Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, a sum not exceeding £68,431, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898, for the Salaries and Expenses of the office of the Irish Land Commission.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
drew attention to the necessity of some steps being taken with a view to keep some check on the gentlemen who were going about the country cutting down rents — [Ironical laughter]—on no evidence whatever. Rents were being cut down in a reckless manner and on no solid ground. Almost every reduction was accompanied by a simultaneous rise of the selling value of the occupation holding. [Ironical laughter] When this legislation was introduced they were told that the object which the Government had in view was to enable the occupiers of the soil to retain their holdings on conditions which would allow them to conduct, their business at a profit, to live and thrive on their holdings. Hut time after time holdings had been brought into Court with the result that rents had been cut down, and then the tenants immediately sold their holdings to some one else, receiving a large premium for their interest. This, he maintained, defeated the object of Parliament. This premium was obviously taken out of the landlord's pocket: and if this were to go on it was obvious that Parliament was robbing the landlord of what was his property, and for which other persons were prepared to pay a substantial premium. The incoming tenant' who bought the holding, and gave an enhanced price for it, had in a great majority of cases to borrow the money to pay the premium; he paid interest at the current rate, and this was a good deal more than the holders of Consols received.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was in order in discussing the policy of the Act of 1881 on this vote.
*THE CHAIRMAN or WAYS AND MEANS
No. I do not think it would be in order to discuss the policy, except so far as the action of the Assistant Commissioners is concerned.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said this was what he was doing. Parliament had been under the impression that the persons who would be employed would exercise judicial functions in a judicial spirit and that the reduction of rents would be fair and reasonable. His contention, on the other hand, was that these persons had been keeping their eyes on the popularity which might 514 attach in some quarters to the wholesale cutting down of rents, by means of which wholesale robbery had been perpetrated. An occupier 15 years ago was in a better position with regard to his annual outgoings in respect of the land than the tenant was now after two processes of wholesale reduction of rents. These gentlemen were known some years ago by the name of "sub-confiscators;" and these were the "chief confiscators," who disregarded every judicial attribute and simply endeavoured to make friends with mammon —[laughter]— insuring their own reappointment by making themselves popular with the class which they thought possessed the largest share of political interest. What, in these circumstances, did the Government propose to do? He thought they ought to have some data by which Parliament could decide whether or not it was the duty of the State to make recompense to those who had been robbed. He hoped the right hon. Gentlemen who represented the Irish Office would be able to assure them that the Government intended to hold an inquiry. He maintained that a great wrong had been done.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that so long as this country maintained its Free Trade policy in the extraordinary way in which it was maintained, he had no doubt that reductions of rent would continue to be given in England and in Ireland. He should like to say one word to correct the right hon. Gentleman. He was entirely in error in supposing that there was a large demand for the purchase of holdings in Ireland. Except in the case of small holdings of five or six acres, there was practically no demand. He challenged any landlord to put up for sale a farm of 100 acres with a fair rent fixed near even large cities like Dublin or Cork. He did not profess to understand Down or Antrim; but he declared for such a farm they would get nothing. Where high prices were given for small farms they were generally given by retired policemen or by men who had made a little money not out of land. ["Hear, hear !"] These high prices were given generally by fools who know nothing about land. They would make more if they put their money in the savings bank. [Laughter] But he had never been able to understand the outcry as to the reductions of rent in Ireland 515 when the Scotch rent reductions received not a word. Under the Crofters Act there was power to remit arrears, and they found the Crofters getting 50 and 00 per cent, reductions; and then on the second judicial term, as in Orkney, there was a further reduction of 17 per cent.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
The Scotch never had the common-law right of free sale. The great prevailing influence in Ireland was fixity of tenure. He regretted that the Land Commission had not given them a Blue-book. Every year the Scotch Crofters' Commission issued a Blue-book giving full details, and he wished the Irish Land Commission would do the same. As to the reductions made by the Sub-Commissioners it did not be in the mouths of the Party opposite to attack these gentlemen. He had gone into the matter, and he found that, with three exceptions, every one of the existing Sub-Commissioners had been appointed by a Tory Government. As to the Head Commissioners, Mr. Murrough O'Brien was the only one appointed by a Liberal Government, and he was now never consulted under the majority rule. He never pitied any man more than he pitied the Chief Secretary, with whom rested the appointment of these 80 gentlemen. He himself had received 3,496 applications—[loud laughter]— therefore, he could imagine what had happened to the Chief Secretary. ["Hear, hear !"] But what had the Chief Secretary done? Out of 80 appointed three were Catholics. [Cries of "Oh !"] Something like 76 were landlords or land agents. He did not believe that more than three of the 80 had any connection with the tenant farmers; and these were the Sub-Commissioners they complained of. The reductions were not half enough, and if Free Trade continued they would have to be increased. It was only because the Irish farmers were used to a lower rate of subsistence than the English, and because their daughters and sons gave their labour, that so many rents were paid. If the boys and girls had been paid for their work, not one-tenth of the rents which the Sub-Commissioners called fair would have been paid. Now, however, the young people were going to America, 516 where they could get paid for their labour, with the result that after 60 years' reign Her Majesty would find the population of Ireland reduced to one-half of what it was when she came to the throne. It was idle for the landlords of Ireland to make an outcry against the Sub-Commissioners, almost every one of whom were of the same religion, race, and blood as the landlords, and who gave their decisions with very bad grace. What could be more extraordinary than the Prime Minister's recent allocution? Supposing that, while the Coercion Act was in greater vigour than it was now, some of the people who were suffering under its operation had come to the Prime Minister and said: "Oh, your sentences are very hard, your plank beds are even harder still, and really these removable magistrates are behaving in a most atrocious manner !" Did any one suppose that the Prime Minister would have thrown dirt on his own statute, that he would have said: "Agitate in England, address meetings in England, expose your grievances, show them how often you have been sent to prison, explain the plank bed, bring a model of the battering-ram along with you"—[laughter]—" and rouse the great heart of England as to your grievances"? The tenants had no men to speak for them in the House of Lords and but few men in the House of Commons. The majority in both Houses was permanently arrayed against the Irish people. The landlords had the whole of the House of Lords and about three-fourths of the House of Commons with them, and yet Lord Salisbury had advised them to go on platforms and explain their grievances. If they were to believe The Times—though he did not think that an organ to which they ought to attach much credence the Government had resolved to appoint a committee of experts. A more fatal policy could not be devised. Already there was in fair rent cases the right of appeal and of a counter-appeal. Were they going to throw the whole thing into the melting pot and call up the Sub-Commissioners, the Chief Commissioners, and the Judges of Appeal, and ask them to explain the grounds upon which they had reduced Pat Doolan's rent from,£10 to £8? In 1882 Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Commissioner Litton refused before a Select Committee of the House of Lords 517 to state the grounds of their legal decisions, but neither of them was sent to the Clock Tower. Upon this occasion Lord Salisbury had condemned a Select Committee—who, however, could send for persons, papers, and records, and could commit for contempt—as an unsuitable tribunal for retrying this matter. Was it then to be committed to a Royal Commission who had no power to send for witnesses, to take evidence upon oath, or to send anybody to gaol? Surely that would be a feebler tribunal than a Select Committee. And if a Royal Commission were appointed, who could be got to serve upon it? Landlords and tenants could not serve upon it, neither could Members of either House of Parliament, because they were supposed to be pre judiced from some one point of view or another. Were tinkers or tailors, who had no interest in the land question, to form the Commission, or were the Government going to bring the Scotch Crofting Commissioners down to go into the Irish land question? He had seen it stated that Mr. Clare Sewell Read and Mr. Pell should be appointed, but they could know nothing about the price of bog-land in Connaught, although they knew everything about high scientific cultivation in this country. After all, there was no good in quarrelling with the Land Commission, except from the point of view that they did not give large enough reductions. He saw no solution for the present condition of the landlords except through some system of purchase. Land in Ireland had reached the low-water mark, and very soon it would barely pay the rates, especially if the Government insisted upon not paving half the rates as they now did in England. The present reductions of rent were the slow but grudging acknowledgments which the sub-Commissioners had been obliged to make of an economic condition which had been produced, not by agitation, not by unrest, not by dishonesty—for the Irish people were amongst the best payers of rent— but by a series of laws which year after year this Parliament had been good enough to pass for Ireland.
§ MR. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)
said he did not intend to go at any great length into the Trish Land Question because he was tired of bringing 518 it before the House and the Government. Notwithstanding what the hon. and learned Gentleman had said, his view was that the present condition of the Irish landlords was entirely the result of the fact that they had no political power whatsoever. He regretted to say that his view of the English parties was that, while they were always quite willing to take any extraneous advantage or assistance they might get from Irish landlords, or from those who sympathised with them, they were never prepared to show any sympathy with Irish landlords in return. After all, the Irish landlords had no political power which would enable the English landlords to be kept in power; and so it was that whenever they raised this question in the House of Commons they got occasionally, as they were going into the lobbies, a few encouraging words from Members on that side of the House, who said: "We heartily sympathise with you; but you know we must vote with the Government." [Ironical Irish cheers] That was his experience of that House, and so far as he was concerned, whether it was the property of the Church or of the brewers that was attacked in that House, for the future he should always take what was best for Ireland in reference to any question, and solely in regard to that he should give his vote. [Nationalist cheers.] The truth of the matter was, he was really tired of being talked of as an Irish Conservative when it suited the English Conservatives, and of being deserted by the English Conservatives just when it suited them. [Irish cheers.] What was going on at the present moment in Ireland? He would give the House a few figures. He had before him an extract of the rents that were fixed in December last. The total original rents dealt with by the Commissioners were £16,826, and the valuation was £12,543. On the first statutory term it was fixed at £13,239, or a little over the valuation: but on the second statutory term what was originally £16,826 was reduced to £9,553, or about one-third less than the tenement valuation upon which the taxes were fixed and in relation to which that House had refused any relief to Ireland. That was a specimen of what the landlords were suffering. ["Hear, hear!"] When they found that by their legislation the rents of the Irish 519 landlords had been reduced to that extent, he unhesitatingly said that a serious condition of affairs had arisen in that country. He should like to know, if the same method of valuation went on through the various successive periods fixed by the Land Acts, what would he left to the landlords after one more valuation. ["Hear, hear !"] It was all very well to tell him that there were also great rent reductions in England. No doubt there were, but the two cases were entirely different. In the first place, if there were reductions in England the landlord gave them voluntarily, and if he did not he got back his land. In Ireland there was no such power to get back the land. By the action of that House—and he said this as not in the least grudging the reduction the tenant had got if it was a just reduction—they had taken away an elementary right of property from the landlord. If, for the benefit of the State and of the public, they wished to give his land to somebody else at a rent which they themselves fixed, then at once, unless they were prepared to compensate him, they raised the question of having confiscated aright which he had just as much as he had in any other kind of property. ["Hear, hear!"] That being so, he said a grave question had arisen in Ireland. And while no one knew better than he did, that in the past many tenants in Ireland had had a hard time and a hard life, and had lived upon a standard of livelihood which probably would almost be unknown to people of a similar class in this country, they must not imagine that there were not people connected with the land owning class in Ireland who had not gone through hardships which, if not greater, were at least equal to those of the tenants. He received, day after day, letters from Ireland, which he believed would almost draw tears to the eyes of the very hardest, in connection with this question, from people tenderly and genteelly educated and brought up, who, through no fault or extravagance of their own, had been deprived absolutely of the means of subsistence. He had known of cases of men of great education and of great ambitions who had died in the garrets of London absolutely of starvation in consequence of the condition this Irish land question had come to. Therefore, if there were cases of hardships on the one 520 side, there were also such cases on the other, and he said it was a reproach to this country and to the Union under which they lived that when, for the sake of governing Ireland, they deemed it necessary to pass these laws, they asked, as the price of the maintenance of that Union the starvation of those with whom they had been associated and with whom they sympathised. [Irish Unionist, cheers.] Of course, he was not in a position to attack these reductions if they took the rent from an economic point of view. He could not tell whether these rents were just or not. They had set up a system which debarred them from admitting that they were just reductions, and that was his case. He had put question after question to the Chief Secretary—and he did not for a moment suppose that his right lion, friend was in the least lacking in sympathy with his view—as to what were the reasons for these reductions, and the Chief Secretary had told him that the Land Commissioners' Court were not bound to give any reason for the reductions they made. No, they gave their judgments, which they communicated by means of a halfpenny post-card to the agent, and they absolutely declined to give any reasons. He said that such a system as that was a monstrous absurdity, and it was ridiculous to talk of any such system of Courts as was set up for this purpose being regulated by the ordinary procedure which was adopted in any Court of justice, whether in this or in any other country ["Hear, hear!"] He would tell the House why no reasons were given, and this was what, he thought, lay at the whole root of this matter. No reasons were given because the moment they departed from contract and from market value they could set up no standard except a standard of guesswork; and when they selected a number of men and asked them to fix what was a fair rent, what were they to start from? The truth of the matter was that the system was an absolutely impossible one, and let them not pretend, whatever might be the result, that they were voting this £127,000 for the purpose of paying these Courts as a matter of justice or as a judicial matter. Let them acknowledge the whole thing as a farce, as of course it was, and deal with it accordingly. 521 ["Hear hear!"] It might be necessary, he did not say it would not, further to reduce rents in Ireland. It might be necessary to the peasantry of Ireland, with other people in this Empire, to adopt a higher standard of living than they had hitherto lived. If that were so, then a grave question faced the State. But let the State face the question and not be afraid of it, and let them not have, time after time, as the only one act of statesmanship towards Ireland that they ever knew of in the House, a Land Bill depriving the landlord of the last remnant of his property. A good deal was said by the hon. and learned Member for Louth about the appointment of these Sub-Commissioners. He was not going to attack the appointment of the Sub-Commissioners. He thought the applications for recommendations which came to him amounted, if not to thousands, at any rate to hundreds: but he recommended none of them, and he knew none of the gentlemen who were appointed. He was not going to attack them, for the simple reason that these gentlemen had been put in the position of having to perform an impossible task. This was the problem which confronted his right hon. Friend. He was told to find in Ireland 90 men who, without any guidance from the Act, without any standard set up, were to fix up what each one of them at his own sweet will thought a fair rent. He was not going to attack these men—it would be cowardly to do so. The thing to be attacked was the system set up by the Acts of Parliament. ["Hear, hear!"] When they were considering the claims of the Irish landlords they could not leave out of sight the large sums that were being paid every day for tenant-right. It was ridiculous that a man should have his rent reduced say ££50, and immediately afterwards go into the open market and sell exactly what that £50 was worth. That was simply transferring the property from the landlord to the tenant. He would give the House an example of the method in which this operated. He saw the other day in a newspaper an advertisement offering for sale the tenant's interest in a farm. It announced Griffith's valuation—i.e., the valuation for rating purposes; it announced the old rent, it announced that some 30 or 40 per cent, had been taken 522 off by the Commission, and it invited the public to come in and bid for the value of the tenant's interest. That was not all, for there was an important postscript:—N.B.