§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £160,978, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1909, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish Land Commission."
§ MR. JOHN ROCHE (Galway E.)
called attention to the serious situation which had arisen on the Clanricarde estates owing to the opposition to, or rather the defeat of, the Evicted Tenants Bill of last year—in fact he might add the defeat of all previous legislation passed by the House in its desire to settle the land question. In order that the House might understand the present position he would refer to the history of the case. The origin of the trouble on the estate arose 526 out of the failure of the crops in 1885. That was not confined to the Clanricarde estates alone. The effects were felt all over the western seaboard of Ireland. The tenants approached their landlords with the request that they should contribute something in the shape of a temporary abatement of the rents then due, to enable them to tide over the difficulty with which they were faced. He was pleased to be able to state that the poorer landlords almost without exception met their tenants in a fair and conciliatory spirit, with the result that peace and harmony prevailed on these estates at the present moment. Clanricarde did not even acknowledge the memorial of the tenants. The first acknowledgment they had from him were writs from the Superior Court for the rents. The amount then due would not be equal to the cost incurred in obtaining the judgments in the Superior Court. At the time there was no such thing as a plan of campaign in Ireland at all. It was not mentioned for twelve months afterwards, and he had no hesitation in saying that no man living was more responsible for the plan of campaign programme than Clanricarde himself. Having got these judgments he proceeded to evict the poor tenants on the 19th August, 1885. A large force of police was drafted into the place and the people naturally resented the evictions. They collected in large numbers and when the sheriff appeared at the houses of the tenants about to be evicted the tenants offered him rents due in full, and in addition, the costs which would have been incurred by Clanricarde if he had proceeded in the ordinary way before the County Court. The sheriff had no power to accept anything short of a pound of flesh, and between 19th and 27th August the houses of the tenants were captured by the enemy. There were between 500 and 600 police and soldiers on the scene for nine or ten days and the House could imagine the enormous expense incurred by the State in connection with these evictions, in order that Clanricarde might wreak his vengeance and vindictiveness on the unhappy tenants. Sir Michael Hicks Beach, now Lord St. Aldwyn, who was Chief Secretary at the time, in an interview with Clanricarde's agent pointed out the difficulty and trouble that would arise in future evictions and urged that Clanricarde should recognise the claims 527 of the poor tenants as the poorer landlords had done throughout the length and breadth of the country. The correspondence was published in the Journals of the House. The then Chief Secretary distinctly stated that unless the claims of the tenants were recognised and concessions made similar to those made by other landlords, the forces of the Government if required by Clanricarde in future would not be given for the work. That had no effect, and Joyce retired. Then the present man, a bankrupt, came down and took up the job. Evictions went on until they reached the number of 170. During all the time the tenants never ceased to display their willingnes to come to a reasonable settlement He might also mention that Lord Eversley, then a prominent member of the Gladstone Government, sought to interfere and went down to the district with the object of holding a demonstration. On the eve of the demonstration, Lord Clanricarde at last recognised claims made by the tenants; but only to this extent, that if the tenants paid every shilling of arrears due up to date, they would receive 20 per cent. off the last half-year's rent. It was needless to say that it was impossible for the tenants to accept those conditions. After all the misery and expense that was incurred, halting legislation was taken up in this House, with the result of which they were all conversant. All the legislation of the past had not been of the value of a fraction of a penny to the tenants on the Clanricarde estates. The Land Bill of 1903 was introduced and promises were made by the Government of the day that that Bill would be calculated to settle the entire agrarian trouble in Ireland, and particularly that the congested districts in the western portion would be dealt with in a generous spirit and that the evicted tenants would be restored to the land. But under that Bill when it became law not a solitary evicted tenant on the Clanricarde Estates had been reinstated or derived a fraction of benefit whatever from it. So passed four years and then another Bill was introduced, known as the Evicted Tenants Bill. The present Chief Secretary for Ireland in introducing the Bill described it as "a measure to enable both Houses of Parliament to keep faith with the Irish people within the terms of the Land Conference and to affect the speedy 528 restoration of the evicted tenants to their holdings." But he did not rest his case on the description of the Bill entirely on the statement of the Chief Secretary. In another place the Earl of Mayo, who had been a member of the Land Conference, said that—it was essential that a good understanding should be arrived at.Now, he asked, was there any man in the House who believed for one moment that the Land Bill of 1903 would ever have been placed on the Statute-book had it not been for the faith that those promises and that understanding which the hon. Members on those benches accepted would be honourably kept? Lord Lansdowne said on the Second Reading—We are pledged to a measure of reinstatement of some kind. If you throw out the Bill it will be said that you have receded from the kind of undertaking which we arrived at in 1903.The Earl of Arran in the same debate said—The reinstatement of the evicted tenants is to bring the spirit of peace to the tenants of Ireland. Let every evicted tenant be reinstated so long as that is not done at the expense of injustice to anybody else.Before he sat down he would show that there was not the slightest intention of doing injustice to anybody. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin in the debate in February last on the Bill in the House of Commons said that—it had been contended that the settlement of the evicted tenants was part of the agreement of 1903,and the right hon. Gentleman went on to define that agreement and to say—There can be no doubt whatever that in the interests not merely of these unfortunate people themselves, but in the interests of the successful working of the great Purchase Act, their reinstatement was looked upon as an essential element.The Evicted Tenants Act was passed by the Commons. It went to the House of Lords where it was mutilated almost beyond recognition, so that the Irish Members could not accept any responsibility for it. It was, however, accepted by the Government, and it raised the hopes of the people on the Clanricarde estate, who believed that the Estates Commissioners would have compulsory powers to acquire land for their settlement. The Commissioners then set 'to work and sent down inspectors to 529 inquire into the condition of the estate. As he (Mr. Roche) and his friends had foreseen, it was found that, with one exception, the planters welcomed the Bill, and desired that it should begin to operate immediately—the exception being that of a man who had been given a post as bailiff and gatekeeper on the estate, with a large salary. The Commissioners proceeded to acquire holdings, and that moment Clanricarde objected. The case was tried before Judge Wylie. The planters as well as the tenants were represented in the Court, desiring a settlement. The Judge decided on behalf of the Commissioners and planters. Clanricarde appealed, and while the appeal was pending he himself received letters from several planters begging him to use whatever influence he possessed with the Commissioners, to hurry them up and take the land from them, to allow them to go out with the compensation provided for in the Act, and permit the new tenants to come in. And they stated that one of the reasons for this request was that it was spring, the time for sowing the crops. The planters added that they themselves were not going to grow any crops that year, and unless the new tenants were let in the arable parts of the land would be valueless and become derelict that year. Upon receiving that letter he put a Question in the House which was answered last April. The Answer was that the matter was pending in the Court of Appeal and until the Court decided the Commissioners could take no further action. The Court of Appeal decided last week. Clanricarde seemed to be very fortunate when he appealed to the Court of Appeal. This was not the first time he had gone to the Court to upset the finding of the Judge. He knew nothing of the gentlemen who formed the Court of Appeal, and he cared less, but after their decision he held it was the duty of the Government at once to take up this question and give effect to a Bill which would put the matter right. The Massarene estate was to some extent on the same lines as the Clanricarde estate. Evictions took place and new tenants were placed on the land. But let the Committee contrast the difference between the two. On the Massarene estate the clauses of the Land Bill and the Evicted Tenants Bill were allowed to operate, with the result that 530 the planters had gone, the old tenants had come in, and £7,400 of Irish State money had been expended on the operation which had restored peace and harmony on that estate. On the Clanricarde estate both planter and evicted were shut out by the decision of Court of Appeal. They were dealing with a cruel and' relentless creature whom most of them had never seen since he inherited the estate thirty-five years ago. Since then he had never been in Ireland. He did not even return on the death of his mother, and his sister had to protect the family vault from exposure at her own expense. Any one who would study the history of this estate for the last thirty years would find across its face a trail of blood and tears. One of Clanricarde's agents was shot in the open day. Naturally such an event excited a great deal of attention and comment, most of it unfavourable to Clanricarde, who vilified his agent. The agent's wife took proceedings in the Courts to vindicate the character and honour of her husband, and what did Clanricarde do? He met her action by an appeal to the Court for an injunction and restrained her from publishing the letter which would have vindicated the honour of her husband. Clanricarde attempted to play the same game with Blake Joyce, who came in after. But Joyce took proceedings, and the Court recognised his claim and awarded him damages. But, of course, the convenient Court of Appeal to which Clanricarde then went reversed the judgment. Such was the character of the man whose victims, through their representatives in this House, appealed to the representatives of a free people and implored them to stay the hand of this cruel and relentless creature, and send them a message of hope that they might know that a brighter future was in store for them. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by £100.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £160,878, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. John Roche).
§ MR. LARDNER (Monaghan, N.)
said that in supporting the Motion of his hon. friend he would, he was afraid, have to trouble the Committee with some figures. Towards the end of last year the Evicted 531 Tenants Bill was passed into law, and the feeling of this House was one of gratitude, of joy that there was a possibility of peace being brought to one of the most unfortunate classes of the Irish community. But a fortnight before the measure was introduced the Estates Commissioners issued a special Report of all their proceedings up to 31st May, 1907, in respect of persons applying as evicted tenants for restoration to their holdings. That Report showed that 8,401 applications had been received, 6,143 had been inquired into and reported on, and 2,935 had been rejected on one of eight grounds, none of which were in any case disclosed. Up to the 31st May, 1907, 1,033 tenants had been provided for either by restoration to their old holdings or to others, 946 had been restored to their old holdings, and eighty-seven to new holdings that had been provided for them. The Commissioners also reported that they had not been able to inquire into or report on 2,658 applications up to that date, but they estimated that there would be 400 suitable applicants in this number, so that with the 1,609 reported cases there were at 31st May, 1907, over 2,000 evicted tenants to be reinstated, and that to that date, 31st May, 1907, 1,033 tenants had been reinstated or otherwise provided for. A few days since a Return authorised by Section 3 of the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act was put at the disposal of this House, which disclosed a very strange state of affairs. It was a Return giving the particulars of all the tenants or the representatives of tenants who had been reinstated since the passing of the Act of 1903, in their holdings up to the 31st December, 1907. The figures showed that up to 31st May, 1,033 had been reinstated, whilst the total number reinstated up to the 31st December, according to the latter return, wore 1,036. That was to say between June and December three tenants were reinstated. That would seem to show that the Act of last year had been a failure. There was no doubt after what they had heard from the hon. Gentleman who moved the reduction that it was a failure so far as the Clanricarde estate was concerned. He was not inclined to blame the Estates Commissioners for being unsympathetic or to blame them for any breach of duty, but he must say that he thought there was gross delay at the Com- 532 missioners' office. It might be due to want of sufficient staff or due to unsuitable office accommodation. But in Ireland there was this great public department carrying out the transfer of land to the tenants, fixing fair rents of the land which was not sold, collecting the interest on over £30,000,000 of land that had been purchased by the Land Commissioners, and in the six months from June to December they had only reinstated three tenants. The office was contained in five or six old houses, very like a Bloomsbury- lodging - house. It was like a rabbit warren, one house opening into another, and boring from one room into another as the work increased. If a private business grew as had the work of the Estates Commissioners, the owner of that business instead of taking up one old house after another, would build himself a suitable office with adequate accommodation.
