§ "£79,341, to complete the sum for Irish Land Commission."
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
I rise to move the reduction of this Vote by a sum of £5,000, in order to call the attention of the Committee to the action of the Land Commissioners in Ireland. I need hardly remind the Committee that ever since the year 1881, when the Land Bill was passed, and the Land Commission was created, various strong opinions have found expression in this House in connection with this matter. Naturally the landlord party give their opinions to those who represent them in this House, and draw attention to the action of the Land Commission in Ireland in making a too great reduction in the rents. On the other hand, representatives of the tenants in this House find fault with the action of these gentlemen upon the ground that they did not reduce the rents sufficiently. That was the effect of it all along, and naturally this House felt very great difficulty in coming to a conclusion as to which was right of these two parties, and which of these statements really could be borne out by evidence. I think the House, in order to arrive at a just estimate of the effect of the administration of land in Ireland and the working of that Commission, took the only course which was available to find out the real truth of the question. They appointed last year a Commission to inquire into this, and had it not been for the fact that this Commission has reported I do not think I should upon the present occasion have taken up the time of the House, because I feel very naturally that, as one of the landlord party, my mind may be a little biased against these reductions of rent, which, of course, all landlords object to. I have never heard of a landlord, or seen one, who approved of his rents being lowered, or who, when they were lowered, did not think they were lowered too much.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I never have, and I think those gentlemen must have had most philanthropic minds. Upon the other hand, I have never met a tenant who did not think, however much the rent was reduced, that it was not reduced enough. All we want is an unbiased opinion of the action of the Land Commissioners of Ireland. I am not going to approach that subject at all upon the question of reduction of rent. I say I move this reduction because I look upon the administration of the land in Ireland by the Land Commissioners as unsatisfactory. I object to the machinery—I am not touching the question as to whether the rent is too much lowered or not—I want to point out that, according to the Report of the Commission which this House appointed to investigate this matter, it is conclusively proved, if you believe in the ability and integrity of the gentlemen who formed the Commission, that the machinery by which this land legislation is carried on is absolutely unsatisfactory. The terms of reference cover the whole ground, and I think that this Report is also of considerable advantage in this way: it is absolutely impossible for the Scotch, Welsh, and English Members to wade through the Land Act to find out the position of the landlord in Ireland, and if they did read it they would not be much wiser; but if anybody of common understanding reads the Report of the Fry Commission he will see it at a glance. He will know what it means to be an Irish landlord or tenant; he will find that it is fair to the one and unfair to the other. First, let us see how that Commission is made up—the Committee must remember that these Commissioners carry out a most difficult and most invidious task, and in carrying out a task of that kind, I think you require that the men who carry it out should be above suspicion. This is the constitution of the 1881 Land Commission of Ireland. It is on page 9. There are 81 lay Assistant Commissioners, consisting of three classes—30 permanent officials of the Civil Service, 48 hold warrants which terminate upon the 31st of December, and are renewable from year to year, so long as work remains to be done, and there are three so-called supernumeraries appointed from year to year, and receiving £3 3s. a day for every 1281 day's work that they perform. With regard to the 30 permanent officials who do the work in Ireland, I say they are the class of men and the persons whom we should like to see deal with the land. They are permanent officials in the Civil Service, and do not run any danger of being turned out of their position if the work ceases. Those men do not depend upon the amount of work to be done, they are not removable. That is the word which carries what I mean. I do not believe that other men are actuated by dishonourable motives, but it is impossible to conceive that a man who gets a considerable salary is not more influenced by the fact that if he does not do the work he will not get paid. With regard to the £3 3s. a day man, upon my word, I cannot conceive how it ever entered the head of a responsible Government to pay men £3 3s. a day for every day's work they do, and then let them go scouting around the country, allowing them to rake up their £3 3s. out of the landlords and tenants of Ireland. That is an inconceivable proposition, but so it is. I want to show the Committee for the moment how the difference between the landlord and the tenant arises. A landlord and a tenant decide together to have a judicial rent—I am sorry to weary the Committee with these details, but they are absolutely necessary to understand the matter—there are two courses open to them in which they may arrive at that rent: they can either go to the Civil Bill Court, in which case there is always an appeal, or they can elect to go into the Land Commission Court. What is the verdict of the Fry Commission on the Civil Bill Court? The procedure in any ordinary court of justice is for the judge to hear the evidence first, and then give his judgment. That is not the course which is taken in the Civil Bill Court in Ireland. What the Fry Commission says with regard to the Civil Bill Court is this—it is on page 9—Some of the judges endeavour to form an independent opinion as to the sum proper to be fixed, but the majority of them feel themselves incapable of so doing, and in the absence of any mistake they do nothing but adopt and register the finding of their valuer, whom they have sent, before the trial began, to report to the county court what the fair rent of the farm should be.1282 He sits there as a sort of effigy for the benefit of fattening Irish lawyers and solicitors. These lawyers and solicitors call witnesses, and there is hard swearing on both sides. Naturally the tenant and the landlord spend a considerable amount of money in listening to these eloquent gentlemen who exist by fleecing them. What happens? The county court judge solemnly gives out the result, at which he had arrived before the trial ever commenced, and which he had received from the valuer, whom he sent before the trial. I want to know, can anyone conceive in any civilised country a method such as that, to establish what is called a fair rent, and to do justice between landlord and tenant? I cannot. If the parties do not go into the Civil Bill Court, they go before the Land Commissioners. The Land Commissioners hear the case, and if they are not satisfied they have a right to re-hear it all over again. The same decision is arrived at; and that is the method of doing justice to the Irish tenant and the Irish landlord. Now, the Fry Commission found out this fact, that it was a fatal thing to the good working of this Bill, as satisfying the requirements of the Irish tenants and landlords, to have commissioners and court valuers arriving at these decisions, whohold office for short periods, and are paid by the day; they are suspected of lowering the rents so as to keep the machine at work.Those are the words of the Fry Commission. I do not wonder at it. Then the Fry Commissioners go on to say, dealing with the question of the fixing of the rents before the Sub-Commissioners—they should be placed in a position of independence, and should as far as possible, be lifted above the suspicions which surround them.That shows that that is not the case at the present moment. If the landlord does not like the decision of the Sub-Commissioners, or of the Civil Bill Court, he has this Court of Appeal to which he can address himself. The Fry Commission deals clearly with that tribunal, and absolutely condemns as unjust the machinery and the working of it before the Sub-Commissioners. Then they go on to the head commissioners. They are raised over all the other 1283 commissioners; they get about five times the pay, and that is, of course, a great advantage. Of all men in Ireland who work for money, these commissioners have done the least work.
The honourable Member is not entitled to criticise the action of the Land Commissioners, because their salaries are not borne by this Vote—they are expressly put on the Consolidated Fund, so that no criticism should take place upon them or their decisions.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
Only one of the Land Commissioners is a judicial commissioner, and I submit that one is perfectly in order in criticising the conduct of Mr. Commissioner Fitzgerald and the other commissioners who are not judicial commissioners.
The salaries of the judicial commissioners and the other commissioners are not borne by this Vote in order that they should be exempt from criticism. That is the reason why they were placed on the Consolidated Fund.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I was simply going to read to you from the Report of the Fry Commission on the subject of the machinery by which the rents are fixed in Ireland. I do not see how I can go on without that. I suppose I may be in order in criticising the valuers sent down by the commissioners. They were sent down by the commissioners themselves, and what the Fry Commission says about this court is not in the least uncomplimentary to the chief commissioners. But these are the facts of the case, and it is absolutely necessary that this House should know them in order to understand the position of affairs in Ireland—The decisions of the Land Commission in a very great number of cases do little more than register the decision of the court valuer. Moreover, the business is disposed of with a rapidity and with a silence as to the grounds of the decisions which create dissatisfaction in the minds of the litigants whose property is at stake. Points of importance are often raised and discussed, and the judgment adjourned, and when delivered it is a mere statement of the figure at which the rent is fixed.1284 That is what the Fry Commission says with regard to the Court of Appeal. Well, what happens? How do they arrive at their decisions in the Court of Appeal? They go to the valuer, who is sent down to value the land, and there is a curious thing about it. I do not blame the valuers and the sub-commissioners. I supose they get fairly well paid for it, and most men like to earn money. The valuer goes down, and I suppose he wanders round the farm and takes a look at the hedges. I do not suppose anybody heard of his having up a drain or anything of that kind. The result achieved is extremely simple. It is an extremely pleasant way of having a tour round Ireland and earning money. This is what the Fry Commissioner says—He generally considered himself bound by the decision of the Sub-Commission as to what improvements were to be allowed for; he admittedly accepted much on the strength of the pink schedule under appeal, and he was left at liberty to determine for himself what is a substantial difference from the previous findings.This is what happens—A striking illustration of the danger of this course of practice has recently occurred. In thirty-one cases on one estate the amounts allowed for drainage in the pink schedules were considerably in excess of the amounts proved by the tenants at the hearing before the Sub-Commission; the cases were re-heard, and in every case the reports of the court valuers agreed, as to the amount of drains, with the findings of the Sub-Commission; and yet it was shown to the Land Commission that in every one of the cases the figure was wrong; for the evidence had been given in terms of the Irish perch, and the pink schedules and the reports were drawn in terms of the English perch; and in every case the change from Irish into English measure had been made on the ratio not of lineal but of square measure. Such slavish copying of a blunder is very cogent evidence of the want of independence in the operations of the court valuers. The present practice does not, in our opinion, satisfactorily secure a real re-hearing of the whole matter under discussion.Now, you have the landowning class in Ireland, who are sometimes painted in very lurid colours by honourable Gentlemen opposite, without any shadow of redress, and at the mercy of these itinerant gentry, who go about the country and refrain from taking any real evidence.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
One Government is just as bad as another. The position of the landlord is this. He may be an encumbered landlord, as many of them are. It does not touch him in that way. There are many encumbered landlords, encumbered not through their own fault, but inherited from their ancestry. Whether such a landlord has to be ruined and expatriated depends upon the action of these peripatetic three-guinea a day men, who go down and decide whether that landlord, owing to his unhappy position, is to be beggared or not. By taking away a very small part of his income you leave him without anything at all. He has no redress. What can he do? The only persons who gain are the lawyers. Every motion made in this court involves a large expenditure upon that interesting class of persons. As for the tenant and the landlord, you leave them without any shadow of redress, and at the mercy of these irresponsible persons. It would be very different, I say, if the course advised by the Fry Commissioners were adopted. If you, for the purposes of the State, to secure the fertility of Ireland and the strength of Great Britain, bring in a law of this kind, you ought to spare no money to get the best men, pay them well, and put them above that position of subservience and dependence which the Fry Commission describe. It is a disgrace to the British Parliament that permits such a thing to continue. I certainly appeal to the Government to take this into very serious consideration. It is as much in favour of fair play to the tenants as to the landlords. I am not backing up one side or the other. I say that if these courts in Ireland, which administer the land laws, are not to be a mockery and a scandal and a disgrace to civilisation, some action ought to be taken to carry out the advice given to the British House of Commons by this Commission. As to the landlords, I think I can say that 17 years has borne out what Mr. Gladstone said on the matter. Mr. Gladstone said, in a celebrated speech, that they had been put to a crucial test, that they had stood the strain, and come out of it with honour. One of the most satisfactory things has been this, that the only speci- 1286 men that has ever been drawn up the floor of the House to show what a terrible creature the Irish landlord was was Lord Clanricarde. He was cited as a specimen of the bad landlord. I am grateful to Lord Clanricarde for having been the stalking-horse drawn out to show what the Irish landlords were. I have nothing to say in his favour, but the curious part of it is that his property is notoriously low rented. He demands his pound of flesh unmercifully, no doubt. No other specimen but Lord Clanricarde is given, and I submit that no other specimen is to be found. Of course, in the past there have been bad landlords; but I submit that honourable Gentlemen opposite have failed to show that the Irish landlords as a whole are the tyrannical and bloodthirsty class who are described as hungering for the farms of their tenants. The Irish landlords, through my voice, speak in the House of Commons, and point to the Report of the Fry Commission. I say they have the right to ask the House of Commons simply for fair play and justice. I have not spoken to-day on the reduction of rents, but what I have spoken on, and laid principles down on, is this, that if any dispassionate man will read the Report of the Fry Commission through he is bound to come to the decision that in no civilised country in the world has any class ever been placed in a position of such utter insufferable degradation as the Irish landlords under these irresponsible men.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
