HL Deb 18 March 1897 vol 47 cc890-914

asked the Prime Minister whether Her Majesty's Government could consent to the appointment of a Commission for Inquiry into the working of the Irish Land Act of 1881. He said that in asking this question he thought he ought to tell their Lordships that a deputation of the Irish Landowners' Convention waited upon the Prime Minister last week and begged that an inquiry might be made into the Land Act of 1881. The Prime Minister then replied that he was unable to give any definite answer until he had consulted his colleagues in the Cabinet. He hoped that on the present occasion the noble Marquess might be able to give them a satisfactory answer.


My noble Friend at the head of the Government has allowed me to interpose for a few minutes. I had expected that the noble Duke who asked this question would have said something in support of it, but not having done so I am thrown back upon what I have no doubt most of your Lordships have read—the conversation which took place between a deputation of Irish landowners last week and my noble Friend at the head of the Government. My noble Friend then spoke necessarily under very great reserve. It was not possible for him to express an opinion offhand upon a proposition of that nature, and he was not in a position to express any opinion upon the Land Act or upon its workings. At the same time, my noble Friend did say some very striking things, and on the whole he certainly encouraged the landlords of Ireland to make known their case. He spoke of silence being inexpedient, and he seemed to indicate that possibly some blame might have attached to the landlords of Ireland for not having put forward their case more prominently than they had yet done. But still more, my noble Friend spoke of the ignorance which exists in England as to the Land Act and as to its working now. I rose mainly for the purpose of saying that I entirely agree with my noble Friend in these observations. It is now a good many years since I have had the honour of addressing this House upon the subject of Irish agrarian legislation, and I should have been very glad if I had never been called upon to say a word on the subject again. For a good many years I felt there was nothing to be said and nothing could be done, but I should be ashamed of myself at this crisis in the fate of the Irish landlords if I did not say a, few words on what I believe to be the truth—namely, that the people of this country have no idea of what has been and is going on in Ireland or of the principles which underlie transactions in regard to the Irish Land Act. ["Hear, hear!"] Nothing could be more absurd than for any body of men, such as Irish, or English, or Scotch landlords, or any other class, to come before Parliament and say, "Our interests are suffering; our values are depreciated; we have lost a good deal of rental, and we ask you to inquire into it." Nothing could be more absurd than such a proposition if the diminution of values arose from a purely economic cause. I expected my noble Friend to tell us, what I believe to be true, that the reductions going on in Ireland now amount to more than 50 per cent. of the value in many cases—["hear, hear!"]—50 per cent. in some cases not only below the old rent, but below the rent fixed by the first Commissioners. I have myself, in many cases, suffered more than a loss of 50 per cent. on some particular farms, but then I know, and the English landlords know, that that is part of the course of nature ; that reductions arise justly and necessarily out of economic conditions. What the landlords of Ireland know is that their reductions do not happen naturally. ["Hear, hear!"] They happen out of arbitrary and licentious power given to certain individuals in Ireland to deal with their property as they please, without giving rhyme or reason for what they do. [Cheers.] That is the peculiarity of their case, and I do not think that the English people understand that to be their case—they do not understand the facts of the case. My noble Friend at the head of the Government in that conversation said that the public generally ought to be informed of what was being done by the Commissioners. Yes; but the English people should be reminded of what they have done themselves through their Government and Parliament. I never can get anybody who has not looked into these matters carefully and has not been a party to the discussions upon them to believe this most astounding fact—that in 1881 the Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland, representing as it is supposed a civilised Government, handed over to three men in Ireland—I called them triumvirs at the time—falsely called Judges, for they were in no sense Judges, the power of disposing of the whole of the landed property in Ireland precisely as they pleased as between landlord and tenant. [Cheers.] It was a lawless, and arbitrary, and an entirely irresponsible power, from which there was no appeal. The Irish landlords complain that their rents have been reduced 50 per cent. They have been very mercifully dealt with if they have not been reduced 100 per cent. It was equally in the power of these Commissioners—and I want to drive this into the heads of the people of this country—to deprive them of the whole of their rent. It is asserted that seine of these reductions amount practically to prairie value. I am not saying that that is the case, but I do say there is a case for inquiry. You have given an arbitrary power over the property of every Irishman connected with land in that country which you are bound to watch the operation of. If this sort of thing is allowed to go on with property we shall very soon see it extended to personal liberty and even to life. There are three great kinds of punishment in this country—punishment by fine, punishment by imprisonment, and punishment by deprivation of life. You have given to these men the complete power of fining to the extent of the complete confiscation of property both of the landlord and the tenant, for remember that the power extends to the tenant as well as to the landlord, and he is only protected by the known bias of those who administer the law. The tenants do actually complain that they are wronged; it is not only the landlords who are dissatisfied, but the tenants are equally