HC Deb 20 August 1889 vol 339 cc1770-802

1. £73,214, to complete the sum for Irish Land Commission.

Mr. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

The first observation I have to make in regard to this Vote is that I notice a decrease in the amount for the present year under some of the heads. Although the total net decrease is only £5,000, it is a decrease of which I think we have a right to complain. As there is a decrease in the salaries of the Assistant Commissioners, both legal and non-legal, it shows that to some extent the Government are attenuating the Commission.


May I be allowed to explain. The decrease is purely apparent, and it arises from the fact that the Land Commission is only continued until the end of the year. It will be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and the decrease in the amount included in the Estimate is really a matter of account.


The explanation upon that point is quite satisfactory, but I only mentioned the circumstance in order to lead up to another point—namely, that the Government only propose in the Bill which they have brought in to appoint two additional Sub-Commissioners. In view of the glut of cases awaiting decision, the Government ought to have appointed a larger number of Assistant Commissioners. There ought certainly to be an increase in the number of Sub-Commissioners, and greater regularity in the sittings of the Commission. At the present moment one Commissioner is attempting to deal with two whole counties. This is a great hardship on the tenants, who have to pay arrears on rent which they do not really owe at all. The tenants of the hon. Member for Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry) are suffering greatly from this cause, although I believe that the hon. Member cannot fairly be described as a rack-renter. The hon. Member has issued writs against his tenants for the full rent, notwithstanding the fact that they claim very large reductions. If that be the action of a landlord like the hon. Member, who is not a rack-renter, what is likely to be the action of rack-renting landlords? In many instances rents have been reduced from £30 to £15, and yet the landlords are, by the process of the law, exacting the full rent. We are asked, why not have recourse to the Acts of 1881 and 1887. I protest against the broad assertion of the Chief Secretary, and the still broader assertions of the right hon. Gentleman's much less informed Secretary, with regard to the effect of these Acts. The only way to test any law is by its application, and it will be found that in all the cases in which a desire has been expressed to come under these Acts, the Courts have refused to put the law in force, and have given the landlords their remedy. It may be imagined how much injustice is thus done to the tenants of petty landlords. The "staying" section of the Act of 1887 has proved to be of very little value, and is inapplicable where the rent exceeds £30. Of course, the substantial tenants are all rented above £30, and the result is that a man whose farm is valued at £100 has actually no remedy at all under the Act. It is altogether a different story if an action for ejectment is brought against him, but he has no remedy in an action for the recovery of rent. As to Section 30 of the Act, it only enables you to have a "stay" put on in order to prevent the sale of the tenant's interest, but not to prevent you from having your stock and farming utensils sold up. A more abominable enact- ment than Section 30 of that Act was never passed, and no legal adviser, unless he were a criminal lunatic, would recommend a tenant to have recourse to it. A tenant who applies under that section has to pay by instalments, and if he makes default by a single day in one instalment all his efforts are made nugatory, and he loses the whole benefit of the Act. Then there is unconscionable delay in the hearing of applications under the Act of 1887, and one tenant of the hon. Member for Hunts had to wait for two years. He was one of the persons who waited upon the hon. Member as a deputation some time ago, and immediately afterwards he was served with a writ. I cannot understand why justice is to be delayed and defeated in the Land Court. The Four Courts and the Civil Law Courts are open to every landlord who wants an ejectment. Why, then, should there be any delay in having recourse to the remedial Courts of the realm? I cannot help feeling that it is a very strong order indeed for the Government to allow the Land Law to be obstructed, impeded, and defeated in this way, owing to the weakness of the staff of the Court. From this Vote I find that the salaries of the legal Sub-Commissioners who hold office under the Act have been reduced from £6,000 to £4,500; and I claim that the tenants of Ireland should be no more impeded in their action than the landlords. They have a remedy which has been given to them by Statute, and they should be able to avail themselves of it without a month's delay. If we are to have this delay, then the process of the landlord should be delayed also. In my opinion, it would only be reasonable to enact that the tender of rent to the full value should be a bar to an action for ejectment. We may fairly complain of the bias shown in these appointments. First of all, these men are employed as if they were day labourers. We have attacked the Removables in Courts in Ireland, and I myself asked the Chief Secretary some time ago a question which, I think, neatly explains the position of the Sub-Commissioners. I asked him to explain why Mr. Cecil Roche was willing to give up a salary of £1,000 a year as Land Commissioner to take a salary of £450 as Resident Magistrate? The answer of the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be—to use a Mitchelstown phrase—of a ricochet nature. He laid it down that Sub-Commissioners are removable; that the position of a Sub-Commissioner is frailer than that of a Resident Magistrate. The idea that a man who has to fix rent between landlord and tenant should be paid as a labourer by the day—should be dismissable at a moment's notice—is most appalling. Mr. Wrench shuffles these men about as he would a pack of cards; they are in his hands but a set of ninepins. Take the case of Colonel Bailey, a gentleman of large experience. He is no friend of ours, as his name well denotes. He has held his appointment since 1881. He is an honest man, and he has been shunted about from pillar to post. I have never seen him, and I have had no communication with him; but I notice that when he goes with Mr. Doyle's Commission he very frequently dissents from the ruling of Mr. Doyle, on the ground that the rents are fixed too high. Mr. Doyle is the gentleman who described the Mitchelstown tenants as a pack of howling savages, and, in consequence, Mr. Doyle himself is known as the "howling savage." Colonel Bailey is a judge of land, and in Waterford he said, "I dissent from the decision of the Court on the ground that the rents are too high." For a legal Sub-Commissioner to vote down a lay Commissioner who is a good judge of land is a course which is not to be defended for a moment. I regret that Mr. Doyle is taking such a course. I think the proper course to pursue in a case when the two lay Commissioners disagree as to the fair rent is for the two to strike some average between them. It is not a good system; but you must come to a decision one way or the other. If the course I suggest were pursued, we should have something like an approximation to what Colonel Bailey thinks a fair rent. Now, there have been about 100 Sub-Commissioners appointed since the Land Act was passed. I am sure I am within the mark when I say that of the 100 there have not been six tenant farmers. Again, three-fourths of the people of Ireland are Catholics, but not 20 out of the 100 Sub-Commissioners have been Catholics. I may be told that Sub-Commissioners are not selected on religious grounds; but if a man subscribes to the Thirty-nine Articles it does not make him a good judge of turnips. It really seems to me that Protestantism and the fixing of rents go hand in hand. You go to the landlord and the agent class for your Sub-Commissioners. I protest against a gentleman like Mr. Wrench ringing the changes upon the Sub-Commissioners. Under the Act of 1881 you had the greatest chance you ever had of quietening the country as you call it, but instead of working that Act fairly and thoroughly and determinedly you appointed gentlemen to fix rents so high that in 1887 you had to pass an Act to enable the rents to be adjusted. You are doing the same thing now. The rents are being fixed abnormally high, because the men who are fixing them are men of