioners, which was to be remedied by a more rigid course in future, and not by a particular limitation suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. As a matter of fact, he did not believe that the Land Commissioners had been guilty in any respect of the carelessness with which the right hon. Gentleman charged them. The right hon. Gentleman told them that the Land Commission had lent themselves to those—what he called—colourable transactions, but what he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) called fraud. He could not believe that the Land Commissioners had been guilty of connivance in any fraudulent transactions of the kind. He believed that the statement was absolutely without foundation, and, that being so, he could not accept an Amendment which he considered to be based upon an error of what had actually taken place, and which involved the greatest slur, not only on the intelligence, but on the character of the gentlemen who had been engaged in administering the Act. Did 358 not the right hon. Gentleman see that his remedy, if adopted, would go much further than the disease he alleged existed? He wished to exclude from the benefit of the Act every tenant whose tenancy had begun in the course of the last five years. They had discussed in those debates the evils of limitation, the hardship inflicted by excluding classes; but was there ever a limitation of which those who were excluded had more reason to complain than this? Why was the man who had taken a farm within the last five years less worthy of consideration than another man who had held a farm for more than five years?
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, his Amendment did not say five years before the passing of the Act, but five years before the application of it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the point was this—why was a person who wanted to apply next January for a loan, because he became a tenant for the year preceding January next, to be excluded from the beneficial operation of the Act? He could not conceive any justification for the limitation. Very likely he might be a man who had made money in some other calling, and who wished to invest it to the best advantage. Surely such a man was the very person they ought to encourage, and whom they would desire to see established as a proprietor. He could not understand why he should be singled out for exclusion. For these two reasons—because the remedy was worse than the disease, and because the clause would have a tendency to exclude desirable tenants, he felt bound to oppose it, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not press it to a Division.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, he knew of one case in which an attempt had been made to create a fictitious tenancy; but the Land Commission refused to recognize it. The gentleman interested called upon him to complain of it as a grievance, and to state that he had a grudge against the Land Commissioners; but his (Mr. T. W. Russell's) reply was that the Commissioners had acted properly. What they had done in that case he believed they would do in others.
§ MR. SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
said, he regretted that the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) had not told the Committee what the case was to which he referred. He (Mr. 359 Sheehy) knew of cases in Ireland—in Galway and in Kilkenny—in which fictitious tenancies had been created. The cases to which he referred were of this kind—the tenant was evicted by the landlord, the landlord then introduced a caretaker, made him the bogus tenant, and then sold the holding to that bogus tenant under Lord Ashbourne's Act. He would give the particulars of one case, so that the Committee might understand the nature of the job which had been perpetrated under the Act. In the case he had in his mind the original tenant owed a sum of money to a person named Macnamara, and was sold out for the debt. Macnamara then put in an Emergency man as tenant of the farm and sold his claim to the tenant. Then, having got the money, he allowed the tenant to remain in possession for a year and then went away. Coffin was the name of the tenant. In this case he gave both the name of the landlord and the tenant, but he had not heard any name mentioned by the hon. Member for South Tyrone. The statement he had made related to facts which it was impossible to controvert. He might adduce other facts, if it were necessary, to show that it was quite possible to introduce bogus tenants and place them in possession of holdings, on the understanding that when one year had expired the tenant should apply to the Land Commissioners for power to purchase under the Act. In Galway he knew of a case where a distinct arrangement was made between the landlord and the incoming tenant that at the end of one year the tenant should be qualified as tenant to purchase. He maintained that those were not cases for which the Act of Lord Ashbourne was designed at all. The parties to the transaction were men in comfortable circumstances, and, if they wanted to purchase, were able to do so out of their own money without obtaining advances from the State. They had, however, taken advantage of the Act to create a sort of peasant proprietor which was certainly never contemplated when the Act of 1885 was passed. It was only right that the Government should accept this Amendment, if only to protect the interests of the British taxpayer. They did not wish that the Commissioners should become farmers or landlords of the property which was sold under their supervision. 360 What had absolutely occurred in certain cases was that the Commissioners had had to advertise for graziers, and, having failed to get graziers, the property had reverted to the original tenant. It was not known yet what was the amount of money the landlord and tenant, by their collusion, got out of the Commissioners. He did not charge the Commissioners with anything like collusion, and he believed the Commissioners tried to do their duty. They were bound by Act of Parliament to see that the land was worth the money advanced, but, if the Commissioners had discretion they might inquire into the character of the tenant. This, however, they were not required to do now, but were only bound to see that there was proper security for the money. What he and his hon. Friends complained of was that the Commissioners were not safeguarded; they were not given instructions in the Act by which they might conserve the public money, and by which such instances of bogus sales as he had mentioned might be prevented.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had kept back the names of the sellers and buyers in these oases, and hon. Members therefore could not supply him with as many instances as they might have been able to give him had they had the names before them. But they were not without some cases, and he begged to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a case which came before Mr. Justice Lawson and a jury in Dublin on the 12th of November, 1886, a case which illustrated the facilities with which the Act had been used for benefiting the landlord only. From the statement made in the case he found that a gentleman in Donegal, by the death of his brother, became the owner of certain lands. The gentleman created a tenancy in the farm by letting it to a neighbouring farmer at a rent of £65 a-year. Application was then made by the occupier to the Land Commission for the purchase of the land, and the Commissioners advanced money representing 20 years' purchase. Throe weeks afterwards the temporary tenant re-conveyed the land to the landlord, and he then succeeded in getting a loan on his own land at the ordinary rate of repayment by instalment. What answer 361 was there to a case of that kind, and that sort of case was no uncommon one? In his opinion this Bill, whatever other persons might think about it, was primarily intended to enable the landlords, who were now creating bogus tenancies, to sell the land. In other words, it was a last device of the Government for defeating the Plan of Campaign. The Lord Lieutenant, speaking at Belfast the other day—and the Chief Secretary had since repeated the statement—said that 160 farms had been re-let in Ireland recently. It was an extraordinary thing, however, that the Government would not give any information about these farms—where they were, or who were the persons who had taken them. He granted for a moment that some form of letting had been gone through in the case of these 160 farms; but he could readily understand the nature of the cases from specimens he would furnish to the Committee. They knew that a certain number of the 160 farms comprised the Coolgreany estate. They had it on the authority of Captain Hamilton, the ex-Secretary of the Property Defence Association, that 10 farms in that locality had been re-let. To whom had they been re-let? Why, to the very Emergency men who were paid so much a week for turning the old tenants out of their houses. One man, who had been created a tenant on this estate, had recently left the county of Kilkenny because he was not able to pay his rent. Another man had been created a tenant whose property on his holding consisted only of an ass and a goat. A Mr. Webster, who was so successful a Loyalist farmer in county Wexford that he could not pay his rent, had got a new farm in Coolgreany, and no doubt in a very few weeks he would apply for an advance under Lord Ashbourne's Act, and he would be installed as one of the new peasant proprietors. A man named M'Gowan actually came from the Gorey Workhouse in the very week he was employed by Captain Hamilton as an Emergency man. He, too, was one of the new tenants, and the Committee could imagine what sort of a tenant a man would make who, a week before, was so poor that he had to take his meals in one of the common workhouses of the country. Then there was the famous Emergency man Johnston. This man was the tenant not only of one 362 farm, but of two farms on the Cool greany estate. He was a man who was engaged in all the operations carried on by the Property Defence Association on the Plan of Campaign estates. When he became a tenant, Captain Hamilton said that he and all the other tenants on the property paid half-a-year's rent to get into possession. Now, what were the facts about Johnston, one of the champion tenants of Coolgreany? Johnston was examined the other day in a case tried at the Wexford Petty Sessions, in which a man named MacCarthy was charged under the Coercion Act with intimidating a certain person not to do a certain act. On that occasion he, upon oath, contradicted, point blank, Captain Hamilton, asserting that he paid nothing at all on coining into possession. He also stated that he paid his rent a couple of weeks ago to Captain Hamilton, but refused to state what the amount of the rent was. He admitted, too, on his oath, that he got no receipt. There was every reason to believe that all the tenants on the Coolgreany estate were bogus tenants; that they had been expressly created for two purposes—for the political purposes of right hon. Gentlemen occupying the Treasury Bench to show some need for their coercive policy; and for the second and more important object of enabling Mr. Brooke to be able to sell his property under the Ashbourne Act. Mr. Brooke had no other possible means of getting on; he had evicted his tenants, and there were no other genuine tenants in the neighbourhood, or in any other part of Ireland, willing to take the farms. The Protestant Colonists of the North of Ireland showed great unwillingness to come down as far as Wicklow or Wexford; but a few beggared Loyalists, some straight from the workhouse, and some of them possessing an ass and a goat a-piece, had been found in scattered portions of the rest of Ireland, and had been brought to Coolgreany, and installed under bogus lettings as new tenants, for the purpose of enabling them to apply to the Land Commission, a few weeks hence, for the sale and purchase of the land which could not otherwise be disposed of. If, in face of these facts, which he challenged the loyal minority sitting opposite to contradict, the Committee could sanction this Act without some power being 363 given to the Commissioners in the direction of preventing advances being made in support of bogus tenancies, all he could say was that the British taxpayer deserved to be swindled and plundered by the landlords of Ireland.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said, he hoped the Committee would abstain from forming any absolute judgment as to the character of the tenancies alluded to by the hon. Member (Mr. Clancy) until they got other and possibly more accurate information. He was perfectly well aware that the action of Mr. Brooke on the Coolgreany estate was a very sore point with hon. Members opposite. He did not suppose he would be in Order if he were to go into the ease; but as the hon. Member had alluded to bogus tenancies the Committee should remember what class of tenants they were whose places these Protestant tenants took. They were well-to-do tenants. There was very little difference between the rent asked by the landlord and the rent fixed by the Plan of Campaign, and yet the tenants were now beggars on the roadside. [Cries of "Not beggars!"] Well, they were living in Land League huts, and that was worse than being beggars. Let him pass now to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). He could not conceive how the right hon. Gentleman obtained his information in regard to the action of the proprietors of demesnes; the right hon. Gentleman must have consulted some friend with an ingenious mind, in order, between them, to devise a way by which Irish landlords could defraud the State, and had arrived at this probable solution; for undoubtedly the case he cited would be a case of fraud. The Committee would see that, if the Commission were worth anything at all, it must be trusted to refuse its sanction to any such transaction as the right hon. Gentleman contemplated. No case had been given in which an Irish landlord had deliberately set to work to defraud the State by dividing his demesne among his children and then getting money under this Act. He (Colonel Saunderson) hoped the Committee would see there was ample protection afforded by the Commission itself being able to discriminate as to cases in which advances should be sanctioned and in which they 364 should be refused. He could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a deliberate reflection upon the Commission. Without giving the slightest shadow or shade of ground for the accusation, the right hon. Gentleman had deliberately accused the Commission of collusion with the Irish tenants to defraud the State.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said, that it was within the recollection of the House that the right hon. Gentleman said that the landlords of Ireland sold their demesnes under these circumstances, and that the Commissioners were perfectly aware of the fact. He conceived that if that were true the Commission was absolutely unworthy of the confidence of the House of Commons and of the country. He repudiated, in the name of the Irish landlords and of the Land Commissioners, the insinuation that they had been guilty of any such fraudulent transactions. He trusted the Committee would reject this proposal, which was absolutely unnecessary.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, that the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) was likely to make those Members who were already anxious about the financial operation of the Bill still more anxious. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the Coolgreany estate, and, as far as he (Sir George Trevelyan) could gather, there was no difference of opinion between hon. Members as to the essential thing that had happened on that estate—that was to say, that a very considerable number of genuine tenants had left the holdings, and that their places had been taken by temporary men.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, that the former tenants were men who had been on the land a very long while, who had made their living as farmers, and who understood the business of farming. The places of these men had been taken by tenants who had been on the land, at any rate, a very short time. Now, he desired to ask the Government whether the Commissioners were empowered to inquire into any other matter 365 beside the question as to whether the land was security for the loan? He was sure the Government would see the extreme importance of the answer to that question. Were the Commissioners empowered to inquire into the question as to whether the tenants were really genuine farmers, and whether they were possessed of capital? Because, if the tenants were not, it might happen under the Bill, unless they provided by an Amendment that it should not happen, that a man without capital, who did not seriously intend to continue the calling of a farmer, might obtain one of these holdings on very favourable terms, and then, after a little while, sell it at a good profit. He might sell it at such a price that the next tenant, instead of being of that class of tenants whom they hoped to get under the Bill—namely, a man holding at an exceptionally low rent, would, in consequence of the large sum he had given for his holding, hold at a very high rent. The consequence would be that instead of being a good tenant for the State he would be a bad tenant, and a tenant who might be on the very verge of insolvency. Unless the Government could assure them that the Land Commissioners were empowered to inquire into the capital of the tenant, into his being a genuine farmer—unless the Commissioners were not only empowered, but considered it their duty, to make that inquiry in all cases where there was a new tenant—he could not see any reason whatever which any of them could give for not voting for this Amendment.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET) (Dublin University)
said, it was the practice of the Commissioners to send down Inspectors whose business it was, in every case, to inquire not only into the nature of the holding, but also into the position of the tenant who proposed to buy, and to satisfy themselves of the solvency of the tenant. The Land Commissioners had already rejected a great number of applications upon the ground that the tenant was not a solvent person, and in other cases they had actually taken sureties for the payment of the instalments. In the case of a tenant who had been holding since 1885 only, the Inspector required the tenant to make an affidavit to the effect that the contract of tenancy 366 under which he held was such as would enable him to enforce it in law.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he had been challenged in regard to his statement. He admitted he was unable to give any specific name, but from the information he had received he had not the smallest doubt that landlords had let their land to one or more sons, and that then, immediately afterwards, the sons had applied under the Land Purchase Act for advances converting them into owners, and that the Land Commissioners, with a knowledge of the facts, had granted the applications, and the loans had been obtained. It was his deliberate conviction that, if a Return were given showing the names of the landowners and purchasers under the Act, it would at once appear that these transactions had occurred. He did not say they were fraudulent; the tenants might be bonâ fide tenants; but, still, what he stated was done for the purpose of obtaining advances from the State. Such transactions ought not to be permitted, and it was with a view of preventing them that he had framed this clause. This was only one class of the transactions he had complained of. He had mentioned two other classes. In the first place, he had pointed out that tenancies above £5,000 in value had been broken up into two or more tenancies in order to enable the subdivided tenancies to come under the Act and obtain advances. [Cries of "Why not?"] There was a practical limit in the Act of £5,000, and for a tenant to break up a £5,000 tenancy in order to get advances in respect to sub-divided tenancies was against the spirit of the Act. Furthermore, he objected to seeing big speculators buying up tenancies for the express purpose of re selling at larger prices. The only way to prevent such a condition of things was to give some limit of time within which the advances should not be made. There should be something to show that a bonâ fide tenancy had been created before the application was sanctioned. Some hon. Members had raised the question of evicted tenants; he did not enter into that question, because he did not think it necessary to do so. He did not believe that any case had yet occurred in which the tenant of what was called an evicted farm had obtained an advance, 367 and he did not think it was very likely that one would. If it was necessary to argue the matter, he would say that a tenant who had come in under such circumstances was not of the class intended to be benefited. He came in as a future tenant under the Land Act, and was not a dual owner, and therefore would not be in the spirit or purview of the Purchase Act.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, he rose merely for the purpose of stating to the Committee the law with reference to the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). The right hon. Gentleman had suggested that a holding of the value of £5,000 might be split up into several parts, and a larger advance obtained in consequence of that process. The Legislature had, however, made it impossible for any such thing to be done, because under the 17th section of the Act of last year no advance over £5,000 could be made to any one purchaser. The total amount receivable was, therefore, fixed by law. Where tenancies created since 1885 were brought before the Commissioners, they not only sent down Inspectors in every case, whoso duty it was to inquire into all the circumstances of the tenancy, but they further required evidence upon affidavit, not only as to the circumstances of the tenancy then existing in the holding, but going back and tracing the history of the tenancy. This was for the purpose of preventing bogus tenancies, by which he understood colourable tenancies—not substantial and real tenancies. What they wanted to guard against were tenancies which were not real tenancies at all, but colourable tenancies. Experience showed that they could not guard against fraud by any hard-and-fast rule; they must trust some judicial tribunal to go into the transaction and unravel the fraud, if it existed. The only thing that could be done in this matter was to trust the Land Commissioners, and let them, as they did now, in the exercise of their judicial discretion, examine into the circumstances of the cases.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, that although he had an Amendment also down on the Paper dealing with this subject, he wished to express his agreement with the hon. and gallant 368 Gentleman the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson), that no one would think for a moment that any of the Land Commissioners would lend themselves to the creation of bogus tenancies. His concern had been solely in regard to evicted tenants, and he thought the Government might accept some Amendment whereby, instead of all these transactions taking place in camerâ, or in the dark, the public should see what was going on. When a man applied for money, why should not his application be advertised in the local papers? If it was, there would be some guarantee as to the bonâ fides of the application. The Government had now told them for the first time what it was the Inspectors did. He was glad to hear the statement made in that behalf, but the Government had not yet said whether they had any objection to providing that, if the Commissioners were satisfied that the persons pretending to be tenants and desiring to buy were not desirable tenants in their opinion, the Commissioners should be debarred from lending the money. What he feared in this matter was administrative pressure. The cases of evicted farms had been mentioned, and he thought that it would be very satisfactory to the House and to the country if the Government would say that on this point there was no scheme in operation by which, having got rid of tenants who for the moment were in dispute with their landlords, Protestant Emergency men from the North of Ireland should be planted on the farms at the fearful risk of disorder and bloodshed. It would be very calamitous for the working of this Act if any such idea were in the mind of the Government. He and his hon. Friends believed that the gentlemen who now formed the Land Commission would not be parties to any such transaction, but they knew also that the Government did not intend to give these gentlemen permanent tenure of their offices. They knew that the Government intended to put upon the Commission Mr. Wrench, a noted member of the Kildare Street Club, who practically governed Ireland in respect to the Land Question from the Kildare Street Club. If the Chief Secretary had any idea of backing up Lord Lansdowne, or Mr. Brooke, or Lord Massereene, or any other 369 gentleman of like description, in creating colourable tenancies on their estates, he (Mr. T. M. Healy) feared for the peace of the country. He would like to have from the Government a distinct statement that this Act was not to be run as an anti-Plan of Campaign movement for the purpose of installing Emergency men as tenants in the holdings. They heard a great deal about outrages committed in recent years being absolutely unknown in former days, and that they were entirely due to the action of the Land League. If any gentleman, however, would take up the work on this subject by Mr. A. M. Sullivan—a gentleman much respected in the House of Commons, and well known for the moderation of his views—he would have his eyes opened as to what would be possible if anything like what he feared happened. Mr. A. M. Sullivan showed that Lord Norton had recourse to a considerable eviction of his Catholic tenantry, handing over the farms to Protestant new-comers, with the result that murder was a common occurrence. What he (Mr. T. M. Healy) and his hon. Friends were as desirous of as any hon. Gentlemen opposite was the prevention of calamities of a similar kind. They were anxious to know that the Government were not going to turn the Act into a means of helping landlords like Mr. Brooke and Lord Massereene to set up in every little village social ulcers or festering sores, which was bound to be attended with disastrous results.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he had no hidden design in his mind in this matter. The Commissioners were to see that the money was applied under the Act in making bonâ fide tenants, and he had no doubt that that would be done.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) seemed to think that it would be impossible for more than £5,000 to be paid for one farm. What was to prevent the landlord and tenant from agreeing to sub-divide a farm, breaking it up into four different tenancies, and obtaining £2,000 in respect of each tenancy, bringing in in all £8,000?
