in rising to move for a Return stating, (1.) The names of 1738 the Irish Land Sub-Commissioners, arranged according to the several districts; with the profession or employment of each Sub-Commissioner previous to his appointment as Sub-Commissioner; and (2.) The number of cases in each district in Ireland in which rents have been judicially fixed lower than the Government valuation; giving in each such case the valuation (1) with, and (2) without buildings, and the judicial rent fixed; said, he wished to draw their Lordships' attention to two points in connection with the Land Question in Ireland, which it would be well for them to bear in mind. First, the vast powers which were wielded by the Sub-Commissioners under the Land Act—powers such as had never before been granted by Parliament; and, secondly, the great importance of these powers being wielded by fit and proper persons. They all knew something of Griffith's valuation. That was made by a most painstaking gentleman, who stated that in the course of it he visited every townland in Ireland, and that he stated his valuation was from 25 to 30 per cent below what might be expected as a proper rental for the land in Ireland; yet, in many cases, rents had been reduced to that amount, and occasionally to less. Those reductions had been made by the Land Commission, notwithstanding that there was evidence that land in Ireland was let at a lower rent than any in Europe. In proof of that statement, Professor Baldwin, in his evidence before the Land Commissioners, had expressed the belief that the land in Belgium was rented at twice the amount that it was rented at in Ireland; and as the only method of relieving present distress in the country was by lowering the rent of the land, it would be seen that a very difficult task was given to the Sub-Commissioners. On the one hand, they had to fix a fair rent; and, on the other, they had to obey the behest of the Prime Minister to pacify Ireland, which could only be done by a reduction of rents. Yet the right hon. Gentleman, in bringing in his last Irish Land Act, distinctly stated that it would not appreciably lessen the value of the land. Bearing these things in mind, he (Viscount Lifford) wished to call attention to the carrying out of the Act. In his opinion, it had been detrimental to the peace and welfare of the country. The "Ship Money" of Charles I, 1739 was a flea-bite in comparison with the invasion of the rights of property by the Sub-Commissioners. The Returns made to that House were far from being accurate. Returns showing what tremendous reductions in rent had been made were it was true, before the House. He held in his hand other Returns, but he would not trouble their Lordships with them. The process going on was one of the greatest tyrannies ever heard of, and it had completely ruined some small proprietors—in fact, two instances had come under his notice of persons with whom he was well acquainted who had lost their all. Large proprietors could do well enough, as they had investments elsewhere; but numerous small proprietors of land, to whom it mattered most, had lost a large portion of their income, amounting in the aggregate to one-fourth; and he himself knew of many cases where extreme hardships had been caused by the action of the Sub-Commissioners in reducing rents. Not only that, but nearly half-a-century ago, when the Irish landlords undertook to pay the tithe rent-charge, it was thought right to allow them 25 per cent as compensation; but now, when land was much more valuable than it was then, the 25 per cent was taken away from them, although in many instances the rents had never been raised since that date. It was true that the decisions of the Sub-Commissioners were subject to review by the Commissioners; but extreme reluctance had been shown by the Commissioners to disturb the decrees of their subordinates. Very great powers were reposed in the Sub-Commissioners, and it was of the greatest importance that they should all be fit and proper persons for the office. He was unwilling to attack either the Commissioners or the Sub-Commissioners, for a more patient, hard-working class of men than some of them were he never met; but there ware some cases in which they had been appointed in a most extraordinary manner. He would mention one case where a man who had kept a public-house was nominated as a Commissioner, his father and grandfather having also kept a public-house. Another owned a mill and kept a shop in Londonderry, and there was reason to believe that while he was sitting in Court his foreman was soliciting orders in the 1740 same town. Another Sub-Commissioner, before his appointment, gave evidence on oath in Court on more than one occasion as to what were fair rents, and the Court fixed the rents at amounts ranging from 25 to 33 per cent higher than his valuation. He (Viscount Lifford) thought it was not right to appoint Professor Baldwin a Sub-Commissioner after the evidence which, according to the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), he had given about Lord Conyngham's property, and more especially after he had expressed his sentiments on the matter of rent in Ireland as he had done. He knew that some rents were too high; but some most extraordinary adjudications had been made, and the alarmingly great reductions in the rents which some of the Sub-Commissioners had made had certainly much surprised him. On Lord Gosford's estate, out of 28 cases, the rentals in which amounted to £750, they had been reduced by £154; and in 18 cases out of 146 the rent was reduced below Griffith's valuation, which was, as he had said, admittedly low. Now, so far from this estate being high let, it was always considered a model estate. He did not say that no rents should be reduced, but he did say that there were not in Ireland many rents that were too high. This Act had not pacified Ireland, but given away money, on the plea of purchasing peace, which could only be compared to that given by the Romans to the Goths. He maintained that the action of the Land Commissioners was about the greatest piece of tyranny which could possibly be inflicted on the landlords of Ireland, many of the smaller of whom were being ruined. He wished to know whether anything could be done to stop this, as matters were getting really serious? Now, had the course pursued by the Government won the affection of the Irish people—had it gained their gratitude? No; certainly not. The country still remained in a hopeless state of depression. The railway system of Ireland had come into existence since the Government valuation was made, and the prices of produce had tripled, and in some cases even quadrupled. He remembered the time when a pair of chickens might be had in Ireland for 4d., and yet rents were sometimes reduced below those of the last century. All these things were 1741 sops in the pan, and all tended to one great object—that to which the efforts of the Home Rule and Land League Parties were directed—namely, the destruction of what he might call the English garrison, of men who had a far greater descent as Irishmen than those who posed as Irishmen in a room not far off. The great desire of those men was to bring about a separation from England, whereas the men whom he (Viscount Lifford) had first mentioned loved it as much as any man could do. In conclusion, he would make the Motion of which he had given Notice, omitting the first part.
