§ MR. MURPHY (Kerry, E.) moved, "To call attention to the procedure of the Land judge's Court in Ireland, the delay consequent thereon, the causes to which such delay is due, the hardships to tenants, encumbrancers, and landlords arising therefrom; and to move, 'That the time has arrived for taking immediate steps to wind up the business of the Land Judge's Court in Ireland in the interests of all concerned.'"
§ He said recesses came and went, perhaps too quickly for them all, sessions might conclude, and Parliaments might end, but the Irish question, in one phase or another, would go on as long as the administration in Ireland in all departments was defective and bad, and the people were deprived of the management of their own affairs. To-night they were back again to Ireland and Irish land once more. The fortunes of the ballot had given him the opportunity of opening a debate on the Land Judge's Court in Ireland. It was a subject of vast importance from all points of view, and he regretted very much that the discussion on it should rest with him. He was, however, consoled by the fact that an arrangement had been made whereby his Motion would be seconded by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and he felt sure that any defects of statement on his own part would be fully made up by 152 others. They asked to-night that immediate steps should be taken to wind up the business of the Land Judge's Court in Ireland, and proof after proof would be given of the reasonable nature of the demand. They could show that in constitution and in procedure the Court was a failure, and that a radical treatment was required to cure the diseases from which it suffered. Unfortunately the Rules of the House make it impossible to discuss the conduct of the Judge who presided over the Court, and in Parliament it appeared one could not use disrespectful language of a Judge of the High Court. Well, he would meet the case as far as it was possible by refusing to speak of him or his methods in respectful language, and leave the blank spaces to be filled in by the experience or knowledge of hon. Members.
What was the Land Judge's Court in Ireland? It was necessary to tell the House of Commons because it was a Court that had no equal nor even a comparison in any other land. If a Commission were appointed for the translation of valuable documents from the ancient Irish into the Saxon tongue, and the Speaker of the House of Commons were constituted the ruling authority on the ground that on a few occasions he listened to efforts to make speeches in Irish in this House, the appointment would be as reasonable as that on which an Irish Land Judge was appointed. And the duties would be performed as efficiently in the one case as they were in the other. The Committee to inquire into the matter found that the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act of 1870 were destroyed by this Court. The right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Montrose Burghs, a former Chief Secretary, in referring to the state of business in the Court, declared it to be—
A great and recognised scandal.
How far these expressions were justified the debate would show. The Court practically had its origin in 1848 as the Encumbered Estates Court. Irish landlords to a large extent first plundered and then encumbered their properties. Legal ingenuity invented the Court, and, as a result of its work, in ten years £23,000,000 worth of property changed hands. It did not always
change hands for the benefit of the people, as could be learned from the records of the estate purchased by the notorious John George Adair and other land speculators. In 1858 an Act was passed constituting the "Landed Estates Court" and it was entitled "An Act to facilitate the sale and transfer of land in Ireland." But instead of endeavouring to carry out the policy of the Act the Court grew into what had been truly described as "a huge rent office." According to the Act, particulars had to be furnished to Parliament of the estates in Court, but the duty was irksome and inconvenient and was soon evaded. The Court had power to make rules as to returns and other matters and they soon ruled out the returns. It would not do to let the public too much into the knowledge of the dark ways and means of the place which, in their way, were as peculiar as those of a certain person of whom they had heard much in recent days. The result was that they were all in the dark to a large extent as to the full amount of the property in Court, but from certain official statements it would appear to include rentals amounting at all events to seven hundred thousands pounds a year, or a fifth of the land of Ireland. If they asked the Chief Secretary for particulars, he replied that the trouble would be too great to procure them. If they asked the Attorney-General of course he said the same. He never did anything. But it showed how little the answers supplied were to be relied on when the officials of the Court in a claim circulated this morning in reference to their positions stated definitely that though up to 1889—
The whole department was in a state of chaos.
they were soon after able to make out—
Complete lists of the estates under the Court and also of the Receivers alphabetically arranged.'
By the Judicature Act and sundry other changes Judge Ross found himself at the head of a State Kent Collecting Department with the status of a Judge of the High Court. He could send a man to prison for an unlimited period if he spoke of any of his estates in what he considered an improper manner. His information upon matters was gained
from Receivers like Mr. George Hewson of Leitrim—who was publicly charged with making a false statement in an affidavit by the hon. Member for North Leitrim, and who took no action about it—or me I whose knowledge of land seemed to consist in their ability to buy horses from the farmers for £7 and sell them to the War Office for £30 for service in South Africa. The learned Judge did send people to prison under his powers for the reasons stated. Sometimes it was a poor peasant and sometimes a Member of Parliament. The formula was that the contempt must be purged by an apology and a promise not to offend again. The hon. Member for North Leitrim was sent to prison for putting something into his newspaper about an estate, and he was to be kept there until he apologised. He would not apologise, however, and they were still waiting an explanation as to why he was released. But the game went on in practically the same old way. Hundreds of Receivers who could never earn anything other occupation took fees amounting, he was told, to £100,000 a year. Hordes of solicitors pocketed law costs, and one section and ail combined to bless the machinery of the Court, and to destroy the hopes of tenants' encumbrancers and landlords over whom they were placed.