This House is engaged in discussing a very serious question. I think it is lamentable that the matters dealt with in that Report have not received more attention from the House of Commons. I do not think one person in 100, even in this House, realises what is really implied in the Report of the Fry Commission. That Report is a definite announcement by an impartial body upon the working of the Land Acts. No one has ever suggested that the Fry Commission has not pronounced a perfectly independent judgment. They were selected from men who had no interest whatever in the inquiry, who were in no way involved in Irish quarrels or differences. What is the Report? It is a fact that at this moment in the United 1287 Kingdom there is a miscarriage of justice, so great and so palpable, that if such a thing were to occur in connection with a county court, or a sessions court, in Great Britain, there would be something like a revolution. I do not exaggerate. I do not want to go outside the brief I hold in my hand, which is a very small portion of the statement of these grave commissioners. What has been said by the Fry Commissioners has been said over and over again in this House, and it has not been listened to—it has been flouted. Why? Because it has been said that all these were the interested statements of men who were concerned in the decisions one way or another. There is not an atom of the statement of these commissioners that has not been said over and over again. If honourable Members go so far as to read that Report for themselves, I would ask them to go a little further, and regard the evidence on which that Report is based. If they only do that, they will come to the very conclusion I have come to, that that Report is studiously moderate, that the desire of the commissioners was to understate the case rather than to exaggerate it, and that the evidence justified a far stronger indictment than the commissioners have thought it their duty to put in the Report now issued. I do not intend to go into many of the details, which those more familiar with Irish procedure than I am can do. I want to go simply to a broad matter of justice on which there is a common sentiment among civilised nations. What are the facts which appear on the face of this Report? In the first place, here are judges charged with a function unknown to judges in any part of the world—that of fixing, for good or for ill, the fortunes of their fellow-countrymen. These men are charged with the work of practically ruining, or allowing to exist, a large number of Her Majesty's subjects. We are told that these judges, upon whom is imposed this tremendous responsibility, have in some cases no practical acquaintance with the subject-matters with which they deal; they have no practical acquaintance with the value of land. If I were to ask for something more sweeping, I do not think I could find it. It is suggested in the Report that the lay assistant commissioners should be called 1288 upon to pass an examination in the subject with which they have to deal. It is next stated that they are not selected on any intelligible principle. The commissioners say that they ought to be appointed from a list to be approved by the judicial commissioners, with the concurrence of at least two other commissioners. In every other system of jurisprudence with which I am acquainted the judges are brought to the surface of their profession by the strongest competition which any profession produces. There is a perfect professional estimate of their qualifications. But here there is nothing of the kind. These men have never served an apprenticeship, they have never been tested by any examination, and they have suddenly come into being with no past, and are entrusted with this enormous and dangerous responsibility. We are told that the methods by which they work cannot be ascertained, nor can their decisions be checked. One of the elementary principles of justice is that the methods by which justice works, and the decisions at which it arrives, should be intelligible to the people—that people should know the way in which their interests are to be dealt with, and should understand the principles. The Fry Commissioners say that the methods on which they work cannot be ascertained nor their conclusions checked. The next item is the most horrible of all. They say, what has been said in this House over and over again, that some of these judges are temporary, and that they are removable. It is here laid down that you cannot expect men to have the confidence of those who are under this judicial authority if those men are merely temporarily holding their appointments, and must go back to the very class who are greatly interested in the subject-matter with which they are called upon to deal. I say, Sir, it is a misfortune, it is a calamity that these Irish commissioners should even now be temporarily appointed. You are aware that the right honourable Gentleman has done all he could to reduce the number of temporary commissioners. I notice that this is one of the matters of the indictment of the Fry Commission. Then, Sir, what is the next statement contained in the Report? It states that these men are under no one recognized 1289 head. That is the view of the Commission. It is an undoubted fact that men who sat and acted as valuers have been asked to pronounce a decision in these cases. Then, Sir, we are told that the landlords are not to be told the grounds or the reason on which these decisions are to be given against them. Why, that is a privilege accorded to the meanest subject of the Crown. Another point which has been mentioned is that of the legal Commissioners, and I do not know that there is an unknown principle of law applied to it. We are told that actually the legal Commissioners are occasionally overruled by the lay Commissioners, and that they occasionally do sit and give decisions sitting alone. All these things may perhaps in themselves seem small, but taken collectively they constitute, in my opinion, a tremendous indictment against the administration of justice in regard to this matter. In this matter I do not bring any indictment for a moment against the right honourable Gentleman or any of his predecessors who have been called upon to make these appointments. I do not myself agree with the taunt that has been thrown out that these appointments were made by the present Chief Secretary, but my point is that the problem is not to be solved in this manner. My contention is that it is a problem which no jurisdiction and no legislature or Minister has ever yet solved, and that is, after all, the opinion of the Commissioners themselves. They sum up the progress which is being made under the whole of these operations, and they point to the fact which I and others have alluded to, that, notwithstanding the multiplication of these officials, we are absolutely making no progress whatever in the direction we have always desired. It does seem to me that the language of common sense contained in the Report of the Commission ought to commend itself to every Member of this House. We may perhaps differ as to the exact measure of respect which ought to be accorded to these tribunals, but we have already heard quotations on this subject from the honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh which bear out the contention that even in the opinion of the Commission these tribunals do not command respect. Now, I cannot conceive any earthly reason why they should com- 1290 mand respect, and when we find that blunders can be committed such as the blunders referred to by the honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh, without the possibility of adequate review, I confess that it is almost enough to make them despair of any relief ever coming to Ireland from tribunals of this kind. I think the demand that has been made by honour able Members to-night is one which the Government may very fairly give ear to. I do not at all assume that they take a hostile view with regard to the attitude which has been pursued by the honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh, and which I venture respectfully to support. I do not assume either for a moment that the Government are unwilling to give the relief which seems to me to be so urgently demanded by this Report. I hope they will, and if they do I say that it is desirable that they should act at once, and that they should emphatically remove all grounds for a recurrence of what seems to me to be a scandal recorded in the Report. I go further and say that year after year we are asked to vote money for the Assistant Commissioners to the Irish Land Commission, and we ought to receive some assurance from the Government that by annually pouring out these sums of money, and by all this litigation which takes place, we are getting somewhere nearer some finality. There is every day, I believe, clearer recognition of the fact coming forward that there is only one real solution for this difficulty, and that is by accelerating the question of purchase. This litigation in the land courts is putting off that day almost indefinitely, and the latest legislation of the Government is, I believe, in some respects anything but a boon to the people of Ireland. I hope, Sir, that the Chief Secretary will assure us that these matters will receive his early attention. He will no doubt deal with them seriatim. He may be inclined to suggest that some of these points are small matters in themselves, but I do not regard them as small matters. Take them altogether, and take them in view of the evidence upon which they are supported, they seem to me to constitute a very strong case for immediate action. But even when that has been 1291 done I think we shall still have the old problem to face. I admit that when we vote this money now for this army of land commission officials in Ireland we are doing so in order that we may recognise de novo from this year work started in 1881; and in the year of grace 1898, so far from being one inch nearer a solution, the whole business is putting a burden on Ireland almost too great to be borne, and all will have to be done over again. For that reason I desire to support the Motion of the honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh; and, if I could only believe that this matter might for once be got a little out of the rut of purely Irish discussion and be looked upon dispassionately by Members of Parliament for other parts of the United Kingdom, I should feel a little more sanguine about the future. These things have been done in Ireland for years, and protest after protest has been made. English Members think, "Oh, well, Ireland; what does it matter? We cannot pretend to understand what is going on there." If these things had occurred in England there would have been such a feeling on the subject in this House that no Government could stand against it; and, that being so, I do think that a little investigation upon the part of each Member of this House of what is being done under cover and under the name of justice, and under the semblance of law in Ireland, will not be time thrown away.
§ MR. M. DAVITT
The honourable Member began his speech by saying that he knew of no parallel to a tribunal like the Irish Land Commission existing in any other parts of the civilised world. Well, the honourable Member is usually well informed on subjects upon which he speaks in this House, but in this instance I have to inform him that he is mistaken. In almost each one of the Australian Colonies they have a Land Commission modelled almost upon the Land Commission of Ireland. I remember, when in Queensland a few years ago, travelling with one of those land valuers who have been referred to in connection with Ireland by the honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh in vicious terms this evening, and the information which I derived from this official made me wish, and I reiterate the 1292 wish here to-night, that we could exchange the Land Commission of Ireland for the Land Commission of Queensland. I was informed that the rents derived by the Government of Queensland from the whole of the land of that Colony—a Colony larger in area than Great Britain, Ireland, France, and Germany combined—amounted to only about one-twenty-fifth of the amount of the rent paid every year for the land in Ireland. Therefore I wish sincerely that we could send the Land Commission of Ireland, which has been denounced so much, on a tour to Queensland and obtain in return the services of the Queensland Land Commission for the refixing of the rents in Ireland. Now, with reference to the Fry Commission and its Report, permit me to say, Mr. Lowther, that this tribunal has not in any way excited the confidence of the people of Ireland. We have looked upon it as one of the most partisan tribunals that were ever appointed to inquire into the working of the land system in Ireland; and, whether its decisions are satisfactory to the honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh or not, I feel sure that, so far as the Irish tenant farmers are concerned, they will pay no serious attention to the decisions. The honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh is, as we all know, a very able and courageous representative of his class, but he is not always as wise, if I may say so without being considered uncivil, as he is courageous. If he were wise in the interests of the class he represents he would not be too eager to bring the Irish landlord system under the criticism of public opinion in this country. I have not yet studied the Report of the Commission, but I can say this with accuracy, Mr. Lowther, that no tribunal has been appointed, as far as I can recollect, by this Parliament to inquire into the land system of Ireland from the days of the Devon Commission down to the present time, which has not in some way or other condemned the Irish landlords for the way in which they administer their property. The honourable and gallant Member speaks of this Commission as if he represented a class of ill-used, downtrodden people in Ireland. Well, Sir, that is not how we view the average landlord. We consider that there is not to be found in any country in the world 1293 a class for whom the Government of the country has done so much as has been performed by the English Governments for the landlords of Ireland. Why, Sir, they have almost everything that human beings can aspire to and desire. They have estates which bring them in, on the whole, very satisfactory revenues. Some of them—I do not say this in any spirit of envy—can charter handsome yachts and sail up the Mediterranean, and they can probably say that emperors are their friends and acquaintances. Then, again, in return for this revenue they are not called upon to do anything for those who earn their incomes similar to what is performed for the tenants in England and the land of England by the landlords of this country. In fact, I do not know, as I have said already, any class of individuals—certainly not in this country, or in any country with which I am acquainted—that ought to be more satisfied with their influence, and with their power, and with their revenue, than the class represented by the honourable and gallant Member. Of course, it is quite natural that he should complain, in behalf of his class, that the rents are being cut down to some extent. That is a human feeling. Probably, if I was a landlord myself—I am happy to say I am not—if I had been born in the purple, like the honourable and gallant Member, I might be found making a complaint with reference to the decisions of the Irish Land Commission. But in reply to his complaint in this connection about the way in which the Land Act of 1881, and the Land Commission, have treated the interests of his class, I would like to remind him of what the late Lord Derby said when the Act which created the Land Commission was passing through the House of Lords. He called it the lifeboat for the Irish landlord. And so it was, because were it not for the Land Act of 1881 and for the work that has been done under it by the Land Commission, I maintain that the Irish Land League movement would have knocked the Irish landlord system into smithereens. The fact is that under the Land Act, and through the Land Commission, the tenants of Ireland have been given something like a valuable interest in their holdings, and in order to preserve that 1294 interest they have made, and are making to-day, great sacrifices in order to pay rents which, I maintain, in spite of what the honourable and gallant Member has said, are far higher than they ought to be fixed, taking into account the economic conditions of Ireland, and what reductions have been given voluntarily by landlords in Great Britain. Sir, I contend that if the Irish Land Commission had only followed the lines laid down for them in the voluntary action of the English landlords, if they had only given equivalent abatements in the land courts of Ireland that were given without compulsion in this country, then the honourable and gallant Member would have more cause to complain about the reduction of rents in that country. The fact is, as has been admitted in this House more than once, the rents in England, where there is no Land Commission, have been reduced 20 or 30 per cent. more than they have been reduced in Ireland through the operation of the Land Commission, notwithstanding the fact that tenant farmers' interests in this country must be more valuable than in Ireland. Therefore, Sir, I say, in conclusion, that whatever fault the honourable and gallant Member may find in the machinery of the Irish Land Commission, I contend that, were it not for the labours of that Commission, and were it not for the way in which this Land Commission has safeguarded in every possible way the interests of the landlords of Ireland, the Irish tenant farmers would have received an abatement of 20 or 30 per cent. more than the reductions complained of.
