THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the working and effects of the Irish Land Act, and to move for—Return of the cases in which the Land Court has disallowed an application to fix a fair rent on the grounds specified in sub-section (4.) 347 of section 8. of the Land Act of 1881; and of the cases in which the landlord has claimed such disallowance under the said sub-section and the Court has refused the said claim; together with any reasons given for the said decisions in each case; Return of the cases in which the Court has fixed the value of a tenancy on the application of a landlord, with a view to the purchase of the same under the 3rd sub-section of section 1. of the Land Act of 1881; Return of the number of cases of application for fixing a fair rent in which the Court has fixed the said rent higher than the 'present rent,' with the percentage in each case,said: My Lords, I rise, in the first place, to move for the Returns, the number and titles of which I have placed upon the Paper of your Lordships' House. I had hoped that these Returns would not be objected to by my noble friend below me (Lord Carlingford); and, indeed, I have no positive information that they will be objected to by him; but on Saturday last I received from my noble Friend who manages these affairs a Whip urging me to attend this House to-night to vote against my own Motion. Passing from that, however, I come to the subject I desire to bring under the attention of your Lordships' House. I shall not waste the time of the House of Lords by making any formal or elaborate apology for referring to this subject, and I have only one defence to make for bringing it forward. In Ireland, for the last three years, we have been making a tremendous experiment, and, in my opinion, we are bound to watch it. There is, however, one objection which may be made to the course which I am now pursuing. Some noble Lords may say that the time has not yet come for reviewing the operations of the Irish Land Act; and it may also be said that, in so far as regards the more important effects of it, they have been discussed usque ad nauseam already; but I do not believe the youngest Member of this House will live to see the time when the ultimate effects of the Act will have ceased. My Lords, before I sit down, I hope I shall prove to your Lordships that already there are effects produced which it is of the highest interest and importance to us all that we should seriously consider. Before I proceed further, I wish to explain to the House the principle on which I propose to investigate this great question. Since I have put my Notice on the Paper, I have been almost overwhelmed with communications from Ire- 348 land with respect to the details and resuits of the operation of the Land Act— communications both from proprietors, agents, and occupiers, and others who are neither, with innumerable cases which, no doubt, appear to be cases in which great injustice and hardship have been inflicted. But I wish to explain to the House and the public that, to-night, I shall make no use whatever of any private information, nor shall I involve myself in difficulties about these individual cases. I know perfectly well it will be said by my noble Friend, as he has said already— "Here are men who have been into a Court of Justice and been nonsuited, and who then come to your Lordships' House." I wish to found the arguments I shall address to your Lordships upon the great general results which cannot be denied, and which are borne out by evidence which is officially before the House in the Blue Books, and in the Reports of the Courts. As I have said, I shall avoid all individual cases. I shall not even refer to the Report of your Lordships' Committee. I do not agree in the opinions expressed by my noble Friend (Lord Carlingford), last year, in regard to the character of that Report; but, considering that that Report was very much disputed, I shall endeavour to do without it, and shall dispense with all the evidence given before the Committee, except so far as it is that of the officials of the Irish Government in the Irish Courts. When I first placed a Notice on the Paper of this House, I was prepared with elaborate statistics to prove to your Lordships that this Act had destroyed the value of the ownership of land in Ireland. I have had before the unpleasant duty of explaining to the House why I was unable to agree with my noble Friends below me in proposing this measure to Parliament; and I stated then that, in a few years, it would destroy the ownership in the hands of those who now hold the land, and give nothing to the tenants. I have no statistics now to offer to the House, because, since I placed this Notice on the Paper, an ample concession has been made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland in the other House in an able and, in many respects, melancholy speech. He has confessed that the ownership of land in Ireland is practically unsaleable. My Lords, that is all I shall start from. That being ad- 349 mitted, much of your Lordships' time will be saved. Now, I ask the House to observe what is the significance of that confession. What does it mean? We know that the ownership of land is a great object of desire in every civilized country; and we know that, in proportion to the civilization of the country, to the wealth of its inhabitants, and to the confidence they have in the law, in that direct proportion the ownership of land is valued, and the price of it is high. My Lords, we have heard a good deal of, and we know that the fate of Governments in this country hangs upon, what are called Votes of Want of Confidence; but the fate of Governments is determined by Votes of Want of Confidence which do not affect the character or reputation of the statesmen who fall in consequence of them. Such Votes may be carried by the chance action of all Parties equally, and turn out a Ministry. In such cases there is not even a presumption against the policy and public character of the Government. But there is another kind of Vote of Want of Confidence—as there is now in the present condition of matters in Ireland—when the whole people of a country refrain from the ordinary transactions between man and man. That means a tremendous Vote of Want of Confidence. It is a Vote of Want of Confidence in the law, and in the stability of the law, or in the principles under which the law is administered; and many are the Votes of Want of Confidence of that nature that have been passed against this Government with regard to their administration in respect to Ireland. The people of Ireland now look upon the ownership of land as a thing above all others to be avoided. Occupancy of land is at its full value; but the ownership of land is destroyed. I do not know whether the House will recollect, or whether my noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack will himself recollect, a passage in a speech which he delivered in this House, at the time the Irish Land Act was being discussed. It struck me very much at the time, because I know there is no Member of the House who measures his words more exactly by the meaning he intends to give to them than does my noble and learned Friend. I remember he said this— "My Lords, we cannot expect that a whole nation will remain for any lengthened time in a fit 350 of insanity." Well, the immediate excitement of that time has passed away. Whether Ireland is returning to a sane state of mind is another matter; but nobody would describe the present state of Ireland in the words that the noble and learned Earl used on the occasion to which I have referred. In fact, the Government have been boasting for the last year or so of an immense improvement as regards the state of Ireland in relation to crime; and yet it is under these condition—whether owing to the Coercion Act or not I do not now inquire — that the price of land has fallen steadily, and that the ownership of land is becoming more and more unsaleable, with the results which Mr. Trevelyan has explained fully to Parliament. Remember that the unsaleability of land has arisen entirely—and I think it is indisputable—since the adoption of the Bill of 1881. It used to be the boast of the Prime Minister—and many a time has he expressed it in Parliament—that the Act of 1870, for which he was mainly responsible, did not affect the purchase value of land in Ireland; and your Lordships will see, from the statistics, that during the 10 years that elapsed between the two Acts, the price of land —I refer to the transactions in the Encumbered Estates Court—remained pretty steady, the price at which land stood before rising rather than falling. My conclusion is that the unsaleability of the ownership of land in Ireland has arisen from the construction and the disastrous working of the Act of 1881. This is the subject to the elucidation of which I shall direct my observations tonight. I attribute the unsaleability which I have mentioned to the boundlessness and lawlessness of the power which is placed in the hands of three men—the Land Commissioners. Let me draw attention to the enormous extent of their power, and to its essentially lawless character. In the first place, as regards rent, the power of this triumvirate—I say nothing against them personally; I believe that they were as good men as could be got—as regards the amount of rent, their power is absolute and unrestrained. They might, according to the Act, raise the rent to the highest value in the way of rack rent, or they might lower it to what has been called the "prairie value;" and no man, and no tribunal, could call them to ac- 351 count. There was a special clause in the Act providing that, as regards the fixing of rent, their decisions were to be subject to no review, to no appeal, whatever. They were thus to be absolute. They might have reduced the rent of every farm in Ireland, which came within the purview of their powers, to the "prairie value," and nobody would have had a right to interfere. Let me remind the House of one remarkable circumstance. In a very celebrated speech delivered by the Prime Minister at Leeds, when the Land Act was just being started on its way, the right hon. Gentleman said that the doctrine of reducing rent to the "prairie value" was the gospel of spoliation. Now let me point out that, by the undoubted operation of this Act, these three men were entitled to adopt the whole of this gospel of spoliation, without being subject to appeal to anybody. I ask you, is there any kind of property which would retain its value under powers so absolute? Then look at the remaining powers with which these three men were invested by Parliament, for they are equally absolute in all respects. On questions of law, an appeal was open to the litigants; but it was provided that, if the appeal in the opinion of the Commissioners was at all frivolous, these gentlemen might refuse it. They thus might render altogether nugatory the right of appeal. Then, when an appeal to law had been made, and when, perhaps, an important decision had been given by the Court of Appeal in favour of one or other of the litigants, these gentlemen had the absolute power of counteracting the effect of the appeal so far as rent was concerned. Take the Dunseath case. The whole question of rent is involved in the interpretation of the law in that case. Well, there was an appeal in the case, and an important decision was given; but we none of us know what effect that appeal has had upon the Commissioners. They have the power of preventing it from having a practical effect; and before the Committee of your Lordships' House they said openly— "You must depend upon