§ MOTION FOR A RETURN.
§ LORD FITZGERALD ,
in rising to move for a Return of the disposition of the sum of £5,000,000 sterling granted under the Land Purchase Act of 1885 up to the 31st of March, 1888, asked whether it was intended by Her Majesty's Government during the present Session to seek for any further grants? The noble Lord said, that the number of Returns which he asked for might be thought very numerous and complicated; but, in consideration of the singular 2 interest and great importance of the question, he trusted that such Returns might he given. Their Lordships would recollect that not 12 months ago a very remarkable measure, now known as the Land Act of 1887, was introduced into their Lordships' House by the Lord Privy Seal in a very remarkable speech, in which the noble Earl stated that the time had come for the adoption of a large and comprehensive measure of land purchase in addition, and which Her Majesty's Government undertook to introduce, whereby dual ownership would be put an end to, and the occupiers of land in that country should be enabled to become the purchasers of their own holdings. That measure had not been introduced. He did not suggest that there had been any breach of faith on the part of the Government, as circumstances arose over which the Government had no control, and in consequence of the extreme difficulty in "another place" of passing other measures, the Government had no chance last Session of 3 redeeming their promise; in fact, under the circumstances it would have been unwise and impolitic on the part of the Government to propose a great measure such as had been promised. The Government's hands this year also were so full that if they passed the important Bills which they had introduced, this would be a very remarkable Session. Nor, in fact, did he think that a large compulsory measure of sale and purchase was possible or desirable. The matter which he pressed upon Her Majesty's Government, and upon which he hoped now or hereafter to receive a very favourable answer, was of a much more humble but beneficial character. It would be recollected that both in the Act of 1870 and in that of 1881 there were clauses dealing with purchase. But neither the Bright Clauses in the Act of 1870 nor the clauses in the Act of 1881 had been particularly successful. Several intermediate attempts had been made between 1881 and the passing of the Act of 1885, which was introduced by Lord Ashbourne and based on a somewhat different principle. The whole purchase money was advanced, 20 per cent being retained by the Government, instead of being paid to the landlord, by way of security; the landlord receiving:3 per cent for the money so retained. A Purchase Commission was appointed for carrying out the Act, and it could not be denied that the Act had been a success and that great benefits had been derived from it. Their Lordships would observe that two Purchase Commissioners were appointed under the Act. He was bound to assume that the Government appointed the men they considered the best, and their Lordships had not in the least interfered with the discretion of the Government. He offered no criticism on these appointments. The sum to be distributed was £5,000,000, and the Commissioners had practically been two years and a quarter in carrying out the measure. Although the Act was in no sense compulsory, in that two years and a quarter 885 abstracts of title had been examined, In addition to that they had executed or made 6,317 conveyances or orders. They had sanctioned the issue of £2,445,575, and they had before them at present cases which would cover the whole of the £5,000,000 save £406,431. Some time ago he had pressed upon the Government the necessity of supple- 4 menting the grant by a further advance. New applications had since been accumulating. He was in a position to state that the new applications in one office of solicitors alone amounted to the sum of £600,000. Not only was the £5,000,000 now likely to be exhausted, but there was nothing to meet any new applications. That was not a very desirable state of things. Out of the £5,000,000 the total amount distributed in Ulster was £1,945,530, and in that province at least 6,767 small farmers had now become the owners of their own holdings. In Munster the gross sum issued was £1,426,159, or £767,000 less than in Ulster. But there was another peculiar feature about Munster. Only 2,072 applications were made. In Munster the large owners came in, and with the assent of the tenants procured the money to enable them to buy. But in Ulster it was the small men who came in and in Munster there would have been a great deal more applications if it were not for external agencies which prevented the people from purchasing their holdings. In Connaught, where the external agencies were most powerful, there were but 1,180 applications, and the amount granted £323,949. He would mention no names, but he believed that there was not the least doubt that in Connaught parties were prevented from coming in and claiming the benefits of this most beneficial Act. The people were willing to purchase their holdings; but the external agencies did not want to settle the Land Question. There was no doubt of this singular fact, that where the tenants had in any substantial number become the owners of their own farms, those districts were remarkable during the past year for peace and law and order, and in many instances the occupiers who purchased their own farms were the agents by whom what was called the adoption of the Plan of Campaign was prevented. Under these circumstances very great advantages had been conferred upon the country by this Act, and it was desirable that a further sum should be applied for in order to continue this beneficial work. He should like to say a word with reference to the Land Bill, recently introduced into the House of Commons by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, with the view of facilitating the work of fixing fair rents. In his (Lord Fitzgerald's) 5 opinion, if the second part of that Bill passed it would put an end to the Land Purchase Scheme. The land tribunals at present existing were anomalous, and it was to be regretted that the Lauded