§ * MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
I beg to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the circumstances attending the acquisition and sale of the Salters' Estate, and of such other London Companies as have sold, or are in treaty to sell, their Trish estates. When the renewal of the Ashbourne Act was under discussion last December, a good deal of indignation was expressed in the House that London Companies should sell their estates and take away the proceeds without any consideration of the objects for which these estates were granted, and I then gave notice to move for a Committee of Inquiry into the subject. I should have been glad if I could have brought on this Motion at an earlier period of the Session, when the subject would have received a more exhaustive inquiry than it can now receive. I am not aware of any reasonable opposition to my Motion, and I cannot imagine why this inquiry should be refused, and it seems to me that the London Companies above all people, should court inquiry after the charges made against them, if they have no reason to be ashamed of the action they have taken. But I am afraid they do fear that the inquiry would show that they have not held to the conditions under which the estates in the North of Ireland were granted. It appears from the terms of my Motion that a double view may be taken of the Committee for which I move, and that double view arises from one and the same cause. I wish for inquiry, firstly, into the treatment the agricultural tenants have received at the hands of the London Companies, but there is a larger question behind, because the tenants also include clergy of all denominations, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and labourers. From all of these come complaints that the Companies have not complied with the conditions upon which these estates were granted. I am bound to say that from the facts that have come to light, it seems to me a policy of "grab all" has taken possession of a certain number of the London Companies, they seem to wish to take everything they can get and to give nothing in return. They seem to me to have acted in a manner unworthy of that liberality for 1064 which the City is famous, and unworthy of the reputation of Englishmen. It would be discreditable to the House not to attempt to stop this action, which, I think, is doing great injury to Ireland. I am informed that a good many members of the City Guilds are in favour of the course I am taking; that the Courts do not represent the feeling of the Liverymen, and that these would rejoice if some measures were taken to remedy the grievances complained of. I have put the Salters' Company in the forefront of my Motion, and my reason for this is that the Salters' Company were the last to sell their estate, and their action was made the subject of much discussion last year, and is the subject of much indignation in the north of Ireland. Some questions have been asked in the House in respect to the action of the Salters' Company before the Land Commission and in a Court of Law. It appears that this Company did not, when selling their estate, consider the spirit of the Ashbourne Act, but they took from their tenants promissory notes for the amount of arrears due and tried to enforce payment of these notes in a Court of Law, thereby endangering, as I think, the payment of instalments under the Ashbourne Act. We who believe in the importance of this Act for the welfare of the whole of Ireland, are bound to take care that the operation of the Act is not endangered by the action of any selfish London Company. The Salters' Company brought an action against one of their tenants, named McKee, for the recovery of arrears after he had bought his holding under the Ashbourne Act. This action was thrown out of Court on a technical objection; but the Company, not satisfied without their "pound of flesh," brought an action against another of their tenants, named Badger, and they not only tried to get their arrears but they tried to enforce payment of the previous and higher rent than the judicial rent. Judgment was given in this action for the Salters' Company; but, as showing the spirit of the action, the jury recommended the Company to take a lenient view of their rights against the tenant, and the remarks of the Judge tended in the same direction. I am not aware that any private landlord has ever attempted 1065 to enforce such an unworthy claim; but the bad example was followed by another London Company—the Drapers' Company. They, during the last three years, have tried to sell their estate, and they came to an arrangement with the great bulk of their tenants. Now, I cannot understand the policy pursued by the Drapers' Company. They have not been illiberal landlords in the past. I find from the Report of a Committee of the Company, issued in 1817, that fair consideration was shown to their tenants, and witnesses before the Royal Commission in 1882 stated that the Drapers' Company had given very reasonable reductions of rent. Before the Land Act of two years ago had passed enforcing a percentage of reduction on judicial rents the Drapers' Company had made a reduction of 15 per cent in their rents, and 30 or 40 years ago, in famine time, they made liberal advances and grants to their tenants for seeds. It is the more to be regretted that after a record of liberality towards their tenants they should now adopt a directly opposite course, opposing grants for churches, chapels, and schools, such as were given in the past, and trying to enforce the uttermost farthing from their tenants in the sale of their estate. The Land Commissioners have refused to sanction the sale of the estate on the terms offered by the Drapers' Company; and I think the Company should welcome an inquiry which would give them the opportunity of setting themselves right before public opinion. I do not propose to deal with this case in detail; it does not seem to be necessary. The Land Commissioners have refused to sanction the sale; and not only that, the Chief Secretary has, in answer to a question, stated the action of the Drapers' Company to be extremely discreditable. I have heard Members of the House, and not only those who sit on this side, describe the conduct of the Company as scandalous. I need not lengthen my speech with details, only this I will mention—that since the refusal of the Land Commission the Company have issued notices to their tenants of the most stringent kind in regard to arrears, creating the greatest indignation throughout all the district whore the estate is situated. Their action is entirely opposed to the spirit in which the Ashbourne Act has generally been understood and administered. But 1066 I am not asking for a condemnation of any of the City Companies. I am only asking for a full and fair investigation into all the charges and allegations made. Having made this brief reference to what I may call the greedy policy of the London Companies, I now come to the complaint made by the people of the North of Ireland of the abstraction of large sums of money from the country. There is general indignation on this account throughout the whole of Ulster, that the Companies pay no heed to the conditions upon which the lands were granted in selling their estates. I do not pretend to maintain that these Companies should not sell their estates. It is desirable that the property of absentee landlords—and these Companies are absentee landlords—should be sold to the occupying tenants; that is carrying out the principle we so much wish to encourage, that the tillers of the soil should own the soil they till; but, at the same time, we do complain that the money should all go to London, where it certainly was not earned, and devoted to purposes for which it was never intended. Inquiry should be made into all the surroundings of the case. I remember the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) expressing a very strong opinion in this House last December—I am sorry he is not now here to back up his opinion—that the general surroundings of the case form a sufficient basis for inquiry of this sort; but I am prepared to prove that the Companies have no right to withdraw all this money—to prove it from the records of the Companies, from legal judgments, from the Reports of Royal Commissions. I can show, not by general assertion, but by documentary evidence, that we have a sufficient basis to justify inquiry, if not to justify the result we hope may be attained by that inquiry. It is necessary to go somewhat into the history of these companies estates. I will give documentary proof of facts rather than my own impression. A good deal of misrepresentation arises in Ireland from people giving their own impressions. I will rely on facts and legal documents to support my assertions; and if I appear to trench unduly on the time of the House, I hope I may be excused. 1067 When an hon. Friend of mine asked that the two charters upon which the London Companies profess to hold their Irish property might be presented to the House, the First Lord of the Treasury said he was not aware of those charters. Well, I have seen those charters, not the originals, but what must be correct copies taken from the originals, as they appear in the records of the Irish Society. If the House will allow me, I will, as giving the basis of what I have to say, read a few extracts as showing the motives and reasons that induced King James to escheat the lands of Ulster, and for what purpose they were so treated. The charter of King James runs as follows:—James, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.; To all to whom these present Letters shall come, greeting. Whereas there can be nothing more worthy of a King to perform, than to establish the true religion of Christ, among men hitherto depraved and almost lost in superstition, to improve and cultivate by art and industry countries and lands uncultivated and almost desert; and not only to stock them with honest citizens and inhabitants, but also to strengthen them with good institutions and ordinances, whereby they might be more safely defended, not only from the corruption of their morals but from their intestine and domestic plots and conspiracies, and also from foreign violence; and whereas the Province of Ulster, in our realm of Ireland for many years past, hath grossly erred from the true religion of Christ and Divine Grace, and bath abounded with superstition, insomuch that for a long time it bath not only been harassed, torn, and wasted by private and domestic broils but also by foreign arms: We therefore deeply and heartily commiserating the wretched state of the said Province, have esteemed it to be a work worthy of a Christian Prince and of our Royal office, to stir up and recall the same Province from superstition, rebellion, calamity, and poverty, which heretofore have horribly raged therein, to religion, obedience, strength, and prosperity: And whereas our beloved and faithful subjects, the Mayor and commonalty and citizens of our City of London, burning with a flagrant zeal to promote such our pious intention in this behalf, have undertaken a considerable part of the said plantation in Ulster, and are making progress therein.Then follows, in long legal language, directions as to the appointment of Mayors of Londonderry and Coleraine and other officials, and as to how lands are to be laid out, into which it is unnecessary for me to enter. If hon. Members wish to see the document in its entirety, it appears in the Report or the Records of the Irish Society; or I hope 1068 it may be laid before the House by the Committee I trust the House will grant. It may be said that the Charter