our personal honour." Well, that is not the way in which the laws of England and the liberties of England have hitherto been moulded. Let me give an illustration of the enormous powers placed in the hands of these gentlemen. When the Land Act was proposed in the 352 House of Commons, the Prime Minister distinctly said that he thought that it would be unjust to apply the principles of the Act to farms managed in what is called the English fashion, farms upon which the improvements have been made by the landlord and maintained by him. Well, what does the Act do? It does not prohibit this injustice. It gives the Commissioners the power of permitting, or not permitting, this great injustice so condemned by the Prime Minister. In a decision which I have recently seen, the Commissioners distinctly state that Parliament has left even this matter in their power. I mention this to show that, when a landlord has managed his farm upon the English and Scotch principle, although it has been admitted that, in such circumstances, it would be grossly unjust that the rent should be fixed by an arbitrary Court, even, in this case, those three men are given the full power of upsetting the obvious intentions of Parliament. Let me mention another point. Your Lordships will recollect the importance which some Irish landlords attach to the principle, that excessive value given by an incoming tenant for the goodwill of the holding should not be made ground for unduly lowering the rent. That point was brought forward before the Act assumed a final shape; and, as usual, words were introduced into the measure in "another place" which left everything uncertain, left everything to the will of these three gentlemen, because it was stated that the excessive value which could be given by a tenant for his farm was not of itself to be taken as a ground for reducing rent. What guarantee was there that the Commissioners would not mix up with the question of excessive value some other considerations? The fact is, that cases have been repeatedly decided in which enormous values have been given by the incoming tenant for the tenant right, and the bargain has subsequently been rendered less heavy by n reduction of the rent. This enormous power, this exorbitant unrestrained power, in the hands of three men—were they angels from heaven—could hardly fail to affect injuriously the ownership of land in Ireland. It has accordingly tended to the ruin of that ownership; and such powers unrestrained by law would lead to a similar effect upon 353 all other species of property. I pass now from the boundlessness of the power to its essential lawlessness; and this is a most important matter. When the Bill was drawn in the Cabinet, of which I had the honour to be a Member, it was an admitted principle of the Government that it was the duty of Parliament to give a direction to the Courts as to what was meant by fair rent. In his great speech in introducing the measure, the Prime Minister distinctly said that the Government considered it their duty to indicate at least the general principle on which fair rent was to be estimated. What was that principle? He said that the Court was to look to what a solvent tenant would pay, on the one hand. That was, roughly speaking, the market value. My Lords, in speaking of the market value, I am not speaking of the extreme competitive value, for which many articles were going in the course of this day's sale at Christie and Manson's; but at the current value which half-a-dozen men would be willing to give for the land. My right hon. Friend said that the Court was to look for its guidance to what a solvent tenant would undertake to pay on the one hand; and, on the other, to the interest of the tenant in his tenant right, or any rights he might have under the Ulster custom, or the Act of 1870. This, however, was a very vague direction; it was impossible to give any other; but, as far as it went, it was a clear declaration of what ought to be done. As far as principle was concerned, it rested ultimately upon market value, from which was to be deducted certain other values which were indicated in the Bill. But in the passing of the Bill through the House of Commons that, which Mr. Gladstone acknowledged to be a duty, was abandoned. I will not look to the cause of that abandonment. No doubt, when the Bill was so passing, it was found convenient by my right hon. Friend to smother up, under a general colloquial phrase, the absolute power which he wished to confer upon the Commissioners. But look at the effect of it, at the results of the decisions given under it, and at the position which that power occupies as regards any precedent, so far as I know, in the legislation of any civilized country. It left the question of fair rent, as regards its settlement, to those three 354 men absolutely without review, without guide, without direction, and they were at liberty to give effect to their idiosyncracies and caprices. Take an instance where tremendous effects might follow from the idiosyncracies of the Commissioners, entirely irrespective of any political or improper motive. I remember, nearly 40 years ago, when we passed the law abolishing Protection on corn, there was a very able agriculturist and manager on my own property, but a strong Protectionist. He came to the conclusion that, under Free Trade, it was impossible for agriculture to flourish; and the consequence was that, if he had the power, he would have reduced rents to the prairie value. Every man has his own idea about the effect of foreign competition; and it is quite possible for these three Commissioners, or a majority of them, to come to the same absurd conclusion as to the future value of land, and, on that score alone, to allow, as regards rent in Ireland, only a prairie value. What redress have we against crotchets of that kind? I wish the House to look for a moment at the immense significance of thus striking out of the Act of Parliament all indication of principle. The words "fair rent" and the fact of leaving a fair rent to a Court is not unknown in our legislation. There was an Act passed 30 or 40 years ago, with regard to owners of limited estates in Scotland, and that adopted this very expression. The object of the Act was to enable those owners to give leases; and Parliament said they might give leases, provided they gave them at fair rents. But Parliament said that a fair rent must be tested either by open competition, or some other process that might be satisfactory. There is another very remarkable instance, in which enormous powers given with respect to the regulation of rents were given under a strict limitation and definition of powers —I refer to the Settlement Act of India. The Government has assumed the power of regulating rents, more or less, all over India. But what is the principle upon which the Legislature has universally proceeded? Has it given those lawless powers to the Revenue officers, who fix the rents in India, which it has given to the Irish Commissioners under the Land Act? No; there is not one of the Settlement Acts of India which has not clearly defined, to the Courts, as the 355 basis of their calculation, the market value in the district as tested by what would be given by ryots having no occupancy rights. And not only that, but the Legislature has also, under strict limitations and definitions, indicated the precise percentage which the officers were to allow to the ryots below the market value. It is, I think, clear, therefore, that the lawless powers possessed by the Land Commissioners are altogether unprecedented in the legislation of any civilized State. In their reply to your Lordships' Report, the Commissioners say that valuators have no precise rule or principle; they go by the rule of thumb. That is true; but these men are not valuators. They were not appointed as mere valuators of land; they were appointed as redistributors of land. The conclusion which I come to is this—and a very important one it is— that under the name of the revaluation of rents, their object was to secure the redistribution of property. I do not, however, so much complain of that, as I do of its not being explained to Parliament at the time; for it is my impression that, if it had been then avowed, there would have been much greater difficulty in passing the Act through both Houses than was experienced. True, it was avowed at a recent meeting in Ulster, over which a noble Lord presided, for he said that there never had been such a redistribution of property as had taken place under the Act. It was understood at the time of its passing that we were appointing men to value rents on some definite scale and basis; but the result is that, both in regard to the extent of their power and the lawlessness of their power, these men have been given an absolute discretion which represents complete dictation and control over all the property of Ireland. Under these circumstances, I submit that their decisions are not, in any proper sense, judicial decisions. It has been assumed by the Commissioners themselves that we are estopped from examining their proceedings, because they sit as Judges, not subject to your Lordships.' review, and they have ventured to scold your Lordships' House for having looked into their proceedings. I say, if their proceedings are judicial, we have, at least, a right to look into their bearings and effects; but I also say this—that de- 356 cisions which are not pronounced in the interpretation of any law, or according to the application of any known principle, are not judicial decisions in any proper sense of the word. The history of this word "judicial," as applied to these men's decisions, is very curious. The word "Court" in the Act was originally applied to the Civil Bill Court— a purely judicial tribunal. The Civil Bill Court was originally called in the Act "the Court;" but the Act went on to say that, for the purpose of fixing fair rents, the Commissioners shall be called the Court. Parliament is in a sense omnipotent; for there is nothing Parliament cannot do in the way of binding the subjects of the Queen; but there are some things which Parliament cannot do as regards the opinions and sentiments of men. Parliament cannot change the nature of things. You cannot make a decision to be judicial which, in its nature, is not judicial. I appeal to the great lawyers whom I have the honour to address, and to the great lawyers who, in former time, built up the noble fabric of English law; and I ask them not to allow such disparagement to be passed upon the great name in which they speak, and the sacred things which it is their duty to administer. I do not say that the decisions which have been come to have no value at all; but what I do say is that they have not the status of judicial decisions. In proof of this, I call, as witness, Judge O'Hagan himself; for he has confessed that, in the proper and true sense of the word, in regard to the application of the known principles of the law to the duties, obligations, and the rights of man, these decisions are not to be considered as litigations, in which one party is in the right and the other in the wrong. It is merely a settling more or less a matter of opinion. In fact, as I have said, the Commissioners started with tremendous powers, which were entirely unprecedented in any civilized legislation. What was the first step they took? It was a very proper step. They had appointed a large number of Sub-Commissioners, who wanted to know on what sort of principle they were to administer the law in the Provinces to which they were appointed. The Commissioners, therefore summoned the Sub-Commissioners to meet them, and