To move to resolve that the Report of the Fry Commission having condemned a large portion of the procedure heretofore adopted under the Irish Land Acts, it is desirable that immediate steps should be taken to give a fair trial to the reforms and alternative procedure recommended by that Commission."—(Marquess of Abercorn.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF ABERCORN
My Lords, in bringing the Motion standing in my name, I must express regret for bringing this matter, at so late a period in the Session, before your Lordships' House, but the question is a very momentous one, and affects hundreds and thousands of people in Ireland—not only landlords, but tenants also, for the tenants are equally complaining with the other class at the inequality, expense, and injustice of the present proceedings of the Land Commission Courts. Now, my Lords, the Report of the Fry Commission was issued in February last, and since that time we have been waiting for some expression from the Government with regard to this Report, whether they would endeavour to carry out the suggestions and recommendations contained in it; but their utterances have been of small moment, and of no specific character, until the question was raised in the House of Commons on the 15th inst., by Colonel Saunderson. In his speech on that occasion the Chief Secretary for Ireland quoted passages to prove that the Fry Commission had acquitted the Land Commissioners of deliberate bias or unfairness in the fixing of rents, but we made no such charge against them in presenting our case before the Commission. He also referred to other passages in the Report in terms which convey the impression that he regarded them as a 177 finding by the Commission that rents had not, as a rule, been excessively reduced. We think, my Lords, that these passages bear no such construction. They really only convey that on this large question the Commission had not been able to arrive at any general conclusion. We are not surprised at this, for they admit that they only visited 10 farms in all Ireland, of which five were small holdings in the congested districts. None of these farms were selected by us as instances of our complaints; we do not know where most of them were, nor whether the landlords of them regarded the reductions which had been made as excessive, except in one case. These points, however, are, perhaps, details which could be more properly dealt with in a longer Debate than we anticipate on the present occasion. Our chief object now is to press upon the Government our view that, although there may be a few passages in the Report of the Corn-mission which may seem to some minds not entirely in our favour, we say, without hesitation, that, as a whole, the Report strongly and unanimously bears out the truth of our complaints, and makes recommendations calculated, in the opinion of the Commissioners, to put matters on a better footing. The Irish landlords accordingly urge that these recommendations should have a fair trial. They went to great expense in collecting evidence and employing counsel. They had always been calling for such an inquiry. If it had turned out that their complaints were unfounded, their position would have been very serious and humiliating. They took the risk of all this. They submitted their case to a mixed tribunal, presided over by a brilliant and impartial lawyer and publicist, whose opinions command universal respect. As regards previously expressed sympathies with either landlord or tenant, the Commission was fairly representative. The result of their most laborious inquiry has been a most remarkable document, signed by every one of them, which shows that, in addition to the flagrant wrong inflicted on the Irish landowner by depriving him of the control of his property, the administration of the Acts has been of the character complained of by the Irish landlords. The fact is that the charges made over 178 and over again, in this House and elsewhere, have been proved home. As I have said, we never alleged personal corruption against the Land Commission or its officials, and we did not make any such charge before the Commission. The answer that is now attempted to be made to us is this—The Commissioners are proved to have been acting bonâ fide, and therefore you have nothing to complain of.This answer is founded on sentences in the Report, of which the following is one, and your Lordships will see it on page 26 of the Eeport—But we are also convinced that the administration of justice has not been poisoned by any systematic endeavour on the part of the Commissioners, or of the Assistant Commissioners to benefit either side at the expense of the other.But this answer is clearly answered by the first part of the same sentence, which is as follows—The settlement of fair rents has been effected in an unsatisfactory manner—with diversity of opinion and practice, sometimes with carelessness, and sometimes with that bias towards one side or the other which exists in many honest minds.The Commissioners admit that, in their opinion, the settlement has been effected in an unsatisfactory manner, and we have proved that these great changes involved ruinous loss on hundreds, and have been made on no principle whatever; that every sub-commission "was a law unto itself," and "has done what was right in its own eyes." The landowners also proved that the appeal to the Chief Commissioners was little better than a farce, inasmuch as the court to hear appeals from sub-commissioners was merely registering the valuation of other sub-commissioners—called court valuers—whose valuations were not liable to be tested in any way in the superior courts. As regards this question, we simply ask that the Land Commission should give a trial to the form of procedure which has been recommended by the Fry Commission. The subject is technical, but, fortunately, the Commission included two gentlemen whose professional opinions on such a question, are of the highest value, and 179 they say, inter alia, that, as tests of the correctness of the first valuation, the appeal valuers should proceed as follows—