of King James was superseded by that of Charles II. Now, Charles II. did grant a charter, and it is to that, perhaps, hon. Gentlemen may refer as not stating so clearly the opinions expressed in that of King James. I have extracts here. It is an extremely long document, and I need not trouble the House with much of it. It is only necessary to say that it recapitulates and recites a great deal of what is expressed in the Charter of King James. It begins thus—Whereas our illustrious grandfather James, late King of England, by his Letters Patent under his Great Seal of England bearing date at Westminster 29th day of March in the 11th year of his reign for the considerations therein expressed.Then the charter goes on to say—And for that it doth manifestly appear to us that the said Society of the New Plantation and other Companies of our City of London have expended very great sums of money.Then after reference to the revoking refers again—The said several grants of the New Plantation and other Companies respectively theretofore, made as fully and beneficially to all intents and purposes, as they might have had and enjoyed the same if no repeal of the said Letters Patent had ever been had or made.I ought to have said that before the second charter was granted there was a rebellion in Ulster, and there had been great Complaints of the negligence of the City Companies, and the King refers to these matters. By a Star Chamber Order he had revoked the first charter. That revocation is said to be illegal; but, however, the second charter recited the reasons for which King James granted these lands, and this is made doubly sure at all events, and if there was any illegality, we have the fact that King Charles did recite and recapitulate the reasons, or some of the reasons, that induced King James to grant the first charter. I refer to this as proving clearly that the City Companies only held the land or trust under charter and I go further, and say all history goes Clearly to prove that not only was this intended by the King, but every act of detail of Kings James and Charles goes to prove that it formed the basis of a very important policy. I say this is confirmed by history, and I would quote the records of the Irish Society. The Irish 1069 Society, in 1822, appointed a Committee to inquire into their records. There had been a serious fire which had damaged some of the records, and thereupon the inquiry was ordered, and the Report of the Committee was printed. I may also mention that in 1864 Mr. Charles Reed, afterwards, I believe, Sir Charles Reed, and Chairman of the London School Board, and then Deputy Governor of the Society, was requested to prepare a record of the deeds of the Irish Society, and he did so. I have this record, and it fully confirms all that is set out in the Report of the Committee of 1822. There were conditions and orders made in respect to the charter, which are stated in this Report of the Irish Society in clear language. In King James' time, after the first charter had been granted there was a rebellion in Ulster—unfortunately there had been a good many rebellions there—and King James sought by this method to restore peace to the province. He escheated the lands in six counties, but the escheat was carried out in one county only, Londonderry. Now, there is clear evidence that those lands were given to the London Companies as well as to the Irish Society. I will give the conditions referred to, which were to be observed by those who undertook the work of civilization and restoration of peace to the province of Ulster.Whereas the greatest part of six counties being escheated and come to the Crown hath lately been surveyed, and the survey thereof transmitted and presented unto His Majesty; upon view whereof His Majesty of his princely bounty, not respecting his own profit, but the public peace and welfare of that Kingdom, by the civil plantation of those unreformed and waste countries, is graciously pleased to distribute the said lands to such of his subjects, as well of Great Britain as of Ireland, as being of merit and ability, shall seek the same with a mind not only to benefit themselves but to do service to the Crown and Commonwealth.These are orders and conditions given to the undertakers who were to occupy the lands in Ulster, which lands had been taken from the rebels under King James, and were to be occupied by the tenants of the London Companies. After an interval of some years, complaints reached the King that the province was not so well ordered and governed as it ought to have been; charges of neglect were made, and complaints made to the King of the conduct of the companies, and the King wrote 1070 in great indignation to Sir Arthur Chichester, the Deputy Governor, com plaining that those grants so liberally' made for the popular welfare of the whole Kingdom and not only for the province had not been properly administered by the London Companies. These' are the terms of the letter of King James to Sir Arthur Chichester:—It is well known unto you how great a revenue we might have raised to our Crown by our escheated lands in the province of Ulster, if we had not preferred the reformation of that disordered country by a civil plantation to be made therein before the private profit which we might have reaped by it. For the more steady effecting whereof we made liberal donations of great proportions of those lands, so escheated unto us, to divers British undertakers and servitors with favourable terms and reservations for their better encouragement, and enabling' them, in their estates, to expedite the work of their plantation, according to those articles which they voluntary bound themselves; but as we are informed they have made so slow progression therein, hitherto, that neither the safety of that country, nor the planting of religion and civility amongst those rude and barbarious people, which were the principal motives of that project, and which we expected as the only fruits and returns to us of our bounty from them, are any whit, as yet, materially affected by them. We are not ignorant how much the real accomplishment of that. plantation concerns the future peace and safety of that kingdom; but if there were no reason of State to press it forward, yet we would pursue and effect that work, with the same earnestness as we now do, merely for the goodness and morality of it; esteeming the settling of religion, the introducing of civility, order, and government among a barbarious and un-subjected people, to be the acts of piety and glory, and worthy also a Christian power to endeavour.The date of this is December 21, 1612. But it seems the effect produced on the London companies was not all that was' desired, for two years afterwards the King requested information from the next Deputy Governor, Sir Julius Bodley, and Sir Julius Bodley made a Report in which he complained in strong terms of the City's negligence in the Plantation. This is an extract from the King's' reply:—It is well known to you that if we had intended only (as it seems most of them over-greedily have done) our present profit, we might have converted those large territories, our escheated lands to the great improvement of, the revenue of our Crown there; but we chose rather for the safety of that country and the civilizing of that people, to depart with the inheritance of them at extreme undervalues,' and to make a plantation of them.Now, that is further evidence, if any 1071 were really wanted, of the King's intention when he handed over this land to tie Irish Society. The King gave theca a certain time—what he called days of grace. I have a letter in which he told the said companies he would assign them further time in which to perform their undertaking to Ulster, and if they failed in the performance of their duty he would seize the land. King Charles, when he came to the throne, said the City companies seemed to think more of their private lucre than anything else. That, I am afraid, is a charge that not only could be made of the City companies in the days of King Charles. What followed? The City companies did not take the steps the King considered necessary for the performance of their duty, and so the whole of the property was confiscated. The King resumed possession, and a Star Chamber order was made by which the patents which had been given to the City companies were revoked and cancelled. Now it may be said that that cancelling did away with the Charter of King James, but that cancelling was said to be illegal. A. resolution was passed in the British Parliament to say that that Star Chamber order was not legal, and I believe if the question came before a Court of Law it could clearly be proved that King James's Charter was just as binding as it ever had been. But if the legality be questioned, at all events it is quite clear that Charles the Second's Charter renewed the grant to the City Companies. Therefore it is quite immaterial whether that revocation was legal or not. Then occurred another rebellion in Ulster, and a matter of great importance. The citizens of London asked King Charles to dinner. I have often heard of the importance of London dinners, and it seems to me that the London dinner to King Charles was just as important as any of the dinners of the present day. In a speech after dinner—I presume it was an after-dinner speech, judging from its character—King Charles regretted greatly that the lands had ever been taken away from the City Companies, and he promised that the Companies should have the same granted again; and a petition was presented to the King from the City Companies asking him again to restore these lands to the Irish Society and also the City Companies. The rebellion 1072 in Ulster prevented that being done in King Charles's day, but it so happened that the City Companies did their best to defend the 'city of Derry and to defeat the rebels in Ulster at that time. The rebellion was quelled, and King Charles was more than ever wishful to restore the lands to the City Companies. In the time of Cromwell letters patent were given to the City Companies for the possession of these lands, but otherwise they remained as they had been in the time of King Charles; but in the time of King Charles the Second the citizens of London petitioned again, and obtained a second Charter reciting the previous Charter of King James, part of which I have read to the House. That Charter would, of course, come before the Committee, and I think it clearly proves that the lands of Ulster were given to the City Companies upon trust for the education and the support of the religion and education of the people of that province. The matter does not only rest upon Charter and the history of the time, but there are legal Judgments connected with the case. The Skinners' Company, apparently not satisfied with the amount they were getting out of the land in Ulster, commenced an action against the Irish Society to get some of the proceeds of the fisheries of which the Irish Society were possessed. The case came before, I think, three Courts in this country. I have not got the Judgment of the first Court, but I have extracts from the Judgments of the Master of the Rolls, and of the Lord Chancellor upon the appeal to the House of Lords, If the House will allow me I will quote only a very few words from these Judgments. Giving Judgment on the 19th November, 1838, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Langdale, said:—I am of opinion that the powers granted to the Society and the Trusts reposed in them were of a general and public nature, independent of the private benefit of the Companies of London.That clearly proves that in the eyes of the Master of the