§ There was an Act passed in 1896 which contained what was called the 40th Section. It was a section to apply the principle of compulsory sale to estates in the Court. The whole procedure of the Court tended to make it inoperative, and wherever possible it was evaded. Take the case of the Herbert Estate in the county of Kerry. It was an estate where the 40th Section applied, but so much concealment of the facts took place that even the tenants' solicitor never suspected it and thought the sale was a voluntary one until the bargain was completed, in consequence of which the tenants' interests suffered. Take the case of the Rae Estate in the same county. The section applied there also, but the Church Body were the encumbrancers. Instead of being sold to the tenants it was allowed to be taken out of Court and the Receiver under the Court appointed Receiver to the estate and the tenants defrauded of purchase. The harm of such a proceeding 155 needed an illustration. He would give one. There were two estates under the Court near the famous Gap of Dunloe. The section applied, and, according to the spirit of the Act, they should both be sold to the tenants at a price to be fixed by the Land Commission. But the landlords were allowed to negotiate direct with the tenants without any help from the State who were to provide the money. It was clear both estates were of a similar character. Yet in the case of John Mahony the prices paid ranged from ten to seventeen years purchase, while in the case of The Macgillycuddy the price was eighteen years all round, and some of the tenants against whom the landlord had some feeling had not been allowed to purchase at all. These statements could not be controverted, and surety they constituted a public scandal. But there was worse in the cases of the two last mentioned estates. The Chief Secretary's Land Act of 1903 loomed on the horizon after The Macgillycuddy tenants had signed their agreements, and before the Mahony tenants had done so. An encumbered landlord would grasp at anything, and, of course, they both grasped at the bonus provided in the Act. Both landlords tried to argue the tenants into delay. In the case of Mr. Mahony the tenants fortunately had an able adviser in Mr. Moriarty, solicitor, Killarney, and he arranged that the tenants would await the Act if the landlord signed a written agreement to allow the prices to remain the same. After considerable pressure he consented to do so, the result being that the tenants had their land at the old price, the landlord took £2,000 of a bonus, and the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent could credit the Land Judge's Court with the loss to the taxpayer in which he was so much interested. The Macgillycuddy was not in the same position to get agreements under the new Act, but everything had been delayed without reason in his sale, and he (the speaker) was told he was going about amongst the tenants offering them half the bonus if they would sign new agreements to enable him to get the other half. Then there was the McCartie Estate near Killarney, where the most ridiculous objections had been allowed to delay a sale for years, and the Duggan Estate, where there was no 156 owner in existence, or, worst of all, the Harte Estate where years ago an order for sale was made, and one of the owners, a Mr. Fitzgerald, then allowed to enter into negotiations with the tenants for purchase. Whatever manipulation or humbugging was going on he was still negotiating and the tenants had got no nearer to purchase. And all this kind of thing went on under "An Act to facilitate the sale of land," the Judge of which had to swear on taking office that he "would duly and faithfully, and to the best of his skill and power, execute the office of Judge of the Landed Estates' Court in Ireland."' If his power could not cope with such matters then it ought to be strengthened; if the policy of the Acts under which he acted was not plain then it ought to be made so.
§ According to the Land Commission Return in eight years only £1,058,053 worth of property had been sold under the 40th Section of the Act of 1896. In a period hardly longer £23,000,000 passed through the Encumbered Estates Court. What was the cause of the difference and delay? The Chief Secretary told them in 1901 that Judge Ross had shown great energy, and that he was not there to protect the landlord or the tenant but the creditors. Judge Ross himself told them he was not there to consider what would be for the benefit of the tenant, but what would be for the benefit of the estate, and though after the passage of the Land Act of 1903 he declared his conscience would not allow him to deprive the tenants of the benefits of it, still they found the price of land going up in his Court, and tenants penalised, as in Wexford, because the sea depreciated the value of their lands. He would tell the Chief Secretary where all these proceedings were leading to. To the hardship of the individual tenant and the loss of the nation. The notorious Warden Estate was allowed to be put-chased in that Court by a land speculator ten years ago for ten years purchase. The whole place was a congested district; still without an effort by the Congested Districts Board, without any strong hand to help them, these unfortunate tenants had been forced into bargains under the 1903 Act at prices ranging from 157 twenty-one to twenty-five years purchase. How could peace and prosperity return to the country if such things continued? This Court had become disproportioned and its weight would ruin all below. How could land purchase proceed if 40,000 tenants were held up in a vice. Was not this Court clogged? Was not its machinery cumbrous and slow? What was going to be done to clear it, and how did the Chief Secretary propose to do it? Let him give an honest answer and not one obtained from the officials, but one founded on the facts. Judge Ross himself was the brother of a landlord near Derry. His retinue of Receivers and solicitors were dependent on his Court for a living. Their opinions on the matter should be cast aside, and a clear, definite, and speedy remedy applied. Here surely was a problem under their noses that could be dealt with by methods in their hands. He could not say that he was hopeful of the result as far as the right hon. Gentleman was concerned. Many of his recent appointments in Ireland and much of his policy gave no reason for hope. He might want to know what the Irish Members proposed to do with Judge Ross and his Court, but it was not for them to say. So long as he undertook the government of Ireland the duty of reform was his. He might, if he desired, make Judge Ross Provost of Trinity College, and relegate or elevate Dr. Traill to the chair of a Commission to inquire into the means of protection necessary in the cases of "poor fellows who might be sentenced to be hung." But at all events let him tell them fully to-night how far he proposed to remedy a condition of things that was a disgrace in every respect and ought to be at once changed in the interests of Ireland.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
seconded the Resolution. He confessed that in doing so the principal difficulty he felt was in the absence of the jury. [IRISH cheers, and a MEMBER: That is not unusual.] An admirable case, one which he believed would carry conviction to any jury if they had an opportunity of addressing it, had been put; but the misfortune of this, and every Irish case, was that it would not be heard by the jury which 158 would give the verdict. Somewhere about midnight they would see troops of hon. Members coming into the House and gaily voting down one of the best cases that could be put by any Party, voting to keep up one of the greatest anomalies that existed even in Ireland. He was not going to tell the House what he thought of the Land Judge's Court. He was going to give a judicial word picture of the institution by a gentleman whose authority would not be questioned by the Chief Secretary or the learned Attorney-General, or anybody connected with Ireland. He referred to Mr. Justice Bewley, once the judicial member of the Irish Land Commission. Now in giving judgment in the Harkness case Mr. Justice Bewley said: "The Land Judge's Court, instead of being a Court for the sale of estates, had become a gigantic rent office. Receivers were appointed for encumbered estates, and, as a matter of fact, elaborate and expensive preparations