Now, we challenge the Land Commission to try this system, and we do so because we hear it said that if they did try it the discrepancies and differences in many cases between the two sets of valuations would be most extraordinary, and would totally discredit the whole procedure, by showing that it is, as we have always alleged, merely a farce. But if it is really a farce, we ask, are the Land Commission entitled to refuse to allow its true character to be exposed and proved, and are we to continue to suffer by their refusal? I need not, my Lords, recapitulate the other numerous abuses of which the Irish landlord has been the victim. The Report of the Commission sets them forth in an authoritative way that cannot be challenged. Public attention has at last been, called to the subject, and I am convinced that it is incumbent upon the Government to give effect to the Report at the earliest possible moment. No matter what devices are resorted to in order to minimise the effect of this Report, no reasonable man can form any other opinion than this, that Sir Edward Fry and his brother commissioners, after thoroughly mastering the subject, arrived at the conclusion that the administration of the Acts had been most unsatisfactory from beginning to end. But it may be asked: how are these recommendations to be carried into effect? We all quite recognise that it is impossible to go back on the land legislation of past years. The right of having rents fixed by an outside tribunal, the right of fixity of tenure, and the right of free sale are now secured to the tenant, and are unassailable; but what we demand is, that in securing such rights for the tenants, some regard should be had to the rights of the landlords also. For you must remember that it is at their expense you have conferred all these benefits on the tenants, without a shilling of compensation to the land- 180 lord. Effect can be given to these recommendations in nine cases out of 10 by the Land Commission framing rules, and without any fresh legislation on this subject. I am very glad to observe that the Land Commission have already, in their rules, adopted some of the suggestions of the Commission, and I hope that in the interests of justice they will adopt many more. But rules will not give effect to all the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I quite acknowledge the great trouble taken by the Chief Secretary in selecting sub-commissioners, but I think that they ought to be obliged to pass an examination in the subjects with which they have to deal, as recommended by the Royal Commission. I am convinced that if such a Commission existed in England, the examination for sub-commissioners to apply the Act would be a very crucial one in this country. Some of the recommendations can only be carried into effect by legislation. On that, for the present, I do not wish to speak. It is a delicate subject to touch on, as the Irish landowner has almost been legislated out of existence. The Royal Commissioners were unable to deal with the notorious 40th section of the Act of 1896. The great argument in the Court of Appeal was then pending. I feel certain, if they had known the result, the Commissioners would have suggested the repeal of that section. I think nearly everybody in this House understood the section in the sense put upon it by the dissentient judges.
- "(1) They should not be furnished with the pink schedule, but should be furnished with a map and description of the property; and
- "(2) They should not know the findings of the Court below."
§ THE MARQUESS OF ABERCORN
Well, lawyers are not infallible. If my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had expounded it as he afterwards did in the Court of Appeal, the section would have been struck out of the Bill by this House without hesitation. I do not think it just that what was passed under a mistake should be allowed to remain on the Statute Book. I also consider the recommendations of the Fry Commission on the subject of purchase of great weight. Your legislation in Ireland has reduced the Irish Land Laws to such a state that purchase is the only 181 remedy. You owe it to those whose property the State has diminished or destroyed, that the State should go very far in providing remedies, or some remedy, at any rate. I have, my Lords, only spoken of the matters dealt with in the Report in a general way. I have not gone into specific particulars. Other speakers will probably deal with these points, but I venture to hope that what I have said has satisfied this House that such a report calls for the earliest possible attention. I understand that in his speech in the House of Commons the Chief Secretary for Ireland promised that the recommendations of the Commission would have his careful attention during the Recess. I have heard this with great satisfaction, and I willingly admit that the calls on the right honourable Gentleman's time during the present Session were such as to make it, perhaps, difficult for him to undertake additional work; but, my Lords, I am bound to remember, also, that the maladministration which the Report discloses is ruining thousands of Irish landowners, and I feel sure that this fact will appear to your Lordships to justify my urging that such action as the Government may be able to take should be taken without any unnecessary delay. But, my Lords, while urging this, I must also say that these reforms can never compensate the Irish landlords for the injuries inflicted on them by this legislation. I, therefore, earnestly trust that next Session will see a serious effort on the part of the Government to give us some of those measures of compensation or relief which have been so often promised to us, especially as regards tithe-rent charge, and other State charges in Ireland. These, I know, my Lords, are very difficult and intricate matters, but they are subjects very dear at heart to the Irish landowners, and if the Government during the Recess would undertake to legislate next Session on some of these points, I am sure that they would meet with the universal approval, not only of the landowning class in Ireland, but also of the tenant farmers as well.
Bearing in mind, as I do, the short time that has taken place since I took my seat in your Lord- 182 ships' House, I rise with considerable diffidence to address you in this Debate, and I should not have done so were it not for my sense of the vital importance of this question, and also to the fact that we are quite alive to the fact that the opportunities which are given to land lords to vindicate their position, and express their feelings before the Government, are few and far between. I therefore crave your Lordships' indulgence while I endeavour to point out to you a few of the many causes for which we have every reason to express our dissatisfaction with the mode of the sub-commissioners, and the manner in which our criticisms from time to time have been borne out by the findings of the Fry Commission. My Lords, there is one thing, I think, that we may take as fairly established, and that is that the action of the Commissioners has pleased no one. The landlords are certainly not satisfied with them, and the tenants have no confidence in them. In the recent Debate in another place, I was struck by the unanimity with which Members representing the tenants' interest spoke with little confidence of the sub-commissioners, and the manner in which they performed their duties. It is true that they spoke of the sub-commissioners as being packed in favour of the landlords. It is true that they said that they were terrorised into not reducing the rents enough by fear of, what I do not exactly accept, their action being criticised