§ SIR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
I do not propose to enter into this question at any length. I must, however, say that I do not think the Land Commission has given satisfaction to anybody. As regards the general law and practice of the Land Commission, I have never heard the whole case so well put as by the chairman of the Land Commission in the west of Ireland at the initiation of the machinery. A rather hot-headed solicitor, thinking he was not getting all he ought to for his client, said—If this is your Land Commission and its methods there is no justice to be got from it.1295 The chairman replied—You ought not to say that, because this land court is established, and I am here to do justice between landlord and tenant, and more particularly to the tenant.That, I think, sums up the whole case. But if you had a Land Commission of arch-angels the adminstration of the Land Act would not produce satisfaction all round. Well, I will merely take up one point which I do not think can be really said to be a purely landlords' point, a point which is of interest and importance to both landlord and tenant and to the country at large, and that is the effect of the operation of this Act upon the cultivation and development of the natural resources of the land of Ireland. I do think that, looking at it from what I say is the proper point of view—the nation's welfare—and not from the point of view of any one class, the question of deterioration is the most important of all. Now, Mr. Lowther, it has been observed that when tenants become purchasers they immediately change their character and conduct of improving their land. I quite admit that in some parts of Ireland—not in all parts of Ireland—there are brilliant exceptions, but, as far as my own personal observation and experience will enable me to judge, the effect of transferring ownership through the process of the Land Purchase Act to the tenant, does not to any considerable extent change the habits and the character of the occupier. I think it may, however, in time. But taking the question of the operation of the Land Act with regard to deterioration, I think no one can read the Report of the Fry Commission with reference to deterioration without seeing that it is a matter that must be dealt with urgently if the land of Ireland is not to go back. I can give an instance from my own personal knowledge of the effect of the operation of the Act of 1881 within a year of it passing into law. As far as the value of land goes, the incident happened in the wealthiest part of Ireland. I know every tenant on the property, and there were no small tenements at all. Every year regularly, as far as I could trace back, previous to this Act coming into force, the tenant regularly cleared the watercourses and kept the land free from 1296 water. Within a year of the passing of the Act, whilst talking to one of the chief tenants, who had risen from practically a labourer, I asked him why he had not cleared the watercourses as usual. He replied—Under the Act it will really pay better to have rushes than to have the water taken off the land.As a matter of fact, I found on inquiry afterwards that not one of the tenants cleared his watercourses as hitherto, and for the salvation of the property a staff of men were sent to clear those watercourses—
§ SIR J. COLOMB
It may be, but the honourable Member must listen to my experience. Well, Sir, I think that anything that tends to make a man neglect to do the very best he can to develop his holding is an injury to the people at large, and a bad thing for the nation. Therefore, my chief object in intruding in this Debate is to draw the very serious attention of the House to that part of the Fry Commission Report dealing with deterioration. It says there—The evidence leads us to conclude that there is a prevalent notion amongst the tenants that it is for their interest that, when the land is inspected by the Assistant Commissioners or the court valuer, it should not be in high condition, and that in consequence they frequently abstain from treating the land as well as they would otherwise have done, and sometimes allow the land seriously to deteriorate with a view of obtaining a lower rent.That is the finding of an impartial tribunal, composed of some of the most experienced men of the country, and I do not think this is a matter which any Government ought to neglect, because they say further—This notion of the tenants is not, in our opinion, entirely without foundation,while, a little lower down, they add—It appeared to have been held by the Land Commission many years ago that deterioration is not a ground for refusing to entertain the tenants' claim to have a rent fixed.The deterioration of land is, therefore, a question that ought to receive the atten- 1297 tion of Parliament and of the country, in order that something may be done to prevent a continuance of the existing condition of things. At the end of that portion of the Report—and I will be as brief as I can—I see it is stated—
The honourable and gallant Member must confine himself to anything that has to do with the action of the Land Commissioners.
§ SIR J. COLOMB
I bow to your ruling, but, with all due respect, I would venture to suggest that existing legislation contains special provision for protection against abuses of deterioration, and under that legislation the Land Commission has the power to deal with the whole matter, though no machinery has been established to carry out the intentions of the Act. That is my point, Sir. At the present moment I maintain that, under the Acts of 1870 and 1881, there are clauses which are intended to prevent the misuse of land such as I have mentioned, and my complaint, as far as the present Land Commission is concerned, is that they do not seem to use these powers. I entreat the Government, not in the interests of the landlord but in the interests of Irish land and of the Irish people, to so improve the machinery of the land courts that this question of deterioration shall have more attention than it has ever received before. You will see that at the close of their Report the Commissioners say—We are therefore of opinion that an express authority ought to be given to the court—they do not say that legislation ought to be asked—in cases of deterioration to postpone the hearing of the application till the land has been again brought into good condition.Now, Sir, the point is that this suggestion should be clearly enforced. The fact that the Land Commission has gone on its way uninterfered with so long has rather encouraged the existing misapprehension, but the sooner all the tenants of Ireland know that the Land Commission are going to use some of the powers of legislation already in existence the better. At all events, I hope I shall not 1298 on a future occasion find it necessary to trouble the House with any further remarks, on this particular point.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
We have heard a good deal this evening as to how the Land Commission discharge their duties. I submit that the landlord party have very little to complain of. The landlords do not know where they are at present. Never since the Act of 1881 was passed have there been such landlord tribunals in Ireland. Do they know that since the Fry Commission was appointed the Irish Court of Appeal has not given one single decision in favour of a tenant? Do they know that of the 80 or 90 Commissioners appointed to try fair rents, one or two Catholics only have been appointed, and every one of those men is, without exception, a landlords' man? Is it at this time, when the Irish Land Commission court is charged with fury against the tenant, and when every nerve is being strained to do a landlord service, that their representatives come forward to attack the Land Commission? If you draft Sub-Commissioners from one single class, what can be got from it except decisions against the tenants' interest? The landlords do not know what is going on, and this period of repose is filling them with new ideas, so that they think they can by trenching on the rights of the tenants bring them back to the old stage of serfdom. I acknowledge myself to be a partisan—I do not pretend to be anything else—but I sometimes hope I may be able to take a review of the situation as it exists. I have often thought it would be better if, instead of engaging in these conflicts in the courts and in the House, and attacking the Land Commission, the landlords and the tenants, or their representatives, could come together, and the landlords were to ask for their three per cents., and also to be converted into some position which would give them that security of income which they say they cannot enjoy under the Land Commission. I believe that if the landlords of Ireland would come forward with some sensible proposition of that kind, the tenants would be glad to come to some composition with the landlord party, so that they might be bought out 1299 under fair terms. This is a specially suitable moment. The tenants cannot afford to deteriorate their land. They have not enough of it to deteriorate. The constant system of bringing landlords and tenants into court is not a good one. In 1881 I advocated Griffith's valuation without appeal on either side, but this was not adopted, with the result that the landlords fared very much worse. Them Mr. Gladstone offered them 20 years' purchase in 1886, and they refused it with scorn. Mr. Parnell offered them 20 years' purchase. In the original draft, which was to have been printed in the Freeman's Journal, Mr. Parnell was going to offer them 23 years' purchase, but I took out the three and put in a nought.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
All these offers were refused. But, be the Irish differences what they may, you will never disband the solid army of the tenant class in Ireland until the descendants of the old clansmen succeed in getting back the patrimony which the landlords' forefathers confiscated. Irish landlords have no fault to find with the present Government. It is the most landlord Government that has been in office since Mr. Gladstone's Government in 1880. And yet we witness the spectacle of honourable Members opposite girding at the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General! The Sub-Commissioners are of the landlords' way of thinking, and the complaint which the House has heard from honourable Members opposite is most absurd. If the landlord party cannot come to some composition, the result will be that we shall have the old disorders again. Prices will not yield the rents at the present time; it is absurd talking about it. Honourable Gentlemen opposite are trying, like the man in Genesis, to put back the sun and make the earth go the other way. It is absurd to come to the House with pettifogging pretences about deterioration.
§ On the return of the Chairman after the usual interval,
§ Mr. WHARTON (York, W.R., Ripon)
Mr. Lowther, the honourable and gallant Member for North Armagh has 1300 quoted the Report of the Fry Commission, and a very remarkable document it is. The result, to my mind, of that Report is that some change in the constitution of the Land Commission is desirable in the interest of landlords and tenants alike. I have no love for one side more than the other. What I desire is that the land system in Ireland shall be such as will tend to the mutual benefit of both, and to a large extent do away with the enormous cost which the present system entails on the litigants. Well, Sir, there are one or two matters which were alluded to by the honourable and gallant Member to which I should like to draw attention. First, with regard to the Civil Bill Court, which, it is suggested, so far as the land is concerned, should cease to exist; and, secondly, the matter alluded to on page 15 of the Fry Commission Report, namely, the very serious question of re-hearing. Now, Sir, I think what most of us are inclined to judge the efficiency of a court by is whether the decisions of that court are accepted by the suitors who come before it. With regard to the Land Courts, I find that, instead of their decisions being generally accepted by those who come before them, the total number of appeals from the Sub-Commissioners to the Land Commission from 1881 to November 29th, 1897, was 51,668. This is to me a very lamentable fact, because it means an enormous amount of expenditure to both sides. I am quite as anxious for the tenant as for the landlord. I want to see the expenditure as little as possible for all concerned. When there is an enormous number of appeals there must be something wrong. I do not say that the court is in any instance wrong. I am told on good authority that its decisions are very slightly altered. If that is the case, therefore it would very much appear as if one good court would be sufficient. Then, again, on page 15 of the Fry Commission Report the Commissioners say:—A few cases have been brought to our attention in which the opinion of the legal assistant Commissioner on a legal point has been overruled by his two lay colleagues; and this, according to the present constitution of the Sub-Commissioners, appears to be possible; but, in our opinion, it ought not to be allowed to occur.1301 It appears to me on the whole, Sir, having read the Report of the Fry Commission—and I do not wish to go through the recommendations seriatim—that the Commissioners appointed under the Act have done their best. The enormous number of cases and the enormous amount of work they have had to deal with undoubtedly resulted in the very large number of gentlemen being appointed, and it may even be that under those circumstances some of these gentlemen were not so fitted to deal with these cases as a more mature-minded set of men. I can only hope in the future that as the number of cases becomes reduced the work will become more rapid. The number of Sub-Commissioners can then be reduced and the work can be done by thoroughly skilled and capable men. My only hope in saying these few words is that the system may be recognised as being more trustworthy in the future than it appears to have been in the past; that some of the stumbling-blocks in the system may be removed; that there may be a better understanding with regard to the administration of the land system in future; and that the Report of Lord Justice Fry and his Commissioners may have good results.