§ Moved, "That there be laid before this House, Return stating the number of cases in each district in which rents have been judicially fixed by the Irish Land Sub-Commissioners lower than the Government valuation; giving in each such case the valuation (1) with, and (2) without buildings, and the judicial rent fixed."—(The Viscount Lifford.)
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRIVY SEAL)
My Lords, I am very unwilling to complain of my noble Friend (Viscount Lifford), or to appear in any way discourteous to him; but I am bound to point out the extreme inconvenience of the course which he has taken in the observations which he has just made. My noble Friend simply gave Notice that he would move for certain Returns; and though I talked over the matter with him at considerable length, I never gathered from him, either in public or private, that he had any intention of going beyond the terms of his Notice into the whole subject of the Land Commission Courts. I do not complain of anything which my noble Friend has said with regard to Her Majesty's Government, though, even on that subject, it would have been more convenient for all of us that the Notice should have said something as to the subjects which were to be brought before the House. But your Lordships will see that the main topic of my noble Friend's observations is one that absolutely and imperatively requires that I or anyone else who is to answer it should know the course that was about to be taken by my noble Friend. The whole of my noble Friend's speech, or nearly the whole, consisted of charges against certain of the Sub-Commissioners in Ireland. The charges do not appear to be very formidable; but it is impossible, under the Circumstances of the case, for 1742 anyone replying for the Government to answer such charges off-hand, or even to comment upon them. I hope that I shall never fail to take all the pains I can to obtain and furnish to your Lordships information upon all Irish subjects. In order that I may do so, however, I must have some conception beforehand as to what information will be asked for. One does not expect that, in moving for Returns of this kind, a noble Lord would make such a speech as that we have just heard. On the contrary, it seems natural to expect that the noble Lord would obtain his Returns first, and then make use of them in a speech. Some of the names my noble Friend mentioned are entirely unknown to me; but if I had known what my noble Friend was going to do, I should have been able to obtain information about them, and could have done justice to the subject. Under the present circumstances, it is impossible for me to enter into any one of them. With regard, however, to one of the Sub-Commissioners—namely, Professor Baldwin, I will make one remark. Professor Baldwin is well known to me, and I think that no one who does know that gentleman, his career and qualifications, can suppose for a moment that the Irish Government were not justified in appointing him as one of the Sub-Commissioners. But my noble Friend says that the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), in a speech delivered during the present Session, proved that Professor Baldwin had committed so great an error in some evidence given by him before the Royal Commission on Agriculture that the Government ought never to have thought of appointing that gentleman. But what are the facts? I have only to remind my noble Friend that Professor Baldwin was appointed last autumn, and that the speech of the Duke of Argyll was made this Session.
No; last Session. The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) spoke at some length in condemnation of the course pursued by the Sub-Commissioners.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRIVY SEAL)
I understood my noble Friend to say that the speech was made during the present Session. With respect to the Returns moved for by my noble Friend, I understood him to say he would not move for the first 1743 part; while, with regard to the second, he will find what he wants in the Statutory Returns of the Land Commission, which are from time to time laid before the House. The Commissioners, however, cannot, in giving the number of cases in each district in which rents have been judicially fixed lower than the Government valuation, state in each case the valuation with and without buildings. They have informed me there are no means of obtaining the information.
said he would like the House to have the Returns of the actual reductions of rent below Griffith's valuation. That portion of the Return was the most important of all.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think the noble Lord opposite (the Lord Privy Seal) has carried the doctrine of "due Notice" even further than it has been carried hitherto. We shall soon be in this position—that noble Lords on the Treasury Bench will decline to answer any speeches of which an abstract has not been presented to them beforehand. I think that some, at any rate, of the facts mentioned by my noble Friend behind me (Viscount Lifford) are pretty well known, and, as matters of public property, might naturally have been expected to have been present to the memory and within the knowledge of the Lord Privy Seal; but he is evidently so entirely occupied by the duties of his new Office that he has effaced from his mind some of the most important and most notorious of the matters that were pressed upon us last year. For instance, he says that a speech containing the very stringent and pungent criticisms passed by a very eloquent Member of this House (the Duke of Argyll) upon many of those who gave evidence before the Bess-borough Commission, and among others upon Professor Baldwin, was delivered during the present Session. As a matter of fact, however, that speech was delivered last year; and not only so, but it was delivered two or three months before the appointment of the Sub-Commissioners, and I think that many people fancied that it was, as a kind of indemnification for the attacks that he had undergone, that Professor Baldwin was placed among the Sub-Commissioners. I heard with great surprise from the noble Lord opposite (the Lord Privy Seal) that most of the names mentioned 1744 by my noble Friend were utterly unknown to him. Why, two or three of the names mentioned are the names of men whose deeds have been prominently before the English world for the last six months. I admit that it may be inconvenient—no doubt it is so—to the Government that questions of this kind should be raised without Notice, and that they should be pressed to consider the consequences of their legislation; but far greater inconvenience is suffered by their