§ MR. BARRIE (Londonderry, N.)
said so far as he was aware the provision of accommodation for the Land Commission was not included in the Vote.
said that the Vote referred to the work of the Land Commission, and if the members of the Commission were hampered in their work by inadequate office accommodation, it was not out of order to refer to it.
§ MR. LARDNER
ventured respectfully to submit that one of the reasons why the work of the Land Commission was impeded and delayed was want of proper accommodation. They might be told that a most up-to-date office for the Examiners of Tills had been provided in Nassau Street. It certainly looked imposing, and when one went up in the lift one felt most unlegal, but if they wanted to get any business done they had better take up their abode there. The work of the Land Commission should be done in one building and under one control, in order that it might be done expeditiously and with proper attention. He was informed that the staff was not sufficient, and that the department was wholly undermanned. It was necessary that there should be an adequate staff if the 2,000 evicted tenants were to be reinstated within a reasonable period. He would like to show what was the process which had to be followed 533 where an evicted tenant sought to be reinstated. Take the case of a tenant who had been evicted twenty years. He made his application for reinstatement, and he received a printed acknowledgment. Four or five months afterwards he was visited by a gentleman who sometimes came without notice and occasionally having previously notified his intention of coming. The evicted tenant had a chat with him, and they looked over the farm. After the lapse of another three or four months came a letter stating that the Commissioners had considered his application for reinstatement and had decided not to accede to the application. The unfortunate tenant wrote to ask "Why?" He got a reply that it had been decided to reject his application. "Why?" he again very properly asked. The reply he received was that it was not the practice of the Commissioners to disclose the grounds of their refusal. He objected to that method of procedure in the very strongest way, and he would, in this connection, like to read to the House the possible grounds of objection which might be raised against the application of an evicted tenant for reinstatement. There were eight in number, first, that the eviction had taken place over twenty-five years ago; second, that the applicant was a herd or a caretaker; third, that he voluntarily sold or surrendered his farm; fourth, that he lost the holding through creditors or through family disputes; fifth, that he was unsuitable to work the land by reason of age or infirmity, or want of farming experience and habits of industry, or he was incompetent for other reasons; sixth, that he was not a bona fide evicted tenant, or representative of a bona fide evicted tenant; seventh, that the applicant was not an evicted tenant but a defaulting annuitant for a purchased farm; and lastly, that the applicant had at the present time a holding sufficient for his requirements. Now, under 4 and 5 the claim of any evicted tenant for reinstatement, no matter how strong his case was, might be rejected if an inspector was unfriendly to the applicant. He did not wish to say that the Commissioners had abused or would abuse in the powers, but they were relying on the report of an inspector who probably had only one short interview with the applicant. Then take the case of a hostile landlord who did not want to see evicted tenants restored to 534 their holdings. He plied the Commissioners with letters stating the bad qualities of the man, that he was not industrious, not sober, that he was old and infirm, incompetent, or that there were other reasons against him which an agent could very easily find. The tenant never heard of these communications; possibly a poor and illiterate man, out of his farm for years, living by his daily earning without means to enable him to get professional assistance to prosecute his claim. He did not think that was right. He claimed in the very strongest way that the applicant for reinstatement should be told the definite ground on which his application had been refused. He asked the Chief Secretary to see that the Commissioners in rejecting claims in the future, set out the plain grounds of the rejection; then the evicted tenant would know where he stood, and would have an opportunity of refuting, if he could, the statements made against him. An inspector went to look at a holding in the North of Ireland, and said he saw no reason why the evicted tenant should not be restored. His parting message was—"You had better send up a letter of character from the sergeant of police." He was sure that everyone in that House would be surprised to learn that the evicted tenant farmer had to depend upon a letter as to his character provided by a sergeant of police in order to get reinstated in his old holding. Then as to the delay in the payment of free grants. He had personal knowledge of a case in which an unfortunate woman, had made application for a free grant, and though she had repeatedly renewed it, she had always received the reply that the matter was under consideration. He urged the Chief Secretary that the grants should be made at the time of the reinstatement, and should not be delayed. It was not conferring great benefit on a man to restore him to a farm which had deteriorated to the last degree, and had gone back to prairie condition. In the case of evicted farms which he knew, the buildings were in ruins, the fences destroyed, and the drains choked. Yet it was off such a farm that the unfortunate woman to whom he referred had been waiting anxiously for the last two years for this dole which would give her a fresh start in life. If the 2,000 tenants who were still on the road were to be sent back in our day, 535 something must be done to strengthen the hands of the Commissioners and expedite their work. Remember the Evicted Tenants Bill of last year only operated for four years, and unless some thing was done which would enable the Commissioners to deal with the last champions of landlord tyranny, there was little hope of peace and prosperity for Ireland, or of the evicted tenants getting back to the homes they loved, to till the land which Providence intended them to cultivate and enjoy.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BIRRELL,) Bristol, N.
I have listened with great respect and attention to the hon. Member for East Galway, who I know has done his best to try and secure peace and harmony. He speaks with knowledge and experience of the evicted tenants in his neighbourhood. The hon. Member dealt with what has happened to the Evicted Tenants Act of last session. I cannot say that I am very much surprised at the consequences, and of course I would be the last, having had the advantage of a legal training, to criticise, even if it were useful to do so, the reasons why the Court of Appeal in Ireland had occasion to reverse—I do not doubt they had good legal grounds for their view—the decision of the Court below. I am very glad that the provision in question was not part of the original Bill. It was introduced in the House of Lords, and I accepted it with profound reluctance, being indeed doubtful as to what construction might possibly be placed upon it by a Court of law. I was of two minds for a long time as to whether the Bill was worth having, subject to that condition. However, not having been very fortunate in my legislative efforts, I was desirous of seeing the Bill put upon the Statute-book, and I reluctantly consented to the proviso being added. The House will remember what the proviso was. A restriction was placed on the power of acquiring tenanted land by compulsion, and the proviso was that no tenanted land should be acquired compulsorily which was in the possession or occupation of a bona fide tenant using or cultivating the same as an ordinary farmer in accordance with proper methods of husbandry. The case of these bona fide tenants was pleaded with great vehemence by gentlemen opposite and also by noble Lords in another 536 place, and we were charged with proposing a most tyrannous Act because it was suggested that we contemplated the turning out from his farm of a bona fide tenant who was unwilling to go. We pointed out that there was no probability of any such tyranny being exercised by the persons authorised to put the Act into force, but we were told that it was not for Parliament to rely at all on the discretion of outside authorities, but that it was its solemn duty to secure that no person being a bona fide farmer occupying a farm from which someone had been evicted should be turned out against his will. Of course-everybody must feel there was a certain force in that contention, particularly those ignorant of the circumstances of the case and of the nature of the nobleman in question and his relations with his tenants. I will only read the observation that fell from the lips of Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords to show that the view he took of this proviso was that it was simply to protect those planters, upright and struggling men, who had remained there for a great many years, who liked the holdings, were on good terms with their neighbours and did not want to go, and the proviso which was introduced in the House of Lords was introduced to secure these persons. This is the language which he used—What is the difficulty which looms so-large in the way of His Majesty's Government? They urge that a great many of these planters are men of straw, that they are 'caretakers,' and that the number of bona fide farmers who would come within our definition is a very small one. Wry well. That shows, I think, that the difficulty which they will, have to deal with is a very small difficulty, although the total number of cases is a large one. The 'caretakers,' the nondescripts, the birds of passage, will not be protected under the terms of our Amendment. Then there are other of these planter-tenants who no doubt will be perfectly willing to move elsewhere under the liberal inducements which are to be offered to them; those men are willing to go and need not be considered. What then remains? Only that residuum—that handful of courageous men—who are farming their land properly, who have their farms stocked, who are paying their rent and who wish to remain where they are. Those are the men you want to be able to turn out in order to make room for the agitators who have been concerned in the discreditable events of the last few years.That is a frank, clear statement by the wielder of many legions in another place, and that showed clearly what the 537 general view of this proviso was. It was to protect those tenants who were occupying farms from which the former holders had been evicted and who did not want to go. That was an argument difficult to resist. I do not think it was capable of being resisted by persons with a peculiar knowledge of the circumstances of the locality. As a general proposition it appealed to them that an honest man who was cultivating his farm well and did not want to go should not be turned out of his home and house where he had lived for years, and the Leader of the Opposition showed how undesirable and improper and unfair it was that such a man should be taken up by the root and sent away. Of course, that is not now the interpretation that the Court of Appeal has put upon the proviso. The interpretation they have put upon it is that if he is there cultivating his land properly he cannot be sent away, even though he is glad to go and has accepted the terms which are offered him. I remember visiting this place and quite accidentally I saw two or three of these planters. I was most careful, being, I trust, an honest man, to tell them that the Act secured to them the amplest protection, that they were under no obligation to go, and if they did not want to go they were protected and entitled to remain, and I certainly, not being altogether indifferent to courage where I have seen it, spoke to them in terms of encouragement in their attitude of doing what was best for themselves. I found them a little sore about the manner in which they had been brought there, and they thought they had not been treated quite fairly. I am bound to say they spoke in kindly terms of the parish priest, saying that he had always stood by them, and had done his very best to secure that they should not be exposed to the pains and penalties sometimes imposed on people adopting an unpopular cause in Ireland, and that although they had had at times to suffer some hardships their attitude generally towards their neighbours, although they were Protestants and had come