§ MR. MADDEN
said, that the Act of Parliament prohibited such a proceeding. No one purchaser, no matter how many farms he had, could get more than £5,000.
§ MR. SEXTON
asked, if the Act of Parliament prevented a tenant putting 370 two or three of his sons into bogus tenancies on the farm?
§ MR. MADDEN
said, that that was altogether a different question. The two questions could not be mixed together.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that the two questions from the point of view of this charge were just the same, because the intention of the law was to prevent more than £5,000 being paid in respect of any one farm. If the tenant of a farm costing more than £5,000, with the assent or collusion of the landlord, created subtenancies, putting one of three sons into each of them, there was nothing to prevent the four persons getting £2,500 each, and, therefore, obtaining £10,000 for a farm instead of £5,000. The Solicitor General for Ireland must see he was hair-splitting when he argued that no more than £5,000 could be given for one farm. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) said something that was very interesting and new. He told them that when the Commissioners were considering whether or not they should sanction agreements they sent down Inspectors to inquire into the salary of the tenants, and often to go so far as to require the neighbours to give bonds. It was exceedingly strange that they had not heard of this before. Personally, he heard the statement with great satisfaction and pleasure, and he should be very glad if that line of action were embodied in the Statute and did not depend upon the discretion of the Commissioners. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) had accused the Mover of the Amendment of charging the Commissioners with misconduct, and had stated that the Commissioners were able to discriminate in cases brought before them. It was just because the Commissioners were not able to discriminate that the Amendment would be pressed, and ought to be accepted without any imputation of fraud on the Commissioners. Why had none of the Members of the Government referred to the specific case of fraud which had been cited? The Chief Secretary for Ireland complained of a lack of information. If the right hon. Gentleman desired information, why did he not induce the Commissioners to prepare a Return of the 1,000 landlords whose estates had been sold, and of the 14,000 tenants 371 who had bought their farms? The right hon. Gentleman had known since last July that this Bill was to be brought in, and therefore his complaint as to the lack of information was groundless. If the Return he had mentioned had been presented, they could have supplied hundreds of cases in which deliberate collusion and fraud had not only been attempted but executed upon the money of the State. What reply had been made about Taylor in County Limerick, who held under Macnamara? Taylor was evicted, and the landlord put in a bogus tenant. As soon as the landlord had pocketed the money advanced under this Act the bogus tenant disappeared. This was an example of the power of the Commissioners to discriminate. The landlord having pocketed the money of the State the Emergency tenant disappeared, and the Commissioners, having endeavoured to procure graziers, were now obliged to give back the farm to the original tenant acting as their agent. It would be very interesting to know how much was advanced to Macnamara in respect to the transaction; and, in the second place, to know what the Commissioners were now receiving from Taylor, the original tenant? Why had they heard nothing of the case in Donegal, if the Commissioners were so effective in protecting the interests of the State? A landlord induced a neighbouring tenant to become nominally tenant of a farm, and then to go before the Land Commissioners and obtain an advance to buy the farm on 20 years' purchase of a very high rent. Obviously that was a fraudulent transaction. The Land Commissioners, in spite of all the care they took according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), ratified the contract. They paid over £1,040 to the bogus tenant; the bogus tenant re-conveyed the farm to the landlord, and there having been no real tenant of the farm, the landlord had not only got back the farm, but had pocketed £1,040 of the money of the State. Was this kind of flagrant humbug to go on all over the country? The Government had kept very clear of the Coolgreany matter. The tenants who had made the most there, and whose families had been for generations in possession of the farms, had been turned out, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Mem- 372 ber for North Armagh chuckled over their misery. The farms had been re-let, but to what kind of people? The farms were now let, not for the purpose of agriculture, but for the purpose of finance. What security was there that when the Land Commissioners came to inquire into the question of purchase and sale between Mr. Brooke and these bogus tenants they would inquire whether the men were solvent persons, or agriculturists, or whether there was any prospect of safety to the State in the transaction? The Chief Secretary had carefully refrained from dealing with the information placed in his hands. Public policy demanded the adoption of this Amendment, because, unless some limit of time was placed on the creation of tenancies, the landlords would pursue the policy they had hitherto pursued. They would, by every device, endeavour to induce the tenants to assent to exaggerated terms of purchase. Failing in this attempt, they would evict the tenants and induct into the farms bogus tenants, and through these means financial contracts would be entered into disastrous to the State.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)
said, that, as he understood it, the real meaning and object of this clause was to put a penalty on evictions. From the moment a farm was left derelict, if this clause became law, they would create a new penalty, because no tenant taking the farm could, for five years, buy it under the Act, It was not in the interest of the State that this should be the case, and, therefore, he protested against the adoption of the Amendment.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, that the hon. Gentleman's view was quite erroneous; indeed, what the hon. Gentleman had said showed what absurd and impossible arguments would go down with some hon. Members of the House, who would not take the trouble to inform themselves upon questions before the House. As a matter of fact, not a single reason had been urged against the adoption of this clause. So far as he could understand, it had been urged from the Treasury Bench that there was no need for this Amendment, because the Land Commissioners would carry it out. Why should they not, therefore, put it in the Act? If they had no objection to the principle of the Amendment, why not adopt it and end the 373 discussion? The adoption of the Amendment could do no harm if it did no good, while it certainly would be a guide to the Commissioners. He was astonished to hear the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) treat as a light matter the point put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford as regarded the splitting up of large farms into bogus tenancies for the purpose of purchase. This splitting up of large farms was a matter of notoriety in Ireland. In the earlier days of the working of the Purchase Act it was done constantly and openly, and the Commissioners in Dublin were aware of it. In some instances it had been done upon an enormous scale. By that operation of dividing a farm into tenancies among brothers and sons, a man had got advances much beyond what was contemplated; he had utterly defeated the intention of the Act of Parliament. Men, who, in some instances, were extremely well off, and in the enjoyment of large incomes, had increased their incomes considerably in this way. That was an abuse which would be removed by the adoption of this Amendment. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) repudiated, in the most indignant way, the accusation that landlords in Ireland were in the habit of creating bogus tenancies. He (Mr. Dillon) was personally aware of cases in which landlords had let their home farms to members of their own families, and in that way obtained large advances from the State. Of course, the agreement for purchase in such cases was naturally fixed as high as the Commissioners would tolerate. [Mr. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.): Has this been done in Ulster?] He was not always talking of Ulster; he was speaking now of abuses which were perfectly possible under the Act, and which had occurred. What he could not understand was that the Government, in the face of this abuse, should refuse to accept an Amendment which could not possibly do any harm. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) stated just now that it was the practice of the Commissioners to send down agents to inquire whether the tenants were solvent, and to ascertain other particulars regarding their position. That might have been the practice of Commissioners quite recently, but he doubted whether it had been the prac- 374 tice for any long time. A very interesting case had come to his own knowledge—the case of the sale of a large estate in Louth. It was an estate enormously rack-rented, and coercion was brought to bear upon the tenants to buy. A disagreement had been going on between the landlord and tenants; some of the tenants were evicted, and on one of the evicted farms an Emergency man was placed. It was notorious that he could give no security for an advance, but he (Mr. Dillon) was informed that the Commissioners would unquestionably have made an advance to the man had it not been for the intervention of the secretary of the local branch of the National League. This gentleman, seeing the gross outrage which was being attempted, wrote to the Commissioners in Dublin informing them that this was a case of a bogus tenancy, and that really the man ought not to get a loan. The Commissioners, very properly, entered into correspondence with this horrible ruffian, the local secretary of the National League. They found his story was true, and they refused the loan. That was the true history of what occurred. These men had escaped imprisonment—at any rate, up to the present time they had escaped it. But he was perfectly confident that, in many parts of Ireland, men would have been seized upon and thrust into gaol for intimidating the Emergency man, had such a thing happened there. He pointed this out to illustrate most forcibly, first of all that the Commissioners could not be trusted of their own motion and initiative to ascertain who were the proper tenants to lend money to, inasmuch as in the case to which he referred they had never taken steps to find this out until they had been put in motion by the secretary of a local branch of a popular organization; and, secondly, he mentioned these facts to show that in those parts of Ireland where the tenants were most in need, the Land League, which the Government were endeavouring to extirpate, was the only means by which the interests of the farming classes could be looked after and brought to the notice of the Commissioners in Dublin. Unless the poor people of the West of Ireland had some organization to which they could look in order to have their views and interests represented, how was it possible for 375 them to bring under the notice of the Commissioners any such facts as those he had alluded to? The instance he had given the Committee clearly showed that it was not right and safe to leave the Commissioners to their discretion without directions from the House in the carrying out of these most important and vital proposals in the administration of the Act. And now he desired to say a word upon the question of evicted farms. He was very much afraid that in the distribution of these £5,000,000 the question of evicted farms would come to be a very burning one. They had been informed through several channels of late that attempts were being made to colonize these evicted farms by Colonists from Ulster, and his conviction, based upon considerable experience, was that they would not get any decent, respectable farmer from Ulster to come down and take evicted farms in the South. His opinion was that the men they got to take these farms were landless men who were without capital, and able to face any risk. They were led to believe that they were going to face risk in taking these farms, and no doubt they were. They were men without substance, for no respectable farmer who had land of his own, or who had any experience of land, could be found to do as they did. What were the facts as regarded these farms? They had in Ireland at the present time, in the three Southern Provinces, at least 6,000 evicted farms, and they, therefore, had to face a question of considerable gravity and size. They had large estates like the Vandeleur Estate, the Clanricarde Estate, and the Brooke Estate, where great bodies of tenants were evicted, and where they were informed that an organization was on foot for the deliberate purpose of planting whole tracts of the country with Protestant Colonists brought from other parts of the Island. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, and wished to ask him whether he expected that a policy of that character was going to bring peace to the Southern counties? And he wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Executive Government in Ireland or the Land Commissioners were going to lend the money of the State for the purpose of planting these Colonists in place of the original population of the country, with 376 the inevitable result that so long as they remained there a condition closely bordering on civil war would prevail over the whole of these districts? What was to be the upshot of this policy? Was this the purpose for which Parliament was called upon to vote the money of the nation? Would anyone tell him that if the people of England understood to-morrow that their money was being voted for a purpose like this they would assent to the spending of a single shilling of this £5,000,000? He did not believe it. They were told that the object of spending the money was to endeavour to bring peace and contentment to Ireland. Was this the way to bring peace to Ireland? A more disastrous policy for a Government who wanted to pacify Ireland he could not conceive. If the motives of the Irish Members were such as the Government declared, they would be delighted to see a policy of this kind carried out, not because it would do any good, but because it was one which could only lead, the longer it was carried on, to greater confusion, trouble, and turmoil in these Southern districts. But the Irish Members were anxious for the peace and prosperity of their country, and they, therefore, deprecated this policy. The Committee he thought, was entitled to know what the Government were about, and to have an answer, before they passed this particular section, as to whether they contemplated in their resistance to this provision, the case of the evicted farms, and whether it was their deliberate intention that a portion of this £5,000,000 should go to the planting of the Vandeleur and Clanricarde estates with Colonies of Protestants? The great nobleman who lived here at the Albany had announced it as his deliberate purpose to extirpate 1,200 families from his estate, and to plant in their places a colony of people from other districts of Ireland—protected by the police; and this nobleman would, no doubt, effect his purpose, as he had the finances which were necessary, and was in expectation of assistance from the Government £5,000,000. He (Mr. Dillon) thought the Committee was entitled to some definite answer as to whether they would permit any part of the £5,000,000 to be voted to such a purpose. Moreover, hon. Members were entitled to have some answer from the 377 Government from a different point of view from that of the peace and prosperity of the Southern and Western districts of Ireland, because it could not be imagined for a moment that they were lending on good security when they were lending money for the purchase of evicted farms. He openly challenged anyone who was at all acquainted with Ireland to prove the contrary of his assertion when he declared that the only men they would be able to get to take evicted farm were landless and poor men. There was no instance to the contrary within his knowledge, and he had had great experience upon these matters. These people, if allowed to purchase farms, would not be able to pay their instalments—they would not have the capital to cultivate the land, and in a year or two they would collapse. When this happened, who was to take their places; who was to come in and buy the farms and pay the instalments? Who was to be responsible to the State for the money advanced when the Commissioners found it necessary to put up these farms for sale? He maintained that if this policy was entered upon it would not only be a premium upon eviction, it would not only plant in the centre of the Southern and Western districts a festering sore which would render peace and prosperity impossible for miles round; but it would involve the utter breaking down of the whole system of purchase contemplated in the Bill. The ultimate result would be that the Government would find themselves in possession of large tracts of land which they would be unable to dispose of.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
said, it was a matter for great surprise that after the assurances given by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden), and the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket), the Chief Secretary should have done nothing to meet this Amendment half way. What did the assurances to which he referred amount to? They amounted to this—that Inspectors were sent down under the auspices of the Land Commissioners to carry out this work to the best of their ability—that was to say, to inquire into the solvency of the tenants and the circumstances connected with each tenancy. Surely, if investiga- 378 tions were carried on now, it would be far more satisfactory to all concerned if the duties of the Inspectors were put down in the Bill in black and white—if a declaration were embodied in the measure as to the duties of the Inspectors, so that they might know exactly upon what principle they had to go? The sum they were voting in this Bill, great as it might appear, was only a drop in the ocean compared with what would be required to purchase the whole of the land of Ireland, and he could not conceive any policy which would be more injurious alike to the interests of England and Ireland, if, instead of this money being used to set up a peasant proprietary in the sense of men who owned the land they tilled and tilled the land they owned, and purchased their tenancies with the object of getting a living out of the land—he could not conceive anything more injurious than that this £5,000,000 should be devoted, not to the object of satisfying the cravings of a legitimate land hunger, but for the purpose of creating a sort of fever in land speculation, or of planting colonies of Emergency men. He trusted the Government would do something to meet this Amendment half way, instead of resisting it in the manner in which they had resisted it hitherto.
§ MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
said, he thought it well that the Committee should understand that whenever any of these Acts had been passed for the expenditure in Ireland of public funds, or, for the matter of that, in England or elsewhere, a great many ingenious minds at once set to work to see how they could get behind the Statutes, whether by fair means or foul. These persons set to work very much as omnibus conductors were said to approach the question of a new checking machine—namely, to see how they could circumvent it. He thought it was clear from the individual cases which had been mentioned to-night that a great many ingenious people had succeeded in getting round the Land Purchase Act, at any rate to the extent of creating bogus tenancies. It was also clear that a larger share of this money might be got for the benefit of a single individual than £5,000, which was the statutory limit for one transaction. It was by no means difficult to evade the provisions of the Act, notwithstanding the precautions which the Commissioners might adopt. In the first place, all opera- 379 tions under the Act were carried on in the dark. An individual tenant and landlord entered into negotiations with each other, and submitted the result of the negotiations to the Land Commissioners, no one around them being a bit the wiser as to what was going on. When the Inspector sent down by the Commissioners made his inquiry, no one was in a position to advise him as to the circumstances of the case. Furthermore, as was well known in Ireland, the entire administration of the country was carried on by a system of Government Bureaux, which were known to be in no sense under the control of the Irish Representatives or the Irish people. This system of administration was not looked upon with favour by the people of the country, and the people were not at all likely, therefore, to go out of their way to prevent the Government from falling into such transactions as had been described here to-night. Publicity would, of course, prevent the possibility of a great many of these transactions occurring, but they had not heard from any Member of the Government that they contemplated adopting the suggestion made by the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy)—namely, that before these transactions occurred the names of the parties should be advertised in the public Press, just as advertisements were issued at the present time in respect of applications for loans of public funds for tenants' improvements. With regard to evicted farms, he was confident that if the English people understood that this measure was to be used for the purpose of enabling landlords to obtain the capitalized value of their lands by State aid through the medium of Emergency men they would call upon their Representatives to oppose it. Lord Ashbourne's Act was never so intended, and it would be a gross abuse of the present Bill so to apply it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) had said that the Purchase Commissioners sent down Inspectors or valuators to inquire, not only as to the security, but also as to the surrounding circumstances of an agreement to purchase between a landlord and tenant, and he (Mr. Murphy) would ask how was this Inspector to arrive at any result except by such evidence as might present itself to his own 380 senses? He could not hold one of those Star Chamber inquiries which they were familiar with under the Coercion Act, and could not examine witnesses on oath. He (Mr. Murphy) did not think that any system short of that would enable these Inspectors to arrive at the truth. Under the present circumstances, if there was any irregularity in a purchase, so long as the security was ample, it did not appear that the Commissioners would have power to refuse their sanction to a claim—he gathered that from the statement of Mr. Commissioner Lynch on a recent occasion. So far from the Commissioners taking precautions so as to protect themselves, it was well known that in the early stages of the Land Purchase Act purchasers were slow in availing of it, and there was general tooting about for people to come in and buy. He thought the Government would only be acting reasonably in accepting the Amendment.
