HL Deb 25 April 1882 vol 268 cc1379-83

, according to Notice, presented a Petition from owners of land and others living in Ireland, containing the three following points:—

  1. "1. Your Petitioners humbly pray, that the principles adopted by the Land Commissioners in the assessment of fair rents may as soon as possible be made public.
  2. "2. Tour Petitioners respectfully submit that while the operation of the Land Act of 1881 is necessarily of an arbitrary character, the inconvenience arising from such inherent defect would be minimized by a declaration of the principles adopted in its administration.
  3. "3. That the speedy and ultimate result of such a declaration would be great acceleration in the application of the Act, lessening the number of appeals, multiplying the cases settled out of court,"
and said, that the matter had, to a certain extent, been dealt with during the discussion of a kindred subject on the previous evening, for many of the observations made to their Lordships then would apply extremely well to that Petition. If the subject were not so serious, there was something almost partaking of the nature of a comedy in the notion that after an Act had occupied three months of discussion during last Session, and had been several months in operation, it should now be thought necessary to consider upon what principles it ought to be administered; but the present Petitioners, of whom he himself was one, found it absolutely necessary to ask for some information upon the subject, though he was afraid they would ask in vain. The Petitioners included landed proprietors who had cases before the Land Courts, and landed proprietors who were likely to find themselves in the position of those who had charges upon lands and were anxious about their security, and also outsiders, who were astonished at the new system of conveyancing and the novel proceedings sanctioned by the Land Act. They had closely examined the Act, but were utterly unable to discover upon what principle it was supposed to work. They had followed the decisions of the Land Court, and were equally unable to dis- cover a principle. The legal points were, indeed, principally almost entirely disposed of by the Superior Commissioners; but the instances were so rare in which the Superior Commissioners had interfered with the judicial rents fixed by the Assistant Commissioners, that practically, so far as regards the fixing of rent, the Assistant Commissioners were the ruling powers. The names of the Assistant Commissioners were not inserted in the Act; but he (the Earl of Longford) was satisfied that if their names had been before Parliament at the time the Act was under discussion, Parliament would have hesitated placing in such hands the extensive powers they now exercised. They might, perhaps, have been competent to deal with small properties, or cases of extravagant rents; but their jurisdiction extended over properties of large value. The reasons for some of their decisions were of an extraordinary kind. In one case the rent was reduced on account of the good character of the tenant. In a case in the county of Roscommon, the rent was reduced because the tenant was honest and industrious. It seemed rather a caricature on Irish life that when an instance was found of a tenant being honest and industrious his rent should be at once reduced. Probably, it was because they thought an honest and industrious man in that condition of Ireland so rare a thing that it justified them in giving him a slice of somebody else's estate. One Sub-Commissioner had, indeed, stated that he acted throughout on a consistent principle, but he kept the secret to himself; and he (the Earl of Longford) was not aware that any other Court made such a confession as that. He admitted that, as a general rule, the proceedings of the Land Court were conducted with patience and good order, though there were exceptions where the people had been warmed up by the approach of their liberators, and then the decisions of the Court were racy of the soil. If Parliament had acceded to the view that a general reduction of rent was desirable, they would have submitted to its decision; but the Government and Parliament did the reverse. They said the rents were not generally extravagant, and that, on the whole, no general reduction of rents would be effected by the Act. That, however, had not been found to be the case; for wher- ever the property in Ireland was situated, whether it was rich pasture or mountain moorland, it had all been brought into the Land Court, and the result was uniformly the same—a reduction of rent, notwithstanding the plainest proofs that it was already of the fairest possible character. Again, if the Government had said they thought it desirable to have a re-valuation of property, that would have been an intelligible principle, from which they could gather what the mind of Parliament was; but they had no guide whatever. The Petitioners did not come denouncing the Land Act; but they expressed the wish to facilitate the working of the Act by coming to arrangements out of Court, provided they could understand that such arrangements were necessary. Their Petition was that, as Parliament had imposed that Act of Parliament upon them, they should explain to them what the Act was, and on what principle it was to be administered. That was a request which no one could regard as unreasonable; and he trusted that, from some quarter or other, they would have some explanation given them that would prove satisfactory. He should have been very glad to have urged further arguments in their behalf; but he had been really forestalled by the discussion which had taken place on the subject last night.

Petition for a speedy declaration of the principles adopted in the administration of the Act by the Land Commissioners in Ireland; of Owners of Land and others living in Ireland, or interested in its welfare; read.


said, that, in his opinion, nothing could be more reasonable than for the land proprietors, or ex-land proprietors of Ireland, as they might be more properly called, to ask to be informed on what tenure they held the small shred of ownership, as regarded their property in land, that remained to them. He, for one, would like to know on what principle the Land Act was being administered? He had not the slightest notion, at the present moment, to whom the land belonged. It used to be called "real property;" but, in his opinion, it constituted at present about the most unreal investment that could be found. What was to be the new title for it? Lord Dufferin had written that in no other country but Ireland did such a state of things exist as that a landlord, who had let his land on reasonable conditions to-day, did not know to whom it would pass to-morrow. No one could doubt that the Act had proved a failure; and he did not know that it would be more consolatory, if it had succeeded, instead of having failed, since success might have led to further experiments in bribing the many with the property of the few, and then the present miserable state of Ireland would have been still more deplorable. Last year they had conceded the three F's, and now they had received in return for them, the three R's—roguery, robbery, and rapine. But the policy by which those three R's were secured to Ireland had not even the recommendation of success. If it was necessary that the Irish landlords should be robbed, it was only reasonable they should know the principle upon which they were to be so.


said, that the speech which they had just heard, with every word of which he entirely disagreed, and the panic of which he hoped would soon pass away from men's minds, though he could not undertake to say whether or not it would pass away from the mind of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Dunsany)—that speech was just nine months too late. It ought to have been delivered before the Land Act of 1881 passed their Lordships' House, and he would not discuss it at the present time. But he wished to say one word with respect to the Petition presented by the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford). It was, in fact, a Petition to Parliament for further legislation; it was a Petition which requested Parliament to amend and alter the Land Act of last year in a most important respect—namely, with regard to the definition of fair rent. The question whether any principles for the ascertainment of fair rent should be laid down by the Legislature was considered by both Houses of Parliament last year; and it was deliberately decided by Parliament that beyond the terms of the 8th section of the Act no attempt should be made to lay down any such principles. He might point out to the noble Earl that the Government had not given any recommendation to the Land Commission as to the adoption or renouncement of any principles. If the Land Commission were to be invited to declare the principles upon which they proceeded, they would probably point to the Act of Parliament, and would say that they were doing their best under the terms of the Act to ascertain in each case, in a way very closely analogous to a Court of Arbitration, what was a fair rent, either by inspection by the Sub-Commissioners, or by the employment of valuators, in addition to the evidence on both sides. They would also say, no doubt, that whenever any important case of law arose, that case was decided by the Courts of Appeal, and that all the inferior Land Courts were absolutely bound by such decision. If, however, they were invited to go beyond some such statement as that, and to declare what they considered to be the principle for ascertaining a fair rent, they would point out that Parliament itself had absolutely refused to lay down such a principle; and they would say that until Parliament had further legislated and amended the Act of 1881, they could hardly be expected to do what Parliament had not done.

Petition ordered to lie upon the Table.