unfortunate victims, who, in consequence of that legislation and the appointments made in accordance with it, are losing one-third or one-fourth of their income. The noble Lord is not cognizant of the cases referred to by my noble Friend. Is he not aware of the case of Mr. John George M'Carthy? Has it never reached his ears that Mr. M'Carthy, one of the fiercest of the Sub-Commissioners, was himself a practicing solicitor in the district in which he administered the Land Act, and that, being a practicing solicitor, he had among his clients the president of the local Land League; and is he not aware that the subject has been made a matter of remonstrance on the part of the unfortunate landlords of the district? Then, is he not aware that Messrs. Morrison and Weir, two of the Sub-Commissioners, were prominent among the supporters of Mr. Porter, the Solicitor General for Ireland, who went to his constituents on the platform of a grand reduction of rent by the Sub-Commissioners? These men were among his prominent supporters; they canvassed for him on that ground, and immediately afterwards were appointed Sub-Commissioners. Is he not aware of the case of Mr. Meek, of the North of Ireland, who is one of the most violent persecutors of the landlords, and who, before his appointment to the Commission, had expressed a very strong opinion in the same direction as that followed by the two gentlemen whom I have named? Is he not aware of these things? I have heard of hardly anything else.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRIVY SEAL)
The noble Marquess forgets I am not a Member of the Committee of this House on the Land Law (Ireland) Act.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No; but the noble Lord is a Member of the Cabinet, and I should have thought that 1745 the Cabinet would sometimes consider the results of the legislation they had introduced, and the results of the outrageous and unparalleled appointments they have made. But I rose, not so much to support the Motion before the House as to notice the observations which were made yesterday in "another place" by no less a person than the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright). He made an observation with respect to this House which appears to me wholly unjustifiable. In the place where he was speaking, the Land Act of last year and its operation had been severely criticized by Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side of the House, and he answered that Conservatives had no right to criticize that Act adversely, because the House of Lords, where they (the Conservatives) were strong, had passed the Bill. Now, I wish to repudiate at once the inference which Mr. Bright desires to draw from the fact that we passed the Land Act. Did we not pass that Act on the faith of certain assurances? We were taunted, it was true, by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, on our readiness to believe the assurances of the Government; but we did believe them, however contemptible you may think us, however feeble our intellects may now appear in the eyes of noble Lords opposite. I know that the assurances by those Ministers who made them were made in honest conviction; but not the less—emphatically as I wish to state that reservation—not the less was that Bill obtained from this House upon false pretences, at all events, in the form in which it was passed. This House was told that there would be no substantial reduction of rents; and I will venture to say, in answer to Mr. Bright, that if this House could have foreseen the kind of appointments that would be made to the post of Sub-Commissioners, if this House could have known that the result of those appointments would be an average reduction of one-fourth or one-third in rents that had existed for 20 or 30 years and, in some cases, for a century—if this House could have foreseen that the landlords of Ireland would be plundered in that manner by the operations of packed tribunals, I am quite sure that the Land Bill would never have passed the House of Lords.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, your Lordships must have been surprised, for I think it is very unusual upon a Motion for a Return to have such speeches as that of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury). The appointments of the Government have been characterized without scruple by the noble Marquess as "outrageous and unparalleled," or by some such epithets, which the noble Marquess has employed to enforce his rhetoric. I will not use more forcible words; but I understood him to charge us with having obtained the passing of the Act by "false pretences," because Her Majesty's Government had stated that which was not true, in the belief that something else would take place which has not taken place.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I was very careful to say I admitted that the statements were made in the belief of those who made them that they were true; but, nevertheless, they were misleading.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
Then, how can the Act have been passed under false pretences, if the statements we made were what we believed to be true? It is absolutely incompatible with the ordinary meaning of the language we use. How can the noble Marquess mean that the Bill was obtained by false pretences, when the language I or other Members of the Government used was true to the best of our belief? It is perfectly absurd to make such an accusation. But what I really wish to point out is that the noble Marquess who uses all this violent language is not, as I believe, an Irish landlord who has such a large amount of income on the decision of the Sub-Commissioners as some of those Peers present, who speak with much greater moderation. And I would appeal to your Lordships whether it would not be better, when you, who are so deeply interested, as the noble Marquess says, have charges of this sort to make against absent persons, that you should give ample Notice, and specify them, so as to enable those absent persons to give such information as may be necessary to the Government, who cannot be supposed to know of their own knowledge everything that passed in all the Courts of Ireland? Such charges are always difficult to meet, and I cannot conceive why Irish landlords 1747 should not even strain a point to admit of such information being obtained, instead of making charges without Notice, when the persons accused are not Members of your Lordships' House. I think it is in the interests of Irish landlords, as well as of all concerned, that that course should be taken, so that no charges should be made which are absolutely without foundation.