we have an account 357 of the conversation which took place from, a very authentic source. It was quite true that they had an account of the conversation from Professor Baldwin; but that account was confirmed by Mr. Litton and Judge O'Hagan. Now, what happened? It would be a laughable matter, if the interests concerned were not so serious. The Commissioners and Sub-Commissioners held a conversation for the purpose of educating each other. That was the description which was given of it. Now, how was the education conducted? The unfortunate Sub-Commissioners asked the leading Commissioners if they had any principle of jurisprudence by which they were to be guided? The Commissioners did not answer them, but asked another question. One Sub-Commissioner suggested one thing, and another man suggested a principle upon which fair rents could be declared, while a third made a further suggestion. We are told that the first, second, and third were equally divided, and that the meeting broke up in general laughter. Under these circumstances, the description given by Professor Baldwin, who said he was frightened when he and his colleagues were let loose upon Ireland, was most accurate. When I look at the consequences which followed I think the matter is a serious one. The principle on which fair rents were to be administered was not explained by the Commissioners at the meeting which I have mentioned; but it has since been explained in a great many publications. In one of these publications, a book of considerable authority, which was placed in my hands last week, and which was drawn up by a gentleman of high legal standing in Ireland, the author takes, as the basis of fair rent, a series of letters which appeared in The Freeman's Journal. Those letters he quoted, and refers to them as being well worthy of consideration. One of the letters states that fair rent does not mean market value, and that it was not the value of any portion of the produce. That is one of the principles laid down, and, therefore, it is put out of view in the consideration of rent, the result being, so far as I can see, that no tenant is to pay any rent, except stupid tenants who have no skill, and very poor tenants who have no capital, the real object being to limit rent to prairie value. Such being the power 358 given to those men, landlords may think themselves very lucky that they have obtained any rents at all, so far as the Government is concerned, under their guidance. No security is demanded by the Government, no security is demanded by Parliament, that anything but the prairie value shall be left for the landlord. Let us look at the actual work of the Commissioners. There are some methods by which we can get at results, and I ask the attention of the House while I give them the results. We may divide the holdings in Ireland which have come under the Court into three great categories—(1), the small cottier tenants, a very small class, numbering, I think, something like 120,000 of the whole tenants of Ireland; (2), tenants under free contracts; (3), the great bulk of the middle-class farmers. With reference to the cottiers, I am glad to see that the Sub-Commissioners and the Commissioners, when they were brought face to face with the difficulty which presented itself in the matter, gave a ruling which is at least intelligible. The first case which came before them was a case in County Monaghan, in which some 14 or 15 holdings of cottier tenants were concerned. In this case the Commissioners acted wonderfully well. They said that the holdings supported the tenants for a certain portion of the year, and that portion they were not to get for nothing. Secondly, they said they were of value as homes; and, lastly—recognizing in this case the element of market value—they said the holdings were of value to the owners; for if the tenants were removed the holdings could be added to a neighbouring farm. In that way they always came back to the principle of agricultural value. On these three principles, one being that of market value, the Commissioners proceeded to adjudicate. In typical cases, say, with a rent of £5 for nine acres of land, they said they did not find that the rent was exorbitant, or that there had been oppression on the part of the landlord; and, for that reason, one would have supposed that they would have left the rents as they were; but no, they reduced them, in one case, as much as 28 per cent. In other words, they fixed what may be termed an eleemosynary rent; and, no doubt, they did so on the grounds that they though it a charity to the poor people to 359 give them their holdings at the smallest possible rent. Well, as far as my own sympathy and feeling goes, I can understand that; it is very pleasant to see a poor man relieved if one only regards the matter from the point of view of personal sympathy; but there are thousands of the working classes pay more than £5 a-year for a wretched room which gives them no means of sustenance, while these people have nine acres of land, which at least gives them some means of sustenance as well as shelter. Is there any principle in this that can lead to the settlement of the question? It is all very well to be charitable to the cottier tenantry; but there are 500,000 families in Ireland that have no land at all. What you are doing is, therefore, simply the fixing of an eleemosynary rent—to give for 1s. 6d. a-week what immense numbers of others would willingly give 2s. for; you are creating a new privileged class, avowedly on the ground of charity; but you are doing nothing for the large cottier class who have no land at all. Not only that, but the Bill before the other House sanctions a charge upon them of the highest rents which competition in the market will afford; for it provides that the tenantry, whose rents you are reducing in this way, may charge what they like for conacre land. I have made a calculation on the point, and I find that the rents which are charged for conacre land stand to the rents which your Commissioners have fixed for the farmer himself, in some cases as five to one, seven to one, and even as high as ten to one. So that, throughout the whole of Ireland, while you are reducing rents, the tenants may charge the highest competitive value for a few roods of land; you are fixing eleemosynary rents to those who are extracting these higher rents from their labourers. I was surprised the other day to observe a decision of the Commissioners with respect to cottages. The Act gives them power to require the erection of cottages by the farmer. I am not sure whether it was expected to work, or how far the requirement had a merely political object. The other day, in regulating rents, the Commissioners said — "You must erect cottages." What was the rent they were to get for them? A shilling a-week. Do not suppose they are cottages such as your Lordships would erect for la- 360 bourers. We have it on the evidence of the Bessborough Commission, from a witness that appeared before it, that a cottage in Ireland, with all "the convaniances of life," can be raised for £14. [Laughter.] There is no machinery in the Act to enable you to look after these cottages. Suppose, however, the cottages cost £20; a rental of £2 12s. will give something like 17 per cent on the outlay. I wish any of your Lordships could get that for the cottages you erect. That is the boon which the Act confers upon the labouring classes in Ireland. With regard to contracts, at the passing of the Land Act of 1881 there was a discussion as to whether farms at a rent of £150 should not be exempt altogether from its provisions, as in justice they ought to have been, seeing that the occupiers of them were quite capable of making their own bargains; but the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Waterford), in that generous spirit which I believe actuated the great majority of landowners, said he did not wish to exempt farmers of that class from the benefits of the Act. It was perfectly in the power of the Commissioners, and it would have been just to have said that these men were perfectly competent to make their own bargains, and to decline to interfere with their contracts; but, so far from doing this, they have interfered in the case of a farmer of the capitalist class, who pays £880 a-year, and who is as competent to make his contract as any Member of your Lordships' House. That man has had his rent reduced from £880 to £660, for no reason whatever, and against every reason of private or public interest. A friend told me of a tenant, a farmer in Oxfordshire, at a rent of £700, who came to him in successive years and said he could pay only £600 and £500, and my friend had to submit; because, if he had got rid of the tenant, the farm would have been thrown on his hands. But, in the Irish case, the tenant went to the Commissioners, because he knew that if he gave up the farm, half-a-dozen would apply for it. What public advantage do you gain by such a reduction? What public principle is satisfied? Are not many principles outraged by such decisions? The tenant may have been a stupid man, and might have prevented a better man from coming in, who, by better management of his stock, 361 might have been able to give the rent. Now, my Lords, I say when Members of the Government—and I have heard many Members of the Government do so—spout in the Provinces about the education of Ireland, and say that we should give Ireland institutions which should enable them to take upon themselves the banishment of their own affairs, what kind of education is involved in such a case as this? An education by which men, who are capable of paying £800 a-year, are told that they can go to a Land Commission and get a reduction of their rents. I know very well why these men were included. It was confessed in one of the speeches in the other House. You are simply reducing the rents of men of great capital, who are perfectly able to make a bargain for themselves, because the Government wishes to give them a bribe. Is that the education which you desire to give to the Irish people? Well, now, my Lords, I have dealt with the cottier tenantry and the other extreme. Let me now say a word about the third class—the great bulk of the tenantry, the middleclass farmers. I wish, however, to say this first—that a great many arguments used in this House and put forward from time to time are arguments of no effect. The Irish landlord comes forward and says— "My estate is deeply mortgaged, and my only margin is 25 per cent, and that margin is cut off." We are very sorry in such cases; but it is no argument from a public point of view. Such a landlord is very unfortunate. His ancestors or himself have been extravagant. But the fact that his margin is struck off is, in itself, no proof of the injustice of the decision. But, on the other hand, there are a good many arguments on the side of the Government which may equally be dismissed. For example, all the Members of the Government, all the subordinates of the Government, say— "We are very much surprised to find that Irish rents were so high as they are found to be. We never expected it. We never anticipated the amount of the reduction. We are very sorry for it." There is a beautiful circularity about this argument. It comes to this—we think all the rents are exorbitant. This is a nice way of argument. I go into this question in this way. Is there any other than a mere eleemosynary cause that has led 362 to these reductions of Irish rents? My noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, with whose opinions on this question I am not disposed to quarrel, has published two remarkable essays. Was it one or two essays?