in public. Well, it has been pronounced to be unsatisfactory by the Fry Commission, which was appointed to inquire into it. Now they say that the Commission is suspected by the landlords of reducing rents—of unfairly reducing rents—in favour of the tenants, and that it is suspected by the tenants of not reducing them enough, and that on all sides its action is not free from suspicion. They regret that this suspicion exists. It is our contention that a tribunal such as this should be raised far above the suggestion of any criticism, and it should be one in which all parties should have perfect confidence. It is a remarkable thing, and I think it shows in very strong characters the perseverance of the present Members of the Front Benches in both Houses of Parliament, that 12 years ago they prophesied 183 exactly what has come about as the result of the legislation of the year 1881. We were told then that the Sub-Commissioners would not be such as to command respect. We were told that they should be men of judicial training, and that, under that Bill, litigation would be incessant, universal, and lead to angry feelings. In fact, if we were to go through those speeches of the members of the then Opposition, we should find that their prophecies have been fulfilled to a very remarkable extent. We are told also, my Lords, by the head Commissioners themselves that the Commission is not as satisfactory as it should be. Even they admit that, in many points, it is capable of improvement. Commissioner FitzGerald, in his evidence, said—I do not know what other qualifications we could have prescribed, except the qualification of being competent surveyors.But surely there are many qualifications in valuing land which should go hand-in-hand with a thorough knowledge of the value of land, besides that of being a competent surveyor. Mr. Commissioner FitzGerald goes on to say that he does not think such a staff would have been procurable. In another part of his evidence he states—I quite acknowledge that if you could get men who, in addition to being good surveyors, were also good valuers, it would be best; but you cannot get a sufficient number of men so qualified.And, again—I think it is desirable that everyone should be permanent, but in this case it is absolutely impracticable and impossible.Now, Commissioner O'Brien disagrees with this. He says, in the first place—The duty of defining the qualifications of assistant commissioners is distinctly placed upon the Land Commission, but they have practically prescribed no qualification—practical acquaintance with the value of land is a very vague qualification.In another place he says—If it did not suit the Treasury to appoint them for a long period, I think they should, at all events, be given a reasonable tenure of their office. I would recommend that they 184 should have a tenure of office of at least six or seven years.That is a very different treatment from the treatment which the Assistant Commissioners receive now. They are often paid by the year, and sometimes only by the day. He goes on to say—I do not think there would be any difficulty whatever in obtaining a sufficient supply of competent men. I do not agree with the evidence of Mr. Commissioner FitzGerald at all. In my opinion, there are numbers of men who are practically acquainted with the value of land in Ireland, and who also have a competent knowledge of surveying.Our contention is that, in cases like this, where hundreds of millions of property have been transferred from the owners to the occupier, we have a right to assume that the tribunal shall be one of the most competent, with the highest qualifications which are procurable in the country. I should like to touch upon one point which I omitted in an earlier part of my remarks, and that is the point in which those who represent the feelings of the tenants have brought an accusation against the Sub-Commissioners which we, as landlords, would never have thought of bringing forward, and it is a very remarkable one. It is this: that the appointment of the Fry Commission and their investigations have had an appreciable effect upon the Sub-Commissioners, and have restrained them from reducing rents to the extent that they had previously done. That is a very grave accusation indeed. It was made in the House of Commons by Serjeant Hemphill. He is reported as saying that—He believed that the Sub-Commissioners were honourable men, who tried to do their duty, but they could not help feeling that at any time they might be dismissed from their office. Since the Commission had reported, the reductions of rent had suddenly ceased, and he could not help connecting the two things.Before the Fry Commission Mr. Harrington said—There is a strong impression among the tenantry of Ireland that the Sub-Commissioners can be influenced by the court procedure here, or by questions proved here, to alter their practice, and so alter it as to prevent them from discharging their duty—a duty which we call upon them to discharge impartially towards the tenants and landlords alike.185 Sir E. Fry said—Surely that is a very grave charge to make against the Sub-Commissioners; they are not to be frightened by the mere putting of questions to them while before this Commission. That is the gravest charge I have yet heard against them.If that is true, if that is the fact that, upon the first breath of public examination, upon the first glimmer of the searchlight of public investigation, the Sub-Commissioners have altered their procedure and have altered the rate at which they are reducing the rents, I say that that, and that alone, is sufficient to prove that they are an incompetent tribunal, and one in which we can have no confidence. When we are discussing the question of the probability of providing a sufficient number of competent men, I should like to point out to your Lordships one way in which, if it had been adopted from the beginning, so large a number of men would not have been required, and had those men been more competent they would have had less to do. The State, in its wisdom, decreed that the right of free contract was no longer to exist between occupiers and owners in Ireland. The State took upon itself the task of fixing fair rents between them, and, having done so, and accepted that great responsibility which then devolved upon the State, I maintain that the State should spare neither pains nor money in order to make the tribunal which they have appointed for the purpose as efficient as possible. But will it be believed that the State, having taken that great responsibility upon itself, having appointed a special tribunal for the express purpose of fixing fair rents, from that day to this no single individual can tell you what is meant by "fair rent"? It is a phrase which conveys no meaning, and you can find no meaning attaching to it, if you endeavour to inquire into it. Speaking on this subject in the