HL Deb 26 May 1884 vol 288 cc1277-83

said, he rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether Mr. Gray, just appointed a Sub- Commissioner of the County of Cork, was the same Mr. Gray who had been acting in a similar capacity in Donegal? This gentleman was a farmer, and previous to his appointment in 1883 he had been known as a stump orator in the North of Ireland. He had in his hand a list of 14 speeches made by him during the years 1880, 1881, and 1882; but he did not propose to refer to those delivered in the two former years, inasmuch as great excitement prevailed, and as with others so with him there might have been much said which it was not desirable should be revived. He would, however, quote from two speeches made in the year 1883, and one particularly, in which, referring to the uselessness of Griffith's valuation, he said, if he took it and found that ground was valued by it at £1 per acre, he should deduct the taxes, 3s., and then reduce the amount by half. Thus the unfortunate landlord would get something like 8s. 6d. per acre. In the next speech he denounced Mr. Justice O'Hagan, Lord Monck, and others. Mr. Gray, however, was effectually muzzled by being appointed a Sub-Commissioner. He (Viscount Midleton) did not wish to blame the Government for having appointed Mr. Gray, for from the manner in which recommendations and testimonials were given, not only in Ireland, but elsewhere, it was quite possible that they had been led to believe that he was a proper person to be appointed a Sub-Commissioner. But since Mr. Gray's appointment the attention of the Government had been called to the matter, and the Lord Privy Seal had promised to look into it. That was no more than he expected of the noble Lord, because he remembered that Lord Spencer, in a letter to Sir Thomas M'Clure, mentioned that the qualifications that would be looked for in Sub-Commissioners were judicial experience, independence of character, and complete impartiality. He asked them, now that they knew something of Mr. Gray, to say whether he possessed these qualifications, especially in view of the fact that about 80 appeals from his decision had been made to the Land Commissioners? It was important that Sub-Commissioners should command the confidence of both parties; and the fact that there were so many appeals from one Sub-Commissioner was more inconvenient to the tenant than to the land- lord, because of the expense that was involved. It was now reported that Mr. Gray was to be transferred to the South of Ireland to exorcise his duties in that part of the country of which he knew nothing, whether as to the character, the climate, or the conditions under which agriculture was carried on. Was it fair or just to those who were to be the subject of Mr. Gray's decisions that a gentleman who had failed to command confidence with those with whom he had had to deal in the North should, as a matter of convenience, be sent to the South of Ireland, where he would be more completely ignorant of his business than he could possibly be in the North? He did not mean to say Mr. Gray would administer justice in the South of Ireland worse than he had administered it in the North. What he was now dealing with was Mr. Gray's fitness for the post, and he denied that he possessed any one of the three qualifications which Earl Spencer said were absolutely necessary for the office.


said, that he was, of course, not personally responsible for Mr. Gray's appointment. It had been his duty, however, to acquaint himself with the facts of the case, and he would give all the information in his power. As to the transfer of Mr. Gray as an Assistant Commissioner from the North to the South of Ireland, he was not able at that moment to toll the noble Viscount the particular reason for that change in the composition of the Sub-Commission. But then he (Lord Carlingford) knew that, whatever else might be said about Mr. Gray, he was at least admitted to be a first-rate farmer, and a man of the fullest and best agricultural experience; and he (Lord Carlingford) did not doubt for a moment that he would be perfectly capable of performing his duty in the county Cork, or any other county, so far as skill and experience as a farmer were concerned. As to the express language said to have been used by Mr. Gray in a certain speech or speeches, he (Lord Carlingford) had not been made aware of the number of speeches to which the noble Viscount had referred: but there was no doubt that before his appointment Mr. Gray had taken rather an active part in connection with certain meetings in the North of Ireland. With respect to the speech which had been the main subject of inquiry—namely, a speech delivered by that gentleman at Armagh before his appointment, Mr. Gray had been asked for explanations, and had given them. Mr. Gray entirely denied that he was correctly understood, or reported, as laying down that 8s. 6d. per acre was the proper rent for a landlord to obtain for his land. The reference to 8s. 6d. an acre was not given as an opinion of his own, but was used in illustration of an argument which he was directing against the doctrine that Griffith's valuation was a fair and proper valuation for rent. He argued that the proper basis upon which to fix rent was contained in the actual capabilities and situation of the farm, and not Griffith's valuation; and he stated that the sentence referred to by the noble Viscount was never intended to bear the construction which the latter put upon it, and was not used as expressing any opinion held by the speaker. What passed at the meeting had been totally misrepresented. Mr. Gray had been made responsible for certain seditious cries which were raised at that meeting in favour of persons who were at that time called "suspects." The fact was that those cries which were raised by a small number of persons were directed against Mr. Gray and his friends. As to those speeches by Mr. Gray which had not come to the knowledge of the Lord Lieutenant, he (Lord Carlingford) must say—and the noble Viscount seemed to be aware of it—that the Lord Lieutenant had received the most favourable recommendations and testimonials as to, Mr. Gray's fitness in all respects for the post of Assistant Commissioner. These testimonials included some from land-lords—from Mr. Gray's own landlord, he believed—certainly from his own agent— and were of the strongest kind as to his experience, ability, intelligence, and impartiality. Nevertheless, the Lord Lieutenant would not have appointed Mr. Gray if his attention had been called to the fact that he had taken a somewhat active part in the land agitation in Ireland. But the Irish Government had ascertained from the Laud Commissioners that they had no evidence that would justify them in recommending the dismissal of Mr. Gray. The legal Assistant Commissioner with whom Mr. Gray had been working (Mr. Ulick Burke) had given very strong testimony to the fairness and impartiality, as well as ability, with, which Mr. Gray had fulfilled his duties since his appointment. He had said that Mr. Gray was a perfect farmer, and that he did not care in the slightest degree whether he offended landlord or tenant. Under these circumstances the Lord Lieutenant, feeling bound to look, not to the speeches at land meetings which Mr. Gray had made before his appointment, but to his conduct since then, did not consider it his duty to take any action in the matter.