the landlord class, and men with landlord sympathies. I wish we could see a schedule of the reductions of rent made in England without the operation of law. I am sure the Chief Secretary himself has given far greater reductions to his own tenants than the Irish Land Commissioners have given to the Irish tenants, and yet he has not been able to go about and talk about spoliation and so forth. I now come to the action of the head Commission. The Chief Secretary really ought to do something in regard to the question of appeal. Of all the farces that ever were invented the appeal to the head Commission is the greatest. I say that in the interest of both landlords and tenants. If anybody wants to see a curiosity let him go into the Land Commission Court when an appeal is being heard. Lawyers get their fees, but they take them with regret, because they can do absolutely nothing for their clients. Three gentlemen who have never seen the farms, and never will see them, proceed to reverse the decisions of three men who have visited the farms. The system of appeal is an absurdity. It is simply a method for harassing the tenants, because landlords often insist upon higher rents than those fixed, threatening if they do not receive them to appeal. If there is a question of law to decide the head Commission is a very good tribunal. I do not attack the tribunal as a legal tribunal, but it ought to be a legal tribunal. It ought to decide questions of law, and nothing else. It, however, raises rents all over the country and upon the most absurd grounds. A man's rent may be £40; the Court below fixes it at £30; the head Commission fixes it, say at £31 7s. 6d., which is an absolutely grotesque proceeding. How gentlemen can take part, and take £3,000 a year for taking part, in a farce of that kind I cannot understand. But, of course, every human institution is infirm, and the head Land Commission is amongst the most infirm of all human institutions. Under a schedule of the Act of 1887, which was passed with the intention of enabling the Commission to grant abatements of rent, the Commission raise the rents en masse. The history of the Act of 1887 was certainly very curious. Between Devonshire House and Birmingham, and this House and lobbying, and Star Chambering, and what Lord Salisbury said in the House of Lords, which was swallowed in the House of Commons, the Act was one of the most remarkable pieces of steeple chasing legislation which was ever witnessed, but it got through. The original section was altered in this House, and I ventured a prophecy which I never believed would eventuate in a reality. I said the section was one to enable the Land Commission to raise the rents. I did not believe it would do it—I did not think it would have the cheek to do it—but it did raise the rents. It is a nice question whether it was legally competent for them to do it, or for two of them to do it without the agreement of the third. Mr. Justice O'Hagan dissented. In the Report made to Parliament on the question of what is called the adjustment of rent, it was stated— Mr. Justice O'Hagan felt himself unable to concur in signing the Order of the 18th December instant, or adopt the Schedule as sanctioned for the same reason assigned by him and reported to your Excellency in January, 1888—namely, that in his opinion the 29th section bestowed on the Commission larger power for determining what alteration should be made in judicial rents having regard to prices and yield. That was our argument at the time the section was passed. What do Mr. Litton and Mr. Wrench say as regards that section? and herein lies another of the frauds this House, no doubt unintentionally, committed against these tenants. They say— We are precluded by the Act of Parliament from taking into consideration the question of the yield of the various agricultural produce. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman bring in a clause to amend the provision in the Act of 1887, which sets up price as the only standard of rent? According to the view of Messrs. Litton and Wrench, if there is a dearth in the country and corn rises 100 per cent in price those people who have not grown corn would have their rents raised with those who have grown corn. It does seem to me, therefore, that this Government, if it really were what it pretends to be—a paternal Government—would at once amend the law which declares that yield was not to be taken into account, but price only. How is it that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary is always boasting about his attempts to make law and order respected? How can law be respected when it is not respectable? It is not respected, and you cannot make it so by means of such men as Cecil Roche. I should have thought that, under the circumstances, we should have had an amending Bill. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman to take the Irish Members into his confidence; they would help him to put some clause into the Judicial Rents Bill which would not be too high for the stomach of the House of Lords, but which would very considerably mitigate the present state of things in Ireland. We know he will not do that. The only Bills which the right hon. Gentleman brings in are such as the Irish people do not want; and a Bill that would do any good to the country has to be thrust on the right hon. Gentleman by agrarian revolution, outrage, disorder, and distress. The ears of this Parliament are deaf, and it cannot hear unless addressed by the public through some intimidatory speaking trumpet. I have not the smallest doubt that if the people of Ireland refused to pay their rents, or something of that kind happened, we should have some alleviation of the present state of agrarian matters, but without momentum the Government and Parliament will not act. I think the Land Commission were very badly advised in acting contrary to the manifest intention of Parliament and raising the rents. This was a question of the construction to be put upon an Act of Parliament, and the legal head of the Commission, Mr. Justice O'Hagan, gave it as his opinion that the Commission was entitled to take into account both yield and price, but Mr. Wrench, an English gentleman, a lawyer, no doubt, but appointed as a layman, sets up his legal opinion against that of Mr. Justice O'Hagan. Of course, the Commissioners adopted a strained interpretation of the Act, and we know why they did it. It was because their tenure is insecure, and they are exposed to the influence of the Kildare Street Club, which is, indeed, the most important factor in the Land Commission. The Kildare Street Club represents the landlords of Ireland. It is from there, rather than from the Castle, that Ireland is ruled; the Castle is, in fact, only the ante-chamber or Executive Chamber of the Kildare Street Club. The members of this Club meet and condemn "Those blackguards of the National Party." They say, "So-and-so has made a bad speech; he must be prosecuted;" "So-and-so must be made a Resident Magistrate;" "My rents have been cut down by that blackguard So-and-so, and he must be shifted." I say these Commissioners should have security of tenure in their appointments. It is a monstrous thing that the right hon. Gentleman can cease to employ them at any time. It has been stated in the newspapers that the Government have a Bill in the pigeonholes of Dublin Castle by which Mr. Litton was to have been deprived of his appointment altogether. That may or may not be the fact, but it was so stated, and when a man is drawing £3,000 a year it is only natural that such a statement should affect his nerves. It would mine under similar circumstances when I had regard to my little family. These gentlemen may be above the ordinary laws which govern the apprehensions of mankind, but my own experience is that one man is very much the same as another, and that making him a Judge and putting him in horse-hair does not always endow him with the true attributes of a judicial position. I maintain that something should be done in the case of these gentlemen to give them a suitable tenure of office. If that is done, and they are relieved from the embarrassment consequent upon the present system of intimidation, so much the better will it be both for landlords and tenants. Landlords write to the Times and to Dublin Castle, and these men' whether rightly or wrongly, know that the landlords wield enormous influence. Whether they do or not, they should be relieved of the reproach that can now be cast at them; and I do trust that, under the circumstances, the Government will take the course that will put the Land Commission in a sounder position for itself and for the litigants who come before it.


