HC Deb 22 July 1896 vol 43 cc405-15

(1.) Where an absolute order for the sale of an estate, comprising biddings to which this section applies, has been made under the Landed Estates Court (Ireland) Act, 18,8. und either a receiver has been appointed over the estate or the estate is so circumstanced that it would independently of this Act be sold without the consent of the owner as to price, the following provisions shall have effect:—

  1. (a.) The Land Commission shall, at the request of the Land Judge, cause the estate to he inspected, and a report 1 be made by two Commissioners respecting the estate, and the circumstances thereof, and the price at and the conditions under which the sale of the holdings to the tenants under the Land Purchase Acts can properly he made.
  2. (b.) The Land Judge, after giving all parties, including the tenants, an opportunity of being heard, and considering the report and any offers that may he made for the purchase of the estate or any part thereof, and any other matters that may be brought before him, and the general circumstances of the estate, shall make to the person appearing to he in occupation as tenant of each holding on the estate, an offer to sell to him the fee-simple of the holding, at such price, and subject to such conditions, whether as to the payment of part of the price in cash, or as to the offer to one tenant being conditional on the acceptance by other tenants of the offers made to them within a limited time, or otherwise, as the Land Judge may consider reasonable and just, having regard to the interest of all persons interested in the estate.
  3. (c.) The offer shall be communicated in such manner as the Land Commission think fit to the person appearing to be in occupation as tenant, and if it is accepted then, on fulfilment of the conditions, the said person shall be deemed to have agreed to purchase the holding within the meaning of the Land Purchase Acts, and the sale shall be completed accordingly.
  4. (d.) If it appears to the Land Judge that the tenants of holdings on the estate to the extent of not less than three- 406 fourths in number and value according to the rateable value under the Irish Valuation Acts, have accepted the offers under this section, he may, if, having regard to the circumstances of the ease he thinks it expedient, order that the remaining tenants or any of them shall be deemed to have accepted the offers made to them, and this section and the Land Purchase Acts shall apply accordingly: provided that such order shall not apply to any tenant if the purchase money of his holding would exceed the limitation on the amount of the advance imposed by Section 2 of the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Amendment Act, 1888, and the holding of such tenant shall not be taken into consideration in estimating the three-fourths above mentioned.
  5. (e.) "Whore a receiver has been appointed over part of an estate, this section shall apply to that part in like manner as if it were an estate.
  6. (f.) The foregoing provisions of this section shall apply only to holdings which are agricultural or pastoral, or partly agricultural and partly pastoral.

(2.) Any person in occupation of and paying rent for a parcel of land (including the owner of an estate in occupation of a mansion-house or demesne forming part of the estate) held under a letting by the Land Judge or Receiver Judge may agree to purchase such parcel of land, and the same shall be deemed a holding and such person a tenant, and the Land Judge or Receiver Judge, as the case may he, a landlord within the meaning of the Land Purchase Acts.

(3.) At any time after an absolute order for the sale of an estate or part of an estate has been made in pursuance of the Landed Estates Court (Ireland) Act, 1858, the foregoing provisions of this section so far as they are applicable may upon the application of the owner be applied to such estate, although a receiver has not been appointed over the estate, and the estate is not so circumstanced that it would, independently of this Act, be sold without the consent of the owner as to price; provided that no advance shall he made to the owner to purchase any mansion-house or demesne forming part of the estate.

(4.) Rules under Tart Two of this Act may be made for carrying into effect this section.

MR. MAURICE HEALY moved, in paragraph (b) sub-section (1), after the words "fee-simple of the holding," to insert the words "and the arrears of rent then due from him in respect thereof."