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
Well, one is quite enough. My noble Friend was kind enough to send this essay to me, with every word of which I agree. I am quite sure we are thoroughly at one on the merits of the Irish Land Act. But he has since had the advantage of joining the Government. My noble Friend is a wonderful philosopher. He is inclined to submit to the inevitable. I know no one to whom I should rather go to get some comfort in my distress. My noble Friend, in a speech the other day, said that, after all, those Irish landlords have not suffered at all more than the great bulk of the English and Scotch landlords have suffered.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
Yes; it may be quite true; but still there is this distinction and this difference. In the first place, I defy my noble Friend to prove that in England or Scotland there has been a reduction all over, in all the Provinces, everywhere, at all comparable to that which has happened in Ireland. In a great many parts of England there has been no reduction at all; while in others it has been very severe. I do not think my noble Friend would be quite satisfied if a Commission went down into Lancashire and struck off 25 or 30 per cent of his rent, telling him that it was no more, if so much, as many Essex landlords had suffered. What I want to know is, have these reductions in Ireland been made on a principle—are they natural, or are they purely artificial? I wish to say this to my noble Friend. I do believe that, in a good many parts of Ireland, rents had become excessive from two causes. In the first place, there were a certain number of estates in which the old middlemen leases had fallen out; but the old middlemen rents had never been reduced. That would account for a certain number. But there is another cause. I will not say anything offensive to the poor cottier tenantry of Ireland as regards their poverty and condition. I feel much sympathy for them. But I believe in many of those cases rents have become excessive from 363 long-continued bad cultivation; and the rents have to be lowered, not according to the intrinsic value of the land as it would have continued had it been in good hands, but to the value of the land as it was in the comparatively poor and ignorant hands in which it then was. Professor Baldwin has allowed so much. He said—We dealt with the land, not as it might He in better cultivation, but as we found it in the hands of these poor people.The question arises—has there been in Ireland, putting aside these two causes, any general depreciation in the value of agricultural land? That is the question which we ought to have answered. I have asked some Irish land agents of great reputation, who have expressed to me the opinion that the value of the land has depreciated in Ireland. But what has happened when a landlord is able to let a farm in his own possession, on which there are no tenant claims? Is there any depreciation then? That is the test we apply in England and Scotland, and by that test, should it be applied, as we wish it might be, we abide. Can we get for our farms what we gave for them? I have conclusive evidence to quote to your Lordships that in this case there is no deficiency in the value of land. Your Lordships' Committee examined two great authorities—Mr. Lynch, the Registrar of the Encumbered Estates Court, who is thoroughly acquainted with the condition of the land in almost the whole of Ireland, and one of your own Commissioners—Mr. Litton—and their opinions were that when farms were left in the hands of the landlords, free from all tenant claims, they brought all over Ireland as high a rent as ever. Besides, the price of wheat, which has fallen so low in England, affects but a fraction of the land in Ireland. The prices of butter, barley, and oats have not diminished, but enormously increased, since Griffith's valuation. Therefore, we may take it as an ascertained fact that whatever depreciation there has been in Irish rents has been artificial, and not natural; that it has not arisen from the failure of the crops, from want of a market, or in the want of confidence on the part of the people in the agricultural prosperity of their country; that it has arisen from artificial causes which are purely in the breast of the Land Commissioners. There 364 is one case in which reductions may have been made—that is, the right of the tenants in their own improvements. I quite believe that great reduction has been made in that respect. But I ask this question. Is there any principle in estimating the value of these improvements? Where landlords have made the improvements the Commissioners tell us they make very little addition to the rent in respect of them. But with respect to the tenants I wish to direct the attention of the House to a most remarkable answer given by Judge O'Hagan to your Lordships' Committee. He was asked on what principle the valuation of the tenant's goodwill had been made? He declined to answer. He folded his judicial robes around him, and said— "We are Judges—your Lordships have no right to ask us." But he said more. He said it would be impolitic to state the principle upon which they valued tenants' interest. Impolitic to explain to men the principles on which their properly is disposed of one way or the other! Why impolitic? Mr. Justice O'Hagan answered the question. He said that the Sub-Commissioners had gone on principles so utterly at variance with each other that it would be utterly impolitic that they should be known. That is the excuse given by Judge O'Hagan before your Lordships' Committee; but it is one which is plainly made for hiding the operation of the Act, and it is one in the highest degree against public policy, for men have a right to know the laws, and to know the principle on which those laws are interpreted and administered; and to keep that principle secret, although it may, by eleemosynary rents, give you a remedy, yet it will never satisfy men's minds. What has been the result of all these proceedings? The first result is that landlords' improvements are stopped in Ireland, except in the case of those comparatively few acres that they may have in their own occupation. I asked a noble Friend of mine, who has a large estate in Ireland, and who has what might be termed a "Treasury Bench mind," which induces him to accept any excuse for the conduct of the Government on any subject, how he managed to make both ends meet now that 10 per cent of his income had been struck off? and he replied— "Oh, I have stopped the whole of my improvements," And 365 the same thing has occurred all over Ireland. Is this a satisfactory result of your legislation? The rental of Ireland before the passing of the Act used to be £17,000,000; it is now reduced to probably £15,000,000. The whole of those £2,000,000 is withdrawn from the improvement of the soil of Ireland. Now, let us look at another result. It was said, when this Act was under consideration, that Irish landlords would be reduced to the position of annuitants. But their position is far worse than that. They are not only annuitants; they are, in addition, precarious annuitants. For this dreadful and arbitrary tribunal, the Land Court, acting on no law, under no control, acknowledging no principle, and thinking its duty is to conceal the principle of its working, is not acting once for all. It is a process which has to run its course perennially every 15 years. When a landlord lays out money on improvements, he expects a return in a certain period. But, under present circumstances, he can have no confidence that, in 15 years, the judicial rents will not be reduced; and therefore he will have to charge 12 or 13 per cent in order to recoup himself in the 15 years. That is an impossible burden to throw on the tenants. If a landlord lays out money, he does not know but that the next set of Commissioners will so reduce his rent as to deprive him of his return. Under those circumstances, a man would now be a fool to lay out a shilling upon improvements except upon land in his own possession. The question has been asked of the Commission—what will be the future position of the landowner? The answer given was—he will be able "to shoot, fish, and hunt." That is the practical teaching of the Liberal Government in their legislation on the land, with regard to the duties of Irish landlords. Your excuse for these proceedings is that you wish to limit the price of land to the tenant. Have you succeeded in doing that; has land been made cheaper in Ireland for all time? No; not by a single sixpence; and you cannot, until you limit the price paid for tenant right. The most exorbitant prices are being paid for tenant right; for you have placed in the fore-front of the Bill the maxim that the tenants shall get the best price they can for their right. I saw, the other day, a case where 40 years' purchase was given for 366 a farm worth £40 a-year, and then the purchaser applied to the Land Commissioners to reduce the rent. The consequence of all this is that the rents in Ireland will in future be rack-rents in the highest sense of the term. "We who objected to this measure were taunted with being hard political economists. But you have not got rid of political economy and the doctrine of competitive value. It breaks through all your precautions, and the result in Ireland will be that future generations will have to pay every sixpence wrongfully taken from the landlords. I have now to ask the House and to ask the country the important question—what has been the effect of this Act on political Parties? You have established in the minds of the Irish people — and the idea has spread from the Irish people to others— that it is a function of the Executive Government to regulate the price of land to particular classes of the community. That, I believe, has been an unforeseen result of the Act of 1881, through the operation of the Sub-Commissioners, whom I, for one, had fancied would be subordinate bodies, instituted for the purpose of collecting evidence to be submitted to the principal body; and that, on such evidence so collected, men with something of a judicial or a quasi-judicial character would adjudicate. We never dreamed that the whole powers of the Commission would be delegated to a number of inferior bodies, such as those who now exercise them. It is true that there is an appeal to the Chief Commissioners; but the Chief Commissioners have power, among other things, to consider questions of policy; and we have their own admission that they did consider questions of policy, and it was almost impossible for them to reverse the decisions of the Sub-Commissioners, and deprive the tenant of that which had been given to him in open Court. I do not desire to make any personal charges against the character of the Sub-Commissioners. But the nature of their appointment was not such as to insure any very great confidence. I am quite sure that Earl Spencer has exercised his powers of selection in the most conscientious manner; but not less than 81 gentlemen were required, to whom these absolute and tremendous powers with regard to rent were given all over Ireland, and it was 367 not possible to get so many men of high judicial character and standing to exercise such powers. I will illustrate the composition of these inferior bodies. I take the case of Professor Baldwin; and I may say that there was no evidence given before the Bessborough Commission into which I went more carefully than his, as I was extremely interested in it. I believe him to be an impulsive, generous-minded Irishman, and a perfectly honest man; and I do not know that any Government could well have avoided appointing him to be one of these Judges. But what did my noble Friend (Lord Carlingford) tell us of him himself? I look upon my noble Friend as one of the gentlest of men, and am quite sure he would not say anything ill-natured if he did not mean it. But what did he say of Professor Baldwin in connection with a certain quotation? He said that he was liable to be influenced by the atmosphere of the circumstances by which he was surrounded. Now, my Lords, can there be a more dangerous character than that for a Judge; and yet he was one of the men to whom is committed the fortunes of thousands of his fellow-countrymen? Let me take another case; one in which I think the Government admit that they have made a mistake. There was among these 81 gentlemen one who, prior to being appointed a Sub-Commissioner, had been distinguished for the violence of his speeches against landlords, and his abuse of Judges and the judicial mind, and who had committed himself to the most absurd principles in regard to the valuation of land. He made a speech in which he said the landlords would have a great deal too much rent even under the lowest valuation. His idea was that they should take Griffith's valuation, and make a deduction from that, and then divide the result by two, and that the remainder would be ample.