said, that although, when the Act was passed, it was stated by the Government that these appointments would not be of a partizan nature, unquestionably many of the appointments had given rise to the impression that they were of that character. As he had previously pointed out, there could be no doubt that much difficulty arose in the choice, not only of the Sub-Commissioners, but of the Chief Commissioners. It might be possible there was no one in the whole Kingdom more fitted to fill the post of one of the three Commissioners than Mr. Litton; but unquestionably the fact was that Mr. Litton had throughout shown himself a thorough partizan with regard to the law that he was called upon to administer.


said, he was sorry that his first address to their Lordships should be of a personal nature; but, as his name had been mentioned in connection with this matter, he wished to say that he had not strongly recommended Mr. Gray for the appointment, and he was surprised if anything which he wrote concerning the gentleman caused the appointment to be conferred upon him. He denied that he really made such a recommendation. To the best of his belief, for he had not kept a copy of his letter, what happened was this—Mr. Gray, who was a small tenant of his, wrote to ask him to recommend him for the post of Sub-Commissioner. He declined; but some time after he received another letter from Mr. Gray saying that he thought he was likely to be appointed, and asking for a character. Upon that he wrote back saying that Mr. Gray was a very respectable man and a good farmer. That was all that passed until the other day, when he received another letter from Mr. Gray asking him to recommend him for reappointment, and that he declined to do. He could not vouch for the actual wording of the letter, but these were, he believed, the true facts of the case; therefore, he thought it hardly fair to attempt to throw the responsibility for Mr. Gray's appointment on his shoulders, as he believed had been done in "another place."


said, he did not desire to make more of the noble Marquess's testimonial than was justifiable. The letter was not addressed to Lord Spencer, but to Mr. Gray himself. It was practically the same as had been described by the noble Marquess, but it was only fair to all parties that he should quote the exact words. The letter contained such statements as these— I regret that the letters have remained so long unanswered. I cannot write to Lord Spencer himself, as I hardly know him; but I shall he happy to answer any questions that may be put to me as to your character and ability as a farmer, as I believe you to be a thoroughly respectable man and a good farmer as far as I can judge. And again— Having heard that you are anxious to be appointed Sub-Commissioner, I have every reason to believe that if you obtain the appointment you will discharge the duties successfully. He (Lord Carlingford) thought that was a distinctly favourable letter; but it was not that letter alone, but others of a similar nature, which had induced the Lord Lieutenant to appoint Mr. Gray. A much stronger recommendation was received from the noble Marquess's agent, whose letter testified to Mr. Gray's great skill, and his knowledge of land, and the successful manner in which he had cultivated a large farm, and spoke of him as a model for the other tenants. The agent also said that he had every reason for believing that Mr. Gray would discharge his duties conscientiously.


said, it was satisfactory that they had now for the first time a distinct acknowledgment from the noble Lord that a certain Sub-Commissioner would not have been appointed if the Lord Lieutenant had been acquainted with his antecedents. In that case, he thought if the antecedents of the Commissioners from the highest to the lowest had been con- sidered they would never have been appointed, because their antecedents were such as would have shown that it was impossible they could have acted impartially.


said, that the antecedents to which he had referred consisted in the fact that the gentleman in question had taken an active part in tenants' meetings in Ulster.