§ DR. KENNY (Cork, S.)
said, he regretted very much that the Committee had received no intimation from the Government as to what they were going to do in this matter. This was a serious question, and there was more in it than probably met the eye, because he imagined that if this Amendment were not accepted the result would be to defeat the policy of the Act of 1881. The policy of that Act was to make those who were in a sense peasant proprietors capable of getting a fair rent fixed, whilst future tenants could not expect, under certain limitations, to get that fair rent fixed. Well, if this Amendment, or one in the same spirit, were not accepted, what would happen would be this—bogus future tenants, by purchasing holdings, would get a fair rent fixed. The inducement to these tenants to buy would be that the instalments they would have to pay the Government would be less than they would have to pay in the shape of rent, supposing they were only tenants. Well, if they were able to apply the Amendment in the way that was in his mind this difficulty, he thought, would be got over. He would suggest to the Mover of the Amendment that he should alter the wording of the Amendment, so as to make it say that the Commissioners, in the sale of tenancies, should confine their operations to such tenants as were present tenants within 381 the meaning of the Act of 1881. That would exclude, if he were right in his supposition, all bogus tenants from the possibility of purchasing under this Act—because a bogus tenant was obviously a future tenant under the Act of 1881. If this suggestion were adopted, a bogus tenant would not be able to buy, as the Commissioners would be forbidden under its terms from dealing with him. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary could accept this suggestion or not, but he would like to ask the Government whether the intention of the measure they were discussing, or the policy of it, was to advance loans, because, obviously, in the cases stated by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and other Members in the course of the debate, loans had actually been granted under Lord Ashbourne's Act. They knew that in Donegal a gentleman had got a loan of 3¼ per cent. amounting to £1,040, for the value of his estate, in order to work it. Was it the intention of the measure that loans of this kind should be granted—was such a thing contemplated under Lord Ashbourne's Act? To his mind it was diametrically opposed to the idea involved in the Act. He considered the Government were themselves bound to prevent any transaction in the teeth of what was supposed to be the policy of the Act. That policy was to relieve the now strained relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland by getting rid of one of the parties altogether. The Government were now departing from that policy, and were enabling clever Petty Sessions lawyers to circumvent the Act and get for their clients large amounts of money on very easy terms.
Mr. Johnston rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put;" but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
said, that as one of the Members for Donegal he was bound to say that he had been most unfavourably impressed—he might almost say shocked—by some of the Returns which had been published referring to that county. It had been pointed out that in this county a landlord had been known to create a fictitious tenancy, and then, by an arrangement 382 with the tenant, to secure a mortgage. That was to say, the landlord had effected a bogus tenancy. He (Mr. O'Doherty) had called the attention of the House to a similar case two years ago. In that case a father and son had been living together, and still continued to live together, and, under the pretence of using the Act for the purpose of making a peasant proprietor, the father had borrowed from the State £2,000 or £3,000. Although he (Mr. O'Doherty) had called attention to this matter in the House, as the gentleman principally concerned was one of the officials in the Land Commission, the Land Commissioners were easily satisfied as to the bonâ fide nature of the transaction. But the matter went beyond this, for in the county of Donegal the number of cases in which fair rents had been fixed by the Land Commission was 6,105, affecting an average of 181,957 acres, or an average of 31 acres, with a total rental of slightly under £8, the average value per acre being about 5s. He asked the special attention of the Committee to these figures, especially to the 5s. value. What was the result of the cases which had gone before the Land Commissioners under the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act? He had worked that out by the same means and by the same figures, and the land was now valued at 10s. an acre, which he declared to be a fictitious value put upon it for the purpose of getting a larger price through the Purchase Commission. The average in each case was 20 acres only, but where the rent for 31 acres was under £8, now, in the case of 20 acres, the rent was over £11. Now, he would ask the attention of the Committee to this fact—that the Commissioners had not been dealing in the case of Donegal with a normal state of things. In the 95 cases in which advances had been made there, they had been dealing either with future tenancies, with fictitious rents, or tenancies raked up for the purpose of enabling the landlords to apply for these loans of money. But that was not all. As he understood it, the average price given upon the rent all over Ireland was 17½ or 17¼ years' purchase, and would it be believed that the average price by the same test in the County of Donegal was 22 or 23 years' purchase? He could show that distinctly by the figures. On page 16 of the Blue Book, that hon. 383 Members had now under pressure obtained from the Government for their enlightenment in this debate, they would see with regard to Ulster the relation between the Government valuation and the judicial rent. They would find that in that Province the judicial rent was slightly under the Government valuation, the difference being about £400. Taking it broadly, the general rent and the Government valuation were the same. What did he find with regard to the cases dealt with in Donegal under Lord Ashbourne's Act?
said, he failed to see how the hon. Member's argument was connected with the question raised in the Amendment.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY
said, his object was to show that besides the two cases quoted to the Committee, in his opinion the large majority of Donegal cases must have been fictitious cases consisting of future tenancies and exaggerated rentals, such as had been referred to already. However, he would not press the point further, as he knew the Chairman allowed every latitude to every hon. Member who endeavoured to bring essential facts before the Committee. He maintained, however, that something or other ought to be introduced into the Bill when they found such a state of things existing in the County of Donegal as had been described. Something ought to be done to prevent such cases as he had referred to in a previous Session, where a fictitious tenancy was created between father and son. He could give the names of the parties in this instance if necessary; in fact he had already given them in the House, and surely such a case as that was sufficient to warrant some steps being taken.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 93; Noes 120: Majority 27.—(Div. List, No. 311.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I now propose the clause which we agreed to add to the Bill, and which is as follows:—No advance shall be made by the Land Commission to any one purchaser of land under the Land Purchase (Ireland) Act, exceeding the sum of £3,000, unless, in the opinion of the Land Commission, the advance of some larger amount not exceeding £5,000 384 is expedient for the purpose of carrying out a sale on the estate of the same landlord.
§ New Clause (Limitation of Advances,)—(Mr. W. H. Smith,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
said, he had two clauses down on the Paper, but he did not know that it would avail much if he pressed the first, because he had not noticed that yielding disposition on the part of Her Majesty's Government to lead him to expect that they would accept any suggestion he might offer. He thought, after all that had been said as to bad security, something should be done in the way of minimizing the risk which the taxpayer would have to incur, and, therefore, he thought it would be very desirable to increase the proportion of the purchase money that was to be covered by the advance on the part of the purchaser from one-fifth to one-third of the purchase money. But seeing that the whole principle of the Bill was essentially bad, and that this idea of guarantee by way of security was absolutely illusory and ridiculous to anyone who troubled himself to go into the matter thoroughly, he did not know that the difference between one-third and one-fifth was sufficient to make it worth while to trouble right hon. Gentlemen opposite by pressing his clause on their attention. He would only, therefore, say, with regard to the last line of the first clause he had put on the Paper, that it appeared to him, judging from the tables in the Blue Book which the Government had at the last moment furnished them with, that they were under existing arrangements for purchasing estates simply investing the money of the taxpayer in estates which were admitted to be worthless. Her Majesty's Government came before the House with this Bill, first on the plea that it was necessary for the pacification of Ireland. On that ground they had asked the House to advance money for the assistance of the tenants in the most poverty-stricken districts. Well, when it had been pointed out that, after all, a very small proportion of the loans had gone to relieve the poor tenantry of Connaught and Munster—a small 385 proportion compared with what had gone into the pockets of the Duke of Abercorn and other noblemen—the Government came and said, "You would not have us advance this money on worthless estates in the South and West of Ireland, because, as you well know, on many of these estates the tenantry could not make a living, even if they paid no rent at all." He found that while the Government were using that argument and insisting that a large part of this money should go into the pockets of dukes, marquesses, and lords, and so on, and that it would be impolitic to advance money on worthless farms, according to page 52 of the Report they were investing large sums of money on these very worthless estates, not by way of loan, but buying the estates out and out. The reason, therefore, he had put down this clause to strike out Section 5 of Lord Ashbourne's Act was, because it seemed to him a most preposterous thing that we should be asked as a nation to put ourselves in a position which any individual investor in his senses in this country would not for a moment put himself into—that was to say, to invest our money on what was admittedly a worthless security. To show how worthless it was all over Ireland, he might point out that they could not get companies whose business it was to invest in landed securities—mortgages, and the like—to invest in Irish estates at all. He had had forwarded to him a short time ago, by a very rabid Tory friend of his, a list of securities held by one of the insurance companies in London, with the note appended, "No advances made on Irish land." Now, he imagined that if companies whose business it was to advance money on realty, and individual investors who had their wits about them were so possessed with the idea that these estates in the South and West of Ireland were so worthless that they would not invest in them, it was a monstrous thing for the Government to come to this House and ask the taxpayers to invest their money on such ridiculous security. But so far from that weighing with the Government at all, he supposed that under the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act, continued by this Bill, they would be ready to buy up any number of worthless estates. What was the proportion of money 386 which had already been spent in purchasing estates in the West and South of Ireland? Why, he found in the Summary of the Report that out of 12 estates which had been purchased, the total amount of money being £71,135, seven were in Connaught and Munster. They represented a majority of 203 out of 372 tenants, and out of the whole £71,135 purchase money no less than £40,468 had been advanced upon this very risky security on the estates in the Provinces of Connaught and Munster. Well, if Her Majesty's Government and the taxpayers of this country thought that that was good enough security for them, he supposed it was quite competent for them to go on spending a much larger sum out of this £5,000,000 in this way. All he could do was to utter a protest against the whole scheme of the Bill and the whole principle of Lord Ashbourne's Act, because he held that if they bought land at all they should buy it for the benefit of the State, and keep it in the hands of the State, and not replace the present worthless landowners by a number of other landowners independent of the State, who would probably be worse than the present ones, if that were possible. He felt bound to point out what seemed to him a very great danger, that in buying up these estates, which admittedly other people in their senses, who wanted to invest their money, would not buy, they were involving this country in the great possibility of losing all the money so invested. That was one reason for putting on the Paper the suggestion to omit Section 5 of the Act. But as he said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was much too languid to trouble himself with these minor considerations, and he (Mr. Conybeare) did not suppose that if he were to talk all night he could produce more impression upon him than to induce him to get up and move the Closure. Therefore, he did not think, having satisfied his soul by uttering a protest on this point, that he would trouble the right hon. Gentleman with the clause. He preferred rather to make a few observations on the next clause which he had put upon the Paper.
The hon. Member is rather trifling with the Committee. He has been speaking to a motion upon the Paper which in the 387 ordinary course would be put from the Chair, and he has now intimated that he does not intend to move it. The next clause, which he says he will move, is out of order, and cannot be put.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
said, that as it was ruled that he could not proceed with the next clause, he would move the latter portion of the first—namely, "Sections 5 and 7 of the same Act are hereby repealed." He thought that would be in Order. He apprehended there was no reason why he should not drop any preceding portion of the clause if he did not desire to press it. He had put himself in Order and had carried out a desire he felt to place before the Committee some extremely interesting observations of the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Courtney's) on the whole subject, and he would now content himself by formally moving the latter part of the first clause, making it clear that he would not trouble the Committee with the first portion.
§ New Clause (Amendment by Purchase of Land [Ireland] Act, 1885,)—Mr. Conybeare)—brought up—and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not comprehend the policy of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, because he had appeared inclined to drop the whole of his Amendment so long as he believed that the clause following could be put. It was only when he found that he could not put the second clause that he made his speech on the first, and the only part of his clause he desired to move was that declaring that Sections 5 and 7 of Lord Ashbourne's Act should be repealed. The hon. Gentleman's objection to those sections appeared to be founded upon a misconception of the facts. The two sections of the Act which the Amendment would repeal gave power to the 388 Land Commissioners to purchase estates en bloc when they were convinced that four-fifths in number and value of the tenants wore prepared to come under the operation of the Act.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that the greater part of the hon. Member's speech wholly referred to that. The hon. Member seemed to think that the Commissioners took a different view of the security when they were buying under those sub-sections than when they were dealing with ordinary estates. But that was an entire mistake, because the Commissioners had in every case to satisfy themselves that the security was good. That was a pre-existing condition to every transaction entered into, and the only effect of the Amendment of the hon. Member, if carried, would be not that a better security would be obtained from the taxpayer than would otherwise be afforded, but simply that certain estates would not be sold en bloc. He, therefore, hoped that the hon. Member would not press the Amendment.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
said, he did not want to press the Amendment, although he had felt it his duty, on account of the importance of the subject, to bring it before the Committee. His position was that the estates in the South were admittedly worse security than the estates in the North of Ireland; they were such that no prudent investors in this country would place their money in. He was convinced that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House could not regard as good securities lands on which the tenants were unable to subsist. However, he would now thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy, and ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, there was no Member of the Government present, and it would be of no use to address his arguments to the Chair.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present, Committee counted; and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, the principle of the Amendment standing in his name was one on which he believed the 389 Commissioners were already acting, except, perhaps, so far as it related to the question of interest. He understood that the Commissioners were making an order signifying their approval of the agreement between the parties, and afterwards an order to the effect that the tenant's liabilities shall cease from the date of the order. But he and his hon. Friends wanted more than that; they wanted an opportunity of knowing in what way they made the order, and whether it was of a judicial character. He was, however, now most concerned with the question of interest. It was a remarkable fact that although the Government securities were now reduced to 2¾ per cent. the Commissioners made the man who bought the land from the landlord pay him 4 per cent. They did not know by what authority the Land Commissioners had decided that the tenant, pending the advance of the money granted to him by the State, must pay the landlord 4 per cent. while the latter, by investing it, could only get 2¾ per cent. Further, by a recent decision in one of the Superior Courts in Dublin, 3 per cent interest had been fixed as the maximum amount which the landlord could recover pending the payment of the purchase-money. But this matter assumed a particularly anxious aspect from the fact that since the allocation of the £5,000,000 there had been a great number of advances. He knew some cases in which the advance had been standing over from year to year; and notwithstanding that the tenant was liable for rent and other matters after the date of the agreement, and when the relation of the tenant to the landlord had disappeared, he was nevertheless liable for this 4 per cent interest. He believed that there was a very large number of tenants whose agreements had been sanctioned by the Commission who were now paying interest to the landlord at that rate. He thought the fair thing would be that, when once the parties had entered into a practical arrangement, it should be considered that the tenancy became extinguished, and that the fee-simple vested in the vendee. When there was delay on the part of the Commissioners, why should the tenant be called to pay this interest in the meantime? It had happened that the Land Commissioners had taken more than a 390 year to investigate a title, and another year to compose the differences between the landlord and the incumbrancers, and it was unfair that the tenant should be liable for this 4 per cent during the whole of that time. Indeed, it was a most iniquitous state of affairs. The moment the Commissioners sanctioned the agreement and made their order, at that moment the relation between landlord and tenant was extinguished, and, therefore, neither for rent nor for interest should the tenant be further liable. If they took a large sum, such as the Duke of Abercorn would receive, they would find that at 4 per cent a very large amount of interest would be realized upon the holdings of the tenants, and it was not right that when time was being taken up by the landlord being unable to prove a clear title, the tenant should suffer. Certainly 4 per cent, at a time when "Goschens" were down to 2¾ per cent, was too much to collect from tenants who might be in very poor circumstances.
(Relation of landlord and tenant determined by approval of advance.)
The approval of the Commissioners to the sanction of any advance shall be signified by an order as of date on which such approval was made, and from and after such date the vendee shall be discharged from all liability to the vendor in respect of any liabilities affecting the holding, including all rent and arrears, and the vendee shall not be liable to the vendor for any interest on the sum advanced in respect of any such holding, and the relation of landlord and tenant between them shall be deemed to have determined from the date as aforesaid,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
said, there were several clauses standing in the name of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) of a practical character, and if he was unable to accept them all, it was from no unwillingness to do so, but because he felt he could not recommend them to the acceptance of the Committee. With regard to the 1st clause, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman would see that it could not 391 be accepted. The effect of the clause was to terminate the relation between the landlord and the tenant, and to provide that, from the date of the order, the vendee should be discharged from all liability to the vendor in respect of the holding, including all rent and arrears. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the payment of instalments could not commence until the tenant actually received the money, and there would, therefore, be an interval between the termination of the relation between landlord and tenant and the commencement of the payment of the instalments. Under these circumstances surely the hon. and learned Gentleman could not expect that during the interval, whether it were short or long, the occupier of the land should pay neither rent nor interest. He could not think that the hon. and learned Member submitted that proposal to the Committee seriously. On the signature and approval of the agreement the relation between landlord and tenant ceased to exist; there was no more rent to be paid. But in the interim between the termination of that relation and the commencement of the new statutory relation when the instalments commenced to be payable, surely during that time the tenant was bound to pay interest. As to the rate of interest, it was reasonable to adopt the Court rate of 4 per cent. Undoubtedly the hon. and learned Gentleman was right in saying that the subsequent repayment of the loan was calculated at a lower rate of interest than 4 per cent. But that was because the State, once it came upon the scene, was able to advance money at a lower rate of interest than 4 per cent. The tenant had to repay the principal and interest. But he did not see that it was any hardship to the tenant to have to pay at the Court rate during the interval to which he referred. Therefore, as the arrangement was an equitable one to both parties, he failed to see any reason for accepting the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he agreed that there should be some interval between the sanction of the agreement and the advance of the money? If the Amendment of his hon and learned Friend were adopted, or amended so as to limit the interest during the time which elapsed between the sanction of the 392 advance and the actual advance of the money, the effect would be to relieve the tenant from a very material hardship. The State retained one-fifth of the purchase money and the landlord paid the State 3 per cent; so that on the one hand money was lent to the landlord at 3 per cent. and on the other hand 4 per cent was exacted from the tenant.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, that the money was not advanced and the one-fifth retained until after the interval referred to—namely, until after the title had been made out.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the State paid one rate in respect of the sum advanced and yet the tenant was charged another—namely, 4 per cent. Why could it not be sufficient to say that the tenant should pay 3 per cent? This was a question of very great importance, because, according to the last Report of the Commission, the amount of loans sanctioned was £4,700,000 and the amount of money advanced was only £3,200,000, so that there was a difference of £1,500,000 between the amount sanctioned and the amount advanced, on which the tenants were paying at the rate of 4 per cent interest. To charge the tenant at that rate, while the Government only charged the landlords at the rate of 3 per cent. was, in his opinion, greatly in excess of the exigencies of the case. The Commissioners might take a year, or a year and a-half, before they advanced the money, and he suggested that the interest between the time of the sanction of the advance and the advance itself should be reduced, because, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General would see, in this prolonged interval the tenant would be doing nothing towards repaying the capital.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, there must necessarily be some delay between the sanction of the agreement and the advance of the money, and it was during that interval that the tenant had to pay interest, because he owed so much money to the landlord. Surely the hon. Member would not suggest that the tenant should go scot-free during that interval in which the arrangement was being considered by the Commissioners. There was nothing unfair in the existing law. Of course the hon. Member was quite right in pointing out that the tenant got more value afterwards for his 4 per cent. but the payment of the 393 money could not be accelerated. [Mr. SEXTON: Why not?] Because they were bound to assume that the Commissioners would do their best; and they could not make a hard and fast rule and say that all business should be settled in so many weeks or months—that must be left to the Commissioners.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, there was a fallacy underlying the case put by the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland; because, although the tenant owed the money to the landlord, he knew that it would come from the State. Why should the tenants be paying interest for months while the landlord's murky title was being inquired into? The tenant assumed that the landlord had a clear title; but it might be found that when the matter went into the Court the Commissioners would discover that the title was not clear, and that there were incumbrances to be arranged, and, in the meantime, the man, unless he put his money into Honduras bonds, would not be able to get 4 per cent. Why should the delay of the Laud Commissioners be made a reason for charging 4 per cent to the tenant? It was there he took issue with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland. He presumed that the Court rate referred to was that of the old Court of Chancery. But they had had a Liberal-Unionist Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he (Mr. T. M. Healy) contended that the Court rate ought to have been reduced. He knew nothing about the Chancery Court rate—the Capel Court rate was the only one he considered in this matter; and was it to be contended that the landlord was to receive 4 per cent while the widow or the orphan received only 2¾ per cent on money invested? He could see the hon. and learned Gentleman swelling with indignation at this idea, and he trusted that he would see that the landlords were placed in no bettor position in respect to interest than the tenant.
said, he had very great doubt as to whether a portion of the Clause of the hon. and learned Member did not exceed the scope of the Bill. The Clause of the hon. and learned Member must stop at the word "arrears" in line 5.