Of course, a good deal that has fallen from the hon. and learned Member has more direct relation to the failure of legislation passed by this House in previous years for the Irish tenants, and the particular view the hon. and learned Gentleman takes as to the course this legislation ought to have followed, than to the matters connected with this Vote. He began by reproaching the Government for not having done more in the way of increasing the Sub-Commissioners in order to deal with what the Government admit to be an unduly large amount of arrears. I would remind the hon. Member of two things. In the first place, the Government have attempted in the present Session, as well as in the last, to introduce legislation which would have had the effect of diminishing the amount of arrears, and which would not have been open to the objection of the hon. and learned Gentleman of depriving the tenant of the value of his improvements. Of course, if it had done that it would have stood condemned at once. We do not think it is open to that criticism. It was, therefore, with very great regret that the Government saw the determination of hon. Gentlemen opposite to oppose this legislation—which opposition, having regard to the period of the Session, they can, no doubt, bring to a successful issue. In addition to these Bills the Government have done much to increase the number of Sub-Commissioners. Before the Act of 1887 the number of Sub-Commissioners was 20, and the number of Sub-Commission Courts was four. Now, the number of Sub-Commissioners is 70, and the number of Courts in which they act is 10; and these Courts are far more expeditious in their working than the previous Courts, because the relative number of legal Sub-Commissioners has been diminished. Originally there were two lay Commissioners to each legal Commissioner, and now the proportion is six to one. But this enormous increase of the staff has not been sufficient to reduce the arrears as much as could be desired. The Government may be driven to increase the number of Sub-Commissioners; but I would remind the Committee that it is not a light matter to make a great increase in the staff. The number of persons capable of undertaking the responsible functions of Sub-Commissioners is not unlimited; and it is a very great evil to be arbitrarily increasing and diminishing the number of the Sub-Commissioners according as the business increases or falls off. The hon. Member reminds us that these Sub-Commissioners are all removable, even more than the Resident Magistrates. How can it be otherwise if the policy recommended by the hon. Member is to be carried out, for his policy is to adapt the number of Sub-Commissioners to the number of cases to be dealt with. If that be done it is impossible to give fixity of tenure. There were 20 Sub-Commissioners a year or two ago; now there are 70; and the hon. Member would make the number 90 or 100. Are they all to have fixity of tenure at £1,000 a year, whether there is business for them to do or not? [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Appoint for a term.] Appointment for a term would not remove the objection that has been taken that the Sub-Commissioners are more or less servants of the Executive. Appointed for terms they would have to be re-appointed or dismissed, and their dependence would be as great as it is at present. The two parts of the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the Government destroy each other, and if he wishes to increase the number of Sub-Commissioners for the purpose of reducing arrears of business, he cannot expect the Government to give permanence of tenure. The Chief Commissioners, however, are in a different position. The hon. Member for Longford a few days ago criticised the continuance in office of the Chief Commissioners from year to year by an annual Bill. I hoped both last year and this year to pass a Bill to remedy what I recognise as a defect. In the ensuing Session we hope to pass a Bill which will give permanent tenure to these officials, who after all discharge high judicial functions. Attacks on the impartiality of all the Commissioners are to be expected, and I do not see how they could be avoided, but I regret that the hon. Gentleman should take part in them. It is inevitable that Commissioners charged by Act of Parliament with the duty of fixing rents should be accused of partiality by one side or the there. It was foreseen that this would be so; but I trust the Committee will abstain from attempting to review the decision of the Land Courts. In my opinion, the head Commissioner acts according to the direction of the Act of 1887 in having regard only to the alteration in prices. The complaint has been made that judicial rents fixed in 1882–3–4 were fixed when prices were high, and that it is wrong to maintain the rents so fixed when prices have fallen.


It was contended at the time that the clause would enable the Commissioners to take yield as welt as price into consideration.


I should be surprised if any declaration of that kind could be found in the speeches of any Member of the Government. At all events, the attack upon judicial rents-was based upon prices and not upon yield; and the consideration of yield would have injured the tenants, because in nearly all agricultural crops the yield has been above the average this year and last, and the augmentation of rents would have exceeded the reduction of them. I have now noticed all the points that were strictly relevant to the Vote, and I trust that we may be allowed to pass on to other Votes and to make progress with the Estimates.

MR. M. HEALY (Cork)