Lower House, the Chief Secretary said—No rent can be fixed that both landlord and tenant would agree upon as fair.That remark I thoroughly endorse. It would be indeed a new departure in the history of litigation if a tribunal could be established under which, after verdict 186 or judgment had been given, both parties would come away equally satisfied. That is not the point in this case. It is not the establishing of the rent which will satisfy all parties after it has been fixed, but it is the establishing of such principles of fixing that rent that, when the landlords and tenants come into court, they shall know on what general principles and under what rules they are going to be judged. In the pink schedule, a copy of which I have in my hand, we find minute particulars on the right-hand side giving the deductions to be made for buildings, fences, and other improvements made by the tenant, but on the left-hand side, where the gross rent from which those reductions are to be made is laid down, no particulars are given, excepting merely what the Sub-Commissioner's opinion is as to the value per acre of the land. It does not say how he arrives at that opinion. It does not say what is the gross productive area of the land, what proportion should be given to the landlord. It does not say what the actual definition of fair rent is; and what we claim, my Lords, is that, when we are presented with this carven image in the shape of a fair fixed rent, we shall know more particularly what the original block was from which that image was hewed—what were its dimensions, and how those dimensions were arrived at. We maintain that a clear and accurate definition of what is meant by a fair rent should have been laid down and publicly made known; and the process by which that rent was to be arrived at, and the factors that were to be taken into consideration in giving it, should have been embodied in a carefully drawn code of instructions for the guidance of the Sub-Commissioners and the information of the public. If that had been done, instead of sending out some 80 Sub-Commissioners coming from different parts of the country—from different professions, of different social standing, and mode of living—each individual one to work out as best he could some workable definition of a fair rent, and how it was to be arrived at, I venture to say the difficulty as to finding efficient Sub-Commissioners would not have arisen; a smaller number would have been able to do the work, because, if once for all we knew exactly upon 187 what principles those fair rents were arrived at, we could form a very good estimate as to what the finding of the Sub-Commissioners would be, and in numberless cases which have gone into court a settlement would have been arrived at outside; and, more than that, if a smaller number of more competent men had been appointed in the capacity or Sub-Commissioners—men who would have commanded more confidence on ell sides—then a few findings in some districts would have been taken as precedents in others, and there would have been more settlements out of court in view of those findings. The Fry Commission itself, when it was examining into the method of fixing fair rents, absolutely came to a standstill, although they had for their own purposes defined a general idea what a fair rent was. They say, on page 20 of their Report—The discussion into which we have been compelled to enter with regard to the practice in the ascertainment of fair rent has led us some way towards an explanation for ourselves of the meaning to be attributed to the two words 'fair rent.' We repeat that we have throughout felt that one of the most important questions on which we were required by your Majesty to express our opinion is, how far the present practice and methods of valuation carry into effect the intention of the Legislature in the fixing of fair rent; and, further, that it was impossible for us to answer that question without explaining to ourselves the meaning which we placed on the words. We should have hailed with the greatest satisfaction a judicial explanation of the words 'fair rent'; but in default of this we have done our best to understand them; and it is right that we should state the conclusion at which we have arrived.It was absolutely necessary to them, in order to inquire into the proceedings of the Sub-Commissioners, to satisfy themselves upon some definition as to what a fair rent was, and yet we have those Sub-Commissioners going over the country for 16 or 17 years settling rents, and during the whole of that time such a definition has never been laid down or given to them for their instruction or guidance. While a Commission of specially qualified experts were compelled to formulate for their own guidance as to what was meant by a gross fair rent in order to enable them to proceed with their investigation, the Sub-Commis- 188 sioners, not specially qualified, have for 16 years been light-heartedly transferring property to the amount or millions from owner to occupier without any such definition and without any rules for their general guidance. We can imagine, then, the dissatisfaction, the anxiety, and the uncertainty which the landlord feels when he goes into a Sub-Commissioner's court. The whole thing partakes of something of the nature or a gamble. The tenants' hopes have been raised so high as to the amount of extra deductions they will get, that they refuse to assent to any settlement offered by the landlord, and the landlord is debarred by the extravagant demands made by the tenants from settling out of court. The uncertainty as to what the finding of the Sub-Commissioner will be, the impossibility of forming any idea as to what the decision may be, has turned the whole thing into a gamble, so they trust to the turn of the cards and the humour of the situation. When the Sub-Commissioner has heard all the evidence, he leaves the town where he heard the case, and judgment is delivered in some town miles away. The landlord receives the information on the face of a halfpenny card, and all he knows is that, whereas heretofore he had been receiving a rent of £30, he is now to receive only £20. Naturally, he feels indignant, and, naturally, he appeals for a rehearing. And now we will pass to the head court and its procedure. The case comes before the head Commissioners, and a gentleman, who is called a court valuer, is appointed to go and view the farm. This is a rehearing of the case, and we expect to have an independent judgment upon the oases, but what do we find? We find that this court valuer, who is supposed to be independent, in settling the case, is provided with the pink schedule, which is filled up by the Sub-Commissioners in the court below. He goes with that in his hands; he examines the farm, and in many cases—almost every one—he merely says "ditto" to the Sub-Commissioners. Between the time of the first inspection of the