—The first statutory term will shortly expire, and then the tenant will be able to again go into Court and have his rent further reduced.There was no question of improvements arising; these had been all taken into consideration upon the first statutory term; but it was an invitation to the public to come in and compete, and one of the baits held out was that the rent would be still further reduced when, the first term expired. He admitted that the high prices given for farms in Ireland arose a great deal from what might be called a land-hunger. ["Hear, hear !"] He admitted it, and it would be quite untrue to put it in any other way. But what did that mean? It meant that where, in England, a man who did not wish to stay upon his farm, could go to the manufacturing towns and get employment for himself and his children— ["Hear, hear!"] But in Ireland that was not the case, the farmer must stick to the land. ["Hear, hear !"] Yes, but how was that to affect the landlord? The fact was that, by reason of the special circumstances of Ireland, land was more valuable than in England. But if, for reasons of the state, the tenants were to be prevented from paying high rents, was it fair to put the whole burden and disadvantage on the landlords? Surely not. ["Hear, hear !"] When the Land Acts were passed in 1881 they were told that the administration of them would be perfectly safe, because the House was prepared to appoint a Land Commission which would command every possible respect, by reason of the status of the three Head Commissioners. He said nothing of these three Head Commissioners personally, but he said that the whole register of appeal administered by the Commissioners was an absolute farce. What was the appeal? The Commissioners were paid some £3,000 or £3,500 a year, and what did they do? When a case for the settlement of rent went down it first came before the Sub-Commissioners, two of whom were laymen supposed to be acquainted with land and the other was a legal Commissioner. 523 The two Agricultural Sub-Commissioners went out and valued the land. Now what was this appeal for which the country was paying so much? What the three Commissioners simply did was this. Having received the assessment of rent made by the lay Commissioners, simply meant that two Sub-Commissioners sit in judgment upon the rent fixed by the other. [An HON. MEMBER "NO, no—two."] Well, take it to be two. It simply meant that two Sub Commissioners who had heard the case, had to appeal to two Sub Commissioners who had never heard the case at all. [Laughter.] And then as to the appeal, what happened was this. You went into the Appeal Court and you found a Judge of the High Court presiding with all the dignity of a Judge of the Queen's Bench—Mr. Justice Bewley; they found sitting by his side Mr. Commissioner Fitzgerald, also a lawyer, originally a county court judge, who was appointed he believed by Mr. Gladstone; and they found also Mr. Wrench, who he believed was an expert in the breeding of hackney horses. [Laughter.] There they satin solemn state, that was, if the three of them happened to be present, and what occurred was this. The Judge would say, "Have you read the report of the Sub-Commissioners who have valued this farm?" and if you said "Yes," he would say, "Do you think, after that, that it is necessary to hear this case?" [Laughter.] That was the whole procedure, day after day, with hundreds of thousands of pounds depending upon it—the whole procedure for which they were going to vote this £125,000 to-day, or at all events a considerable portion of it. He maintained, and he believed that if any one of these three judges who were drawing salaries could be got at in a confidential humour when not sitting in court, he would admit that the whole thing was absolutely ridiculous. And that was what they were asked to pay for to-day, or that the country was asked to pay for.
§ MR. CARSON
No doubt, but there were the Sub-Commissioners who value, and other officials. Why, what did they do but read up the Sub-Commissioners' reports? While he said that as regarded these gentlemen, let him say again that the 524 system they had set up was an impossible one. Nobody would deny that Mr. Justice Bewley, as a lawyer, was an absolutely competent man and a perfectly fair and upright judge; he was a man of distinguished learning, who had held very high positions before he went on the Bench. That he admitted, but it was only in an occasional case that these questions arose, and as regarded the rest of the system, what he had described to the House—ridiculous as it appeared—was absolutely what took place in the Land Court if any of these decisions were appealed against. How long then was this system to go on? Hon. Members opposite might say that he was throwing out a bait for their assistance. Well, if the House liked to say so, be it so. It was perfectly true that he should be glad to have their assistance, and he thought that a scheme might be very easily devised—that was, if this great English Government were prepared to deal with liberality—
§ MR. CARSON
A scheme might be easily devised which might confer great benefits on the tenants, and at the same time enable the landlords to find some salvation. That naturally brought him to the second question, the question of purchase. It had always been put forward by consecutive Governments that the real solution of this land question in Ireland was purchase. All he could say was that the reports which reached him of the methods in which the Purchase Acts were carried out were anything but satisfactory. The Land Commission, in dealing with purchase, whereas in reality they ought to grease the wheels, so to speak, did everything they could to clog them. [Nationalist Cheers.] To use the phrase of the hon. and learned Member, they were always higgling about small matters. A case came under his notice the other day, where a landlord and tenant had agreed for the sale and purchase of a farm for the sum of £22O, which to the tenant would have meant an immediate reduction of some 20 per j cent, upon the judicial rent already fixed. But the valuers were sent down, and so accurate were they in their diagnosis of the land that they refused to advance the: £220, but said they 525 would advance, £200, knocking off the £20. The landlord, rather than have the matter go off, agreed to accept the £200. What was the result? Within a fortnight the tenant sold the farm in open market for £450. So much fur the judgment of the Land Commission. He mentioned the incident merely as showing this—that if they wanted purchase to really succeed—and it was under purchase that the tenant got by far the greatest benefit—they must be deliberate in the way they administered these Acts. A ease happened only the other day of a collision between the two Courts—the Land Commission and the Land Judges' Court. The Land Commission had valued some farms at £5,000; and just as the thing was about to be settled the Land Judges Court said they did no think it was worth more than £3,000. So that they had the valuers of ! one Court valuing an estate at nearly £6.000, and those of another valuing the same estate at half the sum. The Land Commission Court seemed to think that its sole mission was to underestimate the value of land and to subtract as much as possible from the landlords' interest. There was a ease in which a tenant applied to his landlord for leave to sell his farm in open market for £500. The landlord, thinking that £500 was too much for an incoming tenant to pay, exercised his right of pre-emption. The Sub-Commissioners then went down to fix the sum which the landlord ought to give for the tenant's interest, and they fixed it at £800, or £300 more than the tenant could have obtained in open market. Did the Government suppose that the landlords and those connected with them could rest satisfied while cases of that kind occurred? There was something in The Times of that day about the intention of the Government to grant a Commission. If it were the fact, as he believed, that rents were being fixed without any standard, and that the Land Acts were being administered to the detriment of the landlords on all occasions, there certainly ought to be an inquiry without delay. He knew that no one became a "bore" in that House sooner than a man who appeared to have a subject upon the nerves; but he felt sure that if hon. Members only knew as much as he did of the sufferings of many of the landlord class in Ireland, and of the privations of their 526 families, whom they could not educate in accordance with their station in life, the House would pardon him for having asked once more for justice for these people. [Cheers.]
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said that he had never heard a more crushing indictment of English rule in Ireland than the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Of course, the standpoint of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends was not the same as that of the Nationalist Members, but they seemed now to be agreed that Ireland was an oppressed and wronged country. If the landlord class were oppressed, as the right hon. Gentleman averred, so were the tenants. His right hon. and learned Friend had entered that House under the auspices of the First Lord of the Treasury. When the right hon. Gentleman was contesting the Trinity College seat, the First Lord of the Treasury gave him a character as to his experience in Irish matters. It was on July 29, 1892.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said that he would connect it with the Vote in a way that would be patent to the meanest understanding. [Laughter.] On the date which he had mentioned the First Lord of the Treasury wrote his right hon. and learned Friend a letter in which he spoke of him as being specially competent to supply information and give advice upon the legal aspects of all Irish questions, and as being well qualified by training and ability to take a prominent part in the House of Commons, and on public platforms when Irish subjects were being discussed. Those were the terms in which the First Lord of the Treasury spoke of his right hon. and learned Friend who now, after five years' experience of the House of Commons had come to the same conclusion—judging from his speech —which the Irish Members on the Opposition side of the House had come to long ago—namely, that the British Parliament was either incompetent or unwilling to do justice to the Irish people. Whilst he agreed with much that the right hon. Gentleman had said he could not subscribe to all that he had said regarding the Commissioners and Sub-Commissioners, for among the 80 officials selected 527 by the Government there was nut one who could be regarded us having any special sympathy with the tenants. Without exception all the Sub-Commissioners had been appointed by the present Government, and all the Chief Commissioners, with the one exception of Mr. Murrough O'Brien, had also been appointed by them. All the gentlemen appointed by preceding Governments had been re-appointed by the present Ministry with approval of their judicial action. The landlords declared that the reductions of rent pressed hardly upon them. He believed that that was so, and sympathised with them. His right hon. Friend who spoke a few minutes ago was not singular in that respect, but the answer to his complaint was, who had produced that system? ['Hear, hear!"] The English Government had produced it—["hear, hear !"]—and he contended that the Irish landlords would be better off if they joined with their own colleagues than they were in relying on an English Government. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University had referred to the land hunger which existed in Ireland. He said that there was a land hunger because of the limited supply of land, and because there was no other outlet for industry in Ireland; but who was responsible for the fact that there were no industries in Ireland? It was the English Government. [Cheers.] But in the misfortunes and vicissitudes which must always accompany movements like the land agitation, the misfortunes that had fallen on the toiling millions of Ireland must not be ignored. No doubt it was very miserable to sec the reductions that had to be made in the great households; but he would rather see a reduction in the establishments of 10 country gentlemen than one child in want of a bit of bread. ["Hear, hear!"] He wondered whether the Chief Secretary would maintain, during this Debate his uncomfortable position of energetic silence. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman had lately been like a sheep dumb before the shearers. Would he hear his right hon. Friend the Attorney General? He would be glad to hear him because he knew he sympathised with him. He would be also glad to know whether they were to hear anything from their Friend the hon. Member for South Tyrone; or were the Government going to "Gorst" 528 him? [Ministerial cries of "Order!"] He would withdraw that expression if it was unparliamentary. He thanked the House for the kindness with which they had listened to him. He would, in conclusion, impress on his Unionist. Friends that all Irishmen had much in common, and if they could only take the country into their own hands, they would soon cease to be bullied and cajoled by an incompetent English Administration. [Cheers.]
§ HE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University has touched in eloquent terms on the misfortunes under which the landlord class in Ireland are suffering at this time. I do not think that from those words anybody on cither side of the House will dissent. Undoubtedly the landlord class in Ireland are suffering severely. Their incomes have been very materially reduced during the last 15 or 20 years; they are in a large number of cases heavily burdened with charges on their estates; and in many instances they have been reduced to live on a comparatively small portion of the income they once enjoyed. All that is undoubtedly true. There may be some controversy as to whether these misfortunes have been brought about entirely in consequence of the legislation this House has passed from 1881 upwards; but I should not be in order in discussing the policy of the Land Act of 1881, and the amending Acts that followed it. Still, I think it is only right to remind the House that, while we on this side of the House never approved of the principle of the Act of 1881 in the first instance, yet, on the other hand, there were difficulties in connection with the Irish land question at that time which, no doubt, did call for legislation of some kind or another— [hear, hear!"]—and in the speeches that have been made lately by the landlords and those who represented them at the Convention in Dublin and elsewhere, I must say that I could have wished there had been some reference to the circumstance that the Richmond Commission and other Commissions, consisting to a very considerable extent of landlords, declared that some of the principal evils at that time arose from the excessive price then paid for tenant-right, and 529 from the fact that rents had burn too much raised on the tenants. ["Hear, hear'"] It is impossible, in taking a general view of the land legislation of the past 15 years, and in endeavouring to form an estimate as to whether it was justified or not, to leave these considerations entirely out of sight; and I would go further and remind my right hon. Friend that, although the landlords and their representatives attack the policy of the Act and the amending Acts, when those amending Acts were before the House they did not vote against them. They did not vote against the Act of 1887, nor against the Second Reading of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, nor against the Second Reading of the Bill of last year. In these circumstances I think they must admit, as we on this Bench admit and maintain, that whatever objections may be justly raised to the principle of the Act of 1881, that Act, baying been once passed into law, it would be unwise and unstatesmanlike to attempt to return to the condition of things that obtained before it was passed. ["Hear, hear!"] Apart from the question of the policy of the Act of 1881, this discussion has mainly turned on the procedure and personnel of the Land Commission. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University made a speech of very threat moderation, especially when compared with the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet, who himself once held the office I now hold. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University, in discussing this question of the Sub-Commissioners, admitted that he was not in a position to say whether the reductions of rent lately made by them were just or not—very different language from that held by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, in this connection I should like to refer to a speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh, delivered in Dublin the other day This is what he said:—hey passed a Land Act, and they wanted to make 40 millions spread to what 80 or 90 millions might have done that they did not get, and they chose Land Commissioners who would, whittle down the rents, and then, according to this new principle of statesmanship, which he could not sympathise with, it appeared that, undoubtedly, it was more easy and more cheap to buy a bankrupt landlord 530 than it was to buy a solvent one. So the thing was to make a bankrupt of him first and then buy him up. Now, he asked them was he exaggerating in the least?["Hear, hear!" from Colonel SAUNDERSON.] I am sorry to hear my hon. and gallant Friend say "Hear, hear!" because that really amounts to a charge that the Government have deliberately appointed men who might be counted upon to reduce the landlords' rents. I really do think it is unworthy of my hon. and gallant Friend to suspect for one moment that the Government in making these appointments looked to the probability that the men appointed would cut down rents. ["Hear, hear!"] If we were actuated by motives of that kind we should be unworthy of the position we occupy.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON Armagh, N.)