Rolls these lands are held in trust. However, an appeal was made to the House of Lords, and the Lord Chancellor (Lord Lyndhurst), said—The result of all these observations is this—that the objects are public and important; that they were constituted for the purpose of carrying those objects into effect; that those objects are still in existence; that the funds of this 1073 district are applicable to those purposes; that they have a discretion to exercise as to what extent they will apply those funds and to what objects. If that be so, my Lords, they are public officers invested with a public trust, having a right to apply those funds in discharge of that public trust.Lord Campbell expressed his opinion in language of equal strength and force. Now, Sir, this is a decision of the House of Lords, the highest Court of Appeal in this country, clearly stating that the Irish Society hold their land in trust, and I do not think it would be possible to dispute that statement. It may be said that that is only the trust of the Irish Society, and that the City Companies hold their lands on a different basis. That, I take it, is the contention of the right hon. Baronet; but, in reply, I maintain that all through these Records the City Companies and the Irish Society are to be taken as one and the same. That they are constantly referred to as the Society for the Plantation of Ulster, and that the companies clearly hold their right to any land under, and subject to, the Irish Society. I will not quote all the extracts, but I will give one or two here and there which all tend to show what these companies hold under the Irish Society. The Irish Society divided the lands in the county of Derry amongst the 12 London Companies. The lands were divided by lot. Twelve portions were marked out, and 12 pieces of paper put in a box. Each company put £3,333 6s. 8d. in one box, drew a piece of paper out of the other box, and thus obtained a piece of the county of Londonderry. That must have been a rather amusing scene. It is well worth reading about in the history of our country. The Records of the Irish Society wind up by saying—The whole of the estate so divided had been estimated to be worth only £1,800 a year. In letting their lands the companies stipulated with the persons proposing to become tenants, that they should perform the original articles and conditions of the plantation.Frequent references are made after that to the connection of the Irish Society and the 12 companies. It is said that on the 9th of November, 1862,Precepts were issued to twelve companies for certificates of their works, and the companies made their return pursuant to the Society's requisitions.It is stated that in July, 1714, 1074The companies were ready to enter info measures thought advisable by the Society for the preservation of the woods.It appears that a Committee had been over in Ulster and had found there was very little timber and that something needed doing, and so the Irish Society requisitioned the 12 companies to take measures for the planting of woods in Ulster. This was done. Then on the 4th of June, 1741,The Society agreed to execute a disclaimer to the chief companies of all their right to the timber.There is another statement, which to my mind is a complete answer to anything the right hon. Baronet may say as to the companies having nothing to do with the Irish Society, because it reads as follows:—It will no doubt be obvious to the reader of the preceding pages that a main object for incorporating the Irish Society, independently of the pecuniary benefit to arise to the original planters and their successors, was to ameliorate the condition of the inhabitants on their plantation by enabling the Society to exercise their discretion in adopting such measures as might appear to them most conducive to the happiness and prosperity of the community under their jurisdiction.And then comes this important paragraph:—The power of the Irish Society were therefore necessarily co-extensive with the possession of the entire estate, and such powers could neither be alienated, nor discontinued.And then it is said:—The Crown invested the Society with the most ample authority to enforce their own regulations for the general objects of the plantation, and notwithstanding the division of the estates amongst the twelve chief companies, such estates are to be considered still under the paramount jurisdiction of the Irish Society:and then follows a good deal more in the same strain, winding up with these words—repairing, Protestant churches and chapels; establishing schools throughout the whole population; and generally for the execution of such measures as tend to promote and improve the civil and religious interests of the country.I do not see under such circumstances how the 12 companies can contend they hold independently of the Irish Society: it is contrary to all records, contrary to the evident intention with which the charters were given, and contrary to my mind, to all common sense in the matter. But, Sir, there is one other point, and perhaps the right hon. 1075 Baronet will give me a little light upon it. I read in the Records of the Irish Society that the Haberdashers' Company sold their estate. I forget the date. [Sir R. FOWLER: 1687.] The date, however, is not of very great importance. The records state that at the time it was arranged that whenever a Company sold their property, the Irish Society should receive an indemnity against any loss. If that is so, is it not completely and clearly shown that the Irish Society hold entirely, and that the Irish Society's views is that these London companies have no right to sell their property, otherwise they would not take themselves an indemnity against harm which may follow? I trust the matter, at all events, will come before the Committee. I cannot state it as an absolute fact, I merely give it as what I gather from the records of the Irish Society, and from what I am informed as to the practice when companies sell their estates. That brings me to the Royal Commission of 1880, and I wish to make a few references to that Commission. With regard to the constitution of that Commission I should like to say I do not know what hon. Members below the Gangway were about at that time. I was in the House, but I must say I knew nothing about the way the Commission was formed. It is a positive fact that the Commission which was to inquire into the Lively Companies had not upon it a single Irishman of any kind—no Peer or Member of Parliament or Commoner of any kind. That Commission was formed with an entire disregard of' the Irish part of the question. I think that was a grievous mistake. I find from the records of that Commission that it entirely fulfilled the object for which it was formed; it ignored the Irish part of the question. The Report of the Commission was issued in 1884, and I find that in the first 15 pages Ireland was not mentioned at all. I find that in only 28 lines of the 44 pages over which the Report extended, was there any reference whatever to Ireland. Therefore I say that the Report of the Royal Commission had really not very much to do with the question of the Irish estates. That is another reason why we should have a Committee. The Royal Commissioners said the Irish part of the question did not come before them at all, and there- 1076 fore they had no suggestion to make to the House in regard to it. But they had some very valuable suggestions to make: they reported, for instance, that the property of the London companies was property held in trust. I will not trouble the House with many quotations from the Report, but there are just one or two I must make. Apparently the Companies protested against giving evidence before the Commission, because they disputed—The legality of that portion of the inquiry which related to property of the Companies not proved to be subject to any trust.However, in reply to that, the majority of the Commissioners reported,—Those of your Majesty's Commissioners who sign this Report are unable to acquiesce in this view. It appears to us obvious that the State has a right at any time to disestablish and disendow the Companies of London, providing the just claims of existing members to compensation being allowed.Then they go on to say—We do not, however, recommend this-course to your Majesty's Government. We are of opinion that the State should intervene, but only for the purposes of the preventing the alienation of the property of the Companies of London securing the permanent applications of a considerable portion of the corporate income thence arising to useful purposes.They wind up the paragraph by saying the London CompaniesAre, therefore, trustees of their corporate estate for public purposes.There is also reference to the word London and to the increase of prosperity. I will not give any quotation about that, but the Report says that the bulk of the property had increased in value owing to the prosperity of London, therefore London should receive the greatest advantage from the property of the London companies. That is an argument for us in Ireland. We hold and say that these companies increased there property and increased their income very much, through the prosperity of Ulster, and therefore Ulster ought to receive its share of that improvement. That is, no doubt, the point at issue between us and the hon. Baronet opposite, and I trust it is one I am quite right in leaving to the decision of any Committee of this House. There was a minority Report published by the Commission, but I will not go into that; but I will remind the House that the Commission consulted two eminent barristers, Sir 1077 Horace Davey and Mr. Vaughan Hawkins. Sir Horace Davey said—I think the companies should be restrained from alienating their property without the consent of the Home Office.That opinion is a very good one, but I do not wish to detain the House by referring to it further. But I must quote the opinion of Mr. Vaughan Hawkins, because it bears on the Irish part of the question. He says—As to the large Crown grants by Edward VI. and James to the companies, it may be true that, taken alone, they do not impose trusts which the Court could enforce; but looking to the recitals of the Act of 4 James I., and the return to Edward VI. Commissioners, it seems not too much to say that these grants were made upon the representation that the income of the lands granted had been in the past wholly applied to charitable uses, and in the expectation that it would in the future be so applied.It is there clearly proved that the property of the London companies is trust property which is available for the public welfare, and I maintain that to a share of the good the people of Ulster, who contribute so much to the property, have a claim. Now I said it might be argued by the right hon. Baronet that these companies paid for their lauds. I grant that they did pay £40,000. That £40,000 was raised from 12 of the large companies, with whom are associated a number of smaller companies. The right hon. Baronet represents the Salters' Company. With that company there are four or five smaller companies, and the Salters' Company did not pay £3,333 6s. 8d., but only £1,954 for their land. Now, Sir, the Salters' Company sold their estate under the Ashbourne Act. The purchase money was obtained from the public. From a Return granted to the House, I find that the Salters' Company received £240,000. That, of course, includes the amounts for the smaller companies. Then there is the case of the rental. I read just now from the records of the Irish Society that the lands which were given over to the London companies were estimated to be of the value of £1,800 