were made for a sale which every person knew would never take place. When estates were put up for auction there were no bidders and the sales were adjourned sine die. The occupying tenants were the only persons likely to purchase and never received adequate notice. The Receivers and solicitors, having the charge of the proceedings, had a direct personal interest in letting things remain as they were." He wished to let the House see what a great judicial personage thought of this, one of the chief Irish institutions. What would be the Chief Secretary's reply? He thought he was in a position to anticipate it. The right hon. Gentleman would probably say that Mr. Justice Bewley spoke in 1897, and that he was quite right. But he would say that since that time great improvements and progress had been made. He would say that the rental of the Court, then about £700,000 a year, had been reduced by one-half, that the cases in the Court had been greatly diminished, that a large amount of property had been sold, and that the Land Judge was pushing things as fast as he could. Everyone knew, although procedure was very slow, that a great many estates or properties had been sold under the 40th Section of the Act of 1896; but the House should remember that it was the pressure of 159 Irish Members that really impelled the Government to deal with this Court in that Act. He was in a position to give a curious piece of evidence in regard to this. Irish Members would recollect that in 1894 he moved for what was called the Morley Committee, and when the order of reference was being prepared it included the right to examine into the procedure of the Land Judges' Court. The Ulster Unionist Members—he meant the official Members, the Gentlemen who were in revolt, who were conspicuous by their absence when an Irish matter of the utmost importance was before it—protested against the Land Judge's Court being inquired into by the Committee or by any other body; and he actually had to leave that out of the order of reference and to consent to take the Committee without this Court being inquired into. The ringleader of that Party was now a Judge in Ireland
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said he had stated the fact; and he was not to be drawn any further. They were thwarted in their efforts to get information about this Court before the Committee presided over by the Member for Montrose. Had they been any more successful in any other effort they had made? They had asked to be privy to what had been done under various Acts of Parliament. What had been the reply? The reply had been made that the Land Judge's Court was pressed with work and had no time to give elaborate returns. This was the answer given the other day by the Chief Secretary in perfect good faith, and yet the previous day the Treasury was dismissing clerks from this department because they had no work for them to do. If they were ignorant as to the progress being made in this court it was not because they had not asked for information; it was because they had been refused that information. They had had no returns of the proceedings in the Court under the Act, and they were perfectly in the dark. They therefore asked the Chief Secretary to tell them the facts and what he was going to do in relation to them.
There was another thing which had probably helped the Chief Secretary to 160 make out the case he would make to-night. Since the Act of 1903 a State bonus had been given to the sellers of landed property in Ireland, and there had been a very remarkable movement in the Court. The owners of estates had been very desirous of getting out of the Court, not that they might sell them to the tenants,—when that was the only object to gain they were not in a hurry—but in order to collar the bonus outside. Undoubtedly, if the Court had been depleted of estates, and if the rental coming into the Court had now been largely reduced, it had been because of the hurry of these landlords, who thought their estates were solvent, to get them sold outside and get the bonus they would not get if they remained in the Court. But if the estates were solvent, what right had they to be in the Court at all? Did the Chief Secretary know all the State got for m managing these estates? Did the two right hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial Bench know that there had been hundreds of these estates managed at the public expense? The Attorney-General shook his head. Let him wait. All that the State got was the stamp duty on the Receiver's accounts. This was all, and it did not keep up the Land Judge's Court. The person who paid the rest for managing perfectly solvent estates in many cases was the general taxpayer. Why should these solvent estates be in the Court at all? It was a Court for the sale of bankrupt estates, and the House had no right to allow this thing to go on any longer. If the estates were solvent, let them be taken out and let the nominal owners manage them for themselves at their own charge. What kept the insolvent estates, which he knew were the great majority, there? Why were they not sold? The Court was established to sell them. They had been there fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, and ten years. The nominal owner had now no interest in them; he had long ceased to be a factor in the question at all; it did not matter to him in most cases what became of the estates. The encumbrancers cared very nearly as little, because they knew perfectly well most of them would never get a farthing out of them. Who were the people who really cared about keeping them there? First 161 of all, there was the army of Receivers, who were mainly land agents. They received a commission for collecting these rents, and of course they had an interest in keeping the estates in Court, because the moment they were sold, whether they were solvent or insolvent, the commission ceased, and their occupation was gone. This was clear enough; human nature was human nature even in the breast of an Irish Receiver. Who else had an interest in keeping them there? The great army of solicitors and barristers. They had a vital interest in keeping these estates in the Court. Could anyone tell him another man who had an interest in keeping the estates in the Court? Apart from these Receivers, solicitors, and barristers who made a living out of keeping them in the Court, there was not a man whose interest was not to get them out.
What was the excuse for delay? First the title, which did great service. There was the Gault Estate in the county of Tyrone. The Chief Secretary told him the other day the reason why that estate was not sold was because of a defect in title. He was convinced that there was no defect in title and that the Chief Secretary had been misled and misinformed. If title could not be proved in twelve or twenty years, was there the slightest chance that it would ever be proved on this side of the grave? It was all nonsense. What was the use of bringing up as an excuse that the title was defective and could not be proved after estates had been in the Court for twelve years. Let them make a new title, just as the Parliament of 1847 did; let them give the tenant purchasing an indefeasible title over every comer, and the Court would be cleared. What was the second cause of delay? Why, it was one of the most absurd things that could be imagined. He had heard more than half-a-dozen Chief Secretaries explain the delay with excuses about turf and boundary, and one thing or another of that kind. Of course, they got these excuses put on their lips; they were the official mouthpieces of the Land Judge's Court. They had no inspector belonging to the whole department; they had not a man they could send down to examine into the turf or boundaries or anything else. 162 Who settled these disputes? Why, the solicitors and Receivers. Outside Bedlam anything like that had never been heard. The fraud ought not to be persisted in for another hour. Ha would be told that there was no money to pay an inspector, but he could prove that since the passing of the Land Act of 1903 two gentlemen to whom was paid £3,000 a year had not had a hand's turn to do. Why should not Mr. Stanilaus Lynch and Mr. Murrough O'Brien be put to this work? If there was a will a way would be found, but there was no will or way in the Land Judge's Court for the settlement of these matters, and there never would be until Government took the whole question in hand.
