§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland whether he can inform the House of the progress made by the Estates Commissioners in the reinstatement of the evicted tenants up to the present date; what are the causes of the practical breakdown of the Land Act of 1903 in this vital matter; and what steps the Government propose to take to remove these obstacles to a settlement of the Irish Land Question.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BRYCE, Aberdeen, S.)
Applications to the number of 5,912 have been received from evicted tenants or their representatives. Of these applications, 1,047 have been finally dealt with, 505 having been rejected as untenable, while the evicted tenants were restored 716 in the remaining 542 cases. Of these 542 tenants, 381 were restored by the landlords on the sale of their estates under the Land Purchase Act, the tenants being, inmost cases, assisted by grants from the Estates Commissioners for the equipment of their farms. The balance of 161 tenants have been either restored by the Estates Commissioners on their old holdings on purchase of the estates, or placed in new holdings provided for them. Under the former regulations, the Estates Commissioners were not allowed to negotiate with owners of untenanted land for the purchase of it with the view to providing farms for evicted tenants, and they were also prohibited from proposing the reinstatement of evicted tenants on a holding unless the estate on which the holding was situated had itself been proposed for sale. Both these restrictions were removed by the regulations of 13th February, 1906, and subsequently, in May last, the Estates Commissioners were given a special staff of six inspectors for the purpose of promoting this work. Since that date the inspectors have inquired into applications from 1,285 evicted tenants. Of these, 272 cases have been rejected; in 444 cases the landlord refused to allow the inspectors to visit the lands; in 242 cases the present occupants of the evicted holdings were unwilling to vacate them, some having purchased under the Land Purchase Act; in 100 cases terms have been proposed for the restoration of the tenants, and in eighty-six cases the tenants have been reinstated. In the balance further inquiries are being made. I do not consider that the Act has practically broken down, but its operation has no doubt been much slower than was expected, partly owing to the impediments interposed, until the beginning of the present year, by the regulations then withdrawn, and partly to the following causes, viz: (1) The unwillingness of tenants who hold evicted farms to relinquish them in favour of the former holders. (2) The difficulty of finding, especially in Ulster and Munster, untenanted land which the owner will consent to sell. (3) Local opposition which is sometimes offered to the introduction of strangers. Local public opinion might do much to remove this obstacle. (4) Objection taken by landlords in whose hands evicted farms are to the giving up of those farms for the 717 reinstatement of evicted tenants. Those are the main results that have so far emerged from the inquiries now in progress, which it must lie remembered are in the nature of preliminary investigations to ascertain wherein the obstacles really lie. Those inquiries are being energetically prosecuted in the same way, and it is intended to obtain additions to the staff so as to deal with the remaining cases if possible within the next six months. Until the whole of the evidence is before the Government, and until the administrative measures taken and capable of being taken by the Estates Commissioners have matured, I am not in a position to state whether further legislation upon the matter will be necessary, but that aspect of the Question will continue to receive the most careful attention of the Irish Government.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously mean to convey that one cause of the delay is the fact that the Commissioners are engaged in preliminary investigations, although the Act has been in operation for three years?
§ MR. BRYCE
Yes, Sir. I mean to convey that since the restrictions in operation in February have been removed it has been necessary to approach the subject in a much more systematic and complete manner than hitherto, and the time occupied by those investigations has necessarily delayed the progress of reinstatement. But we look upon these investigations, which are nearly at an end, as work of permanent value, and of great service in enabling the process of reinstatement to proceed more rapidly.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
This is a matter of such extraordinary and vital importance, affecting, as it does, questions of law and order as well as of land settlement, that I must ask the leave of the House to move the adjournment.