a year. An estimate of the value was given by a witness before the Royal Commission, he estimated that now the rentals amounted to no less than £160,000 a year. Well, it may now be said that these companies have spent money on their lands. They have no 1078 doubt spent money on churches and schools. They have recognized the object with which they were given these estates, and they have supported churches and chapels and schools, but certainly not to the extent they ought to have done. This fact is additional proof, to my mind, that the Salters' Company should not take the whole of the money from Ulster and leave none of it for churches and chapels and schools. The enormous increase of rent has been chiefly duo to the labour of the tenants under the Ulster Custom. The Ulster farmers have built their houses and reclaimed land under the custom. In 1717 the Drapers' Company sent an influential Committee of their body to investigate the state of their property in Ulster and they reported that vast improvements had been made by the tenants. That is no tenants' or one-sided report, and I am sure it cannot be disputed by the hon. Baronet that it is through the reclamation of land and other improvements by the tenants that this largo increase of rent has arisen. I do not say altogether, but very largely. Now, the Salters' Company has not been ono of the most liberal companies in Ireland. A memorial was presented to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) in 1841 which embodied the gravest charge against the Salters' Company for their constant and frequent increases of rent and for increase of the sufferings of the tenants thereby. I am told by a very trustworthy tenant of the Salters' Company, or rather a late tenant of the Salters' Company, that he held land the rent of which had been raised in 109 years from 3s. 6d. an acre to 20s. an acre. The other day the Drapers' Company received a letter of thanks for giving £60,030 to the Beaumont Institute in the East-end of London. It was a noble gift; but about the same time I had written to the Drapers' Company to know if it was a fact that they were refusing to give £10 a year to the struggling Presbyterian churches at Drapers-town and Tobermore, and I was informed that as they intended to sell their estate they did not mean to continue the grants beyond the lifetime of the persons now receiving them. When the Salters' Company sold their estate Presbyterian schoolmasters, who had been in 1079 the habit of receiving £5 a year from the Company ceased to receive it. Is it not paltry and mean in the extreme for these great wealthy companies, who are able to give £60,000 to objects in London, to refuse to continue their grants of £5 and £10 to struggling schools and churches in Ulster? I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but there are many other institutions that suffer. Not long ago I was reading the Report of the Londonderry Orphan Asylum. One would have thought that that was an institution that anybody would be glad to continue their subscriptions to, but the Report of the asylum was to the effect that since the London Companies have sold their lands, they did not receive subscriptions from those companies, and therefore they could not support the number of orphans they had hitherto done. That is another example of the noble and liberal policy pursued by the London Companies. I hope I have proved to the House, from all the surroundings of the case—from the records of the Irish Society, from the Charters of King James, from the Royal Commission and legal judgments—these companies hold their property under a public trust. We contend that under that trust they have no right to deprive the people of Ulster of the whole of this property, a good deal of which has been contributed by them, and that they ought, if not voluntarily, then under compulsion, to give a certain sum to the people of Ulster by way of compensation. Gentlemen on this side of the House often talk of justice to Ireland, and I believe that Gentlemen opposite have an equal desire to see that justice done. Well, but I hold that to bring money which really belongs to Ireland over to this, the wealthiest country in the world, is to do great injustice to the former. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ MR. MULHOLLAND (Londonderry, N.)
After the able and exhaustive speech we have just listened to from the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Derry, I do not think it will be necessary for me to occupy the time of the House with any lengthy observations. In the first place, I would congratulate the hon. Member on having found a Motion on which Members from all parts of Ireland will be able to agree, or rather, on which—for I cannot answer 1080 for Irish Members below the Gangway opposite—he will have the cordial support of the Ulster Members on this side of the House. I will not go into the history of these London companies, and the manner in which they have been in the habit of managing their estates, but there is one point I should like to-impress on the House, namely, that this is not altogether, or even mainly, one as between landlords and tenants; it affects very largely the labourers in town and country and the small shopkeepers and other classes of the community. Hon. Members who have studied the workings of the Land Purchase Acts must be aware that the farmers have, as a rule, made excellent bargains for the purchase of their farms. Practically, as the result of this legislation, they have become the absolute owners of the farms, whereas the labourers and other classes of the community have derived no benefit at all from the lands. I should like to give the House an example of the operation of these Acts in the County of Londonderry, one Division of which I happen to represent. Mr. Cartwright, agent of the salters' Company, giving evidence before the Royal Commission on the Land Acts, said that the advantage derived from the purchases under Lord Ashbourne's Act were solely and wholly gained by the chief tenants. He said that whilst on the Manor of the Salters' Company there were 1,000 tenants, there were an enormous number of people who were not tenants, the population altogether being 10,000. From my own knowledge I agree with the observations of Mr. Cartwright, and I have no hesitation in saying that if this money is withdrawn from the county the condition of the labourers on the estates will be infinitely worse than it was 10 or 20 years ago. What we contend is that these estates are virtually trust estates, and it is asked that a certain part of the money from them be devoted to objects of public benefit within these districts. There is no ground for assuming, as, no doubt, the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Fowler), who is about to speak, will assume, that the companies are acting within their legal rights in selling their estates, because the matter has never been made the subject of a judicial decision, and until it has been made the subject of such a decision the companies 1081 have no right to say that their view is the correct one. I take it that the point that the House has to determine is not that of the abstract legality or illegality of the action of the companies. I do not think we should form ourselves into a tribunal for the purpose of interpreting the law, or explaining the meaning of charters, or to say to what extent the companies are at present bound by them; but what we do say is that, having referred to the circumstances under which the estates were acquired and to the manner in which the trusts have been fulfilled, the House is asked to say that the withdrawal of the large sum which has been habitually spent on the estates is in the highest degree inexpedient and impolitic. I beg to second the Motion.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words,
A Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the circumstances attending the acquisition and sale of the Salters Estate, and of such other London Companies as have sold or are in treaty to sell their Irish estates,"—(Mr. Lea.)
§ * SIR R. FOWLER (London)
The House will not be surprised that I should wish to say something on this question, because I have had the honour of being Master of the Salters' Company in 1885–6 during an important period—so far as this subject is concerned—and because, in view of the constituency I represent, I also indirectly represent the other companies, two of whom are much more interested in this question than the Salters' Company, which has sold its Irish estate. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says there has not been a judicial decision given, and, no doubt, that is true. But though there has not exactly been a judicial decision on the question of the legality of the sale of the estates, yet that right has been accepted by the ablest lawyers in Ireland. Now, in this matter there can be no question of one Government or the other. The estate of the Salters' Company was not sold under a Conservative Government, the main portion of the transaction having taken place under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle. The able lawyers who advised the Go- 1082 vernment under Lord Ashbourne's Act would not have recommended the advance of money by the Government if they had not been sure of the right to sell the estates. The hon. Member for South Londonderry moves for an inquiry into this right. How far back is the inquiry to go, because the right has been sanctioned for the last two centuries? The Haberdashers' Company sold their estates in 1687; the Merchant Taylors in 1727; the Goldsmiths in 1728; the Vintners in 1729; the Cloth workers in 1871; the Grocers in 1874; the Salters in 1885; the Fishmongers in 1886; the Skinners have nearly completed the sale of their estates, and. the Ironmongers and the Drapers are still in process of arranging the sale of theirs. The Mercers do not wish to sell. The desirability of granting this Committee of Inquiry is a matter for the Chief Secretary. As far as the Salters are concerned, it does not matter what decision is arrived at, but with the Ironmongers and the Drapers the case is different. While the sale is being arranged, however, it is awkward to have the question of its legality raised. Therefore, in the interests of those two companies, I would ask either that the inquiry should be refused or should be granted at once. It is doubtful whether it would be possible at this period of the Session to appoint a Committee which would command the confidence of the country; for such a Committee ought to include Members of both the Front Benches and also the ablest lawyers in the House. In the Report of the Livery Companies Commission there is a memorandum stating that the Mercers' Company declare that they have always exercised their right to sell any part of their private estates, and to deal with them as they think fit; and that they protest against any interference in the matter. I mention this case of the Mercers' Company because Lord Selborne, one of the most eminent of living equity lawyers, is a member of the Court of that company. Assuming that all the views of the hon. Members opposite are borne out, what is to be the result? Are the Haberdashers' Company, the Clothworkers', and the Grocers' to be required to refund the sums which they have received at different periods? I apprehend that for that purpose an Act of Parliament 1083 would be necessary, and the passing of an Act would occupy a great deal of the time of the House. It is asserted that the London companies have derived great benefits from their Irish estates. I maintain, on the other hand, that it would have been a good thing for those