dissatisfied, and for this reason, that it is known that these judgments rest upon no law and upon no principle that can be explained or defended. There is a circumstance about this arbitrary power that is not generally remembered. I think even my own colleagues do not remember it. I wonder whether Lord Kimberley, who was a colleague of mine, remembers it. Bad as I thought the Bill was when it was introduced, so bad that I could not be a party to it, I rejoice to say, and I have rejoiced more and more every year—bad as the Bill was when it was introduced, it was not originally so bad as it was when passed. As it left the Cabinet and as it was introduced by Mr. Gladstone, it was a Bill which did not give arbitrary power to these men; it was a Bill which defined the principles on which they were to value land. Does my noble Friend remember that? [The EARL of KIMBERLEY: "I do not."] I do not think he does. [The EARL of KIMBERLEY: "No."] I have never met a human being who remembers it. Not only was it there, but Mr. Gladstone made a great fuss about it—a tremendous splash in the House of Commons. He reproached the Opposition at that time for not being willing to commit themselves to the principle, and he said, "we acknowledge it to be the duty of the Government to lay down a principle upon which these men are to act." The Commissioners were to act upon a certain principle. What was that principle? It was the principle—the common principle—by which all assessments are raised in England, that market value was to be the basis of rent. If that clause had been kept in, the law would have been comparatively harmless, for you would have a known standard to which you could refer. This is the clause:— A fair rent means such a rent as, in the opinion of the Court, after hearing the parties, considering all the circumstances of the case, holding and district, a solvent tenant would undertake to pay one year after another. That is the familiar phraseology of all our assessment Acts. Assessments in England are all raised upon rateable value, and the basis of rateable value is letting value. In Scotland we levy our rates upon actual rents, in England it is called rateable value, but in both cases the assessors are bound to take as the basis of their assessment the market value of the holding. If that clause had stood it could not have been said of these men, as I say of them now, that they are not Judges, that they do not constitute a Court, that their rents are not judicial rents, but they are a revolutionary tribunal and their findings are not justified by any known principle of law. Why was the clause dropped out of the Bill? I have searched the Journals of the House of Commons and I cannot find the date exactly when the words were given up, but I do not think anybody saw what the effect of the elimination of the words would be. The Government found that the Irish Members, with whom they wished to curry favour, disliked the very idea of a letting, or market values being taken, as the foundation for the action of the Commissioners. Irishmen like arbitrary power when they expect it to be exercised in their own favour, and they pressed the Government to give up the words, and the Government, finding it difficult to carry them through silently, let them go. The effect of that was at one blow to sever the whole rental of Ireland from the improvement of the country. Not a farthing was laid out, upon Irish land by the landlords after they discovered this. Could a greater curse be inflicted upon any agricultural country than to separate its whole rent from the improvement of the soil? ["Hear, hear!"] It has often been said, "Oh, Irish landlords never did improve." A falsehood, an absolute falsehood. [Cheers.] In 1881 the landlords made applications for loans for the improvement of their estates to the extent of upwards of a million sterling. By the end of the year they had begun to discover the trap into which they had been led, and the applications fell to £500,000 in the second year, and in the third year they disappeared altogether. No Irish landlord is now such a fool as to lay out a single shilling on land which is occupied by a tenant. I beg your Lordships to consider what is the position in which the valuators of land in Ireland are placed. The whole object of the Act of 1881 was that there should be no eviction, and therefore the Commissioners, instead of fixing a fair rent lest it should lead to an eviction, were often driven to bring down the rent to the level of the slipshod barbarism of the tenant. It is difficult to get an idea of what principle the Commissioners are working upon, but occasionally a conversation in one of the Courts, as they are called, affords a little information. I will give you two cases which I believe to be typical. One is the case of a Sub-Commissioner, before whom came a poor man with a small holding, I think of £9 a year. It had come to the knowledge of the Sub-Commissioner that the man had actually paid a short time before £170 for the holding. The Sub-Commissioner said to the man, "Why did you give such an enormous sum for this wretched piece of land." At first the tenant denied that he had bought the holding, but ultimately confessed that he had. The Sub-Commissioner was inclined to be indignant with the tenant, and said, When you Irishmen will go about and pay these enormous amounts for wretched bits of land there is no dealing with you. Afterwards, however, he took compassion on the man and reduced his rent 30 per cent. That is to say he fined the landlord for the folly of his tenant. [Laughter.] I will give another case. One of the evils of this law, this barbarous law as I shall never cease to call it, was this, that, although the three first Commissioners were gentlemen of high character and reputation, it was evident to me that whenever a vacancy happened there would be an appointment by the Government of the day prompted more or less by political considerations. Very fortunately nobody did die in that Commission until quite lately. My noble Friends opposite were in power, and, of course, they filled up the vacancy by a friend of their own, that is to say, by a friend of the tenants. What happened? One of the first questions which came before them was that of a tenant, who asked for a reduction of his rent.


What year?