§ EARL CAIRNS
My Lords, my noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) has used an expression which none but the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville), I think, could have misunderstood. My noble Friend referred to the assurances given to this House when the Land Act of last year was under our consideration, and when the opinion was broadly expressed by my noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack as to what would be the effect of the measure in regard to the reduction of rents in Ireland. My noble Friend also referred to the statements of the Lord Privy Seal on the same subject, and to that made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in "another place," who said that he was firmly convinced that the rents of Ireland would go on after the Bill was passed just as they were before; but there might be certain exceptional cases in which the operation of the Act would prevent the raising of rents unjustly, and that would give security to the people. Referring to those statements, my noble Friend said he was convinced—I am quite convinced—that everything these Gentlemen said they firmly and conscientiously believed to be true; but my noble Friend added that not the less the Act of last year was obtained, as I venture to say it was obtained—I do not wish to say so offensively, and therefore I will not use the word "pretences" if you dislike it—but upon assurances which were believed by those who used them to be true, whilst in point of fact they were untrue. The noble Earl says—" If you have charges to make, why do not you give Notice, and specify them, in order that there may be an opportunity of meeting them?" But, my Lords, there are cases of such magnitude and notoriety that the giving of Notice would be ridiculous, when Notice is given from morning to night, and by every newspaper, and when the matter is in everybody's mouth who knows 1748 anything of the facts. Notice! Why, take the Blue Books which are laid upon the Table; take the cases by the thousand which are decided by the Land Judges; take the reductions which are made; and talk about giving Notice of calling attention to each case specifically! Why, there are no cases but of one kind. Reductions are made broadcast; and I venture to say upon no principle that can be accounted for in any way but this—"Take your bill and sit down quickly; if you pay a rent of £100 a-year, take your bill and write £70 or £75." It is an old principle we know perfectly well. You might as well have put a clause in the Bill of last year, saying that the rents in Ireland must be reduced at the rate of from 20 to 30 per cent. I venture to say, and I believe your Lordships will admit, that if the Government had last year come to this House and laid upon the Table the list of these appointments to be made under the Act, and given, as a specimen, any indication of what would be done in any one county in Ireland, the Act would no more have passed in this House—or, perhaps, in the other House—than this House would have passed an Act for its own abolition.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the speech of the noble and learned Earl who has just sat down (Earl Cairns), though purporting to give credit for sincerity to certain Members of this and the other House of Parliament as regards statements made by them respecting the Land Bill of last year, in fact imputes to them that they have acted in such a manner as to falsify what he represents to be their own assurances—namely, that the Act of last year would not tend to reduce rents very largely by its operation. With regard to those assurances, I am glad my noble and learned Friend referred to myself as having given them, for I take advantage of the opportunity to positively deny having given anything in the nature of an assurance as to a matter of which it was impossible for me to have any knowledge. What I did, and what others did, was to express our belief that the Irish landlords generally—the mass of the Irish landlords—had not been over-renting their land, and, therefore, that great reductions would not generally be made. We did not expect that a Court of Arbitration to settle rents would have 1749 to make reductions so general or so large as to show that the lands, throughout Ireland, had generally been over rented. But, as to taking upon ourselves to give assurances on a matter as to which everybody in this and the other House of Parliament must have known as much as ourselves, and as to which we should have no better grounds of forming an opinion than Gentlemen from Ireland or noble Lords on the Opposition Benches, that is a most extravagant misconception—I prefer using that term to any other—of what was said. No one could, from the nature of the case, possibly give such assurances, and no assurances were given. But what was then said was, that there was no belief entertained by the Government that the landlords of Ireland generally were letting their lands on terms which would involve a very large and general reduction. Your Lordships knew as well as we did that the machinery set on foot by the Act was a Court of Arbitration, and that inquiry would be made in every case brought before the Commissioners as to whether the rent was a fair rent or not. And I protest altogether against the assumption that this House or the other House of Parliament legislated upon the supposition that facts were known which could not possibly have been known—it could not nave been known what, in the opinion of the Commissioners, would be fair rents to be put upon particular tenements. I do not know what the ultimate result of the operation now going on in Ireland may be; but if it should be to produce a more general reduction of rents than we expected, that is a matter as to which no possible opportunity existed of anyone having a knowledge beforehand, except such as might be derived from those public sources of information which are in the hands of every Member of both Houses of Parliament. I am not sure that I myself ever said that I believed the landlords in Ireland, generally, were not over renting, though such was, in fact, my belief; but what I did say last year was—and I adhere to it at this moment as fully as I did then—that in the actual state of Ireland, in the actual state of the relations between landlords and tenants, with the enormous and ruinous depreciation of all landed property in Ireland, which was the inevitable consequence of the then existing state of 1750 things, and which was sure to go on from bad to worse, if means of settling rents by arbitration were not afforded, I believed sincerely that the measure which was passed last year was as much in the interest of the landlords as of the tenants, and that the value of the landlords' property had a better chance of being maintained, whatever might be the working of the Bill, than it could possibly have if things were allowed to drift without the Appleton of any remedy. I should still be of the same opinion, even though these reductions of rent should prove, contrary to what I then expected to be general throughout Ireland. With regard to the appointment of Sub-Commissioners, I do not, of course, know anything whatever of the individual gentlemen appointed; but this I do know, that my right hon. Friend Mr. Forster, upon whose responsibility those appointments were made, is as just, honorable, and upright a man as I have ever known in public or in private life. I must say, also, that I am sure a sincere and honest endeavor was made to appoint competent men and men upon whom reliance could be placed that they would act justly. As to what has been said with reference to the appointment of gentlemen who supported Mr. Porter, the present Solicitor General for Ireland, in his candidature, and the promises made by Mr. Porter himself, I do not know whether the Conservative candidate in that election said anything about large reductions of rent; but I know that he went, in some respects, farther than Mr. Porter in his promises to the tenants, and that he proposed to largely extend the Land Act; and if the Government had appointed a supporter of that gentleman, the same objection might have been urged as that brought forward by the noble Viscount (Viscount Lifford). Again, what was complained of this evening by my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal (Lord Carlingford) is, not that Notice was not given as to matters upon which the Government ought to be prepared to answer, but that charges should be brought against persons holding public offices, whose fitness for their positions was called in question, without notice either of the names of the persons, or of the grounds upon which their fitness was challenged; the