When the Land Act was passed Trinity College received out of the Irish Development Grant £5,000 a year. The view of the Government was that they would meet with great loss in the sale of their estates, and as this was a great educational establishment it ought not to suffer by any legislation. None of the Irish Members liked it. But there was a common idea among Irish landlords that they ought to get the full price for their land plus the State bonus. But the bonus was granted in order to bridge the difference between the need of the landlord and the capacity of the tenant. It was never intended that the landlords should ask the highest price for the land and get a present of three years purchase from the State in addition. There had been cases in the Land Judge's Court in which Trinity College was greatly interested. One was that of a county Donegal case in which Trinity College was the owner of the head rent. The tenants had offered twenty-two years purchase of the second-term rents, and eighteen and a half years purchase of the non-judicial rents, the total purchase money offered being £42,300. Trinity College had a head rent of £1,788, and required twenty-rive years purchase, or £44,705. Hence the terms were not agreed to. What was Trinity College given the £5,000 a year for if she was to demand these monstrous prices? There was also the Mansfield case in county Tyrone. An absolute order for sale was made and concluded with the tenants at seventeen years purchase in 1898. Nothing resulted. In June, 1899, Mr. 163 Barton, an Ulster land agent, applied for and got £77 for costs of negotiating the sale at the rate of 1 per cent. on the purchase money, and the sale was treated by the Court as a concluded transaction. Again nothing resulted. A new receiver was appointed and in February, 1900, the Land Judge ruled that there should be no further delay, but from that time to 11th January, 1904, nothing had been done. The moment, however, that the Land Act was passed they came into Court and asked for a settlement. The sale at seventeen years purchase went for nothing, and they demanded terms under the new Act. The case of the Massereene and Deane Estate was equally remarkable. In April, 1891, an absolute order for sale was made, but from 1891 to 1897, notwithstanding that order, there never was any real attempt to sell the property, though the encumbrancer pressed for the sale. On 15th July, 1897, the encumbrancer brought the solicitor before the Land Judge and charged him with the delay. No rule was made on that motion. In December, 1899, the solicitor was again brought up for delay, and an order was made that unless £5,000 was paid before February, 1900, the solicitor would be discharged. In April, 1900, the carriage of sale was tranferred to another solicitor. In March, 1902, the offer of the tenant was accepted and the money was to be advanced b the Land Commission. In December, 1902, the Land Commission declared the sale off unless completed at once. Ultimately, the solicitors who had caused the delay made a motion to the Judge that their costs should have priority over the £5,000 due to the man who had lent the money. Although this had been going on since 1891, not a penny had been paid. The estate was solvent when it went into Court; NOW it was bankrupt. There was also the case of the, Macfarlane Estate in county Tyrone. It entered the Court in 1881, when Mr. Gladstone's great Land Act was passed. Within the last two or three years the tenants offered eighteen years purchase for the whole estate and the Court agreed to accept it. A lady became the tenant of the sporting rights, and the whole sale of the property to a wretchedly poor tenantry living upon bits of bog had broken down because of the sale or letting to this lady. He was 164 sorry to say that the lady was the wife of the Land Judge. It was unbearable that a case like, that should come before the Land Judge for his sanction. He demanded that the Chief Secretary should tell them to-night what was really to be done about these Cases. It was only fair to say, however, that Mr. Justice Ross did not sit when this particular case came up, his place being taken by Mr. Justice Meredith.
The last point to which he would refer was the position of the clerks in the Land Judge's Court. They entered the service fifteen or sixteen years ago; they were not civil servants they had brought the office out of a condition of chaos and confusion; and now, because the work had decreased, they were being discharged and thrown on the world. They had no legal claim on the Government, but he suggested that as the Estates Commissioner's work was increasing and more assistance would be required in that department, instead of fresh and untrained clerks being engaged these men should be given the preference. In conclusion he appealed to the Chief Secretary to face this work, and not to be fooled as previous Chief Secretaries had been fooled by the officials of this Court. The work could be done, the Court cleared, and the estates sold, only by some one in the Chief Secretary's position grasping the nettle boldly, telling all concerned that the Court was established to sell estates, not to keep them in Court, and that no matter whose interests were concerned, sold they must be. He begged to second the Motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the time has arrived for taking immediate steps to wind up the business of the Land Judge's Court in Ireland in the interests of all concerned."—(Mr. Murphy.)
§ MR. FFRENCH (Wexford, S.)
said he was very glad that his hon. friend the Member for East Kerry was successful in the ballot, and that he had brought forward this Motion, because the Land Judge's Court was such a perfect scandal that the oftener public opinion was brought to bear on it through the medium of this House, the better. On the Thames Embankment there stood a thing 165 called Cleopatra's Needle. Some people claimed for it that it was made 1,500 years before the Christian Era. He thought he might venture to claim for it that it was, perhaps, less clumsy to work the finest embroidery than the Land Judge's Court in Ireland was to sell the encumbered estates. This Court, as the House was aware, was presided over by Mr. Justice Ross, and if he were the best Irishman that ever lived, conscientiously striving to sell the encumbered estates for the benefit of both landlord and tenant, he could not make satisfactory progress, because he was hampered and impeded by a system that was invented many years ago when the Encumbered Estates Court Act was passed; and the rules thereunder were arranged, not to facilitate sales, but for keeping estates in Court, and now the whole thing had grown to be a huge rent-collecting machine. This Court was established in 1819 under an Act of Parliament called "An Act to further and facilitate the sales of estates in Ireland." It did not work very well, however, and to hasten matters, the Landed Estates Court (Ireland) Act was passed in 1858, and a permanent Court created for the sale and transfer of land. A set of complicated rules were made under that Act which were long ago out of date. Practically each case had to be started by a petition for sale; then there was an order for sale made; then a notice was served on all the tenants and a map was made; then the abstract of title came on and the tenants' objections, and then the rental was finally finished. Every opportunity was given to tenants and adjoining owners and their tenants to make any objection or claim they thought well of. An outsider was then the purchaser, and naturally enough he wished to know exactly what he was getting for his money. The purchaser was now the tenant, who knew exactly what he was buying, consequently the rules were behind the times. They had an energetic solicitor in Wexford who had sold over £750,000 worth of property, acting as tenants' solicitor. This was how it was done: A Wexford engineer was sent down to make a map. The landlord's solicitor drew the agreements up, the tenants' solicitor got them signed and the sale was finished in six weeks, 166 and this might include about 100 tenants. If such an estate were put into Court for sale, the order for sale would not be made for six months; the maps and rental, which the Wexford engineer finished in a week, would take six months more, perhaps six years, and then the proceedings in Court would take so long, before it would finally come on for auction or sale before the Land Judge, that half the tenants would have died, which would mean that the rental should be amended, and this would probably take a few months or years more. This was exactly what occurred on Lord Keane's estate, which was in his own constituency. It took two years to correct the mistakes made in the rental six years previous.