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I am very glad to hear that the passage was misreported; but there was another passage in his speech which I confess struck me more, and I hope my noble Friend will be able to say that it also was misreported. It was a passage in which he attacked the judicial character—a violent attack upon the Judges as such. He said 368 the legal mind was fearfully and wonderfully made, and that he would back it against any other for making things clear as mud. That was the refined and elegant language in which that gentleman, who was appointed to the Sub-Commission, spoke of the Judges of the Irish people. Now I turn to another case, a still more remarkable illustration of the effects of the Act. I refer to the speeches of the late Solicitor General for Ireland, Mr. Porter, at present the Master of the Rolls in Ireland. That Gentleman, therefore, now occupies a high judicial post, and I daresay that now he is removed from the temptation of the hustings he may make a very good Judge. But the terrible thing is this—that when he was a Member of the Government, and was making a political campaign in Londonderry, he openly held out the action of the Government in reducing the rents as an inducement to the tenants in the North of Ireland to give him their votes, and he said the reductions of the Land Commissioners were altogether inadequate. Is that treating the Land Commissioners as a judicial body? Is that treating their decisions as judicial decisions? Is it not openly making their operations a matter of policy? I do not, in the least, object to the Solicitor General having said— "We are the Party who brought in this Land Act, and we are the Party to whom you owe it." That would have been fair enough. But that is not what the Solicitor General said. He said— "We are the only Party who can work it, and this Act will be worthless if it passes into other hands." In other words, he made use of it for purposes of political corruption. I complain, and I have a right to complain, of such utterances from an official of the Government. I do not, for one moment, blame my noble Friends below me. I am quite sure this thing has shocked them just as much as it has shocked me. I am sure of that, and that they think it is a tremendous mistake. But, my Lords, what I have had to complain of, on more than one occasion, is the free trade in opinion which this Government supports—opinions on the part of their subordinate Members —opinions which the majority of the Cabinet would doubtless repudiate, but as to which they are silent. In this case, instead of reproving, they even 369 promoted the official, the result being the steady progress towards an anarchy of opinion, at a time when, of all others, public men ought to discourage violent language against the fundamental principles on which society is founded. The last instance I will give in this connection is one which I still more regret, and that is the language which was made use of on a particular occasion by a Member of the Government, an old Friend of mine, and for whom I entertain the highest personal opinion—I mean the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Last year I ventured to express the gratitude which, I am sure, was felt by men of all Parties to Lord Spencer for undertaking the government of Ireland at the moment he did. In my opinion, the same thanks are due to all his subordinates as well, and especially to the Chief Secretary. He was the son of a distinguished father and the nephew of a brilliant uncle; and, in my opinion, he has shown much of the ability of the one, and something of the brilliancy of the other; and in his personal and political honour I place the most absolute reliance. But look what happened. A deputation came to my right hon. Friend from Ulster openly saying— "We are the representatives of the Liberal Party in Ulster. We call upon you to dismiss those valuators whom the Commissioners have appointed"—and here I may say that the Executive Government had nothing to do with the matter. "The Commissioners are not reducing the rents as they ought to reduce them. We are the supporters of your Party in Ulster." Look at Mr. Trevelyan's conduct as regards his reply. He said—" Do not talk to me of Party. This Irish Land Act was intended for all Parties, and Party has nothing to do with it." Brave words! and, so far as his intention was concerned, I doubt not true words. But what did he go on to say? He went on to say— "We will watch the operations of these Commissioners; we will see whether the interests of the tenants are properly protected—as much protected under the system of valuation as they had been before that system was adopted; and you may depend upon it that if we —the Executive Government—are not satisfied with them—a change of policy will follow." Was there ever such a fount of corruption opened; was ever 370 such a wanton temptation placed before the eyes of the people? Parliament is busily engaged in passing Acts against bribery and corruption, and you are establishing for the country a principle that every Member of every successive Government may appeal to the constituencies, and make it allowable for them to say that their political Party will give a larger slice of the property of others to them than another political Party. For political bribery against which you have legislated, at least this may be said—that the candidate spends his own money; but in this terrible political corruption the Government does not do so, but gives the money of others. What hope of escape have we from this terrible state of political corruption? Is it not going to be every 15 years? Mr. Trevelyan said the Act was intended to be final; but I rejoice to say that that is not the language of Mr. Gladstone. From time to time, for every 15 years, this process of political corruption will go on; and, as regards a large part of the tenantry in Ireland, its operation, is not postponed for 15 years. Many tenants have not gone into Court at all, and some people imagine that their landlords are better off in consequence; but, in my opinion, these landlords are worse off than the landlords of tenants who have availed themselves of the Act, for they never know when their tenants may go into Court. By a most iniquitous provision in the Act, a landlord is not entitled to go into Court unless he raises the rent; and his tenants may lie by until a new Government is appointed, and new Commissioners are elected, from whom they may hope to gain greater advantages. Was there ever such a position as this? Are you surprised that the ownership of land should have become a damnosa hareditas, a curse in Ireland? A friend of mine some time ago said to a tenant—" Why do you not buy your farm? The landlord will sell it, and the Government will advance you the purchase money on the best possible terms." The tenant replied— "Why should I exchange a position in which I have everything to gain for one from which I have nothing to hope?" As regards the future, when are we to come to that happy time in Ireland, or, as Mr. Gladstone says, that time of perfect freedom in land? Never, under the réegime of the present 371 Government; never, under their destiny; unless, indeed, now that the Government, who are being driven from blunder to blunder, and who have brought in a Bill for the sale of Irish land, can raise a large number of new proprietors, those proprietors should kick over the traces and abolish this Act of 1881, which, I venture to say, would never have passed, if there had been 50,000 or 100,000 proprietors in Ireland. I hope that under the operation of this new Act, into which the Government have been driven, there will be a large multiplication of owners in Ireland; for I feel sure that then all the restrictions of the Land Act of 1881 must be speedily done away with. It may be a cynical observation, but it is true—that there is nothing like giving a man possession of property to make him understand its natural duties, and its natural rights. I am in hopes that a large number of the peasantry in Ireland may be persuaded to buy their farms, if they can get rid of the conviction—which, alas! is only too firmly rooted in their minds—that they may get hold of the land without paying anything; if they will consent to buy their farms, they will be free to let them; and will not they let them! The only hope of escape from the difficulties engendered by the Act is to create a body of men who will see its fallacies and its injustice, and who will rebel against it in their own interests, and not in the interests of others. Before I sit down, I wish to say a few words in regard to the answer which I have no doubt will be made, and which I know is made by certain of my noble Friends who are connected with the Government. They say that I forget, and that others forget, what is called the political situation in which they were placed—the danger of civil war of which we were within measurable distance. No; I do not forget the danger of the political situation; but what was that danger? It was, in the first place, the danger caused by the existence of a large number of very poor persons who were in actual distress. Well, nobody in Parliament would have objected to any temporary measures for their relief; and I am bound to say that towards those measures of relief it would have been perfectly fair to call for a very large contribution from the owners of land. 372 But the other danger, what does it arise from? The real danger to be faced in Ireland is the anarchy of opinion. Do you think that you have done anything to do away with that by passing a law which is so full of fallacies as this law? No; you have unsettled the minds of men; you have not settled them. The fundamental ideas of property have been uprooted from the minds of men by your legislation and your action. You will not settle men's minds by putting into your legislation ambiguous phrases, leaving to unjudicial minds to give them what interpretation they please. My conviction is, that the result of this Land Act has been to increase the political dangers which exist in Ireland; and this state of things which I have described demands the most serious consideration. I think the Government have put forward, under the name of law and justice, nothing but caprice and the pressure of political agitation. They have done much to cover the land with false guides who mislead the people in regard to the rights and property of their neighbours, and I feel sure that you have distinctly lowered and deteriorated the character of Parliament. The noble Duke concluded by moving for the Returns of which he had given Notice.
Moved, That there be laid before the House—
Return of the cases in which the Land Court has disallowed an application to fix a fair rent on the grounds specified in subsection (4.) of section 8. of the Land Act of 1881; and of the cases in which the landlord has claimed such disallowance under the said subsection, and the Court has refused the said claim; together with any reasons given for the said decisions in each case;
Return of the cases in which the Court has fixed the value of a tenancy, on the application of a landlord, with a view to the purchase of the same under the 3rd subsection of section 1. of the Land Act of 1881;
Return of the number of cases of application for fixing a fair rent in which the Court has fixed the said rent higher than the 'present rent,' with the percentage in each case."— (The Duke of Argyll.)