§ MR. SEXTON
pointed out that the Commissioners themselves had made a 394 rule identical with that which the Chairman declared to be out of Order.
§ MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)
said, he wished to draw attention to the fact that on several estates now being sold the tenants were being proceeded against for the arrears of rent which had accrued before the purchase was effected. In one case, within his personal knowledge, John Healy had purchased under a threat of eviction from Lord Lurgan, to whom he owed an amount of arrears which this clause would go far to clear off. Judgment had been obtained against this tenant, and now, after the sale of the estate and the payment of the money, he was being proceeded against, not only for arrears but for eviction and law costs. He had in his hand documents which he should be ready to show anyone for inspection. One of the documents was a letter threatening this man with a levy upon his goods for arrears and rent which had accrued previous to the sale of the estate. That, he thought, was a great hardship, and it was now more than necessary that the tenants should be protected against the actions of the landlords and their agents. The letter he referred to was from Mr. McCash to Mr. John Healy, and was to the effect that he was obtaining a decree against him in the Sheriff's Court for execution, but that he would put the tenant in again as caretaker. This meant that he would seize the man's goods for arrears of rent; and, that being so, he submitted that the Amendment proposed by his hon. and learned Friend came at a very proper and opportune time, and he trusted it would be accepted by the Government. He should not trouble the Committee at greater length, but conclude with expressing his opinion that the House ought to be put in possession of the facts with reference to the present situation. He should, for these reasons, support with great pleasure the Amendment before the Committee.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
said, he might be allowed to remark that he saw great difficulty in entertaining the latter part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment; but from everything which had fallen from the Treasury Bench with reference to this question, he thought that the remaining portion of the Amendment was 395 one which ought to be acceptable to the Government. As he understood the situation, it was desirable, from the point of view of the Government, that the tenant should be in a position to offer satisfactory security to the State, and, therefore, that some such Amendment as that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Longford should be accepted. The landlord or his agent ought not to be in a position to go behind the Act of Parliament, and hold over the tenant certain arrears after he had purchased the holding, because this practically rendered the advance of money by the Government to tenants more risky than it ought to be, or was intended to be, when the Act was passed. He could see no objection to the insertion of the clause; on the contrary, it seemed to him that the landlord and tenant, as well as the British taxpayer, would be placed by it in a much more sound position than they would otherwise be in. For these reasons he hoped the Amendment would be accepted.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, he would like to understand from the hon. Member for South Armagh (Mr. Blane) whether a single application had been made from a tenant on Lord Lurgan's estate?
§ MR. MADDEN
said, he thought the first part of the Amendment might be adopted down to the word "arrears."
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to, and added to the Bill.
said, he must inform the hon. and learned Member for North Longford, with reference to the next clause in his name, that part of it would be out of Order—namely, that which said—It shall be lawful for the Commissioners, where they see fit, to require that such charges should be capitalized and extinguished,and so on.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he would not move the clause after the concession made by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, but he would ask whether, in the case of the existence of a rent-charge, or any other charge reducing the security of the state by so much, the Commissioners took into account the interest and prime charges on the estate.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he had understood from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that the Government were extremely anxious to give the Land Commissioners a longer continuance of office. He (Mr. T. M. Healy) thought that, having regard to the fact that the time for which the two Land Purchase Commissioners had been appointed would expire next year, the Government would be anxious to give those gentlemen some feeling of independence by at once providing for their retention in office for seven years. He, therefore, begged to move the next clause standing in his name.
(Continuation of additional Land Commissioners.)
The two additional Members of the Land Committee, appointed in pursuance of the seventeenth section of 'The Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885,' for the purpose of carrying the said Act into effect, shall respectively hold their offices for a further period of seven years next succeeding the passing of this Act,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. MADDEN
said, having regard to the fair manner in which the hon. and learned Member had moved the clause he thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would feel that it would not be reasonable to expect the Government to accept it. He hardly thought the hon. and learned Member seriously attributed to the Government any intention of casting a slur upon two gentlemen who had been satisfactorily and successfully carrying out their duties since 1885—a success which had been admitted by all Parties. Of course this question was a very important one, and the Committee were probably aware that 397 the Government had a Bill upon the subject which it was impossible to carry through during the present Session, and the course had been adopted of dealing with the matter by means of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. The Government would, of course, be glad to receive suggestions on the subject from any quarter of the House, but the question was too large to be dealt with in the present Bill.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he did not think his hon. Friend would insist upon the retention of the period of seven years, but would advise that the Commissioners should be retained in office for a certain term longer. No one, as far as he knew, wished to speak of the Commissioners in any critical spirit, and, however critical Irish Members might become hereafter, they were at present disposed to give them the benefit of the opinion that they had discharged their difficult functions to the best of their ability. But the Commissioners would have to go out of office next year, and he asked the Committee to observe that, before the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill was considered, questions of extreme difficulty had to be determined by the Commissioners with regard to the estates of Members of the Executive Government, and the passage of the Bill might be affected by the degree to which the Members of the Executive were content with the action of the Commissioners. Undoubtedly, if the Commissioners were left in their present position, and their offices expired next year, they would have, in the meantime, to consider the proposal of the Lord Lieutenant to sell his estates at 20 years' purchase, and if the Commissioners sanctioned that scale, however purely they might act, they would lie under the suspicion of having done so under influence. Hon. Members on those Benches wished to prevent it being said that they had acted in this way, and that no one should be able to throw that taunt upon them. Before the Bill came on next year they did not know how many relatives of the Members of the Executive might go before the Commissioners, and in presence of that state of facts, without any desire to cast an imputation on the officials, as he had said, they desired by this Amendment to prevent any slur being cast upon them from any quarter with reference to this transaction.
§ MR. GILL (Louth, S.)
said, he hoped, if the Government did not see their way to accept the Amendment as proposed to be altered by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), that his hon. and learned Friend would go to a Division. They could not feel the same trust and confidence in men who were liable to be dismissed at short notice as they would in men who were fixed in their office for a term of years. One fact had been brought out during the discussion by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Longford which threw a striking light on the manner in which the Commissioners might be, so to speak, pulled down into favouring the supporters of the Government unless they were protected by being continued in office. The Duke of Abercorn had been present in Court, or about the precincts of the Court, at the time when his estate was the subject of consideration at the hands of the Commissioners. They had heard also that the brother of a noble Member of the Government was interested in so vast a sum of money as £250,000 sterling, which the Commissioners had the means of facilitating or throwing obstacles in the way of, and that showed the importance of having Commissioners free from interference by a Government, the brother of one of whose Members was so deeply interested in their decisions. When they looked at the manner in which the Land Act had been carried on last year by Sub-Commissioners, they felt there was considerable ground for apprehension. Numbers of instances could be cited of Sub-Commissioners being appointed by the day, and in his own county several glaring cases had occurred. There were two estates dealt with by the Sub-Commissioners, one of which was owned by a brother-in-law of the chief Land Commissioner, and the other by the father of Mr. Wrench. In the latter case the landlord did not appear in Court, and did not show a single reason why the tenant's claim should be refused, and the people of the county believed, with fair reason, that the cause of the refusal was that the Sub-Commissioner, who was removable at will by Mr. Wrench, was doing a good turn for Mr. Wrench's father. Oases of that kind had occurred all over the country, and showed the importance of the Land Purchase Commissioners, holding a judicial office of enormous re- 399 sponsibility, being free from interference or arbitrary removal from their position.
§ MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
said, he had heard with Parliamentary disgust the accusation that had repeatedly been made against the Lord Lieutenant and the Duke of Abercorn. The Duke of Abercorn had been attacked from time to time in that House, and he desired to pay a humble tribute to his patriotism and the manner in which he had discharged his duties to his tenants. It seemed to him (Mr. Johnston) unfortunate that some hon. Members should think that all with whom they did not agree were actuated by sinister motives. He trusted that the Government would show a courageous spirit in dealing with this matter, which was one of great difficulty, inasmuch as the Commissioners were liable to be misrepresented and calumniated, no matter what they did, by certain Members of the House; he hoped they would resist the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford, which, while professing to shield, was really attacking the Commissioners.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
said, hon. Members on those Benches would not yield to hon. Gentlemen opposite in a desire to protect the character of those Commissioners whose office was about to be renewed. If they went back two years they would find that there was ample reason for the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend. It would be remembered that when the Land Commissioners were appointed in 1881, a great agitation by the landlords sprang up for the purpose of discrediting the characters of those who were administering that Act of Parliament. The agitation resulted in the appointment of a special Commission; the characters of the Commissioners were investigated, and the result of the agitation was that many of the Commissioners were set aside. Then again, they should remember that one of the present Commissioners about whose office they were then speaking had given evidence before the Commission with regard to the administration of the Act of Parliament. This gentleman pointed out to the Commissioners that efforts were made by landlords in Ireland to frustrate the intention of the Act. It was a bold thing for a man holding office in Ireland to make 400 such an independent statement as that, knowing well that a day of reckoning would soon come, and that it was in the power of the friend? and relatives of Members of the Government to dismiss him. Having regard to those pages of history, such an Amendment as that proposed by his hon. and learned Friend was, in his opinion, absolutely necessary to protect the Commissioners, when doing their duty, from undue influence being brought to bear upon them by those who were the friends and relations of the landlords in Ireland—namely, Her Majesty's Government. There had been brought under his notice many of the ways and means by which landlords endeavoured to frustrate the Act of Parliament, and not long ago one landlord went to his tenant and said, "You and I will make a bargain; you shall buy your land at so many years' purchase"—
said, that the subject referred to by the hon. Gentleman could not be relevant to this Amendment.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR
said, he was endeavouring to point out that it was necessary to protect these Judges from influence in order that they should discharge their duties under the Act in an independent manner. It had from time to time been the object of Her Majesty's Governments and the Legislature, by enactments, to protect the independence of the Judges. It stood upon the Statutes of the Realm, and past history showed the great efforts which had been made to preserve the independence of the Judges of the land. It was in that spirit that this Amendment was proposed, and he trusted that his hon. and learned Friend would go to a Division upon it, and that the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland would extend to it the same fair play as he had extended to another Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend. He thought that the present clause had a stronger claim upon him than that which he had so graciously accepted.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he regretted to have seen the day when the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) opposed a proposal which would have been supported by William III., by whom the Judges for the first time were made practically independent. He observed that there was no Member of the Government in his place to make a 401 statement on the position of the two Commissioners in question. He did not apprehend that there was any intention whatever to discontinue the two gentlemen who were now in office, and it was in that sense that his Amendment had been drawn up, but he did apprehend that they would be practically shelved by some other person being brought in. In the original Act the Commissioners were practically amalgamated, and last year the Government had proposed to bring in a Bill to make them again one body. Of course, if the Government would say that the Bill which they proposed was dead, he would be most happy to withdraw his Amendment, and, even as it was, he did not think it would be fair to press it to a Division, because he did not believe there was any intention to discontinue these gentlemen in their office. As the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had now returned to his place, he would ask him whether the Bill of last year was definitely to be shelved; and whether the Land Purchase Commissioners would be able to discharge their functions separately and distinctly from the Commissioners who were engaged in fixing fair rents? As the Bill of last year had been abandoned, he desired to ask whether there was any intention of renewing a measure which had created in every quarter of the House so much suspicion and distrust?
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said, he did not wish it to be understood that hon. Gentlemen on those Benches had any suspicion of the Commissioners, whom they thought had administered the Act pretty fairly as far as they could, and had not strained the law against the tenants. He was glad to think that view was entertained by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and seeing that there was that concurrence of opinion, he did not think it was too much to expect an expression of opinion from someone in a responsible position. They would be glad to hear that there should be no interference with the members of the Commission, and that no attempt would be made to raise the ghost of the Bill of last year. They did not want to put the Commissioners under the shadow of the Superior Courts, whose views in the matter of land they had every reason to mistrust. If they had found men who had not shown any animus, and who 402 were not charged with showing any by the landlords, it was, he thought, only a reasonable demand that the Commission should be allowed to administer the Act until the present £5,000,000 had been expended; and he considered they were entitled to have an expression of opinion on the part of the Government.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that unless they had a distinct declaration from the Government that there was no intention to revive the Bill of last year, they would come to the conclusion that the Government had still that intention in petto.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he did not think his hon. and learned Friend was being treated by the Government with the respect that Members of the House were entitled to. His hon. and learned Friend had urged that, if the Government were unwilling to accept his Amendment, there should be no attempt made to swamp the powers of the two Commissioners by merging their functions with those of the Land Commissioners. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland having communicated the alternative proposal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), that right hon. Gentleman had immediately left the House, and apparently it did not please the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) to say anything on the subject. He thought they must have a clear reply to the alternative proposal that had been made—namely, that if these gentlemen were to be loft at the mercy of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, the Government should say that they should continue to administer the purchase functions, and not be swamped by the intrusion of any other of the Commissioners.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, the two classes of Commissioners were dealt with precisely in the same manner under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act; but he did not think how Gentlemen should expect any Member of the Government to state what Bills would be brought before the House next Session.
§ MR. SEXTON
asked, if the hon. and learned Gentleman would say that these two gentlemen would or would not be allowed to continue by themselves the function of purchase?
§ MR. MADDEN
said, he could not state that. Under the existing law, 403 they were solely engaged in the work of the Act of 1885, and would so continue as long as the law remained as at present.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, he thought that after the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the suspicion which existed would be increased. The hon. and learned Gentleman was not asked to say what Bill would be brought in next year; he was asked whether the Commissioners would be confined to their present functions? That question he had deliberately declined to answer. His own belief was that the Government meant to work this Bill in the interest of the landlords, and that with this view they were deliberately keeping the Commissioners in a dependent position. His hon. Friend below him had referred to a consideration of the most material importance on the present occasion raised by the evidence given before the Cowper Commission, at whose hands this question of the independent position of the Commissioners had received very great attention. One witness pointed out that every Sub-Commissioner had before him the risk of being cross-examined in a Law Court. What had taken place in 1882 might take place in 1889; and he conceived it possible that if Lord Londonderry did not get 20 years' purchase for his estates, under the auspices of the very men who intimidated the Sub-Commissioners in 1882 with the prospect of another Commission in the House of Lords, the present Commissioners would be called upon to answer for it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) seemed to be of opinion that the great change in the constitution which made the Judges of England and Ireland independent of the Crown was an insult to the Judicial Bench, whereas it was in England the opinion that by the change the administration of justice had been made pure. He was convinced that the Irish people would entertain a profound suspicion that the Judges administering the Act in Ireland were putting money into the pockets of the large landowners. If the assurance was not given that they were not to be interfered with by Mr. Wrench, the suspicion now existing would become a belief that the whole scheme was to be worked for the landlords' benefit. The 404 Government would give no answer on that point. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland had twice risen, but twice evaded answering; and therefore, unless a positive assurance was forthcoming, he was prepared to support a Motion for Progress if his hon. Friend thought fit to make it.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that upon a question affecting the integrity of the Land Commissioners and the price to be paid to the Viceroy and the Duke of Abercorn, the guardian of the public purse had fled from the House. He asked the public and the Members of the Committee to note this fact and draw from it their own conclusion. As far as he was concerned he asked leave to withdraw the Amendment, reserving to himself the right of bringing it up again on Report, because he and his hon. Friend had never been, and would not be, content that the Commissioners should be under the rule of the Chief aider and abettor of rackrenting landlords in Ireland, Mr. Wrench.
§ Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, his object in moving the next clause in his name was to secure that, on receiving an agreement signed by the parties, the Commissioners should do something else than merely have regard to the security. He thought they ought to go behind the agreement and inquire into the circumstances, that if they found writs of ejectment were issued on the estate they should be slow to sanction the proceedings, and that if the landlord had served ejectments or processes on his tenants the Commissioners should abstain from granting any advance of public money.
(Advances not to be made pending proceedings by landlord.)
No advance shall be made under the Land Law (Ireland) Acts to any tenant for the purchase of his holding if it still appear to the Land Commission that the application for such advance was made during the pendency of any proceedings at suit of the landlord of such holding, or in consequence of, or under threat of, such proceedings, or otherwise than as the free and voluntary act of such tenant,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."405
§ MR. MADDEN
said, he thought the Amendment was open to the objection that it laid down a hard and fast line, and because it seemed injudicious to prevent advances being made during the pendency of any proceedings on the part of the landlord. It must occur to the Committee that there were many cases in which a compromise, in the interest of the tenant as well as the landlord, of pending litigation was a very good thing, but this would be absolutely precluded by the proposed new Clause, and it was upon that ground that he was unable to accept it.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that all he desired was that the Commissioners should satisfy themselves that the bargain under their consideration was a voluntary one. If the Commissioners found out that the tenant would not have signed the agreement except for the threat of proceedings, he said that the Commissioners should refuse to sanction the advance. That had been the case with the tenants who had been referred to, and yet the Commissioners held them to the bargain. He did not see the good of an action for a specific purpose against a man who would have no money unless the State were willing to advance it to him; and if a man had no money and the Land Commissioners would not advance it, what would an action compel him to do? Nothing at all. Under the decision that had been referred to, a great number of tenants might be driven into Court and afterwards swear that they would not have carried out the agreement but for the proceedings pending against them. In the case of Lord Lansdowne's tenants, for instance, he thought it would be most desirable to have a compromise on the basis of purchase. At the present moment he regarded Lord Lansdowne's tenants as being able to effect a bargain with their landlord, because they were backed by the Plan of Campaign, and no man could be more independent than when he lived in a Land League hut. He did not point his Amendment at the existence of peaceable agreements between such gentlemen as Lord Lansdowne and his tenants, but at cases in which writs had been issued, and where the tenants had been compelled to accept terms of purchase which otherwise they would not have accepted. If there was no Member of the Government who was 406 prepared to accept the clause, he would be happy to withdraw it and bring it forward again on Report, or accept any modification which the hon. and learned Gentleman might suggest.
§ MR. SEXTON
asked, if the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland would accept the insertion of the words—No advance shall be made if it appeared to the Commissioners that the agreement has been signed in consequence of a threat of proceedings by the landlord?