Sub-Commissioners and the time that the pink schedule is in the hands of the landlord or his representative, the delay is so great that it is practically 189 of no use to him, and the Fry Commission Reports—By the rules now in force a period of two months is given after the making of a fair rent order by a Sub-Commission for either party to demand a rehearing; and a right is also given to obtain a copy of the pink schedule on payment of a fee. It is evident that no wise litigant would determine whether or not to apply for a rehearing without seeing this schedule; and yet it appears that there are frequent delays in furnishing it to the litigants, and delays often of considerable length, sometimes so long as to preclude the possibility of considering its contents before a rehearing is asked for. This also appears to us to be a subject of just complaint, and in our opinion, the officers of the Land Commission should be required to send the copy within a specified number of days after receipt of the application for it.So that the document which is supposed to be given to the landlord to enable him to decide upon what grounds his case is settled, and whether it has been fairly decided or not, very often does not come into his hands until it is too late for him to be guided by it as to whether he should appeal or not. Now as to the method of rehearing. The first remark of the Fry Commission is, no witness, with, perhaps, a single expert, has spoken in defence of the existing system. That is the system by which this court valuer is sent out with the pink schedule in his hands to arrive at the valuation of the farm. They are pleased to call him an independent valuer, and he is furnished with two forms, A and B, which he is to fill in and observe; he is furnished with an alternative form of report; the one form, A, stating shortly an agreement in omnibus with the findings of the pink schedule, and the other form, B, which they were directed to use if they saw reason to differ substantially from the pink schedule. The court valuer has absolutely, on many occasions, simply copied the pink schedule. That is proved beyond a doubt from the Report—The investigation of the court valuer, as hitherto carried on, cannot be considered an independent one. He generally considered himself bound by the decision of the Sub-Commission as to what improvements were to be allowed for; he admittedly accepted much on the strength of the pink schedule under appeal, and he was left at liberty to determine for himself what is a substantial difference from the previous findings.190 We have a record of a case in which a very remarkable thing occurred, which has been already alluded to, in which, the tenant gave his evidence in terms of the Irish perch; and in converting the Irish perch into statute perches, instead of making the calculation at the ratio of lineal measure, it was made on the ratio of square measure, thereby very much increasing the number of perches which the tenant should be allowed for drains. That is a mistake which ought never to have occurred anywhere, and yet these figures, with these glaring mistakes in them, were copied figure by figure into the report of the court valuer; and I know of another case of an estate in Ireland where a Sub-Commissioner reported certain land as bog. The landlord drew the attention of the court valuer to that, and said, "Is it bog?" The court valuer replied, "No, that is corn land," and yet, when he made his report, it was identical to that of the pink schedule of the Sub-Commissioner. This court valuer's report is accepted as final by the Land Commission. Evidence which, if we appeal on matters of value, we are bound to produce, is not listened to, and we ask, what is the good of going on with evidence in the face of the court valuer's report? I would like to call attention to some of Mr. Commissioner O'Brien'a opinions as to the value of the court valuer's report. He says—I think it is an essential thing to a just decision in these cases. One of the grave difficulties that I find on appeal is that everything is left as vague as possible. Of course, the court valuer will give as few reasons as he can.Again, he says about rehearings—I think that the pace is such as to make the proper consideration of the cases that come before us impossible"—and he goes on to describe it as "racing through the hearings." Be it remembered that these court valuers, whose report is permitted to have, "in a very great number of cases, an almost decisive effect," are not sworn on appointment, are not sworn in court, whose very report is not on oath, are, in the Land Commission parlance, described as "independent," though the Royal Commission say—These investigations as hitherto carried on cannot be considered as independent ones.191 There is a very remarkable passage in Mr. O'Brien's evidence. He says, talking of the evidence given by the landlord and by the tenant—I do not think the evidence on either side, if it came from a troop of archangels, would displace the evidence of the Report.So that when we come forward with our evidence, and we are confronted with the report of this being who occupies this high celestial place, I suggest he must be something higher than the archangels. I submit that we are not in the rehearing of our cases receiving that investigation to which we are entitled. We have been encouraged to hope that, when the Irish Local Government Bill has been disposed of, the Government will be inclined, "at some future date," to take into consideration the recommendations of the Fry Commission. I trust that future date is not far distant, as in the meantime there are men in Ireland who see nothing before them but ruin and exile. The reductions of the first 15 years have, whether just or unjust, condemned many to leave the home of their fathers and live among strangers. Further reductions in the immediate future will penetrate still further into the ranks of the Irish gentry; and we appeal to the Government to take steps to place the tribunal, at whose mercy we are, above the reach of suspicion, both as to its constitution and procedure. When a great Imperial question was trembling in the balance we refrained from agitating for the redress of grievances which we felt none the less acutely, and decided that, at any cost to ourselves, the issue should be placed before the people of Great Britain clear and unobscured by comparatively minor questions, at any rate, as far as we were concerned. In the fight for the maintenance of the Union we have suffered more than others; but we do not come here to-day to ask for any exceptional treatment on account of any services we may have rendered, but we do ask for the merest justice, and we appeal to that common sense and that spirit of fair play upon the possession of which every Englishman prides himself, and in which he rejoices as the foundation of our laws and the basis of our social life.