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
My Lords, I should feel considerable difficulty were I to attempt to travel over the ground which my noble Friend (the Duke of Argyll) has covered in his speech. It was impossible to guess the course which he would take from his Notice of Mo- 373 tion, which does not attack the Land Act, nor its administration. The noble Duke is a formidable man to follow, even when, as in the present case, I believe him to be absolutely in the wrong, and to have delivered a speech of great eloquence and ability, without any clear conception of the subject with which he has dealt. My conviction is, that as regards this Act, which I may be permitted to remind the House is now the irrevocable law of the land, my noble Friend has never attained to a conception of the real facts of the Irish Land Question. My noble Friend forms to himself the idea of an Ireland which is very different from the reality. In this great matter of the Land Act, he forms to himself a picture of an imaginary Ireland— it may be a logical Ireland, perhaps a Scotch Ireland; but, at all events, something absolutely unlike the true Ireland. In fact, the state of my noble Friend's mind has never allowed him, from the time the measure first came before Parliament down to the present, to give fair play to his own great powers on this subject. His speech has been a speech which would have been perfectly in place upon the second reading of the Act. It would have been an admirable speech, for his own purpose and from his own point of view, on that occasion; but it can have no application at the present time, for whatever the merits of the Irish Land Act may be, it constitutes now the unalterable tenure of land in Ireland. I rejoice in that fact; I believe the Act will be a great blessing to Ireland; and that it will prove as great an advantage to the landlords of that country as to the tenants themselves. If my noble Friend thinks He can, in any essential respect, alter the Land Act, he is entirely mistaken. He might as well propose to repeal the Irish Church Act or the Catholic Emancipation Act, as to think of undoing the Irish Land Act. Therefore, I cannot understand what the motive of my noble Friend may have been in making his able statement to the House, beyond the relief to his own mind of giving expression to the intense hatred which he feels to the Land Act. My noble Friend began by saying that he was overwhelmed by letters complaining of the decisions of the Irish Land Courts. Of course he is. From the time he proclaimed his intention of attacking the 374 Act, no doubt he would be overwhelmed by letters of that kind. But my noble Friend must remember that he is not the sole Court of Appeal on this subject. There is a Court of Appeal in Ireland. My noble Friend also spoke as if rent in Ireland was left absolutely at the discretion of a secret tribunal. But he knows very well, whatever else may be said on the subject, that there is a most careful and elaborate system established for the purpose of hearing and deciding these rent cases. They are to be tried in the first instance, before five gentlemen, of whom one must be a person of legal position; and if a mistake is made, there is an appeal to the Land Commission above. The words of my noble Friend were not fair towards the gentlemen composing that Commission. I say, with the utmost confidence, that it would be impossible to create in any country a tribunal more worthy of confidence than the Land Commission. The men composing it are of the highest capacity and character; and it is not to be tolerated that such a body should be accused or suspected, either of incompetence or of partiality. It is regarded, indeed, with feelings on both sides which afford in themselves very considerable evidence of its impartiality. In proof of that one need only look to the fact that it is persistently and constantly attacked by the extreme organs of the two classes, and more frequently by the representatives of the tenants than of the landlords. In point of fact, no fair man in Ireland doubts for a moment either the industry, the pains, the ability, or the impartiality of the Court of Appeal, a Court to which every Irish landlord who thinks himself aggrieved by the decisions of the Sub-Commissioners can and does constantly appeal. My noble Friend went on to speak of the absolute and dictatorial powers of the Land Commission; and, as far as I can gather, he regrets that Parliament has not laid down, for the guidance of the Commission, any rules or principles by which they could ascertain a fair rent. That question, like all the other questions my noble Friend raised, has been discussed over and over again in this House, and we, on this Bench, have endeavoured to explain how the matter stands. We have said, and I repeat it that, in our opinion, and in the opinion of most people who know anything about the matter, it would be 375 impossible to lay down, in an Act of Parliament, any rules or principles to govern the Irish Land Courts in the exercise of those powers of compulsory arbitration in the matter of rent which were the essence of the Act. All that could be done was to obtain competent arbitrators, who would be able to say what a fair rent was between landlord and tenant. That, I believe, has been done. And when my noble Friend talks with such unction of Professor Baldwin, I should like to remind him of what Professor Baldwin said, when he was asked by the Committee of your Lordships' House what his own principles were. He said he ascertained what a fair rent was by his own skill and his own experience—that he had a vast experience of the value of land in all parts of Ireland, and he made use of that experience to arrive at what a fair rent was. That was all that could be drawn from Professor Baldwin himself, of whose opinions the noble Duke made so much. My noble Friend talks as if the Land Commission was aiming at bringing down the land of Ireland to prairie value; or, at all events, as if it had that power if it chose to use it. I cannot conceive a more striking illustration of the prejudice of my noble Friend. To say that the Land Commission is bringing down the land to prairie value is absolutely opposed to the facts of the case, and to the knowledge of everybody in Ireland. I am astonished my noble Friend should make such a statement.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
Well, then, I absolutely contradict it. It is notorious that the Act has made any such conduct on the part of the Commissioners absolutely impossible, and the idea that they can do so is really only a bugbear of my noble Friend's mind. I do not believe that there is a human being except himself who would say such a thing. My noble Friend next talked of English-managed estates, and included them in his application for Returns, which, of course, I shall be very glad to furnish. It is very right, wherever there are such estates, that they should be treated fairly; but so few are they, that during these three years there have been only half-a-dozen cases in which any landlord has appealed on this point; 376 and it is a point upon which any landlord would have appealed had he felt himself wronged. The noble Duke spoke largely of the high value of the tenant right. Now, it is quite true that tenant right sells for a high and sometimes for a very excessive value. It is true that the occupation right conferred upon the tenant by the Land Act is a very valuable one in the eyes of the Irish tenants, and very often a very excessive price is given for it. But is that in itself a reason why the rent of that particular holding should not be reduced by the Land Commissioners, if they consider the rent to be excessive? The noble Duke seems to think that the simple fact of the tenant having given a large price for the occupation of the holding is a proof that his rent should not be reduced. That I am quite unable to admit. The Land Courts admit, and, I know, act upon the admission, that the payment of a high price for the occupation is a presumption in favour of the value of the farm. But beyond that it is quite impossible to go. The payment is made for the tenant's interest. There is the tenant's interest and there is the landlord's interest in the farm; in equity and morals there have always been these two interests. Until lately, however, the tenant's interest was not guarded as it is now. The protection of the law was devoted to the landlord's interest only. Now, both interests are equally guarded. I will add one word as to the supposed dictatorship of the Irish Land Courts. I entirely question and deny the description which the noble Duke has given. The noble Duke never, for a moment, referred to the fact that there are two hearings in every case. That, in itself, is an important matter. There is the first hearing before the Sub-Commissioners, and then there is the re-hearing, if any party desires it, before the Land Commission. The decisions which the noble Duke has been condemning are decisions as to the amount of rent to be paid for particular farms. They are, in my belief, judicial decisions in the sense of their being perfectly impartial, and based upon the best evidence that the Court can find; but beyond that they are not, in the ordinary sense, judicial. The system is one of compulsory arbitration in the matter of the rent of land. There are, I may point 377 out, two methods of obtaining a judicial rent under the Act. The power of declaring a judicial rent is not confined to the Land Commission; it is equally given to the County Courts, and I do not think my noble Friend will dispute the judicial character of those Courts. The power has been exercised by the County Courts in Ireland to a very considerable extent; and the result has been that, upon the whole, the judicial rents fixed have been somewhat lower than the rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioners; or rather the percentage of reductions has been somewhat higher in the case of rents fixed by County Courts than in the case of rents fixed by the Sub-Commissions. Mr. O'Connor Morris, a County Court Judge in Ireland, who has taken a very impartial view of the Land Act, has lately published in The Contemporary Review an article on the subject; and he gives it as his opinion that, upon the whole, the effects of the three years' working of the Act are good, and full of hope and promise for the country. I should like to refer the noble Duke to that article. My noble Friend went through, I think, two or three classes of tenants, and contended that the operation of the Land Act, in all cases, was mischievous and objectionable. In the case of the small cottier tenants, he said that the rent fixed was a mere charitable, an eleemosynary arrangement. Well, I do not know that I should so describe it; but I do not know that it is necessary to question the description. It is, of course, difficult to say what the cottier tenant ought to pay for his holding; but I would put it to the House, is it not more likely that such tenants would be fairly rented by the arbitration of a public authority than by a landlord who possesses absolute power, and may levy whatever rent he chooses to demand? Then the noble Duke said— "Why are not the larger tenants in Ireland treated as they are in England and Scotland?" The answer is, because these men have created themselves everything which constitutes a farm, except the land itself. Unless that fact is recognized, it is absolutely impossible to form any sound opinion upon these matters of Irish land or Irish legislation. And what does the noble Duke know of the facts and particulars of the cases? How can he say that the 378 rent was reduced in cases to which he referred without any reason?