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said, that innumerable cases had occurred in Kerry in which tenants had been forced into agreements for the purchase of their holdings under pressure of actual or threatened eviction, which agreements they intended to repudiate. In one case with which he was acquainted, the landlords had taken proceedings for eviction against the tenant; and the agent waited upon him with an agreement in his hand and with the Sheriff at his back, to enforce the eviction if he refused to sign. The message sent to the tenant was, "Either go out or sign." All sorts of wheedling was practised by the landlords against the more ignorant of the tenants, and all sorts of coercion was used to influence the more intelligent to compel them to sign purchase agreements. When these evicted tenants signed a purchase agreement, they, in a great measure, lost their status. In many cases they were compelled to sell their cattle and get rid of what little money they might have accumulated, and they were so poor that they could not be looked upon as likely to afford security for the repayment of the advances made by the State. As a matter of fact he (Mr. Edward Harrington) did not care, when the British taxpayer made himself a party to a Bill of this kind with his eyes open, whether he got a penny of the money back or not; but he thought the House should not allow this cancer to be established in order that it might strike its roots in the social condition of Ireland. The valuator of the Purchase Commission did not go down to the holdings of the tenant to see whether the bargains entered into were fair between man and man, but to make inquiries as to whether or not the tenant owed money, what were his improvements, and whether or not they were security for the money 407 about to be paid by the Court. The words suggested by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) were words which he thought the Government might very fairly adopt. He did not propose that purchase agreements should be vitiated because writs had been issued, but he thought they should be declared vicious if they had been entered into in consequence of evictions having taken place or being threatened. He knew of one case in which a man had held out for 12 months against the pressure of his landlord, but was eventually obliged to come to terms owing to the death of two of his children and his miserable state of poverty. Cases of this kind he could give the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary ocular demonstration of, if the right hon. Gentleman would go with him to Kerry, instead of putting him (Mr. Edward Harrington) into prison for a couple of months, as he was anxious to do.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he thought the clause as it stood far too wide. It went further than the speech of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) himself. He thought there was room for a reasonable compromise, and that the proposal should be amended in the sense of the observations of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). So amended, there was a great deal to be said for it. No doubt, cases did occur in which landlords were pressing for arrears with the object of forcing their tenants into the Land Purchase Court. He thought there could be no doubt of that; in fact, he could give his own experience on the point. On the Clanricarde estate it was a fact that the landlord had offered to sell to the tenants at 20 years' purchase of the old rent if they would abandon all proceedings. The tenants had not agreed to that course, but should they agree to it under duress, it was one of the cases where the Land Commissioners should withhold their assent to the purchase. On his return from visiting that part of Ireland he called upon the Irish Government to persuade them to visit a friend of his who was imprisoned under the Coercion Act. The discussion between himself and the important official whom he saw turned upon the important question of land purchase, and he was informed 408 that there was every likelihood of Lord Clanricarde and his tenants coming to an agreement as to purchase. He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had pointed out, in reply to this, that his Lordship had issued many notices of ejectment. "Oh, yes," said this gentleman, "that is the way they do things in this country—they open negociations by a declaration of war." That showed clearly that threats were being made use of by landlords of ejectment proceedings for arrears with the object of forcing the tenants into purchasing the land. If cases of that kind did occur, and evidence was adduced before the Land Commission that tenants were being forced into agreements on the subject of purchase, in his opinion the Commissioners ought not to proceed further in such cases, and the negotiations ought to be brought to a conclusion. He did not think it was within the spirit of the Purchase Act that agreements under it should be arrived at through a system of duress.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he would suggest to the Government that the words of the proposal should be amended so as to read—No advance should be made to the tenant for the purchase of his holding which it shall appear to the Land Commissioner is made in consequence of, or threat of, proceedings at the suit of the landlord, or otherwise than as a free and voluntary act of the tenant.That would still leave open the door to any compromise, and would leave to the discretion of the Commissioners whether the mere fact of the issue of writs, or the fact of eviction, should stop a purchase scheme. He would suggest to the Government that they should insert a clause abolishing the present harsh construction of the word "tenant," so as to enable an evicted tenant to purchase the holding of which he had been dispossessed. Such a clause would have a good effect upon the strained relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland, and such a clause would obviate any idea that the mere threat of eviction would compel the tenant to purchase for fear of losing his interest in the holding.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, he thought the powers already possessed by the Land Commission were quite sufficient in this case. They would have to embark upon a very difficult inquiry if they had to decide whether or not an agreement 409 to purchase was signed in consequence of proceedings taken by the landlord. What jurisdiction did the Commissioners exercise? In the Act of last year there was a provision for enabling proceedings to be taken in cases having reference to the carrying out of specific performance of agreements to purchase. Mr. Commissioner Lynch had laid it down clearly, that in a state of facts amounting to duress—in other words, if it appeared that the signing of the agreement on the part of the tenant was not a free and voluntary act—he would not sanction the advance, but would leave the landlord to institute proceedings under the section giving power to the Commissioners to decide upon applications for specific performance. In this way the tenant had protection, but he submitted that if the House were to lay down a hard and fast rule that there should be no proceedings pending, and no threat of proceedings, it would be going too far.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he was surprised to find that the hon. and learned Gentleman held that even though it should be shown to the Commissioners that an application had been made under threat of proceedings, or in consequence of a suit by the landlord, the purchaser might be allowed to proceed. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to imply that it was the proper thing for the landlord to threaten to turn the tenant out on the roadside, and that then the tenant might assent to the purchase, and the Commissioners would be obliged to sanction the bargain.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, a statement or even a threat that proceedings were about to be instituted need not neccessarily be taken as depriving subsequent negotiations for purchase of a voluntary character.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, if he were a tenant, and a threat of eviction were held over his head, he should not consider that he was going through the matter in a voluntary spirit, if, in consequence of that threat, he signed an agreement to purchase. It was clear that the freewill of the tenant was overborne in such a case. It might be considered that the Land Commissioners should have the right to ratify the contract under such circumstances; but let there be no longer any pretence, if such a thing were permissible, that the con- 410 tract so made by the tenant was free. It was a contract made under duress, and duress of a most painful kind. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that where the Land Commissioners thought that undue influence had been exercised by the landlord on the tenant they might refuse to sanction the advance, and might call upon the landlord to go to the Court of Chancery to take action for specific performance. Did that not seem to the hon. and learned Gentleman a slow and unnecessarily round-about way of dealing with the matter? Hero was a contract in which one of the parties overpowered the will of the other, and the Purchase Commissioners, instead of saying—"We will not confirm a contract made in this way, one of the parties not being free," were to say—" We will confirm this contract though it is not a free one, but, because it is not a free one, we will send one of the parties before the Court of Chancery, or allow them to come before ourselves, and sue for specific performance."
§ MR. MADDEN
said, there was a provision in the Act enabling the Commissioners themselves to take the short cut which the hon. Member seemed to favour. They themselves could decide on the case when action was taken to compel the specific performance of a contract Any rights the tenant might have in the Court of Chancery he would have before the Land Commission itself. The Land Commission, if it saw sufficient reason, might say to the landlord—"You must come to us to enforce specific performance of this contract;" and then, if the tenant proved duress, they might bring the transaction to an end by refusing to enforce the agreement.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he failed to sea why there should be such a round-about process as this. Why should the Government insist upon the landlord coming before the Commissioners to ask for specific performance? What could the Commissioners do in such a case more than they could do in the first place when it might appear to them that there had been duress? Why should they not, on finding out that the tenant was not a free agent, say—"We will not confirm this contract?" He would propose that the words "under throat of" should be left out, as they wore rather vague. They had boon told right through this controversy that contracts were free, 411 and now the Government were asked to back their own opinion. They were asked to say that the Commissioners should not confirm a contract where it appeared that one of the parties to it was not a free agent.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET) (Dublin University)
said, the case stood thus—Up to a certain point there had been agreement, but then one of the parties came to the conclusion that he would not carry out the bargain, on the plea that there has been duress. Either the landlord or the tenant might make that complaint. The aggrieved party might apply to the Commissioners, and they might reply to him—"You may go to the Court of Chancery, or we will consider the matter, and if we find that undue influence has been brought to bear upon you, will no longer allow the agreement to stand." Surely that power was given in the Act of Parliament under which all these transactions were carried out. If the object of hon. Members was to cheapen and facilitate this legal process, all he had to say was that it seemed to him that the process was as cheap and easy as it could be.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman had entirely misunderstood the purport of the section of the Act of last year. In his (Mr. T. M. Healy's) opinion that section was inserted for the purpose of enabling a landlord who had come to an agreement with his tenant, or the tenant who had come to an agreement with his landlord, to sign the contract bond, and if either party refused, the other would have cause of action for specific performance against him. In the case contemplated by this Amendment, however, the bond would have been already signed. Take the Waterford case, for instance. There the bond was signed, but the tenant would not have signed if the writ had not been in the hands of the Sheriff. The land agent said to him: "I have an agreement here, and the Sheriff is behind me with his crowbar; which will you have?" The man, naturally enough, said, "I will have the agreement." The Land Commissioners knew nothing about the proceedings, but it was now contended that if the Land Court had read the agreement to buy and sell signed by both parties, the official valuer should be required to 412 make a report as to whether or not duress had boon employed. The Amendment did not go further than that. Specific performance had not a ha'porth to say to the case. The Land Commission would be the judges to decide cases under this Amendment, and their decision would be subject to a Court of Appeal; and in the Court of Appeal would he Lord Ashbourne himself, who certainly would not be regarded as adverse to the interests of the landlords—no ore would look upon him as an ally of the Nationalist Members. So far as the tenants were concerned, it was out of the question to imagine that they could take cases before the Court of Appeal, because, as a rule, they would not be able to pay the mere stamps necessary for an appeal, let alone the expense of taking operations in Court. He should think £40 an extremely moderate estimate of what it would cost to take a case before the Court of Appeal. All he asked was, that if it was shown that an agreement had been signed, otherwise than as a free and voluntary act on the part of the tenant, that the Commission should not advance the money. He trusted that the Government would reconsider their decision on this subject.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, that the case that the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) had put forward was not one of such duress as would be met in the way suggested Duress must be of a very clear character, fulfilling certain legal requirements, and following certain well understood legal decisions, before it could be entertained in the manner in which the Court of Chancery would entertain it. He took it that the hon. and learned Member had in his view moral duress, which would not amount to legal duress, and yet was sufficient to form a moral case for refusing to insist upon the fulfilment of a contract. He did not think this was a question exclusively between landlord and tenant. The Commission should see that a provident bargain had been entered into before they advanced the money of the English taxpayer. Take the Clanricarde case. He did not think if those tenants had signed an agreement, such as the hon. and learned Member referred to, that the duress exercised upon them 413 would have been duress that could have been pleaded in the Court of Chancery. The moral operation upon the tenants, strengthened by the nature of the fear they would have of eviction, would have compelled them to enter into an unfortunate bargain. He thought the Purchase Commissioners in such a case ought to inquire into the circumstances of the bargain, and see if the tenants were free agents before they advanced the money. The only test they could have was the test of the words of the clause. He thought the words, "or legal proceedings pending on the part of the landlord against the tenant" were too wide, and would cover cases which the hon. and learned Member for North Longford did not wish to touch. If, however, the Amendment were put according to the principle laid down in the hon. and learned Member's last speech, there could be no objection taken to it. It would then be a precautionary measure for the protection of the English Exchequer to see that the money should not be advanced except upon free contracts.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, as he understood the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford, it was that the Surveyor of the Purchase Commissioners should inquire into the transactions. Now, he would put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman that, if a charge of duress, either moral or legal, was made between the parties to a signed contract, and the question arose before the Commissioners as to whether the case was such as would justify them in putting an end to the agreement, it would be absolutely necessary that any such investigation should take place in a judicial manner. It was idle to suggest that an Inspector should go down to an estate, and, after hearing the one side and the other, decide upon his own motion, without hearing witnesses upon oath, as to whether the contract should be carried out or not. There must be something in the nature of a judicial investigation. At the present moment, under the 22nd section of the Act of 1887, the tenant would have the power of defending proceedings to enforce contracts before the Commissioners, in which he would have all the grounds of defence which, under other circumstances, he would have had before the 414 Court of Chancery. It had been said that there were a class of cases which would have to be decided of what is called moral duress, of a class which the Court of Chancery could not deal with; but he thought that to go beyond those cases, into what was called moral duress, would be opening the door into inquiries of a very vague and unsatisfactory character.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, his hon. and learned Friend had not asked for a Court of Inquiry, but had merely said that contracts should not be made good if it appeared to the Commissioners that there had been duress; and he did not think it would require any legal training or any exhaustive investigation to come to a conclusion as to whether there had been duress or not. It did not require the training of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland, or even of a learned Member, to ascertain whether an agreement had been entered into by the exercise of the free will of a certain individual. That was a point that any man not only of intelligence but of sanity could at once decide. He would ask the attention of the hon. and learned Solicitor General to this point. By declaring in the Statute that where a landlord exercised compulsion upon the free will of the tenant, transactions founded upon such compulsion should not be binding, the landlords, as soon as they became aware of the existence of that provision, would carefully abstain from applying force. He contended, therefore, that, by accepting such an Amendment, they would get rid of all those mean and shabby proceedings on the part of landlords against their tenants—they would clear the air and facilitate the operations of the Act; and the Commissioners, as a matter of fact, would have nothing of the nature of duress to inquire into. The British taxpayer had been frequently referred to. Well, let the British taxpayer note that the Government, by the mouth of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland, had now determined that the Land Purchase Commission in Ireland was to advance the money of the State for the purchase of farms without regard to the circumstances whether the contract made between the purchaser and buyer was a free one or not; and that they were to 415 advance the money even though the seller had used his superior force to coerce the buyer.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that in case of a vote for a Member of that House, they provided in every way against undue influence; but where millions of money of the taxpayers of the country were at stake, they would not take the trouble to prevent those persons who laid claim to this money from exercising undue influence in order to obtain it. The Corrupt Practices Act, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) was well aware, took exhaustive precautions against corrupt influence; and he (Mr. T. M. Healy) asked why should not a man who was endeavouring to get their money be put under similar provisions? Was he to be told that the Land Commissioners were to be unable to decide what was undue influence? Three Land Purchase Commissioners were not to be permitted to decide such a point, and yet two Judges were allowed to decide the point in cases of Election Petitions. In the case of the Corrupt Practices Act they did not define all undue influence, but left a great deal to the discretion of the Judges. In this Amendment, however, he simply had suggested a negative precaution under which the Land Commissioners should see that the agreement was a free and voluntary act on the part of the tenant. Were they dwelling in the region of common sense? Did common sense still linger ronnd their precincts? He appealed to the Committee to say that where they passed a Statute, and said that the tenant should act freely and voluntarily, it was only a reasonable thing to say that the Land Commissioners were as competent as Election Judges, or as a Mr. Cecil Roche, to find out what undue influence was.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman talked of the desire of the Government to prevent the operation of any machinery that would chock undue influence, but that was not the desire of the Government. All they desired was that the Land Commission and not the valuer should be in a position to decide where there had been undue influence or not. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) talked as though anyone could, at a moment's notice, come to a decision as 416 to whether or not there had been undue influence. Let them take a case. Supposing a man did not pay his rent for one, two, three, four, or five years—and such cases were very common in Ireland. Supposing there were five years' arrears due, and the landlord should say under these circumstances, "I shall proceed to evict this tenant." The tenant, while the eviction process was proceeding, might say, "I shall be glad to purchase your farm." It would be clear that between these two people the relations of landlord and tenant had not been a success, and it was not the landlord who made the proposal, but the tenant who asked that he should be allowed to purchase. Under these circumstances how could the valuer, sent down by the Commissioners, decide as to whether or not there had been duress?
§ MR. SEXTON
said, it was not the valuer, but the Land Commission who would have to investigate the matter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the Commissioners had absolute power to go into this question already, and he could not understand why more than that should be demanded by any hon. Member. However, they had now discussed this matter for a sufficient length of time, and as there was still a great deal to be done in Committee, and as it was the wish of the Committee generally that they should finish the Committee stage to-night, he hoped that they would now come to a decision upon a point the importance of which he did not deny, but which had been thoroughly threshed out.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, it seemed to him that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was a speech in favour of the Amendment. Not the smallest reason had he given why the Amendment should not be accepted. As he (Mr. Dillon) understood it, his hon. Friends, who supported the Amendment all along, were anxious and willing that the Land Commission should have to decide whether there had been duress or not, and not the valuer. But it was said that according to the judgment of Mr. Lynch, the Commission could suspend the granting of the money, if anything in the nature of duress had happened, and leave the landlord to his remedy of a suit for specific performance. He (Mr. Dillon) wanted to know 417 why, if the Commissioners decided that something in the nature of duress had taken place, they should not leave the question open then and there, and refuse to grant the money without requiring suit to be taken for specific performance. It should be borne in mind that when a case came before the Purchase Commissioners, in which suit for specific performance was instituted, the Commissioners would be guided by a different Code to that which would guide them when the original proceedings for purchase first came before them. They might be compelled by legal technicalities to give a different decision to that they would give could they decide the question as to duress in the first instance. If, at the first investigation, the Commissioners were satisfied that duress had existed, they ought to be allowed to refuse to grant the money, just as they could refuse if they discovered that there was not sufficient security. At present, if the tenant wished to complain of duress he had to do it through counsel, and he (Mr. Dillon) did not think that that was right. The plea of duress ought to be received by the Commissioners, even though that were made by private communication from the tenant himself, or by neighbours, or gathered from information picked up by the Commissioners. He thought that when duress was complained of the Commissioners ought to be instructed by the Act itself to investigate the matter, not only for the protection of the tenant, but for the protection of the British taxpayer. Moreover, he thought that the action of the Commissioners in such a matter should be without appeal; in fact, that they should decide a case of this kind exactly as they would decide the question as to whether there had or had not been sufficient security offered. He failed to see any reason for not accepting this Amendment. An attempt had been made to devise a roundabout method of allowing the landlord to proceed by an action for specific performance—a method which seemed to be of no possible good, except to be held in terrorism over the tenant, and which might result in the absurd state of things that the Commissioners might be compelled to reverse the decision not because they thought that decision ought to be reversed, but because they were cramped by certain legal forms.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he would move to withdraw the clause in order to bring it forward in an amended form.
§ Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
replied in the affirmative. He now proposed the following new clause:—(Advances not to be made pending proceedings by landlord.)No advance shall be made under the Land Law (Ireland) Acts to any tenant for the purchase of his holding if it shall appear to the Land Commission that the application for such advance was made otherwise than as the free and voluntary act of such tenant,"—[Mr. T. M. Healy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 142; Noes 205: Majority 63.—(Div. List, No. 312.)