from afar, was by no means an unkindly one. But they wanted to go; they had had enough of it, and Lord Lansdowne's view of the proviso, which he himself introduced, and insisted on, in another place, was that it was not intended to interfere with the settlement of this difficult question by the removal of those persons ready to 538 go. So I say that, whilst in no way criticising the language of the law, we all of us know, who have ever had occasion to defend or attempt to explain an Act of Parliament in a Court of law, that it is of no use telling the Judge what the intentions of the framers were. They very properly will not allow you to read a speech, either of a Minister in charge of the Bill or of the hon. Gentleman opposite in charge of the Minister in charge of the Bill, or to make any reference whatever to the nature of the discussion. They say: "I can only read this Act of Parliament according to the laws of grammar." I will not trouble the House with the legal decisions, but they came quite clearly to the opinion—the three Judges in the Court of Appeal—that there was an insuperable obstacle placed upon the acquisition compulsorily of un-tenanted land if it was being held by a planter, bona fide carrying it on in accordance with the rules of husbandry. The moment you find that, you are powerless, and there it must remain; this Act, which we had hoped would become the means of conciliating, and of removing the difficulties in regard to Lord Clanricarde's tenants, is entirely powerless. I confess I am not wholly disposed to let the matter stop there. I think we all of us, both in this House and in another place, can have no other anxiety than to remedy our error. It may be our fault, the clumsiness of our expression, the hasty mode in which the negotiations were conducted between the two Houses, at the end of the session, but when there is not time to turn round, when you have to make up your minds in a few moments on the meaning of a proviso suddenly held at your head, and told that you must accept that or nothing, there is some excuse for the blunder which both Houses have made in this matter. I have had an opportunity of consulting with the Prime Minister, and, as the other place is not very much employed at the present time, I do not think it would be a bad plan, if we can, to introduce elsewhere a Bill of one clause—three or four words will make it perfectly plain that the transaction can be carried out without the consent of the landlord. I feel quite certain that when Lord Lansdowne is reminded of the language which he employed, language so exactly in accord with the wishes of us all, 539 that measure will be accelerated in all its stages, and we shall be in the position before very long of not only having given effect to our wishes, but in such a legal form as will prevent them being made waste paper in any Court of Law. The Evicted Tenants Bill was received in this House very fairly indeed. We all remember the speech of the right hon. Member for South Dublin, and I am bound to confess that the whole of the debates were friendly. Let bygones be bygones. We do not want to go into the history of these evicted tenants, we do not want to inquire too closely how it came about. The Land-Conference made it part of their conditions that the restoration should be done as quickly as possible. Unfortunately restoration is always difficult and takes a long time, but the Act contemplates, as quickly as possible, getting rid of this troublesome thing. The Act does this, no doubt, in spite of the opposition of hon. Members opposite, who fought hard on this one particular point. I urged that it was best not to have this proviso. I thought it was dangerous and unnecessary, though I cannot but acknowledge that there was some force in the argument, taken separately and simply as an ethical maxim. Therefore, although I have some little regard for my reputation as a lawyer, I was not unwilling to accept it, although I was a little anxious as to what interpretation a Court of Law would put on it, and if I had pressed for the point I feel sure it would have been made perfectly plain. The proviso was tagged on as a whole, and was not amended. I accepted it, and it has upset us altogether, and therefore I think the House will agree that there will be no injustice in seeking to rectify that one particular error, and to secure that it means no more than Lord Lansdowne said it did. And now with regard to this general process I want to make a very short statement. I do not think there is any dispute about the figures, although they are not worked out right down to the present day. The number of evicted tenants that had been reinstated under Section 2 of the Act of 1903 down to 31st May, 1907, was 1,033, but the number now is 1,595. Therefore 562 have been reinstated during the last twelve months. Of this number, 429 have been reinstated by landlords and 133 by the Commissioners on land purchased by them. The Commissioners 540 are disposed to think that, on the whole, and having regard to the difficulties of the question, these figures are not unsatisfactory. The Act of last session only came into force on 24th October, so that they have only had six months experience of its working. We are all, in the matter of land purchase and the restoration of evicted tenants, in a great hurry. We all want to see the job done as quickly as the financial arrangements will allow. But it is only fair to remind the House that we cannot, in dealing with a Land Act, proceed with red-hot haste, and we have to submit to a good deal of delay. The first thing you have to do is to find out where there is suitable land for compulsory acquisition. Then you have to find out who is the owner—and this I can assure the House is sometimes a most difficult task—and you have to place yourself in communication with him. You have to give the public notice through the Gazette and you have to serve copies of the notice upon all the parties interested. A report has to be obtained and sent in to the Commissioners, who have to meet and consider it. You may then have to give the owner a month to make up his mind about your offer, and if he refuses it then there has to be a time fixed for the hearing of the case, and his objection has to be determined judicially. You have to allow the owner time to appeal. He may claim that the land you want is part of the homo farm and you cannot buy it. We cannot, however anxious we may be, comply with the necessary procedure in less than six months. Since October we have used the powers of the Act to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of the restoration of these evicted tenants in thirty-five cases. In one of these cases, owing to the ultimate readiness of the landlord to accelerate the processes, we have carried it out and, all objections being waived, we have concluded the matter and nine evicted tenants have been reinstated on the land. In the other cases, objections have been lodged, and the time for the consideration of those objections has not yet been reached. With regard to the Clanricarde estate, we were willing to pay the price, and then Lord Clanricarde, being advised that this Act does not bear the interpretation we hoped it would, made his appeal, with the result with which the Committee are 541 acquainted. Though I am as much annoyed at the delay as anybody, I do not think it can be said that, during the six months in which the rules have been in force, the Estates Commissioners have acted otherwise than as quickly as they could. There are difficulties in the way of the Commissioners in this work of the restoration of evicted tenants. Many of these tenants will not take any land except that from which they were formerly evicted. In many cases they cannot get the land from which they were formerly evicted, because it is in the possession of bona fide tenants, and the evicted tenants refuse to take other untenanted land which we offer to them. Then, again, sometimes when they are willing to take untenanted land in lieu of their old holdings, the people in the locality do not at all welcome their coming there. It is only fair to bear in mind that evicted tenants are not the universal favourites that we may be led, from debates in this House, sometimes to think is the case. This applies both to land under the Act of 1903 and to land compulsorily taken under the Act of last year. Then the evicted tenants want to remain in their own county. That is a very natural wish, but the difficulty is that, in many of the counties, there is no untenanted land available for them, and therefore the situation becomes one of very great difficulty. These are some of the causes which have led to delay, but, great as is that delay, I do not think that, with the present staff at their disposal, I can honestly hold out any prospect of its being very materially reduced. I am engaged in the most searching inquiry as to where the delay occurs, as to where all this leakage of time is. I confess the delay does startle me. The delay does not occur in the examiners' office or in the distribution of the money, but in the inspection of the estates and the preliminary survey which is carried out with an insufficient staff. It is a delay of two, three, and sometimes four years. There is undoubtedly a considerable leakage somewhere, and the House of Commons is entitled to know where it is. Some people say it is the Treasury, but they are able to reply that with regard to land purchase they have never refused an actual demand for money which has been put properly before them. Whether they have always allowed a sufficient staff is quite another 542 matter. With regard to the housing of the Land Commission, I do not think that that is a really important point.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what sort of inquiry he contemplates? Is it by a Departmental Committee?
§ MR. BIRRELL
NO, I have a much better plan than that; I am inquiring myself by a series of examinations and cross-examinations of the people in the place, and of the members of the Land Commission, and I would be very glad to be assisted by any number of persons. But I really do not think that in a matter of that kind, at present at all events, there is much occasion for a public inquiry, because I think I will be able to elicit the facts for myself. I am prepared to receive any assistance I may stand in need of.
§ Ms. BIRRELL
I shall be perfectly prepared to communicate to the House without unnecessary delay the result of my investigations. The hon. Member for Monaghan spoke of the refusal of the Commissioners to give their grounds of objection. I am bound to say that I do not think it would be possible for the Commissioners to give their grounds of objection. Although the House is most anxious to do justice to the evicted tenant and to see him restored, you should remember that he is not exactly in the position of a litigant. He has thrown himself on the mercy of the House, and perhaps he has not had a full measure of it. We are doing our best to restore a great; number of persons who of necessity are exceedingly poor; some are aged, and there is no use putting them upon the land unless they have the strength and energy to employ a free grant properly in the work of the farm. It would not facilitate or accelerate the working of the Act if every person whom the Commissioners refused was entitled to demand a rehearing in consequence of some criticism which he would be sure to offer upon the nature of the grounds on which the Commissioners had acted, and therefore I cannot hold out any assurance on that 543 point. Having regard to the delicacy of their operations, I think the Commissioners must be trusted. I certainly think the delay in the making of free grants is a matter that should be looked into at once. I should have thought that, as soon as an action was decided in favour of the evicted tenant and a farm had been found for him, it would be obviously desirable and convenient to see that he was put into a position to make something of it. It is cold comfort to put a poor person on a barren bit of land unless you supply him with the means of making his living out of it. I have not heard any complaints on that matter, although I have no doubt that they exist. [An HON. MEMBER: They will be pointed out in a few minutes.] I will promise to make inquiries into the matter. It is obvious that the free grant should accompany the placing of a person on the land.
§ MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid)
asked whether anything had been done to remove the financial block in the working of the Land Act. The Prime Minister in reply to a deputation in November last promised that in two months a scheme would be submitted to the House. Six months had elapsed and nothing had been done.