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
How is it known that, in any of the cases in which the reduction of rents is complained of, there had not been improvements made by the tenants upon which, to a great extent, the decision of the Commissioners would depend? There is no comparison to be drawn in this respect between England and Ireland. If the English tenant is dissatisfied, he can leave his farm, as so many tenants have done of late years; I am convinced the losses of English landlords during these years have been utterly underrated; and I believe that the constant discussions about Irish land have partly contributed to that result. ["Oh!"] I happen to have some experience of landowning in both countries, and I speak with personal knowledge as to the immense difficulties and losses of English landlords. Are we to be told, then, that all the present difficulties, the sufferings and privations of Irish landlords, which I know very well are severe, are the consequences of an Act passed for the very purpose of endeavouring to deal with the tremendous difficulties of the times? I utterly protest againt such an idle idea; although it may commend itself to the Scotch mind of my noble Friend on the Cross Bench (the Earl of Wemyss), with his devotion to liberty and property. To my mind, the difficulties in which Irish landlords found themselves involved three or four years ago were scarcely exampled in the agrarian history of any nation. They were the inheritors of the evils of the past; they had inherited what I believe to have been an abominable tenure of land utterly alien to Ireland, introduced simply by conquest, and unsuitable to the conditions of the country. I believe that that tenure was certain to prove as impossible an institution as was a State Church in Ireland. Dealing, however, with these two classes of tenants, my noble Friend assumed that the Land Commissioners were reducing rents all round; and it is constantly said that rents have been reduced some 19 per cent by the Commissioners, and 21 or 22 per cent by the County Courts; but what is the real fact? The Land Com- 379 missioners do not seek for cases; they deal only with those which are brought before them; and it is fair to assume that those tenants who incur the cost and the risk of applying to them are not those who are moderately rented. These tenants, by the latest Returns, are about 70,000 out of more than 500,000 occupiers; and the 19 per cent of reduction is upon the rents, not of Ireland generally, but of the 70,000 tenants. The appointment of valuators, referred to by my noble Friend, was not a matter of vital importance; it was a mere question of administration; it excited a good deal of prejudice against the Commissioners, which prejudice, I believe, was unfounded and mischievous; but, there being no urgent reason to continue the employment of valuators by the Sub-Commissioners, their engagements were not renewed, and since then the Assistant Commissioners have continued to go upon the land themselves. I confess I cannot see a more likely way of getting at the real facts of a case than that which is taken by the Assistant Commissioners; they hear the evidence of both parties given before a legal authority, and then they examine the holding, and if the result does not satisfy either party there is an appeal. It is not possible for the Commissioners themselves, sitting as a Court of Appeal, to go upon all the holdings; but they hear evidence and employ valuers; and, on appeal, it is only after rehearing, re-inspection, and revaluing, that the judicial rent is finally fixed. My Lords, I deeply regret that my noble Friend should apply his great powers and eloquence, and also I am bound to say his intense prejudice, to the task of discrediting the Irish Land Act. Your Lordships may depend upon it that the tenure established by it is one that will endure, and which nothing can now essentially alter; and I trust, and am confident that, as time goes on, my noble Friend himself will discover that that tenure, although unsuited to the conditions of England and Scotland, which is shown to be the opinion of the Government by the passing of the Agricultural Holdings Acts, is yet eminently suited to Ireland, whose conditions are so different from those of England and Scotland. It is this difference which, in my opinion, my noble Friend has never understood, drawing all his views, ideas, and conceptions entirely from Great Britain, 380 and not seeing that the first condition for forming a fair judgment on the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland, and on the legislation proper for that country, is to forget England and Scotland, and to think, if a comparison is to be made, of some country absolutely unlike them—for instance, of the country to which the noble Duke alluded— namely, India. If he had fixed his mind upon the example of Bengal instead of Scotland, he might have formed a far sounder judgment with reference to Irish land and Irish legislation. I shall have no objection whatever to the production of the Returns moved for by my noble Friend.
§ THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
said, that, in his opinion, the thanks of all who were interested in the true welfare of Ireland were due to the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll) for the able, eloquent, and perfectly unanswerable speech he had delivered to their Lordships. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, it was so unanswerable that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Carlingford) had not attempted in any way to answer it, as, indeed, it was impossible for him to do. The noble Lord's statement that the noble Duke did not know the subject he was dealing with was most extraordinary. The noble Lord went on to say that he had declared over and over again the principles upon which fair rents were ascertained. He (the Marquess of Waterford) must say that he had attended regularly the debates on that question in their Lordships' House, and he had never heard those principles stated by the noble Lord or by anyone else. There was one point in the noble Duke's speech to which he wished specially to refer. Both the noble Duke and the noble Lord who answered him had spoken of the "prairie" value of the land; and, according to the former, as though it was something much below the present value. His (the Marquess of Waterford's) experience of Ireland was that if the landlord could get the prairie value as it was before it was reduced by the tenant's operations on the land, they would get something more than the old rents which they were receiving before the passing of the Land Act. The noble Lord (Lord Carlingford) had pointed out that the County Court Judges had reduced the rents lower than the Sub-Commissioners; but 381 it was only a portion of the County Court Judges to whom the tenants had gone; and they had, of course, selected those County Court Judges who were known to be favourable to a reduction of rents, and to be in sympathy with the tenants. It did not apply to the whole body of County Court Judges. It was an extraordinary thing for the noble Lord to say that the landlords had made no improvements. In saying that, he entirely ignored the fact that they had made many most valuable improvements on their property. The noble Lord had also said that the Land Laws of Ireland were so unjust that they should be swept away; but he forgot that, after the Act of 1871 was passed, they had been a great deal more favourable to the tenants than the Land Laws of England. He (the Marquess of Waterford) desired to thank the noble Duke most heartily for the speech which he had made, which, coming from a man in his high position, who was unconnected with Ireland, was sure to command the respect of all in the country. He wished particularly to call attention to a statement from a Cabinet Minister which showed clearly what had actually been done by the Land Act of 1881. The noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Derby), in speaking at Liverpool on September 6, said—There are some people—I do not think a great many—who would have Parliament go much further, and adopt something like the Irish system, which virtually makes the tenant owner of the soil with only a fixed payment duo to the landlord.He (the Marquess of Waterford) would ask the noble Earl whether that was or was not confiscation? If it was not, he did not know what was. If the soil belonged to the landlord before, and had now become, owing to legislation, the property of the tenant, subject only to a fixed payment, as he stated, and such fixed payment as had been shown by the noble Duke be ascertained on no fixed principles at all, had there not been a transfer of property? And, if so, was not compensation necessary? He (the Marquess of Waterford) pointed out, at the time of the passing of the Land Act, that if large advantages were granted by it to the tenant, they must be taken from the landlord; but the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack objected to that statement, and. declared 382 it was as great a fallacy and as great an error as could be put into words. The noble and learned Earl went on to say that, unless you could show that you directly took from the landlord something which was his and gave it to the tenant, the more advantages you conferred upon the tenant, the more benefits you also conferred upon the landlord. That was, of course, a self-evident fact. If you could confer benefits on the tenant, without taking them from the landlord, you would, no doubt, be improving the position of both. But it was not necessary to show that something had been taken from the landlord, when the noble and learned Earl admitted that the absolute property of the landlord had been taken away and given to the tenant. He should like to hear from the noble and learned Earl whether he was still of opinion that the large advantages which had been conferred upon the tenant had not been taken from the landlord? If there was any real and permanent advantage to Ireland in the passing of the Land Act it should now begin to show itself. They were told by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for India (the Earl of Kimberley) the other night that rents were better paid, and that the country had become more quiet. That he (the Marquess of Waterford) would admit; but even the noble Earl did not claim those results as having been brought entirely about by the Land Act. He admitted that the Prevention of Crime Act had something to do in. producing them; and if we looked at the present state of Ireland we must see that, as far as concerned an improvement in the actual condition of the country, the Land Act had had but little effect. At no time in the history of Ireland had securities of every description been so depressed, never had trade been at so low an ebb, never was class so embittered against class, or disloyalty so rampant. And this "Message of Peace" seemed, instead of stilling agitation, to have given it a stronger impetus than it had before. The good results which were predicted of the Land Act had not yet made their appearance. In fact, it had proved a total failure in Ireland, for the only people who had gained by it were the tenants who were in occupation when the Act was passed. He could not himself see that this Message of Peace had brought the slightest advantage to 383 any class besides; and he feared he should never see the day when any good would come to anyone else from a measure which had inflicted a cruel wrong on a large class in the country.