That certainly was not my intention. I simply pointed to the fact that the Government chose Commissioners whose probable action would be to lower rents and make the landlords bankrupt.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think my hon. and learned Friend's interruption very much alters what I have said. ["Hear, hear!"] We are accused on the other side of having appointed the Commissioners with the deliberate view that they should not reduce rents by an adequate amount; but I will do hon. Members opposite the justice to say that I do not think they believe that. [Mr. MACNEILL: "We do !" and laughter.] Of course, the object of the Government in making the appointments was to secure men who would carry out their duties in an impartial manner under the Act. Let me say one word as to the statements of the hon. and learned Member for Louth. He says that since the Government came into office 80 appointments have been made, that of these only three are Roman Catholics, and that over 70 are landlords or landlords' agents. I have not got the figures, but we have not made anything like 80 appointments. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then you ought to!"] I think we have appointed something like 24 Sub-Commissioners who have not held the position before, and of these I believe several are Roman Catholics, though I do not know. Religion does not come into these appointments. [A laugh.] 531 I have told the Member for Louth and others more than once that it is not the object of the Government to prevent Roman Catholics from receiving appointments for which they are qualified. I think in that matter I shall have the support of the Member for Montrose. I believe that, if anything, it is the disposition of the Government to stretch a point in the appointment of Roman Catholics, everything being equal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Never; nonsense !"] I think the Member for Montrose will confirm me in that. That, however, is a matter of comparatively small importance. As to 70 out of the 80 being landlords or land agents, I am quite sure that that proportion is absolutely inaccurate.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The hon. Member has only to look at the published list of the Sub-Commissioners to see that his statement is without, foundation.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Now, Sir, I pass from that question to the complaint of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University that the decisions of the Sub-Commissioners are not supported by reasons for those decisions. My answer to that is that you may analyze as much as you please and enumerate as much as you please, but, ultimately you will have to come to a matter of opinion.
§ MR. CARSON
was understood to say that he had asked to be stated the proportion of the rents to the market value.
§ MR. CARSON
Might I ask my right hon. Friend whether any Sub-Commissioner has laid down what he means by a fair rent?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No, Sir, the Act requires him to fix a fair rent, and he is to start from the facts as they are before him. Then there is the statement that the Commissioners are entirely in the hands of the Court valuers. It is for the Commissioners themselves to decide, after hearing the valuers, what a fair rent should be. It is a singular fallacy that, because the valuers have been Sub-Commissioners, therefore they are not to be trusted. As a matter of fact, the valuers are men who have been 532 selected for this special duty from the body of the Sub-Commissioners at large. They are not chosen haphazard, and I do not believe you could get better valuers outside the ranks of the Sub-Commissioners. If you went outside you would have a greater chance of getting valuers who were not so impartial as the Court valuers. ["Hear, hear !"] Now I come to what is, after all, the great point. The complaint is made that these Sub-Coin-missioners have made reductions which are complained of as unjust and unfair. On the other side, however, it is said that the reductions are not adequate to meet the difficulties of the case. ["Hear, hear!"] There are a great many considerations which have to be borne in mind. We have heard a great deal about the high prices given for tenant-right. Then we hear about the reductions of rent being far greater than was justified by the fall in prices; and some say that the fall in rent should be according to the fall in prices. ["Hear, hear!"] It is very easy to argue from these general considerations, but I am convinced that it is exceedingly difficult from these general considerations to arrive at any clear, satisfactory, and cogent conclusion. But while the tenants appear to be dissatisfied with the rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioners, the landlords have given their dissatisfaction a practical form, for they have asked for an inquiry into the procedure and practice of the Land Commissioners. That Inquiry the Government have decided to grant. ["Oh, oh!"] The form which the inquiry will take will be a Royal Commission, small in numbers, but to be selected with a view to the impartiality of its members—[ironical Home Rule, cheers]—and in some cases their expert knowledge of the value of land. I am not yet in a position to say what the, exact terms of reference will be or who will be appointed to serve, but, I have, I think, sufficiently indicated the general character of the inquiry. Whether the result of the inquiry will be to justify the expectations that are formed by my hon. Friends on this side is in my judgment very open to question indeed, but, of course, in asking for this Commission they must know perfectly well that it is possible that the conclusions arrived at by the Commission may be adverse to them.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It is not intended that the principles of the Acts shall be inquired into; those are to be taken for granted. It will be an inquiry into the practice and procedure of the Land Commission and of the Land Courts in fixing fair rents, and into the practice and procedure of the Land Commission in making advances under the Land Purchase Acts. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will the personnel of the Land Commission be inquired into] No. The Government did not feel justified in refusing a request made so strongly by a body of men who are undoubtedly, rightly of wrongly, convinced that they are suffering very serious injustice. But there is another reason why in my judgment it is a proper thing to appoint a Commission of inquiry. Charges are now being freely made against the competence and, in some quarters, even as to the honesty, of the Sub-Commissioners. Those charges it is impossible for the Land Commissioners to meet at the present time. They have to remain silent under the accusations which are levelled against them. In my judgment, for the sake of the Land Commissioners alone, it is desirable there should be an inquiry.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No, the Land Commission has not been consulted in the matter. Let me repeat that we have not decided to appoint this Commission of Inquiry with any preconceived idea as to whether the rents which are now being fixed are too high or too low. We feel that we have not sufficient data on which to form a judgment. We think it is very important that there should be upon this subject some kind of authoritative decision rather than that public opinion should be left to the mercy of assertions founded for the most part upon uninstructed, vague, and general considerations. [Cheers.]
§ MR. DILLON
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will inform us whether it is proposed to stop the fixing of fair rents and to suspend the payment of rents until the Royal Commission reports.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
I confess I listened to the statement of 534 the right hon. Gentleman with considerable surprise and with some dismay— [Hear, hear !"]—and I think that the embarrassment—if I may so call it— with which the right hon. Gentleman announced the appointment of this Commission, showed that it is in no very right good will on his part that this concession has been made to the pressure of the Irish landlords. [cheers] That pressure began almost immediately after the passing of the right hon. Gentleman's Act of last year; it was pressure that was set in operation in anticipation of anything that was done by the Commissioners or by the Sub-Commissioners. When the Duke of Abercorn brought this proposal forward in another place the Prime Minister dismissed it with a series of objections which those who heard him felt were in his own mind conclusive at the time. What is taking place now is a repetition of what took place, and took place with such mischievous results, in the case of the Land Act of 1881. ['Hear, hear!"] All who sat on the Committee over which I presided in 1894 are aware that witnesses of every kind came before that Committee and gave as one of the reasons for what is an indisputable fact—namely, that the rents fixed in 1882 and 1883 were too high— the deterrent effect exercised on the minds of the Sub-Commissioners, first of all by the appointment of a Committee, and. secondly, by the attitude of Lord Salisbury and others.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The evidence may have been given after those hon. Gentlemen, unfortunately, deserted the Committee.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
My statement can be tested by the Blue-book. Besides, the hon. Member for South Tyrone was a Member of the Committee, and I am sure he will not deny what I have said. Now, one very extraordinary reason for the appointment of this Commission has been given; it is that Gentlemen below the gangway opposite and gentlemen in Ireland—landlords—have made extravagant and unjust and partisan accusations 535 as to the action of the Land Commissioners, That was to say, it you want a Commission all you have to do is to make a series of extravagant and unsubstantiated charges, and the Government of the day, in order to clear the officers so charged, will appoint a commission of inquiry. The First Lord of the Treasury used to say, or, at any rate, his policy indicated the belief by him, that the Land Commissioners are judicial, or quasi-or semi-judicial gentlemen. Would he, I wonder, have consented to appoint a Commission in order to meet extravagant and unsubstantiated assertions made by hon. Gentlemen below the gangway on the Opposition side of the House? He would have been the last man in the House to do so. There is another point I must mention. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin might say that the Committee over which I presided did not take all the evidence which ought to have been taken— [Mr. CARSON: "Hear, hear!"]—but the Chief Secretary for Ireland brought in a Bill founded avowedly—Oh, the right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but it was so. It may have been bad tactics on the part of the Chief Secretary, but as to the fact, there is no doubt. In introducing his Bill, the right hon. Gentleman referred again and again to the report of the Committee as constituting the foundation upon which he reared his Bill. He, at all events, appeared to think that there was so much value to be attached to the evidence taken before that Committee and to its Report that he felt legislation was called for, and not a word was said, in the introduction or the conduct of that Bill, to show that the right hon. Gentleman for one moment thought that any reason had been brought forward why the action of the Sub-Commissioners or the Land Commissioners should be subjected to unfavourable criticism. At that time, not nine mouths ago, it had not entered into the right hon. Gentleman's mind that there was any kind of objection made to the action or equity or fairness of the gentlemen who administered those Acts. The right hon. Gentleman said in the earlier part of his remarks what I entirely subscribe to. He said it was doing him and the Irish Government a great injustice to suppose for a moment that he has appointed one single Sub-Commissioner either because he hoped or 536 thought that he would fix rents high or low. I do not suppose for one moment that such a consideration ever entered into the mind of the right hon. Gentleman; but is he not by appointing this Commission, because suspicions, or more than suspicions, have lodged themselves in the minds of the landlord party, showing that he is himself yielding to the expression of suspicious which, as applied to himself, he indignantly and quite properly repudiates? He says that this Commission is not to inquire into the principles of the Land Act, but into procedure only. What kind of evidence, I want to know, is this Royal Commission going to take which did not come before the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1894, and what kind of men are you going to have? It has been suggested in the public prints, but I dismiss the matter from my mind as entirely unworthy of belief, that this Commission is to be presided over by a Judge, and the name of an able Judge was mentioned; because, say what you like, the object of the Commission can only be one which cannot be friendly to the tenants. [Nationalist cheers.] I do not say the right hon. Gentleman or the Government have in their minds a deliberate intention of any sort of putting pressure on the Land Commission or Sub-Commissioners, but it is perfectly notorious—and the Irish are not so slow-witted as not to be wide awake to the fact—that this Commission is appointed to please the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin, University and those whom, he so ably and powerfully represents—[Nationalist cheers]— a Commission appointed with the expectation in the minds of those who got it appointed that they will and flaws and inequalities and errors in the procedure of the Land Court. To put a Judge at the head of a Commission which, say what you like, is to be a landlord Commission — [Nationalist cheers]—will certainly not be killing Home Rule with kindness. ["Hear, hear!"] I will not say any more than this. You pass a Rent Act in 1887 —I do not go further back than that— and another Rent Act in 1896; and then in 1897, before the Act has been eight or nine months in operation, you show so little confidence in your own handiwork that you are going to appoint an important Royal Commission to overhaul the doings of the body to whom you have 537 intrusted the carrying out of your legislation. I have heard the announcement with dismay and deep regret and I am perfectly sure that the Chief Secretary, when he is in Ireland at all events, knows it is a most fatal error they are making with a view lo the good working of his own Act. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I do not propose to survey the whole Debate that has taken place to-night upon the Land Commission, but one or two words, I think, must be said in answer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not traverse what I should regard as inaccuracies, however import tint in themselves, which are not relevant to this particular Debate—such an inaccuracy, as I think, as the statement that the Bill of last year was based on the Report of the Committee over which the right hon. Gentleman opposite presided. I do not think that is an accurate description of the Bill, which, though it did contain several of the non-controversial clauses which found a place in the right hon. Gentleman's own Bill, did not resemble that Bill in any of its broader aspects, and certainly did not copy that Bill in many of the objectionable features, as we think, which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to add to the land legislation of Ireland. The immediate discussion before the House is the propriety of the course which the Government have adopted. When the right hon. Gentleman opposite points out that we are dealing with a judicial body, and that inquiries into the action of a judicial body are in themselves rather dangerous remedies, I entirely agree with him. I think the course we have adopted is one which ought to be adopted with reluctance, and only if there is adequate ground shown for it; but observe that, by the very nature of the case, the sort of judicial work which we have thrown upon the Land Commission by the Act of 1881 and successive Acts justifies a procedure which would not be proper if we were dealing with the administration of settled principles of law such as those which the ordinary practice of the Courts in this country administer, I have never concealed from the House that, however great the excuses—and they were great—for the experiment made in 1881, that experiment was in itself a disastrous experiment—[cheers]—foredoomed to 538 failure, or, at all events, to partial failure—and that we attempted to do through the medium of a Court that which no Court could adequately accomplish. Let it not be said if is no longer open to us to make in 1897 such criticisms as were passed in 1881 inasmuch as we ourselves have been responsible for Acts amending the Act of 1881. No such criticism holds good against our policy. The Act of 1881 was passed, rightly or wrongly—wrongly and unfortunately, as I think—and it became the fundamental law governing the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland, and no practical statesman, I venture to say, would suggest that the system then established could be destroyed except by the gradual extinction of double ownership1 by the creation of a great system of peasant proprietary. That has been our view consistently for the last 16 years. Holding-that view, we have felt it our duty, not; merely to pass from time to time Acts intended to facilitate land purchase in Ireland, but also, finding that we had to administer Ireland under the Act of 1881, to make the principles of that Act as tolerable as they could be made and as just to the various parties connected with land in Ireland. That is the position of the land problem as we conceive it. What has happened is precisely what everyone foresaw must happen—namely, that these Land Courts have been subjected, from one side and the other, by an inevitable necessity, to criticism which, if it has had no other effect, has had the effect necessarily of diminishing the authority with which their decisions have been received both in Ireland and in this country. It is a most unfortunate fact; it is a fact which we all deplore, but it is a fact which could have been foreseen, and which was almost inevitable, human nature being what it is. The right hon. Gentleman opposite says, "You are appointing this Commission in the interests of the landlords—[Nationalist cheers]—allthose who represent the tenants will complain, and have a right to complain, of the course you are pursuing." The course we are pursuing is as greatly justified by the utterances of the friends of the tenants as it is by the utterances of the friends of the landlords. It is perfectly true that the landlords hold, rightly or wrongly, that the recent reductions in 539 the second statutory twin have been excessive. True it is that they have criticised in detail the machinery of the Land Commission, and in particular they have alleged that the system of appeal is one which practically gives, and can give, no confidence to the various suitors who come before the Commission. But if these have been the charges levelled by the landlords against the administration of the Acts, charges equally as strong, and uttered from even more numerous mouths, have been uttered against the Land Commission on behalf of the tenants. In this afternoon's Debate charges against the Land Commission of not reducing rents sufficiently have been explicitly made by, among others, the hon. and learned Member for Louth. I really think it would be better if no suspicion existed as to the action of the Land Court, that no charges of this kind were bandied about from side to side. We have to take facts as they are; and undoubtedly the result of recent events has been that a widespread sense of insecurity as to the decisions of the Sub-Commissioners in the first instance and of the Head Commissioners on appeal has been diffused throughout both the great classes concerned in the administration of the Land Acts. Under these circumstances are we wrong in doing what we can to restore that confidence which, through no fault of ours, has been shaken in Ireland? [Laughter.] I gather from the laughter of the hon. Member for Donegal that he regards with 'derision that statement of policy on the part of the Government. But let me say that there may be circumstances under which, whatever may be the evils of action, the evils of inaction are still greater—["Hear, hear !"]