HC Deb 26 February 1897 vol 46 cc1275-83

8. £17,500, Supplementary, Law Charges.—Agreed to.

9. £2,000, Supplementary, Supreme Court of Judicature.—Agreed to.

10. £10, Supplementary, County Courts.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

said he found on referring to the original Estimate that there was an increased expenditure in connection with the levying of processes in County Courts. He desired to know whether that was distributed over all the country, or was it to be ascribed to special circumstances arising in particular localities?


said that, though he was not responsible for the Vote, he could give the hon. Member the information he desired. The charges were very varied, and only a small portion of the Vote was connected with the Welsh question.

Vote agreed to.

11. £2,030, Supplementary, Register House, Edinburgh.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said that for a long time the clerks employed in this office had had a deep-seated grievance with regard to their scale of pay as compared with that in the offices in London and Dublin. There was a discussion on this question two years ago, and he should like to know whether the Government had considered the matter.


said that, as to all Second Division clerks, the scale was the same throughout the United Kingdom; but with regard to all other officials, the scale varied according to the cost of living in the town concerned. But, although the rate in Edinburgh might differ from that in London and Dublin, he had not been able to satisfy himself, having regard to the comparative cost of living in the different towns, that any injustice was done.

Vote agreed to.

12. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £12,938 be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish Land Commission.


said that some time ago the Chief Secretary promised. Return with regard to the recent appointments of temporary Sub-Commissioners. The hon. Member for East Mayo had asked the Government to postpone the Vote until the Return was in the hands of hon. Members; but, very unreasonably, the Government had refused this request. As it was, the Committee was asked to vote this money in the dark. They knew nothing about the persons appointed, and he protested against the Vote being taken in these circumstances. It was not a question whether the gentlemen appointed belonged to one Party or another; but they ought to have a practical knowledge of the work they were called on to perform, and they ought to understand all about the value of land. He moved to reduce the Vote by £5,000.


said that he could not understand why the Government had refused to postpone this Vote until the Return was available. The Chief Secretary very well knew that these new appointments of assistant lay commissioners had given the greatest dissatisfaction in Ireland, and especially in Ulster among the Unionist tenant farmers. He did not state his personal views, because he knew nothing at all of the gentlemen appointed, except their names. He protested against the action of the Government in forcing this Vote on before the Return was issued; and he was only expressing the views of the constituents of the Attorney General for Ireland and of the Ulster farmers generally. The appointments had been condemned at meetings of both parties and at united meetings.

MR. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)

said that the appointments of the new assistant lay Commissioners had given great dissatisfaction among the landowners. These new Sub-Commissioners were reducing rents at enormous rates, without giving any reasons for the reductions. Were they appointed by the day or by the year, and did their appointments depend on the number of cases which came in? Were they paid the same salaries as the quasi-permanent Commissioners, or were they paid smaller salaries which would not be so likely to attract men of independence? The appointment of these temporary Sub-Commissioners might be a necessity, but it was a deplorable necessity. He joined with hon. Gentlemen opposite in expressing great anxiety to see the qualifications of these gentlemen, about whom strange stories were told from time to time. There ought to be an opportunity given of going into the matter fully.

THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (MR.) Gerald Balfour, Leeds, Central

thought that it would have been more convenient if the hon. Member for North Galway and the hon. Member for East Mayo had raised this question in reference to the appointment of these Sub-Commissioners when the Estimates for the next, financial year came on for discussion, by which time the Return would have been made and the matter might have been fully gone into. The unfortunate Chief Secretary for Ireland had to make some 40 or 50 of these appointments, and, no matter how conscientiously those appointments were made, they were necessarily subject to considerable criticism. He could assure the hon. Members opposite that he had spared no trouble in making these appointments in order to select the best men for the positions, and he should be sorry to say how much of his time had been occupied in interviewing the hundreds of gentlemen who had applied for the appointments. Complaint had been made that comparatively few of those who had been appointed were acquainted with the Ulster custom. It must, however, be remembered that a large proportion of the new appointments were in reality reappointments of Gentlemen who had previously held such posts, and who, therefore, were well acquainted with the Ulster custom. The figures before him showed that out of the 44 new appointments 25 were reappointments, 17 of whom were from Ulster or who had experience of fixing rents in Ulster. Of the 19 new appointments seven were from Ulster. This was exclusive of those who already held their posts when the present Government came into office. In answer to a question from one of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, he had to say that the appointments were for a year with the exception of four, whom he might term a emergency men "—[ironical cheers and laughter from the Nationalist Benches]—who were appointed by the day. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