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he begged to move a new clause—"Advance not to be made to person in receipt of public money." He thought it would be rather unfair that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for instance, should be entitled to receive public money, and, at the same time, receive money under an order of the Commissioners made in the dark, and made without the public having any knowledge on the subject. The Lord Lieutenant himself should be above suspicion, and, therefore, it was as well that an Amendment of this kind should be carried; but it was not distinctly in the interest of His Excellency, nor in the interest of Her Majesty's Government, but it was in the interest of the tenants that this clause should be added to the Bill. He thought that if the Lord Lieutenant was seated upon the Front Treasury Bench he would be extremely ready to second the adoption of this clause. Therefore, without any further observations, he begged to move the clause.
(Advance not to be made to person in receipt of public money.)
No money shall be advanced under this Act to any person in receipt of salary paid out of the taxes without a special report being made on the subject to Parliament,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.419
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he gathered that this clause was directed against the Lord Lieutenant. Personally, he did not think that the tenants of the Lord Lieutenant, or of any other gentleman, ought to be put in a worse position than any other tenants in Ireland. Let him put the matter from the point of view of the tenants. Whilst the Lord Lieutenant was Lord Lieutenant his tenants would be under a special disqualification. Let them suppose that the Lord Lieutenant embodied in his own person all the evils of landlordism, all the evils of Toryism, and all the evils of officialism. There was no reason that he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) could discover why His Excellency's tenants should not receive benefit under this Act. He, therefore, requested the hon. and learned Gentleman not to press the clause.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had been careful enough to absent himself from the House whilst they were discussing the question of the independence of the Commissioners, and, therefore, was unable to follow the thread of the Amendment. Had the right hon. Gentleman been present during the whole of the debate, he, no doubt, would have seen the relevancy of the Amendment, which was that gentlemen who were themselves at the mercy of the Lord Lieutenant in point of place should be relieved of a position of delicacy towards His Excellency in respect of sanctioning any purchase agreements made between the Lord Lieutenant and his tenants. It seemed to him that this Amendment would not put the tenants of the Lord Lieutenant in any worse position than any other tenants. The grants would, no doubt, be made, but they would be delayed, and in the meantime the Lord Lieutenant would be enjoying his 4 per cent. which the Government had refused to cut down. The Lord Lieutenant was not an ordinary landlord. He had not attacked the Lord Lieutenant—indeed, he did not know enough about His Excellency to attack him. He understood that Lord Londonderry played cricket extremely well, and that was all he knew of him, besides seeing his name appended to a 420 number of proclamations dispersing meetings. Therefore, he would not attack the Lord Lieutenant as a monster of iniquity; he was willing to believe the Lord Lieutenant was as good a man as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. Under the circumstances, however, it seemed to him that the Lord Lieutenant ought to be protected from making these inroads upon the public purse. He had expected that his Amendment would receive more support; of course, if it did not, he would withdraw it.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, the next new clause, "Notice of intended advances," was one which he should certainly press upon the attention of the Committee. He did not think, considering the number of Amendments he had had upon the Paper, they had occupied very much time, or that the Government could complain of their having been moved. This new clause was one providing that the Land Commissioners should give notice to the public generally of their intention to make an advance, and then, if anyone objected to the advance, he might show cause against it. He did not think this was an Amendment which was objectionable from any point of view. To deal with the first branch of the Amendment, let him say that if a Board of Guardians under the Labourers Act, or a tenant under any of the Acts relating to the Board of Works, or under the Land Act of 1881, or any other of the Land Acts, required an advance they must give notice. The Board of Works must give notice; indeed, a whole series of notices must be given to the public. In the same way he thought that proceedings under this Act should not be carried out in the dark, but that some definite notice should be given. Take the case of the London Companies. The Skinners', as they were very properly called, had carried away £800,000 out of the county of Londonderry. No one knew anything about the transaction until the money was gone. He could conceive that there might have been various placards issued by way of caution to the public as to what was going on, and he could well conceive hon. Gentlemen in the House of Commons, such as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dundee 421 (Mr. Firth) or the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), making a representation to the Treasury that the London Companies were not exactly the landlords who it was desirable should get the public money. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) said very pertinently that night that the London Companies had to invest their money some way, and they were really in as good a position as the State to carry out these purchase agreements without the intervention of the State at all. He thought that was the most forcible observation he had heard made in reference to these Companies. He did not profess to know anything about finance, and therefore he left it to that right hon. Gentleman to further assist him with regard to his present Amendment; but he did maintain that, whether the landlords be skinners or salters, the public should have some notice of the purchase transactions. He did not think it was too much to say that great grants of public money took place in blocks without apprizement being made to those who provided the money—namely, the taxpayers.
(Notice of intended advances.)
The Land Purchase Commissioners shall not sanction any advance without previous notice having been given of the proposed advance in the same way as in the case of advances made now by law to tenants for the improvement of their holdings under the Land Law (Ireland) Act of 1881; and it shall be lawful for any person to appear before the Commissioners against the granting of any such advance; and the Commissioners may, if they think fit, require evidence from the contracting parties by way of cause for the making of such advance,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. MADDEN
said, that there were several objections to this clause. In the first place, it would add considerably to the expense of the proceedings; and, in the next place, he did not see how it would really afford protection to anyone. What had the outside public to do with these contracts between landlords and tenants? It had been argued that night that tenants had been induced 422 unfairly to enter into contracts. From the point of view of the tenant, what protection would this Amendment afford? Suppose a tenant signed an agreement for sale, and notice were given, and other persons were brought in. It could hardly be imagined they could protect a tenant who had been induced to sign a notice of sale.
§ MR. MADDEN
The hon. and learned Gentleman had suggested that perhaps the public would come in. Surely, after Parliament had sanctioned the principle of purchase, the bringing in of the taxpayers or their representatives in the case of each individual advance was hardly a proceeding which would commend itself to hon. Members.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he thought that the gist of the Amendment lay in the words—And it shall be lawful for any person to appear before the Commissioners against the granting of any such advance.A little while ago they heard from the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) that the Commissioners inquired into the solvency of the tenant, and also into his competency—into the general probability of his keeping up the payment of the instalments. If it be true, as he was bound to assume it was, that the Commissioners inquired into the solvency of the tenant, or into his competency to conduct the agricultural work of a farm, was it not possible there might be important information in the hands of others which it was essential for the Commissioners to receive in order to judge of the propriety of an application for an advance? First of all, there was the case of the tenant under duress. A tenant might be compelled to sign an unjust agreement. A tenant might be compelled to maintain silence upon the subject, yet other persons in the district—representatives of the taxpayers—might be aware of the duress, and, if this Amendment were passed, they might come forward and inform the Commissioners. There was another case to be taken into consideration, and that was the case where the landlord had put in a man of straw. They had heard to-night of a case on the Macnamara estate in which an Emergency man had been put in, but had disap- 423 peared immediately an advance was made. Surely the hon. and learned Solicitor General would not deny that, in such a case as that, it was to the interest of the State that the Commissioners should receive information. It was requisite, in the public interest, that in such a case any taxpayer, any member of the community, should be entitled to come before the Commissioners and expose to them the fraudulent nature of the transaction. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland, in a most extraordinary speech, asked what had anyone to do with contracts between landlords and tenants? Where did the money come from? It came from the State. Any member of the community had to do with it. If colourable proceedings were taking place he maintained that it was not only the right, but the duty, of anyone cognizant of them to bring the facts to the knowledge of the Commissioners. If this Amendment were not adopted they could not do it.
§ SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, he could not conceive why the Government refused to publish a notice of the borrowing of money from the State. When the Enclosure Commissioners advanced money for drainage purposes it was necessary that the application for the advance should be advertised for three successive weeks in the local newspapers.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
said, that the whole of the contracts in the county of Donegal averaged from 23 to 24 years' purchase of the judicial rents. In the Blue Book they were put down as 20.7, but if hon. Members looked into the facts they would find that that was 20.7 of the old unreduced rent. In Donegal, which was the only county in Ulster in which undoubtedly there was, to a large extent, danger of any money being lost on account of the poverty of the tenants, the average of all the sales was from 23 to 24 years' purchase. What were the facts? The rent was £1,026, and the valuation £916. The valuation was in all cases higher than the judicial rent in Ulster, and on the average the purchase was between 23 and 24 years upon the judicial rent. He had himself been consulted by the tenants of a large estate, who were being forced into purchase by the threat 424 on the part of those who were poor of exacting arrears, and by promises on the part of those who were pretty well to do which, it was not possible for a landlord to fulfil. When he advised the men to lay the circumstances before the Land Commissioners, he was informed that the holdings had been examined by their valuer, and that the Commissioners were satisfied there was good security. But who did the valuer turn out to be? The valuer was Mr. Murphy, a grand juror of the county, the agent of the large estates in the county, and a man who had been most constantly in connection with, and entirely in sympathy with, the land of the county. He was the man who sanctioned from 23 to 24 years' purchase upon the Government valuation. What was the Government valuation? It was the value put upon the landlords' and tenants' improvements; every house that had been built by the tenant was included in that valuation; every drain and fence came within its purview, and from 23 to 24 years' purchase on the combined interest was what had been sanctioned by the Land Commissioners in County Donegal. He was not aware of this until the whole thing was over. What an example this afforded for the expenditure of the £5,000,000 sterling now to be voted! Had the Land Commissioners been compelled to give notice; had their attention been called to the fact that these sales were manifestly not free sales, and that the prices were manifestly unfair and excessive; did hon. Members think that such a scandal as this would be recorded in the Blue Book? Surely the Committee would be satisfied that notice of these transactions ought to be given, and that the attention of the Commissioners ought to be called, by any person who was interested in taxation, to the fact that the money was being given out without any consideration of the value which was received by the tenant, or of the security which the State was to have.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he appealed to the Government to accept this clause, and thus afford protection to the taxpayers under this Land Purchase Act, as they wore compelled to afford protection under the Land Act of 1881, and under similar Acts. The Board of Works were compelled to advertise the loans they granted, and advertisements were also inserted in the local news- 425 papers of the advance of money to Boards of Guardians under the Labourers' Act. There was not the same risk of corruption or miscarriage in those cases as in this. It was no one's interest to compel the Guardians under the Labourers' Act to borrow money. Under the Land Act of 1881 it was no one's interest, except the tenant's own, for the tenant to borrow money, and yet in such cases they required public notice to be given of the expenditure of State money. Here they had a state of things where an order was made in secret by what was practically a secret Court, An agreement was come to in secret by the parties concerned, and yet hon. Members were to be told that there was to be no right on the part of the taxpayers to know what was going on, or how their money was being dribbled away. The House of Commons must be reduced to an extraordinary condition of plenitude, if they were willing to accept at once the doctrine that public money was to be spent without the public knowing anything about it. Here they had two interested parties making away between them with the public money, and no one was to know anything about it until they read of it in the Blue Book 12 months after date. Was not that the acme of absurdity? Twelve months hence they would know who the sellers and buyers wore. By public rumour they knew that certain sales had been made; they knew there were purchases and rumours of purchases; but they would not know until they got the Blue Book what damage had been done. He was unable to detect any valid ground whatever on which the Government refused this Amendment. One reason given was that it would add to the expenditure. Where was the expense of a notice in The Dublin Gazette? That paper was the Government's own property, and they could make the advertisement as long or as short as they liked. They could publish The Gazette as often as they liked. They already paid an editor, and, except in respect to the cost of the type and paper, he was not aware that the notices would entail any very great expenditure. It was absurd to make the allegation that this would be a costly proceeding. Then it was said that the proceedings would be slow. Slow! The moment the Commissioners sanctioned an ad- 426 vance, or were about to sanction it, they could give notice and go on with their examination of the people. In short, he regarded the opposition to the Amendment by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland as entirely fallacious. Then, as to the second branch of the Amendment—namely—It shall be lawful for any person to appear before the Commissioners against the granting of any such advance,he should have expected the Government would have been delighted to have accepted any such proposition. Let them suppose a case in which there was duress. Surely it would be only reasonable, where the tenant's mouth was closed, that someone on his behalf should have the right to go before the Land Commissioners and lay bare the facts. On all these grounds he trusted the Government would accept his Amendment.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he was far from accusing the hon. and learned Gentleman of having a desire to unduly delay the proceedings, or to put down Amendments which were not in his conscience proper and reasonable, but he could not conceal from the Committee the great disappointment it was to him and his Colleagues that the discussions upon this Bill had been so protracted. The hon. and learned Gentleman had urged them to accept this Amendment partly on the ground of precedent. It was well that he should call attention to the fact that a reason why Parliament decided in the Act of 1881 that there should be notices given of proceedings was that the private rights affected should have some power of seeing what was going on, and should be able to come forward and represent their interests. There was no analogy between this case and the case of the previous Acts. As the Committee were aware, public funds were granted every day for every purpose—drainage, land improvements, piers, harbours, and public works of all sorts, kinds, and descriptions, but he was not aware that in any one of the Acts relating to such matters was there a provision for giving the taxpayer, as a taxpayer, power to appear before the tribunal which allocated the money in order to represent the taxpayers' interest. There were no private rights affected by any transac- 427 which were not amply provided for in this Act as it stood. In the Labourers' Act private rights were affected, and therefore it would be grossly unfair not to give private individuals, whose interests wore injuriously affected, some power of appearing before the Privy Council, or whatever the tribunal was, in order that their claims might be considered. There were no such cases under this Act, and it was because there was no example in which the taxpayer as such was represented in which, in other words, it was given to any wandering politician to come forward and say, "I object to this transaction, and my constituents do not approve of it"—it was because there was no example, that he knew of, of such notice as was proposed being required, that he felt greatly indisposed to accept this Amendment. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman would see that, so far from the precedents he had quoted being in favour of his proposal, they were really against it, and he trusted at that late hour the Amendment would not be pressed.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, there was great force in what the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had said, and he believed the right hon. Gentleman was thoroughly right in his statement as to precedent. He rose, however, to enter his protest against the doctrine which might be deduced from some remarks which fell from the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland. It was this—that the Land Commissioners were a Judicial Body independent of Parliament, and that the decisions they arrived at were to be classified with judicial decisions with which Parliament had no right to interfere. He held that the Land Commissioners were a purely Administrative Body and nothing else; that they were a Judicial Body as between landlord and tenant in reference to the points confided to them; but that with reference to the advances of public money they were responsible to Parliament, Parliament being the supreme and final Judges of the advances made. He was quite prepared to second the right hon. Gentleman's appeal to the hon. and learned Member for North Longford not to press this Amendment, because he did not think they could admit the general 428 right of the public to interfere in all these transactions. What they wanted to preserve intact was the right of Parliament to review these accounts, and the right of Parliament to censure the Commissioners if they did wrong; the right to bring home to the Commissioners the fact that there was a House of Commons and a Parliament to which they were responsible. He thought his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy) might, at any rate, be content with the first part of his clause, which required the publication of what was being done.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)
said, he wished to make a few observations upon this clause, particularly as he desired earlier in Committee to move the insertion of a clause which would have compelled the placing on the Table of the House all schemes of purchase involving the advance of a larger sum than £50,000. The object of that clause was similar in spirit and character to the object of the clause now moved by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Longford. The clause gave an opportunity to the taxpayers, or to Parliament as representing the taxpayers, to review the advances of public money for the purchase of the large estates in Ireland. Some days ago the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) remarked, with great justice, that the case of the London Companies stood upon a footing of its own. There were one or two other cases which also stood upon a footing of their own—for instance, the purchase of the holdings of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, which he believed was now in contemplation. He would be glad if there were some means of bringing to the public notice the arrangement which had been entered into by the Land Commissioners for the purchase of those holdings. He therefore thought the principle which his hon. and learned Friend advocated in this clause was one which Members on the Opposition side of the House should be prepared to support, meaning, as it did mean, that there should be some opportunity on the part of the House of reviewing the application of these moneys in the interest of certain great landlords in Ireland. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would not be disinclined to proceed to a Division, not that they would have the satisfaction of carrying the clause, but 429 because it was extremely desirable there should be an opportunity of asserting in an emphatic manner that the House of Commons ought to be apprized of the way in which the money was going to be expended before the money was absolutely advanced, so that, if need be, objection might be raised to the advances being made.
§ MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire,) Eifion
said, that the strongest argument in favour of this and similar Amendments—namely, the security they would afford against the creation of fictitious tenancies for the purpose of getting hold of the public money—had not been grappled with at all by the Government. The danger of these collusive transactions was first pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), but the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland doubted whether such cases as were suggested ever occurred; he admitted that if such cases did occur, a gross fraud on the Exchequer would have been perpetrated. Immediately after the right hon. Gentleman sat down, the hon. Member for North Dublin (Mr. Clancy) cited a number of cases in which such a gross fraud had been perpetrated. He (Mr. Bryn Roberts) asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary if he proposed to provide any safeguards against a repetition of what he himself admitted was a gross fraud on the Exchequer? This clause would afford, in some degree, a safeguard, because the immediate neighbours of the parties who were perpetrating the fraud would become aware of the fraud, and would be able, if not to appear before the Commissioners, at least to give an intimation to the Commissioners of what was going on. Under the circumstances this clause, or something analogous to it, ought to be adopted.