-—and I am convinced that, though it is far better, if you can, to leave the action of any tribunal untouched by public criticism, uninterfered with by outside inquiry, still, if you reach a point when the result of inquiry would be to restore confidence which has been shaken and to bring back a state of things which unfortunately has been disturbed, your only choice, the only choice left open to the Government, is to take such a course and to follow it out to the best of their ability. [Ministerial cheers.] Now, Sir, what says the right hon. Gentleman, 540 the Member for the Montrose Burghs? He says:—Will a Commission, if appointed, arid anything to the mass of information collected by the Committee of which he was Chairman?I am bound to say that I thought this reference of the right hon. Gentleman an unfortunate one—["hear, hear !"]—because he must be well aware that, whether through the fault of the Government, of which he was a member, or to unfortunate accident, this result was obtained—that while that Committee took all the evidence which the tenants desired on their side of the case, the landlords, however rightly or wrongly, thought that the evidence on their side of the case was burked and never taken at all. [Ministerial cheers of "Oh !"] I believe I am not mistaken in an historical fact when I say that the Parliamentary Committee desired to close the evidence taken before it at the very moment when the principal allegations on behalf of the landlords were about to be brought before it. ["Hear, hear !" from the Ministerial Bunches]. Even if that be not an accurate statement of fact, though I believe it to be perfectly accurate, it is universally believed by the landlords in Ireland, and that circumstance alone will show how much may still require to be done by a small Commission, and that is the intention of the Government in proposing it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has by anticipation done his best to destroy the value of the labours of this Commission by expressing his opinion that it is appointed in the interests of the landlords. [Irish cheers.] Well, Sir, it can only be appointed in the interests of the landlords if the landlords have been suffering injustice. I offer no suggestion or opinion on that point at all. I can most honestly and truly say I have formed no opinion—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Why appoint a Commission? I propose to appoint a Commission, as I have already endeavoured to explain to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Committee, because partly through his exertions discredit has been thrown upon the labours of the Land Courts; and 541 some investigation of the course they are pursuing is absolutely necessary if that confidence is to be restored. For my own part lean most truly say that while I have heard a great deal both on the side of the landlord and on the side of the tenant with regard to judicial rents, I have never been able—and if I had made up my mind, if I had formed any opinion as to the action of the Commissioners in fixing judicial rents I should not express it; but I can truly say that I have formed no such opinion. On the contrary, the whole question seems to be one of extreme difficulty, and it may be naturally supposed that I have taken my share in appointing this Commission with no preformed opinion as to what the result of its labours is likely to be. I am not sure that if I had been interested in Irish land I should have pressed the Government lo appoint it. ["Hear, hear!" from the Nationalist] That is my own view. But we have been pressed to appoint a Commission, and even those who have not pressed us to do so—even those who like hon. Gentlemen opposite, appear to dislike the idea of a Commission—have themselves, by reiterating their unceasing criticisms upon the decisions of the Land Courts, given us the very strongest argument that can be given for the course we have adopted. Under these circumstances, Sir, I hope the Committee will feel that we really have done our best to make this almost unworkable land system in Ireland work with justice both to the landlords and to the tenants; and that if, after all the legislation in which we have been engaged we think that an inquiry into the working of that legislation is now necessary, we say that it is necessary not because we have in any sense prejudged the controversy between landlord and tenant, but because now as ever we think it our duty to take every step which may secure justice as between those two great classes. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said he thought there would not be in Ireland on any side of politics a second opinion as to the object with which the Commission was appointed. The object was, of course, to put pressure upon the Sub-Commissioners. This Commission had been granted at the request of the Irish landlords, he might almost say, he 542 thought, without exaggeration, that it had been granted in consequence of the threats of the Irish landlords. Therefore, it was preposterous and absurd for the right hon. Gentleman to contend that it was a Commission in the granting of which the Government had equally considered the interests of the tenant farmers and the landlords. It was a sop thrown out to their enraged supporters in Ireland, or to supporters who affected to be enraged. Now, what was the situation? They had got a Land Commission which had been manned from the top to the bottom by a Government which was a Government of the Irish landlords. He believed, as had been already stated by the hon. Member for North Louth, and, if not admitted, not contradicted—that with the exception of one or two individuals, the whole body of Commissioners, including the members of the Head Commission, and the Assistant Commissioners, whose salaries they were now discussing, were appointees of a Government which was a Government by the choice of the Irish landlords. So that the Irish landlords were in this position—that they had had the manning of the Commission, they had had the nominating of the men who were now deciding the rents of the Irish tenants; and not content with that, they must go a step farther; and because owing to the pressure of irresistible facts and circumstances, the Commissioners were giving a certain reduction of rents—what he and his friends believed to be a very insufficient reduction— they must now insist on a Commission which could have no object but to intimidate these Sub-Commissioners with a view to producing an insufficient reduction of rents. Let him refer for a moment to the extraordinary speech delivered by Lord Salisbury in reply to the deputation of landlords. It was, he thought, one of the most extraordinary speeches ever delivered by a responsible Minister of the Crown. Because he took up this amazing position—I don't profess to know whether your demand is a just demand or not, but what I advise you to do is this—if yon think you have any claim, agitate;they were to agitate and to put pressure upon Ministers by their public agitation. Well, he and his Friends had been accustomed to be denounced in every 543 mood as agitators, as men who were engaged in a disreputable occupation; and now they saw Her Majesty's Prime Minister advising a deputation of dukes and noblemen to allow themselves to be degraded to that same position of public agitators. [Laughter] What did Lord Salisbury go on to say? He was discussing the merits of various forms of inquiry which might be granted. He first pointed out that a Royal Commission was utterly unsuited to the case. He then went on to say that—there was a Committee of one of the Houses of Parliament after the passing of the Act of 1881, and my impression is that, on the whole, that Inquiry did good, if not so much as was anticipated, but on the whole it was beneficial.Those were sinister words. Everybody who remembered that time knew that the effect of the Inquiry by the Committee of the House of Lords was an immediate cutting down of the reductions in rent—by intimidating the Sub-Commissioners; and the Prime Minister, with a masterly audacity—ho might almost say indecency—deliberately pointed out to the landlords, and advocated to his Friends, the beneficial effect he expected from any Commission which might be appointed by remembering that a Committee of the House of Lords had had some beneficial effect on a former occasion, though not as much as they expected. Now what meaning could be attached to that language except one? What did the beneficial effect of a Commission upon the Irish landlords amount to? They knew that the only effect the landlords would consider beneficial would be the effect of limiting the reductions of rents by the Land Commissioners. ["Hear, hear !"] And Lord Salisbury indicated to the landlords that if they made themselves sufficiently active in agitation, and put enough pressure on the Government, no doubt their will would be carried into effect and their demands be granted. The Irish landlords, he was bound to say, did not long delay to act upon that advice. They summoned a large meeting at Dublin, which was held on the 13th of April last. He would refer for a single moment only to the character of that meeting. The character of the speeches delivered at the meeting of landlords in Dublin on April 30 removed all doubt as to the 544 reasons for appointing this Commission. The Duke of Abercorn, at that meeting, quoted Lord Salisbury's words:—In the days in which we live the class that does not complain is the class that will go to the wall,and he said:—This means agitation. Now, agitation is a most useful method of bringing questions before the public mind. If you look back upon the history of this country you will see the every great reform has been obtained by agitation.Here, then, they had the deplorable spectacle of a Duke advising his friends in Ireland to betake themselves to the much-abused vocation of agitators. He was astonished that the Chief Secretary had not come to the House prepared to give more particulars as to the character and antecedents of the men whom he had appointed as Commissioners.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I beg pardon. All I was unable to say was that there were so many landlords among them, so many agents, and so many tenants.
§ MR. DILLON
thought that the right hon. Gentleman ought to have been ready to give more particulars, seeing that he must have known that the character of his appointments would be challenged. There were six members of the Chief Court of the Land Commission—because Judge Ross was practically a member— and five of them were nominees of the Unionist Government. Bearing in mind their antecedents and connections, it was impossible not to see that they must sympathise with the landlords. The right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College had drawn a very truthful picture of the farcical state of affairs in this Court when questions of land value were being considered. The Court was presided over by a most estimable Judge, who was an excellent lawyer, but who knew nothing about the value of land. Another member of the Court was Mr. Fitzgerald, who, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, knew nothing about land; and a third was Mr. Wrench, who was skilled in the rearing of hackney horses, and who, at one time, was one of the best known agents for the landlords in the North of Ireland. The right hon. and learned Member, 545 however, had omitted to mention one member of the Court—namely, Mr. O'Brien. It was a very curious circumstance that Mr. O'Brien, who knew more about the value of land than, perhaps, any man in Ireland, and who was the only member of the Court appointed by a Liberal Government, was nearly always overruled. He was, in fact, almost boycotted, and the business of the Land Court was left practically to the Unionist nominees. Irish Unionists who denounced the Government ought to remember that it was the Government of their choice; they had subscribed their money to put it in power, and as long as the landlord party in Ireland helped to keep this Government in power by supporting it, they could not say with any show of reason that the appointments to the Land Commission were made in the interests of the tenants. The appointments to the Commission had not been made in the interests of the tenants. Almost to a man the officials were the enemies of the tenants. The Chief Secretary had appealed to them not to impute unworthy motives to him. He did not do so, for he did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman had appointed a single Commissioner with a view to having the rents raised. But the right hon. Gentleman had been obliged to make selections among thousands of men of whose characters, views, and dispositions he knew nothing, and what means had he to decide which of these men were fit for the appointments? Of course, he had to rely on those who recommended the selected candidates, and the officials and people with whom he was in communication had influenced him to lean towards the landlord side in making those appointments. That was inevitable, having regard to the atmosphere in which the right hon. Gentleman lived. He had himself made independent inquiries into the antecedents and character of the gentlemen who had been appointed Sub-Commissioners, and he asserted that, out of 73 lay Sub-Commissioners, 53 were, of had been in one capacity or another, closely connected with the landlord class, and he believed that many among the rest could be described in the same way. He was certain that he was well within the mark 546 in saying that four-fifths of the lay Sub-Commissioners were either landlords, the agents of landlords—which was worse— or gentlemen who had distinguished themselves by canvassing and spouting in the Unionist cause, and denouncing the dishonesty of Irish tenants. The right hon. Gentleman had called attention to the number of farmers who, he said, had been appointed as Land Commissioners. This description of "farmer" was, however, not exhaustive in many cases. Third on the list, for example, was a gentleman who was described as "a tenant," but this gentleman had been a leading land agent and valuer for the landlords in the North of Ireland before his appointment. He had taken the greatest pains to find out the facts, and he did not believe it was possible for the Chief Secretary to contradict his statement that four-fifths of the Commissioners were either landlords or supported by the landlords in their claims to be appointed. The right hon. Gentleman was asked whether the Commission would investigate and report upon the personnel of the Land Commission, but they were to report upon exactly what the landlords wanted, and upon nothing else. The right hon. Member for Trinity College drew a touching picture of the sufferings, and what he described to be the feelings of despair, of the Irish landlords. He had no doubt there was a great deal of truth in that moving and heart-rending picture, but the right hon. Gentleman had touched very little on the other side, which was not the sufferings of a few individual families but of hundreds and thousands of the industrious poor in Ireland. He did not desire to inflict hardships in a spirit of vengeance upon the landlords, and still less on unfortunate bodies. Three or four years ago when the question of a Roman Catholic University for Ireland was discussed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College said that if the Irish people were only allowed to settle the question they would do so to the satisfaction of all parties. [Cheers.] He had thought that was the dawning of a similar view on the part of the right hon. Gentleman on the land question. In 1885, in order to inaugurate a new and happier era for Ireland, they offered terms to the Irish landlords which they would never again get—["hear, hear!"]-—and those 547 terms were thrust back and refused— [cheers]—as hon. Gentlemen opposite thought they could best serve the interest of their class by tying themselves to an alien Government which they believed would be loyal to the Unionist garrison. They were now reaping the harvest of what they had sown, and perhaps the time would come yet when they would find their countrymen willing, and only too willing, to bury in oblivion the bitter and miserable past, and that they would obtain better terms from them than from any English Government. [Cheers.] He confessed he listened with great pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College adopting their views that night, and pointing out the causes which had brought about the rackrenting and misery of the tenants in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] It was due, he said, to the lack of other occupations; and why was it that the people were driven to compete with each other to the point of absolute starvation and nakedness? It was because the class to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged had in the past forgotten their duties to their people. [Cheers.] He hoped the speech they had listened to that night was some indication of the dawning of a better day amongst the Irish Unionists [Cheers.] But with reference to the appointment of this Commission by which Ireland would be thrown into turmoil, and they would be afforded the spectacle of noble Dukes engaged in agitation—that was a game two could play at, and he had no doubt that the Chief Secretary by this Commission would let loose a considerable flood of agitation in Ireland. The Commission would be regarded by the tenant farmers of Ireland as a deliberate attempt to intimidate the Land Commissioners. Probably the first effect of the appointment of the Commission would be to lessen the reductions. That was the intention.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
We have stated in explicit terms that this Commission is not appointed because we have any opinion as to the justice or injustice of the decisions.