said that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary took credit for having made so many reappointments of these Sub-Commissioners, but those were the men who were old hands at cutting down rents, and he should have thought that that was a good ground for never employing them again. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] What had occurred in Ireland during the last few months justified the doubts that had been expressed as to the justice of the legislation of last year. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had drawn a moving picture of the mental sufferings he had undergone in making these appointments. Rut if the right hon. Gentleman suffered so deeply under this infliction, he should like to ask what the feelings of the Irish landlords must have been when they knew that the right hon. Gentleman was engaged in Dublin Castle in appointing to the offices of Sub-Commissioners some 40 gentlemen, whose one and only object would be the further reduction of rents? In Ireland at the present, moment, as far as he knew, the only qualification necessary for a Sub-Commissioner, who probably knew nothing about agriculture, was that he should be able to go to a farm, look at it, and, hearing that the rent had been reduced on a former occasion some 20 or 25 per cent., make a further reduction of 35, 40, and sometimes 50 per cent. The result, therefore would be that in some cases the rent would be reduced altogether by about 70 per cent. The House would see that at the present moment a system of absolute and deliberate confiscation was being adopted. The House, therefore, would understand that the Irish landlords looked with some suspicion upon the appointment of these Sub-Commissioners, who would have to decide whether they and their families should be allowed to remain in Ireland or be turned out of the country. He knew that the Government had expressed their opinion that a final settlement of the Irish Land Question could only be arrived at when the dual ownership ceased to be, and when the time arrived when public money would buy out the present landlords in order to put new landlords in their place. There was, of course, a cheap and easy way for the British Exchequer to settle the Irish Land Question, namely, by appointing a lot of Sub-Commissioners who were to understand that their appointments would depend upon the influx of Irish tenants into their Courts, and who, having received more or less their cue from the Government, the Sub-Commissioners would proceed to reduce the rents by 40, 50, 60, and sometimes by 70 per cent. In that case the Irish landlord who had no margin to live on would be an easy man to deal with. That might be an admirable plan, and might commend itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to his right hon. Friends the Chief Secretary and the Leader of the House, who thought that this was a final and happy solution of the Irish Land Question. But the House could not suppose that such a policy could commend itself to the Irish landlords. The recent action of the Land Commissioners in Ireland was to his mind absolutely inexplicable. Without giving any reasons at all they had reduced rents 40, 50, and even 70 per cent. ["Hear, hear!"] The Irish landlord was now in this happy position. He knew that at any time some of these gentlemen might come down and hold a Court, and he had not the least idea as to whether, when they had performed their functions, he would have a penny left to pay his passage out of Ireland. Was this realised by the House of Commons? The Irish landlords were a class who did not deserve this sweeping condemnation at the hands of Her Majesty's Government. ["Hear, hear!"] Their position was one against which the good sense and sense of justice of the House must in the end prevail. He did not object to the Vote, but he appealed to Her Majesty's Government to see whether they could not in some way create in Ireland a court presided over by men whose position would be permanent, and not dependent upon the fact that their decisions might bring an influx of new tenants into their Courts. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

said the Chief Secretary was bound to appoint these Commissioners by the law of the country, and he was sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish the head of a department to be guilty of an illegality. He had never heard of reductions of 60 or 70 per cent. being made by the Commissioners, and he would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether it was not a fact that the tenants of Ulster, including his own constituents, were up in arms against the decisions of the Commissioners?


That is only natural to an Irishman. [Laughter.]


supposed it was natural for a tenant to expect a large reduction and for a landlord to resent it, but when the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the dissatisfaction among landlords it was just as well that the Committee should know that the dissatisfaction of the tenants with the insufficiency of the reductions was practically universal. ["Hear, hear!"] Agitation, disturbance, legislation, and the Sub-Commissioners had on the whole produced smaller reductions in Ireland than had voluntary arrangements in England.


Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the interests in farms in Ireland sell for a larger sum than they do in England?


said that had nothing to do with the matter, and there could be no comparison of the sort because of the simple and fundamental fact that all the improvements were made by the tenant in Ireland and by the landlord, speaking generally, in England. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to think there was something odious and repulsive in the system of payment by the day of gentlemen employed in the important work of reducing rents in Ireland, but he would suggest that hon. Gentlemen opposite should join in the movement general among tenants in Ulster for allowing the compulsory purchase of his land by the tenant, and they would very soon get rid of these Sub-Commissioners. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet had said that the Sub-Commissioners had acquired the name of Sub-Confiscators.


said that the person who suggested that name to him was the late Lord Cairns.


said it would remain in the minds of the Irish people a very delicate historical question whether the title of founder of the Land League should be given to his hon. Friend near him or to the right hon. Gentleman whose occupation of the office of Chief Secretary was one of the chief causes of its foundation. [Cheers and laughter.]

MR. T. C. FLYNN (Cork Co., W.)

said that, taking the whole of the revision of rents by the Sub-Commissioners down to last year, the average reductions were only 21.5 per cent., whereas voluntary reductions of 40, 50, and even 60 per cent., or three times as much, had been given in England. It was not only unfair but most unreasonable for the representatives of the landed interest to come down to the House and condemn the reductions given by the Sub-Commissioners. He feared that speeches like that of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh might have an intimidating effect upon the Assistant Sub-Commissioners, who were liable to be dismissed at any moment.


observed that in almost every case the appointment was for a year at least.


said that, at any rate, these gentlemen desired to retain their posts, and premature attacks upon them were greatly to be deprecated. The Return showing their qualifications ought to be supplied as soon as possible.

MR. J. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)

said that he was in possession of a good deal of information concerning the Commissioners who had been appointed, and he had reason to believe that the selection had been very well made. One gentleman had been appointed from his own division, having been recommended by himself, by the hon. Member for North Down, who was closely connected with the landlord interest, by the Marquess of Londonderry, and all the leading landlords of the division, and by the tenant farmers of the district, 200 of whom signed a memorial in his favour. He believed that when the qualifications of these Commissioners were submitted to the House it would be found that there was nothing to say against the appointments.


hoped the Chief Secretary would consent to postpone the Vote. At present the Committee were without information about the qualifications of these gentlemen. They could not tell whether the appointments were good, as the hon. Member for East Down averred, or whether they were bad, as the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh declared.


explained that all he had said was that nothing was known about, them.


referring to the Chief Secretary's statement that 17 out of 24 gentlemen appointed had knowledge of Ulster, asked for how long they had been in that province.


replied that they were either natives of Ulster, or had had experience in valuing land there.

MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts,) Huntingdon

said that if hon. Members opposite went to a division he should vote with them, as a protest against the way in which the Commissioners had done their work. If they proceeded as they had begun, a very large number of landlords must inevitably be ruined. These Commissioners were given no instructions to guide them in fixing rents. It was supposed that they had regard to the prices obtainable for agricultural produce, but, as a matter of fact, rents were being reduced at a rate entirely unwarranted by the prices prevailing in recent years. Upon what grounds had these enormous and unjustifiable reductions been made? The prices given for tenant right were increasing every day. The more the rent was cut down the higher, apparently, became the value of the tenant right. There was no analogy between the case of England and that of Ireland. Would they find a man in England ready to give a large sum of money for the right of taking a farm in Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire, Essex, or any of the other distressed counties? The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool had referred to tenants' improvements, but the highest prices paid for tenant right were paid in cases where there was grass land, and where there were no improvements at all. The existing state of affairs in regard to rent reduction was unsatisfactory and unjust, and must be reconsidered by Parliament if the landlords of Ireland were not to be reduced to absolute ruin.

Question put, "That a sum not exceeding, £7,938 be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 91; Noes, 188.—(Division List No. 51.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

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