§ MR. BIRRELL
I do not remember the Prime Minister saying so, but the hon. Gentleman is no doubt accurate. I am not in a position at the present moment to lay before the Committee any useful information as to the mode in which we propose to deal with the financial block.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said the right hon. Gentleman had expressed a desire to know what were the causes of the delay which undoubtedly had characterised the proceedings of the various Land Commissions since 1903 up to the present. He could give him some assistance. He would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should begin in the first place with the Estates Commissioners. All in this House knew that one of the cardinal and essential principles of the settlement which was supposed to be carried into law by the Act of 1903, was that where the tenants' rents wore judicial rents, and whore the landlord was willing to sell, and the tenants were willing to buy, within what were called the zone 544 figures, there was to be no further investigation as to security. He quite agreed that when the question of the zones came up for decision in Committee during the progress of the Bill of 1903, a strong complaint was made by some hon. Members below the gangway against that provision, but to the credit of those who were responsible for that land settlement that portion was adhered to and found its place in Section 1 of the Act. But from that hour the Estates Commissioners had deliberately set themselves to override that provision, and the result had been that in cases which came within the exact terms of Section 1, and where the sales ought to have gone through without the least delay, months had been wasted in the most frivolous investigations, and questions put by the Estates Commissioners solely for the purpose of getting behind the provisions of the Act and assuming jurisdiction which this House refused to confer on them, namely, the power of inquiring into the security. They did not sin without light and loading, because two or three years ago the question came up in a well-known case which went to the Court of Appeal. That Court declared in express terms that if the cases came within the zones the Estates Commissioners had no right or power to put those queries to the tenants or the landlords where the queries were manifestly only concerned with the question of security. That decision, from that hour to this, had been deliberately disobeyed by the Estates Commissioners.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said he did not know who was responsible, but the fact could not be contradicted. A few months ago another case was taken to the Court of Appeal, and again the Court told them that they were deliberately violating the law, and that the questions they were putting with the object of beating down the vendor were outside their jurisdiction. He could give the Chief Secretary the names of the estates referred to if he wished to have them. He had been consulted over and over again in regard to estates where the vendors had been tormented for months with queries with regard to 545 the history of the holdings, all of which were outside the jurisdiction of the Commissioners. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman wanted to find out the causes of the delay, he would recommend him to begin at the fountain head, and he would find that the action of the Estates Commissioners in the direction referred to was largely responsible. He did not say that if the law were otherwise these investigations might not be very proper, but when Parliament had determined, as the result of a compromise, to give this concession to vendors whose tenants had had fair rents fixed, it was improper and wrong for the Estates Commissioners to attempt to overrule that solemn decision. Again, with reference to the recent decision as regards the powers of the Estates Commissioners in dealing with tenanted land which they proposed to purchase compulsorily for the purpose of restoring evicted tenants, no one reading the language of the Act could entertain the slightest doubt that the Court of Appeal was right. The Chief Secretary had no doubt as to the effect of the Amendment made by the House of Lords in the Evicted Tenants Bill, for he candidly stated that the introduction of these words was a triumph for Lord Clanricarde. There was nothing novel in the procedure of the House of Lords in that respect, because the right hon. Gentleman would recollect that when the Bill was in the House of Commons he himself had an Amendment down on the Paper in precisely the same language, but owing to the fall of the guillotine it was not reached. He would also remind the right hon. Gentleman that he suggested to him, with the view of avoiding argument, that when his Amendment was reached he was inclined to give it some favourable consideration. What was the history of the Amendment? When the Bill of 1903 was going through the House of Commons it was distinctly stated by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford—and he thought also by the hon. Member for East Mayo—that he for one could be no party to ever seeking to apply compulsion to any tenant or so-called planter who was a bona fide farmer.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said that that was not the case where a 546 bona fide planter wanted to give up his holding.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said he would come to that. What he was stating now was the history of the introduction of the Amendment, and they must begin at the beginning of a history and not at the end. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford stated distinctly that he would never ask oh behalf of his party that compulsion should be applied to disturb planters in their holdings who were bona fide cultivating them as farmers. On the strength of that statement he took the liberty of putting down the Amendment which met with the fate to which he had referred, and afterwards the House of Lords' Amendment was introduced. Hon. Gentlemen below the gangway forgot and the right hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that there were two persons in Ireland as well as in England and Scotland who were interested in a holding—the landlord as well as the tenant. Under the Act of 1881, if a tenant chose to sell his holding—as those planters might do to-morrow—the landlord had the right to serve a notice of pre-emption, and to have the value of that holding determined, and to purchase it himself. The landlord had an interest in retaining a good tenant who had cultivated his farm as a farmer, and in not having that tenant displaced against the will of the landlord, and having forced upon him by the Estates Commissioners a tenant who might have been one of the worst and most impoverished persons in the community—a man who might have been the centre of disorder and disturbance, a man who had actually taken part, as a ringleader, in crime and intimidation in the district. Was it to be said that Parliament last year intended that the bona fide good farmer, presumably solvent and who paid his rent, was to be compulsorily got rid of in favour of such a man? There was a fallacy in the argument of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway. They overlooked the fact that the landlord had still some interest in his property in Ireland, and that he should be protected from the State coming down in the persons of the Estate Commissioners and saying—"We will turn out the bona fide honest, hard-working tenant who was 547 cultivating his land as a farmer in order to reinstate this other man, without your being consulted."
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said that in that respect the law was perfectly just and consistent. He would put the ease to the hon. Gentleman who interrupted him, that if he were the fortunate owner of house property in the hands of decent, respectable men paying rent, and if the State came to these men and ordered them to break their contracts with him against his will and without consulting him, so that their places might be taken by men who had subjected him for a number of years to intimidation and annoyance, would he say that the State acted with wisdom and justice? He would further point out that in the case of the farmer to whom he referred, there was no great hardship to the tenant, except that he would not get the extra year's purchase to induce him to go. But on the other hand, he could sell his farm in the open market without the consent of the landlord; but in that case the landlord had the right to step in and say he would buy it. If they deprived the landlord of his rights under the evicted tenant legislation, why should not the landlord say, "I will not allow these tenants to be compulsorily bought out by a bribe from the State without my consent." He maintained that the Chief Secretary must have construed the Lords' Amendment in that sense, otherwise: he failed to see how he could have described it as "a triumph for Lord Clanricarde." Not only that, the right hon. Gentleman said on 26th August last that the introduction of the Lords' Amendment "had made compulsory reinstatement impossible." It was, therefore, no use the right hon. Gentleman saying now that the Amendment came upon him as a surprise. The right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished lawyer himself, and had the assistance of the Attorney-General and of the Solicitor-General for Ireland, and was it now to be said that the construction of an Act of Parliament was to depend on the construction of a man who was not a lawyer himself.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said he supposed the right hon. Gentleman would not exclude himself from that category. The right hon. Gentleman said that, "the result of the Lords' Amendment is to make the compulsory acquisition of land impossible; and it is a triumph for Lord Clanricarde." He was astonished that the right hon. Gentleman should have stated just now that that Amendment took him by surprise and that he was not aware of it.
§ MR. BIRRELL
stated that if he said that he must have said what was rather foolish, because there had been a good deal of land acquired compulsorily under that Act.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said it was not a question of Lord Clanricarde but a question of the law of the land. It would be a very dangerous precedent if they were to begin to tinker or tamper with this question merely because the Act had failed to carry out the wishes of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway in regard to this particular landlord. He knew that before the trouble began in 1885 this Clanricarde estate was undoubtedly regarded and admitted to be alow-rented estate; and the best evidence of that was to be found in the fact that a large percentage of the tenants on it had never ventured to challenge the fairness of their rents in the jurisdiction of the Landed Estates Court.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said that that was the first time he had ever heard it suggested that the existence of arrears prevented a tenant's going into the Landed Estates Court. [Cries of "Oh!" from the IRISH Benches.] The hon. Gentleman would correct him if he was wrong, but he believed that in the case of some of the Clanricarde tenants who did come into the Land Commissioners' Court the rents were raised.
549 The fact was uncontrovertible that prior to 1885 the rents on Lord Clanricarde's estate were of such a character that those who applied to the Land Court to have them revised had their rent raised. In 1885 a demand was made for 20 per cent. reduction is excess of what was being asked of the surrounding landlords. That was refused. Then Lord Clanricarde was selected for this intimidation and low-rent campaign because he was unpopular, and an absentee landlord whose fondness for money had got him into bad odour. That trouble had now been put an end to for twenty years, and these men who had been put into the farms, who came within the category of bona-fide farmers and cultivators of the soil, were to be turned off. Whilst those men could sell their lands outside the provisions of the Evicted Tenants Act subject to the landlords' right to buy them, under the Act they could not do so until the Estates Commissioners had come to terms with the landlord. The difficulty in this question was one of money. It seemed to him that if a tenant had to compensate a bona-fide farmer, if they were going to deprive the landlord of the tenant and inflict upon him a man who from two points of view was objectionable, it was only reasonable to say that the landlord should be able to put a veto on it. He was not prepared to give support to any attempt to promote vindictive legislation for the purpose of injuring a particular individual who might be obnoxious to hon. Gentlemen below the gangway. No case had been made out for the purpose of remedying a suggested error in drafting, in language which was as clear as daylight, and the construction of which was actually present to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
thanked the Chief Secretary for the course he had announced his intention of taking in this matter. He did not think he could do letter than introduce a one-clause Bill in accordance with the disclosed intention of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House and who, when not in his war-paint, was a most kind-hearted man, had just given the Committee a specimen of the old tone which used to be adopted before the Act of 550 1903 was passed when speaking of the evicted tenants. What was the language of the right hon. Gentleman? It was no longer a question of protecting the planters, it was to keep out those wicked criminal agitators and disturbers, the evicted tenants, who might be a centre of disturbance and crime. He thought all that kind of thing had been abandoned, and that after the Act of 1903 there was to be a clean slate, and that all these bitter memories were to be wiped out. It seemed to him like the case of Rip Van Winkle that a man should come forward now when both Houses of Parliament had committed themselves to a policy of restoring those evicted tenants and say that these men, because they were agitators and disturbers, ought not to be restored to their homes. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in saying that the Judges in Ireland were bound by the statute apart from the intention of those who introduced the Act, but the right hon. Gentleman went further and wanted to thrust down their throats that this Amendment or proviso was introduced in the House of Lords for the purpose, not of protecting the planters, but of protecting Lord Clanricarde. He maintained that that was the very purpose which the Lords themselves repudiated.