companies if they had never had anything to do with Ireland. In point of fact our connection with Ireland has resulted in a dead loss. The origin of the thing was this: The companies originally put down 12 sums of £5,000 each, making £60,000 between them. Well, it is calculated that a sum of money put out at compound interest will double itself in 14 years. I do not take 14 years however—I take 20—and, I say, that if this £5,000 paid by the Salters' Company had been put out at interest in 1620 that sum, doubling itself every 20 years, would lave amounted to £41,360,000 in 1880. Therefore, Sir, I maintain that these Irish estates have been a dead loss to us. I certainly do not think we have made anything by our connection with Ireland. We should have been a great deal better off if we had never touched it. Well, now, the Salters' Company has been selected for some reason unknown to me as the great evil-doer among the London companies. For nearly 100 years the Salters' estate paid us nothing whatever. It was afterwards let for £500 a year to the Bateson family, the ancestors of the present Lord Deramore. It was not until the year 1853 that the company came into possession of the estates. Since that period the following sums have been laid out in improvements: on school buildings and repairs, £6,213 16s. 3d.; support of education, £16,760 15s. 8d.; church buildings, parsonages, &c., £9,3039s, 9d.; ministers of religion, and Church sustentation fund £9,212 13s. 6d.; main or 'arterial drainage, £5,019 8s. 7d.; improvement in the breed of cattle, £193 11s. 3d.; farm roads, pavements, &c., £6,589 10s. 1d.; water and gas supplies, £817 13s. 3d.; public buildings, repairs, &c., £2,827 19s. 10d.; charitable and other donations, £4,832 13s. 9d. I only joined the Company in 1880, about the time when the troubles began, but I know that those who preceded me were anxious to do their duty as good landlords and to promote the prosperity of their tenants. 1084 Not only that, but they had the utmost regard for the religious opinions of the people residing on their estate, and gave assistance in the building of schools and churches to the three denominations—namely, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterians, and the Roman Catholics. My hon. Friend near me (Mr. Johnston) may take exception to the latter, but it was the view of the Salters' Company, and, so far as I know, of the other companies also, that having many Roman Catholic tenants they were bound to assist them. The estate consisted of about 19,000 acres, including hogs, roads, &c., comprising some 986 agricultural and town park holdings, but in some few instances one person held two or three holdings, and, on the other hand, some holdings were held by two and even three persons as joint tenants, so that in round numbers there were about 930 tenants. In 1883 the Company made the following offer to the tenants—"with a view of arriving at some amicable and permanent arrangement without litigation" in the Land Court—namely, to reduce the rent by 10 per cent of all those tenants who would enter into judicial agreements for fair rents for 15 years from the first November, 1882, and the vast majority of the tenants voluntarily availed themselves of this offer. Meetings were held by the tenants at different places on the estate to consider the offer, and Dr. Todd, a solicitor of Londonderry, who was a strong supporter of the tenants' rights, attended some of the meetings. Dr. Todd gained the confidence of the tenants generally, and several hundreds of them signed an authority to him to negotiate with the Company for the purchase of their holdings on certain terms, and to sign the necessary contract of purchase. The price offered was 19 years' purchase of the net Government valuation of the land where the tenant paid in cash the whole of the purchase money (on balance not advanced by the Land Commission), and 20 years where balance of purchase money was left outstanding. The tenants were to be at liberty to borrow from the Land Commission three-fourths of the purchase money, and the company were (in all cases where the tenant was unable to pay the balance of one-fourth in cash) to allow such balance to remain on mortgage at 1085 5 per cent for 35 years to extinguish principal and interest. The terms were communicated to the company by Dr. Todd in a letter dated 24th May, 1883. The Company declined to accept the offer, and suggested other terms. A long correspondence ensued, and ultimately terms were agreed and embodied into two draft contracts which were approved by Dr. Todd at the end of the month of January, 1884. The principal terms were as follow:—The whole of the tenants of a townland were to purchase, or the company were not to be compelled to sell to any tenant in such townland. This condition was subsequently abandoned by the company. Three-fourths in number and value of holdings were to pay the whole of the purchase money in cash, and in the other cases the company were to allow the balance of the purchase money, not exceeding one-fourth thereof, to remain on mortgage at 5 per cent for 35 years, to extinguish principal and interest. The price was to be 19½ years' purchase of the net Government valuation of the land in the cases of all tenants who paid the whole purchase-money in cash, and 20 years' purchase in the cases of those who left one-fourth on mortgage. The purchases were to be completed on the 1st November, 1881, and if not completed on that day the purchasers were to pay interest on the purchase money at the rate of 5 per cent per annum until completion. All arrears of rent were to be paid up to the 1st of November, 1884, prior to completion. The company were to pay Dr. Todd 2½ per cent on the total purchase-money by way of commission. The contracts were engrossed by Dr. Todd and were signed by some 630 tenants, but the engrossments were not sent to the company until February 1885. They then had to be checked, and this took upwards of two months to do. In April 1885 the abstract of the Company's title was forwarded to the solicitor of the Land Commission, as he had to investigate the title prior to any advances being made to tenants, and the investigation of the title and the disposal of the requisitions took nearly eight months. I repeat the remark I made before that any doubt as to the desire of the Company to sell their estates, as seems to be implied in this Motion, is not so much a censure upon the Company as a censure upon the 1086 solicitor of the Land Commission, who is no doubt a very able lawyer and, as I have no doubt the Solicitor General for Ireland would testify, if he were in his place, a thoroughly competent man. In October 1885, after the passage of Lord Ashbourne's Act, the Salters' Company agreed to allow the sales to be carried through under the Act and to leave one-fifth of the purchase money in the hands of the Land Commission by way of guarantee deposit, and that those tenants who had agreed to give twenty years' purchase should buy out 19½ years' purchase. They did not at that time agree to any other alteration of the terms of purchase. In November 1885 it was represented to the Salters' Company that many of the tenants purchasing would be unable or unwilling at the time of completing their purchase to pay the amount of the arrears of rent to the 1st of November, 1884, and interest from that date until completion in cash, and the Company authorised their agent to take promissory notes for the amounts from such of the tenants as might plead their inability to pay such arrears and interest. As an inducement to tenants to pay the amount in cash, the Company authorized their agent to accept interest at 4 per cent instead of 5 as specified in the contracts. In January, 1886, the company, at Dr. Todd's request, agreed to charge interest on the purchase money up to November the 1st, 1885, only, and not to the actual date of completion. In March 1886, the Company agreed to have the purchase money calculated at 191 years' purchase on the net Government valuation of the land, or the rent as fixed by the Company in February 1883, whichever was the lowest. This resulted in a reduction of about £10,000 from the total purchase money, as agreed to be given by the tenants under the contracts signed by them, and at the same time the company agreed to allow to all tenants who paid their promissory notes for interest before maturity, a rebate of 3s. in the £, which really made the rate of interest 4¼ per cent only. The sales completed on these terms were:—in February, 1886, 63; March, 88; April, 75 May, 56; June, 84; July, 106; August, 64; October, 162 November, 131; December, 61, and since December, 94; making a total of 984. Tenants to the number of 147 gave promissory notes 1087 for arrears of rent, and 546 for interest, the total amount of such notes being £5,756. Of these 18 have paid their notes for rent, and 144 their notes for interest, the amount paid being £1,281, which leaves a balance of £1,475, still due to the Company on these promissory notes. The hon. Member contended that the Salters' Company had made a very profitable investment in regard to their Irish estates. I want to point out that we have sold the estates to the tenants at a much less sum of money than we considered they were worth some years ago. With regard to the amount of public money received from the State by the Salters' Company, grossly exaggerated statements have been made. The actual sum received from the Land Commission was, including the guarantee deposit, £230,518. From this sum must be deducted the cost of the redemption of the Tythe, £12,730, cost of sale, compensation to subordinate officials, and balance of bond debt incurred for improvement of the estate, such as building churches and schools, drainage, paving, &c., £16,400, making a total of £201,418. The Salters' Company in 1876 and 1878 bought out two of the associated companies at the rate of £285,000 for the entire estate, subject to certain charges thereon, and the sale to the tenants, after payment of the charges and the costs of sale was at the rate of £220,000. That was a loss to us of £65,000. Are we to be attacked alone, while those companies who left Ireland at a better price than we did are to go scot-free? Why are we to bear the whole loss? I do not think anybody will say that is justice. We have had the misfortune of the times going against us, but I must say that the Salters' Company—and I do not speak for myself, because at the time the company became Irish landlords I had not joined the Company's Court—acted as generous landlords. I believe the reason why they gave a high price to the two companies to whom I have referred was that they wished to behave generously to the tenants without having others to consult. But I must say that, having endeavoured to promote the prosperity of those of the people of Ireland who came under our charge, we have been met by gross ingratitude. Every complaint has been made against us, and I think the very fact of this 1088 charge having been brought forward to-night proves that we were right in endeavouring to get out of Ireland. Sitting here and meditating what was said in this House some years ago, I very strongly urged this view, and was supported by a colleague of mine, then a Member of the House (Mr. Eaton, now Lord Cheylesmore) that, from what we saw, an Englishman in Ireland had every man's hand against him, and we came to the conclusion that the sooner we got out of Ireland the better it would be for us. Now, I will just tell the House one instance of what I learnt, when I was driving over the estate in 1885. The agent pointed out to me a farm on the hill, and said the farmer had to drive three-quarters of a mile round to get to the road from which he was separated only by half an acre of rock land, the tenant of which would not permit him to cross to the road. The agent went to him and told him that for this piece of rock he might have an acre of good land. He asked, would it do him way good?