Amendment agreed to.


said that he had always been in favour of a limited system of land purchase, but he did not think that, if the system were applied universally all ever Ireland, causing the total disappearnce of the present class of landlords, it would lead to general prosperity and peace. He knew that some hon. Members opposite thought that an Irish landlord was incapable of any tender emotions, and even of common honesty. That view, however, was not held by everybody, and it was now admitted in many quarters that to the action of the landlords the present condition of Ireland was largely due. ["Hear, hear!" from the Nationalist Members.] What was its position? The country had never before been so peaceable, nor, he believed, so prosperous. [Nationalist laughter.] Hon. Members opposite, who made broad assertions as to the unhappy condition of the Irish tenantry, never supported their statements by figures or proof of any kind. The majority of Irish landlords had maintained peaceful relations with their tenants. There were, of course, exceptions; but in those cases the strained relations were nearly always the result of the work of political agitators. On the whole, the landlords had treated their tenants reasonably; and, even in cases where fair rents had been fixed, they had generally granted reductions in bad years. If the present class of landlords were swept away and replaced by small men occupying a more or less precarious position, the peace of Ireland would be far more difficult to maintain than at present, and the rent agitation would at once begin again. These were the broad reasons why he thought that universal land purchase would not be a satisfactory thing. But the Government proposed a modified system of land purchase, because, of course, the money provided by the State was not anything like sufficient to buy out all the landlords. He could not conceive why a clause of this kind was introduced into the Bill, because it was really antagonistic to land purchase. He believed the clause would rig the market. It would bring about forced sales. Estates would be brought into the market against the will of the owner, against the will of a portion of the tenants, and against the will of the incumbrancers—the insurance companies and others who had advanced millions of money on Irish land. The sale of estates would be forced at a price to be decided by the Land Commission, without any warning to the interested parties, and without giving an opportunity for fair competition. That was a fatal objection to the clause. If it contained an element which would enable fair competition to take place, there might not be so much objection to fit, but fair competition in the open market was removed. One portion of the tenants on an estate might disapprove of purchase. They might not want to buy. He knew of a great number of cases in which the tenants generally would rather remain as they were, and where that was the case it would throw great difficulty in the way of peaceful settlements. Another objection to the clause was that it brought in an element of compulsion. He did not know that there was any other civilised country in the world where the system of compulsion had been adopted. Why should a tenant be forced, against his will, to become the tenant of the British Government? The British Government was now not very popular with the majority of the people of Ireland in its capacity of a Government; but if the Government was made the landlords of the people, its popularity, instead of growing, would vanish altogether. He objected altogether to the principle of compulsion. As applied to the landlords he should oppose it to the bitter end, and he should oppose it equally as applied to the tenants. He had not made these observations with any desire to defeat the progress of the Bill. He was sure the House and his right hon. Friend would agree that he and his friends had not prolonged the Debate as they might have done; but, as he looked on this clause as one which would have the effect of defeating the aim and object of the Government of promoting a free sale of land in Ireland, he was bound to oppose it.


who was frequently interrupted with cries of "Speak up!" was understood to say that, though he was a supporter of the clause, he had some misgiving as to its effect. He was very much afraid it would have the opposite effect to that suggested by the hon. and gallant Member, and that it would rig the land market in favour of the landlords. The hon. and gallant Member supposed that the clause would bear down the land market by withdrawing land from open competition, but he would direct the attention of the Committee to the fact that the clause only applied to estates the owners of which had parted with all right to fix a price. He did not know whether the Land Judge had acted legally, but he had assumed to himself the right to withdraw these states from the market and keep up the price. An enormous number of estates had been put into his Court for the purpose of sale, and this clause, so far from having the effect of bearing down the price of land, would, he was afraid, keep it up. He confessed that he supported the clause with some misgiving for that reason. The rights of mortgagees and landlords were guarded by every conceivable safeguard. The Land Judge had unfettered discretion to decide whether the offers made by the Land Commission were fair, and there was nothing in the clause to force the hand of the Land Judge; so that, as a matter of fact, so far as the landlords' interests were concerned, or the interests of the mortgagee, or anybody having an interest in these so-called derelict estates, they would have additional chances of parting with their interests and thereby an additional stop would be put to the falling of the price of land. The fact was that the value of land had not nearly touched bottom in these matters. Although he had been from the beginning, and still was, a consistent supporter of land sale as a settlement of the Irish land question, he had always advised the tenants to be exceedingly slow in entering into bargains for purchase while the land market was a falling market. The true way of dealing with the problem would be to compel the Land Judge to put on the market all the estates lying derelict in the Land Court. That would leave the estates to fair competition in the market. Why should they in regard to land, any more than in regard to any other commodity, when the market was dropping, introduce an artificial method by the law of the land to bear up the price? These things ought to be left to the play of the market. What he complained of was that the Irish landlords were not willing to face the market and get what they could for their land, but that an artificial system was to be adopted for the purpose of keeping up the price. He did not support the clause with enthusiasm, because he did not expect much out of it. He liked the policy of the clause, but he could not give a vote in support of it without stating frankly that he believed, as at present drawn, the effect of the clause would be to keep up the increase in the price of land and to arrest that fall which was essential and necessary if land purchase was to be carried on upon a lasting basis. Therefore, while he was inclined to support the clause, he did so with misgivings.