§ MR. DILLON
said that was what the right hon. Gentleman said he feared. Could the right hon. Gentleman quote a single noble Lord who said that that Amendment was brought forward to protect Lord Clanricarde? Not one; they distinctly repudiated that, and said they were doing it to protect the planters. He thought the Chief Secretary was very wise in giving the House of Lords an opportunity now of showing their sympathy in this matter, and he would be very much surprised if they did not support this Bill, which would enable those new tenants who were genuinely anxious to go to accept the terms offered them. What was the situation at present on the Clanricarde estate? He put on one side for the moment the question of possible disturbance and bitterness. The right hon. Gentleman said that for some years past 551 the trouble upon the Clanricarde estate had been settled. Was that all the right hon. Gentleman knew about rural Ireland? Anyone responsible for the government of Ireland must have been surprised at those words. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of a settlement. A settlement, when in Portumna and Woodford there were 150 families living three years out of their homes. Was that the kind of settlement which the right hon. Gentleman, even from the political point of view, could view with satisfaction? But putting that aside altogether, what was the condition of things in that part of the country? Let the Committee look at it from the economic point of view. There planters were not cultivating their land, they had been anxious to get away, and they had put in no crop owing to this unfortunate mistake made by the House of Lords in inserting an Amendment which he did not believe they intended to have the effect it had had. This state of affairs prevailed owing to the interpretation of the Court of Appeal in Ireland—and the Court of Appeal in Ireland had a most sinister record in regard to land. They had destroyed one Act after another, and this House had been asked time after time to undo the work of the Court of Appeal in Ireland upon this very question of land. Many of those planters were brought there on false pretences from far-away parts of the country and without any knowledge of the conditions into which they were to be introduced. They were placed upon the land having sold their own homes in the North, and he was told that they were by no means thankful to Lord Clanicarde. They had put no crop in, and the land was lying waste and derelict. They had this extraordinary state of things. The evicted tenants had no land and were anxious to get back to their homes. The planters wanted to get away, and for this purpose a special Act of Parliament was passed, but Lord Clanricarde said "No, these men must be kept there, the intentions of Parliament must be defeated." He had a telegram sent to him that day from Portumna, saying that one of these planters was decreed at Gort for £170, and had abandoned his holdings; two others, Holmes and Johnston left previously. Elliott was decreed in January for over £200. Several of the planters had put in no crop, yet these 552 were the kind of tenants the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University pleaded for. That was the interpretation of the law, he would not say a false interpretation, but it was most distinctly against the expressed intention of both Houses. Could any reasonable Member say that this condition of things ought to be allowed to continue? He confessed he was amazed and disappointed to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University say that in his opinion nothing ought to be done. That was the whole substance of his speech: the right hon. Gentleman would leave this wretched district to stew in its own juice, breeding crime, misery, and misfortune, and actually reducing a whole tract of country to a condition of uncultivated nature. He thought it would be universally admitted that this condition of things could not be allowed to continue, and he most heartily congratulated the Chief Secretary on the promise he had made that without delay he would introduce a one-clause Bill in the House of Lords, and give them the opportunity, which he confidently believed they would take, of carrying out their avowed intentions of last year. If the Bill passed the the House of Lords there would be no difficulty in passing it in the House of Commons, and the horrible Clanricarde struggle would be brought to a conclusion. In regard to the general condition of the evicted tenants of Ireland, he, for one, most heartily appreciated the great difficulty of the task, and he and all his colleagues were grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having passed the Evicted Tenants Bill last year, and for the exertions which they knew he had made to expedite that work. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman would admit that these unhappy people, many of them twenty or twenty-five years out of their homes, who had again and again during the last ten years been promised reinstatement by successive Governments, and who had had three separate measures passed through the House, would be embittered by this disappointment year after year, and by their still being left wandering about, leading the wretched, demoralising, miserable lives that most of them had to lead. No wonder they were impatient, and he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would do 553 everything in his power to carry out this work. They could not understand what was the cause of the delay, and those who were connected with the national organisation in Ireland were in receipt of extraordinary statements as to what were thought to be the causes. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman as to the difficulties about the disposition of these tenants who required untenanted land. He knew the greed for land in Ireland was tremendous, but the people of Ireland were essentially a peasant people they loved the land, and like all people who love the land they loved it sometimes to excess. It was a source of trouble which they fully understood. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, to use an American expression, would as much as possible "speed up" the Commissioners on this particular question of the evicted tenants. Criticism had been passed more than once on the progress made under the new Evicted Tenants Act, and it had been pointed out that only nine evicted tenants had compulsorily been reinstated in the last six months, out of thirty-five cases proceeded with. But according to his information it would be a most mistaken impression to get abroad that this was the full effect of the compulsory measure. He was informed that in a vast number of cases, before the passing of the Act, many landlords had absolutely refused to allow the evicted tenant to be reinstated, but now that they knew a compulsory clause could be enforced against them they came forward and gave voluntarily in order to avoid what might be taken compulsorily. When a man knew that compulsion was in reserve, he naturally preferred to come forward and act of his own free will. It would be very unfair, after the exertions of the right hon. Gentleman in passing the compulsory Act, to allow the House to gather the impression that this was the whole result. He believed a large proportion of the 500 tenants reinstated since last session had been restored in consequence of the passing of the compulsory measure. He would merely, in passing away from that point, call the special attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that on Lord Lansdowne's estate there were still -fifteen or twenty campaign evicted tenants to reinstate.
§ MR. BIRRELL
was understood to say that he thought the arrangements for purchase on Lord Lansdowne's estate had now been completed. He did not know how far that covered these cases.
§ MR. DILLON
said the right hon. Gentleman was now speaking of the Kerry estate. He was himself speaking of the Queen's County estate. On the Kerry estate of Lord Lansdowne there were no campaign evictions. On the Masserene estate, also, there were three or four cases unprovided for, although the vast bulk of the tenants had been reinstated. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman, from his sympathetic spirit, would do all that was possible in these matters. He wanted to say a word or two on the question of the delay in the general working of the Land Commission. The right hon. Gentleman had given another promise to which he attached the greatest possible value. He thought that it was of the utmost importance that they should know where they stood as to the causes of these delays. There, had been in Ireland the greatest misconception as to these causes. Some people there believed that it was the Treasury holding back the money, but the Treasury said they had never refused money. He did not profess to know himself, but these were the statements floating about in Ireland. Another statement in Ireland was that the Commissioners, to use a trade union expression, were, at a hint from the Treasury, doing what was termed "ca' canny." He did not know himself whether that was so. Others said that it was due to an insufficient staff. He believed that the delay was largely due to that cause. Then there was the idea that, after all, it was only human nature that the staff of the Commission, having only a temporary job, were not in a violent hurry to conclude it. He was afraid there was some possibility that if a man had £800 a year, and knew that it would end with the job, with no sort of compensation or pension, he would want rather a "driving boss" to keep him working hard. He did not say that in any spirit of offence against the staff; it might be entirely unjust. He rejoiced to learn that the right hon. Gentleman was conducting an investigation, in 555 a manner which he had no doubt was most effective, to find out the real cause of the delay. Some people said it was due to the delay caused by the investigation and inspection of estates. If that were true, and the staff was insufficient, then it ought to be increased. The staff of inspection could be most easily increased, because there was a very large supply of people in the country quite competent to inspect estates. They had heard a statement from the right hon. Member for Dublin University, a statement which he had never heard before, that the delay was largely due to the perversity of the Estates Commissioners, who had endeavoured to get behind the law and to abrogate the zones. The best way to meet that was to do away with the zones and save the time of the Commissioners. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman was very one-sided. "Why have all these difficult investigations?" the right hon. Gentleman asked. Had he never heard of a case of attempted fraud? He had heard of a great many in which there had been attempted frauds of the grossest character in connection with the system of zones.
§ MR. DILLON
said he did not say there was. But did not the right hon. Gentleman see how absurd his argument was? If any number of fraudulent transactions had been discovered, of course that put the Commissioners on their guard and forced them to investigate. One of the most amazing transactions he ever heard of was that in which a man, by the operation of the zones, endeavoured to get a price far in excess of the value of the land, and there had been transactions where the relations between the landlords and the tenants were of a fraudulent character, the tenant signing for a price far in excess of what he could afford to pay, on condition that the landlord handed a considerable sum back to him. There had been hundreds of cases in Ireland where the landlord and tenant, by a collusive arrangement, had signed agreements for second term rents which were never fixed by the Court at all, and the landlord would hand back 556 part of the price. The system of zones had again and again led to these doubtful transactions, and that was one reason, no doubt, why the Commissioners were compelled to adopt a suspicious and inquiring attitude in some of the cases to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded. When this question of the efficiency of the zones in doing away with delay was raised in 1903, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover said the delays did not occur through the necessity for inspection, because the estates had to he inspected in any case, but they occurred in the investigation of title. He did not believe the cause, which was new to him, put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a substantial cause of delay, and he rejoiced that the Chief Secretary, when they came to discuss the Land Bill later in the session, would be able to give them an authoritative statement of the causes of delay in the Land Commission, so that they might be in a position to know what they ought to demand and to press for. There could be no doubt that the state of affairs was exceedingly serious. They had the agreements signed, and according to the information he had received it would take nearly seven years to deal with those agreements, which were now lying in the office, so that if there was not another agreement signed it would be seven years before the present accumulation was cleared off. That condition of things could not be allowed to continue. It was impossible. Public opinion in Ireland would rise up against it. One of the most urgent things to be found out was what were the real causes of the delay, and when they were ascertained all sections of Irish representatives would join in a resolute effort to remove them.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
I do not desire to detain the Committee more than two or three minutes, but I think it would be desirable I should say a word before the Attorney-General replies. With regard to the general case more largely dwelt upon by the hon. Member for East Mayo, I think it will be found that whatever dispute there may be as to the cause of the delay there is a general consensus of opinion that it is 557 deplorable in the interests of all concerned, and that it is altogether unexpected in its extent. The House ought certainly to be in possession of all information available in order that we may do our best to find some way out of what is at the moment a most unsatisfactory situation. There is no doubt, if the latest report we have at our disposal is well founded, a considerable number of years, even larger than the hon. Member for Mayo has suggested, must elapse before you can get any completion of the present transactions, which, so far as the parties are concerned, are practically settled, all that is wanted being the final approval of the Estates Commissioners and the paying over of the money. The Government will find a general agreement on all sides of the House to support any measure calculated to bring these transactions to a conclusion. I want to say one word about a case which arose earlier in the debate with regard to the Clanricarde estate. The Chief Secretary quoted some words used by the Leader of the other House, and suggested that the operation of this Act so far as the Law Courts in Ireland are concerned, had not been what was anticipated by my noble friend in the House of Lords. I should not like to commit myself—I am not a lawyer, and therefore I do not know whether the Law Courts were justified from a lawyer's point of view in the decision at which they arrived; but whatever lawyers may think, we are bound to accept the decisions of the Bench, and the decision in this case was that this tenant, however willing to sell, was not to be bought out. The facts presented by the Chief Secretary do not give a complete statement of the case which must be considered before we make up our minds. The Chief Secretary told the Committee that this particular tenant was most anxious to go, and that his land would be available. What the Committee do not possibly realise except those who are Irish Members—and I speak of it with bated breath myself, because there is nothing more difficult to understand—are the technicalities of the various Irish Land Acts. They are a labyrinth in which anyone might easily lose himself, and the Chief Secretary and the Attorney-General will 558 agree that under the Act of 1881 if a tenant wishes to sell his tenant right—in other words, to get out—he has the power to do so, but his landlord has the right of pre-emption. The actual power is given to the tenant under the Act of 1881. Before we accept the statements laid down to-day as being a just cause for further legislation, the House ought to know by what process the sitting tenant is to be persuaded to give up his holding. If the State provide a certain sum of money to enable the evicted tenants to be restored to their holdings, and the money is used to bribe the sitting tenant to quit—using the word in no offensive sense—by offering him special terms in order to get him out, it is not quite fair to the tenant who is anxious but unable to go because of the interpretation placed upon the Act by Courts of Law. It is quite obvious that he has power to go under the Act of 1881 and get the market value of his property, but the landlord has the right of pre-emption which would in this case prevent the land being made available for the restoration of evicted tenants. Everybody will realise that whatever view may be taken of Irish landlords, good or bad, what Parliament decided is that money shall be available to buy out the landlord and to replace him by the tenant. But Parliament has never suggested that you are to bribe the sitting tenant to go in order to put into his place a man whom the landlord considers to be a bad tenant and who will farm the land at a disadvantage. I am not suggesting that the tenant would in this case be bad, but we must not be assumed as far as this side of the House is concerned to have committed ourselves to the general conclusion at which we might appear to have arrived without knowing more of the facts of the case and the way in which the sitting tenant is to be persuaded to sell his holding. It must be remembered that this safeguard which was inserted in the House of Lords was only made to cover the case of a bona fide tenant cultivating his land in a proper manner, and therefore it does not apply to any of these cases of which so much was made in the debates on the Evicted Tenants Bill where a man is not a bona fide tenant or where he is 559 not carrying out his business as a farmer in a proper agricultural manner. Therefore it narrows itself down to this very small principle, whether a man is a good farmer, doing his business in the best way he can, according to his intelligence and his industry, and only anxious to go because, as I understand it, he is offered terms so favourable that they overcome his reluctance. The Chief Secretary indicated that these men were so un-comfortable and so dissatisfied with their lot that they were anxious to go. But the Act of 1881 provides legitimate means by which they can go if their condition is as described. I very much question whether Parliament, when it was debating these details of the Evicted Tenants Act, meant that, while there was machinery provided under the Act of 1881 which enables the tenant to go if he wishes, you should use this Act to bribe a man to go, and offer him special terms to clear out against the will of the landlord, and give opportunities of purchase under the Act of 1903 to a tenant, who in the opinion of those who have experience of the property, is not likely to be a good or satisfactory tenant. Therefore I think we must reserve our decision on these points until we have a little fuller information. I am glad to gather that there is to be a fuller statement later on in the session, and that being so it is obviously more convenient that we should not go into the whole financial discussion now. I think it is only right to enter this caveat against what otherwise might appear to be a general acceptance of conditions which will require a little more investigation.