Sir, the only satisfaction which I can derive from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman is the promise which he has made to increase before long the number of Sub-Commissioners for the purpose of getting rid of the enormous arrears of land cases now pending in the Land Courts. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the present state of things in the Land Courts is most unsatisfactory. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say some three weeks ago that there were no less than 47,000 fair rent applications pending before the Commissioners, and that they were being disposed of at the rate of 2,700 a month, a rate which, exclud- ing holiday months, would occupy the next two years. The right hon. gentleman is aware that during that two years the tenant would be liable to pay full rent. I have had a great deal of experience in the Land Courts, and I can confirm in the strongest manner what my hon. Friend has said, that for the purpose of protecting tenants against evictions while the fair Tent proceedings are pending, the equitable Sections of the Act of 1887 are not only useless, but are worse than useless; in fact, an absolute danger to any tenant who may unwisely endeavour to take advantage of them. The landlord can almost in every ease, if he pleases, evade the provision of that Act, because all he has to do is to take proceedings in the County Court, and serve this writ upon the tenant for the debt due to him. I can promise to any landlord who does so that the provisions of the Act of 1887 will prove no obstacle to him. The cost of going to the superior Court would be too heavy for the unfortunate tenant. In the first place he would have to pay his own costs of the application, which would amount to £7 or £8, and he would have to pay the landlord's costs as well. I did succeed in getting an appeal in one case, but the costs which the tenant had to pay amounted to £50. It is nothing short of a scandal that the Government should make no practical attempt to expedite the fixing of fair rents. The right hon. Gentleman has compared the staff of Sub-Commissioners now at work with the staff in operation just before the Act of 1887. A more absurd comparison I never heard of. The staff which is now in existence was necessarily called into existence to deal with the mass of cases which turned into the Courts when the Act of 1887 was passed. He should have made comparison with the staff in operation in 1882 or 1883, and he would not have found that serve him very much. The Act of 1881 enabled the Land Commissioners to appoint as many Sub-Commissioners as might be necessary, after first obtaining the consent of the Treasury, who limit the number of Sub-Commissioners whom they have to pay. The Treasury have sanctioned a number at least four or five in excess of the number of Sub-Commissioners now actually at work; and the smallest effort of the Chief Secretary in that direction would induce his friends at the Treasury to appoint a much larger number. The Chief Secretary says he brought in a Bill last year to deal with the enormous mass of cases before the Land Commissioners at present, but there were objections to many of the clauses of that measure. My hon. Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy) has said that the Bill involved confiscation of the tenant's improvements; but I am further convinced, even if that danger were not present, that the Bill of the Chief Secretary as it stood would be absolutely useless for any purpose whatsoever. The Land Commissioners, I would add, under the Act of 1881, have full and complete powers to do what the Bill proposed to do, under another name—namely, instead of getting the work done by Sub-Commissioners, to get it done by Court valuers; but I cannot see how a difference in name makes a difference in substance. It appears to me that all the Bill of the Chief Secretary proposes to do is to confer on Assistant or Land Commissioners the powers which are already possessed by the Court valuers, and which have been found absolutely useless for the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman has in view. I have only one word to say as to this Bill; it would necessitate the appointment of a large number of Assistant Commissioners for the purpose of working it, and if that is so, why on earth cannot he use the power which he undoubtedly possesses of appointing Sub-Commissioners to work the existing Act. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not permit the present state of things to continue, and that he will appoint additional Sub-Commissioners. My hon Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy) says the Commissioners are removable, and are, therefore, open to influences of an improper kind, and to that the right hon. Gentleman replies that the additional appointments would involve the element of removability. But the complaint is that the present system combines the element of removability and insufficiency of staff. It does not, therefore, lie in the right hon. Gentleman's mouth to use that argument. When the Act of 1881 passed, the Commissioners were under the necessity of appointing Sub-Commissioners to deal with the exceptional pressure of work, but they divided them into two categories—those who were to be permanently employed and those who formed the removable staff. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not follow that example? I see nothing whatever in this argument of irremovability, and I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will carry out the promise he has made of increasing the number of Sub-Commissioners. So much for the general working of the Act. But I have a special complaint to make. I have practiced in nearly every union of the County of Cork, and I have to complain in the strongest manner of the way in which that county is treated in this matter. On the passing of the Act of 1887 the County Cork had a staff of Sub-Commissioners—three Commissioners and four Assistant Commissioners, subsequently receiving the addition of two Sub-Commissioners. That staff was adequate to the requirements of County Cork, but the County of Waterford in 1888 was deliberately added, and thus the time of the Commissioners devoted to the County Cork was reduced. Very inconvenient results have followed. At the present rate of progress the balance of work in the County Cork will take three years to dispose of. I find in other counties that the average number in unions within the jurisdiction of the Sub-Commissioners is 17; of the County Cork it is 25, which shows that the latter county is not being fairly treated. The present arrangement is most absurd and inconvenient. At present the two lay Commissioners are sent together to the County of Waterford. The other four are in the County Cork. The two legal Commissioners and the Registrar have to go backwards and forwards between Waterford and Cork. In March last the Commission sat at Bantry, in Cork, and from there the legal Commissioners and the Registrar had to travel 100 miles to a place in Waterford. Next week they travelled 100 miles back to Skibbereen, in Cork, which is only about 20 miles from Bantry, where they could have gone in the previous week in a couple of hours. From Skibbereen they journeyed 150 miles to Dungarvan, in Waterford, and from Dungarvan they journeyed back to another place in Cork. Hampered by these absurd conditions, it is impossible that the Commissioners can get through their work. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to put an end to such a state of things, and give the County Cork a Sub-Commission to itself. One of the Commissioners died three months ago and the vacancy caused has not been filled up. It seems to be the present policy not to increase the number of Commissioners but to actually reduce them. Let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman that all his efforts seem to have been directed to getting rid of the hearings in Court, which are a part of the proceedings that occupy least time. In the County Cork the Commissioners can get through sufficient cases in two or three days to keep the lay Commissioners inspecting for months. The hearing in Court does not occupy more than a quarter of an hour in each case. The right hon. Gentleman is beginning at the wrong end. He should first endeavour to quicken the inspection. His Bill would only meet the ease where there is no question of law involved, and where there is no question of law involved the case only occupies 20 minutes. The right hon. Gentleman will gain very little by getting rid of that 20 minutes' hearing, and he will deprive the tenant of the satisfaction he feels in having his case dealt with by a public tribunal. On the subject of appeals, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to carefully consider whether we should not abolish altogether appeal on the question of value, and restrict it to the question of law, on which it is the most proper that both landlords and tenants should have the right of appeal. I think there is general agreement on that point, because it approaches burlesque to see these gentlemen, who know nothing about land, and who are appointed for legal and administrative purposes, hearing an appeal as to the value of a farm which they never saw, and that appeal taken from two gentlemen who are appointed because of their special knowledge about land, and who have gone over the farm on which they have given a decision. That is a matter to which I venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give his consideration.

* MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Co. Tyrone)

Sir, the Chief Secretary for Ireland has stated that the yield of all agricultural produce in 1888 was very much better than the yield in 1887. That remark, however, cannot be taken as applying to potatoes, because, compared with 1887, there was a diminution in the yield of potatoes in 1888 of over 1,000,000 tons. That was a very important factor in many of the poorest districts of Ireland. The number of Sub-Commissioners for which the vote is asked is 70. In 1888 there were 24,000 cases decided; but 6,000 of these were decided by agreement out of Court, so that the actual work of the 70 Sub-Commissioners is brought down to 18,000 cases a year, or 1,500 a month. I can understand how the 70 men only manage to get through 1,500 cases a month after what has been said as to the way in which they travelled about the country. The sooner the Chief Secretary for Ireland takes the Commission in hand the better. But there was another reason for the delay in the settlement of cases. The hon. Member for Longford has spoken of there being a good deal of human nature about the Commissioners in relation to their removability. The Sub-Commissioners are now paid by the day, and it was only human nature for them to lengthen out the job as much as they can. As long as these men are paid by the day the work of the Commission will drag on and the tenants will suffer. Then with regard to appeals, a farmer lodging an appeal is forced to the conclusion that it will be two or three years before his appeal was heard, This ought not to be. What is now done? Two experts are sent down to value the land for the purpose of fixing the rent. The appeal from them is given to three men, who know nothing about land and who send down a valuer. [Mr. T. M. HEALY and Mr. M. HEALY: No.] That makes the matter worse. A valuer used to be sent, and upon his recommendation the decision was given. But even then it was simply one expert in land against two. I, therefore, beg the right hon. Gentleman to give a position of something like permanence to the Commissioners in the Bill, which I hope will be brought forward next year. I trust, also, that the appeal will be restricted to questions of law only. In one of the Returns presented under the Ashbourne Act a sale is recorded in County Galway by the Land Investment and Settlement Company, and I wish to know what the tenants paid in the shape of years' purchase for their hold- ings, and to whom the Land Commission paid the money.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

I think, Mr. Courtney, it is impossible to exaggerate the hardship and inconvenience to all parties, and especially to the tenants, which are caused by the delay in hearing cases under the Act of 1887, and the great cost which that delay involves. In 1887, when the last Land Act was under the consideration of this House, I ventured to propose a plan by which those difficulties might be got rid of. That proposal had the assent at that time of all the Irish Members.