remarked that the object of the clause was to take away the discretion which had been vested in a High Court Judge, namely, the Landed Estates Judge, for more than a generation, and place it in the hands: of the Land Commission in regard to the price that should be accepted for land. It did even more than that. It changed the principle of an open market for land in the Incumbered Estates Court into a close market, which, to his mind, was a great danger. It also did away with the security and safeguards of the entrance of puisne incumbrances, which was one of the things which the Landed Estates Court was created to take care of. He would illustrate what the clause did. Say there was a property in the Court, and in regard to which all the preliminary conditions of this clause were fulfilled. According to this clause, the Judge had no discretion at all but to order the Land Commission to make a Report as to the terms and conditions upon which the property was to be sold from the incumbrancers, who were the real men, to the tenants. The Land Commission went down and held an inspection in order to make this Report, and the very first thing they had to bear in mind was that they did not themselves want to become landlords. They were the mere conduit-pipe to convey the property from the incumbrancers to the tenants. They must take and fix the price at the figure the tenants chose to give. It was not merely that, but the price would not be fixed according to what the bulk of the tenants agreed to give, but according to that which one-third of the tenants would give. He would state, why. The most important thing the Land Commission had to do was to safeguard the interest of the State. If, therefore, they found on an estate that, although two-thirds of the tenants were willing to give 16 years' purchase, and that one-third would only give 10 years, they would be in this position: if they reported that the price to be given by the tenants was 16 years' purchase, they would have one-third of the tenants standing out and would have to apply the compulsory clause. That was a very serious position for the Land Commission to recommend the State to put itself in. If the Land Commission acted upon the principles they were established to carry out, and wished to safeguard the interest of the State and avoid having land thrown on their own hands, they must fix the price according to that which one-third of the tenants were willing to give, namely, 10 years' purchase, although the rest of the tenants were able and willing to give 16. He must say that he thought that was a desperate position to place the Land Commission in. He contended that this was a clause to force the price of land down to the point at which one-third of the tenants were willing to purchase. Had the Land Judge, knowing the circumstances of the case, any discretion in dealing with the matter? As he read the clause, he had not. The Land Commission would make their Report, and then the Land Judge had no alternative, and could exercise no discretion whatever, but must offer the land to each of the tenants at the price named in the Report, which, as he had shown, might be the price fixed by only one-third of the tenants. That was a very serious revolution in, and tremendous departure from, the policy that prevailed now, and which had obtained for over 40 years. He agreed it would be much more satisfactory if the property now in the hands of the Landed Estates Court could be got out of that Court, and that a fair and reasonable price, regulated by the open market, could be realised for it. He thought he had said enough to show the tremendous consequences that were likely to follow from this clause. He appreciated the motive of the Government, and he was sure the Chief Secretary was only desirous of doing what was right and fair, and that he would do nothing to injure the fair value of property in Ireland. But he should vote for the rejection of the clause on the grounds that they were sweeping away the policy and practice that had existed for nearly 50 years of a Court that no one had complained of and that had done its work well; that they were taking away, from what remained of the Estates Court, its essence—namely, the discretion of the Judge; that they were knocking down the value of land really to the price that a third of the tenants would give for it; and that what they were doing would renew agitation in Ireland. What was going to come out of this clause was this—that on every estate where the tenant wanted to buy and it was known that the owner of the estate was heavily incumbered and had not a large margin, the tenants would withhold the rent. Then the estate would go into the Estates Court, and from that time the course was clear for the tenants, for once in Court, according to this clause, the tenants get it at their own price. Under all these circumstances he would ask his right hon. Friend whether he thought the clause ought to be passed after only 40 minutes' discussion—a clause which was revolutionary in its character, and in its aim and effect fraught with great danger.