§ MR. GILHOOLY (Cork Co., W.)
I happened to be in the Commission Court in Bantry on 20th January, when there was a case heard. The landlord's solicitor argued that the tenant was a labourer because he paid a portion of his rent in labour and a portion in cash. The local Commissioner there and then decided—I was present in the court myself—that the tenant was entitled to have a fair rent, pursuant to section 55 of the Land Act of 1881, and subsequently he sent a lay Commissioner to value the land. Well, I put a question to the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and his information was that there was no decision given. I repeat here from my place in the House that I was present when the decision was given, and that the landlord, after the decision was given, instructed his solicitor to apply to the Court of Appeal. What confidence can tenants in Ireland have in the administration of the law when such a thing can take place, and when we ask a question about it in the House—about an event of which I have personal know- 1302 ledge myself, having been present in the court—we are told there was no decision given? There was, Sir, a decision given. I was present; and the landlord instructed his solicitor to appeal from the decision. The lay Commissioner went and examined the tenant's improvements, and on the 8th of May he got notice that his case was dismissed. I have been told by the right honourable Gentleman that it is open to appeal. This man being partly a labourer and partly a farmer, living 70 miles from Cork, has no power and no money to appeal, and then we are told no explanation can be given, because the case may be sub judice. That would be quite correct if the tenant had the means to appeal; but I say, Sir, in this case it is the duty of the right honourable Gentleman to require an explanation from Mr. Cream.
§ MR. GILHOOLY
At all events, Sir, it is my duty to state the case to the House and let the public know how the tenants are treated since the Report of the Fry Commission. Prior to that Report Mr. Cream was considered one of the fairest Commissioners in the administration of the Land Act, but it appears that he and other Commissioners have been intimidated by the Fry Commission, and no justice since that Report has been given to the tenants. There was another case in the court on the same day, and the lay Commissioner gave evidence as to the tenant's improvements, and he valued them at £50. This tenant had borrowed £120 for those improvements, and yet the lay Commissioner put only a value of £50 upon them. What can tenants expect when the Land Act is exercised in that way? A competent engineer valued these improvements at £120, and certified for them to the Board of Works, and yet the lay Commissioner only valued these works, which had recently been done, at £50. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will use his influence with the Land Commissioners when he 1303 has appointments to make, and will not appoint men of the landlord class. This is what leads people to doubt whether there is any wish to give them fair play in Ireland. There was never such dissatisfaction, I allege, given or expressed since the Land Act of 1881 was instituted as there has been since the Report of the Fry Commission.
CAPTAIN PHILLPOTTS (Devon, Torquay)
I think this is not only a landlords' question in Ireland, it is one that affects the whole country, because where there is a serious failure of justice—and that, as I contend, is clearly made out by the Report of the Fry Commission—it must tend to injure the credit and drive capital out of the country, or, at all events, keep capital from flowing into the country. We all know perfectly well that in many trust deeds there is a clause absolutely prohibiting the investment of trust funds in real property in Ireland. Why is that? Because people in this country have not confidence in the administration of justice in Ireland. I contend that that is a very great evil—
Well, if the honourable Member does not want it, there are plenty in Ireland who do.
Well, I am quite aware what the honourable Member's opinions are. He has never concealed them; and I contend that he and those who think with him are the greatest enemies Ireland has got, and that the Irish race has got.
For my own part I fully believe that if there were greater confidence in the just administration of the law in Ireland capital would flow into that country, and that there would be a vast improvement; that the country would be opened up, that British tourists would go there much more than they do now, and that an era of prosperity would dawn upon Ireland, just as it has already on other parts of the kingdom, where I believe there is more confidence in the administration of the law.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I can assure the honourable Member for Devon that we on this side of the House, at least the Irish Members and myself, do not consider it to be any great advantage to have land purchased in Ireland by absentee landlords.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
Of course, I accept what the honourable and gallant Gentleman says. We have suffered already from absenteeism, which has been for two centuries at least one of the great curses of Ireland, one of the means by which Ireland has been reduced to its present condition. But I will pass away from that, because I think it is quite natural that, as an English Member, he should hold the opinions, honestly I have no doubt, to which he has given expression; but if he had had the experience that I have had of Ireland, if he had known, as I have known, the relations between landlord and tenant over a great number of years, and been able to form a just and accurate opinion as to their relative merits, he probably would modify very much his opinions. Now, I am not saying a word against the Irish landlords personally. I feel that they were themselves placed in an unfortunate position from circumstances over which they themselves had no control; because it is a matter of history, which Englishmen should study and lay up in their hearts and memories, that up to the initiation of what I call the new Land Code by Mr. Gladstone there had been centuries of legislation altogether 1305 in favour of the landlord and against the interests of the tenant in Ireland. That difficulty had to be met, and there was also from the peculiar position of Ireland during the whole of the 18th century up to the Union—
Order, order! This is not a proper moment for discussing the whole of the Land Acts. The only subject which is really open to discussion is the action or non-action of certain assistant Land Commissioners.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
I will endeavour, Mr. Lowther, of course, to keep to your ruling, but I confess that I think I am quite legitimate in saying this, that I am not one of those who are at all enamoured of the Fry Commission. That has been criticised and discussed on both sides of the House, and I believe, Mr. Lowther, I am in order in referring to it. I confess that that Commission did not disappoint me, because I had no great expectations from it from its start. The President of that Commission, for whom personally I entertain great respect, was a man wholly unacquainted with Ireland, wholly out of touch with the peculiarities of the Irish tenant and the position of the Irish landlords; and in a very early stage of the Commission he indicated that, because he put the question to some witness who said that he could not possibly hold on to the land at a certain rent—he said naively, and I am sure it was natural enough for an Englishman wholly ignorant of the situation to say, "Why, then, not give up the land?" That was the key to the whole state of mind of that eminent judge—a Chancery judge and a Chancery jurist, who never had any opportunity at all of knowing the peculiar relations that subsisted between landlord and tenant in Ireland. Two other members composing that Commission were experts; one of them was a well-known advocate of the landlord class, and the other was a gentleman who certainly had had a great deal of experience in land business, but could not in any way be regarded as a partisan on one side or the other. Constituted as it was, that Commission, in the conclusions at which it arrived, completely ignored what had been going on in Ireland ever since, at all events, the year 1870. Now, Mr. Lowther, with some of the observations of the 1306 honourable and gallant Member for Armagh I fully concur. I think there is one great difficulty in the Land Commission with which we are now dealing. I think, no matter what it costs the English Government, that persons who have to administer such law should be permanent officers, and not removable. It is impossible to expect men who can be removed at the pleasure of whatever may happen to be the Government of the day to approach the discharge of their duties with that amount of independence, and without fear of all consequences, that naturally would come to them if they held permanent positions. Let me not for a moment be misunderstood. I believe that they are all honourable men, and I believe that they endeavour conscientiously to discharge their duties; but I say, Sir, having regard to average human nature, it is more than can be expected that there should not be an impression that they are more or less perpetually feeling that the sword is hanging over their heads, that at any time they may be dismissed from their offices. I speak, of course, of that section of the Commission who are only temporary. But we must judge of matters by results. Unquestionably, since the Report of that Commission was published, for some reason or other the reduction of rents which had previously more or less prevailed suddenly has come to a stop. It is impossible to shut one's eyes to that fact. You have only to take up the morning papers in which the results of the various Commissions are reported, and you will find that, more especially on appeals. I cannot help thinking that the unfortunate Report of the Fry Commission has had something to do with this. I cannot help thinking that the power and influence possessed by the landlords at the present time have had some operation upon the minds of those who are administering the law. Now, what is the fact? It has been stated in this House, and stated truly, that if the Land Code of Mr. Gladstone had never existed the rents in Ireland, by economical causes, would have been reduced more than they have been reduced under the operation of those land laws. We had only to listen to the Debates on the Agricultural Rates Bill two years ago, and the statements made by honourable Members representing 1307 Essex and other agricultural districts in England, to be satisfied that a great number of the farms in England were actually going out of cultivation and out of occupation because tenants could not be induced to take them at any rents. Therefore I think that, so far from deploring the Land Code, the landlords of Ireland have reason to be grateful to that great statesman and patriot, Mr. Gladstone, for I am satisfied that they would have been in a worse position than they are to-day if those Acts had not been passed. Now, Sir, I confess I was surprised to hear the observations of the honourable and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth. As I understood, his case was that, if the Land Commission were to find a farm overrun with rushes and deteriorated, they were to put a higher rent upon that deteriorated and waste land, though the tenant was still in occupation. Does it ever occur to English Members what the position of yearly tenants in Ireland is?
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
A yearly tenant? I imagine the honourable and gallant Gentleman does not require any instruction of that sort. He must have seen many an evicted farm in Kerry in his experience, and many a roof-tree pulled down, and a house which had been previously occupied by a poor yearly tenant of that county laid bare.