Three or four years ago. It turned out that the lease dated from 1781, and everyone knows that land in Ireland then was at a lower price than now. After considering the case the new Commissioner laid down his principle in some such terms as these:— It is very true that he and his forefathers have been in the enjoyment of this land since 1781. It may, perhaps, have been worth more, but still we must bear in mind that the tenants have kept it in tillage. If they had not it would have gone back; therefore he ought to be paid for that —for cultivating his own land! This was one of the new Sub-Commissioners, appointed, of course, by the Party opposite. There was, however, an appeal to the whole triumvirate, and they were shocked with the conduct of their brother, and his decision was over ruled. They made something like an indignant protest against the action of the new Commissioner. That is the way your law is working, and that is the way it will work unless, it is amended. Whenever there is a vacancy in the Commission there will be pressure put on the Government of the day to appoint a man of their own kidney, whether towards the landlords or tenants. It will be political jobbery from beginning to end. ["Hear, hear!"] That is what you have, by this horrid law, stereotyped and imposed upon the Irish people for ever. Look at the elections for Members of the House of Commons. Is it not notorious that the tenants are voting for the men who they think will appoint Commissioners who will reduce their rents? Was there ever such an element of corruption introduced into the blood of any people. ["Hear, hear!"] I must refer for a moment to the vote of this House. I was not present last year—I was ill—when the discussion took place. I regretted very much that my noble Friend at the head of the Government and his colleagues had not determined that in their new Bill they would restore to the Act some such clause as that which Mr. Gladstone had so improperly let go. That would have been no repeal of the Act, but I could not get some of my Irish Friends to understand its importance. Several of them told me that they would not like the Commissioners to have the power to decide what reduction should be made from the market value. They have that power now; and not only that, they first find out the value, and what the reductions are to be besides. [Laughter.] However, in this House my noble Friend succeeded in securing this, that the Commissioners were to state what the value was. He did not, indeed, dictate, as Mr. Gladstone intended to dictate, but he did require them to give the grounds and the principles on which they proceeded. That was carried by a large majority in this House, and it went in the direction of restoring the principles of civilisation and of restoring the principle of a really legal judgment to the Courts of the Commission. It is still, however, in the breast of the Judges entirely to fix the rent, and I am very much afraid that that clause which you ultimately agreed to has not produced the effect that was anticipated. The "pink paper," which at first I did not understand, is intended to show the grounds of the valuation of the Commissioners, but it does not give the data which would enable you to judge. Here is a case of 32 acres, of which 20 is good arable land. All that the Commissioner enters on the pink paper is that the land is "gravelly and clayey." There is no information here. Pure gravel is useless and pure clay also, but clay and gravel mixed may be the richest soil in the world, but this does not tell you how the facts stand. He values that at 17s. 6d. an acre. It is one of the delusions of the people of this country, which I cannot account for, that under the Act of 1881 the Irish people were secured for ever in comparatively cheap land. That is an absolute delusion. Cheap land was given to those who were holders at the time and to their families, but the dearest possible land was imposed as regards all new comers into the farms. Existing tenants were relieved from the limitations put on the selling value of tenant right. In the north of Ireland the landlords, although they had been extremely careless in allowing tenant right to rise to the degree that it did, nevertheless felt it their duty to impose limitations so that the incoming tenant should not come in a hopelessly mortgaged man. ["Hear, hear!"] On most estates there was a limitation. As far as that went it was a provision for a cheap rent for the tenant coming in. The first thing Mr. Gladstone did was to strike down that limitation. A trumpet voice was sounded in the first section of the Act—the tenant was to take the highest price he could get in the market. That was what prevented cheap land passing from one generation to another. It raised prices for those who were not in possession to the maximum. Are these not matters which should be inquired into by some means or other? Undoubtedly they are; whether by a commission—commissions are somewhat discredited at the present moment—or a Committee of this House I do not venture to say. I am disposed to think that a Committee of this House, although open to many objections—we should be told it would be a committee of landlords—yet, if it was so constituted as to examine landlords and tenants, and report upon the actual operation of the Act in this respect, it might have an important effect on the opinion of the country. I, therefore, hope that my noble Friend will act on the principle that he has laid down, that some opportunity should be given to the landlords of Ireland to make plain their case. That is not only the interest of the landlord and tenant, it is the interest of all who are concerned as to constitutional government. If this precedent passes into law as to the properties of men, why may it not be extended to their lives and liberties? I hope we shall not live to see the day when my noble Friend opposite will come forward, with benignant grace, to propose some such scheme as that. In case that day should ever come, I should certainly hope that my noble Friend will afford some opportunity to the landlords of Ireland—and to the tenantry of Ireland, for they are equally dissatisfied and equally entitled to be so, because there is no principle to go upon—to see how far this legislation has worked for the benefit of the people of Ireland and for the instruction of future ages. ["Hear, hear!"]