There is one definition of the Land Court decision which I think has not yet been advertised—that it is one which a solvent middleman will not take from a subtenant. There is one note of warning cognate to this question, and which I am anxious to submit to your Lordships before this discussion closes. In forming an opinion upon the conduct and methods of the Land Commission, we have especially to be on our guard against one misleading superstition. I pointed it out because time after time it has been, put forward with undue levity by those who ought to know better; I mean the assumption that the depression on agriculture has fallen as heavily on Ireland as on England. We accept that unchallenged, but a glance will show that it is quite untenable; it begs the whole question. In 1846, the time of the famine in Ireland, rent absolutely disappeared. If the circumstances are similar they would disappear in England too; but rents slightly went up, because circumstances differed. This is the argument to which I have objected, because the circumstances differ in the two countries to such an extent as to preclude their being analogous, and the argument from analogy is entirely misleading, proverbially misleading. At present, the cases, however, have been reversed as compared to the cases in the past. At present the cultivation of farming in England has been lamentable beyond words, both on public and other grounds. In Ireland tenants have been adding to their savings bank deposits. In England tenancies have gone a-begging; in Ireland they have fetched large sums. There has been a dearth of candidates, for farms in England, while in Ireland candidates have even been boycotted to stop the glut, and so on. Circumstances, differ so widely that the wiser and candid will beware of the misleading argument by analogy, and will judge the cases by the facts and by the evidence. In order to support my contention with facts and with evidence, I ought perhaps, before I sit down, to call attention for a moment or two to such cases in point as bear out my contention, but, on the understanding that I have plenty of other cases, I will only invite attention to two alone. I point to them in particular 193 because they happen to be by chance: one, the first land case in 1881, on a large estate proverbially low let, of which I have knowledge; and the second, the latest land case in 1898, on the same estate; consequently, they help us to get an idea of the devastation—intentional or not—wrought by the Land Court from the beginning. In the earlier case the tenant began by being a subtenant; as such, he paid to the middleman half as much again as the middleman paid the landlord; that is to say, where the middleman paid £10, the subtenant paid him £15. At the death of the middleman the sub-tenant asked for the farm, and the landowner gave it at the old low rent, so that the sub-tenant got off somewhere about 35 per cent. of the rents he had continued to pay to the middleman as long as it was demanded, which is very strong evidence that the landlord was letting his farm at somewhere about 53 per cent. below its commercial value. But though the sub-tenant was willing to pay the middleman £15, he objected to pay the landlord even £10 for the same article. He went to the court, and the court cut down this rent very nearly 2s. in the £. Being the first case, it was watched as a test case, with the result that independent experts were forced to the conclusion that the 30 per cent. abatement more than adequately met the depression of 1881, and that the court was determined to cut down the rents regardless of the merits of the cases. The second case was of another kind. The tenant only took the farm about four years ago in the actual condition of the occupancy market, and pleaded that he had taken it long ago in good times, and that the subsequent depression had made the rent too high. The farm was a pasture farm—not in tillage—no house and no building. The tenant consequently could not plead that any additional rent he had paid would have been for building or for land improvements, but he so well knew the rent was low, that over and above the rent he did pay to the outgoing tenant, he paid between five and six years' purchase in addition. Having thus backed up his opinion that the rent was low, he told the Land Court it was too high, and the court cut it down 14 per cent. It is quite unnecessary to say that it is no 194 business of the court to know or ascertain such facts, but that in itself is not a sound position to take up. The point is that such facts are emphatic evidence that the rents are low, and that the machinery is defective. It reminds us of a clever machine invented by a well-known man of our time for cutting down timber; it did cut down timber stupendously, but it had one fatal defect, which landed those concerned in insolvency; it always cut down the wrong timber. That is what the Land Court is doing; it is always cutting down the wrong thing, and such results as that have put an end to all confidence in the safety of men's homes in Ireland, and the stability of ownership, which is at the foundation of all stability, and has thereby stopped the inflow of capital into Ireland. It is the worst thing that could have happened, and the evidence of the Fry Commission will still further confirm that alarm; so much so, that surely we are fairly entitled to hope and expect that it will at length awaken public attention to the necessity of attacking the mischief.
§ * THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
My Lords, it is necessary in any discussion on the Fry Commission and its Report to bear in mind that the scope of the inquiry was necessarily confined and narrow. The Commission was not appointed to make a general inquiry into all the allegations that have been made against the administration of the land laws by the Land Commission, nor to consider all the charges that have been framed against it on the part of either landlords or tenants. It was appointed for a narrow and specific object, which was clearly defined and confined to two topics, and the Fry Commission, in its Report—a balanced Report—by no means found that a great many of the charges that have been preferred on the part of the landlords and the tenants have been made out. It could be ascertained at once, on reference to the Report of the Fry Commission, that they felt the responsibility of dealing with the characters of men who were placed in the enormously difficult position of administering the Act of 1881. I agree with what has been said, that it would be nearly impossible to find any men who, 195 if put to administer such an Act, before whom, such a problem was set as to measure fair rents, would acquit themselves of the enormously difficult duty in a way that would give satisfaction to both parties, or either. The problem is one of infinite difficulty and complexity, and as far as their character is concerned I am bound to say this on behalf of the Commissioners, that they have come out of the inquiry with their honour and integrity and rectitude unassailed and entirely uncondemned. The Fry Commission pointed out that, as a whole—The Assistant Commissioners and the court valuers have striven honestly, and to the best of their ability, to discharge the difficult duties cast upon them, and it is plain that their work is now done with more care and deliberation than in the early days of the Land Commission.Now, it is obvious that that is a finding of the very highest importance at the very threshhold of the question, and although it found that there was suspicion, I would like to know what kind of tribunal could ever be got to administer this Act of Parliament