§ MR. DILLON
Then it comes to this, that any body of men in Ireland have only to make spurious charges against a court of law, and instantly they are to have a Royal Commission. [Irish cheers.] 548 There was no pretence or excuse for this inquiry; on the contrary, the Leader of the House and the Chief Secretary had been very cautious in their language, suggesting that it was most undesirable. However, as the landlords had kicked up a row the right hon. Gentleman intimated that they had no choice in the matter. Were they going to allow the levying and the payment of rent when nobody knew what might be the result of this Commission? They were entitled to recall the remarks of Ministers last year about the finality of their land legislation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said that?"] It was declared on the other side that there was to be no more land legislation so long as this Parliament sat.
§ MR. DILLON
said that he did not believe it, but Ministers said it, and they had a right to enjoy the speedy fulfilment, of their promises. He should conclude by strongly advising the tenants to put into practice, with the least possible delay, the advice which Lord Salisbury gave to the landlords—["Hear, hear!"] —namely, that "in these days" classes which did not agitate would go to the wall, and he would further remind the tenants that, so far as that House went, they had nothing to expect, according to the declarations of two Ministers, from this Commission beyond an attempt to destroy the Act of 1881. [Cheers.]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said, if anyone required proof as to the capacity of the Land Commissioners exercising a just decision in the matter of rent, he thought the proof came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, and the hon. Member who had just sat down. Both of these Gentleman said that the result of appointing a Commission of Inquiry would be to influence the Sub-Commissioners in fixing rents in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, on a former occasion, pointed out that the Sub-Commissioners were so affected in Ireland by the appointment of a Commission, that they gave unfair decisions. Now if the appointment of a Commission had this effect upon the minds of the Sub-Commissioners in Ireland, was there not good reason why the landlords, who suffered from their unfair decisions, should have some qualms? He occupied on this question a peculiar position. He was one of 549 the few landlords who supported the passing of the Land Bill of '70, which was the foundation of all subsequent Land Acts. He never could sec then, nor did he believe anyone could at that time, nor in 1881, that the passing of a Land Act meant, not fixing fair rents, but sweeping away the whole landlord class in Ireland. ["Hear, hear !"] If Mr. Gladstone had got up and said that the Act of 1881 was not an Act for fixing fair rents, but for simply lowering rents, no one on that side of the House would have been found to support it. ["Hear, hear !"] The hon. Member then quoted from the Return showing that so far as, for example, Downpatrick was concerned, the reductions in the rent were out of all proportion to previous reductions, and the reductions in the price of produce. In fact rent was reduced now, when the price of produce was going up, and when it was higher than it was during previous periods of reductions. The reductions of 1887–8–9 had changed from 11 per cent, to 31 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER "Quite right!"] Some rents which were reduced a few years ago by 5 per cent. were now reduced by 28 per cent.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that the rents in 1881, 1882, and 1883 were fixed on a wrong principle?
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
That I think proves the justice of our demands for inquiry. The Act of 1881 required the Commissioners to fix a fair rent, but finding inspect inn too laborious a task, they went by the rule of thumb. He would mention one case which illustrated the sort of way in which rents were reduced in Ireland. Some seven years ago the rent of a farm on Mr. Trollope's estates was to be fixed. Concerning the case, the gentleman wrote:—Some years ago the County Court Judge was applied to to fix a fair rent, and as the case was small, I allowed it to remain in the County Court. A few days previous to the day of hearing, at Phillipstown Quarter Sessions, I happened to he on the estate with Mr. Lennan making a valuation, and as we were going home in the evening—a very wet evening—we met the County Court valuer, blind drunk and staggering along, about a mile from the farm he was going to value. He was then too drunk to go any further, and we got him up upon a car, and sent him home. The following Saturday, when the case was called at Phillipstown. County Court Judge Fitzgerald, now Commissioner Fitzgerald, read 550 a letter from the County Court valuer saying he could not value the farm, as it was all under water. I pointed out to the County Court Judge this was a mistake, as the farm was on the top of a hill. The result was, the case was adjourned till the following Tuesday, and the Judge said he would direct his valuer to value the farm on Monday, so as to be ready to fix the rent on Tuesday. I directed my bailiff to wait on Monday to see the valuer valued the proper farm. As I was on my way to Claremorris I met him, and he reported that the Court valuer had not been on the land. You may imagine my surprise on hearing this valuer read out in open Court a most minute valuation of this farm he had never seen, and was never within a mile of in his life except once, and was then so drunk that he could not walk. And yet the County Court Judge fixed the rent of the farm, and reduced our rent on the valuation made by this drunken man, who had never seen the farm in his life.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said it was seven years ago; the Statute of Limitation had not quite run out yet. He did not say that all valuers were drunkards—far from it. He did not accuse the Commissioners of dishonesty, but he maintained they were acting on some principle with which he was not acquainted, but wanted to be. There was a revolution proceeding in Ireland. If such a state of things existed in Armenia hon. Members opposite would be found asking questions and moving the Adjournment of the House, pointing out the monstrous iniquity of things, and demanding the instant interference of the British Government. But Irish landlords might be plundered, and they sat still. The Irish landlords were called the English garrison, and they were proud to be known by that title. The hon. Member for East Mayo said, "Are you not sorry you refused what we offered you?" In the name of the class he belonged to, he said "No," and if the offer were made to them again they would refuse it. They believed that their loyalty was worth more, than a few years purchase. Bad as their position was now, he did not believe it would be improved if Home Rule were established; indeed the hon. Member for East Mayo had said with Home Rule they would make short work of the Irish landlords. The work now was not short; it went on in jumps of 15 years, but one thing was certain, that if the rents in Ireland were dealt with in the future as they had been 551 dealt with in the past, a man would not have to live to a very great age to see the whole class of landlords swept away. He regretted the speech he made in Dublin. If he did say, as he possibly did, that the right hon. Gentleman was actuated by sinister motives towards Irish landlords he withdrew his words, though they would apply to the policy the right hon. Gentleman's Government pursued. He could not believe, that the prosperity, peace and tranquillity of Ireland was to be founded upon an act of gross injustice. If they destroyed his right to property, what right would the men who came in to-morrow have to his? He believed that the outcome of the new Inquiry would be that the minds of the people would be opened to what the meaning of property and the rights of property were. If it were decided that, for State purposes, the landlord class should be swept away, he trusted the Government would, as honest men, see that the process was not accomplished at the expense of the landlords themselves.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that the case which the hon. and gallant Member had just mentioned must have occurred in 1887. [Colonel. SAUNDERSON; "In 1888 !"] The landlord apparently allowed the rent to be fixed without cross-examining the valuer, or without appeal. [Colonel SAUNDERSON: "Do they ever cross-examine the valuer?"] Why did not the landlord complain in Court of the state of the facts? If the valuer got drunk was that not as bad for the tenant as for the landlord? What was the name of the valuer? He presumed if they insisted upon hearing his name they would be told he was dead. Now, he had a few questions to ask in respect to the very grave statement they had just heard from the Chief Secretary. He believed that the proper way to have met that statement was by moving to report Progress, because he conceived that they ought not to go on with the Debate upon the Land Commission Vote until they knew the terms of reference to the new Commission and until they knew who were to form the Commission. He desired to know now, however, whether it was intended that past or only future rents should be affected. Of one thing this House had a horror, and that was of touching anything which was sub 552 judice. But the whole rental of Ireland was sub judice at this moment. This question, of rent was at the bottom not only of English rule but of justice, and if this Commission found the rents were too high they would have had an admission that for 15 years they had been converting tenants into caretakers, and making present tenancies into future tenancies on a basis of injustice. Since 1887 they had converted 40,000 present tenancies into future tenancies by way of evictions. Were these 40,000 cases to be inquired into by the Commission, and were they going to ask upon what principles the fair rents were decided, which afterwards led to 40,000 evictions, or were those cases to go un-discussed and un-ransacked, and what the Commission was to go on were to be the cases of the future? And if they were going to deal with future rents, did not they arrest the stream of applications, and did not they paralyse the very fountain of justice itself? He would tell the Committee the genesis of this Royal Commission. The Lord Lieutenant, the representative of Her Majesty, called on the Land Commission last week for a return of the per centage of judicial rents, and horror was expressed by him at the result of the figures. That return was presented to the Cabinet this week —and it was upon the return, irregularly obtained by the Viceroy from a judicial body and irregularly presented by the representative of the Queen, to the Cabinet, that this Royal Commission had been granted. He knew it would be said that it was granted because he had stated earlier in the evening, that the tenants were dissatisfied with the reductions they were getting, but the real genesis of the Commissioners was that which he had just stated. What was the position of these unfortunate Sub-Commissioners? There were 73 laymen, and only 30 of them had permanent jobs. The other 43 held their office till next December, and these 43 trembling wretches were to fix rents in Munster, Leinster, and Connaught with a Judge of the High Court watching their operations. Who was that Judge to be? He could not be an Englishman, because the Party opposite had denounced Mr. Justice Mathew, and had declared that it was an irregularity and an impropriety for an English Judge to go over to 553 Ireland, even on a mission of appeasement, to inquire into the thorny subject of evictions in Ireland. Consequently it could not he an English Judge. It could not he an Irish Judge, because every Irish Judge who had sat on the Bench had denounced their Land Acts. If it was not an Irish Judge, who was it going to be?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, but it was, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose who said it was to be an English Judge. I would only say that the right hon. Gentleman has not been taken into the confidence of Her Majesty's Government in this matter.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said the House of Commons had a right to be taken into the confidence of the Government— [cheers]—and the Government had no right to make this statement until they were prepared with the names of the Commissioners and the terms of reference. This was the 14th of May, and tomorrow the notice of this Royal Commission would go tingling to the veins of every temporary Sub-Commissioner in Ireland. To-morrow rent reductions would drop to zero. Let any man reckon the percentages that had been given up to the 15th of May, and then let him compare the percentages of reductions that would be given afterwards, and he would venture to say he would discover that reductions would fall 15 per cent, from this day forward. It was four months since the Government announced that they would appoint a Royal Commission to reverse the findings of another Royal Commission with which they were dissatisfied, and Her Majesty's Government had not yet been able to make up their minds as to who were the gentlemen who were to upset the verdict of Lord Farrer, Lord Welby, and other Treasury exports. They were now to have another period of incubation. The Government were 554 wallowing in the mire of landlordism. Their Cabinet was a landlord Cabinet; their Executive was a landlord Executive. They were available to every landlord influence. He did not say they were not striving to do their best. He had always maintained that the Chief Secretary for Ireland was, according to his belief and his lights, honestly endeavouring, as he believed, to steer an even keel as between both parties, but he was plunged into a morass of landlordism, and if it had taken four months to get, and they had not yet got, a Commission for a subject upon which the Treasury had all the facts, how long would it take to get a sufficient number of impartial experts to inquire into the fairness of the fair rents on 350,000 Irish holdings? An instant declaration should be made on the point of what were the rents that were to be inquired into—past rents or future rents. They would, at all events, do something to prevent that feeling of consternation and alarm which would spread throughout every province in Ireland if they were to announce that it would only be as to rent fixed up to this date. Let the Sub-Commissioners, the Chief Commissioners, the landlords, and the tenants know that it would only be as to transactions decided and closed that this inquiry would take place. He could conceive no Court so destitute of self-respect as to go on fixing rents upon holdings when every act they did would be watched by jealous eyes, and when every investigation they made would be subsequently challenged, not in a court of law or of justice, but before a tribunal which had not even the power to call witnesses or administer an oath. The tenants boycotted the Bessborough Commission, and he presumed they would refuse to give evidence before the forthcoming Royal Commission. They would therefore be at the mercy of the landlords, who would be bringing forward their unsifted grievances of seven years ago— or they would have what Air. Morley's Select Committee had in 1894, they would have to depend, as he depended, upon evidence of officials. If they had official witnesses, it would be only the Land Commissioners white-washing themselves, for it would not be presumed that they would come forward to give themselves a bad character. It appeared to him, therefore, that this proposal had 555 every possible vice. It assailed the very foundations of law; it was an attack upon order. They were told that the British Government was a continuity. It was no longer a continuity; for while a series of statutes had been passed—one by the Liberals, five by the Party now in office, the Government of law and order now propose to indict, not only the framers of the statute, but their administrators. He had intended to say only one word more. He would give the House an instance of what went on, so as to show how far there was any prejudice in the tenants' favour in the action of the Land Courts. An hon. and gallant Member had given them the case of the Jolly estate ten years ago. He would give them the case of the Copeley estate, in the county of Wexford, two months ago. The Copeley estate was an estate under Judge Wallis's Court. The Receiver was instructed to resist the fixing of fair rents on the estate, and there was a standard rule in the Land Judges' Court not to allow any fair rents to be fixed by a County Court Judge, and to transfer them to the Sub-Commission, so that the permanent judges of the land had not the confidence, apparently, of the land judges. The Copeley tenants went into Court, and three Sub-Commissioners were sent down to hear their cases. They gave reductions varying he