I shall not follow my noble Friend in his very interesting review of the Land Act and its working. I have often expressed in this House sentiments of a very similar character, and I have never seen any reason to change one of them; but this is not the opportunity in which I can discuss the Land Act. I am rather asked to discuss the working of the Land Act, and to furnish means of ascertaining whether in its operation and its administration it has been carried out so as to fulfil the intentions which Parliament had when they passed it. I cannot say that there is any want of case for such a request. The whole of the circumstances are to the Saxon eye somewhat inscrutable and obscure; but this at least is quite clear—that the landlords are very discontented with the working of the Act, and the tenants are also discontented with the working of the Act, and I do not know that you can say that an Act in that position is precisely working in a satisfactory manner. Therefore, if I had the other day any hesitation in accepting the proposal of my noble Friends it was not from any doubt that great cause for an investigation exists, or from being at all convinced that the great injustices that many of us foresaw are not in fact being carried into effect, but it is on account of the extreme difficulty of providing machinery by which, such an investigation could be carried on. I had to point out the other day that the machinery of a Royal Commission, as we understand it, works badly for the ascertainment of the truth in highly-controverted questions. We are in the habit too much of constructing them on the happy family principle, under which persons differing as much as possible are put into the same room and told to agree. [Laughter.] I do not think that in highly-controverted questions that method of investigation is likely to be successful. Unluckily this question has been now for 25 years before us, and it has been intensely controverted, and I imagine it is very difficult to find anybody in public administration, or anybody in public life whose opinions are not already well known, or, at least, whose opinions cannot be diverted from the surroundings in which he has lived. Therefore, if a Commission was constructed of persons to whom that would apply, it would inevitably be said that we were appointing a packed Commission. I feel I am unable to give at present a definitive answer. I will not bind the Government not to appoint a Commission, but at this moment, I frankly confess I have not been able to see my way to a Commission that would be satisfactory; but I wish to reserve full liberty to the Government at a somewhat later period to enter on an investigation of that kind if in its judgment the public interest can be served by it. As to the other modes of investigation to which my noble Friend has referred, I think it is easy to give a simpler answer. I think a Committee of this House would, no doubt, not be able to examine with anything like generality or width into the whole area. of the question referred to; but still, when a number of noble Peers assert to us that, these grievances exist, and that an Act passed by this House is not carried out in the way in which it was intended to be carried out, and that they think that, an investigation of these suggestions is desirable, I think they have a right to ask it, and I do not think we ought to refuse it. If my noble Friends behind me choose to move for a Committee, and will undertake a Committee in this matter, the Government will not resist them; but I do not say for a moment that I look upon an investigation of that kind as an adequate substitute for an investigation by an effective Royal Commission. My doubt, is that, an effective—a perfectly impartialx2014;Commission can at this moment be established, but, I have not the least doubt that a certain amount of aid will result from a Committee of this House, as it did result from the action of a similar Committee appointed on the Motion of Lord Donoughmore 15 years ago. That statement, however, is not an answer to the question of my noble Friend. He makes no allusion to a Committee. He speaks merely of a Royal Commission. I have only to answer that, as at present advised, the Government do not see their way to the appointment of such a body, but they reserve to themselves the liberty of agreeing to such an appointment at a later period if they think it desirable. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that in dealing with this subject he wished to look at the matter not as a landlord, but as a real lover of Ireland. He wanted to prove to their Lordships, in the first place, that in the interests of the land-owning class in Ireland were involved the interests of Ireland as a whole; in the second place, he wished to brim, before their Lordships the present condition of the land-owning class; and, in the third place, to endeavour to prove that with the ruin of the land-owning class must be bound up the absolute ruin of Ireland itself. It was a very popular and fallacious idea, which was especially held in England, that those Members of their Lordships' House who were connected with Ireland represented nothing but the landlord interest. The interest they represented was far larger. They represented the land-owning interests in all parts of Ireland, and with, those interests were bound up the interests of a very large number of people, who, though they might not be owners of land, were either directly or indirectly connected with the land. There were the mortgagees, many of whom were philanthropic and religious societies, great commercial bodies, bankers, and insurance companies, and there were the labouring classes who owed their very livelihood to their connection with the land. He agreed with the noble Duke that the position of English and Scotch landowners was entirely different to that of the Irish landowners, but, were the condition of agriculture in Ireland as depressed as it was in some parts of England and Scotland, the Irish landowners; would not say a word. They would bear the reductions forced upon them as calmly and as nobly as any other landowners; but the complaint the Irish landowners made at this moment was that their rents were reduced, not because