§ MR. LANE (Cork Co., E.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said he did not see how any private interest would be affected by a loan advanced under this Act. It did not require a very great stretch of imagination to suppose a case. Suppose there were two properties adjoining each other, which consisted of land of almost the same value, and that the tenants of one property were being forced under duress to buy at an exor- 430 bitant price. The price to be paid would, to a large extent, fix the value of the other property. If notices were inserted in the local papers of the price to be paid by the tenants, who were actually under compulsion, it was not difficult to understand the readiness of the tenant on the adjoining property to send information to the Land Commissioners as to their objections to the price to be paid. By the adoption of this clause protection would be given to the tenants on the adjacent property. He mentioned that the tenants on the adjoining property had a perfect right to interfere between the buyer and seller, because they themselves were directly interested in the amount which was being paid on estates where the tenants were compelled under duress to buy. By the adoption of this clause they would secure two things; they would secure that the tenants on an adjoining property should not be compelled to pay a price beyond the value of the land, and they would secure a number of voluntary guardians of the public purse. He hoped that, both in the interest of the tenant farmers and of the taxpayers, his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy) would press the clause to a Division.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, his objection to the Land Commission Court was that it was a secret Court. He was, however, willing to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) and drop the latter part of the clause, that part which provided that it should be lawful for the people to appear before the Land Commission to show cause why an advance should not be made. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked them to show that more than 22 years' purchase had been sanctioned. He found that, as a matter of fact, the average purchase in County Longford was 23.1 years. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary spoke about wandering politicians. He (Mr. T. M. Healy), as a wandering politician, would be very willing to wander into Court and object to 23 years' purchase being paid by his constituents. If they had notice of what was being done some effort would certainly be made to prevent the unfortunate bargains which were being entered into. These two Commissioners simply put their heads together in a 431 private office and decided whether they would or would not allow 23 or 24 years' purchase. But such a transaction ought not to be of a private character; it should take place in a public Court after notice in which the Commissioners should announce their intention, on a specified day, of giving their reasons why, in regard to purchases on an estate, they allowed so many years' purchase. He objected to these private proceedings altogether. Why, the Inquisition was not in it for secrecy. The first thing known about the proceeding was that the money was gone. To tell him that he was not entitled to know what had become of his money, what arrangements had been carried out with it, was one of toe most preposterous courses ever brought forward by a Government in regard to any public Board. There was not any Board in the land under which it would be possible—not even with the Metropolitan Board of Works. Was it desirablethat£5,000,000 should be voted away, and the first thing known of the disposition of the money be that it was all gone? It was an absurd contention. He would be contented if the Government would accept the first branch of the Amendment; he would forego the second part—that was to say, notice should be given of the proposed advance, and striking out the reference to showing cause for the advance. But he protested in the strongest way against this secret Court of two gentlemen putting their heads together and saying how much of his money should go to the Lord Lieutenant—for every taxpayer supplied a portion of themoney—he objected to two gentlemen thus making away with public money without the House knowing anything about it until, twelve months afterwards, they got the whole thing cut and dried in a Blue Book. He should have thought a Government would be anxious to give the names, but they seemed to fear there would be something shady in the transactions, or there would be no difficulty about it. To say that in future Members must be content with Blue Books the Irish Executive should be good enough to give was to make the most arrogant claim ever put forward by a Tory Government for any Department. He trusted the Government were not entirely without some spirit of concession. Throughout these 432 discussions there had been but one small concession, and that was merely declaratory of the existing rules of the Land Court. The Amendment now proposed would effect a slight improvement, and he trusted that the Government, if they were anxious to finish the Bill, would give some momentum to the spirit of concession by accepting the first branch of his Amendment.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
said, to show the necessity of some publicity, he appealed to the recollection of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland of what took place on the last day of last Session. On the Motion for Adjournment he was able to give information which prevented a very gross scandal under this very Purchase Act. It came to his knowledge that tenants on the Verner estates in Armagh were being pressed to buy by Mr. O'Sullivan, a London solicitor. Mr. O'Sullivan sent notices to the tenants saying that he and the Land Commissioners had arranged and settled terms of purchase. That proved, as he believed at the time it would prove, absolutely false—of course the Land Commissioners had made no such arrangement. Then Mr. O'Sullivan said there would be no further bargain with the tenants, and that in case of any tenants refusing to purchase on the terms he named, there was a Land Company in London ready and willing to purchase their holdings. He (Mr. Mahony) was able to show that this Land Company was a bogus Company, and consisted of Mr. O'Sullivan himself. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland would allow that the information given was of some service and prevented a public scandal. The Land Commissioners communicated with Mr. O'Sullivan, and it would be satisfactory to have a copy of the correspondence that then took place, because he understood that negotiations for the sale of the Verner estate to the tenants were still being conducted by Mr. O'Sullivan. This instance showed the necessity for some publicity. It was by the merest accident that he knew of any sale on the Verner estate at all, and it was by the merest accident that a friend of his happened to discover the means by which Mr. O'Sullivan was bringing pressure to bear upon the tenants. Surely when a case like that could be cited there was fair reason for 433 asking, at any rate, that the opportunity should be given of knowing if a sale was going to take place.
§ MR. M'CARTAN (Down, S.)
said, he joined in the protest against the unreasonable attitude of the Government. The only two reasons given why the Government should not accept this reasonable and necessary clause were—first, that it would be open to every wandering politician to appear before the Court and show reasons why the sale should not be carried out. But had not right hon. Gentlemen a better opinion of the Commissioners than to suppose that they would necessarily be influenced by the words of the wandering politician appearing before them? The other reason given was that private rights might be affected under the Act of 1881. But how would private rights be affected? He could tell the right hon. Gentleman how private rights might be affected under the purchase proposals existing. Take the case of a tenant who died intestate, leaving one son in Ireland and other members of his family abroad. The son would be accepted by the landlord as tenant, and he might become a judicial tenant. The Land Commissioners would not make any inquiries, but would look upon him as the tenant; his brothers in America or elsewhere would have no notice of the sale, and the State would have the security of the person only entitled to an interest in the estate. In such a case it was necessary that notice should be given, so that neighbours, or those acquainted with the circumstances, might inform the Commissioners that the man was not entitled to be tenant at all, only taking an interest in the estate of his father. He regretted, therefore, that his hon. and learned Friend proposed to withdraw the second part of the clause, because it was absolutely necessary. It should be open to any person interested in the expenditure of public money—and all were more or less interested—to come forward and assist the State in making the transaction an honest one. He could not understand, if the transaction was an honest one, why there should be any hesitation in making it public. It was in itself suspicious to withhold the names of the gentlemen in whose favour the money was advanced, and those suspicions were intensified by the attitude of the Government. Against 434 this obstinate attitude he hoped his hon. and learned Friend would protest by carrying his Motion to a Division.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, he thought that some reply to this was due. The point raised was one of increasing importance in the North of Ireland. On some of the estates there it was a common practice to take one son and make him the tenant, though there might be other sons in America, in England, or elsewhere; and, if this tenant bought his tenancy under the Act, there was nothing to prevent the other brothers coming over and taking out administration of the estate of their deceased father and making claims upon the property. Some guarantee ought to be taken against this state of things, for the security the State was supposed to have for itself did not exist at all.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said, he had known such instances in Kerry, and if there had been any notice of the transaction somebody would have stepped in to prevent it. He complained that in the fourpenny-halfpenny Blue Book there were no names of the landlords who had obtained the £5,000,000, nor even the names of the manors or townlands in which tenants made the purchases. Intimation of the sales should be given in The Gazette before they actually took place, and when they were sanctioned, so that vigilant eyes might guard against any shady transactions. From his knowledge of the county he represented he ventured to impeach this Blue Book, as not giving an accurate and true account of these transactions; and he ventured to prophesy that when names and particulars were given—and he understood such was promised—it would be found that the information in the Blue Book was quite misleading. The public should know beforehand what was intended, and afterwards what the expenditure had been. The request was reasonable in itself, and should be backed by the general opinion of the Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 97; Noes 165: Majority 68.—(Div. List, No. 313.)
The first section of the clause, "Exception of Minerals," standing in the name of the hon. Mem- 435 for Cork (Mr. Parnell), the reservation of minerals, is within the scope of the Committee; but the latter part, proposing to vest mineral and other rights in the Commissioners of Works in Ireland, is beyond the scope of the Committee, without special instruction from the House.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
said, he understood that if he moved the first part of the clause, and it was agreed to by the Committee, it would simply reserve all mineral rights to the landowners. That was not his meaning in giving Notice of the clause. He did not think that would be any improvement upon matters as they stood. He thought it better that these rights should be in the hands of the tenant than the landlord. His object was to raise a discussion on the more advantageous plan—as he thought it—of transferring such rights to the State. But as that could not be done under the terms of the Amendment, as modified by the suggestion of the Chairman, he preferred not to move the clause at all.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
said, the object of the clause he was about to move was two-fold. First, it seemed that the State should have every available security for the repayment of the money advanced; and, secondly, that there should be purchased from the landlord only that which the landlord in equity had the right to sell—in other words, that the tenant should be protected from having to buy from the landlord houses and other improvements which were the work of his own hands. So far as the protection of the State was concerned, he might claim the support of hon. Members opposite. He knew that they had not much the interest of the tenant at heart, but they might consider their own interests—the interests of the British taxpayer. It was contended the other night that these £5,000,000 were not the taxpayers' money, because they did not, in the first instance, come out of their pockets, but he could show the absurdity of that contention by a homely illustration. If a friend asked him for a loan of £200, the chances would be very strong that he would not have that amount to lend; but, if he were very anxious to let his friend have the money, he might go to a bank and raise it. If he did so, and then lent it to his friend, would it not be his money? That was 436 exactly what the taxpayer did in this case. Of course it was the taxpayers money, and the contention that it was not was absurd. If so, then he might claim the support of hon. Members opposite. One hon. Member he might except, who, in 1886, issued an address calling upon electors to—Vote for justice to Ireland, but not for Samuelson, who would increase taxes on the poor by giving millions of English money to rich Irish landlords.These were the gods the Irish landlords worshipped. These were the gentlemen they now went cringing to for £5,000,000, and who had accused Liberal opponents of the wish to give millions of English money to rich Irishmen. A noble Lord's father, it was understood, had had a very good pull at the last £5,000,000. Irish Members had done their best to prevent rich Irish landlords getting the benefit of a second £5,000,000, though they had not succeeded. They had endeavoured to secure that these £5,000,000 should be used in buying out those Irish landlords who were not in a position to be liberal to their tenants. Applied to such a purpose the money would do a great deal of good, but this did not suit the policy of the Government; they were anxious to reserve the fund for gentlemen like the Duke of Abercorn, Lord Londonderry, the Marquess of Bath—
§ MR MAHONY
said, he acknowledged he had wandered a little in these introductory remarks, and would keep strictly to the Amendment. Was there a necessity for obtaining for the State the best possible security? They had been told the Commissioners would take such very good care before the money was advanced that there was really no danger. Then the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) told the Committee that the tenants' interest in Ireland was as large or larger even than the landlord's, and that this was an additional security. But he thought he could show it was not an additional security—but as regards the necessity of seeing that the security was first-rate, he would refer to page 12 of the Blue Book and the case of the holdings of two defaulting purchasers; the guarantee deposits were, with the concurrence of 437 the guarantors, applied in discharge of the amount due thereupon. What he would lay down distinctly was, that in no case would the Commissioners touch the guarantee deposits until they had made every effort to sell the purchaser's interest. Had it then come to this already, that in two cases under this Act the Commissioners had been unable to sell the tenants' interest? That must be the case; they were unable in these two cases to realize anything by the sale of these purchasers' interests, therefore, they had already begun to eat up the guarantee deposits. That showed the necessity of having a guarantee deposit as real security. The latter part of his Amendment endeavoured to secure that. At present—he did not say the Commissioners had done it—but they might consider themselves compelled to do it or justified in doing it. Suppose a holding valued at £500 and the Commissioners' valuer valued it at £500, why should they not advance £600, because they could have the holding with £500 and a fifth of the purchase money, another £100; therefore they would have security for £600, and as the Act stood he did not see why in some cases they would not find themselves compelled to advance £600. He wanted to guard against the possibility of that by his Amendment. It was known how valuable tenants' improvements were, Were they ever purchased by the tenant under this Act? He maintained that undoubtedly they were. On page 12 of the Report, it appeared that in 519 cases the Commissioners refused to sanction purchases amounting to £243,000, but that they subsequently sanctioned the terms agreed upon, the purchase money being reduced to £200,000; that was, they sanctioned the terms when the landlords consented to take a fifth less than the tenants had agreed to pay. That was distinct and clear evidence of two things—first, that there must have been strong pressure put upon the tenants to force them to pay £43,000 more than the holdings were worth; and, secondly, he maintained that in these cases they must have purchased to the last farthing their own improvements. Gentlemen who knew the circumstances of Irish tenure would know that in nearly all these cases the buildings and improvements must have been provided by the 438 tenants, and these improvements the tenants must have purchased; because the Commissioners advanced all that they possibly could. When they sent down their Inspector to value in these 519 cases, he saw land, buildings, and improvements as a whole, and made no effort to separate them, for that was no part of his duty. He valued the holdings as they stood, and, therefore, in these cases the full value was put upon them. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) said that in no case would the Commissioners, advance the full value; but could he point to any single word in the Act that bore out that statement? Did he think the landlords made a present of a portion of the property to the tenants? It could not be contended that that was the case. Unquestionably the Commissioners would be justified in advancing the full value—he was not saying a word against the Commissioners, who, so far as he was acquainted with their proceedings, had performed their duties in an admirable manner. What he was trying to secure was that they should be directed to perform those duties in a manner that was fair to the tenant; and he maintained that as the Act stood, they were not called upon to protect the tenant's interest—in fact, they said themselves it was no part of their duty to do so—they had to take the full value of the holding as it stood, and that value must include a large portion of the property that belonged to the tenant. This was a gross injustice, that the tenant should be required to buy his own property; and he appealed to the Committee to secure that in future the Commissioners should be directed to see that the tenant paid a fair price only for what he was supposed to be buying—the property of the landlord—and that under no circumstances should he be called upon to buy his own property.
(Security for Advances.)
The Land Commissioners, in considering the security for the payment of the annual instalments, shall not take into account as a security improvements executed by or acquired by the tenant or his predecessors in title, or any guarantee deposit within section three of "The Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885."—(Mr. Mahony,)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.439
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. PINKERTON (Galway)
said, he thought it was rather cruel for his hon. Friend to revive the election address of the noble Lord opposite. They read in Sacred Writ, "You must not seethe the kid in its mother's milk," and it seemed equally reprehensible to roast a Tory with his own election address. When the Bill was introduced it was said in debate that land in Ireland had been sold at an inflated price, but this was objected to, and it was declared that while land was soiling in England at 20 years' purchase, the average in Ireland was only 17 years' purchase. But then, when they considered the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this 17 years' purchase represented only one-half of the interest, it appeared that really the Irish sales had reached the inflated price of 34 years' purchase. For his own part, he could endorse the statements of his hon. Friend, though it was not so much the case in the North, where tenants had liberty to meet and consult with their advisers, but in other parts of Ireland such meetings were forbidden, and a Member who presumed to advise his tenant constituents was consigned to prison after being tried before the "removables" for intimidating tenants. For any pacifying influence the Act should exercise it should be carried out in a very different spirit. It was a mistake to suppose that Nationalist Members opposed the Bill because of its pacifying influence. The operation of the Act was very much like throwing a stone into a pond—the circles created by every purchase widened the feeling of discontent among men not able to purchase, who had not the opportunity; while they saw men who probably had less need of it than themselves becoming purchasing tenants.
§ MR. PINKERTON
said, he was very sorry he had exceeded the lines of the Amendment. Having a somewhat similar Amendment on the Paper, he need scarcely say he fully supported and sympathized with its object, and 440 hoped the Government would act wisely in making this concession.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the hon. Member, by a very singular lapse of logic, appeared to consider that one result of the Bill would be to spread discontent, where there were purchasers, among those who were not purchasers.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the whole purport of the Amendment went to show that purchases were not carried out on an equitable basis. The hon. Member went on to say there was a distinction in Ulster, where combination was not allowed, as in other parts of Ireland. But, as a matter of fact, figures proved that the prices given in Ulster were higher than in those other parts of Ireland—surely a very curious illustration of the argument advanced. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment dilated on the hardships existing, but there was no evidence whatever that tenants ever had purchased that which was their own property. If they had purchased their own interest it would naturally be expected that the price of holdings would consist of 18 or 20 years' rent, plus as many years' value of the tenant right. But there was no case in Ireland of 30 years' purchase being given. It had not happened, and therefore he pointed out to the Committee that the injustice the Amendment was supposed to redress was not one that there was any reason to suppose existed. The whole basis of the Bill rested upon freedom of contract between landlord and tenant—it was the very essence of the Bill. [An hon. MEMBER: It ought to be.] Landlord and tenant agreed upon a price, and then they came to the Land Commissioners for money to be advanced. A great deal had been said tending to show that the landlord was in a position to compel the tenant to accept terms higher than the market rate, and it had been argued by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the landlord was in a better position than the tenant to make a bargain in the matter; but the correlative fact had never been advanced, the fact that the landlord was reduced to one purchaser, and not allowed by the Act to go into the open market and put his wares up 441 to the highest competition price, but he was compelled to go to one single person and agree with him for a price; and he was bound to say that, under these circumstances, one would naturally expect that the turn of the market would not be in favour of the landlord, but in favour of the tenant. Then he would point out, as a practical objection to the Amendment—an objection which, if there were no other, would be conclusive—that it would compel the Commissioners to revise the decisions of the ordinary Land Commissioners under the Act of 1881. It was the function of the Commissioners under the Act of 1881 to settle the comparative share of the landlord and tenant in the holding, and adjudicate upon the fair rent. If the Amendment were accepted, the Land Purchase Commissioners would have to revise the decisions already arrived at by the Commissioners under the Act of 1881, and there would be a conflict of jurisdiction extremely inconvenient. The Amendment really struck at the root of the original Act, of which he had earnestly hoped the Committee would consider this a Continuance Bill merely, and not think it necessary to revise the machinery, but that hope grew fainter as the hours passed. This Amendment would upset the whole principle of the Act, and it was absolutely impossible for the Government to accept it.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman had fallen into an extraordinary misapprehension of the question. He said the landlord was compelled to go to a single purchaser, but the fact was there was no market for land in Ireland, and that by the Act the single purchaser was compelled to come to the landlord, so that the right hon. Gentleman had stated the exact contrary to what existed. The right hon. Gentleman said he never heard of a case of 30 years' purchase. But what rent was in question? It might be imagined from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that all purchases were conducted on the basis of judicial rents, but that was not so. Of 600,000 tenants, not a third had judicial rents. Aware of this fact, why did the right hon. Gentleman argue as if only judicial rents were in question?