Sir, I rise to a point of Order. Both the hon. Member for Longford and the right hon. Gentleman propose to discuss the legislative methods for dealing with the block in the Land Court. I have no objection to the discussion of those schemes, but I would like to know whether, if they are discussed, I shall be at liberty to make a full answer.


I discussed this very question last year at some length in Committee.


The action of the Commissioners can be discussed on this Vote, and it is quite competent for hon. Members to suggest methods for diminishing the arrears still pending. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Longford did, no doubt, enter at considerable length into an examination of the Statute of 1887, in order to show that it did not get rid of the difficulty of arrears, and it is quite competent for hon. Members to discuss facilitating measures.


I proposed a method of dealing with arrears which received the full assent of Irish Members, and which, if adopted, I believe would have cleared them off, and saved the State a vast expenditure of money. My plan was this—to take holdings under £30 and to apply to them an average of the decisions of the Commissioners with respect to holdings of the same size, and provisionally to fix their rents at the same proportion without reference to valuation, allowing either party the right of appeal to the Land Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman has taken credit to himself for having made proposals to lessen the amount of the arrears, but it appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman's method is based on the principle of not consulting the Irish Members on a subject with which they are intimately concerned. I feel satisfied that if he entered into consultation with the Irish Members and made a proposal in the direction I have suggested, he would find it possible to clear off the arrears. For my part, I look with some hesitation and dismay on the proposal to increase the number of Sub-Commissioners. I think there is great force in the remark of the hon. Member (Mr. T. W. Russell) that the method of pay by the day accounts for the slow progress the Sub-Commissioners make—only 1,500 cases a month.


That is not accurate.


At all events, the amount of work done is not large. I entirely agree with what the Chief Secretary said as to the inexpediency of increasing the number of Sub-Commissioners, and I agree that the more you multiply their numbers the more difficult it will be to give them security of tenure. The hon. Member for Longford observed that when the Act of 1887 was passed, the Commissioners were not to increase the rent under the schedule of prices. It was never for a moment suggested that the rents should be increased, but that they should be reduced according to the fall of prices. And the hon. Member for Carnarvon proposed that the Commissioners should take into account the yield of crops as well as the prices. I certainly understood from the Debate that the Chief Secretary practically admitted that it would be within the competency of the Land Commissioners to take into account the yield as well as the prices. The hon. Member for Carnarvon withdrew his Amendment. But of this I am quite sure, that if at the time of the passing of the Act of 1887 it had been contemplated that the Land Commissioners might raise the rent, we should certainly have raised the question that the yield as well as prices should be taken into consideration. I own I was greatly surprised to find that the Land Commissioners adopted the course of raising the rents in spite of the protest of their legal members. As to the plethora of work before the Commissioners, I most earnestly urge the Chief Secretary to consider, instead of increasing the number of Sub-Commissioners, some such scheme as I have suggested.

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

Sir, I am afraid that the plan which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested would not work well, because of the diverse conditions of the different holdings—some having been reclaimed from mere bog, and others which had been entered upon in a better condition. It would be difficult to apply to such holdings the same average of reduction. As regards the prices of 1888, I think the Chief Secretary will find, on close examination, that he is very much mistaken, and that the average prices of 1888 were worse than the average of 1887. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman contains a fallacy as remarkable in its way as anything which he has foisted on the House since he became Chief Secretary. He says that the prices ought only to be taken into account by the Commissioners. When the Commissioners originally fixed the rents, between 1882 and 1885, they took into account both prices and average yield, and surely when they come to revise the rents they are bound to adopt a similar course. The worse the year the higher the price may be; and if they only take into account the prices, they may be compelled in a year of absolute famine and starvation to raise the rents. I cannot conceive by what course of reasoning the right hon. Gentleman, who is clever enough on most points, can identify himself with an argument so transparently absurd. In the opinion of all people in Ireland who have watched the proceedings under the Land Act since the year 1881 the whole system of administration has been more or less in conflict with the spirit of the Act. What is the use of passing Acts which are supposed to be of value to the struggling tenant farmers of Ireland if they are administered in such a way that justice is denied to the people? I believe that a certain number of these Commissioners are men of fair and impartial characters; but when we see the system under which they are appointed, the class of men who appoint them, and the result of their operations as a whole, it is not surprising that the tenant farmers of Ireland view the proceedings with considerable distrust, and only accept the judicial rents as a settlement on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread. Mr. Wrench, who has recently been appointed a Land Commissioner, was a land agent, and belongs at the present time to a landlord club, called the Kildare Street Club, in Dublin. I am bound to say that the feeling in Ireland is that a Commission presided over by a man like Mr. Wrench, cannot be expected to be fair or impartial. This gentleman and his colleagues have the appointment of land valuers and sub-Committees, and, although it is a matter of congratulation that the number of Sub-Commissioners has been increased to 70, we find that a large number of them are connected with the landlord interest. Looking through the list I find that one of them, Mr. Charles Hamilton, is a Member of Kildare Street Club; another, Mr. Armstrong, has been hitherto employed in making valuations for landlords; another is a Galway landlord, another a Roscommon landlord, and so on through the entire list. Take the case of legal Commissioners. If they had only to decide points of law, perhaps the argument would not affect the case so strongly, but I am informed that they have an equal voice with the other Commissioners in the adjustment of the rent and the sole voice in law. The legal Commissioner in the County of Cork, Mr. Lawrence Doyle, has been a strenuous advocate of the landlord party, and is equally well known as a strenuous opponent of the tenants' claims for fair rents under the Acts of 1881 and 1887. About a year ago when a large number of tenants were in Court and their solicitor was making a statement as to the value of the tenancies and the exclusive claim of the tenants to the full value of their improvements, they burst into some kind of applause in Court. The applause was very promptly subdued, and the legal Commissioner turned round upon them, and said he would not have his Court turned into a pandemonium, and called the people who were coming before him as suitors "a pack of howling savages." I can easily understand an outburst of temper from a judicial functionary whose temper was ruffled by an act of disrespect of that kind, but the language Mr. Doyle used shows the animus and the utter want of impartiality on the part of a large number of these men. The right hon. Gentleman has found fault with my hon. Friend the Member for Longford for raising this discussion, and has said that this Committee is wholly unsuited to judge of the impartiality or otherwise of the Sub-Commissioners. But what other Court of Appeal is there m the land? If the people of Ireland have strong grounds for believing that these appointments are unfair, and that the men appointed do not act fairly between landlord and tenant, what other avenue have they for the expression of their opinions except that of their Representatives in this House? This is why we have to raise a Debate on this Vote year after year. It is not out of "pure cussedness," to use an American expression, that Members on this side of the House get up and talk about the Commissioners. It is, to say the least of it, an unpleasant thing for us to find fault with functionaries who are not directly connected with the Executive and do not fall under the same censure as Resident Magistrates or constabulary officers. But we have to point out that there is a widespread feeling in Ireland that the Sub-Commissioners are appointed almost directly in the landlords' interest and that when they are not landlords themselves or agents, they are directly connected with the landlord interests. It has been pointed out that out of the large number who have been appointed, only eight are tenant farmers We are told that a large number of them have a practical acquaintance with the value of land, but we are not told how. If 70 Commissioners have been appointed, I want to know why 50 or 60 per cent of them should not have been farmers? There are plenty of hard-headed practical farmers in the North of Ireland whom you might have selected if you object to men from the South and West. Could you not have got 50 farmers, say, from South Tyrone, who could not be accused of under partiality towards the tenants of the South and West, and yet who would be sure to have a knowledge of the value of land? It would not have been too much to expect that one or two of the members of every one of these Sub-Commissions should be tenant farmers, having a practical acquaintance with the value of land and with the difficulty of making money out of it in these times. I suppose it would be a matter of extreme difficulty for anyone to arrive by any process of calculation at the average reductions that have been given by landlords in England; but with reference to the instances that have come under ray own observation, I do not think I am indulging in the language of exaggeration when I say that the average reductions given in many cases in England without pressure, without Land Acts, and without agitation, murder, violence, and bloodshed, have exceeded the reductions given under the Irish Land Acts after intense agitation. We see on the Treasury Bench two or three Gentlemen who are themselves the strongest examples of the argument I have laid before the Committee, because they themselves have given to their tenants larger reductions than we have been able to get for the tenants who have made all the improvements. We have a maximum of expense and a maximum of legislation with a minimum of results; and if this question of the Land Commission has to be raised again and again on the Vote in Supply, the reason is that the Government have never risen to the height of the situation, and have never honestly and fairly administered the Act in the spirit in which the Legislature passed it. For my part, I believe that, although you may increase the number of Sub-Commissioners from 70 to 100, the land question will still be with you until you change the mode of appointment. I believe that the hard working bees, as well as the idle drones, have some right to a voice in the settlement of the value of the land, and that, until you recognise that, Parliament will have to pass Land Act after Land Act, and will still find itself choked up with arrears of the land difficulty. I am convinced that you will never settle the land difficulty in Ireland until you adopt a different method of dealing with it.