it was necessary, but simply at the will and caprice of the Sub-Commissioners. It was somewhat difficult to compare the prices of various products in different parts of the country, but he thought that he could show that agriculture in Ireland, so far from being as depressed as in England, was in a more prosperous condition, and that the prices prevailing at the present moment compared favourably with those of some ten years ago. First of all he would compare the years 1893–95 with the years 1887–89. During the latter period agriculture in Ireland was extremely depressed, and, comparing it with the former period, there had certainly been a decrease in the price of some products, such as wheat, wool, mutton, cattle, and lambs, amounting in the average to about 5 per cent.; but there had been an increase in the price of some of the other products. There had been an increase in oats, barley, hay, potatoes, butter, pork, flax, eggs, and beef. In the case of hay the increase was no less than 40 per cent., and in potatoes 23 per cent. The total average increase was 12 per cent. It was astounding, therefore, to find that in the years 1887–1889, which were acknowledged to be years of depression, an average reduction of only 10 per cent. in rents was recorded, and that in 1893–1895, when there was a decided increase, rents should have been cut down by 27.8 per cent. In view of the enormous reduction of rents by the Sub-Commissioners one would naturally suppose that the value of tenant-right had fallen in Ireland. The contrary, however, was the case. In Ulster, in the period 1882–1895, there were 2,795 cases in which over 17½ years' purchase was given for the tenant-right. On the estates in Down, Antrim and Armagh, which were managed by Mr. Henry Barton, a well-known land agent, the prices given in 1882 in 12 cases averaged 20½ years' purchase; in 1887 the average price given in 42 sales was 24 years' purchase, and in 1896 the average price in 21 sales was 20–30 years' purchase. On Mr. Wolff's estate there was a farm the rental of which was reduced in 1897 from £23 to £12, and in March, 1896, the tenant-right fetched no less than £175. It could not be denied that the tenant-right was now commanding higher prices than it had commanded for many years past. To what was the extraordinary action of the Sub-Commissioners due? It was largely due to the fact that the land legislation gave no definite instructions to the Sub-Commissioners as to the way they were to proceed. ["Hear, hear!"] When he first declared in that House that the Land Bill of 1896 failed absolutely to define the duties of the Sub-Commissioners and was an ill-drafted and ill-considered Measure, he hardly expected that he would be corroborated in so short a time by no less a person than one of the leading Irish Judges, who had been Attorney General for Ireland in 1885 in the Administration then presided over by the present Prime Minister. In the Record Court, Monaghan, recently, Mr. Justice Holmes, giving his decision in an appeal case, said:— The 12th section of the Act has thrown all into confusion. It is a great pity they did not get someone to draft the Land Bill who knew something about the land laws. A more helpless and hopeless production I never saw. [Laughter.] What could be the reasons why the Sub-Commissioners made such extraordinary reductions? Probably one reason was that they desired to make the Land Courts attractive to the tenants, thinking that if they were not made attractive the tenants would keep away from them, with the result that the occupation of the Sub-Commissioners, like Othello's, would be gone. The Commissioners had also probably been influenced by words used by the Chief Secretary for Ireland in the Debates last year. The right hon. Gentleman said on one occasion that rents fixed in earlier years, not were too high, but ought to be reduced if revised. Then on another occasion, in June, the right hon. Gentleman said:— Of course, it was the earnest desire of the tenants that they should be enabled to enter the Courts earlier than in the ordinary course, because it was admitted that if they entered the Courts again their rents would, in all probability, be fixed lower than in the first instance. The right hon. Gentleman also observed that the hon. Member for East Mayo had quoted from the resolutions of the Presbyterian Assembly the words 'impossible rents' as applied to present rents. These rents doubtless would be 'impossible rents' if they were to be continued indefinitely, but no one entertained that idea, for under an arrangement made by Parliament in 1881 the tenants would be entitled to come into Court in due course for the re-fixing of their rents. While he did not for a moment believe that the Chief Secretary wished to bias the minds of the Sub-Commissioners, he could not help thinking that the utterances which he had quoted had influenced the Sub-Commissioners in their recent action. If it was not the right hon. Gentleman's intention that his words should be interpreted by the Sub-Commissioners in the way in which he suggested they had interpreted them, the right hon. Gentleman ought to make the matter clear. The Commissioners had probably also been influenced by the action of the Government in opposing the Amendment, moved in their Lordships' House with the object of forcing the Sub-Commissioners to give details and reasons for their reductions. The Sub-Commissioners had not acted in accordance with the spirit of that Amendment, for the reasons given by them were in many cases quite inadequate. In one case where the reduction was 35 per cent. no reason at all was assigned, and in another case where the rent was reduced by more than 50 per cent. the only reason given was that the holding "might receive injury from frost." [Laughter.] He wished to know whether the Government thought that the disappearance of the land-owning class would be to the advantage of Ireland. That class would certainly be eliminated if the Sub-Commissioners were allowed to multiply decisions such as those to which he had called attention. The land-owning class said very little, as the noble Marquess had pointed out on a recent occasion, when he remarked that they had not advertised their grievances.