—meaning the farmer. "Why, of course, you know it would." "Then nothing would induce me to do it." For the sake of spiting a neighbour by making him walk three-quarters of a mile round, this man refused an acre of good land for half an acre of rock. We hear a good deal about the Ulster tenant, but it certainly struck me that in a similar case in England, no landlord would have allowed a tenant to be so inconvenienced simply because some had a spite against him. Under the Ulster tenant right we had no power to do anything. It was incidents like these which caused us to avail ourselves of Lord Ashbourne's Act, and to enter into this transaction. The same thing has been done by many of the companies. I can speak for the other London companies, that they wore all anxious to do, and would have done the best they could for the Irish tenantry, but for the difficulties that were put in their way. At length they wished to live in a calmer atmosphere, and I do not think anybody can blame them for endeavouring to dispose of their estates. Lord Ashbourne's Act was passed to carry out what has always been the dream of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and many on this side of the House—namely, the establishment of a peasant proprietary. That is the great 1089 object Lord Ashbourne's Act has in view, and I do not see how the Salters' Company are to blame for acting on that principle. But as far as I can gather from the object of this Motion it is to convey this. We are very glad to get rid of you, at the same time now you have ceased to belong to us, we want to retain your money. They kick us out of Ireland, and wish us to continue to subscribe. I apprehend that now we have got our money, you would want an Act of Parliament to compel us to spend it in any particular manner. We have every disposition to deal fairly with everybody, but alter the way in which we have been treated, and after the attacks, it cannot be said that we have been offered any great inducement to act in that spirit. To call a man a rogue is not the way to induce him to act liberally. We can find plenty of people to receive what we have to give away in the shape of charity, and to receive it gratefully. What I wish to ask is, how are we to be compelled to take this course? I do not think you can exercise compulsion without au Act of Parliament. And let me again point out that in passing this Motion you are passing a Vote of Censure on the eminent lawyers who advised the Irish Government—and it is not one Government in particular which is concerned, because a good deal of this transaction was under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Morley)—in regard to the right of these companies to sell their estates. But the Motion is a question for Her Majesty's Government. Personally, I believe it will be found that the more the affairs of the London companies are examined the more it will be found that they have endeavoured to do their duty in the various positions in which they have been placed. At the same time, I must protest against the attacks which have been made, and I most earnestly assert in this House that I believe the course we have pursued has always been that of good landlords, and of men anxious for the prosperity of Ireland as well as of this country.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL (South Tyrone)
I cannot help saying that if the case of the London companies is as it has been stated by the right hon. Baronet, there is very little to be said for them. It appears to me that the sum and substance of that 1090 case is that the moment they scented danger in Ireland they scuttled out of it and took as much with them as possible, It may be a relief to the right hon. Baronet to know that, so far as I am aware, there is nobody on this side of the House who questions the right of the London companies to sell their estates; indeed, we think that it is to the advantage of Ireland that they should sell them. But the real point is as to the disposal of what we consider trust money. That question has been deliberately burked by the right hon. Baronet. We are not here to argue whether the London companies were in the past or are now good landlords. I frankly admit that a good deal may be said on both sides. The real question is, how did these companies become possessed of their lands in Ireland, and are they at liberty either legally or morally to carry off the money to be dispensed in charity and hospitality in this great City, where it is not nearly so much required as in Ireland? These questions involve a twofold argument of history and fact. The lands conveyed at the beginning of the 17th century constitute w hat is known historically as the plantation of Ulster. Is there any Member of this House who, having heard my hon. Friend, believed that they were given to the Irish Society, and by them to the London companies for anything like private ends? I hold that they were given for public purposes, and the original charters clearly prove it. Here are some pregnant words from the first charter:—Whereas the greater part of six counties in the Province of Ulster being estreated to the Crown, have lately been surveyed, and the survey thereof transmitted and presented unto His Majesty, upon view whereof His Majesty, of his princely bounty, and not respecting his own property but the public peace and welfare of the kingdom, by the civil plantation of these unreformed and waste countries, is graciously pleased to distribute the said lands to such of his subjects, as well of Great Britain as of Ireland, as being of merit and dessert and shall cultivate the same not only to benefit themselves but to do service to the Crown and to the Commonwealth.I maintain that these lands were conveyed to the Irish Society and to the London companies not for private but for public purposes — the settlement of Ulster. Now, this charter, which I have quoted, was annulled in 1630 for breaches of the Articles. And if the lands were not given for public purposes, what 1091 right had the Crown to interfere with and annul the very charter it had created? A new charter was presented by Charles II. to the Irish Society, which granted some lands to the Livery companies thereupon, and that is the foundation under which the companies hold their lands. The case for the companies so far as I can make it out, is that they bought from the Irish Society and are absolute owners. Our answer is that the Irish Society, in conveying their lands to the 12 companies, could only convey the title they possessed. They held the land for public purposes, and they bad no right to convey them for any other purpose. The companies have sometimes recognized this themselves. I take the sale of their estate by the Cloth-workers' Company in 1871. They sold their land to Sir Hervey Bruce, who was charged with £50 a year to several churches, besides moneys for other charities which the Cloth workers had been giving. The Cloth workers had recognized their duty, and in selling to Sir Hervey Bruce they charged the estate with those responsibilities. What we are determined upon is that those companies who remain shall not get out as have the others. They are selling lands, the main value of which has been contributed by the tiller of the soil. The right hon. Baronet talks about the companies having lost by their Irish connection. In 1609 the valuation of the estates was £1,800; in 1882, the valuation was £113,000. In 1639, the rental was £2,190; in 1882 it was £160,000. Beyond all yea or nay, and making every allowance for what the companies have done, and making allowance, too, for the change in the currency, I say the increased value of these lands is mainly due to the tenants. The settlers found the place a howling wilderness, and if it now flourishes like a green bay tree the change is not due to the landlords. All that the companies have done has been to step in and raise the rents of the tenants after they had made their improvements. It is absurd for the hon. Baronet to talk of the losses which the companies have incurred in face of the enormous improvement of their estates—an improvement by which they have benefited Now, having sold those lands which, as the charter shows, they held for public 1092 and specific purposes, they have carried off the Irish money made out of the sweat and toil of the settlers, to this great City, and are simply leaving that religion, that education, and those public affairs for which they wore bound to have concern, to take care of themselves the best way they can. Just imagine these great corporations receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds under Lord Ashbourne's Act, calmly announcing, while they are giving their £10,000 in charity in this wealthy and rich City, that these schools and churches and charitable institutions in the County of Derry must now, since they have sold their estates, look after themselves. I say, apart from the legal question altogether, this money is Irish money which ought not to be allowed to come to London, and these great and wealthy corporations ought to be ashamed to retire from Ireland in the way they have done. We may be told that if the companies had no legal right to sell we have our remedy by going to the Court of Chancery for au injunction. Just imagine the farmers and labourers of the County of Derry being told that they must go to the House of Lords, because that would be the ultimate tribunal of these great and wealthy corporations, who would be actually fighting the farmers and labourers and tenants with their own money. It is not possible to recommend any such course. Let us have a Committee to in-quire into the title of these companies, into their right to sell, and whether if they have the right to sell, they have the right to walk off with the money. The right hon. Baronet talked about the immorality of the people. I wondered what he meant. What instance did he give? Simply one case in the County of Derry where a man owning half an acre of rock would not take in exchange an acre of arable land to oblige a neighbour. Does such a thing as that never take place in England or even in the City of London? If the man wished to keep his half acre of rock, if it was not convenient for him to part with it, he had a right to hold it. He might be wrong, very likely was, but certainly he ought not to be held up as an example of immorality. Take the case of the Drapers' estate. The Drapers' Company have been 1093 caught distinctly trying to defraud their tenants The Land Commissioners refused to ratify the sale of their lands. Why? Because the company inserted in the agreements the old rents, after the judicial and lower rents had been fixed. Now, when they are brought to bay, what are they doing? They are simply forcing the tenants into a position that they cannot consent to occupy. It is time this harrying should cease. These great, rich, and wealthy companies should not be harrying their tenants in Ulster, and it is time that the money they have in their coffers should be got back, or if it cannot be got back, at all events that this House should see no more of it shall go into them. I heartily support the Motion of my hon. Friend, and I hope the Government will see their way to grant this Committee, and, even though the period is late, to do something to arrest this work.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co.)