§ MR. CHERRY
said he wished to refer to the charge made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University against the Estates Commissioners. He had, with all the responsibility of his position as a former Attorney-General for Ireland, accused there officials who were appointed by his own Government of having deliberately disregarded the law laid down by the Court of Appeal. The Estates Commissioners were entitled to be defended against that charge. With full knowledge of their proceedings, which he had followed from the day the Land Act was passed, he said the 560 charge was entirely unworthy. He did not believe there was the slightest foundation for it; it was one of the most unfounded charges that had ever been made. He knew to what the right hon. Gentleman referred. It was laid down by the Court of Appeal some years ago that in cases within the zones the Land Commission was bound to consider the security as adequate and was not entitled to make inquiry into individual cases. That was quite true as regarded particular holdings which had been sold, but the Estates Commissioners decided that before they proceeded to consider the question of individual holdings at all, they were entitled, in considering whether or not they would declare the land to be sold an estate, to investigate its security, for the purpose of, seeing whether they, in the interests of the Treasury, should sanction the sale of the estate at all. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was a deliberate disregard of the decision of the Appeal Court. But if it was it was affirmed by the present Master of the Rolls. Mr. Justice Meredith decided that the action of the Commissioners in making that investigation before sanctioning the sale of an estate was a part of their duty. It was not until quite recently that the matter was brought before the Court of Appeal, which overruled the decision of Mr. Justice Meredith, and pending the overruling of the decision it was acted on by the Estates Commissioners and by Mr. Justice Wylie, the present Judge of the Land Commission Court. He did not think any charge had been made against the two Judges who had taken the view he mentioned, and he did not think any charge could be or ought to be made against the Estates Commissioners either. The Estates Commissioners in discharging most difficult and responsible duties were entitled to the same protection as the Judges, and their conduct ought not to be attacked by hon. Members in the House. The right hon. Member for South Dublin had adopted a kindly tone on the evicted tenants question, and he believed he would agree with him in thinking that if that question was to be finally settled the Clanricarde estate must be settled, for it was the one serious spot, the one open sore. It was obvious, having regard 561 to the decision of Mr. Justice Wylie, who agreed with the Commissioners that the matter was neither so clear nor so simple as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College appeared to suppose. They proposed to ask the House of Lords to pass a short Act on lines which agreed with what was undoubtedly the opinion of Lord Lansdowne, and he trusted it would receive the treatment which was desired. It was argued from the opposite side that it would be an unfair thing to compel landlords to put out good solvent tenants and have them replaced by tenants who were not equally solvent and acceptable, but if this Act was put into operation that case would not arise, because tenancy would cease. It would be for the purpose of acquiring that land out and out, in which case Lord Clanricarde would in that respect disappear. He would incur no risk, because he would not be brought in contact one way or another with the new purchasers. It would not be a case of hardship for him more than for any other landlord who had sold his property to allow evicted tenants to be reinstated. It had been asked from what fund the money would come. He replied from the Reserve Fund which was intended by the Act of 1903, and so far as he was concerned he thought it could not be better spent in the interests of peace and good will to Ireland than in settling the Clanricarde estate.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
hoped that in this matter the Tory Party would not tie themselves to the skirts of Lord Clanricarde. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had quoted the expression used in the House of Lords upon this question, but he would like to appeal to the general body of the Tory Party in this sense. He thought they were making a great mistake in making these Irish questions a battle horse, and they were being forced into it by a very small section of their leaders. They all remembered just before the late Government left office the differences between Lord Londonderry and Mr. Chamberlain upon the fiscal question. Lord Londonderry took up the free trade line and Mr. Chamberlain adopted the protective line. Consequently there was a section of the Tory Party who wanted to keep this Irish difficulty in the front in order to submerge the fiscal question, whereas 562 the general body of the Tory Party desired to put the fiscal question forward in order that the Irish question might be forgotten at the Dissolution. Unfortunately, it happened that in this House there was a very strong section of Irish politicians returned on the Tory side who wished to keep the agrarian sore open for political purposes, but there were many Irish Peers who wanted the Irish land question settled, and he ventured to make an appeal to the Irish peers in the House of Lords led by Lord Lansdowne not to take up on this question the line adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College. He wished to point out to the House that Trinity College itself had something to lose upon this question. If the Irish land purchase question remained unsettled what would happen? He had turned up the 39th section of the Act of 1903, and he found that under that Act Trinity College was getting a grant of £5,000 per annum, and had been receiving it year after year. Where did that grant come from? Why, out of a fund that would soon be bankrupt unless this purchase difficulty was settled, viz., the Irish Development Grant. So that after all Trinity College had a stake in this matter. He had not for many years been in the West of Ireland or taken part in the Western campaign, with which many of his hon. friends were more intimately concerned, but he did say that deep down in the heart of every Irish Member there was a determination that these Clanricarde tenants should not be deserted. On this point he wished to express his feeling of gratitude to the Chief Secretary, because the moment this question was mentioned, with gallantry and chivalry he at once came forward and said that this subject was part of the bargain, and that he intended to bring in a Bill in another place to settle it. That was business, and it was good business for the Irish landlords. There was not a day passed without some Irish landlord, and even some of the Irish peers, coming and making appeals to them to do something to settle this great financial block, which was a curse to both landlords and tenants. What was happening? At present the tenants were paying a quarter or a half per cent. in interest above the statutory compact and the landlords were also being kept out of their 563 money. He knew instances where landlords were not receiving anything like the equivalent of their old rents, in the shape of interest. Take for example the case of a small landowner. Perhaps the old rental was about £300 a year and the landlord was not getting paid by the State and probably only in interest from the tenants about £200 a year. Was that a state of things which they could allow to continue with equanimity? What was the position of the tenant? Instead of paying twenty years purchase this delay would cause them to have to pay probably twenty-seven or twenty-eight years purchase for their holdings. What would the Member for Trinity College gain by keeping up this miserable business on the Clanricarde estate? Would he even get the thanks of Lord Clanricarde? No, he would not even get a halfpenny postcard. Would he get the thanks of the other Irish landlords? He ventured to say that with the exception of Lord Londonderry, who wanted the fight to turn upon Ireland, all the statesmanlike minds of the Tory Party in the House of Lords would pass the Bill he had referred to without any difficulty. It was not now their desire to make Ireland the battle horse. At the recent election the Member for North-West Manchester came forward and in the very beginning of his campaign he stated how Ireland was weltering in bloodshed and disorder. When the right hon. Gentleman went to assist him at the election was that the line he took?