thought, from about 30 to 40 percent., he spoke under correction as to the amount. The landlord appealed. What happened? Every man of the Sub-Commissioners was removed from the county of Wexford, and the two lay men were sent to the Botany Bay of the Land Commission, Belmullet in the county of Mayo. Both these Sub-Commissioners, Mr. Dillon and Mr. O'Kelly, were men of the greatest moderation. Mr. O'Kelly he knew to be a landlord of the county of Roscommon and Mr. Dillon, he was told, was from the same place, and he presumed was a landlord also. What happened when these two gentlemen had given their decisions; the Land Commissioners sent down one man to review them—the weakest man, the most landlord man they could get, and he raised the rents from 10 to 15 per cent., and at the present moment there was only one of the Sub-Commissioners operating in Wexford, the other two having for their sins 556 been chased to county Mayo [Laughter.] Now was that the way to treat judicial gentlemen? One would suppose that men who had gained knowledge of a county would be allowed to remain in it. These were not allowed to remain, and simply because of their decisions in the Copeley estate cases they were sent 200 miles off to the most inhospitable and the most unpleasant part of Ireland the Commissioners could exile them to. The Chief Commissioners who managed all these things were both members of the Kildare Street Club—a club consisting of landlords and land agents. So that it was by Kildare Street they were governed, and not as they thought, by the Castle. There was not a land case that was settled in Ireland that was not discussed in that club. And what was more, he said that remonstrances issuing from it — and sometimes personally—were made to the judicial members who belonged to the club. It was monstrous that judicial officers should belong to this Kildare Street Club. Would they be allowed to be members of the National League? [Nationalist cheers.] And if not, why should they be allowed to belong to the chief landlord organisation in the country? When they heard appeals made by a skilful advocate, no doubt great sympathy was aroused for poor ladies who had lost a margin of rent. But what about the poor widow of the Irish tenant? [Nationalist cheers.] What about the two millions who had perished under their eyes of famine? Did it draw tears from that House? [Cheers.] Since 1887 forty thousand present tenancies had been converted into future tenancies. Was there any weeping and wailing over that? Let them go down to Queenstown Quay if they wanted to have their hearts wrung by the sight of miserable people going off from the land which denied them food and shelter. And they were asked to weep over the sufferings of gentlemen who were, distressed because they could not have a little more to spend at Monte Carlo. [Nationalist cheers.] As to the religion of the Commissioners, he had gone over their names and he could state accurately what the result was by their place of education. As far as he could make out, out of the 73 men there were only ten Catholics. About one-half of these were appointed by previous Governments; 557 but as far as he could make out the appointments of the right hon. Gentleman he could give him just half-a-dozen Catholics and no more.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that of course there was no official information, but he understood that among those appointed before he took office there were six Roman Catholics, and of the 19 new men appointed by himself live, were Roman Catholics.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
It came to this, that in a population which was mainly Catholic they were dealing with a matter that went to the very lives of the people by a body of which four-fifths were Protestants. What was it, that gave a Protestant a knowledge of land? Was it a belief in the Thirty-Nine Articles? [Loud laughter.] Did a man's belief in the infallibility of the Pope render him incapable of judging this value of land? [Laughter.] They were told there were no more Catholics appointed because then; were no Catholics suitable. They were not educated enough; and yet they were denied the advantages of university education. They could not have superior education because they were Catholics; and because they were Catholics they could not be Land Commissioners. And here was a fresh Commission to be appointed. Would there be any Catholics on it? Would it be three-fourths Protestant too? He was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman cared no more about religion than himself. [Laughter.] He meant to say he did not mind the creed of any man. But how did it come about that whenever he had to make appointments, three-fourths of them always belonged to the religion of the ascendant Party? If men were appointed who were drawn from a particular class, he maintained that they would sympathise with the people of their own religion. The proof was to be found in this fact—that the Protestant tenant farmers of the north had received larger abatements than the Papists of the south. It was a remarkable fact that the First Lord of the Treasury warned the landlords not to be too hopeful as to the result of this Commission. Did this circumstance not show that the Government themselves had no faith in their own specific, that they regarded it with anxiety, and that they were undermining the foundations of law 558 and order? In this business there was really no foothold for the foot of common sense, and he believed that the Government had taken a fatal course. They had spread uneasiness and dismay from one corner of Ireland to the other, and if the Land Commissioners had any self-respect they would decline to go on fixing rents until this attack upon them had in some way been settled. It was amazing that the Chief Secretary should have stated that the Land Commission ought to welcome this new Commission, when he had neither consulted them as to the matter, the mode, nor the principle of its appointment.
§ After the usual interval Mr. GRANT LAWSON took the Chair.
§ MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
said that the announcement made by Her Majesty's Government would be received with the greatest dismay all over Ireland. They could not forger the effect of the action of the House of Lords in 1882 and 1883, when a Committee was appointed by them nominally to inquire into the working of the Land Act, but really to overawe the Commissioners in the task of fixing fair rents. That action was responsible for much of the dissatisfaction and trouble which had since been experienced in Ireland. The second statutory term had just begun to run. In January 72 cases were heard all over Ireland, 63 being in Ulster. The aggregate rent in those cases was £1,430, and the Sub-Commissioners had reduced it for the second statutory term to £1,038. The landlords had taken alarm at this; they had held meetings; they had sent deputations to the Prime Minister with the result that the Government had that night made a startling announcement; but he was confident that when all was said and done, the landlords who had set this matter in motion would not be the most pleased. The Nationalist Members had listened with great interest and not without sympathy to the speech of the right hon. Member for Dublin University. He was surprised it did not strike the right hon. Gentleman that his speech was an indictment of the inevitable. The right hon. Gentleman might as well have tried to indict, the Free Trade policy of the country, or foreign competition—nay, he might as well have indicted the unfavourable climatic conditions of the 559 country. The Nationalist Members had much, sympathy for the landlords. No one could view with equanimity the spectacle of a class—no matter who they were —reduced to straitened circumstances. But they must not think alone of the landlords. The three millions of the Irish people who were engaged in agriculture were also entitled to the consideration of the House. He asserted that if there had been no land legislation whatever, the fall in prices, the increased foreign competition, the unfavourable1 climatic conditions of Ireland would have justified far larger reductions in rents than the reductions which had been given in Ireland after a long and sometimes bloody agrarian struggle. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to forget that there were piles of Blue-books and carefully prepared statistics which showed that after all that had happened in Ireland the average reduction in rent up to last year did not exceed 21.5 per cent, all over the country. Much had been made on either side of the high prices which had been given for tenant-right in Ireland. But he was inclined to think that in many cases auctioneers and brokers, to show what clever men they were, quoted the prices at larger figures than had actually been realised by the tenants. It was to be observed that the landlords were very reticent in regard to those cases of sales of tenant-right. The counties were mentioned, but not the names of the parties or any other particulars. He asserted that the average price paid at the present moment for farms did not exceed eight years' purchase of the tenant-right. Mr. Justice Madden, a former Attorney General for Ireland, had declared that the tenant had at least half the property in a holding; and therefore, eight years' purchase was not an extravagant figure for the tenant-right. It must be remembered also that that right included not only the possession of the land, but the buildings—the dwelling-house and out-offices — which were entirely the property of the tenants in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. They were face to face with the fact that owing to the scarcity of manufactures, agriculture was the great industry of Ire land, and two-thirds of the people de pended upon it; and what they had to consider was—were the people of Ireland to be maintained in something like decent comfort on the soil of Ireland, or was 560 the pauperism of the country to continue growing, or the stream of emigration from the country to go on for all time? It would be remembered that in, the discussion on the Land Acts last year the representatives of the tenant farmers—not the agitators alone but the Ulster Members—asserted that the judicial rents were not fairly fixed. The question of improvements was not defined with sufficient clearness, and the question of how to arrive at a fair value, taking into account the tenant's interest, was not properly described. The Act of last year might practically never have been placed on the statute book. They had implored the Government to shorten the judicial term in order that tenant farmers with rack rents might be able to come into Court and have their cases heard. The pressure which, had been brought to bear on the Government was of a patent and obvious character. The great danger was that it would be impossible for the Sub-Commissioners to consider the fixing of a fair rent with unprejudiced and fearless minds. The tenants were coming to the Court very quickly, and would be coming more and more rapidly. In 1891 they had protested against the salaries and expenses of the Land Commission being put on the Consolidated Fund. It was then argued that the functions of the Commission were of a judicial character, and that they should be put in as independent a position as the Judges of the Superior Court. They on that side did not acquiesce in that argument at that time, although there was much in it. But the Courts of the Sub-Commissioners were retained on these Votes, and it must be remembered that these men were only employed temporarily. As representing the tenant farmers of the country and the working population, who, more than any landlords, Dukes, or noble Lords constituted the people of Ireland, the Nationalist Members protested against the appointment of this Royal Commission as an act of cowardice on the part of the Government. The Government had hearkened to the clamour of a few noble Dukes and Lords, but the proposal would be received throughout Ireland with dismay and indignation. He felt that they should do something to mark their sense of the conduct of the Gov- 561 ernment, and he therefore moved "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)
supported the Motion. He thought the action of the -Government in this matter, having regard to the pledges which they gave to their constituents at the General Election, put them in a very tight place. He presumed they would not hear anything from the hon. Member for South Tyrone on this subject, although they would be very glad to hear whether he approved of this change of front on the part of the Government. The hon. Member, having claimed in interviews given to the Press that the Act of last year was mainly passed through his pressure, as a final settlement of the land question, had within ten months of that apparently consented to the appointment of a Commission which undermined not only the Act of last year, but every principle contained in the previous legislation on this question.
*THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. GRANT-LAWSON)
requested the hon. Member to keep to the exact Motion before the Committee.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL
said the statement which had been made would certainly, he thought, create the most intense dissatisfaction throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. The people had been endeavouring to give the Government the fair trial which was asked for by the Chief Secretary when he came into office. The right hon. Gentleman could not complain of there having been any very vigorous agitation in Ireland, although, for his part, he very much regretted that there had not been one—[Irish cheers]—as the action of the Government showed them that the only way in which they could get attention paid to their wants was by maintaining a vigorous agitation. This matter affected the whole of the people of Ireland, because their main industry was agriculture. He hoped the people of Ireland would show the right hon. Gentleman that he had over-estimated the power of his Government.
§ MR. DAVID SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
said the Committee were asked to pay Commissioners whose work might be knocked to pieces by the proposed Royal Commission. The money would, under such circumstances, be wasted. He hoped Progress would be reported that they 562 might know where they were. He suggested that the Vote should be withdrawn and payment of the Commissioners suspended until after the Commissioners had reported. It was indefinite as to who the Commissioners would be, and what they were to inquire into.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said the Government could not consent to Progress being reported or treat the Motion seriously.
§ MR. DILLON
appealed to the Government to postpone the Vote until the Royal Commission had reported. It was only a reasonable request that the Vote should be withdrawn for the present until they knew what the terms of the reference to the new Royal Commission were to be and they knew something of the personnel of the Royal Commission. [Nationalist cheers.] The Government were about to take a far-reaching and momentous step. If the Vote were taken that night they would have no further opportunity during the Session of discussing the administration of the Land Commission. Irish Members should have an opportunity of consulting their constituents and the public opinion of Ireland as to the personnel of the Commission. The whole situation had been revolutionised by the announcement of the Government. He hoped the Vote would be withdrawn and put down at a later date as soon as the Government, had given some information as to the terms of reference and the composition of the Land Commission, and then the Land Commission Vote might be discussed in the light of the new situation.
§ SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said he was not prepared to vote for the Motion, but there was a good deal to be said for it. ["Hear, hear!"] The Committee had been taken rather by surprise. If on a future evening the general principle could be discussed on the Vote an acrimonious discussion that night might be averted.
§ MR. M. HEALY
said the Nationalist Members had come wholly unprepared for the announcement of the Government, and it was only fair that they should have time to consider it.
§ Mr. GERALD BALFOUR
reminded the hon. Member that only a limited number of nights could be devoted to Supply. If the hon. Gentleman was unable to continue the discussion that 563 night he would point out to him that there would be another opportunity for discussing the appointment of the Commission on the Vote for the Chief Secretary's salary. The hon. Member should reserve his remarks for that occasion, and not stand in the way of hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the House who desired to continue the Debate. Since he addressed the Committee only one Member on the Government side had spoken, although four or five were anxious to make some observations.
§ Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 64; Noes, 119.—(Division List, No. 209).