believed this to be the most valuable clause for the landlords, and, therefore, if they voted against it, he should support it. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken opposed the clause on the ground of its coercion of the landlords. All he could say was that if he went to a division he should, in the words of a memorable placard which he issued at the election of 1886, "Vote for Colomb and no coercion." [Loud laughter.]


said he had never issued any placard, "Vote for Colomb, and no coercion" at the date named, Placards were issued without his knowledge, and he had them at once torn down.


said there was one statement made by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh which he thought he ought to immediately correct. That was the statement that the policy of the Government in promoting purchase by this Bill would simply drive the present landlords out of the country. That was very far from their intention, and he would point out that, in this particular clause, was a sub-section inserted with the view of maintaining them in the enjoyment of their houses and lands.


That is without their property. How are they to live?


said his hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth had asked him whether, in view of all the horrible consequences he had conjured up as likely to follow from this clause, it was reasonable that the clause should be passed after 40 minutes' discussion. If he thought all those consequences were likely to follow he should have some sympathy with his hon. Friend's complaint, but he thought he could show that those consequences were not likely to follow. They were told by his hon. and gallant Friend that this was a proposal simply to rig the market, that there was no fair offer to the public, and that the price would be settled by the Land Court. His hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth, on the other hand, said the price would be settled by the tenants or by one-third of the tenants. Let them look at the facts. In the first place, this clause was not to apply to an estate which had completely passed out of the control of the landlord. An absolute order for sale must be made before the clause applied at all. Then what followed? The Land Commission was directed to inspect the estate and to report to the Judge what would be a reasonable price for the tenants to give for their holdings. And then followed this procedure:— The Land Judge, after giving all parties, including the tenants, an opportunity of being heard, and considering the report and any offers that may he made for the purchase of the estate or any part thereof, and any other matters that may he brought before him, and the general circumstances of the estate, shall make to the person appearing to be in occupation as tenant of each holding on the estate an offer to sell to him the fee-simple of the holding. Therefore, he put it to the Committee that there was every possible precaution taken that the price should not be merely fixed by the tenant or by a portion of the tenants, or even by the Land Commission, but should be a price which the Judge, having before him the Report of the Land Commission and all the circumstances, should himself fix. He could not himself see that there was the slightest danger of any undue deprecia- tion of these properties arising from a procedure of that kind.


Are we to understand that the Land Commission are to give a report of the price that they think ought to be given, and not the price the tenants are willing to give?


Certainly. The case is as clear as possible if my hon. Friend will look at the language of the clause:—" The Land Commission shall, at the request of the Land Judge, cause the estate to be inspected and a report to be made by two Commissioners respecting the estate and the circumstances thereof, and the price at and the conditions under which the sale of the holdings to the tenants under the Land Purchase Acts can properly be made."


That means that the tenants have agreed to the price.


said certainly not. The words were, the price at which the sale "can properly be made." His hon. Friend had said the practice of the Landed Estates Court was one of which no complaint had been made up to the present time, but Judge Monroe, in a charge delivered some five or six years ago, stated that the expensive procedure of the Court was eating into the very vitals of the property. ["Hear, hear!"] Quite apart from the advantage gained to the best interests of Ireland in transferring their holdings to the tenants, some provision which would put an end to a state of things under which the Landed Estates Court had developed into a huge machine for the collection of rents was earnestly required. [Nationalist cheers.] He would like to point out the immense advantages which would be derived from this clause if it were passed into law. In the first place, they would undoubtedly give an enormous stimulus and impetus to purchase; in the second place, they would relieve the congestion in the Landed Estates Court; and, in the third place, they would be doing away with a system under which estates, instead of being under the control of those who owned them, were simply under the control of receivers, who practically had no interest, or very little interest, in the proper management of them. He earnestly commended the clause to the favourable vote of the Committee. He thought himself that it was the most important clause of the Bill, and certainly it was one which he himself was prepared to abide by. ["Hear!"]

Question put, "That Clause 34, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 293; Noes, 42.—(Division List, No. 344.)

And, it being after half-past Five of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.