§ MR. SEXTON
asked, had the right hon. Gentleman never heard of threats to take away the right of turbary, or of prosecution for arrears? It was notorious that tens of thousands of tenants were kept out of Court by such proceedings. In those cases where tenants had not gone into Court at all, 20 years' purchase on the old rent might actually mean 40 years' purchase at a fair rent. No distinction was made between fair rent and old rents. In 1,200 cases the Commissioners had refused to ratify contracts between landlords and tenants, because they held that for the repayment of advances they had not sufficient security in the holdings, and in 700 cases landlords refused to reduce their price, and 500 gave way to the directions of the Commissioners. These 500 landlords had prevailed on their tenants to agree to purchase their farms for £240,000, and the Commissioners held that this price was excessive, and reduced it to £200,000, but it should be observed that the sum the Commissioners had to secure was £160,000, because they held £40,000 of the purchase money; therefore, the interest the tenants agreed to buy at £240,000, the landlords' interest, was in respect to holdings which the Commissioners declared were not, landlords' and tenants' interest combined, security for more than £160,000. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland said what all knew to be true—except, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary—that the interest of the tenant was equal to that of the landlord, and usually much larger, and, moreover, the tenant had a market while the landlord had none. Assuming that in these cases the interests were equal, then the tenants would buy interests representing £80,000, and for this they had actually been induced to agree to pay £240,000. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would do better to attempt to answer those figures than to merely laugh in a fantastic manner. The demonstration seemed complete that the tenants were compelled to offer three times the value of what they wished to buy, and the purpose of his hon. Friend was to secure that the Commissioners should endeavour to protect not only the State, but the tenant. No doubt they did effectually protect the State, but the figures cited proved that under 443 the system in force in Ireland the tenant might be obliged to give three times the value of the article he purchased.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
said, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary complained of time lost, it was the attitude of the Government that was the cause of this, and especially the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman himself, abounding in fallacies and misquotations. He declared that land fetched higher prices in Ulster, but figures did not bear out that. Taking the average number of years' purchase of the net rental, perhaps it was a trifle higher, but in comparing counties he found that in Londonderry, where large transactions had taken place, the number of years' purchase was 17.5, while on poor land in Clare it was 18.6, and in Cork 16.3. In Londonderry the tenant paid 17.5 for what was practically the landlord's interest, but it was not so in Clare and Cork, for, as compared with the valuation, it was shown that the rental was 50 per cent over the valuation, while in Londonderry it was actually less than the valuation. So that it came to this—that in Clare the tenants bought at 27 years on the valuation, and in Londonderry at 17 years on the valuation. In Cork, though the purchases were in 262 cases 16.3 years' purchase on the net rental, they were 21.2 on the valuation. He contended, from absolute knowledge of the estates, that the taxpayers had not security for these advances in Cork, and he could tell the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that repudiation of a number of the instalments was inevitable, not owing to dishonesty on the part of tenants, but from utter inability to pay. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary made many wild and loose statements; his knowledge of Ireland did not improve with the length of his tenure of Office. He said the Purchase Commissioners would, if the Amendment were adopted, be called upon to revise judicial rents. Nothing of the kind; they would be called upon to give reports on the value of what was offered for sale, to see to the value of the tenant's interest as compared with the valuation. The difference in some parts of Ireland was enormous. In his own constituency he found that a landlord had suggested to a number of tenants an agreement to purchase at 20 444 years of the unreduced rack-rents. A few of the tenants, not satisfied with the transaction, came to him, and he went with a competent farmer to view and value the property, and he showed the tenants that on the average the rents were 40 or 50 per cent above the valuation, the land being very wet and boggy, and, owing to the fall in prices for what it produced, the value of the land had fallen below Griffiths' valuation. Whatever value the farms had had been given to them by the tenants; else it had nothing more than prairie value; it was "made" land out of boggy mountain slopes. Yet they were about to sign an agreement for purchase on 20 years of unreduced rent, though the landlord had given 30 per cent reduction in the previous year, and still they were unable to meet their obligations. He represented this to the tenants, and they replied—"Well, sure, we must get out of our present difficulties. Mr. So-and-so has ejectments against us, and we shall be turned out at Christmas." Then he reminded them that they would have to pay the county cess and other rates, and the reply was—"Well, sure, we'll get along for two or three years, and then we must have another pull at the instalments." He pointed out the dishonesty of the course they were prepared to take, and was glad to say he broke down the arrangement, not out of any platonic affection for the British taxpayer, but out of regard for the honour of his countrymen, who were entering upon a bargain they wore unable to carry out. The Amendment was one the Committee ought to accept without reluctance. There was nothing in the Bill to show that the Commissioners should have regard to anything but the value of the holding, landlords' and tenants' interests combined; he had shown that 27 years' purchase had actually been paid on poor land as compared with 17 years' on better land in Londonderry, and if such an Amendment were not introduced the taxpayers would, in the long run, have good cause to regret it.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said, he was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not intervened in the discussion. When his hon. Friend proposed the Amendment he was under the ingenuous expectation that the right hon. Gentleman would second the pro- 445 posal with his powerful support. It would be remembered that in an earlier debate, when the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) was discussing the stability of the security, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied that what was bought by the tenant was only the interest of the landlord, and, therefore, as security for the repayment of the advance made for the purchase of the landlord's interest, there remained both that interest and the tenant's improvements. If that were so, then the Amendment merely carried out the idea of the right hon. Gentleman. It was to be regretted that the debate had not occurred at an earlier hour, and if he thought it would conduce to a more favourable consideration of the proposal he would move to report Progress. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland that the Amendment went to the root of the whole question, and, if it were accepted, there would be protection for the property and some assurance for the solvency of the Irish tenant as well as security for the British taxpayer. On the other hand, if it was rejected there was every prospect of the tenant being robbed in the present, and the British taxpayer stood a very good chance of being robbed in the future. Under the circumstances it was unreasonable that, in consistency, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer should sit silent when an Amendment was moved carrying out his own statement in regard to the land purchase scheme. He purposely refrained from noticing the statements of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, for they had been abundantly controverted by his hon. Friends. He was disinclined to move to report Progress, even at such an advanced hour, knowing the desire of the Government to get the Bill through, but on this Amendment it was desirable to concentrate the attention of the Committee, and he should be obliged to take that course unless the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer accepted the challenge to show how he could reconcile his own words with the rejection of the Amendment.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, he hoped the 446 hon. Member would not make a Motion to report Progress. He entirely associated himself with the view of his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whose arguments had not been shaken in the slightest degree by the views expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Nor did he find in these arguments anything in contradiction of the statement originally made, that it was the landlords' interest that was bought. He could not see how, in the slightest degree, that established the case for the Amendment.
§ MR. MAHONY
said, that the right hon. Gentleman still maintained his position that the tenant only bought the landlord's interest. But it had been proved beyond yea or nay that when the Land Commissioners sent down their valuer he valued the holding as it stood—landlord's and tenant's property together. The Commissioners reported that in 519 cases tenants had agreed to pay £40,000 more than the whole property was worth, and when they ultimately paid the value fixed by the Commissioners—£200,000—was it not clear as daylight that the value included both landlord's and tenant's property? But this was a point both the right hon. Gentlemen had altogether evaded. There was the greatest danger, amounting to almost a certainty, that a gross injustice would be done to tenants in their being compelled to purchase their own property. With that there would be created a feeling of soreness among tenants who would know they had been forced to buy at an unnaturally high price, and this would lead to repudiation of instalments. Experience guided in this matter. There was an Act under which tenants bought at a high price—the Church Act—and the consequence was shown in the Report of the Commissioners under that Act for 1887, in which, as illustrating the difficulties they had to contend with, they mentioned what had taken place in County Louth. Failing to obtain instalments, and failing to make any compromise, the purchaser was at last evicted. The farm was set up for sale, but the sale was Boycotted, and the Commissioners were obliged to buy in the farm, which remained on their hands, though it was most desirable land, and situated near the town of Ardee. In addition to the other heavy costs, the Commissioners had 447 to pay a caretaker to take charge of the property. Then the Commissioners went on to state the certainty they felt that the same result would follow wherever they endeavoured to effect the sale of a farm from which they had dispossessed the purchaser for non-payment of liabilities, and had seriously embarrassed them in the administration of the Church Estates. That was to say, the fear of the same result following prevented the Church Commissioners from exercising their powers of sale. Then in the Report for the present year there were two cases under Lord Ashbourne's Act in which the Land Commissioners had not dared to exercise their powers of sale, but had come down upon the deposit, so that the fifth deposit would gradually disappear, and the British taxpayer would have to keep possession of the land, paying a band of Emergency men as caretakers. It was said his Amendment would be going back upon the Act of 1881. But did not the Purchase Commissioners send down their Inspector even in cases where a judicial rent had been fixed? Why, if they were to be satisfied with the action of the Commissioners under the Act of 1881, did not they take it for granted that the land was worth the value of so many years' judicial rent? Simply because that security was not considered good enough for the British taxpayer; and all he asked was that a distinction should be made between the landlord's and the tenant's property, and that the tenant should be secured against outside pressure forcing him to buy what was already his own property. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary doubted the fact of such pressure being applied, but any number of cases might be proved in which threats of prosecution for arrears had prevented tenants going into the Land Court. One instance he might mention from County Meath. A tenant held under lease at a rent greatly in excess of the Government valuation. When the Act of 1881 was passed he applied for a fair rent, and the following Quarter Sessions he was served with an ejectment, and a writ was issued against him in a Superior Court, immediate proceedings being taken for arrears at the instance of Mr. M. P. Lynch—a Commissioner under the Land Act for fixing fair rents. That was the way in which the Act was administered 448 against his own tenant. The moment a tenant tried to take advantage of the Act he was served with a writ, and thus pressure was applied to keep the Irish tenant out of the Land Court. Many holdings had been sold to evicted tenants, to men not actually in occupation at the time the bargain was made, but put in nominal occupation so as to be brought within the Act. Would the right hon. Gentleman maintain that when a man had lost his right of occupation, when there was nothing but the landlord's will or the workhouse between him and starvation, that such a man could make a fair bargain between himself and the landlord? An abundant case had been made out to show that the tenant required protection in these purchase transactions. He did not suppose it was any use making any further appeal to the Committee, but he should certainly carry his Motion to a Division to mark his protest against the Government refusal to give this protection to tenant and taxpayer.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said, it being now almost 2 o'clock, and many Members of the Committee asleep, he would ask how much longer it was intended to protract a Sitting that had now extended over 11 hours with the prospect of reassembling 10 hours later? Ten new clauses remained on the Paper, and would it not be wiser to leave them to be finished on the morrow? [Cries of "No, no!"] Though hon. Members might be ready to sacrifice their own rest and health, some consideration was due to the officials of the House; and, for hon. Members themselves, it might be desirable to take a Division against further discussion for the sake of the awakening effect of a walk through the Lobbies.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he understood the hon. Member to suggest, though he did not actually move, an adjournment, but he would earnestly press the hon. Gentleman not to persist in the suggestion. He complained, with a certain amount of reason, of the enormous labour thrown upon hon. Members, and certainly no hon. Member felt that more than he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) did. But he appealed to hon. Members to consider the general position of Business. It would be acting like children to consider this isolated Amendment by itself without relation to the 449 Bill—its position, and the Business remaining to be done in the short time remaining in which to do it. The hon. Gentleman himself was one of those who desired an early day for the discussion of Scotch Estimates, but how was it possible for the Government to comply with that wish, or, indeed, to give an early day for anything at all unless hon. Members would really make some sacrifice of rhetoric. [Cries of "Oh! oh!"] He did not complain of any hon. Member. No doubt every hon. Member who spoke thought his observations were of vital importance for the elucidation of the question before the Committee. But the Committee would recognize that a great amount of time had been spent upon what, after all, was but a Continuance Bill; and he thought, in connection with the suggestion which had been thrown out, the Committee ought to make a serious attempt to finish the Committee stage of the Bill at the present sitting.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the right hon. Gentleman sometimes obliged him to doubt whether he really had at heart the purpose he professed. He made an appeal to Members to promote the facilitation of Business in connection with this Bill, but he had scarcely completed a sentence before he delivered himself of an offensive sneer. He said that hon. Members were unwilling to make a sacrifice of rhetoric.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not say that he appealed to hon. Members, and implored them to make such a sacrifice.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that meant that Members were pursuing a course different to that suggested. He complained that the labour of the Committee fell heavily upon himself, but there was one Member upon whom the burthen was much heavier—the Chairman. The Chairman could say whether there had been a needless display of rhetoric, and he would admit there had been a most business-like discussion. There had been no callings to Order, and the Chairman had not felt himself called upon to abbreviate the speech of any Member. Every Member, however humble his position, had public duties to perform, and should be credited with purity of motives, not treated with sneers. It was now coming to a question of physical endurance; the Sitting had been a prolonged one. He had no desire to delay the 450 Bill unduly, but it was for Members themselves—many of whom were reduced to a state of physical incapacity beyond his own—to consider whether they could, and in fairness to the Chairman, proceed further and resume their duties again at noon.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, in reference to the remaining Amendments he found, among others, one standing in the name of the hon. Member for East Bristol (Mr. Handel Cossham), which would have to be pressed most strongly on the attention of the Government. It was an Amendment restricting advances to judicial rents. With this and other Amendments remaining it would be impossible to close the Committee without at least some four hours' discussion. [A laugh.] An hon. Member regarded that prospect with unconcern, but he might be reminded that most Members had private duties to perform, and did not desire to commence the morning's work utterly exhausted. Were the Government prepared to go on for some four or six hours longer? ["Hear, hear!"] He did not appeal to the rank and file of the Party opposite, whose contribution towards the facilitation of Business was compatible with the assumption of recumbent attitudes.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he would move to report Progress. He had expressed his unwillingness to do so, but the tone of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary's observations since had done a great deal to remove his hesitation. The manner of his address, his studied wanton insults, were not to be tolerated. So long as the debate was conducted in a spirit of good feeling on both sides he was unwilling to do anything to inconvenience the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues, but since he had chosen to exacerbate debate by the language he had employed, they were not called upon to consult the feelings of right hon. Gentlemen.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. T. P. O'Connor.)
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, surely hon. Members opposite did not consider the speech of his right hon. Friend was of 451 an aggressive character. [An hon. MEMBER: Yes, certainly.] There was not the slightest intention on the part of his right hon. Friend to say anything in the slightest degree offensive to any hon. Member. He was only anxious to promote the progress of Business, and he appealed to every impartial Member whether there was anything in the speech of his right hon. Friend to irritate the feelings of Gentlemen on the other side. He appealed to the Committee to proceed with a certain discussion of the Amendment before them.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he had a hope that the Bill would pass through Committee. But it was not in the power of hon. Members to prevent that course except by imposing a heavy strain upon the labours of all the officials of the House, for which he was not prepared to take the responsibility.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, he was led to support the Motion by the character of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. His hon. Friend had mentioned one sneer, and there was another in the observation that every hon. Member considered his remarks vital to the elucidation of the clause. There was another insult. If it was not intended then it would seem the right hon. Gentleman was incapable of anything else. There was one alternative to reporting Progress now. It would be remembered that they had obtained one small concession during the night, and that was when the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were absent, and the Bill was in charge of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland, who, with common sense and legal learning, had the courtesy of an Irish gentleman, not the manners of a Scotch philosopher. While that hon. and learned Gentleman conducted the Government Business, argument obtained a small concession of some importance; the most friendly relations prevailed between the two sides of the House, and there was not the slightest tone of irritation. He suggested, therefore, that in the hope of the 452 discussion being continued in a harmonious spirit, the two right hon. Gentlemen he had mentioned should take their departure.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
said, he supported the Motion for reporting Progress, not from any exasperation that anybody on those Benches might naturally feel at the diatribes of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, but, like the proverbial eels, they were accustomed to the skinning by the right hon. Gentleman. He hoped that Progress would be reported out of commiseration for the dilapidated condition of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer's voice. [Cries of "Order!"] He appealed to hon. Members; did not the condition of his vocal organ indicate the fatigue the right hon. Gentleman was suffering? ["Order, order!"] Members had returned refreshed from the land of "Nod."
Mr. Bartley rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ DR. TANNER
, continuing, urged that Progress should be reported, for in all conscience the Sitting had been sufficiently prolonged, in view of the early Wednesday Sitting, and there were important matters still remaining for discussion. The rank and file of the Irish Party had hitherto left the discussion to their Leaders, though, for his part, he might have mentioned several facts illustrative of the matters under discussion. He hoped Progress would be reported and discussion resumed under calmer conditions.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, if the right, hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken before the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary so ingeniously excited temper in the Committee, he should not have objected to go on for a limited time, but the time had come for the Government to decide what they would do. It must be apparent the Committee could not close discussion of the Amendments in time to return to the House at mid-day, and if the Government would name a time up to which they should continue he would be ready to go on. [Cries of "No, 453 no!" "Bill through!"] He was probably far more familiar with these scenes than hon. Members who interrupted him. He was ready to make some personal sacrifice—not, perhaps, to make a sacrifice of rhetoric entirely—and proceed for a while longer.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, if he had been so unfortunate as to let fall anything that tended to excite feelings of exasperation he expressed regret, and could assure hon. Members he had no intention of wounding the feelings of the most sensitive Member. If he might now venture to make a suggestion—the hour was late—he hoped he was right in interpreting the wish of hon. Members to make progress with the Bill and end the Session as soon as possible. If so, then he hoped his suggestion would be favourably received, that the Committee stage should now close, and that the remaining Amendments should be discussed on the Report stage on the morrow. There would be opportunity for full discussion, and he hoped the plan would reconcile the Members of both sides as to the present sitting.
§ DR. CLARK
suggested that if the Committee now reported Progress, and if the six o'clock Wednesday rule was suspended, the Bill might be finished by midnight. Let the Committee give over work now, take the rest nature required, and return on the morrow like giants refreshed for work for which they were now physically incapable.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE) (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
said, the proposal just made by his right hon. Friend had more than once been made and acted upon in carrying important Bills through the House. Such proposals had been accepted by hon. Gentlemen who felt the strongest interest in Amendments remaining for discussion in Committee. He remembered, during the progress of the Local Government Bill, there were several important Amendments remaining to be discussed when a general desire was expressed that the Committee stage should be brought to an end, and the suggestion was made that certain of the Amendments should stand over for Report. In that way considerable time was saved without any sacrifice on the part of any hon. Member who desired to press his 454 Amendment. He hoped he might be allowed to join with his right hon. Friend in pressing the suggestion that Members should now allow Committee to close, and discuss remaining Amendments on the next stage.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, if Irish Members had to deal with a Minister like the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board the progress of Business would be more harmonious; but they were too much accustomed to the platform measures of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. He (Mr. Sexton) remembered the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and he remembered also that Members gave way out of regard to the courteous manner and uniform good temper with which the right hon. Gentleman had conducted the Local Government Bill through Committee. He was prepared to recommend to his Friends the adoption of the course suggested, in response to the appeal of a Minister whose intervention in business was unfortunately usually confined to British affairs.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he did not think he would be justified in pressing his Motion. But, at the same time, if the proposal of the Government were accepted the Government should give an assurance that the debate on the Report stage should not be closured.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he could not give any undertaking in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith); but he could not conceive that hon. Members would not find ample time for discussion between 12 o'clock and half-past five.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
said, he had given notice of an Amendment which many of his hon. Friends considered of importance, and which he desired should be discussed in a calm spirit. He had always noticed that at the end of a protracted Sitting there was a disposition all round to become irritable. He, therefore, willingly accepted the suggestion to postpone the discussion of his Amendment to Report stage.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, the Amendment before the Committee went to the root and principle of the Bill as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said; but it would be only fair to the Committee if an attempt 455 were made at the next Sitting to meet those facts and arguments with which the Amendment had been supported.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and negatived.
§ MR. SEXTON
asked, would it be necessary for each Member to renew his Notice to the Clerk of the remaining Amendments, that they might appear for the Report stage?
The Amendment last under discussion has been negatived, and no longer remains. Of course, it will be competent for the hon. Member to put it down again.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To morrow.