§ SIR J. COLOMB
May I interrupt the right honourable and learned Gentleman? I think the vast majority of tenants in Ireland, the judicial tenants, are not under any such tenancy at all.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
I know, as a matter of fact, there are hundreds and thousands of tenants who never have yet gone into the court, though they may at some future time do so. It is quite a mistake to imagine otherwise. Perhaps I have not made what is passing in my mind clear to the honourable and gallant Gentleman. I ask the honourable Member for Devon and the right honourable and learned Gentleman, whose speech I have not had the advantage myself of hearing, have they ever realised, or could they realise, the position of the 1308 yearly tenant before the Act of 1881? They had no analogy, or anything like it, in England. There is no such thing in England known in practice as an agricultural and pastoral yearly tenant. Can they forget, or were they ever aware of, the fact that the yearly tenant in Ireland, before his rent was fixed, and he acquired a certain fixity of tenure through the Gladstone Code, had no alternative but to cling on to the land at any rent, no matter how exorbitant, or else to see himself and his wife and children thrown out on the roadside, and ultimately make his choice between the workhouse and the emigrant ship? That was the state of things when this Land Code was initiated. That was the state of things which it became necessary to correct in the course of legislation. For 150 years previously, even up to the Land Act of 1860, the whole current of legislation was in favour of the landlord, and not of the tenant. Then this scant measure of justice was for the first time given by an English Act of Parliament under the guidance and at the suggestion of Mr. Gladstone. And now an attempt is made through this Fry Commission, or resting upon the name of the President of that Commission, as an eminent English judge, to undo as far as possible—as far as this House can undo—the beneficial effects which have been brought about by the Act of 1881, and by what I admit goes to the credit of the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary and his colleagues, the supplement to that Act, of 1896. I trust, therefore, that this House will not imagine that any case has been made out by the honourable and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth, and those who follow him, for in any way initiating any fresh legislation on the lines of the Fry Commission Report. The suggestions of that Commission are wholly without value, as it appears to me. It does point out certain evils, but those evils are only to be remedied in one way, by making the Sub-Commissioners permanent officers, by increasing their number if they are not adequate to meet the demands made upon their time, and by also taking care that cases shall be heard without reference to the time which those cases may occupy. But after the honourable and gallant Member had closed his address I did not 1309 really know exactly what he was driving at. He suggested, I think, as I understood it, that the Sub-Commissioners were inclined to lower the rents in order to keep the court going. I think that was an unworthy suggestion; I say it with all respect. I do not think anything has occurred which would lead one to suppose that the Sub-Commissioners lowered the rents with that view; and it is rather a strong conclusion to come to respecting men, most of whom have been appointed by Administrations which the honourable and gallant Member supports—because you must recollect that since 1881, when Mr. Gladstone's first Land Act was passed, the Conservatives have been nine or ten years in office, and that during that term of office they must have had ampler opportunities than the opposite party of replenishing the staff of the Sub-Commission. I do not at all see that the landlords of Ireland have anything to complain of. My own impression is that they are just as well off as they were before that Land Act, because, though rents may have been somewhat reduced, and properly reduced, they have been paid with much more punctuality, much more precision, and with much less trouble on the part of the landlord. The idea of a competition rent being any test of the value of land in Ireland is perfectly absurd, and yet that is the idea which more or less underlies the whole of the Report of the Fry Commission. I, therefore, do trust that the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary, if he learns any lesson from this Debate, will learn the lesson of being more particular than ever as to what Sub-Commissioners he shall appoint; that he will also take care that the determination of rents against the tenants and in favour of the landlords, or vice versâ, shall not be allowed to go to the arbitrament of a single sub-commissioner. In that I agree with the honourable and gallant Member for Armagh. I know that for months and months there was only one Commissioner trying questions in the North of Ireland, where such questions are more difficult and more subtle, and require more care and attention than in the south. I have known also instances where the round peg has been put into the square hole, and where men without any knowledge of the Ulster Tenant Right, or knowledge of the peculiar relations existing with 1310 reference to land in the North of Ireland—which is as different as the poles asunder from the nature of land and the condition of land on farms in the south and west—were sent out almost as if their utter ignorance of the prevailing conditions and the state of agriculture in a particular locality might be employed in guiding the Commission in coming to a conclusion. Nothing can be easier and simpler than the fixing of a fair rent. You have only to see what the surroundings of the farm are; you have only to see what the nature of the soil is; you have only then to take those elements into consideration, and deducting as the law insists—and I suppose even the landlords of Ireland cannot say they are beyond and above the law—all rent attributable to the tenant's improvements; you have then, not to take into account competition rent, not to suppose when a man is starving for want of occupation and willing to offer any rent, that the rent which he might offer is to be the test, but taking the surrounding circumstances into account you are to arrive, as an honest man, with a certain amount of agricultural skill and experience, at what would be a fair rent to pay for that farm. I trust that the Chief Secretary will give some assurance that this Report of the Fry Commission will be consigned to the pigeon-holes of the Irish Office, never to be acted on in legislation, and that he will also give a pledge to take care that the men, as far as he can ascertain, shall be fitted to fill the important position of Sub-Commissioners.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The right honourable Gentleman who has just spoken ended his remarks by expressing the opinion that the fixing of a fair rent was a very easy matter. I am afraid that there are a good many persons attached to the Land Commission, at all events who have not found it very easy to satisfy both parties. If the fixing of a fair rent is easy, all I can say is, that practice has proved that it is by no means easy to satisfy both landlord and tenant at the same time that it is a fair rent. My honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Armagh remarked very truly that in all questions relating to the land Ireland was divided into two camps, in both of which there was a remarkable unanimity of opinion. In one of these 1311 camps there was a unanimous belief that the rents were fixed fairly, in the other camp the same unanimity that they were fixed unfairly. My honourable and gallant Friend said that the Fry Commission was appointed in order that it might express an unbiased opinion upon these knotty questions, and he proceeded to discuss the tribunal; and I certainly thought that after the exordium of his speech he would take into consideration the conclusion of the Commission as to whether on the whole rents in Ireland had been fixed too high or too low. But when it came to that point, my honourable and gallant Friend swerved away. He declined to discuss that question, and, instead of doing so, he proceeded to criticise the machinery of the Land Commission. A great many criticisms have been made against many of the methods of the Land Commission, but if we are to discuss the Report of the Fry Commissioners I think it is only fair that reference should be made to the general conclusions at which the Commission arrived on some of the principal points which were submitted to their judgment. One of those points was undoubtedly in connection with the general fixing of fair rent. It was urged by those whom my honourable Friend represents on this side of the House that the Assistant Land Commissioners had been engaged in a reckless and unjustifiable reduction of rents, and that they were still engaged in the same process.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I am sorry my honourable and gallant Friend was not present when I made my remarks, because I was saying that although he might say that the Fry Commission was appointed to decide this question as to whether these rents were too high or too low, he did not proceed to discuss certain conclusions arrived at by the Fry Commission upon the proceedings of the Land Commission. What was the conclusion of the Fry Commission as to the general consequences of the work of the Commissioners and the results at which they arrived? I refer the Committee to page 12 of the Report. I take the following passage from a para- 1312 graph rather more than half way down page 12—As already mentioned, the work of the lay Assistant Commissioners and court valuers has in a few cases been reviewed by the expert members of the Commission; but without any attempt to investigate the drainage by digging. With one exception, hereafter to be mentioned, they found no reason, so far as their investigations went, to differ from the figures fixed by the lay Assistant Commissioners and court valuers. Of the holdings visited, the fair rent of one was fixed in the year 1894; the fair rents of five were fixed in the year 1895, two in the year 1896, and two in the year 1897. Of these, nine were first-term applications and one a second-term application. But the number of farms visited was so small that, although we think it right to state the facts, we do not wish to draw from them any general conclusion. We believe that, as a whole, the Assistant Commissioners and the court valuers have striven honestly, and to the best of their ability, to discharge the difficult duties cast upon them, and it is plain that their work is now done with more care and deliberation than in the early days of the Land Commission. Nevertheless it gives opportunity for dissatisfaction, and leaves much room for improvement.I think the Committee will see that the wholesale denunciations of the Land Commissioners indulged in not only by my honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Armagh, but by my honourable Friend the Member for Belfast, are hardly justified by anything to be found in the Report of the Fry Commission. I refer the Committee to another passage even more extraordinary than that I have just read. It is page 25, commencing a few lines from the bottom of the page—The question of the justice or injustice with which fair rents have been fixed has been forced on our attention by reason of the arguments to which we have referred; and it is perhaps right that we should not part with it without a few more observations. We have said that it was urged upon us on the one side that the fair rents were fixed so low as to compel the conclusion that the machinery worked unjustly towards the landlords, and on the other hand, that they were fixed so high as to prove that it worked unjustly towards the tenants. We believe, as already stated,—and I call the attention of the honourable and gallant Member to this—that in the early years of the Land Commission rents were fixed higher than they would have been if the Commission had been endowed with the gift of prophecy; but the facts that tenant-right generally continues to fetch high prices, that no land is derelict, that farmers 1313 generally prosper, that the bank deposits of 1896 are higher than ever; and the increase of the volume of farming stock in Ireland forbids the notion of a widespread injustice towards the tenants in the fixing of fair rents. On the other hand, cases have been produced before us in which it is difficult to reconcile the very high prices paid for tenant-right where the tenant had no improvements, with the notion that the fair rent was adequate; these cases are sufficient to make it plain that individual cases of miscarriage have occurred, and to confirm us in the opinion that in some instances an occupation interest has been allowed for. For the reasons already given, we find it impossible to form any certain judgment as to the extent to which this allowance has been made; but so far forth as it has ultimately acted in lowering the amount fixed for fair rent, it has obviously worked an injustice towards the landlords. We recognise that rents in Ireland have been greatly reduced; but it is notorious that causes of a general character have operated to depress the rentals of all parts of the United Kingdom; and to unravel the distinct operation of these several causes, and thus to isolate the effect of an allowance for occupation interest, passes our ability. We thus feel ourselves unable to conclude that the machinery of the Land Statutes has been uniformly worked with injustice towards landlords. The recent Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture shows that in the period since 1881 a great fall has taken place in Great Britain in rents, and in the value of agricultural property. They report that over a considerable part of Great Britain rent, which is a payment for the original powers of the land, 'has entirely vanished; since the owners are not receiving the ordinary interest upon the sums which it would cost to erect buildings, fences, etc., as good as those now existing.' We are convinced, as we have already shown, that the settlement of fair rents has been effected in an unsatisfactory manner—with diversity of opinion and practice, sometimes with carelessness, and sometimes with that bias towards one side or the other which exists in many honest minds; but we are also convinced that the administration of justice has not been poisoned by any systematic endeavour on the part of the Commissioners or of the Assistant Commissioners to benefit either side at the expense of the other.I have read these extracts, which I admit are rather long, because I think it is important that the Committee should know what was the general conclusion arrived at by the Fry Commission. I venture to think that anybody who remembers the type of language used before the appointment of the Fry Commission with regard to the results arrived at by the Assistant Commissioners, and then compares it with the conclusion arrived at by the Fry Commission, must come to the conclusion that, while 1314 there is much to blame and much to criticise, the result of that Commission is, on the whole, to acquit them of bias or any charge of that sort. So much for general conclusions arrived at by the Fry Commissioners. I now come to some special criticisms. These criticisms are very numerous. If the recommendations made by the Commissioners were carried out some of them would have to be carried out by legislation, others by the Administrative Act of the Land Commissioners themselves, and others again by the Land Commissioners, with the consent of the Government and of the Treasury. As regards the first class of recommendations after the experience of this House during the last 15 years or more I do not think there is any party in this House which would like to see a fresh attempt made to reopen the question of Irish land legislation. I cannot help observing one thing. My honourable and gallant Friend called attention to the position of the county court judge who, he said, is not giving justice in all cases, and merely gives way to the opinions of the valuers whom he employs. In the Bill of 1896 we proposed to abolish the jurisdiction of the county court judge in the fixing of fair rents, which is also one of the very recommendations made by the Fry Commission. That suggestion received no countenance from either side of the House or from my right honourable Friend. The Fry Commission ends its Report by suggesting that one of the best ways out of the difficulties which Irish land legislation has created would be the establishment of a court of bankruptcy for the fixing of rents. In 1896 I devoted how much time I cannot say to the elaboration of such a clause, but again the system which I had elaborated with so much labour received no approval from either that side of the House or from this side. I only mention these facts in order to bring home to the Committee the difficulties in which we should certainly find ourselves if we once again reopened the question of Irish land legislation. With regard to the other proposals of the Fry Commission, I think they are most worthy of careful consideration. The point to which my honourable and gallant Friend attached most importance was the question of the permanence of 1315 tenure of those engaged in fixing fair rents, and on this matter the right honourable Gentleman opposite, though he did not agree with the honourable and gallant gentleman in many things, did agree with him in this. But he also said that the Report of the Fry Commission was absolutely valueless, and then immediately afterwards he said that the proper thing to do was to make the appointment of these Commissioners permanent. That is a matter to which he attached the utmost importance, and it was also the most important recommendation of the Fry Commission. With regard to this point I must express my opinion that more weight has been attached to it than can fairly be attached to the question of permanence of tenure. I do not for a moment admit that, simply because of an Assistant Commissioner's appointment being of a limited duration he is therefore under a temptation to increase the rents in order to create work.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think he is under the slightest temptation to increase or lower the rents, nor do I think that experience shows that those Commissioners who hold their appointments for a year are necessarily, or generally, for that reason less to be trusted than those who are permanent officers of the Commission. My own belief is that it is rather the other way; so far as these motives operate on these gentlemen they operate in this way—that they are more careful and more anxious to do their work well than those who are permanently appointed, and who are therefore secure in their position. That is my own private belief, but I quite admit that there seems to be an almost universal suspicion, both among landlords and tenants, that the effect of temporary tenure is to impair the independence and the fairness of the Assistant Land Commissioners, and, if that is so, it is a strong argument for lifting—as my honourable and gallant Friend has said—these gentlemen above the atmosphere of suspicion; but I do 1316 not think my honourable and gallant Friend has realised the enormous difficulties in the way. It is practically impossible to make all these gentlemen permanent officers. Just let me state to the Committee the fluctuations since 1881 in the numbers of the Assistant Commissioners. In 1881 24 lay Assistant Commissioners were employed in fair rent work. This number was in creased up to 1883, when 68 were employed, and that was in consequence of the amount of work that was necessary to be performed. In the following year the number was reduced to 20, and then they were again increased to 86, but then the work decreasing it went down to 8. From that year the number was augmented gradually up to 1889, when it reached 64, and then for the period 1892–95 it fell to 18, since which date the number has again gradually risen above high-water mark, namely, 81; so that the Committee will see that since 1881 the fluctuations have ranged between 8 and 81. Now I put it to the Committee—is it possible for any Chief Secretary, under these circumstances, to defend the appointment of 81 permanent Assistant Commissioners on the ground that for a short time, perhaps for a year or a year and a half, 81 members are required, and for the next three years only eight are required? The thing is preposterous, and it is absolutely impossible to accept such a suggestion as that. Throughout the Session of 1896, when land legislation was under discussion in this House, I earnestly requested my honourable Friends not to complicate the work of the Land Commission more than was absolutely necessary, because the inevitable difficulty would be the appointment of a larger number of Commissioners, and if you have a larger number of Commissioners you get a lower average upon it. My honourable Friends never listened to my advice—they insisted upon burdening the Commissioners, and the consequence is that the number of Commissioners is higher than it has ever been before, because two Commissioners are always to be present at the first inspection of the holding, and if it be necessary to increase that number it is to be increased. I mention these difficulties, not because we are not prepared to go as far as possible in the 1317 direction of making the tenure of these Assistant Commissioners more permanent than it is at present, but in order that the Committee may see that what is asked for—namely, that the whole number of the Commissioners should be permanent Commissioners, entitled to pensions—is absolutely impossible. I have gone so fully into that question because it is a question on which so much stress has been laid on both sides of the House this evening. I should like to refer to another point made by my honourable friend the Member for Great Yarmouth. He referred to the question of deterioration. I agree with him that one of the evils of this system of fixing fair rents now established in Ireland is that towards the end of a tenancy there is a tendency on the part of the tenant to deteriorate the land, whereby, perhaps, a lower rent might be fixed upon it, but upon this point the Land Commission are perfectly prepared to move in the direction indicated in the Report of the Fry Commission, and I am able to inform my honourable and gallant Friend that a comparatively short time ago the Land Commission absolutely refused to fix a fair rent, because the land had been deteriorated.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
Was there an appeal from the Land Commission to the Court of Appeal because that was a question of law?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
At all events, the Land Commissioners, so far as they can, are perfectly willing to fall in with any of those suggestions of the Fry Commission that are here set out, and which appear to be reasonable. With regard to the fixity of tenure, that is a matter with which the Land Commissioners cannot deal without the consent 1318 of the Government and the Treasury. I can only say on that point that while, in consequence of the burden imposed upon me owing to the Irish Local Government Bill, I have not been able to go into the matters raised by the Fry Commission, it is my intention to do so at a future date, and I trust that, so far as those recommendations are concerned which can be carried out, and are reasonable, we shall certainly not fail to give them effect.