MR. MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)

I wish to refer only to one subject, which has been brought before the House previously, and which, I think, cannot be too often brought before it. Frequent complaints have been made to the Chief Secretary in reference to the question why the tenants have been defrauded of their rights. The Land Commission, either from defects of machinery or from some worse cause, has acted in such a way that men have had the agony and suspense of having their cases left unheard for 18 or 19 months. I have asked many questions in reference to the Olphert Estate, which was a typical case. There you had oppression on the one side and iron-handed power on the other. On the 9th of May I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) a question in reference to the hard and cruel delay which had taken place in the adjustment of the rents of that estate. The right hon. Gentleman said— From the Report received by the Land Commissioners it appears that the applications to fix judicial rents from the Olphert estate, received by them before the 1st November, 1887, and at the present outstanding number not 125, as alleged in the question, but 82. Eighty-two of these starving tenants had, before the 1st of November, done the only thing in their power to get the rents adjusted and to get permission to live in their own home for 18 months. No Land Commission was sent down to adjust the rents. The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say— All cases received from this estate up to the 31st of December, 1887, are on the list for hearing, which will be delivered in a few days. It may be recollected that the landlord has offered 25 per cent reduction on non-judicial rents, and that any tenant against whom proceedings in ejectment are brought, who has made application to have a fair rent fixed, can apply to the Court in which such proceedings are pending to obtain a stay of execution upon such terms as the Court may direct. How could a tenant without the means to support himself or his family employ counsel to institute a motion in Dublin to have his case expedited or to get evictions stayed? Under the most humble process in the ordinary Quarter Sessions Courts a defence of eviction proceedings, even if successful, would cost £6. That would be the entire six years' rent of many of these people. Well, the evictions took place, and I heard of the right hon. Gentleman only a few evenings ago glorying in their success, and saying that the battering ram was the best thing to use in reference to such people. Why was not the Commission sent to the estate? In every case the arrangement was to give these tenants no judicial settlements, and to allow Olphert a free hand to dispose of them as he thought fit. This case affords an object lesson in misgovernment in Ireland, and shows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.

* SIR C. LEWIS (Antrim, N.)

I wish to refer to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), that during the Debates on the Act of 1887 it was never suggested by anybody of position that that Act could possibly be used with the result of increasing rents. My recollection of what took place during the Debate was so different from that of the right hon. Gentleman that I have taken the trouble to refer to there-port of the discussion. I find in Volume CCCXVII. of Hansard, page 416, that no less a person than my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, whose connection with the Land Question and with the landed interest in Ireland is perfectly well-known, said on the 11th of July, in reference to a speech which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman):— The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that under these proposals the rents might be increased, and that that was unfair. But our object is to do justice between man and man, and if you allow the tenant to go into Court that his rent may be reduced if it is too high, why should you take from the landlord the power of having his rents increased where they are too low? I am not entering into the question whether it was just or prudent on that occasion to include in the provisions of the Bill an enactment which could be used in that way. I am dealing simply with the question whether the right hon. Gentleman was right in maintaining it was never contemplated by anyone that rents might be increased. During the Debate from which I have quoted this very probability was used as argument on each side of the House. I merely rose to refer to this point, as I think it is a matter of the gravest importance that the Debate on this matter should not go upon wrong lines, and that we should keep to the facts of the case.


I made the statement after reading the Debates which took place in 1887, and after special reference to the speeches made by those who were responsible for the Bill—the Chief Secretary and the Irish Attorney General. I did not think it worth while to read the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, which, after all, does not lay down principles; his observations are merely in the nature of obiter dicta.

MR. M'CARTAN (Down, S.)