Now even if the Land Judge had not such a system to contend with, his progress must necessarily be slow, because there was more work cut out for him than any man could do. This was what usually happened in the Land Judge's Court. One day each week was fixed for hearing cases under the 40th Section of the Land Act of 1896 and the 7th Section of the Land Act of 1903. During the other five days of the week, the time of the Court was taken up with motions dealing with disputes between mortgagees about their property, disputes between tenants about a right of way, a boundary or a fence, or turbary rights, disputes about some small charge on the property; applications to get a rent temporarily reduced, and small matters of that kind. There were usually two or three counsellors on each side, and as if five days in the week were not enough for these disputes, they were frequently carried into the sixth, whilst an estate where eighty or 100 tenants were concerned was rushed through in half an hour and as a rule nobody was examined, or only the Receiver of the estate, although according to the 10th Section, each and every one of the tenants had a right to be heard in reference to the price the Land Fudge was going to fix; but it was not even pretended that the tenants should get a fair hearing. Again, sales were blocked by certain powers that were in possession of the Land Judge which enabled him to demand a higher price for the estate than the price fixed by the experts of the Land Commission. The price was fixed after examination and inspection by the experts, and 167 the Land Commission was prepared to advance the highest penny that the estate was security for, but Mr. Justice Ross virtually said—"What do I care about you or your price. You may be experts, you may know the value of land, but I have certain powers conferred upon me by the British Government, and I mean to exercise these powers, although I know nothing at all about land. I can demand whatever price I like for that estate. I want four years purchase more for that estate than your price, and except you give it there will be no sale." That was exactly what happened on the King Estate in his constituency. It had been in Court for some years. After the usual delays an agreement was arrived at between landlord and tenant, the price agreed to was eighteen years purchase, and this agreement was signed by the tenants and sanctioned by the Land Judge. A surveyor was sent down to survey the estate, and he did it in a most extraordinary manner. In some cases according to him the farmers had exchanged holdings, in other cases he gave a part of one tenant's farm to another, and in one or two cases he put two farms and a part of another into one, so that when the estate again came before Mr. Justice Ross there was nothing to be done only postpone the sale. But Mr. Justice Ross stated in the open Court that as the tenants were in no way to blame they should not suffer by the postponement. In the meantime the Land Act of 1903 was passed, and then the landlord demanded twenty-two years purchase. Did Mr. Justice Ross keep his promise? No, but he told the tenants they should amend their offer, and as they had now cheaper money to buy with, he would very soon fix the price for them, if they did not make a more reasonable offer to the landlord. Was that justice? If he agreed to pay a certain price for a thing to-day, was the bargain to be broken and must he pay more for it to-morrow because there was a reduction in the interest of money? Everything in connection with the Land Judge's Court seemed to be out of joint.
Another cause of expense, inconvenience, and delay, was that two Courts, separated from each other by about a mile, did identically the same class of work, and both, at the same time, dealt 168 with the same estate, with messengers constantly going to and fro. Mr. Justice Ross was in the Four Courts, while the Land Commission Court was in Merrion Street about a mile away. Why could not the Land Commission sit in the Four Courts alongside the Land Judge's Court? The question arose, Did those gentlemen in the Land Judge's Court want to sell the encumbered estates? Many people were of opinion that they did not, because the more estates that were sold the less rosy would be the prospect of fat salaries with little to do. In this Court there was a gentleman called an examiner. What he examined or whom he examined it was not quite clear, as sales were very slow; but one thing was perfectly clear, and that was the salary paid to him was £2,000 a year. The Receivers were paid another £2,000 between them every year for doing lit the or nothing. The officers in the Land Judge's Court, and there was a large number of them, were all well paid with little to do. The solicitors on each estate, when all counted up, sometimes numbered fifteen or twenty on a single estate. And how were all those gentlemen that he had referred to paid? They were all paid out of the estates, and consequently they did not want sales. He would give the House an instance of how these gentlemen sold estates. In his constituency there was an estate called the Richards Estate, which was placed in Court some twenty-seven years ago. V list of rentals was prepared and it took ten years to prepare it. A list of rentals, as many hon. Gentlemen were aware, was a very simple document It contained merely the names of the tenants, the name of the townland, barony, and county in which each one lived, the number of acres he held, the rent he paid, the gale days, and the nature of the tenancy. Any ordinary intelligent man could make out a list of rentals for, say, a hundred tenants in about a fortnight. But it took ten years to make out this one. Then fifteen years more passed by and nothing was done by the Land Judge except listening to endless disputes between the lawyers, and after twenty-five years the estate was just as near being sold as at the commencement, and it would not have been sold yet only the tenants' solicitor hauled it out of Court. The sale realised £10,000. The cost was £2,000. 169 This was divided between the do-nothings of the Land Judge's Court, and they would have had more out of it only for the tenants' solicitor who effected the sale, and who felt himself happy to get a £50 note out of it. The very same thing occurred on the Edwards Estate, the Howlin Estate, and Lord Keane's Estate, all in his constituency. They were in Court for twenty or twenty-five years, and would be there still only the tenants' solicitor hauled them out of Court.
