HL Deb 02 April 1897 vol 48 cc379-83

asked the Government whether Sub-Commissioners in Ireland had to pass any examination to test their qualifications for fixing judicial rents? He said that, according to the Report of the Irish Land Commission to March 1896, he found that the entire number of eases in which judicial rents had been fixed was 303,243; the old rent being £6,313,221, and the judicial rent £4,993,514, the percentage of reduction being 20.9. In round numbers, the amount of rents which would be liable to be fixed under the same head during the second statutory term, was about five millions. Judging by the reductions that had come under his notice, more especially those to which he referred on the 17th of July last, it was difficult to suppose that the reductions under the second term would average less than those under the first terms. Over a million and a-quarter was taken off the rents of Irish landlords last term, but it looked, by the reductions that were now taking place, as it a still larger sum was going to be taken off the reduced rental. Those figures would, he thought, prove that very great importance attached to the qualifications of those intrusted with the duties of lay assistant Commissioners, and that Irish, landlords were entitled to ask that Sub-Commissioners should be men who had satisfied competent examiners that they were perfectly qualified for their duties; because, in some cases, he might say in many cases, the reductions at present being made meant nothing less than absolute ruin to Irish landlords. Not only were landlords entitled to demand that, but all those who were in any way connected with the land. Surely not only those who paid the rent, but the labourer who tilled the soil was entitled to demand it, for when reductions had reached a certain point it meant that the labourers would either be obliged to seek employment from the tenants, who were in many cases converting arable into pasture land to save their labour, or they would be forced to emigrate, as largo numbers had already done. The reductions of rents below a certain point, which, if it had not been reached at the present rate of reductions very soon must be, would have exactly the opposite effect also to that to which Mr. Gladstone looked forward in 1870, when, in speaking on the Land Act of that date, he said: — But the only great boon—and it is a great boon—which it is in the power of the Legislature to give to the agricultural labourer in Ireland is to increase the demand for his labour, and by imparting a stimulus to the agriculture of the country to insure its requiring more strong arms to carry it on, and thereby to bring more bidders into the market for those arms, and raise the natural and legitimate price of their labour. Then there was another class deeply interested in this matter—he referred to the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. He would not now go into a calculation of what amount of income tax had been lost to the Exchequer since the Land Act of 1870, due to the Irish Land Acts; but whatever the amount, it had never been accounted for. Then there were also the motgagees, the various life insurance companies, and other societies who had money invested in Irish land, and the various chargeants, some of whom were already in receipt of relief from the Irish Distressed Ladies Fund. But great as those claims undoubtedly were, there was another claim, that of justice, which could not be long disregarded. He contended that the Irish landlords were at this moment, speaking generally, at the mercy of the lay Assistant Commissioners. When Mr. Dowse, the Solicitor General for Ireland, was speaking on the Land Bill of 1870, what did he say? He laid it down that "No man ought to be left at the mercy of his neighbour, no matter how just that neighbour might be." If it was wrong for the tenants, was it not wrong for the landlord to be in that position? He would preface his remarks on the Return lately issued to Parliament with a reference to a work on Rent Fixing. It was laid down in Pardon's book on Land Valuation for Rent, "That there can be no doubt that to be a good judge of land and qualified to appraise the conditions attaching to a holding as well as the soil itself, one must have a taste for agriculture, have had experience, be a keen observer, and possess a judicial mind." And then it was indicated what a valuer should know as regards the effects of science on agriculture, freights, and effect of imports of cattle, be should have a thorough knowledge of at least seven soils and their texture and improvability. He must have a knowledge of plants, indicating the quality of soils, and must be equally familiar with the value of grass lands, mountain and bog lands, while he must know how to allow for proximity to or remoteness of a farm from towns, railway stations, etc. Many other things were named that he should thoroughly understand. If he was rightly informed, a man could not be appointed as messenger in a Dublin public office without passing some sort of examination, yet, if he was not mistaken, no examination whatever was asked of the Sub-Commissioners who had live millions of rents at their mercy, and therefore the fortunes of goodness knew how many thousands of men, women, and children. He now came to the Return of the 5th March 1897, giving the names and other information about the lay Assistant Commissioners holding office on January 25th 1897. Out of 73 Sub-Commissioners three only were owners, and they owned respectively 300, 200, and 60 acres; two were agents, one farming only 70 acres, and the rest were tenants. Out of the 73, under the heading of "What experience in valuing, mapping, surveying?" he found the answers were in four cases "None;" in seven cases, "Studied at college;" in three cases, "Studied at school;" one case, "Chiefly self-taught;" one "Has fairly good knowledge;" one "Has assisted father;" four "Have studied surveying and mapping;" one "Has some experience in valuing, none in mapping;" one is a "farmer;" one "Has experience in mapping and scaling," but apparently none in valuing, and in seven cases no answer was given at all. He would refer to one or two cases. One permanent lay Commissioner was educated at Moy and Dungannon; he farmed 200 acres as tenant, but had no other experience of agriculture, and his experience in mapping and surveying and valuing was valuing and mapping at school. Another permanent lay Commissioner was educated at Dublin Academic Institution, farmed 60 to 70 acres as tenant, and his other experience in agriculture consisted of "Visiting numerous farms in various counties;" his experience in valuing, mapping, and surveying was "Chiefly self-taught." He would refer to the last case, that of a temporary lay Assistant Commissioner. He was educated at Omagh Classical School, and private tuition. He farmed 205 acres as tenant; other experience of agriculture, "Member of Tyrone Farming Society;" experience of valuing, mapping, and surveying, "None." His criticism of the qualifications would, he hoped, have made it clear that there was no standard of qualification, or past employment, or experience which had to be possessed by a lay Sub-Commissioner. He did not for a single instant wish to press hardly on any particular cases, but he could not help expressing deep concern that five millions of Irish rents were at the mercy of men of whom the Government said that some of them had no experience in valuing, mapping, or surveying, and of others that their experience under these heads, as represented by the Return, could not be stated at all.


said the official answer was that the gentlemen appointed to the position of assistant Land Commissioners in Ireland were not required to pass a formal examination before being appointed. The utmost pains however, were taken to ascertain their qualifications for the functions they were called upon to discharge. ["Hear, hear!"] He would like to add that the Chief Secretary himself interviewed every one of the new Sub-Commissioners who had been appointed, besides many hundreds of others who made application. He had to choose from a large number and he gave much time and patience and the best of his ability to the selection. ["Hear, hear!"]


asked if the Chief Secretary himself had any knowledge of land?


was afraid he could not answer that question.