The hon. Baronet has, as usual, been advocating the interests of the landlords, and I believe that in the Debate to which he has referred it always was in the minds of the landlords in this House, and, indeed, in the minds of hon. Members opposite, that there should be an increase in the rents. It was intended, if possible, to turn the Land Bill into a weapon against the tenant in favour of the landlords, and well have hon. Members succeeded in doing it. In the year 1881, when the Land Law (Ireland) Act was passed, hon. Members opposite admitted that it was absolutely necessary to bring in a Bill to deal with arrears, and a similar admission was made when the 1887 Bill was before the House. But all that was done in the latter ease was to provide that any reduction of the rent should be applicable to the rent accruing from the gale day next before the application was made to the Court. For instance, if the application was made before November, 1887, the rent running from May, 1887, would be affected by it. It then became the duty of the Government, in order to bring the relief to the tenants which was so much required, to appoint a sufficient number of Sub-Commissioners to administer this law which the House passed, and which the House itself intended for the relief of the Irish tenants. But what has happened? For nearly two years applications have been before the Court that are still unheard. Time after time has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary been directed to this fact—that there is not a sufficient number of Sub-Commissioners to deal with the applications of tenant farmers to have fair rents fixed. Time after time I, myself, have directed his attention to this fact, and it has also been pointed out from these Benches, that there are in Ireland landlords hardhearted enough to enforce their powers against tenants whose applications to have a fair rent fixed are still pending. One of the first of the landlords to carry out this act of injustice towards tenants was the head of the Executive of the Government, the Lord Lieutenant himself. The unfortunate tenant tried by every means in his power to come to a settlement with Lord Londonderry; he offered to leave the matter to arbitration. But it was of no avail; the Lord Lieutenant wanted to set an example to the rest of the landlords of the country, in order to show them how to turn the Act of 1887 into an engine of persecution against the tenants. But while we were not allowed a sufficient number of Sub-Commissioners to carry out the remedial provisions of the Land Act, we were given a sufficient number of removable officials to carry out the penal enactments of the Statute, and to enforce the charges made against unfortunate tenants, who rushed back to the homes from which they had been unjustly evicted. Now, what is the remedy for this state of things? I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford that the appointment of additional Sub-Commissioners would not be a remedy. It is, to my mind, the only remedy that there is. You want a sufficient number of Courts to deal with all the cases which are awaiting settlement, and unless you have a sufficient number of Commissioners, how can the cases be disposed of? One of my hon. Friends has pointed out that in certain counties you only have one legal Commissioner to preside over three sets of Sub-Commissioners. In the North of Ireland—in County Down and County Antrim—that state of things prevails, and the legal Commissioner has to be continually travelling from one part of the county to another in order to take part in the work of the Sub-Commissioners. This, to my mind, is a most unnecessary expenditure of time and money, and it is certain that if we had more legal Commissioners the Sub-Commissioners would be able to get through a considerably greater amount of work. I do not agree with some of my hon. Friends who have suggested that the appointment of two laymen to sit with County Court Judges in order to deal with these cases would give satisfaction. My experience in the North of Ireland leads me to an entirely different conclusion. In my own county, for instance, we have a County Court Judge whose tendency is certainly in favour of the landlords, and what has been the result? Why, since the passing of the Act in 1881, not half a dozen cases have been brought before him by the tenants. In fact, they will not avail themselves of the opportunity of going before this County Court Judge. It is my opinion that the Court which the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to constitute will prove nothing more or less than a mockery. It is a Court which will not command the confidence of the tenants, and I would strongly recommend the Chief Secretary not to persevere with his proposal. There is another subject to which I wish to refer, and that is the subject of appeals. I think it is a scandal that appeals which have been pending for three or four years are still unheard. A short time ago we had a sitting of the Land Commission in my own county, and several appeals were tried without the holdings being inspected by the Commissioners. In a large number of the cases the rent was increased, but in some seven or eight cases the decisions were withheld, and it has since been decided that a Court valuer should be sent to inspect the farms. But who is the Court valuer to be? It is Mr. Babington, a land agent in the County Armagh, a gentleman who has never appeared in the Land Court unless it has been to give evidence in favour of the landlords. I should like to ask the Chief Secretary why such a man as that is appointed to this position? Under the present state of affairs, I think it would be far better if we had no appeal on the question of value. I think that the appeals should be limited to questions of law, and I go farther, and say that in order to get rid of appeals within a reasonable time there should be power to go before a Judge of Assize and get the point decided. With regard to the revision of judicial rents, I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend's references to this matter. We have never been able to lay our hands on the instructions which have been sent out to the Commissioners with regard to the basis on which the revision shall be made. We find that in the year 1887, when straw was very dear, it was dealt with as one of the articles of produce on which to ground the revision of rent; but in 1888, when it was very cheap, it was conveniently omitted from the list, and the tenant was deprived of all advantage arising from the reduction in the price of straw. Now, I should like to know on what principle the Land Commission proceeds in regard to the revision of these rents, and I think we ought to obtain this information from the Government. In conclusion, let me state that the course which has been adopted by the Chief Secretary is not one which is calculated to give satisfaction to the people of Ireland. I would strongly suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he means to do anything towards pacifying the country be must alter his whole course of procedure, and administer the Land Act in a very different spirit.

MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)

I have had as much experience as any Member of this House in the matter of the Land Courts practice. I have had experience of the working of the Sub-Commissioners and of the Head Commissioners, and I have had experience of every kind, especially on the question of appeals. Now, I do not agree with the suggestion that the Head Commissioners do not listen to the evidence as to the value. On the contrary, my experience is that they consider that evidence fairly and conscientiously. Where I think the mistake has been made, is in cases where Sub-Commissioners who are best acquainted with a pastoral country are brought in to value land in a tillage country, and I am happy to say that even where these mistakes have been made they have been rectified on appeal to the Head Commissioners. The men who are chosen as Sub-Commissioners are generally large farmers—men in the occupation of large tracts of land—and they are, therefore, competent judges for large holdings, although they may be poor judges for small farms. An appeal, therefore, on the question of value is necessary. The great thing is to do justice between landlord and tenant in regard to a particular farm, and if mistakes have been made in doing that, it has been possible to get them remedied by appeal. My hon. Friend who spoke last has complained of the appointment of a gentleman as Court Valuer with whom I am well acquainted, and I must say that when I heard of the appointment being made I viewed it with pleasure, because, although Mr. Babington was a landlord's valuer, he undoubtedly succeeded a man to whom be was infinitely superior. I do not think that my hon. and learned Friend need be afraid that MR. Babington will do any injustice to the tenants. I know it is impossible, under the present administration, to appoint anyone to these positions who has not strong Conservative support; but I believe that, when appointed, these gentlemen do their duty well, and I think it is to be regretted that the hon. Gentleman should look upon Mr. Babington as a béte noire. The Sub-Commissioners, at any rate, are not so bad as our friends the removables under the Crimes Act, and they certainly do not deserve that unqualified condemnation which some of my hon. Friends seem inclined to shower upon them. We must view things as they are, and not as if we lived in Utopia. Another matter I wish to point out as a reason why the Sub-Commission will always have my strong support, and that is that they bring justice to the poor man's door. This is in itself sufficient, to my mind, to make allowances for the natural defects of men who are not trained lawyers and have not shone as legal lights. As to leaving decisions to the hurry and chances of the Assize, I say, "deliver us from that evil" above all things. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not accept that suggestion; that would mean that you would not have a case properly heard at all. I have had as much experience as most men on these matters, and I can say that such an arrangement would not conduce to justice between landlord and tenant, and before a ease was tried it would be estimated, from the known character of the Judges, when the landlord would be treated severely, and when the tenant would be treated severely. I have only to add that I deplore the delay that has occurred everywhere, and, not the least, in my own district, and for this the Government have incurred great responsibility, having regard to the peace of the country. It is not by raising the Police Estimates they can secure that peace. Why haggle over a few thousand pounds for the expense of another Sub-Commission? Why you spend in half a year on extra police and Crimes Court officials enough to supply the entire machinery for wiping off the arrears of judicial rents. If the Chief Secretary connot bring his mind to transfer the expenditure, let him by way of equipoise spend a pound on the Land Court for wiping out arrears for every pound spent on the Crimes Act, and he will find the arrears quickly lessen; and perhaps he will find he can decrease his Crimes Court expenditure as quickly. My object in rising was to deprecate any change of policy in the way proposed by my hon. Friend. I say you cannot have a tribunal for the hearing of these cases half as good as the present. I had experience of the working of the Act of 1870, and from the passing of that Act to 1881 I had, I suppose, as much active interest in the cases that came before the Court as any man, and I can say that it was the want of sympathy of the County Court Judges that forced the Act of 1881. The Act of 1870 failed of its effect in a great measure through the cold technicality of County Court judgments, but we have now a tribunal with some portion of sympathy with the matters they deal with. Let us not criticise this tribunal too severely. They make mistakes, as every tribunal will, but the great grievance is not due to any fault of theirs—it is due to the right hon. Gentleman and his fear of the British taxpayer. Well, the British taxpayer was played out last night. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take a more cheerful view, after seeing what the British taxpayer can be reduced to. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take courage and spend money on the Land Court.