No; I did not say that exactly. What I did say was that they were a class who did not complain, but went to the wall in these days. [Laughter.]


thought that amounted to much the same thing. The other day, in a speech delivered by Mr. James Wilson, a typical instance was given of the fate of Irish landowners now. He said that 20 years ago an eldest son was left an estate producing £1,000 a year, but there was a mortgage on the estate, and annuities were charged upon it, so that the son's income was brought down to £500. The first time the Commission went round they made a reduction of 20 per cent., which meant a reduction of from £500 to £300 in income; and anyone could imagine the anxiety and terror of the landlord as he looked forward to the next revision, which might, leave him almost destitute. Such cases were very numerous, and were especially hard in the case of ladies, owners of small properties, with very limited incomes. Was it for the benefit of Ireland that the landlord class should be eliminated from Ireland? He said, without hesitation, it was not for the benefit of Ireland; but, on the contrary, if landlords were eliminated from Ireland, from that date might be traced the ruin and downfall of Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] At the present moment there were a certain class he—did not think they were very numerous—who would welcome the expatriation of Irish landlords. Would it be for the benefit of Ireland? Undoubtedly' it would not. No doubt their places might be taken by those who hut endeavoured to expatriate them, and, in the course of time, those who now occupied the land might be its owners but we must look a little further ahead, and he asked, would those owners be permitted to retain it? There was a class below the present occupiers, the labouring class, who possessed votes, and their argument would be simple. "You have sunk capital in the land, but we have sunk labour, and we have as much right to obtain a share of the land. We will expatriate you as you expatriated the preceding class. We have votes, and we will return Members to Parliament who will expatriate you, and we shall obtain our share of the land." A pauper proprietary would occupy what is now prosperous agricultural Ireland, it proprietary without capital, absolutely unable to develop the resources of the land, unable to give employment, absolutely unable to borrow money, for he did not suppose for a moment that England would be so utterly foolish as to pledge her credit and advance money to a ruined country for a bankrupt, industry. ["Hear, hear!"] History tells us that after a certain period of time property invariably finds its way again into few hands, and it would be so in this case, but not into the hands of owners, who, whatever might be said, were respected by the Irish people, but into the hands of the gombeen men—the men who advanced money at usurious rates of interest. ["Hear, hear!"] What would be the state of Ireland then? Agricultural land gone entirely out of cultivation, for the reasons he had brought forward, and, he would venture to say, it would take a century of hard work and immense sums of money to bring back Ireland to the condition in which it is at the present moment. ["Hear, hear!"] Consequently it was absolutely essential for the interest of Ireland, putting the land-owning interest on one side, to retain a landlord class in the country. All the landlord class asked was that a Commission should be appointed merely to inquire into the facts, whether they are being justly or unjustly treated, whether it is necessary to retain them or to expatriate them. A Royal Commission, difficult though it might be to obtain, would be the means of eliciting the facts; Committee, of the House would be regarded with prejudice by the people of Ireland as representing a House of landlords. But whatever was done should be done quickly. A Commission should inquire into these extraordinary reductions of rent. If these were fair the landlord class would be the Last to object, but if they proved, as he venture I to say they would be proved, unfair, then, surely, no lover of justice in the Three Kingdoms would refuse the just rights of even an unfortunate Irish landlord. ["Hear, bear!"] The Prime Minister, at the head of so strong a majority, could do virtually what he liked; and it would be matter of keen regret to those who so loyally supported him, and worked as they did to secure that great Majority in 1895, if that great majority should prove to have been bought by the sacrifice of the land-owning interest of Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he was led to interpose in the discussion by the answer given by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister had alluded to the difficulty of finding an impartial court of inquiry, and said that it was difficult to bring together impartial men on a Royal Commission, but he offered to accept, on a Motion from any one of their Lordships, what, on the whole, would be a more objectionable body for an inquiry—a Committee of the House. As had just been said by the noble Marquess (Lord Londonderry), the confidence of the people would not be attracted to such a body or its Report. In the words of the resolution passed by the Landowners' Conference in Dublin, landlords and tenants are entitled to know the methods and principle adopted by the Land Commission in fixing rents. He fully indorsed that. He did not wish in any way to have the inquiry from the landlords' side only. Tenants were fully entitled to the information how rents were fixed, and landlords how they were to be reduced; but the main point was, and the cause of complaint of the operation of the Land Act was, the method and principle pursued. He desired to cast no slur on the bonâ fides and honesty of the Sub-Commissioners, who, no doubt, were exposed to great temptation, from the fact that their appointments were temporary and the applications came mainly from the tenants, and they made their business from them but what he did believe, and allege, was, that the class of Sub-Commissioners now appointed were not, from their previous careers, capable of fixing the value of land on true principles. The Prime Minister alluded to the difficulty of forming a Commission of impartial men; but there were experts and professional gentlemen fully capable of conducting an inquiry, or, if not, of giving evidence before a Commission, but he would prefer they should be members of the Commission, in order to put test questions as to the method employed in valuing land, and who, from their own experience in valuing land in England and Scotland, knew the true principle on which valuation should proceed. He did not desire to trouble their Lordships at length; he put forward this suggestion in the hope that the Government would consider the propriety of appointing a Commission of experts. He hoped that a motion for a Committee of their Lordships' House would not be made.