§ MR. J. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
observed that the Debate had been devoted to two branches—one being an attack upon the personnel of the Land Commission in Ireland, and the other an attack upon the new Commission that was to be appointed. There appeared to be a perfect unanimity between Nationalists opposite and Irish landlords on the Government side of the House with regard to the attack on the recent appointments to the Land Commission; but when they came to the new Commission the action of the Government was defended by hon. Members on their own side and attacked by Nationalist Members on the other. With regard to the appointments that had been made to the Land Commission by the present Chief Secretary, he did not join either with the, Nationalists on the other side or the landlords on his own side in their attacks on those appointments, and he was bound to say that no selections by a Government Department had given him so much confidence in the manner in which public appointments were made. There was, he knew, a very prevalent notion that in connection with public appointments "Kissing goes by favour," and that a great number of appointments were made on personal grounds. It had been suggested that evening that the fact that the Chief Secretary was not personally acquainted with the candidates for the Land Commission was a proof of his unfitness to make the appointments. 564 In his opinion that fact constituted the right hon. Member's fitness for the task. His fitness to discharge it lay in the fact that he was not personally acquainted with the candidates. One official only, namely, the Lord Chancellor, was always supposed to appoint officials on his own personal knowledge of their qualifications, while, with that exception, the theory was that the head of a Department ought to appoint on information brought before him, just as a judge and jury were supposed to give their decisions, not in matters within their own knowledge, but upon the evidence adduced in Court. The Home Secretary, for example, who appointed the Metropolitan magistrates did not claim to have any personal knowledge of fitness of candidates, but made appointments upon information supplied to him, and it was the general opinion of the legal profession that no better legal appointments were made. Then the Chief Secretary, not being an Irishman and not having lived in Ireland, had manifestly to make his appointments upon testimony laid before him. Having been anxious himself to secure the appointment of certain candidates for the position of Assistant Sub-Commissioner he had tried to find out how he could effect his object, and upon inquiry in various quarters closely connected with the Government he discovered that these appointments were to be made absolutely impartially upon testimony laid before the Chief Secretary—[A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "By whom?']—and that no personal influence of any sort was to be allowed to bias his decision. At lease 20 gentlemen went to him asking for his influence in their favour as candidates and he replied to every one of them, saying that neither his recommendation nor that of anyone else would be of the slightest value, except as one testimonial among others. Merit alone, he told them, would, he believed, be the test of any candidate's fitness. The testimonials of a large number of the candidates had come under his own notice, and he found that every one of those candidates had strong testimonials from landlords. How then the landlords could attack the appointments he did not understand. He challenged hon. Members to point to a single, candidate who had no support from the landlords. [Nationalist cheers.]; But, on the other hand, all the testi- 565 monials which he saw also contained recommendations from tenant tanners and even Roman Catholic Nationalist farmers, and from parish priests or Catholic curates. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "How did you come to see these testimonials?"] Several candidates who asked for his support sent him the testimonials of other gentlemen in order that he might see how superior the qualifications of his correspondents were to those of their rivals. [Laughter.] He judged from what he knew of the testimonials of these gentlemen that were before the Chief Secretary. Every single bundle of them contained testimony from both sides. The hon. Member for East Mayo was less fortunate in his illustrations than in his eloquence; in fact, we might generally assume that the hon. Member was wrong in his illustrations, though by accident he was sometimes right. The hon. Member mentioned two gentlemen only, one of whom was Mr. Bassett. Curiously enough, that gentleman was backed by a large number of tenant farmers, and Nationalist tenant farmers, too. That gentleman's testimonials also contained one from the Roman Catholic clergyman of Downpatrick, one from a clergyman of the Irish Church, and one from a minister of the Presbyterian Church. It was true that the bundle also contained some testimonials from landlords, but a more impartial and a stronger set of testimonials was never produced before a Chief Secretary. That was one, of the illustrations of the hon. Member for East Mayo, and if the hon. Gentleman had given more he might have been able to deal with them in the same way. Was it to be assumed, was it credible that the Chief Secretary for Ireland would be so foolish as to appoint men to please this Member or that, or this landlord or that, and so barter away his own reputation as Chief Secretary and as a statesman? He knew Lord Spencer took the greatest care in interviewing each candidate when he was appointing Sub-Commissioners. And what did the present Chief Secretary do? A number of Lord Spencer's Laud Commissioners had ceased to be in office because they were no longer required, and so were set aside, and he found that the present Chief Secretary re-appointed all of them, with, he believed, one exception; so that 566 as far as 25 out of his 42 appointments were concerned, he appointed men who had been appointed by the previous Government. ["Hear, hear !"] So much for the appointment of those Commissioners by the Chief Secretary. As far as he was acquainted with them he was entirely satisfied with them. He spoke as the representative of a tenant farmer constituency, and his opinion was that the Commissioners had been remarkably well appointed. Speaking on behalf of his constituency, he might say that he was entirely satisfied with them, and he believed his constituents were entirely satisfied with him. ["Hear, hear!"] He therefore said that in his opinion the charges that had been made against the Land Commissioners in the past had not been well made. No man had a right to interfere with the freedom of contract between landlord and tenant, that was the position taken up by the landlords. A tenant should be allowed to pay what rent he pleased. That was the honest, downright truth— that the whole of the land legislation since 1881 was a wrong and an injustice of the strongest possible character. That was their position, but no impartial outsider could say that some legislation was not necessary in the matter of the vexed question of landlord and tenant in Ireland. [Cries of "No, no !"] Some of his friends said "No, no !" but he was glad that opinion came from an English Member; it certainly could not come from an Irish. Member. ["Hear, hear!"] They had lust night a most important Irish Bill blocked by an English Member, who had never been in Ireland at all. [Cheers.] What was the state of affairs as to the tenants? The Member for Trinity College made that afternoon an extremely powerful speech, showing the hardships which the landlords had to endure. There was no Irish Member who did not know of such cases. They all knew that the landlords had suffered severely in the last 30 years. He did not believe that any Nationalist Member was anxious to rob the Irish landlords merely through vindictiveness. But what was the position of the tenants? How many thousands and tens of thousands were in distress? He would mention a case which came to his own knowledge within the last five hours. He could not give the names, 567 but he should give the entire facts to any Member who doubted him. The case was this there was a farm in a prosperous Ulster county. There were some fine buildings on it, the extent being 80 or 90 acres of laud. The rent was fixed by the Land Commission, and the tenant was practically the owner. That tenant that afternoon offered the farm to a man home from Australia with a wife and three children. He was offered the laud, stock, and farm for £300. The money was offered to him as a loan. The result of consideration was a letter to him from the man, asking that a situation might be obtained for him as a bus conductor or driver in London. [Cheers.] He told the man that he thought he was wise—["hear, hear !"]—and if his influence was as strong as he thought it was, that man would remain a London bus conductor and not an Antrim farmer. Only a few weeks ago he obtained from a Member of that House letters of introduction for two young men going out to Australia. They were forced to give up their farm, and at 35 years of age they were gone away to a new country without a penny in their pockets. The landlords' cases were unquestionably hard, but the instances he had given would show that the tenants' cases were also very hard. He had visited every one of the 32 counties of Ireland, and he knew that the position of the tenant farmers was one of extreme difficulty. He was certain, too, that the landlords had been hard hit. He had no reason to be more sympathetic with the tenant farmers than with the landlords; perhaps not so much, but he saw the difficulty from both sides of the question. One word with regard to the Commission which the Government intended to appoint. The landlords had asked for the Commission, the Nationalists had opposed it, and the Government had declared through the mouth of the Chief Secretary that the Commission was to be appointed. He was sorry that the Government had come to that conclusion; but at the same time he recognised the difficulty of the situation. A great deal had been said which he thought unjustifiable and unnecessary. It had been said, for example, that the Government in granting the Commission implied unfriendliness towards the tenant-—[Nationalist cheers]. He was prepared for that cheer; but was not that a 568 grave position for hon. Gentlemen opposite to take up in respect to a Commission the personnel of which they knew nothing? As a matter of fact the present Government had shown itself most favourable to the tenants. The Land Act of last year, for instance, was approved by the hon. and learned Member for North Louth. It was now assumed that the Commission about to be appointed must be necessarily a Commission unfriendly to the tenants. One hon. Gentleman had said, "You won't give every litigant who is dissatisfied with the tribunal a Royal Commission to try the tribunal." That was one way of stating the case, but it must be borne in mind that the landlord was a compulsory litigant. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "All dependents are !"] But what was the position of the Irish tenant? The Act of 1881 was an Act without parallel in the history of the world. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "No !"] The hon. and learned Member was a very good historian, and he would be glad to have an illustration from him of any Parliament or Senate of any country ever having transferred the ownership of the entire land of the country from one class to another. [Mr. GERALD BALFOUR: "India !"] The Chief Secretary believed there was something like it in India. He was not aware of the case; but his reading of the Act of 1881 led him to believe that the Act transferred the ownership of the land from the landlords to the tenants, that the landlords were absolute owners previous to 1881; but that since every incidence of ownership belonged to the tenant, that now the landlord was a rent charge and nothing else. He would have preferred that this Commission had not been granted, but he saw the reasons which must have induced the Government to grant it, namely, that the circumstances of Irish landlords and Irish tenants were an extraordinary set of circumstances, and that therefore there was nothing unnatural in trying remedies in this case which had never been tried before, and would not be tried in any other case. Who was the appointment of the Commission to affect? He thought its appointment would have two results, and that those results, as regarded time, would be divided into two parts. First, what would be the effect of the Commission between now and when it reported; and, secondly, what would be the effect 569 after it had reported? As to the first point, suppose these non-permanent Sub-Commissioners were terrified by the coming Commission, and that they were very cowardly, very contemptible, and very unworthy men. If that were the case, and if they were doing fairly at the present time in lowering rents, and if they ceased to lower rents as much in the future between now and the Report of the Commission, then they would do so from cowardice. His confidence in them was higher than that of the hon. and learned Member for Louth. He knew of no "trembling wretches." He believed that the Sub-Commissioners who were doing their duty fearlessly in the past, would do it fearlessly in the future, no matter what happened to them. If there were such "trembling wretches." the Debate that night would have the effect of letting them see that they were not likely to be crushed, and that they would have as many standing up for them on that side of the House as on the other side, and that they might do their duty fearlessly.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
Does the hon. Member think that they keep their eye on the Debates in this House.
§ MR. RENTOUL
said he had reason to know they did. The hon. and learned Member for Louth had made his prophecy as to the effect of the Commission on these non-permanent Sub-Commissioners. He would make his prophecy, and that was, that there would be no effect upon them between now and the time it reported; that they would be very cowardly men who would be affected by it; and that the rents would not go; down, and that there would be no appreciable difference in the conduct of the Land Commissioners between now and the time when the Royal Commission gave in its Report. As to the second point—what would he the effect of the Commission when if did report—he had so much confidence in the Land Commissioners that he believed its Report would be in approval of what the Land Commissioners had done. What was to be submitted to the Royal Commission? Not the personnel of the Land Commission, not the justice of their interference when they were fixing rents, but aye or no, were they doing their duty fairly, and were the reductions of rent at present given too great or too little in pro-Portion to the present prices and the 570 present difficulties of the farmers' position in general. He was not afraid of the judgment of the Commission in regard to that matter. He believed that the findings of the Land Commissioners would stand the test of the Royal Commission Inquiry, and that if any persons were in danger from the Report which it would make it would not be the tenants of Ireland. He did not, therefore, look upon the appointment of the Royal Commission as likely to be a boon to the landlords. They had asked for this Commission, and they were going to get it, but he questioned very much their wisdom in asking for it. He wanted the landlords of Ireland, who had now got their Commission, or would get it, to know the effect of the situation; and he wanted the tenant farmers to understand it, too. The tenant farmers might be extremely frightened when they heard that this Commission was about to be appointed. [Hear, hear !"] But it was his earnest belief that there would be very little to frighten them, and that the Report would be a pat on the back for the Land Commissioners, for it would hi; found that they had done their duty fairly. That being so. He failed to see what the landlords could possibly gain. The situation was a difficult one from every point. One knew that the Irish landlords had suffered heavily, and one knew also that the difficulties of the tenants were no mere fictions. They saw in the past that the poverty of Ireland was so great when famine came that only a few weeks would bring the people to the verge of starvation, and sometimes to actual starvation. ["Hear, hear!"] That being so, he rejoiced at the Land Bill that was passed by the present Government. He believed that the hon. Member for North Louth said the Party he represented expressed their belief at the time that the Government had done well and honestly, and had acted a friendly part to the tenant farmers of Ireland in that Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government had done nothing since to discredit their action on that occasion. They had now appointed a Commission. If it were true that they had appointed it in the interests of the landlords, and for the purpose of destroying the effect of the Land Act of last year, then, of course, the Government would be false to the tenant farmers, whom 571 they then, desired to benefit. But they had no proof of that whatever. Whilst he believed that the Commission would not do a particle of good, he was equally sure that it would do no harm whatever. The Government had granted it as an act of kindness to the landlords, who. He believed honestly, had been too hard hit, and he believed that, too much had been done against them. But he believed also that they would get that satisfaction which people very often got from going to a Court of Appeal, only to find the decision of the Court below confirmed against them.