It was very strange that although it might take many years to sell an estate, in Court, it could be sold in as many weeks outside. Suppose some merchants in London who did business by telegram and cablegram and wireless telegraphy, and who dashed through the streets in motor-cars, always making the most of their time, were told that it took over twenty-five years to sell a little estate in Ireland, that it took ten years to prepare a list of rentals giving occupation to half a dozen solicitors, eight or ten officers in the Land Judge's Court, presided over by the Land Judge himself, that fifteen years more passed by, the band Judge listening to the endless disputes of the lawyers, without making any progress, and that after twenty-five, years, when the estate came really to be sold, it was found that a new list of rentals had to be prepared, that the old one was useless, because the tenants were all dead except two, who were more or less immortal. What would the merchants say I Surely, Sir, they would say that those people employed in the Land Judge's Court should not be allowed to live in a civilised country, but that they should be deported to Central Africa or Arabia, where men are not much encumbered with clothes, and he was very much afraid they would insist that one or two right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, who made ingenious excuses for them, should go with them to show how the agony was being piled on in other directions. On the Colclogh Estate, which was also in his constituency, there was going to be a labourers' cottage put on a farm. Mr. Norris Goddard, a solicitor from Dublin, a valuer, and Mr. Doolan, the agent, attended in state to oppose the cottage which was passed, and they charged the estate ten guineas each, or over £30. Besides this every tenant who 170 went into Court, numbering about 100, Mr. Norris Goddard appealed against. This brought himself and the valuer six guineas a case, or a total of £630. Doubtless Mr. Doolan, the Receiver, got a slice also. Did these people want the estate to be sold? Would anybody belonging to this estate bring on a sale except compelled by the band Judge or by statute? Certainly not. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had made a bold effort to settle the Irish Land question, but he would find that satisfactory progress could not be made except he took the Land Judge's Court in hand, and reformed it, because it was the greatest obstacle to the sale and transfer of land although it was established to sell estates.
He would respectfully submit the following reforms for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration—First, that the Return he moved for, a few days before the Easter recess, be granted; second, that the rules of the Land Judge's Court be recast; third, that one of those Irish Judges who were constantly being presented with white gloves be appointed to adjudicate on those minor matters that he had referred to and allow Mr. Justice Ross to apply himself to the 40th Section of the Land Act of 1896, and the 7th Section of the Land Act of 1903; also that more examiners be appointed; fourth, that Mr. Justice Ross be deprived of that power which enabled him to block the sale of estates by demanding a higher price for them than their value; fifth, that the Land Judge's Court and the Land Commission Court should be brought into close proximity to each other; and sixth, that all those gentlemen employed in the Land Judge's Court should be paid by the job, and that they should not get a single penny out of an estate until it was sold. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary promised immediately before Easter that ho would see if some such Return as he moved for could be made out. This was the only bit of consolation they had ever got regarding this Return. He moved for it once or twice before, and he alluded to it in a little speech which he made in the House about three years ago. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone also moved for a like Return twice or three times. They were always told that the labours of making 171 out such a Return would be gigantic, and that the benefits would be nil, and consequently the Return could not be granted. Would it be difficult to put down on paper the number of estates in the Land Judge's Court; the names of the counties in which they were situated; the date on which each one was placed in Court; the rents as shown by the last Receiver Account; and what proceedings, if any, had been taken to sell the estates. It was idle to pretend that there was any difficulty in making out this Return. The reason this Return had not long ago been laid before the House was that those gentlemen employed in the Land Judge's Court, and the Land Judge also, were utterly ashamed of themselves at the, slow progress made in the sale of estates. Could such cases as he had referred to, cases that were found everywhere all over the country, occur if such a Return were made out every three months Could estates be kept nearly thirty years in Court? Would ten years be spent in preparing a list of rentals that a man could make out in a fortnight? Could thousands of pounds be spent in trying not to sell an estate? No, Sir, this House would never stand it. The public would not stand it. He respectfully appealed to the Chief Secretary to grant this Return. It was the first and most necessary step to drain this bog—this sink—the Land Judge's Court, in which estates were sometimes lost, and the owners were lost with them. What was the use of passing Acts of Parliament to facilitate the sale and purchase of land so long as there was a pitfall like this in the way.
Any person like himself, who had lived all his life amongst the Irish tenant farmers, could very easily distinguish the difference between the farmer who had purchased and the farmer who had not. As soon as a man became the owner of his farm, the terror of the landlord and the uncertainty of the Land Courts disappeared, and he settled down to improve and cultivate his farm according to the most approved methods. An air of comfort seemed to settle down all over the place, and prosperity bloomed round the homestead. This was a desirable state of things, a state of things that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House should strive to bring about, in 172 the interest of the Irish tenant farmers in the interest of the landlords themselves, and, above all, in the interest of the British Government. Who were the men that carried their flag to victory on many a hard-fought field? Well, Sir, to say the least, the Irish peasant soldier did his share, and he would venture to say that the British Government never made a greater mistake, never committed a greater crime against itself, not to speak of the crime it committed against the Irish nation, than when it allowed the Irish peasantry to be swept wholesale off the land.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
said he did not propose to make many observations on the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for South Wexford. He had often said that the transfer of the land to the occupying tenants was, in the view of the Government, the proper solution of the land question in Ireland. The hon. Member had asked whether it would be difficult to draw up a list of all the estates in the Land Judge's Court. It might be, but whether it was difficult or not such a Return would be quite misleading for any purpose the hon. Member had at heart. He would develop that at some length, because there was some misconception on this subject which ought to be cleared up. Hon. Members had often used words which had led him to assume that they held that every estate in this Court could be sold, even every bankrupt estate. This was not at all the case. There were a number of complicated and technical reasons why they could not be, and a Return of every estate would really throw no light on the problem they were discussing to-night. Some speakers, including his hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone, had taken a more pessimistic view than he himself had taken of the progress that was being made in the Land Judge's Court. The hon. Member for South Tyrone began by deploring the absence of the jury. He also had a very good case and he had to labour under a like disadvantage. He asked those who took the opposite view to himself to believe that he was as anxious as they were that the 7th Section of the Act of last year should prove operative. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, 173 to illustrate his view, quoted the remarks of Mr. Justice Bewley in 1897, but he should be able to prove that there had been continual progress, and that that progress had been more rapid since 1897. There had been a further acceleration since the year 1901, when they last debated the question of the Land Judge's Court, and the rapidity of progress had been still further accelerated since the Act of 1903 had come into operation.