that there would not be suspicions about. Before they were appointed for a week there would be suspicions on all sides. But in reference to these suspicions the Commission is careful to point out how little they may be justified by the facts, and that many of the suspicions are doubtless entirely unfounded, and they mention that in first fixing the fair rents they were inclined to consider that the abatement then made was not, on the whole, excessive. These are important facts, and they also considered the argument made on the contrast between the prices given for tenant right and the prices for fair rents, and they did not take that in the way that was suggested by the landowners with such insistence and force of argument. They also discounted the argument advanced on the contrast between the fall of prices and the reductions of rent. It will be found, on reading the Commissioners' Report, that there are many things that each side would like to criticise before accepting it without qualification and without hesitation. The Report said—We recognise that rents in Ireland have been greatly reduced; but it is notorious that 196 causes of a general character have operated to depress the rentals of all parts of the United Kingdom.And this Commission deemed it right, in dealing with this important question of the character and the integrity, and in the method in which these Sub-Commissioners performed their difficult duties, to state, with the greatest emphasis—We thus feel ourselves unable to conclude that the machinery of the Land Statutes has been uniformly worked with injustice towards landlords.And later—We are also convinced that the administration of justice has not been poisoned by any systematic endeavour on the part of the Commissioners or of the Assistant Commissioners to benefit either side at the expense of the other.It is only fair, on behalf of these gentlemen who have had serious and unpopular duties cast upon them, to mention these findings. Of course, that does not affect the general administration of the Act, and whether it is open to the criticisms which have been urged against it, and repeated against it with such force and vigour, I do not think is a question now for me to go into. It is a novel position to ma to be in, to have to explain everything connected with the Act of 1881. There was no more strenuous opponent of that Act, and no more resolute critic, when it was going through the House of Commons; but that Act, for weal or for woe, laid down that the fixing of a fair rent should be cast upon this tribunal. Admittedly, that was an immensely difficult task, and I question if any tribunal can be devised or suggested that will give satisfaction to both sides, and which will also quiet suspicion and allay uneasiness. It is said that they were wrong in not earlier defining, or attempting to define, fair rent. I am told that that will come before the courts, and possibly before me. The Act itself, however, when an opportunity was given to it of defining a Pair rent, shrank from the task and did not define it, so that some consideration should be given to those who are given the administration of the Act, which itself declined the difficulty of a definition. The Fry Commission Report spoke in 197 reference to land purchase as if it were delayed by reason of the Irish Land Act of 1896. I am not prepared to accept that statement. I believe that the Act of 1896 has facilitated and developed and encouraged land purchase, and the figures overwhelmingly demonstrate the truth of what I am saying. No figures were given to-night relating to this immense question. One of the great remedial circumstances connected with land administration in Ireland is the growth of land purchase, and if it can be shown that land purchase was retrograding, or not in favour, or paralysed, I assume that would be an immense fact, and one that would be looked into with the keenest anxiety, to find out what was the cause of such a disastrous state of affairs. Land purchase is growing every day, and is in thorough development. Applications for loans under the Land Purchase Act received in the year ending 31st March, 1897, numbered 2,783, and the total amount applied for wag £776,410; and in the year ending 31st March, 1898, the figure had increased to the substantial extent of 6,405 applications, with a total amount applied for of £1,824,652. It is hard to realise a more rapid and a more decisive growth, showing the vigour with which this system is now working in Ireland; and in the very last six months that we can deal with—that ending the 30th of June of the present year—the number of advances applied for was 4,130, whereas on the 30th June, 1897, the number of advances applied for was 2,993. So that it is obvious that this great operation of land purchase is now proceeding in Ireland with vigour and with effect; and I now part from the subject with one word in reference to the section in which my noble Friend the noble Duke prefers his opinion to mine. There are, doubtless, a great many other people in the same position, but I may be excused if I say that on a law question I prefer my opinion to that of the noble Duke. What do I find? One would think, by what my noble Friend said of the 40th section of the Act of 1896—that which enabled a vigorous dealing with estates under receivers, and which had been in the Land Court for a long time—that it was a clear failure, and had caused 198 evil and catastrophe and disaster. But that is not so. As long as the tribunals differed on the construction and extent of their powers, of course, there was a deadlock, but when the decision of the Court of Appeal, which my noble Friend does not accept, as representative of the highest reasoning, was given, the deadlock ceased, and the section is now in fair and reasonable operation. I am not going to wade through figures, but I may say that 204 holdings on 14 estates have been actually purchased, and that nearly £50,000 has been advanced. Requests have been lodged in the Land Commission on as many as 81 estates. The section is working, and there is no reason for supposing it will not continue to work, and I believe it will work with effect and with success. Now, it is true, as was pointed out by the noble Duke, that these recommendations, made by the Fry Commission have to be looked at with discernment. Some of them can be worked out by rules if approved of. Of course, the Report has to be examined critically. You do not at once adopt every single syllable of a Report like that. A Commission makes its Report, refers to its evidence, and then its Report is to be considered, examined, and judged with great respect, and with every consideration given to it. As I have pointed out, some of these recommendations can be carried out by rules framed by the Commissioners themselves, some can be carried out after negotiation with the Treasury, some can be carried out only by the aid of legislation. Now, the Government have no control over the Rules of the Land Commission. The Land Commission is an independent body which makes its own rules of its own motion, subject only to the condition of laying them before the Houses of Parliament. But it is right to say this: that the Land Commission, although one volume of evidence was only circulated, a considerable time after the Commission sat, and another volume is not yet before the public, containing the papers and memoranda that were relied upon by them, have not been idle in the matter. Their work is now immense, because they have to deal with the great increase of figures, and the second term applications—an enormous number of cases, to be counted 199 by the thousand, before the Assistant Commissioners, and