Government being thus unable to communicate with those gentlemen, and obtain 1751 information on the points upon which answers might be required. To ask for Notice in such a case is common sense as well as common justice, because if A or B be singled out for attack as to his fitness, it is only fair that he should have an opportunity of stating what he has to say in answer to the charge. I think it is undesirable and greatly to be regretted that the progress of last year's measure should be disturbed by recriminatory accusations of this kind. Fair and reasonable criticisms upon the operation of Acts of Parliament, whether they have fulfilled or disappointed the expectations formed of them, are, at the proper time, undoubtedly proper; but angry discussions of this kind, and imputations which, if they mean anything, mean bad faith, at one time or other, either on the part of the Government in making appointments, or on the part of the gentlemen whom they have appointed, can do no good to anyone, and may do great harm in exacerbating the feelings of classes at a time when it is of the greatest importance that we should all co-operate for the pacification of Ireland. And this is especially true when your Lordships will soon be called upon to give your consideration to those measures which the Government have thought it their duty to submit to Parliament. If, after experience of the Land Act, there should be, in its ultimate results, ground for appeals to Parliament when the materials are sufficient and the time has come, no one would complain less than I should; but such discussions as this, arising in such a manner, seem to me, as I have more than once said before, to be against the interests of everybody in Ireland, and not least against the interests of the landlords themselves.
§ EARL CAIRNS
My Lords, I should be very sorry, even unintentionally, from memory, to misrepresent what had fallen from Members of the Government last year; and I have, therefore, got before me the passages to which I referred just now, and, with the permission of the House, will read them, in order that your Lordships may see whether I have overstated the facts. This is what Mr. Bright said—My view of the operation of this particular clause (the Fair Kent Clause) is that, in reality, rents in Ireland will, for the most part, in nine cases out of ten, be fixed very much as they are now."—[3 Hansard, cclxi. 103.]1752 This is what my noble and learned Friend opposite (the Lord Chancellor) said—If you compare the state of things under this Bill with that which would exist if nothing of the kind were done, the Bill may be expected to restore and increase, not to diminish, the value of the landlord's property."—[3 Hansard, cclxiv. 534.]
§ EARL CAIRNS
Then, the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal (Lord Carlingford) said—I maintain that the provisions of this Bill will cause the landlords no money loss whatever; I believe that it will inflict upon them no loss of income, except in those cases in which a certain number of landlords may have imposed on their tenants excessive and inequitable rents, which they are probably vainly trying to recover."—[Ibid., 252.]
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRIVY SEAL)
said, he wished to say one word of explanation as to the supposed assurances given by his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack, by himself (Lord Car-lingford), and by others, and to observe that he was content to abide by the quotation that had just been read from his speech of last year. He gave no assurance, and certainly not the assurance that had been suggested. It would have been both ridiculous and impossible for him to assure the House that the tribunals to be set up by Parliament would not reduce rents which they did not regard as fair; and he had only stated his belief that the class of landlords represented by noble Lords in that House, though they might lose some of their power, would suffer no loss of revenue. That, he might say, was still his conviction. When the Land Courts found rents that were not fair, they would reduce them; but where they found them fair, they would not be reduced; and he believed he had been very near the truth in expressing the opinion that the better class of landlords would lose no more than part of their power. In fact, the reductions which had been made on the rents of the landlords of Ireland represented by noble Lords in that House had been of a very trifling kind.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBROOK
said that if they had not had the assurance before, they had it now, that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal did not believe that rents would be reduced notwithstanding all that had taken place.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRIVY SEAL)
Not of that class of landlords in Ireland who were represented by their Lordships in that House.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBROOK
said, it now seemed, from what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had told them that these assurances of last year were not assurances given to the House at all. Very well; let them drop the word. But, at any rate, it was giving their opinions, founded upon facts which were before the Government and, as the noble and learned Lord had told them, before the country also. He had told the House that upon these facts, as ascertained by independent men and classified in Blue Books, the Government had arrived at the conclusion that, in nine cases out of ten, rents in Ireland were rather below than above the average and the fair rent; and the Government, on the strength of ascertained facts and Blue Books, were so convinced of that truth, that they stated it in positive language in one House by the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and in the other by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. But what had happened since then? Had the persons who had been appointed as Sub-Commissioners not run counter to all that the Government imagined would happen? What did the fair working of the Act depend upon? It depended, not on the assurances of the Government, but on the appointment of impartial persons, like those who had made the inquiries heretofore, to which he had referred. The noble and learned Lord had spoken of what was passing Tinder the Act as arbitration; but what could be said for arbitrators in the shape of three Commissioners and the Sub-Commissioners, all, or nearly all, of whom were what were called tenants' men, some of them men having absolutely given their opinions very strongly in favor of lowering of rents before their appointment, the landlords having no voice in the selection of any of these so-called arbitrators? The noble and learned Lord had recommended the House to wait until the work of the Courts had advanced much farther—to wait till the ruin of the landlords had been consummated—and then, if they needed it, to allow them to come to Parliament for compensation; only they well knew what answer they 1754 would get. It was only reasonable, under the circumstances, that his noble Friend the Marquess of Salisbury should have taken notice of what had been said in "another place" as to the manner in which their Lordships' House shared in the responsibility for the Bill of last year. That House, however, could not be truly said to be responsible for the Bill, as it virtually had no choice in the matter and no freedom of deciding on the right or wrong of the case. If people dragged them into the centre of a morass, there was no way out of it except by a dirty path; and the House of Lords, in the case of the Land Bills of 1870 and 1881, did no more than choose the lesser evil in extricating the country as best it could from the slough into which the Government had dragged it. It might be more dangerous not to do the lesser injustice than to bring on a great political catastrophe, which those who had brought in the Bill ought to have foreseen. The House had been told, and no doubt it was the case, that the mere bringing in of the Bill by a strong Government had created such expectations among the tenants of Ireland that it could not be dealt with merely as a question of right and wrong in itself. That was the way in which the Bill had been presented to the House. Parliament was now face to face with one of the most portentous calamities ever inflicted on a country, for those who had been loyal and faithful and true to the English connection were, by having thrown upon them the whole weight of Parliamentary and legislative interference, being crushed to the very earth; and the Government told them, for their consolation, when they were quite ruined, to come to Parliament and beg.