I think, before the Question is put, we might be favoured with a reply from the Treasury Bench.


I am very reluctant to add another to the many speeches I have made, but if the hon. Member thinks it necessary I will do so. I do not think it is necessary for me to survey the whole course of the Debate since I last spoke, and I think the hon. Member who has just spoken has demolished the accusations brought against the Land Court. We were told earlier that eight Sub-Commissioners only were drawn from the tenant farmer class, but the hon. Gentleman has shown that this class is very numerously represented, so on that point it is not necessary for me to speak. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford went into the scheme he propounded last year, by which an automatic system of fixing fair rents should be adoped towards small holdings. I do full justice to his motives, but I do not think he has quite apprehended the difficulties that would attend any rough-and-ready process of the kind suggested. The right hon. Gentleman also stated that the number of cases disposed of by the Court in a month is 1,500, repeating an error into which the hon. Member for South Tyrone fell. The number of cases disposed of in June last was 2,300, and I hope eases will continue to be disposed of at that rate.


I gave the numbers for 1888. A very large number of cases are disposed of out of Court.


Yes, but the year 1888 shows an average that is not a real test of the speed now shown in giving decisions. For a considerable period in 1888 there were not so many Sub-Commissioners at work as there are now. The present speed is much above that of 1888. Then a great many criticisms have been passed on the arbitrary manner as hon. Members think in which Sub-Commissioners have been moved from one part of the country to another, compelling them sometimes to traverse long distances. In this respect, I believe, a great reform has been effected by the Commission in the last few months, and whereas formerly cases used to be taken in the order in which they were listed for hearing, now, some regard is had to the manner in which the holdings are distributed. The Land Commissioners have in view, as far as possible, the economising of the time of the Sub-Commissioners, and they have devoted themselves, not unsuccessfully, to administration in this respect, and I hope, even without the passage of the Bill I am anxious to have passed, a still greater amount of work can be got out of the Land Commission in proportion to the number of persons employed. That, I think, includes all the references I have to make.


There was my specific charge in reference to the rehearing of cases on the Olphert Estate.


The hon. Member for South Donegal has made it a matter of complaint that the Executive did not send down a Land Commission Court to fix fair rents on the Olphert Estate. I may tell the hon. Member that I have no control over the movements of the head Commissioners or Sub-Commissioners. The House has given an absolute discretion to those officials, and the Executive have no right at all to interfere. But if the hon. Member is really of opinion that any serious injury has been caused to the tenants on the Olphert Estate by the absence of a Land Court decision, he is labouring under a mistake. The landlord offered a reduction of 25 per cent on non-judicial rents, and the utmost reduction that would have been made by a Land Court would have been from 30 to 35 per cent. The difference between the voluntary and the judicial reduction would only amount to 6d. or perhaps 1s. in the year. That being so, it is a great exaggeration to represent that a serious loss has been inflicted upon the tenants. I hope the Committee will now feel that we have dealt sufficiently with this important Vote, and that we may pass to Votes of not less importance.

MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid.)

There is one question connected with the disposition of these cases to which I should like to call attention, and that is the manner in which the Commissioners are turned loose into counties altogether without regard to their local knowledge of requirements in the districts where they are called upon to adjudicate. A Sub-Commissioner is taken from Dublin and sent to fix fair rents in Donegal, and though he may be perfectly acquainted with the conditions of agriculture in the first mentioned county he may be absolutely unacquainted with the requirements of Donegal. So also to send a man from Ulster to fix fair rents in the County of Cork, where the system of agriculture differs widely from that in the North, almost amounts to a travesty of justice. I would urge that the labours of a Sub-Commissioner should be confined, as far as possible, to the province with the agricultural conditions of which he is well acquainted. A man well accustomed to the usages of Ulster may be unqualified to appreciate the requirements of Munster or Connaught. In Munster you have grass farms combined with little cultivation; in Ulster you have wholly different conditions of farming. What would be a large farm in Ulster would be a very small farm in Munster, and fair rents have to be determined on wholly different conditions of farming. There are parts of Ireland where the conditions differ more widely than they do between some parts of Ireland and England. I would urge, therefore, that Sub-Commissioners should deal as far as possible with cases where the conditions of farming are nearly identical. That will conduce more to uniformity in the fixing of fair rents upon an intelligent system, and greatly reduce the number of appeals. Then under Subhead D I observe an increase in expenditure for collecting market prices, which cannot, I think, be excused; and there is less excuse when we find associated with this increase, an increase in the judicial rents under the Act of 1887, and the self-acting machinery for increasing or decreasing judicial rents. The increase has been in a manner never contemplated under that Act, and indicates that the system of collecting prices is imperfect. I am convinced that had this result been foreseen the clause in this Act would never have been sanctioned. Warnings were given at the time, but unheeded; and unfortunately the result on the increase of rents has surprised even the landlord party. Unfortunately, too, the only Chief Commissioner who occupies an independent position, and can give an opinion on legal authority is Mr. Justice O'Hagan. The other Com missioners holding their tenure of office from year to year are apt, as the time for renewal of office comes round, to become extreme advocates of the landlord party. I would urge on the Solicitor General the consideration of my suggestion in reference to the fixing of fair rents by Sub-Commissioners acquainted with, the conditions of farming in the districts in which they adjudicate.

Vote agreed to.

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