endorsed the appeal for immediate attention being given to this subject, and gave instances which had come within his knowledge illustrating what was now going on in Ireland in relation to land tenure. These instances occurred on an estate which was certainly not rackrented, an estate which, in former days, was held to be a model of what a well, liberally-managed, low-rented estate should be, an estate rented at 14 per cent. below Griffiths' valuation. In 1881 a farm on the estate was rented at £26; the tenant went into the Land Court, and the rent was reduced to £22. At the end of the statutory term a fresh application was made to the Court, and a further reduction was made to £16. On the same estate, and almost at the same time, the tenantright or goodwill of a farm, held under a judicial rent of £17, was put up for auction, and was sold for £380, a fraction under 23 years' purchase, and the occupier now paid £14 or £15 a year, for it was not to be supposed that he borrowed under 4 per cent. for the privilege of holding a farm for which he paid another £17 in rent. In the face of sales of tenantright like this, how could the enormous reductions in rent be justified? There could be no doubt that, under the operation of the Land Act, Ireland was fast becoming more rackrented than in the days before the Land Act passed. Who was benefited by this? Not the landlords, who, in many instances, were saddled with impoverished tenants; certainly not the incoming tenants, who in many cases—perhaps in nine cases out of ten—had to borrow money from the gombeen men at enormous rates of interest; certainly not the community at large, who were interested in land being farmed to the best advantage. The only man who was benefited was the outgoing tenant, who departed for America or the colonies with the money which should be applied to the development of the resources of the land of Ireland. In illustration of the necessity for inquiry, he might mention that there was a widespread feeling in Ireland that in giving these enormous reductions the Commissioners allowed a large sum of money for what was called the "occupation interest." He had looked through all those pink schedules which had been issued and withdrawn, and he found no mention of "occupation interest" in them; nor in filling up the schedules had any of the Sub-Commissioners, he believed, made any allusion to the "occupation interest." But if it was not for that they were given, on what account were these enormous reductions made? Certainly they were not due to any fall in prices, although there might have been a certain fall since the Act was passed. With regard to the form of the inquiry to be held, he agreed with the noble Lord who spoke last that a Committee of their Lordships' House would not be the best form. If it were possible to appoint a small committee of experts, say three or five, taken from the class his noble Friend had indicated, he believed it would be the most satisfactory solution of this question. But, whatever was done, he hoped it would be done at once, because this was a matter which brooked of no delay. Precedents were being established which would have a disastrous effect on the whole of the landed property throughout Ireland, and, if they were to save the landlords from the ruin that was impending, whatever they did must be done quickly.


I do not propose to enter into a defence of the Land Act of 1881 or of the Land Act which was passed last year by Her Majesty's Government, but I should like to make one or two observations with regard to statements made by various speakers. The noble Marquess opposite has spoken of what he appears to fear to be the approaching ruin of Irish landlords. I agree with much the noble Marquess has said as to the influence which one class in Ireland has on another, just as one class in England has on other classes who live on the land. But when we hear of the approaching ruin by the reductions of rent of the landlords in Ireland, I would venture to point out that exactly the same thing might be said of the landlords of this country. ["Hear, hear!"] This comes home to me with great force as an English proprietor of land of some extent, and though I cannot go into the deductions that have been made in Ireland, I know that in this country the deductions since 1879 far exceed, on the great bulk of estates, the deductions quoted by the noble Marquess. The deductions are enormous. I know estates where certainly the net rental has diminished over 60 per cent. I know others where a large diminution in the net rental has taken place. That is, larger than any deductions that have been quoted from Ireland. I am not for a moment going to say that the position is exactly the same, but at the same time, if you are talking of the coming ruin of landlords in Ireland on account of the heavy reductions of rent, I am afraid the same argument will apply with equal force to the landlords in England. We hear a great deal of prairie rental in Ireland. I will venture to say that on estate after estate in England the present rent which the landlord receives is only an interest, and a low interest, on the improvements which he and his immediate predecessors have made on the estate, and that he practically gets no rent from the land at all. I do not wish to pursue this subject, but I only thought it was right to give a note of warning. I do not wish to do it with any disrespect to the Irish landlords. I fully admit, and I always have admitted, that there are many Irish landlords who have done their duty to their tenantry as well as any English or Scotch landlords—["hear, hear!"]—but I thought it as well to point this out, otherwise a very false impression might arise. The noble Duke opposite made some very strong remarks indeed with regard to the Land Commissioners in Ireland. He talked of them as "falsely called Judges," and, though I could hardly believe my ears, I rather thought he called their action arbitrary and licentious. ["Hear, hear!"] I should have liked to ask the noble Duke, who I am sorry to see is not now in his place, to point out where the license in their action has been, and I should like to know who these Commissioners are. The noble Duke did do honour to the three first of these Commissioners. They were submitted to Parliament, and he apparently approved of them. I happened to know them very well when I was in Ireland from 1882 to 1885, but he said that the appointment of their successors had been a series of—I think he used the expression—political jobs from beginning to end. I should like to know who has appointed the present Commissioners. Two out of the three who were new to him had been appointed by the Government presided over by the noble Marquess. ["Hear, hear!"] I think it is only fair to the Land Commissioners to answer those statements of the noble Duke. With regard to the question on the Paper, I should like to say that the noble Duke with great diplomacy alluded only to the Land Act of 1881, and not to the most recent Land Act. No doubt he avoids some pitfalls in asking his question by putting it in that form, but I would venture to lay this down, that it is impossible at this time of day to discuss the principles or the administration of the Act of 1881 without discussing the principles and the administration of the Act of last Session. I rejoice to hear that the noble Marquess does not intend to appoint a Commission at present, and he gave some very weighty reasons for it. My friends on the Bench where I sit would certainly oppose with all the strength we have—we have very little power, I confess—in this House the appointment of a Commission or of a Committee, especially of this House, to inquire into the administration of the Land Acts. It seems to me that you are doing what children sometimes do—pulling up a plant to see how it is going on. That process kills the plant, and I hope the noble Marquess will not attempt to follow that example in this case. I will venture to say our great object should be to strengthen and make as impartial as possible this tribunal, which is, after all, a judicial body. I venture to think that by having these inquiries time after time, and immediately after an Act is passed, you throw a considerable odium on the Commissioners, and you destroy their impartiality and their position. You must remember this—that if one side attacks these Judges the other side will do the same, and they will be put in an exceedingly invidious position, derogatory, I think, to their judgments and to the position which they ought to hold as Land Commissioners in Ireland.