§ MR. YOUNG (Cavan, E.)
The honourable and gallant Member has had a great deal to say about the working of the Land Act, but he has offered no substitution, it appears to me, for the present state of things. I am an owner of lands in the county which he represents, and I consider that the Land Act to me has been a great advantage, because my rents are certainly better paid than they were before the tenants were placed under the Land Act, and I consider it is a great advantage indeed to the landlords of Ireland that Mr. Gladstone carried an Act which brought with it so many blessings to the landlords and also to the tenants. Before the Land Act of 1881 the people in Ireland were driven off their land as birds off a field. Since that time they have had a local habitation and a name. That legislation has encouraged industry, and has been of immense benefit to the people and the landlords of Ireland. It has been a benefit to the landlords because they now get their rents paid more regularly, and justice has been done to them and to the people over whom they used to domineer. I did not rise for the purpose of inflicting a speech on the House upon a matter so threadbare as this, but merely to express the hope that the Government will encourage the tenants to live and thrive. The landlords have had their day, and I think it is time that the people who have improved the soil, who have laboured diligently for their families and homes, should have that position in the country to which they are entitled.
§ MR. MCCARTAN (Down, S.)
A great deal has been said about deterioration, but I do not consider that the Report of the Fry Commission in any way upholds 1319 the view that deterioration to any considerable extent has taken place. The Land Commission was constituted of an English judge; the landlords of Ireland were represented by one of the most extreme landlords of Ireland; there was no representation whatever of the tenants; and surely when they came to the conclusion that no injustice had been done to the landlords by way of deterioration, that ought to be satisfactory. But the great complaint made by the landlords was still the question of deterioration. I must say that I have had great experience of the land courts, and I have never yet heard any evidence of deterioration given in any court, that satisfied the Sub-Commissioners that there was any ground for it. Every person knows that all the improvements made on the land in Ireland were made by the tenants—at least, scarcely any are ever made by the landlords. That is how the Irish land question differs from the English, because here the landlords do everything and equip the farm for enjoyment. In Ireland it is different, where, as I have said, the whole of the improvements are made by the tenants. I remember well that, before a small Committee which was appointed to inquire into this matter, the honourable Member for Southampton asked an official,Would there be any fear of the tenant allowing his farm to fall into a state of deterioration towards the end of fifteen years?The official replied that it would be easy enough if the tenant could put the rocks back into the holes from which he had dug them. To my mind, that reply crystallises the actual state of the case. The tenants of Ireland have everything to gain by improving the land, and the landlord has nothing now to gain. Amy deterioration which takes place takes place upon farms from which the tenants have been evicted. These farms fall into the hands of the landlords, who allow them to go to waste and to deteriorate; but the land occupied by the tenant farmer is day by day progressing from one state of improvement to another state of improvement, and there is no ground for the landlords making that complaint. There was a serious complaint, I know, made in Ulster with reference to the Fry Commission, and this 1320 is very relevant to the question of the Special Commissioners. It was said that they took no evidence whatever with reference to the Ulster custom., The Ulster custom was a question which ought to be taken into consideration in fixing a fair rent, because the Ulster custom is an equivalent interest. There is a Report which is to be found in a book written by one of the most learned of lawyers—I think the right honourable Gentleman will admit that that is so—Isaac Butt. In this book it was said with reference to the Ulster custom that where improved land was to to be found it was worth about seven years' purchase. That is not now taken into consideration as part of the property of the tenant in fixing the fair rent. All the improvements are taken into consideration, but in addition to that there is the rent charged on the land. That has never been allowed to the tenants at present. No doubt some of the Sub-Commissioners write across the paper that this land has been improved subject to the Ulster custom, but no allowance has been made in respect thereof. That is an injustice of which the tenants have a right to complain, and I do hope it will be put right. There are two classes of Commissioners. There is one class that see a place and fix a fair rent; but there is another class—a far more dangerous class—known as court valuers. Their duties are in connection with the Court of Appeal. They are sent out after appeals are lodged by the landlord for a revision of the rents fixed by the other Sub-Commissioners who have heard the case and listened to all the evidence. But all these court valuers see are the pink papers. This, to my mind, is one of the greatest evils at present in connection with the administration of the land laws in Ireland, and I believe that that can be only properly dealt with by further legislation, and I hope that the Chief Secretary will take into consideration what ought to be done with these court valuers. I have known myself of a court valuer who was sent by the Chief Commissioner to inspect lands and to revise the rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioners, who was the very Sub-Commissioner who at the time of the Land Act was one of the two laymen fixing fair rents. He was naturally a bit 1321 jealous on finding those fair rents fixed for the first term reduced by the Commissioners fixing them for the second term. The opinion of the farmers was that he entered into the investigation with a considerable bias in favour of the fair rents fixed for the first term by himself, and I daresay that what has taken place in this county has taken place in other counties. I have heard of landlords who always allow cases of the fixing of fair rents to go by default, and afterwards to, lodge appeals, and that is done for the express purpose of putting the tenants to expense; and then it happens that oases go before the Chief Commissioner which have never been before the Sub-Commissioner, and I do think that that sort of practice ought to be in some way modified because it is a very great grievance throughout all Ireland at the present moment. There was one case which came before the Fry Commission in which a landlord said that since the passing of the 1896 Act he had never appeared before the Sub-Commissioner at all; he relied upon the Chief Commissioner, whom I say the landlords look upon as a friendly Commissioner for them.
§ MR. FLYNN
I have listened to this Debate in Committee for some time, and I want to know what was the object of the honourable and gallant Gentleman in bringing forward these criticisms of the Land Commission, and that train of thought is naturally somewhat strengthened by the present state of the opposite benches—not a single Irish landlord has been here for a considerable time, and their absence is a striking proof of the utter hollowness of the attack that has been made this evening upon the Land Commission, and it is a proof of the absence of all reality of the criticisms which have come from the other side. This action to-night on behalf of the Irish landlord representatives is, I take it, part of the system indulged in during the last 12 months of organised intimidation of the Commissioners, and 1322 the Assistant Commissioners more especially, with a view to the second term of official rents—there can be no doubt about it. They get a tip from a noble lord that they should agitate. Hence this Commission was appointed, and they have been hoist with their own petard; for, in all the salient features of this land question the Commissioners—partial though they were, and undoubtedly appointed as they were in the landlord interest—have reported in the main features against the landlords' action. It is very sad to think that the landlords, who seem to be very well content with the legislation which is being given for the benefit of the tenants, should have embarked again on this dangerous and selfish agitation, because it calls to my mind that, shortly after the passing of the Act of 1881, the same class of gentlemen—not in this Chamber, but in the other House—promoted an agitation against the Sub-Commissioners. Debates were held, censure was passed upon the operation of the Land Act, with the result, of course, that the Commissioners of that day were intimidated, and most unfair rents were fixed upon the tenants, as is proved to be the case by the evidence of anybody whose experience is worth listening to. It is very dreadful for the landlords in these days of universal and widespread depression to embark on an agitation of this kind and to seek to put that pressure by means of the Fry Commission and by other means upon these people who are engaged upon, very difficult and delicate work. I myself have always refrained from passing any strictures on the Commissioners because I know and recognise how truly difficult their work is. But I do say this, that unless you give these Commissioners an independence it is thoroughly impossible for them to be independent and to stand firm and impartial between landlord and tenant. From a Return I find that of the 75 Assistant Commissioners, including the legal Commissioners, 51 are temporary; and I believe, if I am not misinformed, 1323 that the bulk of these 51 are appointed to terminate on the 31st December, 1898; and whether they will be reappointed or not will of course depend upon the Land Commission, and upon the advice of the Chief Secretary. After all, when attacks are made upon their impartiality, it must be remembered that they are but men, and that they are liable to be swayed by the impulses that sway ordinary men, and by motives of a personal character. Considerations of a personal character are bound to operate upon the minds of these men, and when they are conscious of the fact that at the end of the present year their tenure of office will cease, unless they be reappointed, they are bound to look at the matter from a personal point of view and to bring what influence they have to bear upon those who have the giving away of these appointments. Who can doubt, with all the traditions and all the surroundings of Dublin Castle, landlord influence is overwhelming in the appointment of the Commissioners in Ireland? It is not new, it is well known to the tenant, and could not well be otherwise. From the very day of the passing of the Act in 1881, owing to the traditions and surroundings and associations in Ireland, that dominant influence proceeds from the landlord party and their friends, and it has followed as a natural consequence that the bulk of these Commissioners, unintentionally no doubt, have a leaning towards the landlord side. I think, under the circumstances, it is little short of impertinence on the part of the landlords to come forward here with their complaints of the Commissioners and the Land Act. We have heard to-night of the contention as to improvements. I think it is accepted as an element of Irish agricultural life that the whole of the improvements that have been made on Irish land have been made by the tenants. I do not know whether the House remembers that remark made by a well-known nobleman, who was neither a Home Ruler nor a tenant, nor in any way interested—I mean Lord Cowper, who, in defending the find- 1324 ing of his own Commission, made a remarkable statement to the House of Lords. He said it had been estimated that, taking the average of the land, rich and poor, fertile and unfertile, throughout Ireland at 10s. 6d. or 11s. an acre, the 6d. an acre would represent the landlords' improvements. In the face of a statement like that, in the face of common knowledge, we have these gentlemen coming forward and talking about deterioration, and ignoring altogether the cardinal fact that the improvements are made by the tenants, and that in so far as our rents are fixed by Commissioners or anybody else upon those improvements, a very great injustice and a legalised robbery is perpetrated against the tenants. Deterioration, as my honourable Friend said a moment ago, is well known, in Ireland; but if the tenant fixes the tenure, and his improvements are respected, you hear very little about deterioration. What is the cause of deterioration? It is this: when a tenant goes to court and finds that upon his improvements the Commissioners fix the rent, then I say it has a paralysing influence upon improvements, and is a distinct deterrent to the proper cultivation and improvement of the soil. If there is a system which paralyses the energies of the tenant it is the system of compelling him to pay rent upon improvements which he himself has made. If it be true that towards the conclusion of a statutory term there is a tendency upon the part of a tenant to allow his improvements to run out, and the farm to become deteriorated, it is entirely due to the fact that the Commissioners do not take into account and value properly the improvements made by the tenant upon the soil. This is a very important question of policy. Now, the honourable Gentleman who spoke a moment ago gave us some very important information as to these Civil Bill Courts. I ask the right honourable Gentleman, is