§ THE EARL OF LEITRIM
said, he also wished to join with the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Waterford) in thanking the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll) both for his speech and for the exhaustive manner in which he had dealt with the subject. He was not, however, disposed to allow noble Lords on the same side of the House as the noble Duke to arrogate to themselves a monopoly of interest in the tenant farmers of Ireland. At the same time, he must be allowed to differ from the noble Duke as regarded the depreciation of the value of land in Ireland. He insisted that in the part of Ireland concerning which he had personal knowledge, there had been a most decided depreciation in the value of land, caused by the operation of the Land Act. He would, however, admit that a part of the depreciation which had taken place was attributable also to the depreciation in the value of wool and other articles of agricultural produce. He hoped that if there was one point only on which he differed from the speech of the noble Duke, he did not detract in any way from its value.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he thought it would be inexpedient for him to discuss the topics that had been introduced into the noble Duke's (the Duke of Argyll's) speech on the present occasion; but he must own that he had been tempted to say one or two words by the interesting contributions to the debate made by the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Waterford) and the noble Earl who had last spoken (the Earl of Leitrim) upon those points upon which they had differed from the noble Duke. Now, what had been stated by the noble Earl was really very important and very candid testimony to a fact which had a material bearing, in considering what might have been the causes of the reductions of rent which had so largely taken place in Ireland. The noble Duke had expressed great doubt whether the same causes which had generally affected the value of land in England had any corresponding operation in Ireland; but the noble Earl, speaking for his own district, 384 and from his own knowledge, as to arable land generally in Ireland, which was the quality of land which had most suffered in England, had given them most valuable information as to the fact that, undoubtedly, the causes which affected England had largely affected Ireland also; and that it was a mistake to suppose that upon natural principles, if they were left to them alone without the Land Act, it would be possible to let lands at a rate independent of these causes, and at their former value. The other observation came from the noble Marquess, and it was also worthy of being taken notice of, because it tended to correct a very mischievous fallacy which was abroad in some of the discussions which they heard upon this subject. He alluded to what the noble Marquess said about what was called the "prairie value," which meant, he (the Lord Chancellor) supposed—if it meant anything—the natural value of the virgin soil, independent of all artificial value which had been added to it by what were called improvements. It would be worthy of the consideration of any who might, at any time, feel themselves obliged to enter into that question, whether the noble Marquess was not right in saying that, estimated upon principles independent of the peculiar circumstances of Ireland—upon which principles he (the Lord Chancellor) protested against making any estimate at all in the matter—but that, estimated on those principles, the value of the virgin soil might sometimes be greater than the value of the soil as it was with buildings, which, though they might be necessary for the actual mode of occupation, were, perhaps, improvements of a very measurable character; while, on the other side, bad cultivation might often have exhausted a large part of the original value of the soil.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, that the price of live stock, which Ireland largely exported, had risen of late years; while the price of wheat, which England chiefly grew, had fallen. Ireland did not grow much wheat, and no great decline had taken place in oats and barley, which Ireland did extensively grow. It therefore did not follow that because rents in England had had to be reduced, the Sub-Commissioners were justified in reducing all rents in Ireland. Their small salaries and precarious tenure of office 385 precluded the Government from having the choice of candidates really fit for such important judicial offices dealing practically without appeal with such very large amounts of property. But the gross partizanship shown by the Government in the appointment of most, and the obvious unfitness of many of them, was quite inexcusable. Out of a small number of vacancies, no less than three had been filled up by members of the Solicitor General's Election Committee, in by no means one of the largest counties in Ireland. The only disqualification seemed to be Conservative politics, into which the Government, by their conduct in Ireland, had driven almost every loyal Irishman. He quite agreed that the Act must be looked upon as a permanent one; and, therefore, he thought it was very unlikely indeed that they would find tenants invest their money in purchasing the freehold of their farms, when they were expecting another Solicitor General to come before them promising farther reductions of rent by some future Government.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, he did not know that it was worth while to continue the discussion in such a thin House, and, in fact, he had originally intended not to have taken any part in it; but, as he had been pointedly referred to by noble Lords several times in the course of it, he wished to offer one or two observations. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Waterford) had quoted a speech of his in September last, in which he had said that, virtually, the working of the new Irish legislation had transferred the ownership of the soil from the landlords to the tenants. Undoubtedly, he had used those words, and that was the result of the Act. When the noble Marquess went on to ask him whether he did not call it confiscation, he had to reply— "No." It was no more a confiscation than when he was compelled to sell property—as, for instance, for the purposes of a railway—at a price fixed, not by himself, but by others. That was really analogous to what was done in the present case. The matter was not worth arguing; but he did not accept the doctrine of the noble Marquess that, if the tenants gained by a transaction of that kind, it must necessarily be at the expense of the landlords. He considered that a complete fallacy. In many cases where land had been 386 transferred by such a transaction, it had happened that there was a largely increased value acquired by the tenant without any loss being sustained by the landlord.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
, continuing, said, the noble Duke behind him (the Duke of Argyll) had referred to what he (the Earl of Derby) had said about the English landlords having suffered as much as the Irish, and did not at all admit that argument; because, in one case, it occurred through natural causes; and, in the other, through the operation of the law. He had never maintained that there was a strict analogy between the two cases; but some analogy there was; because, if there was no falling-off in the market value of the land in Ireland for letting purposes, if tenants were still willing to pay as high rents as formerly, the reason was excessive competition, and it was that which caused the legislation in question. The noble Duke challenged him to say whether he did not agree with him in all his views; but he could not say whether he agreed or not, because it seemed to him that the noble Duke came to no practical conclusion at all, though he made an eloquent and effective speech, which undoubtedly contained much sound argument, and should have been directed against the second reading of the Bill; but, as against an Act that was now in force for some two years, it was useless. His (the Earl of Derby's) opinion about the Act of 1881 was, at the time it was passed, what it was now. He thought that the passing of that Act was a very disagreeable necessity. If anybody said it was a revolutionary measure, he should not be prepared to deny it; but he contended that, if it was a revolutionary measure, it was produced by a revolutionary state of things; and the main principle of the Act—that which dealt with tenure—was laid down in the Report of a Commission not issued from that side of the House. Therefore, whatever Government had been in Office, they must have dealt with the difficulties which surrounded them. He would not deny that, in one sense, the Act might be called a misfortune. It might be a 387 misfortune to have a leg cut off; but that was better than the alternative probability of dying at once. He had, before now, called attention to various inconveniences of the Land Act. He did so, because, in all legislation of that kind, there was the danger that it might be turned into a precedent; and, as a precedent in this country, he believed it would be mischievous. As to the working of the Act, he did not pretend to possess the requisite knowledge; and he believed there were very few men in that House, or in the country, who could do so. But there was one obvious consideration to be borne in mind—namely, that they were not to judge by exceptional cases, and that they were not to give entire credit to ex parte statements, especially when they came from Ireland. Considering the enormous number of cases which had to be tried—Some 70,000—he thought it would be very strange if there had not been some cases of real hardship, or even of positive injustice. All those cases had been determined on; and if there was any country in which so many cases could be decided without some injustice, he did not know what country it was. In any country it would be remarkable, and especially in Ireland, to find 80 men absolutely impartial on a subject on which the passions of the people were excited. It had been said, and he thought that most people believed, that the 19 per cent average reduction was a reduction of 19 per cent upon the whole of the rents in Ireland. That, however, was not the case. It was only the average reduction in the 70,000 cases which had been decided; and it was quite clear that that was not a fair average of the whole 500,000 tenants, many of whom had settled privately, and those not the worst cases; for those who had the most cause to complain would certainly come into Court. It was an obvious inference that, if all those cases had been heard, the average reduction, on the whole, would be very much lower. As to the rest, he contended that sufficient time had not yet elapsed to allow of a fair judgment on this legislation. It was, undoubtedly, a very grave experiment—if anyone said a dangerous experiment, he should not dissent. But he believed it was a necessary experiment under the circumstances of the time. It had been tried, and they 388 could not now go back. What he thought was better than an expression of general hostility to the principles laid down was to watch carefully the working of the Act, to see if in any respect it was doing manifest injustice; and if that were the case, to come to Parliament, not with general complaints against the whole system of legislation, but with the specific mention of specific grievances which could be dealt with, and with practical suggestions for dealing with them.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
, in reply, said, that with regard to some of the observations of his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby), which he must confess he had heard with great regret, he (the Duke of Argyll) must remind him that he joined the present Government free from all responsibility, as far as the Act under consideration was concerned, for he joined that Government after it passed; and, therefore, it was of no use for the noble Earl to put forth arguments in support of a measure which he confessed had no attractions for him. He (the Duke of Argyll) denied that there was any analogy between the powers conferred by the Land Act, and powers of compulsory purchase under Railway Bills; because, as to the Land Act, the landlords were tied hand and foot. It was not a question of the mere reduction of rents; but what they asked for was the decisions—the important decisions—given by the Commissioners under the Act of 1881, together with their reasons for pronouncing such decisions. He held that they ought to be given; for the people ought to know the laws under which they lived and the principles on which those laws were administered. The noble Earl invited him to go into specific cases. How could he do so, for the Judges had given no reasons? The noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell) had reminded him that he had omitted one important point in his speech, which was, that all Courts, properly constituted, gave their reasons for their decisions. He objected to the hocus-pocus way by which was huddled up the political feeling and agitation which was brought to bear in favour of the decisions, by a refusal to give reasons for the decisions. Such a practice as that was not in accordance with the custom of this country, or, in fact, of any civilized country; and it 389 could only tend to demoralize still further public opinion. He did not agree with the noble Earl that there was no use in making general speeches. They had to deal with an anarchy of opinion; and it was of the highest importance to set forth the truth. The Commissioners had unsettled many minds upon these matters; and he complained of what they had done, and hoped that some good would result from the discussion which he had felt it to be his duty to raise.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
said, he would agree to the Motion for the Returns if his noble Friend (the Duke of Argyll) would omit from it those cases in which the landlord had claimed disallowance under Sub-Section 4 of Section 8, and the cases where the Court had refused such claim. It was impossible to furnish them, as there was no information in the possession of the Land Commission which would enable them to do so.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
, in thanking his noble Friend (Lord Carlingford) for his courtesy, said, he would consent to the course proposed, by striking out all after "1881" in line 3, to "case" in line 7, inclusive.
§ Motion amended, and agreed to.
§ House adjourned at half past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.