The hon. Member for South Tyrone said that some figures which he had given ought to be discounted, from the fact that a number of solvent estates were taken out of Court. This was what, as far as he knew, all persons who had interested themselves in this matter wished to be the case. The great complaint was that they were in the Court. None of them ought to be in. He would show they were there for legal reasons, for Chancery reasons, and not because they were supposed to be insolvent when, as a matter of fact, they were solvent. If they were not there for legal reasons they clearly ought to be taken out of the Court. In these cases the procedure of the Court was analogous to the procedure of a Chancery suit in this country, and he did not suppose anybody would suggest that a Chancery suit could be carried out with the expedition of the mere transaction of purchase and sale. The hon. Member went on to declare that there always would be delay because solicitors and Receivers were interested in obtaining delay, but they were under the control of the Land Court Judge, who had been most zealous and successful in many cases. He had deprived solicitors of their fees in some cases and he had imposed fines upon them, and his orders had been peremptory that solvent estates should be taken out of Court and that insolvent estates were to be sold as quickly as possible. In fact, he had shown so much zeal and industry that at present there was no congestion in the Court at all. As to the specific cases quoted by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, the right hon. Gentleman declared that the worst use they could make of their power was to constitute the House a Court of appeal upon particular cases. They had not the facts before them, and it was not for them to 174 express any opinion; it was the duty of the Judge before whom the cases came to determine what was just. With regard to the case in which the owners of a head rent had asked for twenty-five years purchase, it would be an abuse of his position if he attempted to give any opinion upon prices in Ireland. As to the estate which, according to the version which had been given to the hon. Member for South Tyrone, would have been sold but eventually was not sold because the sporting rights had been hired by a lady, that case had not come before Mr. Justice Ross, before him, or before the House, and it would be improper for him to express an opinion upon it With regard to the clerks in the Land Judge's Court who had been or might be relieved from their duties, he could not give an undertaking that a particular person should be employed, but one would naturally look to gentlemen who had experience and knowledge of the Irish land problem to fill vacancies and new posts under the Estates Commissioners. He quite agreed that they ought to get solvent estates out of the Court, and sell the insolvent estates as rapidly as might be to the occupying tenants. That was his view, and it was also Mr. Justice Ross's view.
The hon. Member for East Kerry went into the history of the Land Judge's Court, but he did not propose to go so far back as 1848. The hon. Member said that £23,000,000 worth of land was sold before that year. That was certainly a very large amount, considering to whom it was sold, and the conditions under which the transactions took place. The sales left all the differences between tenants as to questions of boundaries, turbary, and easements, precisely as they were. That was a very simple operation as compared with the operation of selling an estate to the tenants after settling all these disputed questions, and conferring, as by statute they were bound to confer, an indefeasible Parliamentary title on these purchasers. The hon. Member was good enough to supply him with the names of a certain number of estates he intended to refer to. He had made inquiries regarding them since receiving the hon. Member's letter, and he could point out how the matter stood with 175 respect to two of the estates. As to the Mahouy Estate the tenants came to a voluntary arrangement with the owner to sell to them instead of to the Estates Commissioners under the procedure provided by the Land Act. In regard to the MacGillycuddy Estate what had taken place illustrated some of the problems which had perplexed hon. Members. The owner being only a tenant for life could only sell in the Land Judge's Court so much of the fee of the estate as would suffice to discharge the encumbrances paramount to the life interests. But as it was considered desirable that more should be sold an order was made by the Court to enable the owner to effect the sales. He could quite understand that the hon. Member who was interested in the tenants on these estates was disappointed at the delay, but he would see that the Land Judge's Court might be brought in at the instance of other parties, and that the Court might not be the best, but might be the worst, tribunal for having sales effected to the occupying tenants. If an estate could be taken out of the Land Judge's Court, and placed under the Estates Commissioners that would be for the good of all parties. It was for that purpose Section 7 of the Act of last year was passed, and there was every reason to believe that the section would work successfully.
There were two sides to the Court—the Land Judge's side and the Receiver's side. The petitions for sale on the Land Judge's side were not solely in respect of agricultural land. They were also in respect of house property in towns. He would not repeat those arguments, but merely state that he adhered to all he had said on previous occasions as to the unavoidable delay of procedure which attached to these cases. In spite of these difficulties, Mr. Justice Ross had been able to make great progress in recent years. The Receiver in the Land Judge's Court controlled all the cases which came from the Master of the Rolls, and from the Vice-Chancellor's Court, and all cases of property which belonged to minors—all cases, in fact, except those involving questions of lunacy. In order to prove that real and substantial progress had been made, he would apply the test of rental. In 1878, 176 estates began to accumulate in the Court, and the rent d of the properties in the Court amounted to nearly £1,000,000 a year. That was the amount in 1896 when the Act was passed, and the Judge was appointed. In 1897 it amounted to£795,000 a year. When last this subject was debated, the hon. Member for South Tyrone, on 21st February 1901, stated that the amount was £639,000, and at present the rental of all the properties in the Land Judge's Court was, with the exception of lunacy cases, only £365,000. He would analyse these. The Chancery cases accounted for £213,750 a year out of the total of gross rental of £365,000. That left for properties in respect of which there were orders for sale £151,250. That showed a very different picture from that which was conjured up by the statement of the hon. Member opposite, that the property in the Court represented a rental of £700,000. But, all that was not in respect of agricultural land. Some of it was in respect of town property, something like £15,000, some £6,274 in respect of demesne land, and £20,530 in respect of grazing land, leaving £109,709 for agricultural land. That was the rental test as to the progress made in the Court. He agreed that they ought to apply the test as to the progress of purchases actually completed.