I have listened to the characteristic oration of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. When last autumn the Irish Members sitting in this part of the House in Committee on the Bill for the extension of Lord Ashbourne's Act, proposed certain Amendments calculated to prevent the things of which he now complains, the hon. Member and his confederates on the other side went into the Lobby against us. He opposes us on all practical occasions, and reserves his superfluous eloquence for a pointless debate on a private Member's night. He deserted us on the battlefield, and now swaggers as the true hero on parade. I must express my opinion, that this Motion and the debate to which we have listened, are as perfect a little comedy as ever has been enacted on the boards of a West End theatre. It reminds me of those little charming questions, put in the simplest manner by innocent friends of the Government, and to which the Government are always so anxious to give an answer. There is no doubt whatever after the speeches that have been made, and even for the speech of the hon. Baronet, the head Salter, that a little arrangement has been come to. This committee is going to be granted; there is no doubt about it. I thoroughly agreed with the Head Salter when he asked, supposing the Committee were granted, how are you going to get back the 1094 money? The money has been spent in champagne and turtle soup long ago. You may as well try to call spirits from the vasty deep as try to get back money now. I am not surprised that the Head Salter objects to this Commission. I remember that the hon. Baronet also objected to a Commission of inquiry into the works of the Metropolitan Board of Works.
§ * SIR R. FOWLER
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. My name was on the back of the Bill of the noble Lord the Member for Paddington.
§ MR. CLANCY
I was under the impression the hon. Baronet objected to the inquiry into the proceedings of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and I now hear with astonishment that he did not. Does he deny that he opposed the inquiry?
§ MR. CLANCY
At all events, I think the hon. Baronet predicted a certain result for the inquiry. He was very brave, and confident that that final result which he predicted would be most satisfactory; but we know what the result has been, and that it has led to the extinction of the corrupt body which he championed. No doubt he looks forward to an equally satisfactory result on the present occasion, or he would not object to the Committee now proposed. I myself should prefer, not a Committee upstairs, but a special Commission of Judges. I do not think, in the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, that a Committee of this sort is a competent tribunal for the discussions of questions of this kind. We want a most thorough and far-reaching inquiry. There are delicate questions of a private character, of private banking accounts and various matters touching on the question of morality, and a Committee upstairs is not competent, and probably would not be induced to enter into these considerations. Therefore, if I had my choice, I should prefer a special Commission of Judges, with probably the Attorney General to conduct the prosecution. I listened, with great interest, to the speech of the Head Salter. He stated 1095 that these Irish estates were a dead loss to the London companies. I forget how many scores of millions he said the companies had lost, but he seemed to forget that they had been extracting rent. He spoke as if the companies had got nothing during all these centuries out of Ireland. Well, Sir, I think it did become him to make an appearance here to-night, and if he asks me why it is we select the Salters' Company, and their fellow company, the Skinners' Company, as the victims of our efforts of to-night, I beg to tell him the reasons are to be found in the records of the Land Commission, where it is clearly shown that these two companies have been amongst the greatest rack renters of the country; therefore, it is time that the Head Salter should make his appearance and deliver some apology for the robbery, which has been going on for over two hundred years of loyal Protestant tenants as well as of poor Catholics. The Head Salter said that their proceedings had been sanctioned for two hundred years, but does that make the thing any better. Sir, these transactions are not only old, but they are as infamous as they are old. There is no use in the hon. Baronet attempting here, or anywhere else, to get over the verdict of history and of historical documents, a verdict which clearly proves that a public trust has been imposed by the Crown in connection with these estates, and that the estates have been used for private and disgraceful purposes. I will not weary the House by giving particulars of this assertion. I will content myself by quoting one case contained in the Report of a Commission dated 1854. This Report states that the estates are mere trustees- for the purposes declared in the charter, and these purposes are defined as public purposes, educational and religious to be effected not in England, or Scotland or Wales, but in Ireland. Yes, these companies have been distributing their money by thousands in England and Wales, and have refused to give a few hundreds to loyal Belfast. A little while since a donation of £12,000 was given for a college in Wales; but only £300 could be obtained for a technical school in Belfast, and a subscription was refused altogether for a college in Dublin. Now I come to the sale of the Fishmongers' Company's estates in county Derry 1096 under the Ashbourne Act, and if the statements made to me on this subject are true; it seems to have been one on the most iniquitous plots ever conceived. I am told that the estates were sold by the Company to the tenants in April, 1885, a few months before the first Ashbourne Act became law, the tenants agreed to pay annuities for thirty years, and the annuities, strange to say, were less in amount than the annual rent. The explanation of that no doubt is to be found in the fact that the rents were raised in 1872 to an extraordinary pitch. What happened? The agreements were signed- and stamped, and so far everything appears to have been straight for ward, except that the Company, by their superior position, imposed monstrous terms on the tenants. But when the Ashbourne Act passed in August, 1885, all the solvent tenants applied to the Land Commissioners to get an advance of money for the purchase of their holdings. Now, a great many of them had deeds, signed and registered, for the purchase, but at the instance of the Fishmongers' Company they actually signed another document, agreeing to become tenants again at will under the Fishmongers' Company, for the purpose of getting the money under the Ashbourne Act, and this was the first step in a series of frauds, sanctioned by the Land Purchase Commissioners. The second fraud was in adding to the purchase money all arrears—a thing which had been forbidden by the Land Corn-mission. And so this benevolent company, by misrepresenting the amount of the purchase money, got an amount of cash which was not sanctioned by any Act of Parliament. A man who steals sixpence, or gets it by embezzlement, is sent to gaol, but the scoundrels of the Fishmongers' Company are permitted still to guzzle champagne in the City of London. Fraud No. 3 was this: the Land Commissioners would not advance the money unless the company withdrew all claims for rent awl interest against the tenants. The company did so withdraw those claims, but they actually got, at the same time, the tenants to sign promissory notes for the arrears, and this hon. Company of Fishmongers, who ought really to have been called "Salters" or "Skinners," entertained the Chief Secretary to dinner with that money. They get the tenants to sign promissory notes for these 1097 arrears, and, having obtained judgment against them on the promissory notes, and registered them as mortgages, and having also, as my correspondent states, obtained about £20,000 by fraud, they spent the money thus fraudulently obtained by a series of most disgraceful frauds, in guzzling in the City of London and entertaining the chief coercionist of the country. I think, if there is no other reason for demanding an inquiry into these matters, it is to be found in the transactions of the Fishmongers' Company. It is impossible, after these statements have been made, for the House to refuse an inquiry, even if an agreement has not already been come to on the subject between the confederates on both sides of the House. I only hope that the inquiry will be thorough, and that it will go back far enough to satisfy both the hon. Member for South Tyrone and the Head Salter. All I would suggest is that the Secretary for Ireland, instead of appointing a Committee of this House, which in the words of the First Lord of the Treasury "is not a competent tribunal" will agree to the appointment of a Special Commission of Judges with power, if necessary, to issue certificates of indemnity to the Salters' Representative in the House.