said he rose for the purpose of deprecating the continuance of such a discussion as was then taking place on that subject, fearing it might have a bad effect on the melancholy condition of things then existing in Ireland. With that in view, noble Lords ought to be very careful as to what they might say. They should think twice before they uttered sentiments which could only tend to aggravate the evils under which they were suffering.
THE DUKE OF ABERCORN
said, that rents had been reduced—not because they were too high, or that the Commis- 1755 sioners were not impartial, but because the Commissioners, as such, were bound to reduce the rents, whether they were high or not. He, for one, quite believed the assurances of the Government at the time they were made, that there would be no reduction of rents; and he only wished he could place the same reliance on those which the noble Lord (Lord Carlingford), speaking for the Government, had made that night.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
said, he had not the slightest wish to enter into the discussion that was then taking place; but he rose for the purpose of pointing out that it had wandered away somewhat from the Notice on the Paper. He wished to call their Lordships' attention to the fact that the noble Viscount (Viscount Lifford) had omitted to move the first part of the Motion that stood upon the Paper in his name, in which he had proposed to call for the names of the Sub-Commissioners, with their professions previous to their appointment. That was a very natural Motion to make, in order that afterwards the attention of the House might be called to the nature of those appointments, and the qualifications of those gentlemen; for it was quite right that if any complaints were made of the conduct of the Commissioners or Sub-Commissioners, the attention of the Government should be called to them; but he objected to the use of intemperate language, such as that used by the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury), and he demurred to the statement that every Member of the Government must be acquainted with the character and predilections of the Sub-Commissioners. Of course it was quite impossible for anybody without Notice to be able to defend all those appointments, and to go into the circumstances which had been referred to. Everyone knew it was contrary to ordinary Parliamentary practice to act in such a manner as the noble Viscount had done. He supposed it merely arose from this—that noble Lords opposite thought it was a very convenient opportunity to get up a wrangle on a subject upon which they knew the Government could not give a satisfactory answer at the moment, and they probably thought it would be of some advantage to them in the House and to the country. But he protested against this subject being discussed 1756 without fair Notice. If they were to discuss those matters, let them do so fairly and with some amount of information before the House, for Irish affairs were the most uncertain and unsatisfactory with which the Government had to deal. In that case they would do so with better temper and with better results. He himself was in the position of never having given any assurances whatever; but as regarded the assurances of his noble Friends, he should be inclined to take the same view, and to express the belief that, upon the whole, the Irish landlords had not over rented their estates, and that those who had treated their tenants fairly would not suffer any money loss, because their property would be much more secure. ["Oh, oh!"] The noble Lord opposite might say "Oh!" but his (the Earl of Kimberley's) opinion was that very large reductions of rent would have to be made by landlords in this country as well as in Ireland. If it should turn out, upon full examination, that rents had been generally reduced in Ireland, he very much doubted whether, in one point of view, there would be any money lost, because there would be so much more security.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
said, that, in his opinion, it was a most unfortunate proceeding to raise a discussion on so important a subject on a Motion which the noble Viscount (Viscount Lifford) had not led anyone to suppose that he intended to discuss the whole question of the Land Act and the appointment of the Commissioners. He (the Earl of Dunraven) regretted that the matter had been discussed at such length at the present stage; because he was not ashamed to confess that he, for one, felt unequal to discuss a question of so much importance. He would ask what class of landlords it was that the noble Lord (the Lord Privy Seal) thought was represented by the Irish landlords who sat in that House; because he had stated that the Irish landlords in that House were those whose rents would not be reduced? But that was not the fact, and he feared none of them were in that House, because any noble Lords who had been before the Court had had their rents reduced. There could be no doubt that the Prime Minister, Mr. Bright, and other Members of the Cabinet had given it as their opinion that the result of the 1757 Land Act would not be a general reduction of rents; and that opinion was based not only upon their knowledge as Ministers, but also upon the evidence given before the Royal Commissioners. He had no hesitation in saying that if this House or the other House had had the slightest idea that the result of the Land Act would be to reduce rents by one-third or one-fourth, the Act would not have been passed without the insertion of some provision for compensation. The Act was passed by both Houses, because they believed in the opinions of Members of the Cabinet on the subject. Her Majesty's Government must bear in mind that the position of the Irish landlords was this—either the opinions of Her Majesty's Ministers were entirely wrong, or the rents in Ireland were a very great deal too high. Under these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government could not be surprised if the Irish landlords were very desirous of showing what they believed to be the case, that Her Majesty's Government were perfectly correct in their first ideas, and that the mistake had been made on the part of the gentlemen to whom had been in trusted the working of the Land Act. That, however, was a matter which would be more advantageously discussed on Notice, when the whole question of the result of the Land Act could be brought up, and he hoped Her Majesty's Government would give them an early opportunity of entering into it. There was one point in the speech of his noble Friend (Viscount Lifford) who made the Motion, which had been frequently repeated, that rents which had not been raised for a considerable number of years must necessarily be fair rents. That he believed to be entirely true in dairy farms and land of that character; but he believed it would be untrue in many cases. He did not wish to defend the action of the Land Courts, nor to say that rents had been unduly reduced; but, at the same time, he did not think truth would be made stronger by the statement that because rents had not been reduced for 50 or 60 years they must be fair rents.