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Were those the lines taken when members of the Tory Party went down to Wolverhampton, Dundee, Stirling Burghs, and where-ever Irishmen were? On those occasions did they shout with a wild hurrah for Lord Clanricarde and down with the evicted tenants? All this was bad business for the Tory Party, although it was so small a question and only affected 120 men who had been for twenty-five years looking forward with some hope to this Parliament to fulfil the promise it had made again and again. As to the cause for delay in land purchase, he believed it was quite true to say that no doubt the Treasury had never refused any definite sum of money whenever it was wanted. Yes, but they 564 always took care by the manner in which they managed the staff that the Estates Commissioners should never be able to demand more than a definite sum of money, and he viewed with great suspicion the sending of this new Treasury Remembrancer to Dublin. What had happened? It had gone beyond a joke. The Estates Commissioners wrote to England and said they wanted more staff. There was a traitor to the Estates Commissioners in the office. He would not mention his name. Some hon. Members could guess it. That official saw this letter going over, and the Treasury here in London sent back to him for his private counsel the letter of the Estates Commissioners demanding more staff. And from the office in Dublin the Treasury were supplied with such answers as could be put forward to the demand of the Estates Commissioners, and actually it was out of the Estates Commissioners' office that the Treasury got the materials by which to reply to their own demand. The new Remembrancer would render that all unnecessary. Wherever he had been dug up from he was a new man, and had never been in Ireland before. He had been sent over to Ireland with a view to preventing, if he could, any increase in the staff; to prevent any increase, of course, in the demands upon the Treasury. He had been sent to put a brake on this question of land purchase. That was the whole matter. The Irish landlords were taking the situation very meekly, and he thought the right hon. Member for Dublin University and the right hon. Member for South Dublin and their friends in the House of Lords would be much better advised from the point of view of their own party, from the point of view of those Imperial interests and that Imperial flag which they were constantly flaunting under their noses, if they asked the present Government "When is British faith to be kept both with Irish landlords and Irish tenants?" The British Government pledged themselves, whether they liked it or not, five years ago, that they would settle the land question or would find money for doing it. They had taken upon themselves the settlement of this question, of buying out all the English garrison, yet these men were not likely to handle the coin for the next five, six, or seven years. If, in the 565 recent South African war, £1,000 worth of goods had been taken from a shopkeeper for the British troops, and if a British officer had pledged the British nation to pay the amount as soon as the war was over, what would the shopkeeper have thought of British faith if he had been kept waiting five, six, or seven years for payment? That was the position of the Irish land question. Was that British faith? Was it upon such a system as that that British honour and commerce had been maintained? Would the Tory Party find it more to their interest to quarrel over the restoration of 120 evicted tenants—to keep them in hot water cost some £4,000 or £5,000 a year—than to effect a settlement of a great question? He appealed to the Conservative Members who had the interests of peace and order at heart to allow this very small matter on the Clanricarde estate to be settled by the right hon. Gentleman, and he could tell Irish Peers his own belief was that they would thereby aid in effecting a larger settlement. If they did not they could hardly expect from the Irish representatives that co-operation which was so desirable in order to bring the whole purchase question to a satisfactory and speedy determination.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
on behalf of the Irish Party congratulated the Chief Secretary on the prompt action he proposed to take in connection with the Clanricarde question. Very few men could be found in this country to defend the tyrannical, rapacious, and unjust conduct of Lord Clanricarde. About a week ago there appeared in the Irish news-pipers extracts from Returns issued by the Estates Commissioners, but these Returns were not yet available for Members of this House. On applying at the Vote Office a few days ago for the Returns he was informed that one copy in "dummy" had been placed in the library. It was very inconvenient that the Irish Members who were interested in matters of this kind should not be put in possession of information immediately the Dublin newspapers were furnished with it. The same cause of complaint occurred frequently in regard to other Departments, and he hoped something would be done to facilitate the circulation of information required by the Irish Members in re- 566 lation to matters which came up for discussion. As to the Chief Secretary's request for information regarding the delay in the procedure of the Estates Commissioners he would refer the right hon. Gentleman to what was done in regard to inspectors. Since the Act of 1903 was passed one very great defect in the administration arose from the frequent removal of inspectors from districts with whose circumstances they had become acquainted. The circumstances were often of a complicated nature and it took an inspector a considerable time to inform himself. In the county of Cork, where there were many evicted tenants, he knew a district where there had been four or five inspectors, one after another, and each had to get to understand the merits of the cases and to ascertain whether the tenants were bona fide persons or impostors who did not deserve any consideration whatever. These changes of inspectors meant interminable delay. The latest arrival was utterly ignorant of the circumstances in the district, and the whole process of collecting information had to be gone over de novo. It meant a vast amount of personal inconvenience and drudgery to the Irish Members connected with the constituencies where the evicted estates were situated. He knew one estate where the first inspector communicated with him and he gave him all the help in his power in acquainting him with the circumstances. That inspector also got into communication with the tenants and priests in the locality, and no sooner had he come to understand the case and reported upon it to the Estates Commissioners, than he was succeeded by another inspector. At present the fifth inspector was going over the ground. Besides involving delay in bringing matters to a definite issue, the system of changing the inspectors so frequently was wasteful. The work of reinstatement was very slow. The Act of 1903 had now been five years in operation and up to December last only 1,036 tenants had been reinstated. That was a very deplorable and disappointing state of things. He was glad to hear from the Chief Secretary that the number reinstated up to date was 1,595. He made this complaint in regard to the Estate Commissioners in no spirit of hostility, but only as a matter of criticism. 567 They all recognised the very difficult and complicated work that they had to discharge. The difficulty was much greater than the first Commissioners encountered under the Act of 1881. But, notwithstanding all that, regrettable delay had occurred, and there had not been that expedition which was expected from them. The question of untenanted land was not altogether confined to the West of Ireland, although it was most acute in those districts where cattle-driving operations had been carried on. It was unquestionably a matter of urgency in the counties of Roscommon, Meath, and Galway, where the people felt it intensely. He cared not how long or short he held a seat in this House, but he was forced by the traditions of the Irish land reformers and of those who had engaged themselves for years in the work of social reform, not to denounce these men who took part in cattle-drives. They might be mistaken in their methods at present, but the evil was a crying evil. The question of untenanted land was, however, not exclusively confined to the West of Ireland. The Chief Secretary was wrong in saying that outside that area it was difficult to find untenanted land. There was too much of it, he was sorry to say, in his own county of Cork. There were there large tracks of good land from which the tenants were driven before 1874 or 1880, but who did not come within the operations of the Act of 1903. The land was lying idle or was largely taken on the eleven months system by farmers who had plenty of land already. The Land Commissioners were very dilatory—he would not say negligent—in their dealing with that land. In his own constituency he knew of four or five places where there were tracks of untenanted land of from 500 to 800 acres, and one of at least 2,000 acres. On the other hand there were plenty of good tenants who were striving to get land on account of their old holdings being now occupied. On the Leader estate there were 2,000 acres untenanted The landlord sold that untenanted land—at least, the agreement to sell was signed in June, 1905—but the excuse which the landlord gave for not giving it up to the Estate Commissioners was that he had not yet received a penny of the purchase money. The difficulty there lay with the Estate Commissioners who failed in their duty 568 in regard to it. It was time that these Commissioners wakened up to a sense of their duty. There was another case where there was 1,080 acres of untenanted land. The vendor proposed to sell that land to the Estate Commissioners, but to repurchase 880 acres of it for his own use and benefit. His point was that the Commissioners should not have considered the absurdity of recommending an application of that kind, or of entertaining it for one moment. But they would have taken action had it not been for a series of indignation meetings which were held in the neighbourhood. Then there was the estate of Doneraile. After two years of continual pressure, they had got the Commissioners to recognise that there were on that estate 500 or 600 acres of untenanted land quite available for a dozen evicted tenants in the locality, who could not get holdings elsewhere. There was another class of tenants who were reluctant to approach landlords who held their land in their own hands. After the Amendment introduced in last year's Bill by the House of Lords the tenants felt that it was a waste of time to approach the landlords who held the evicted holdings in their own hands. The Estate Commissioners had shown the greatest reluctance in inducing those landlords to reinstate the tenants or to make an estate of the land with which the Commissioners could deal. Hon. Members on the Irish benches had done an incredible amount of work in their endeavour to help the restoration of the evicted tenants to their holdings The Estate Commissioners had no reason to complain of the many questions which Members put in regard to these cases. They were entirely owing to their anxiety to settle this vexed question, and he assured the Chief Secretary that the Irish Members would co-operate with him in every way in his efforts for the evicted tenants.
§ MR. GORDON (Londonderry, S.)
wished to impress on hon. Members below the gangway that too much of the time and attention of the Estates Commissioners ought not to be given to the minor question of the evicted tenants. There were far greater and more import, ant questions to be dealt with in the carrying out of the Land Purchase Act of 1903; for instance, in cases where the landlord and tenant had agreed to come 569 to terms. It was all very well to talk about the reinstatement of the evicted tenants, but it was a little too much to expect that the whole time and attention of the Estate Commissioners should be given to that matter. He did not want to say much about the restoration of the evicted tenants. He and his colleagues were satisfied that the Bill should be passed, and it was passed, and he hoped the Act would work well. The Chief Secretary had said that over 1,500 tenants had been restored. That showed that the Act was working wonderfully well. Reference had been made by the Chief Secretary to the restoration of the evicted tenants. It must be remembered that in this matter they were buying out a spot of land in the centre of an estate. Provision was made in the Act giving the landlord power to object to the sale of land in the centre of his property for the tenant to set up a farm. Would it not therefore be desirable that when such a case occurred there should be some means by which a large area should be fixed upon and taken by the tenant. This was a question that could be considered when the Chief Secretary brought in the Bill he had promised. In reference to the delay in the work of reinstating tenants, all the causes suggested should be carefully considered with a view to eliminating them as far as possible. He could not understand why the Estates Commissioners should set up for themselves anything that caused unnecessary delay. He did not say they did it purposely, or that they did it without good reason, but at the same time what they did often resulted in delay. The best course such a tribunal could adopt was to take the law as they found it whether it was good or bad, and administer it as well as they could. It was not possible to say off-hand what should be done, but it was a matter that demanded most serious and anxious consideration. He would earnestly ask the Chief Secretary to see whether he could provide the money necessary to work the Act properly. He was perfectly satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman of all others would be most delighted to find a means to enable the Act to be carried out successfully. If he did this he would earn the thanks, not merely of the Nationalists, but those who represented Unionist constituencies, for upon this one question of the land there was no disagreement 570 between the two parties representing both the tenants and the landlords. The Nationalist Members were wrong in suggesting that the representatives of the landlords wished to stand in the way of a settlement of this question.
§ MR. CULLINAN (Tipperary, S.)
said the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had said that the demand of the tenants for reinstatement was almost outrageous. The hon. and learned Member, who followed the passage of the Land Act through this House in 1903 very closely, must remember perfectly well that when he and his friends were anxious to obtain this £112,000,000 for the landlords the passage of that Act would have been resisted by the whole of the Nationalist Members but for the distinct pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, then Chief Secretary, that the evicted tenants would be restored to their holdings, or to holdings found for them, as soon as possible. Directly hon. Members above the gangway got their Act they seemed to forget all their pledges. Two matters that had occurred that evening had given great satisfaction to the Nationalist Party. The first was the assurance given by the Chief Secretary with regard to all those important matters raised by the hon. Member for East Galway, and the second was his promise to deal with them immediately. Another matter of great importance was the statement by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the number of evicted tenants who had been reinstated in the last six months. The right hon. Gentleman said that of those restored 500 had been restored with the consent and approval of the landlords, He could not say the same with regard to the landlords in his part of the country. But he would appeal to the Chief Secretary upon this question of voluntary agreement, that where the landlords would not consent to the reinstatement of the tenants he would take immediate and drastic steps to compel them. There was a large and extensive landlord in his own constituency who would not sell to his tenant. He had one solitary evicted tenant. The Estates Commissioners came down to him and offered him a price for the holding, which he refused. They then offered a price which was in excess of what was offered for the land 571 adjoining the holding. What did the landlord do? He got his own agent to value the farm. That agent put a considerably higher value upon it than the Estates Commissioners offered, and then the landlord asked the evicted tenant, a widow, if she would consent to pay this excessive price, £200 more than the Commissioners offered, and said that if she would he would give her the difference between that price and the price offered by the Estates Commissioners. If she had accepted that he would have got an excessive price and set a precedent, so far as the sale of the holdings on his estates were concerned, which would result in his obtaining £20,000 in excess of what he should receive for his land. That was a fraud on the Estate Commissioners, and in cases of that kind he thought the Estate Commissioners should take immediate steps to obtain compulsory powers. He did not condemn cattle-driving, though hon. Gentlemen above the gangway would be delighted to see it all over the country, and he thought it was hard upon those who, like himself, had been trying to make these bargains and get the evicted tenants reinstated, to find themselves impeded in this way and to find hon. Gentlemen above the gangway, in such speeches as that delivered this evening by the right hon. Member representing the Dublin University, trying to lead them on. He believed the Chief Secretary was absolutely sincere and anxious to see peace and prosperity restored to the country. He believed that carrying on in a determined manner, the policy of restoring the evicted tenants to their holdings, would be like taking the bread and butter Of hon. Gentlemen above the gangway, who desired to see a continuance of disorder.