said he had not intended taking any part in the Debate until he had his attention drawn to the remark of the noble Earl Spencer, in which he compared the condition of English landlords with that of Irish landlords. He well remembered that when he asked a question in their Lordships' House on, he thought, the 17th of last July, he pointed out the substantial difference between the case of the English and of the Irish landlords. In Ireland the reductions were made on grass land as well as on other lands, while in England, if he understood the case correctly, the great reductions were made, broadly speaking, on wheat land and not on grass land; and on that occasion he did not remember that there was any dispute as to the facts and figures which he laid before their Lordships. It seemed to him a most extraordinary thing to have the Prime Minister of England, in answer to a request for an inquiry into the working of the Act of 1881, declaring as an excuse for not granting it immediately that there was very great difficulty in finding men who could be trusted to impartially deal with this matter. That was one of the most extraordinary declarations he supposed he should ever hear in that House. He should have thought that there were so many people in England who wanted to do justice, that the difficulty would be to select them. It was here simply a case of the Act of 1881 having gone astray in the working. He did not wish, any more than other noble Lords, to reflect on the honour or ability of the Sub-Commissioners. He dare say they did their duty to the very best of their ability; but he wanted to ask, when they found a concensus of opinion amongst some of the most learned people in Ireland on Irish land matters, that there was great difficulty in reading what the law actually was and how it could be carried out, was it wonderful if they found men who were not learned in these matters, who found it really difficult to know how they could keep themselves within the four corners of the Act? He earnestly hoped that if any inquiry were granted it would not be made by a Committee of their Lordships' House, because he felt that the responsibility of the decision should rest on people against whom it could not be said, however wrong it might be to say it, that they were landlords, and, therefore, biassed in their decision.


said that the noble Viscount seemed to think there had not been large reductions upon grass land in England. Though he did not come from a district where grass land was plentiful, he knew that the reductions of the rents of some of the best grass lands in England had been extremely large.


Are those reductions for 15 years?


said that, speaking as a landlord, he would be extremely glad if he saw any probability of an early change which would be likely to bring back the rents they had received previously. The only other remark he wished to make was as to the observation of the noble Marquess that in many cases the tenants complained of the decisions as well as the landlords. Was that not an argument in favour of the partiality of the Commissioners? There was nothing better known than that, in matters of this kind, when neither party was satisfied, the probability was that the best decision had been arrived at.


Is it not possible that a decision is in one direction in one case and in another direction in another case?


said the case of England was altogether different to that of Ireland. In England, reductions were the visitation of God, and were arrived at by bargain between the landlord and tenant, but in Ireland the reductions were made by a most unprincipled tribunal. He said this wittingly and willingly, he might almost say, on the instructions of the noble Marquess at the head of the Government. [A laugh.] The noble Marquess had said they were to speak out. He meant to speak out. [The PRIME MINISTER: "Hear, hear!"] In England if the sun shone and prices improved rents would go up. In Ireland never under the iniquitous Land Commission. A more improper tribunal for the purpose than the Land Commission was never thought of. They would like a commission of experts, but, if that was not obtainable, he hoped the noble Duke would move for a Committee, for that, at all events, would elicit some information.


said the noble Lord professed to be carrying out the advice given by the noble Marquess. He did not understand that advice to be that the Irish landlords should abuse the land tribunals; but that was what the noble Lord had done in very strong and vigorous language. The noble Marquess suggested that the Irish landlords should make known their wrongs, but wrong was not established by the use of strong language in regard to those who had to administer the law. ["Hear, hear!"]


, in reply, said he thought an Inquiry by Commission, whether Royal or not, would be far preferable to an Inquiry by a Committee of their Lordships' House, and he suggested that the best Commission that could be found would be a Commission of three Irish Judges. What was wanted was an Inquiry that would elicit sound evidence. Get true evidence from the witnesses; and he could not but think that the most powerful Commission would be one such as he suggested.


said it was very necessary that the Inquiry should take place speedily, for it was not only that rents were being reduced every day, but that tenants, in view of the enormous reductions being made, refused to come to any settlement out of Court. That added greatly to the expense of the litigation which must take place on every estate, and which the landlords of Ireland were badly able to bear.

House Adjourned at Twenty-five Minutes past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'Clock.