said that there were about 600,000 tenants in Ireland, and the number of applications which had been made for reduction of rents amounted to between 70,000 and 80,000. In regard to these, the decisions come to 1758 were about 10,000—that was, about 12 per cent. Now, to say from that that rents generally would be reduced was most fallacious reasoning. If there were no rents which ought to be reduced, the passing of the Land Act of 1881 was a great mistake; but assuming that there was a reason for passing the Act, it must be supposed that the tenants who went first to the Courts were those who felt that their rents were too high.
§ THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
said, he wished to make one observation upon the speech of his noble Friend (Viscount Monck), who had repeated the remarks which he had made early in the Session; but surely now sufficient time had elapsed to prove the fact that tenants of every class had come into the Courts. He (the Marquess of Waterford) had been acting upon the Committee of their Lordships' House that was now sitting, and was, therefore, able to state that the Committee had constantly cases brought under their notice in which the whole of a property had been brought before the Court; and from the evidence which had come before that Committee, it was proved that every description of rent, whether high or low, had been adjudicated upon. It was absolutely ridiculous for the noble Viscount to say that only those tenants who were rack-rented had come before the Courts. He (the Marquess of Waterford) had been before the Courts, for several cases upon his own estate in which the rents had been reduced; and the noble Lord sitting near him (Lord Leconfield), whose estate had the credit of being an English-managed one, had had some of his rents reduced—indeed, almost everyone had been reduced. With regard to what had been said by the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, as to the unlikelihood of the rents of noble Lords being reduced that was not the way to look at this question. They had stood up in that House, though not very successfully, for the landlords of Ireland, not for any particular class of landlords, and they would continue to do so. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said that he did not know what the effect of the Land Act was upon the landlords of Ireland. He (the Marquess of Waterford) would tell him the effect it had had—that it had utterly ruined and destroyed a large number of the poor landlords of Ire- 1759 land, and would render them houseless and homeless, and drive them, with their wives and families, into the poorhouse. He knew of the case of a poor landlord who had been a working man, and who, five years since, with his savings, had bought a property which was subject to the payment of a head-rent, and the Sub-Commissioners had so cut down his rent that they had destroyed the whole of his margin, and he had gone out of his mind. Their Lordships should remember the effect of this Act, and in what a condition it had placed Ireland, and the Government should be prepared to get the landlords out of the difficulties in which they had been placed by the operation of the Act. If the noble and learned Lord, who had the credit of being a good and humane man, could visit Ireland, he would be horrified at what he saw, and at the ruin this Act, which he had advocated, had caused. What was the fate of one man would be the fate of hundreds more, unless there was some way found to get the landlords out of their difficulties, and render their properties saleable again; otherwise they would be driven from the face of the earth, and have to beg their bread from door to door.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
said, he could confirm the observations of the noble Marquess who had just sat down (the Marquess of Waterford). As regarded his own case, he was bound to say that his rents had. Not been raised by him at all. Four of his tenants had gone before the Sub-Commissioners; by their own admissions in Court, in one case the rent had not been raised since 1847; while, in another, there had been no change since 1807. Since the time those rents were fixed a railroad had been constructed through the town to which the farms were adjacent, and the prices of butter and beef, the staple produce of the place, had enormously increased. Nevertheless, the result had been that the Sub-Commissioners had reduced the rent 20 per cent without giving any reason. Mr. Rearden had subsequently stated that he gave the tenants the full benefit of the Disturbances Clauses, although there had been no disturbances; and that he had given the full benefit of the capitalized value of the improvements, notwithstanding that the rent had never been raised. 1760 Taking 4 per cent upon the value at which the Sub-Commissioners assessed the tenant's interest, and deducting that from the existing rent, gave just the figure at which the rent had been fixed. The plan, therefore, was first to compensate the tenant for disturbance, although no one had ever dreamed of disturbing him; and, secondly, to compensate him for the value of his improvements, although he had enjoyed the full benefit of them for 40 years without increase of rent. He ventured to say that a system of that sort had been utterly unknown until the present Act was passed. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had justified the Act as a political necessity. It might be so; but in dealing with it, at least, justice should have been done to all parties under it, whereas, as it was, the principles of justice had been altogether lost sight of. In losing sight of the principles of justice, it was his firm belief that they had departed from those great principles upon which order and good government in Ireland should proceed.