§ MR. BARRIE (Londonderry, N.)
, said that he came from a part of Ireland where they knew little about the evicted tenants; at the same time, as he had said before in that House, he had a certain amount of sympathy with them. They were largely the victims of the Irish Land League, which showed no sort of responsibility towards them in the long course of years which had succeeded the Plan of Campaign. Under the Act of last year some of the tenants had been restored, and he hoped that a good many more would be restored in the next few 572 months. Since the Bill was passed last year by far the greater number of evicted tenants had been restored to their holdings, or to other holdings, under the Land Act of 1903. He might also remind the House that the total number of evicted tenants at the time of the passing of the Act of 1903 was supposed to be 800, but ince that the number had shown a marvellous facility of growth, and last year they had tenants coming from all quarters to qualify as evicted tenants, and ready to take the good things which a bounteous Government was prepared to give them. His interest was more largely enlisted on behalf of the tenants who paid their rents and fulfilled all their honourable obligations, who availed themselves of the Land Act of 1903, who industriously cultivated their land, and who, many of them, found that in the course of three or four years the Government had been unable to settle for the estate and invest thorn as tenant proprietors. There were at the present moment between 90,000 and 100,000 tenant farmers anxiously inquiring the reason of the delay in settling the farms which they had purchased under the Land Act of 1903. Explanations were offered by both sides of the House as to the cause of the delay, but he agreed in part with the hon. Member for East Mayo that there were several different explanations. He did not think that the fact had been sufficiently brought before the House that last year the House consented to an increased staff for the Land Commission Department amounting in round figures to £20,000 while in the Estimate before the Committee, they were asked to increase it by a further £10,000. He respectfully suggested that £30,000 per annum should enable the Government to employ a very substantial additional staff to facilitate the work of this important Department. Whatever was the explanation he was bound to remind the Chief Secretary that the average tenant farmer believed that this phenomenal delay in placing him in his holding was caused by want of money, and that this; was the real explanation which lay behind the present difficulties of the Department. But, whatever the explanation was, the fact remained that the proportion of estates which had been settled had remained practically at £5,000,000 per annum during the time this Government had been in office. He was sure 573 that his hon. friends below the gangway would agree with him that in all parts of the country there was a growing dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs, and if this debate had done nothing else than to bring more forcibly before the Chief Secretary than previously the need of getting rid of that dissatisfaction, it would not have been altogether in vain. He begged very respectfully to ask the Chief Secretary to pursue his inquiries with the utmost rapidity, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman at an early day would be able to come before the House ready to give them an explanation of the delay that had taken place in the past, and to assure them that it would not longer continue.
§ MR. KILBRIDE (Kildare, S.)
said that if he desired to see land purchase in Ireland brought to a stop he did not know that there were any men on whose political conduct he could more implicitly rely for assistance in that direction than that of the right hon. Gentleman who sat on the front Opposition Bench, and of some of the Members who sat behind him and who had spoken that night. The right hon. Gentleman the late Attorney-General for Ireland, as they all knew and were glad to acknowledge both in that House and outside, was a highly intellectual man. They were happy to acknowledge that in his profession he was second to none, but they regretted that, when he put on his war paint and entered into politics, he got rid of all his genial qualities and showed himself a most bitter Unionist, in many cases an opponent of the material welfare of the country, and certainly an opponent of good order and satisfaction among the people of Ireland. There was a section in Ireland and there was a section in England who were never very much concerned with the land, and who were, therefore, never very much in love with the Land Purchase Act of 1903. He saw one of the Labour Party on the other side of the House who was probably never very enthusiastic on the question of advancing £112,000,000 on the credit of the British taxpayer to buy out the Irish landlords. There was no man in Ireland or outside of it who had followed the course of the land question who was not aware of the fact that the Land Act of 1903 would never have been put upon the Statute- 574 book unless the Irish people had received the assurances of the then Chief Secretary, the Member for Dover, that the two main purposes of the Act of 1903 were to reinstate the evicted tenants and give relief to the wounded soldiers of the land war, and to re-people the places from which the people were driven in Connaught and other parts of Ireland. There might be some people in Ireland and outside of that country who really were not convinced of the honesty of those statements. There were some persons who had not carefully read the history of the connection between England and Ireland. Dr. Johnson said—If we unite with you we unite to rob.There were people who believed that while there was unity between ancient and hereditary disputants in Ireland, between the landlords and the tenants, it was for nothing but the purpose of robbery. If he wanted to advocate before any audience that such was the real intention which the Government had at that time, if he wanted to say that the purpose of the landlords was to get hold of the £112,000,000, and that they had no notion whatever of putting themselves about to keep the other part of the contract, namely, the restoration of the evicted tenants on just and equitable terms, and the redistribution of un-tenanted lands in Connaught and other places, he need do nothing more than quote the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University and some others to prove that there was a great deal of truth in that contention. What had the right hon. Gentleman done that night? What had other hon. Gentlemen above the gangway who had spoken done? They had endeavoured to impress upon the Chief Secretary that it was monstrous that all this time of Parliament should be taken up in dealing with the question of the evicted tenants, and that the Treasury should be prepared to shovel out British money for the landlords to put in their pockets. Any unsophisticated farmer sitting in the gallery would be bound to come to the conclusion that the light hon. Member for the Dublin University really regretted that any time of Parliament was wasted last year oh the Evicted Tenants Bill. He did not see how the farmer could come to any other conclusion from the speech which 575 the right hon. Gentleman had delivered. But, of course, they all knew the right hon. Member for Dublin University. If ever there was a partisan the right hon. Gentleman was one. Sometimes when he saw the right hon. Gentleman in the House he had to rub his eyes, so changed was he from what he was outside. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding what had been said just now by the hon. Member for Derry, whether they would have had a Land Act in 1903, in 1887, or in 1881, but for the agitation in Ireland. When he heard the hon. Member for Derry talking about the law-abiding Ulster tenants being anxious to take the benefits of the Act of 1903 he remembered that these gentlemen, not at all differing from their representatives, never risked anything, but were always prepared to take the profits that others obtained for them. He asked the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture to remember that the farmers whom the hon. Member represented made no inconsiderable income Out of the legislation passed in that House for the Congested Districts Board, and other similar measures. A stranger would imagine that they were born in castles and had nothing to do with potatoes. The right hon. Member for Dover had said over and over again that the part of the Act of 1903 dealing with the evicted tenants question was meant mainly to apply to districts where the land war existed, and he left the House under no misapprehension on the point that it was designed to restore every evicted tenant in Ireland—the wounded soldiers of the land war—who had sacrificed their homesteads in the interests of Irish land reform and Irish nationality. But the object had not been attained. Last year the Chief Secretary said the evicted tenants on the Lansdowne estate had been restored. That was not so. At the present moment there were fifteen or twenty evicted tenants or direct representatives of evicted tenants on the estate who were still in the position they were in in 1902, and for whom nothing whatever had been done. The policy of the right hon. Member for Dover was that where untenanted land came into the possession of the Estates Commissioners, those who had first claim on the 576 land before the uneconomic holdings were enlarged, or before the sons of farmers were provided with new holdings, were the evicted tenants or their direct representatives. He agreed with the Chief Secretary that there was not much comfort in restoring an evicted tenant who had been on the roadside for twenty-five years if he did not have a free grant to give him a start in life. There were two or three cases in connection with the Lansdowne estate, in which the Commissioners had absolutely refused to make free grants. He was personally acquainted with the cases. There was one letter of 27th November, 1907, in which the Commissioners said they had sanctioned an advance of £100 for buildings and a free grant of £200 for the purchase of stock, and the applicant was put down as having received the grant, though he had personal knowledge that at the date of the return she had not received a penny of it. The hon. Members for Waterford and East Mayo had made personal application to the Commissioners for free grants to a man who was returned as having had a grant towards buildings and who had not received a penny for the purchase of stock. He could never understand on what principle the Commissioners proceeded when they were reinstating a number of evicted tenants. To some they made no free grants at all and to others they did. Perhaps they acted on the report of an inspector if they had no personal knowledge as to the condition of the individual. If the tenants in the plan of campaign who were evicted in 1887–8 and had been on the roadside ever since were to be restored under a general Act of Appeasement he could not understand why some were to have free grants and others not, or why some should have £300 for the building of houses and others only £100, the same amount of money being expended on building the houses. There was a very important point with regard to the redistribution of untenanted land which had not yet been touched upon. He would ask the Chief Secretary to bear in mind an extraordinary letter from the Estates Commissioners to a board of guardians or district council. He did not know whether it was written by one Commissioner without the knowledge of the other two, or by two without the knowledge of the third, or whether it Was written with the consent of all 577 three. They said they would take care that when they purchased large quantities of untenanted land and it came to a question of redistribution, no man who had taken part in, given support to, or practised cattle - driving should receive any grant. In coming to the House that day he had noticed a masoned-up doorway and was told by a policeman that it was the entrance to the old Star Chamber. Were the Estates Commissioners to constitute themselves a Star Chamber? How were they to know who took part in cattle - driving or who maintained cattle-driving? If the right hon. Gentleman was going to tell the House and the country that the Estates Commissioners were to constitute themselves a Star Chamber and convict men behind their backs without a scintilla of evidence, not giving the accused party the opportunity of denying the charges made against them by policemen or interested parties looking for the land perhaps themselves, he would bring about his ears a good deal of annoyance which he had no desire that he should be troubled with. He did not understand, when the Estates Commissioners bought untenanted land or a plan of campaign estate, by what process they left out some direct representatives of evicted tenants and some who were actually evicted themselves and gave others a grant of £200 to build a new house. The Return showed a grant given for the purpose of stocking the land to a man who could be seen every day in the week walking between Trinity College and St. Stephen's Green in the uniform of the Dublin Metropolitan police. The name was William Dorley, and the Return showed how much public money he got. Dorley was undoubtedly a representative of one of the evicted tenants, but while they built him a house and gave him £200 of public money they left others who had no means of livelihood on the road.
And, it being a quarter past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.