there any other court of justice—we must call them that I suppose, the courts of fair rent—is there any other court in the three kingdoms where an appeal 1325 arises where a case goes to appeal before it goes to the court of first instance? Is there any other court in the world in which an appeal can be heard where one of the suitors has not been to the court below? It is a contradiction in terms. I cast my eye over a morning paper about a month ago, or a couple of months ago, and I noticed that there was an appeal in the county of Limerick—appeals are very numerous on a question of fair rent, and the reductions or increases are very small. There was one case where there was an old rent of £42, it was reduced to £32, the landlord appealed, and it was raised to £35; in that case the Commissioners never saw the land. In another case the old rent was £16, that was reduced to £13 7s., and raised on appeal to £14 8s. Now, is it comprehensible that these Commissioners can judge the value of land to 21s.? They raised the rent by 21s. Then there are cases I see where rent has been raised 5s. or 10s. on rents of £10 or £15, and the expense to the unfortunate tenants in those cases would swallow up the result of five years reduction of rent. It is to be hoped that if the Government cannot deal with any other portion of the Commission it will deal with this question of appeal, because, to be an appeal at all, it should be an appeal upon law or upon fact, and there should not be an appeal allowed where the landlord and tenant have not put in an appearance before the subsidiary Commission. There were some strictures passed upon the county court judges, as I understand, by one honourable Gentleman, but there are some cases where the county court judges give substantial reductions in rent, but in those places the landlords take their cases away from the county courts to the subsidiary Commissioners, where they know they have rights and the tenants have none. That is to be regretted, because the county court is a court of experience, and a court where a case can be heard rapidly, and where the judge is more or less conversant with the value of the land in his district, and it is a poor man's court where the tenant could get a fair rent impartially fixed without undue expense.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
I heard the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary to-night, and the honourable Member for West Belfast, and I could not help, as I heard his exordium, recollecting a speech of one of the most responsible Members of the Irish Party that ever sat in this House. The honourable Member commenced by launching a fearful indictment in general terms against the Land Commission, but when he came to particularising he dwelt on the most trivial matters imaginable. One land Commissioner went and inspected land when it was under water. Another man went and inspected land without giving the landlord notice, and so forth. The most trivial cases. If he could have proved those cases were numerous there would have been something in his complaint. If all the land Commissioners inspected the land when it was under water it would have been an extremely ridiculous proceeding, and would have been condemned in any court in the world. But it was only in one instance, and even in that instance the explanation that was given did away with the statement altogether. I do not hold a brief for the Land Commission, but all I can say is that if all that can be alleged against the Land Commission is that which is advanced by the evidence given before the Fry Commission, which the honourable Member for West Belfast read to-night, the Land Commission is thoroughly vindicated. For my own part, I am not surprised that the landlords, although they commenced this discussion, are not present here to-night. In point of fact their attack has developed into a sham battle, because the only fact of any importance whatever, in my opinion, in the Fry. Commission is that, notwithstanding the mistakes made by the Commissioners, and notwithstanding the fact that they had done wrong, the Fry Commission reports that no injustice was done to the landlords in fixing the rents; and not only that, they go further, and they endorse the statements we have made here for years, that the rents fixed by the old Commission were fixed too high. 1327 It is nonsense to say, especially after the report of this Commission, that no case has been made out for any fresh legislation on this subject. Some of the minor suggestions of the Commission I do not hesitate to say I would adopt myself; but what I regret is the want of permanence in the tenure of office of those Sub-Commissioners; and as to that, I really do not see the enormous difficulty in the way of the Chief Secretary, to which he alluded to-night, as to the appointment of fresh Commissioners. No doubt the work will decrease after a few years, and no doubt there may be some of those gentlemen without employment. Is that so great an evil? Are there men to administer justice in a court of this kind who can be suspected, whether rightly or wrongly, of not being the best and most efficient judges. I do not care, if he puts a permanent staff on the Land Commission, how much it costs the Treasury. I do admit from his point of view there is a difficulty in adding, without absolute necessity, a number of permanent officials. At the same time, I say there is much difference between adding to the number of permanent officials and appointing men who, I have no hesitation in saying, because they are not permanent, are not trusted by the people. He says that instead of their being distrusted they ought to be more trusted, because they do their work better. Well, now, I really thought that a man of the acute judgment and intelligence of the right honourable Gentleman would not have indulged in an argument of that kind. That argument would apply to judges of the land. There are judges who have to decide questions of law and not questions of fact, just as the judges of the High Court of Justice. To say that they would be more likely to be trusted because they would do their work better, not being permanent, is a reversal of the constitutional principle which has been enforced in this country for the last hundred years, and which it would have cost any Minister his place to try to reverse. Another suggestion of the 1328 Fry Commission was that there should be some approach, at all events, to establish an automatic system of fixing the rents. Of course everybody would like that if it could be accomplished; but the right honourable Gentleman was quite right in saying that when he proposed an automatic system a few years ago he got no support on the other side of the House; and if he proposes it again I for my part would oppose it again, for I believe it is better to satisfy the people that they have justice done to them than by a short and ready method to accomplish the same ends. The fact is that in Ireland, and perhaps, I fancy, in most countries as well, people like to have their cases threshed out in public—they like to have a run for their money. When they employ counsel or a solicitor they like to have the thing fought out to the bitter end; and if they are defeated, if they don't get as good a reduction of rent on the one hand, or if, on the other, the landlord does not succeed as well as he hoped, each party, if feeling perfect confidence, would under those circumstances go home more contented than he would under the most ingenious automatic system which even the right honourable Gentleman could imagine. The question of appeals was referred to; but I do not want to express for myself a deterrent opinion upon the question of appeals. But there is one case in which appeals, in my opinion, ought not to be allowed in the future. I do not know whether the thing can be accomplished without fresh legislation, but if it can be the Government ought to act on the recommendation of the Fry Commission Report or, at all events, upon the cases referred to in that Report—the passage in the Report in which mention is made of a practical command to some agent and some landlord not to appeal at all in the court below, for the express purpose of being able to go to the Court of Appeal. I think it is too bad that you should forego your opportunities of taking your case to the lower and cheaper tribunal; it is too bad to put upon the 1329 successful litigant the expense, trouble, inconvenience, and delay that are caused by an appeal. I suppose it cannot be accomplished by rule; but if it can be accomplished by rule, I say that the facts mentioned in the Fry Commission Report would be sufficient justification for any action that might be taken by the Government in the direction I have indicated. If no injustice has been done to the landlords in the fixing of the rents, as is made perfectly plain by the Report of the Commission, I do not admit for my part that any injustice has been done to the tenant; and I would draw the attention of the Committee to one circumstance, of which I will give proof, which came before the Fry Commission itself. The question of deterioration has been referred to to-night, and I do not want to allude to the matter. I imagine that, whatever may have been done in the past in respect to it, what is going on now proves that the tenant will not in the future get any advantage from deteriorating his holding or allowing his holding to get into a deteriorated state for the purpose of getting a low rent fixed. There is another side of the question in connection with this matter. In connection with this matter, it is notorious that rents have been fixed in Ireland without any regard to the rent paid previously by the tenant. Now, the House will be interested in one case, the figures of which I will give. In the year 1797 the rent of the farm was £76 15s. The lease expired in 1825, when the rent was raised to £90 2s. 7d. In 1846 there was a slight reduction of rent, the rent being £87 19s. 5d. The famine intervened between 1846 and 1848. The rent in 1846 accordingly was reduced to £65 19s. 6d. The notorious exterminator, John George Adair, purchased the estate in 1886, and he raised the rent from £65 19s. 6d. to £182 0s. 4d. It was evident from the raising of the rent that the farm was of more value. Who made it of more value? The tenants had made the improvements, and this man, John George Adair, in a letter to one of his 1330 tenants said that he could not have better tenants. Thus the improvements of those persons whose rents have been raised are confiscated. When the case came before the Land Commission, what did they do? The rent was fixed in the year 1881 at £125, that is to say, £35 higher than it had been in the best time of Irish agriculture, namely, the era of the Napoleonic wars. It is quite evident that the Land Commission made a very inadequate reduction, although the rent had been previously so high. Although the rent had been raised from £65 to £182, they had not the moral courage to cut it down. When the rent came to be fixed they fixed it at £109, or £30 higher than it was in 1825. The inference I draw from this is that the rents in such cases were fixed without regard to the increase of rent that had been made, and that the judges of the Commission exhibited in those cases—I will not say malice prepense—but a want of moral courage to cut it down; because, if they gave an adequate reduction some landlord in this House would ask a question about it, and the tenure of office would be cut very short. Well, the Fry Commission have made certain recommendations. I do not intend to dwell upon the minor recommendations of the Fry Commission. But there is one very important recommendation to which I trust the Chief Secretary will not pay any attention for his own sake and the sake of the peace of Ireland. The Fry Commission pointed out that there were two kinds of evidence offered, or possible to be offered, before tribunals for fixing rents—popular evidence, consisting of surrounding circumstances, such as the want of employment for people in the district, the scarcity of land for small tenants, and the other circumstances which have created the land hunger in Ireland and many other countries; and, on the other hand, technical evidence, namely, the evidence as to the value of the farm, its taxable capacity, and things of that kind. They pointed out that since the Act of 1886 the tendency has 1331 been to pay more attention to the latter kind of evidence, namely, the technical evidence. I for one rejoice at that fact. The bulk of the Commission thought that a change should be made in the law; at all events, they assumed that it could be done without a change in the law, and that rules should be made by which more attention would be given to the popular evidence. The Land Commission should make rules, making the rent of a farm dependent upon such circumstances. To introduce this popular evidence into these cases would really be going back to the system of competition rents, which we all thought was abolished by the Land Act of 1881. I maintain to do that is really to overturn the law of 1881, and all the Acts which have been passed since then. I believe the result of a change like that would be to bring about disturbances in Ireland such as gave birth to the Land League. I fancy that the Government would take a long time to deliberate before they endorsed such a change. I cannot but express the indignation that I feel that a man like Sir Edward Fry, who, one would think, was able to construe an Act like this, a distinguished jurist and a distinguished judge, should have come to the conclusion and put it on paper that within the four corners of legislation of the year 1881 it was possible to introduce a system of competition which we all thought had been abolished by the Act of 1881. I do not feel much anxiety myself, but I warn the House that if the thing is ever done they will regret it.