§ * MR. S. GEDGE (Stockport)
I have had considerable difficulty in following the drift of the remarks of the hon. Member for North Dublin. I take it he wishes a Committee to be appointed, and yet he falls foul of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who strongly supports that proposal. It is supported by the Liberal Unionists and the Irish Members; but the Party led by the hon. Member for Northampton, and that Party which is occasionally led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, who might be expected to support this proposal are all strangely absent. Even the newly-formed Fourth Party—I mean the "Jacobite" Party—are not on this occasion showing much activity in support of their Irish allies. I can hardly suppose the hon. Member for North Dublin wishes for the presence to-night of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, because that right hon. Gentleman would scarcely have listened with pleasure, or without protest, to the remark that the Fishmongers are a set of scoundrels, seeing that he himself is a member of 1098 that Company. I fancy the object of the hon. Member for North Dublin was to be nasty all round, and I think he very well succeeded in so being. Looking at the case as a trained lawyer, I think it strange that any one should come to the House and on such a statement of facts as that presented by the Mover of the Motion ask for the appointment of a Committee. While those companies in Ireland have their duties as welt as their rights, they were undoubtedly planted in Ulster, not only to do good to the country, but to benefit themselves as well. The charters distinctly state that the estates are to be held by the companies, not only for the benefit of themselves, but in order that service might be done to the country. Now, the law in regard to trusts is that no trustee shall hold for his own benefit, he must hold for the benefit of others. But while the companies were to hold the states for their own benefit, the charters pointed out that the property had its duties as well as its rights. Complaints have been made of the conduct in particular instances of the companies towards certain of their tenants; but I think that no one will say that, during the long period they have held the property, the companies have not to a considerable extent performed services of public benefit. The real complaint now seems to be not that in the past they have failed to subscribe liberally to churches, schools, and other public institutions, but that when they sold their estates they did not take care that these good works should be carried on by their successors, or by themselves out of the purchase money. It has been pointed out that in 1650 certain charters were revoked by the King on the ground that the Companies had been guilty of breach of trust, and it was suggested that this constituted proof of the existence of trusts. But the hon. Member omitted to inform the House that not very long afterwards the revocation was declared by Parliament to be illegal, and that declaration cut the ground from under the contention that the revocation proved the existence of trusts. But even supposing there are trusts, the question arises, do they attach to the land or to the money? If they attach to the land, then the hon. Member must look to the present possessors of it, and try and make them perform the duties 1099 hitherto performed by the Companies. On the other hand, if the trust attaches to the proceeds of the sale of the land, then the hon. Member can file an information in the Court of Chancery, which is perfectly competent to enforce these trusts. I have no doubt the Attorney General would not refuse his name for use in such an information. Surely it is a strange thing to come and ask for a Committee of this House to inquire into the matter when they have no power whatever of enforcing the trusts if any are found to exist. Now, hitherto hon. Members opposite have expressed great anxiety that Irish land should become the property of the tenants, yet the hon. Member for South Tyrone takes up this extraordinary position, and asks that there shall he no more sales of the property of the London Companies until this question has been settled. The object of Lord Ashbourne's Act was not so much to benefit the landlords as to benefit the tenants whom it is desired to make proprietors of their holdings, and so to get rid of the dual ownership created in 1881, which has done so much mischief in Ireland. Now, what can it matter to the tenants whether they buy from the London City Companies or from individual landlords? Under all the circumstances, however, as hon. Members have pressed for the appointment of a Committee to which there is no objection in limine, I hope that the Government will not treat this as a Party matter, but will allow a Committee to be appointed which may get at the facts, and settle the question once for all. I do not think the City Companies need at all fear the result of such an inquiry.
§ * THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
It is not necessary that I should detain the House long on this matter. It must be evident to all who have listened, as I have, with attention to this debate, that a number of entirely separate questions have been raised by it. The Mover of the Amendment dwelt, in the earlier part of his speech, on certain incidents that have occurred in respect to the character of the bargain which one or two of those companies have made with heir tenants when they took advantage of the Ashbourne Act. That is, no doubt, an important question; but it is not the most important question which 1100 has been raised by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. The fact is that the Land Purchase Commissioners are, I believe, perfectly alive to the duties which rest upon them in this matter. I have no fear whatever that they will sanction any bargain under the Act which they administer that would be either unjust to the tenants on the estates or would imperil the interests of the British taxpayers. I shall, therefore, not enter into details on this point. But with regard to what I may call the main topic which has occupied the House during this discussion—namely, the duty of these companies, again I have to draw a distinction between two entirely different questions which arise. It is alleged that the companies are neglecting their duties. Are the duties referred to by those who attack the companies duties legally imposed on them by the terms of their charters, or are they moral obligations arising out of the general conditions under which the property is held and the terms on which it was given to to them? If the sole question is the legal question, I apprehend that the proper tribunal would not be a Committee of that House but a Court of Law.
§ * MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I cannot quite make out from the speech of the Mover of the Amendment whether he thinks that the companies have legal obligations or not. The hon. Member read out to us the terms of one of the earlier charters, and if I rightly caught the sense of the passage that he gave to the House, the motives which actuated the Crown in making the grant were that the companies, or the parent company rather, were given these lands for the planting of Ulster in order to prevent and put down plots and domestic broils, the inroad of foreign arms, and superstition. If, therefore, the companies are to be kept legally to the terms of the bargain, and remembering also the religion which King James meant by "superstition," I do not think that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite will have much reason to congratulate themselves upon the result. I apprehend it is not thought by my hon. Friend or others that the legally binding terms of the charter are to be considered in this matter, but rather the general character of the obligations im- 1101 posed on the companies. I apprehend that is so, although some phrases used by my hon. Friend seems to lead to the opposite conclusion. It is not on the legal aspect of the case, but rather on the general moral aspect revealed by the charter, that my hon. Friends rely. I quite admit the matter well deserves consideration, but some interesting questions arise. Is the moral obligation imposed on these companies a general moral obligation to use their funds generally for the public benefit, or is it an obligation to use the funds particularly for that locality in which the estates are situated? The obligation is not clear on the face of it, and that is a question into which the Committee, if the House should think proper to grant it, would certainly have to inquire. Then out of this arises another question. I gather that my hon. Friend thinks that the obligations of the companies are ear-marked for the particular area of the estate which up to this time they hold. That may or may not be the right view, but evidently it is not the view that has hitherto prevailed; for, as the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Fowler) has pointed out to the House with considerable force, ever since these charters were first granted, almost from the moment the companies became freeholders of the estates, the process of sale now going on commenced and, in a series of years, from 1687 down to 1886, that process has gone on not indeed absolutely continuously, but still at intervals, and never so far as I know until the present debate or within a very recent period of time has it ever been contended that the obligations of the City companies were of a kind that compelled them to keep up their eleemosynary relations with that part of the country where these estates are situated after the estates were sold? I do not deny that that may be the case. I am only pointing out that never yet has it been held to be the case. Almost all great landlords have felt it part of the duty incumbent upon them as holders of large estates to bear a considerable share in supporting the charities of their district and I suspect the City Companies supported these schools and churches to which my hon. Friend alludes rather in deference to this general principle than from any idea that they were compelled to pay this 1102 money for churches and schools under the terms of their Charter.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
The Irish Society actually spend all the money derived from the property upon the property.
§ * MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is a still more important point. I now gather that my hon. Friend holds that the companies are not only bound to pay a certain proportion of their income on the local charities after they have sold their estates, but that, following the example of the parent society they ought to spend the whole of the money in improving the neigbhourhood where those estates exist. I do not know whether that is the view of the hon. Member, but it is the logical inference from his interruption.
§ * MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Quite so. I thought I ought to indicate the kind of questions that would come before the Committee. It is not merely or chiefly a question of how the companies have treated their tenants under the Ashbourne Act; it is not merely or chiefly a question whether they ought, while they own the estates, to subscribe money for local charities; but the Committee will have to determine whether the terms of the Charter compel them legally to spend money in this way, whether if they are not legally compelled, they are morally compelled; and, if morally compelled, to what extent, in what proportion to income; whether the money should be spent on the estate or in the district; whether the expenditure should be confined to the district in which the estates are situated, or whether the money should be given to Ulster or to Ireland as a whole. All these are matters upon which I do not venture to give an opinion. In these few remarks I merely wish to indicate their character to separate some of the threads of the controversy. I have only to add, in conclusion, that although I cannot agree to the particular terms of the Motion of my hon. Friend, I see no objection to granting him the Committee he desires, but I think the terms had better be left to be settled at a later stage.
§ * MR. LEA
If I may be allowed a word in reply, I wish to say that I 1103 would rather the House passed the Resolution in the terms I have moved it; but as the right hon. Gentleman has conceded the principle, and in the hope that an early day will be fixed for the appointment of the Committee, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, and am willing that my Motion should be negatived.
§ MR. M. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I should like to know from the First Lord of the Treasury when he will arrange for this Committee to be appointed. There are only about six weeks of this Session to run, and it is quite impossible for a Committee upstairs to dispose of such a subject as this within that space of time, and present a Report to the House. It is a farce to go on with this at this period of the Session; it is all pretence—manifest humbug. It is just as well to say so. This inquiry might as well have commenced in February if seriously intended. Will the right hon. Gentleman take his part in the farce and tell us when he proposes the Committee shall sit?
§ * THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
In giving expression to this view, the hon. Gentleman has used language which is certainly not Parliamentary; but whatever may be the view of the hon. Gentleman, it appears to me that great advantage may be derived from the nomination of a Committee even at this period of the Session, because the preliminary arrangements for inquiry can be made, and if this inquiry is not completed when the Session terminates, it will be quite in accordance with the practice of Parliament if the inquiry is resumed in the coming Session. I hope the House will accept the proposal of my right hon. Friend. The Motion for the appointment of a Committee shall be put upon the Notice Paper within a few days, and it will certainly be proceeded with without delay, unless opposed by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn; Committee to sit on Monday, 1st July.