§ MR. DENIS KILBRIDE (Galway, N.)
had failed to arrive at a conclusion as to whether the hon. Member who had just sat down was a representative of the tenant farmers or of the landlords. The hon. and learned Gentleman began his speech by adverting to an illustration given by the hon. Member for East Mayo with regard to the composition of the Sub-Commissioners. He mentioned the name of a gentleman called Basset, who, he understood, was a constituent, of Ins own. He (the speaker) took occasion to refer to the Return that was given to the hon. Member for South Down five or six weeks ago, and when he looked to see what the qualifications of Mr. Basset were, he found that he was a gentleman who never was obliged to make his living by the earning and the paying of rent. He held that the man who was best entitled to come to a just conclusion and form a just estimate of what fair rent ought to be between the average hardworking tenant and the fair landlord was the man who had practical experience of how to make, as well as of how to pay, rent. Mr. Basset might be an admirable man and he did not desire to controvert anything that had been said in his favour. It might be true that he had a memorial signed by 200 farmers in the county of Down, it might be perfectly true that, among these 200 there were some Nationalists, and it might be true that he had the signatures of both Protestant and Catholic ministers. But to bring that forward as proof of the fitness of any man in Ireland for any public position was trading upon the credulity of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman knew, and those who sat around him (the speaker) knew—everyone of them knew that 572 whether a man was a political friend or a political opponent, there was enough left, he was glad to say, of the milk of human kindness in the Irish heart to put a name to any memorial in favour of him. [Laughter.]
§ MR. RENTOUL
said he must remind the hon. Member that he did not bring forward Mr. Basset's name. He simply dealt with it by way of reply.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
By way of reply in order to prove how unfortunate my hon. and learned Friend was in his illustration.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
, continuing, said he found Mr. Basset described in the Return as a valuer and surveyor. He believed that for many years he was a clerk in the office of the Clerk of the Crown and Peace. [Mr. RENTOUL: "TWO or three years!"] That was how this gentleman acquired his knowledge of land. If the hon. Member for East Down wanted to defend Mr. Basset, why did he not tell the House what had been his occupation for years before be was put on the Sub-Commission? Had it been in his power to say, "This man is a practical farmer, he has paid rent because he made it," he would have been only too glad to say so. But he had kept back from the House—he said that, advisedly—he had kept back his knowledge of the position this man held for years before his appointment as a clerk in the office of the Clerk of the Crown and Peace.
§ MR. RENTOUL
was sorry to interrupt, but he could not let that pass; otherwise it would seem that he was deceiving the House. The fact of Mr. Basset having been a clerk in the County Court, had been already mentioned in the House before he spoke. He had no desire to keep back anything.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
said he did not remember hearing the fact referred to by any hon. Member. Mr. Basset, he found, had never farmed land for himself, either as owner or as tenant; but he had "farmed for a family." Well, he hoped that the "family" had a great deal of money; because he did not think that a clerk in a law office was the man most calculated to make a great deal of rent for a family. 573 It was staled that the Chief Secretary's reputation was at stake in making these appointments. He had no doubt the Chief Secretary acted as well as it was possible to do, and that he was actuated by a sincere desire to appoint the best and the most impartial men; but if that reputation had been at stake, surely it was now much more at stake since these appointments had been attacked by his own supporters. The right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the appointments, and was one of the objects of the Commission, therefore, to whitewash the tarnished reputation of the Chief Secretary? He commented on the fact that while the last speaker was neither a landlord nor a tenant fanner he was returned by the vote of tenant farmers, and while there were several gentlemen in the hon. and learned Member's constituency well qualified to act as lay Sub-Commissioners, only one appointment had been made. On the other hand, in oilier constituencies in the north of Ireland represented by landlords, several men had been appointed to act on the Land Commission. Were the Unionist and Presbyterian tenant farmers of Down satisfied with the rent reductions of the Sub-Commissioners? He ventured to tell the Committee that whether it was Nationalist farmers in Cork or Galway, or Unionist and Presbyterian farmers in Down and Antrim, they were all alike dissatisfied with the reductions they had received. While it was a regrettable thing to see country gentlemen, especially if they were sportsmen, being obliged to shut up their establishments and live in the cheaper Continental countries, still, that was a lesser evil than that large bodies of tenant farmers should be unable to find the necessaries of life for themselves and their families. A favourite argument on the other side was that the reductions in rent should be in direct proportion to the fall in prices, but his contention was that the Irish tenant farmers had not only been injuriously affected by the fall in agricultural values, but still more by the shrinkage in produce. But this shrinkage of produce was a thing that was carefully kept from the purview of the House by the advocates of the landlords. It never occurred to those hon. Gentlemen to recall the statement made by the present Judge Madden, then Attorney General, when he wanted the House to consent to the advance of 30 574 millions of British money to turn the Irish occupiers into Irish owners, the Irish landlords to run away with the swag — he told the House, on his responsibility as a Minister, that the interest of the tenant farmer in the soil was greater than that of the landlord. He, should like to ask the representatives of the landlords why they, who were not absolute owners, but only co-partners with the tenants in going concerns, should expect 18 or 20 years' purchase of their interest, if the tenants, whose interest was declared by Mr. Justice Madden to be the greater, were not entitled to claim at least the same. The Marquess of Salisbury told a deputation of Irish landlords that in these days the interest which did not agitate was bound to go to the wall. He was glad that the noble Marquess had come to that conclusion, because at one time the most opprobrious term which could be applied to the Nationalist Members was that of professional agitators." Now the whole of the Irish landlords, headed by the Duke of Abercorn, had successfully converted themselves into professional agitators. And if the landlords claimed to be heard in the House, it was equally within the rights of the tenant farmer to call attention to the fact that the reductions given by the Sub-Commissioners were wholly inadequate. The Chief Secretary would find that his policy of killing Home Rule with kindness would be made more difficult when they heard that this Royal Commission was to be appointed to decide whether they were to have any reductions or not. He had been anxious to hear the hon. Member for South Tyrone or the Attorney General for Ireland on this proposal, for they both represented tenant farmer constituencies. They must be opposed to it, for they knew that the Royal Commission was simply to whittle down reductions or to prevent the tenant farmers from getting any at all. It was said that the object of the Commission was to restore confidence in the Land Commission. How could it do that? If the Commission decided that the reductions given for the second statutory term were too great, would it establish confidence in the minds of the Irish tenant farmers? If the result of the Report was to restore the confidence of the landlords in the 575 Land Court, it would lead to a fierce agitation on the part of the tenant farmers to induce some Court to give them the reductions to which, they were entitled. On the other hand, if the Report should be that the reductions in rent were only commensurate with the necessities of the case, how would that restore the confidence of the landlords in the Land Court? The landlords would never have any confidence in any Court that reduced rent. He was opposed to the appointment of the Commission, because he objected to any further interference by this House or any other body with the judicial functions exercised by the Land Commission Courts. This was an attack upon the judicial Bench in Ireland. If it was right for the landlords to attack the Land Commissioners in their capacity as Judges, it was right for the Nationalists to attack the decisions of any of the other judicial tribunes in Ireland. When, some years ago, the Nationalist Members attacked in the House certain Judges in Ireland for their partiality to the Government in political cases, they were denounced for their want of respect for law and order. Now the attacks on Irish Judges did not come from the Nationalist Members, but from the loyal and patriotic body on the other side of the House—from the men who had so long posed as the advocates and defenders of law and order in Ireland.
§ MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
said a more flagrant waste of public money than that involved in the Vote before the Commitee had never come under his observation. For what was the £130,000 to be spent? Was it to bring them to a final decision on the Irish land question? No; for no one had suggested that the Land Commission thus enforced would bring them one inch nearer to the end they desired to attain. The hon. Member for North Louth, with his usual acumen, tried to lead the Debate into a line which, if the colleagues of the hon. Member had followed, their speeches might have had more influence on the Committee. The hon. Gentleman had said that the House was asked to interfere with the decisions of a judicial body. The hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that an appeal like that was likely to be effectual with the House, but, unfortunately for him, a little light was thrown, in the course of the Debate on those judicial bodies. 576 The present system had been one long wrangle over the qualifications of this man or that man. Was there the slightest analogy between a judicial tribunal as we understood it in England, and this scratch pack of gentlemen who were performing a travesty of justice in Ireland? These gentlemen could not be compared with the early Judges who were appointed on the Land Commission, and who were permanent servants of the Crown. There were 53 of these temporary Assistant Commissioners, and he did not wish to say anything against them. He did not think anybody knew much about them, but they were human beings susceptible to the passions and temptations which swayed human beings, and it was very dangerous to set these men in judicial posts without taking steps to guard them against temptation. We made it our boast that our Judges, oven in the humblest offices, were appointed for life, and were, therefore, removed from the temptation which any shorter appointment would lay them open to. It was inconceivable that these temporary assistants should not be suspected of being affected by such considerations. They had heard something as to the process by which they were selected. A member of the British Bench was selected by probably the fiercest form of competition to which a man could be subjected, namely, by the process of trial among his peers, and that, too, in one of the most competitive professions that existed. In addition to this they surrounded him with every precaution necessary in the interests of justice. They had heard, however, that these gentlemen were appointed on the strength of a shoal of testimonials. He did not blame the Chief Secretary, who had to make the best of the bewildering mass of information put before him, but that was not the way to obtain Judges ill whom confidence could be placed. As an example of the sort of man who was appointed he cited the case of one gentleman, a tenant, chiefly self taught, who had visited various farms. That was not the qualification which was needed for settling for all time to come the affairs of a certain number of Her Majesty's subjects. They ought to have in a Judge the power to discern between two cases presented with equal force, and the faculty of impartiality. All this talk about the Land Commissioners, whether 577 they were deciding fairly whether the rents should be lowered or raised was beside the mark. He did not think the problem was capable of solution by any tribunal which could be set up. Given this infinite multiplicity of sham Judges, they were no nearer finality on this question. In 1897 the Land Commissioners were beginning exactly where they were in 1881. The Courts were crowded with suitors, and hon. Members opposite said the plethora of cases in the Courts prevented decisions being given. Sheaves of applications for fair rents to be fixed were pouring in. Recent land legislation for Ireland had been exceptional legislation, and its inception was presented as a remedy for an emergency. A remedy for an emergency was not a remedy for all time. It was doing incalculable mischief to the landlords, and hon. Members opposite did not profess that any benefit had accrued to the tenant.
§ MR. DILLON
We said that so great had been the fall in prices that reductions of rent have not made the tenant as well off as under the old rent of 20 years ago. That is due to the agricultural depression.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that precisely the same complaint was made of the operations of the recent Land Acts as was made of the operation of the Land Act of 25 years ago. His point was that we were not advancing in this matter one inch, and the demoralisation that had occurred was beyond belief. He would appeal to English Members. They j were apt to think they had but slight interest in this, but he would point out that the demoralisation had spread to this side of the water, and that already they had presented to the House a Bill based on predatory and dishonest principles in regard to the Principality of Wales. It was not based on the law of England, on the Ten Commandments, or on common sense, but was based line by line on the precedent followed in the Randt. What had been said by the First Lord of the Treasury was a summary of the whole of the possibilities of the question. It was impossible to go back to the state of things that existed before 1881 The First Lord of the Treasury had said that there was one issue, and one issue alone, out of this terrible faux pas into which they had got, and that was by doing away with dual ownership and restoring the single ownership of land. 578 He agreed with this. He could not believe it was in the interest of any section in Ireland, except the attorneys, that the present condition of things should go on. He believed that this annually increasing Vote for the Land Commission was a curse to Ireland, and that the people who were living upon it were the lawyers. For every pound of rent reduction in Ireland since the Act of 1881 was passed, there had been an expenditure of two pounds to bring about that reduction. The cost of the maintenance of the Land Commission and the cost of litigation largely exceeded the whole of the reductions of rent. But whether that were so or not, nobody could pretend that what was happening was to the advantage of Ireland. He believed that until they looked on the Land Commissioners and their work in the daylight of common-sense, until they asked themselves whether they were doing things in Ireland which they should dare to see done in England and Scotland, they should not get much further in this matter. When they had noblemen like Lord Dufferin speaking as he had recently done on this question, it was calculated to make pause even the most enthusiastic advocate of the existing land system in Ireland. They were told that, among the many other miseries the Land Commission had inflicted upon Ireland, they were now doing all in their power to obstruct purchase, although everyone who wished well to Ireland desired that the wheels of the machinery of land purchase should be oiled. He believed that could be done even, under the bad and incomplete system that existed. He believed it ought and could be improved with very little trouble, and he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for the University of Dublin that if purchase was to be made a success, it could only be made so on terms of ample generosity to the parties whose property was compulsorily taken from them.
§ MR. J. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
regretted that the hon. Member opposite should have thought fit to call the Land Court a "sham" Court, and to apply the epithet "suspect" to the Judges of that tribunal. The hon. Member for West Belfast and those who acted with him had succeeded in cowing the Government who had bent the knee to the few landlords from Ireland who had seats in that House. Last year, when the Land Act was before 579 them, they were told by the Government that they would hear nothing more about the land question for a very long time, and yet, before 12 months had elapsed since the passing of that Act, this proposal to appoint a Commission was made. He feared that the effect of this new policy would be to cow the Land Sub-Commissioners. There were few of the Sub-Commissioners who were not needy men, and when needy men had obtained appointments they were naturally disinclined to relinquish them. This action of the landlords he regarded as merely a game of bluff, although, no doubt, they had carried their point. Because the landlords, acting on the advice of Lord Salisbury, were agitating while the people were quiet and orderly, the former were going to be aided and the peasants injured. Perhaps the peasants would have to follow the landlords' example. They had heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College, Dublin, a good deal about the sorry plight of some of the landlords in Ireland. In considering their ease, it should be taken into account that these gentlemen or their predecessors had lived very extravagantly in their time. If they had not done so, they would not be so hard up now. Time after time, when the privations and grievances of the people of Ireland had been brought forward in that House, it had been impossible to extract a sympathetic word from hon. Gentlemen opposite, but now, because a few landlords pretended that they were hard up, the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College almost wept over their distress.
§ MR. HUBERT DUNCOMBE (Cumberland, Egremont)
claimed to move "That the Question be now put," but the Chairman of Ways and Means with-held his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ MR. J. DALY
said that what distressed him was to see poor people leaving Ireland for America in order that they might earn rent for the landlords.
§ And, it being midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.