§ MR. DILLON
My honourable and gallant friend the Member for North Armagh attacked in the most lurid and ferocious manner the working of the Land Act in Ireland. He drew a picture in which he gave the impression to anyone not acquainted with the ways of the honourable and gallant Member that the state of things was worse than in the Fiji Islands. He then returned to the terrace to smoke or have a cup of coffee, doubtless regarding the thing as a huge joke. The present display to-night is a 1332 demonstration of force for fear they might not get fair play in the constitution of the machinery. But who appointed the Commission and who made the machinery? Why the men whom he supports in this House, The honourable and gallant Member used extravagant and outrageous language in describing the condition of Ireland. He said it was a condition that could not exist in any other country in the world. He described it as a condition intolerable to the landlords, saying that no other civilised community of men had had similar experiences. One would have supposed that one was listening to the speech of a Home Ruler. Did he forget that all the legislation and this machinery was the product of the best wisdom of this great House? If this is all the Union can do for the honourable and gallant Member, the sooner he becomes a Home Ruler the better, and attempt to improve this abominable state of things. He said Irish landlords were placed at the mercy of itinerant or peripatetic three-guinea-a-day men. Who appointed them, and to whom are they responsible? We don't like these itinerant three-guinea-a-day men any more than the honourable and gallant Gentleman. That is one point which has emerged from this discussion on which we all agree. These men are responsible for the rents to the Government the landlords are supporting-There was no reality whatever in the absurd and high-falutin' complaint made by the honourable and gallant Member to-day. I turn to the Report of the Fry Commission. I must say that, in my opinion, some of the honourable Members who have spoken to-day on behalf of the tenants have greatly minimised the importance of that Report. I regard it as a very important Report. I think that a more dangerous or mischievous document has not been launched since the Act of 1881. Why was the Fry Commission appointed? I recollect that we were kept up in this House night after night in an outrageous attempt to drive through the House of Commons in the 1333 small hours the Land Bill of 1896, which has been described as the worst-drafted and most unintelligible Measure ever passed through the House. I remember we were solaced by the consolation that this was going to finally settle the Irish land question. We have often heard that before; but on this occasion we were assured that if we only sat up till five o'clock in the morning every night for a week or ten days we would get rid of the Irish question, and that it would not trouble us any more. The ink was hardly dry, the Measure had only been in operation six months, when the landlords came clamouring to Lord Salisbury, and under the advice of Lord Salisbury they instituted an agitation which resulted in the appointment of the Commission; so that before a year was over we were launched again on the old familiar question of the Irish land. The Irish land question was opened up again, and it ripped up some of the most contentious matters in the question, as the right honourable Gentleman will find before he is very much older. I was greatly struck the other day in reading the Morning Post, a newspaper that speaks for a large class of the supporters of the right honourable Gentleman. The Morning Post said that the Fry Commission had achieved one of its main objects already, because it had frightened the irresponsible men who had been going about Ireland keeping down the rents of Irish land to an intolerable extent. That is a perfectly true and just comment on the action of the Fry Commission. There is not the slightest doubt that the opinion of that Commission has been apparent in the Land Commission. Since then the nation and the tenants have been treated in a very different way from what they were before the document was issued. I believe that was one of the objects for which the Fry Commission was appointed. It was sop thrown to the landlords, and to some extent to buy off their clamour; and another object was to intimidate the itinerant three-guinea-a-day Sub-Com- 1334 missioners. It is curious to note the extraordinary difference in the comments of the English Press from time to time. I am not going to go into this Commission at great length, but I desire to say I differ from some men on these benches in treating the Report as a document of little or no importance. I think it is a most mischievous document. We never recognised the Fry Commission as an impartial or independent tribunal. It was presided over by a man eminent in the knowledge of the law and of high character. But a man more unfit to investigate the problem of Irish land tenure I could not possibly conceive. He was a man of great and acute intellect and of the highest possible character, but a man steeped to the lips in the knowledge and traditions and prejudices of English equity law, and he went to Ireland prejudiced most violently against all the obligations of the Land Commission and the whole system on which it was based. He was the author, I believe, of a great and classical treatise on contracts; and he was sent over, forsooth, as the judge. I could see from the moment he took his seat in court that his whole attitude was as if he had been sent out to investigate the systems of the Fiji Islanders. His whole manner was one of ill-concealed disgust at the system which he was going to investigate. If he had taken tea on the Terrace with the honourable and gallant Member he would have joined him in denouncing the system of Ireland. I say that without desiring to utter anything disrespectful or uncivil to Mr. Justice Fry, for whom I retain a very great respect in some regards. I say that he showed at the outset of these proceedings, so long as I was present in the court, a marked bias against the tenants, both by the questions he put and by his treatment of the witnesses. He refused to recognise it as a fair or impartial tribunal. There were only two points that were before that Commission to which I will call attention. First of all I will take the point about fair rents, to which the honourable Member for North 1335 Dublin has alluded. One of the most important paragraphs in that Report deals with the question of the valuation of fair rents. They say that an early decision of Mr. Justice O'Hagan excluded from evidence on the fixing of fair rent the letting value or judicial rent of other buildings. That early decision of Mr. Justice O'Hagan was the corner-stone of settling fair rents in Ireland. They deliberately go on to say that the decision should be set aside and neglected, and that in future the question of rents for land should be admitted in evidence. If that recommendation of the Commission is carried out—and it can be carried out, because the present practice is based, not upon a rule of the court, but on the decision of Mr. Justice O'Hagan—if that decision and that practice be reversed, then I say the whole country will be in a state of chaos, confusion, and disorder on the part of the tenants. This Report goes on at great length to define what a fair rent is—a very dangerous undertaking, because they state in the Report that in the 18 years during which this Commission has been sitting in Ireland fixing judicial rents no judicial person has ever attempted to give a judicial definition of a fair rent. But Mr. Justice Fry, running in where angels fear to tread, has undertaken in this document to define a fair rent; and I say that by his definition, if attempted to be carried into effect, the Land Act of 1881, as we have understood it for the last 18 years in Ireland, will be practically repealed, and the whole thing will be thrown into the melting-pot again and will have to be settled again. There is one other point which has not been alluded to. At the end of the Report are some paragraphs dealing with purchase which are an outrage upon the tenant. This Commission deliberately recognises that where the landlord and tenant agree on a price, no matter what that price may be—it may be 40 years' purchase or it may be 50 years' purchase—the State is bound to advance that sum without reference to the char- 1336 acter of the security. A more monstrous proposal was never heard of. It is in the interests of the present beau-ideal scheme of the Irish landlords. If the landlord put his son into occupation and agreed to sell the farm at four times its value the State would advance the money. All that would be necessary would be to have a collusive arrangement with relatives and make the application, and the State would shut its eyes to the arrangement. Then the next paragraph is quite as bad—We are further of opinion that, where the purchase is made within a fixed period, say five years from the fixing of a fair rent, and the purchase-money does not exceed, say, eighteen years' purchase of the fair rent, that price ought to be accepted by the Purchase Department as the sum to be advanced by the State, without inspection, except to the extent of ascertaining that the purchasers are the actual occupants.That is to say, this precious Commission desires to take away a right which always existed—of inspecting the holding and seeing whether there is a proper security for the advance to be made. That is a very fair specimen of the character of the proposals of the Commission and the general attitude of mind in which this Commission approached the consideration of the question. The landlords of Ireland have undoubtedly got a very strong Government behind them, and it has rewarded them; they have got the Irish Party considerably weakened by divisions and splits; they have got quiet and peace in the country; and now they are not content with the enormous advantage they have reaped under these peculiar circumstances. They are prepared to take still further advantage of their strong position. They may or they may not succeed. To some extent they may succeed. They have succeeded during the winter in modifying to a considerable extent the action of the Commission. But, Sir, this kind of proceeding always provokes a reaction; and I hope the time will come, and that before very long, when the Chief Secretary and the landlords will forget the Fry Commission ever was appointed.
§ MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
I would rather never hear anything in this House about the Chief Secretary having to make any appointments of Sub-Commissioners. To my mind this war and struggle in Ireland will never be settled except by selling the land to the tenants of Ireland. That, Mr. Lowther, is the solution of the land question; and I would like to see the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury taking up this matter and endeavouring to place the tenants of Ireland in the holdings they have earned by their industry and sweat and labour. There never will be peace or contentment in Ireland so long as there are landlords, and tenants in Ireland. I would like the right honourable Gentleman to take this into his favourable consideration and settle the vexed question between landlord and tenant once for all. I believe the landlords would be very glad at the present moment to get rid of their estates. If you believe my honourable Friend below the Gangway, he is simply a martyr in Ireland. The experience of the Commission in Ireland has not been such as to afford an inducement to appeal. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for the Ripon Division of Yorkshire was quite at a loss to know why there was such a number of appeals in Ireland. This is an illustration of how honourable Gentlemen who represent English constituencies intervene occasionally in Irish Debates, knowing absolutely nothing about the circumstances of which they are talking. I could at once have told him the solution. The solution is that the landlords succeed so well before the Commission that it is no wonder there is such a large number of appeals with heavy costs against the tenant. I was very sorry, after the Chief Secretary had tried to hold the scales pretty equally between both parties, that he should have made the statement as to deterioration. Now, anybody who knows anything about holdings in Ireland must think it simply absurd that for a paltry reduction of perhaps 2s. per acre a farmer would deteriorate his land. That statement, coming from the right honourable Gentleman who represents this Government in Ireland, was hardly one we should expect 1338 from him. I would expect that he would know more about the circumstances of the farmers and how injurious it would be for a farmer to allow his holding to deteriorate for the paltry sum of 2s. per acre, which is about the average reduction that is given by the Commission at the present moment. I heard the honourable and gallant Gentleman sneer at the fixing of fair rents by the county court method; he scoffed at the idea of the valuation of a county court judge. It is a wonderful change when we find the honourable and gallant Gentleman beginning to scoff at the chairman of the quarter sessions. I am beginning to hope that he will soon be a Home Ruler. When we on this side attacked the county court judges in Ireland we had the honourable and gallant Gentleman defending them. It is an extraordinary thing to see him denouncing his friends of former days. I do not stand here for the purpose of defending county court judges; I leave them to settle the affair between them. The honourable and gallant Member has quoted the Fry Commission. Does he forget that Dr. Trail was one of those who demanded a Royal Commission for the purpose of doing justice to the clan that the honourable and gallant Member belongs to? And Dr. Trail is one of the gentlemen who are expected to bring in an impartial Report after impartially considering the case of the tenant farmers of Ireland. I say that the Fry Commission paid no respect whatever to the claims of the tenant farmers of Ireland; and even if the Fry Commission had brought in a Report recommending the Government to bundle the tenant farmers, bag and baggage, out of the country, not the smallest attention would have been paid to it by the tenant farmers. From first to last they believed that that was a packed Commission instituted for the purpose of bringing in rules which would counteract and cripple the Land Act passed in 1896. We were kept here till five or six in the morning, sometimes till nine in the morning, for the purpose of passing that Act in the year 1896. The honourable Member for South Tyrone stated in Tyrone recently that the Land Act was not being carried out as was intended by the Legislature, 1339 and that the tenants were being deprived of the benefits that Parliament intended them to have. That speaks volumes for the way in which the Land Act is administered. The Land Act of last year was intended for the improvement of the tenant farmers of Ireland, but it has turned out to be not of the slightest use. Any benefits conferred on the tenant farmers by the Act of 1896 or the Act of last year have been entirely nullified by the Royal Commission. I believe that the Fry Commission has done a great deal of harm to the tenant farmers with regard to the fixing of their rents; and nothing will convince me but that a peasant proprietary is the only solution of this unfortunate land question. The endeavour to fix fair rents has cost an enormous amount of money, and even now the landlords do not seem to be satisfied and the tenants are not satisfied. I would again appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury that he would endeavour to bring in some legislation which will enable the tenant farmers of Ireland to become the owners of their holdings. I know that it is a very big order; but after what we have been of the right honourable Gentleman during the passage of the Local Government Bill I have considerable confidence in him—a great deal more than I have in the Chief Secretary for Ireland—and I think if there is any right honourable Gentleman who would be capable of settling this long outstanding and much-vexed question between the landlord and the tenant it is the right honourable Gentleman himself.
§ Vote agreed to.