Estates Court, which was presided over by an able and experienced Judge, and supplied with competent officers, had not been utilized in carrying out the Purchase Act. Since 1878–9 there had been practically no sales in that Court. He lamented to say that there were about 1,400 receivers in operation there, and the income with which it dealt he believed was some where about £600,000 a-year. The object of his present Motion for Returns was to show how the Land Act could be made to work more rapidly and efficiently. That portion of the Chief Secretary's Bill which proposed to extend the jurisdiction of the County Court Judges with reference to land cases was a valuable one, but it fell short of the necessary requirements. He regarded the notion that the County Courts were landlords' courts as absurd, and he might instance the liberal reductions of rent recently made on certain estates in the County of Limerick by the County Court Judge of that county (Mr. Purcell), as showing that the tenants might trust to their decisions with confidence. He hoped the country would not be deprived of the enormous advantages which it had been receiving from the Purchase Act from the want of funds. In conclusion, ho would ask whether it was intended by Her Majesty's Government during the present Session to seek for any further grant for the purposes of the Land Purchase Act of 1885?Moved,"That there be laid before this House Return of the disposition of the sum of five millions sterling granted under the Land Purchase Act of 1885 up to the 31st March 1888, specifying in such Return—1, The total number of applications, with the gross amount of the whole;2. Gross amounts of those accepted, and of those rejected;3. Amount of advances actually issued;4. And of advances sanctioned and in course of issue;5. And of applications now under consideration by the Purchase Commissioners, but not yet sanctioned;6. What part of the five millions will remain at the disposal of the Purchase Commissioners if the applications in Number 5 should be sanctioned;7. The gross amount of instalments which became repayable on the 1st of November last, 6 and the amount, if any, of such instalments remaining unpaid.Landed Estates Court. Land Judges Branchof the Court of Chancery (Ireland).8. The number of estates which on the 1st of November 1886, were under administration, with the amount of their gross rental;9. The number of receivers acting under the court in the receipt of the rents of those estates, with the total sum brought in by such receivers for the rents of the year ending the 1st of November 1887;10. The number of effective sales made during the five years ending on the 31st of December 1887, with the gross amount realised by such sales;11. Return of the number of officers employed in that branch of the Court of Chancery, with the total amount of their salaries for the year 1887."—(The Lord FitzGerald.)
THE EARL or BELMORE
said, that in supporting the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, he would express a hope that the Government would give a favourable answer to it, and also grant the Return asked for. He quite agreed that it would have been very undesirable if a compulsory Purchase Bill had been brought in this year, and, speaking for himself, he thought it undesirable that such a Bill should ever be brought in. And ho would go further, and say he did not think that, owing to the circumstances which now existed, there was any very great hurry for a large and general purchase scheme. A great deal had happened since the speech of the noble Earl last year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had carried through the Conversion Scheme with great success, with the result that the value of different Securities had been very much altered, and there was no temptation to any unencumbered landlord who expected to be paid his rents, whether judicial or not judicial, to sell his property at the present time, because the loss on reinvestment would, he estimated, even under the most favourable conditions, amount to over 30 per cent. In his opinion, it was most desirable that the machinery of the Landed Estates Court should be brought in to aid the Land Purchase Commissioners. For the last 15 months he had had a case going through the Land Purchase Court, and though the progress was greater than that which had been the rule in the old Encumbered Estates Court, still it was very slow. He could not help thinking that the Court was overworked, and that they might get assistance from the Land Court. He had also given Notice 7 of a slight addition to the Returns moved for by the noble and learned Lord, and which he now begged to move,—namely, the number of estates which, on the 1st of November, 1881, were under administration, with the amount of their gross rentals.
Moved, to add to the Lord FitzGerald's Motion the following words; viz.—
12. "The number of estates which, on the 1st of November 1881, were under administration, with the amount of their gross rental."—(The Earl qf Belmore.)
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (Earl CADOGAN)
said, that he had not been prepared for the course which the noble and learned Lord had adopted in going into detail upon the questions put down on the Paper, and also in dealing with the question of a Bill introduced in "another place" by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He had listened with great interest to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord on a question of which he spoke with so much knowledge and authority, and he could assure him that he would be glad to grant the Return asked for, and also that moved for by the noble Earl. With regard to the Question of the noble and learned Lord, whether it was intended by Her Majesty's Government during the present Session to seek for any further grant for the purposes of the Land Purchase Act of 1885, his answer had been to some extent anticipated by the noble and learned Lord. This important subject was under the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and he trusted that the noble and learned Lord would forgive him if he was unable to give him any positive answer at the present moment.
§ Motion, as amended, agreed to.