§ MR. MURPHY
asked if the right hon. Gentleman would give the House an opportunity of testing the accuracy of the information by giving the names of the estates.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he had taken great pains to analyse the details, and the hon. Gentleman might take it that the figures he had given were correct.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said he thought the right hon. Gentleman ought to give these figures in the form of a Return.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that he would try to satisfy the hon. and learned Member, and would give such figures as would not involve a mass of printing, having nothing to do with land purchase at all. The hon. Member supposed that there was an enormous amount of 177 property which ought to be sold, and was not sold. Well, he would apply the test of purchases, and the amount of money advanced, to show the great acceleration there had been in the procedure of the Court, about which there was absolute knowledge. He would take the period from April, 1887, to the end of 1903. The amount of advances during that period was£3,811,321, but of this amount before the passing of the Act of 1896 only £847,992 was advanced, so that from 1887 until 1896 the rate of sale was about £84,000 a year. Since the Act of 1896 was passed, the sums advanced had amounted to £2,963,329. From April, 1897, to April, 1901, the sales had been at the rate of £276,686 per annum; but if the sales from April, 1901, to December last year were analysed, they were at the rate of £574,507 per annum, which compare still more favourably with the rate of £84,000 a year from 1887 to 1896.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that was a matter for congratulation. In this last period was included the months of cessation of business pending the new Act, but for which the figures would have been higher, as they must expect them to be in the future.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that there were also doubts about the bonus; but in spite of these causes of retardation during last summer, and during the time the Act was getting into operation, for sales under the Act of last year in the Land Judge's Court, and apart from Section 7, £133,320 had been already advanced. Under Section 7, eighteen estates had been sent to the Estates Commissioners, the rental involved being £9,088. This would give roughly about £800,000 or £900,000 a year as the ratel at which purchase was now going on in the Land Judge's Court. At that rate, they would soon be in sight of the end. He was not surprised that the Estimates showed a reduction in the number of Receivers under this Court. He was informed by Mr. Justice Ross that Section 7 was 178 working most satisfactorily. That gentleman anticipated that the majority of the agricultural estates would be sold under it in a very few years time. That seemed to him as if it must be so, wherever the estates were solvent. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had referred to the insolvent estates, but there were some of these in Ireland where the legal complications were so great that they could not be unravelled in a moment. They were, however, in sight of the winding-up of the business of this Court in so far as it was the successor of the Encumbered Estates Court. The Land Judge expected to be able, at an early date, to take over a considerable amount of work from the Land Commission of a purely legal character, relating to investigation of title and distribution of purchase money. So far from it having been necessary to borrow another Judge to assist Mr. Justice Ross, such had been his industry that his shire of the work would very soon be completed.
He took a sanguine view of the condition of things, and he had given figures to support a sanguine view. He would therefore pass to the Motion before the House. What did it say? That the time had arrived for taking immediate steps to wind up the business of the Land Judge's Court in Ireland, in the interests of all concerned. He agreed with that. The Land Judge agreed with it. More than that, he was taking steps to secure, that that should soon be the case. So far from regarding this Motion as a reflection on Mr. Justice Ross, he had great pleasure in asking the House to accept it. He regarded it, in all seriousness, as a tribute to the vigour Mr. Justice Ross had displayed, and as a monument of the success of the steps he had taken.
§ MR. O'SHEE (Waterford, W.)
said he thought from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that he had no conception of the working of the Land Judge's Court. He was quite prepared to admit that there had been an acceleration of sales from 1896 to 1901, and from 1901 to the passing of the Act of last year; but the figures since November last did not give a true picture of what had taken place. For a long time prior to the 179 passing of the Act last year sales had been practically hung up. Application was made day alter day for postponement of the steps necessary to accomplish sales. The right hon. Gentleman was, he thought, not entitled fairly or reasonably to say that the rate of progress would be maintained in the future; and he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would live to see his estimate falsified. The complaint of his hon. friend was in connection with estates under the 40th Section. During last year, those estates were hung up, pending the passing of the Land Act; and afterwards it was found that the Land Commission had enhanced the purchase price, and that the Land Judge imposed entirely new terms for purchase, raising the price by three, four, or five years. The Chief Secretary in his reply did not deal in any way with that grievance. Whenever it was represented to Judge Ross that the price of an estate should be increased he always assented; and it was practically in the hands of the Receiver or the solicitor having carriage of the sale as to what the price should be. In one case, Judge Ross stated that he could not reconcile his conscience to giving the tenants a reduction of 6s. in the £, although it was laid down in the Act of last year that that was a reasonable reduction. In such circumstances, it was impossible to expect reasonable terms for the tenants in that Court. The general complaint of his hon. friend was that, as a result of the Act of last year, all the estates in Judge Ross's Court had been increased in price. It was quite true that during the last six or seven years Judge Ross had, in a great measure, endeavoured to expedite sales; but his complaint was that wherever Judge Ross saw a possibility of increasing the price he increased it. He thought the Chief Secretary was far too sanguine in anticipating that the business of the Court would be rapidly concluded. He also thought that arrears 180 of rent should be included in the purchase price, which was only a reasonable interpretation of the section.
§ Resolved, That the time has arrived for taking immediate steps to wind up the business of the Land Judge's Court in Ireland in the interests of all concerned.—(Mr. Murphy.)