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, he must ask the House to bear in mind that Parliament had, in passing the Land Act, assented to the names of the Commissioners to be appointed, after mature consideration. It was easy to be wise after the event; but none of their Lordships paid as much attention as they ought to the clause enabling the Treasury to make appointments, and fix the salaries of the Sub-Commissioners. Speaking for himself, he had never expected that duties so important, and involving so much responsibility, would have been in trusted to men who would receive such moderate salaries, and enjoy such an uncertain tenure of office, as the Sub-Commissioners. Without expecting more or less than the usual partisanship in the appointments, it struck him that they had no right to expect that a number of Sub-Commissioners, whose previous position and acquirements would inspire great confidence throughout the country, would accept office on the uncertain tenure and for the moderate salaries fixed by the Treasury under the provisions of the Act. It seemed to him, from the very beginning, that such an arrangement was one of those instances of most unwise and shortsighted parsimony in the remuneration of judi- 1761 cial appointments which would destroy the value of judicial persons in any country, nullifying the authority of their decisions, and entirely depriving them of all confidence and respect on the part of the public, owing to the position they occupied, and the salaries they drew. As regarded the argument as to so small a proportion of persons having availed themselves of the right of appeal, he (Earl Fortescue) might say that the decisions arrived at by the Sub-Commissioners, and which were, as a rule, confirmed to a great extent by the Chief Commissioners, were such that there was practically no appeal; because both landlords and tenants had thence justly concluded that a considerable reduction of rent was the only condition on which any judicial arrangement was likely to be made. When they heard the landlords of Ireland described as having, for a number of years, extorted unduly high rents from their tenants, the abominably wasteful system of agriculture pursued throughout Ireland generally should be taken into account. In this country, a farming agreement provided that hay was not to be Bold off the land, without some compensation in the shape of manure being put into it; but it was notorious that in Ireland the practice was to sell everything off the land, and to put very little in the way of fertilizing agents upon it. The result was that the naturally fertile soil of Ireland had been very materially impoverished by that body of tenants, of whose improvements they were always being told, while they heard nothing at all of the great deterioration which their mismanagement and ignorance had inflicted upon the land they occupied. That this was considerable was proved by the official statistics of the crops, which showed that the average yield of potatoes per acre for the 10 years from 1870 to 1880 was 1½ tons less than it was for the 10 years from 1850 to 1860. After hearing the very strong expressions made use of by Her Majesty's Government that evening, he could not avoid the reflection that neither the peace and tranquility of Ireland, or of South Africa, nor the friendliness of the diplomatic relations of this country, had been increased by the imprudent language held in and out of Parliament by Members of the Government, even as late as the present Session, but more espe- 1762 cially before, when they were without the responsibility of Office.
called attention to the remarks in The Pall Mall Gazette, which stated that he must be "the most forgiving or most modest of men, if he," as was reported, said that debates were "adequately" published. It happened that a nephew of his, also a nephew of Lord Macaulay, had seen this and sent it to him; and having been in the Gallery when he (Lord Denman) spoke as to the side Galleries, said he had heard every word, and never knew his (Lord Denman's) voice to be so strong before. He (Lord Denman) had nothing to forgive, for it was not necessary to put his remarks into any newspaper; and, as to modesty, he believed that he had impudence enough. He had been the only Peer who had voted against the Land Bills of 1870 and 1881, and he wished that his protests were known. He had been in Ireland last October, and no one molested him. He thought that from the multitude of Sub-Commissioners no uniformity of decision could be expected, and he wished that at the end of their year they could be dispensed with, and the Commissioners at the end of two years. He had some land let at 35s. an acre and some at 2s. 1d. an acre, and worth no more. He believed he could judge of the value of land, and thought it very hard that he should be obliged to trust to his memory alone in order to recall what he had said extempore for Mr. Hansard. He cultivated two large farms; but through his father's disinterestedness he had not that capital which was needed to do the land full justice. He was, perhaps, the poorest Peer of the Realm, but the most independent, because he never voted merely because he would join a large majority. He hoped to be at the Dublin Exhibition in October, and to see it visited by some of the Royal Family. He would send his photograph, so that they might know who to shoot at, if so disposed.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
said, that Parliament had asked the Sub-Commissioners to do an impossible thing when they asked them to examine into every case in order to fix a fair rent, as there were upwards of 600,000 small tenants in Ireland. In order to carry out such a labor properly it would take 20 or 30 years, and the result had been 1763 that the Sub-Commissioners, who had no means of making an accurate valuation, had by some rule of thumb, or by some agreement or arrangement which their Lordships could not understand, arrived at a general reduction of rents. He was sorry to see the manner in which the Sub-Commissioners were carrying out the Act, and he considered that more care ought to have been exercised by the Government in appointing those gentlemen. The Government had stated their belief, when the Act was before Parliament last year that the measure would not lead to a general reduction of rents; but the result had been to show that Her Majesty's Government had not the slightest foundation for the opinion which they entertained.
said, he thought he should not be doing justice to one of the most honest and able men of the day (Mr. Forster) if he did not say that he believed he took great pains in the appointment of the Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman might have been misled. He trusted that the Returns asked for would be granted.
said, in that case, as he was perfectly satisfied with the discussion that had taken place, he would not press his Motion.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.