also before the Land Commissioners themselves. Notwithstanding that the Land Commission has applied itself with the greatest vigour and energy to the consideration of all the recommendations of the Fry Commission, with an honest and earnest desire to do what they could in adopting such recommendations as commended themselves at the time, I know that when the Long Vacation comes they intend to apply themselves further, and to consider it with the most anxious and eager desire to work out any reforms that they think reasonable and right. I will tell you what they have done. A new form of valuers' report has been drained, accompanied by an instruction designed to secure greater care and accuracy in the matter of instruction, valuation, and report. It has also been decided to transmit to the Assistant Commissioners a report of important questions decided by the Land Commissioners of the Court of Appeal. I attach great importance to that. Up to this time the Assistant Commissioners were left to the accident of whether they heard any conversation, or saw in the newspapers, as to what was decided in the superior tribunals. But now it is determined that a report of all the important decisions will be sent to the Assistant Commissioners for their guidance. An alternative procedure dependent on the consent of the parties has been promulgated as well. It is a matter requiring a great deal of care. I must remind your Lordships of this circumstance. When the Land Act of 1896 was in the House of Commons there was contained in it a carefully-framed and most elaborate alternative provision. It was worked out with the most extreme care and minuteness, with an earnest and honest desire to facilitate decisions being arrived at without cost, delay, or litigation. I do not believe it received anything like support upon either side, and the result was, it had to be cut out; and now, that having been the attitude; of the Government in this matter, the Fry Commission report, practically, that the Government were right in their endeavour to deal with this in the Act of 1896, and they have recommended an alternative procedure, which, I am told by those who 200 have gone into the matter with closeness, would require legislation to carry it into effect, and would be ultra vires if it was sought to be applied without legislation. But the Land Commissioners themselves applied their own power of framing rules to formulating an alternative procedure, dependent upon the consent of the parties for its adoption, and that has now been promulgated, and I look to it with a reasonable hope, at all events, that it may accomplish a simplification and a cheapening of this process of ascertaining a fair rent. There is another thing that they have done. The suggestion as to the inspection of drains is a very important matter—it commended itself to everyone, and that has been incorporated in the instruction to valuers. A copy of the pink Schedule will be sent to the applicants within a limited and satisfactory number of days after the application. The practice of communicating the valuer's report to the parties will also be resumed. Speaking, myself, as a man without any particularly close knowledge of the working out of the details of the administration of the Act, it seems to me to be only fair to communicate the valuers' reports to both parties. I think it is most wise and most prudent. It gives to each party an opportunity of knowing where they are, and what they have to meet, and if they think it well and proper to see one another, and say, "We may as well drop litigation; we are here together, and may agree with a little adjustment of the figures on either side"; then that will be a great work achieved. I am sure that there is honest work done. Considering the difficulties of their position, and the time at their disposal, they have been tremendously hard-worked men ever since this Report came out, and I trust and hope that during the Long Vacation they will apply themselves steadily to this question, with a view to seeing whether they cannot adopt and incorporate any further improvements in the machine that is handed them to work. My Lords, criticisms have been made, and not unnaturally made, upon the tenure of office of the Assistant Commissioners, bat again I protest that I am in a novel position in having to defend the machinery and the work of the Act of 201 1881. I am not an advocate of the Act, because I was an opponent of it; but I say that the machinery of the Act exists, whether for weal or for woe, and it has to be worked out by the Assistant Commissioners, and it would be a lavish waste of public money to make these gentlemen, no matter how respected or trustworthy, permanent officers of State, with a right to substantial and large salaries, carrying with these salaries a right to pensions. The necessity for their employment varies enormously from time to time sometimes eight will do, and sometimes 30, 40 80 and more are required. I agree with this, and every possible effort should be made to ensure that none but men of character and repute, and impartiality and proved knowledge, should be selected for this difficult and responsible office. I know that enormous pains are taken, at present upon this subject in order to try and get men that are to be relied upon to stand fairly and impartially between man and man in the settlement of this difficult problem of ensuring a fair rent between landlord and tenant—an enormously difficult and complicated question. Every effort is now being made, and I know that consideration has been recently given to this, whether further tests cannot be found and applied to the ascertainment of fitness of applicants for this difficult task. The question of tenure is, for the reasons I have said, extremely difficult, but a great many of the Assistant Commissioners and a substantial number of the local Commissioners are permanent officers of the State. It is under consideration whether something may not be done for the others. It is necessary to avoid waste. That is a matter for the Treasury, an important body, which has to be approached and consulted and satisfied. I venture to say this, that your Lordships may be satisfied that the important topics that are involved in the Report of the Fry Commission are being looked into fairly and impartially, with an earnest desire to do what is fair and right and reasonable between man and man, and to adopt such measures as commend themselves to our judgment, so as to secure justice to all parties in this extremely difficult matter.
* LORD CLONBROCK
At this late period of the evening I shall not attempt to bring forward, as I had intended, any details connected with the Pry Commission, or extracts from the evidence. In fact, it would be hardly necessary for me to do so after the exceedingly able speech of the noble Lord behind me, whom I am sure your Lordships heard with great pleasure for the first time. But I should like to say a word or two on the reference made by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to the portions of the Report of that Commission which deal with the administration of the law by the Land Commission. It is a great hardihood for me to attempt to answer my noble and learned Friend, but I am not convinced, as he seems to be, that the Land Commission has emerged from the ordeal of the Fry Commission with such flying colours. In the first place, the Fry Commission adopt a statement of Mr. Morley's Committee Mr. Morley's Committee reported that—there is neither a common understanding of the law nor anything approaching to uniformity in practice; our experience convinces us that what was true in 1894 is true now.If the Land Commissioners are satisfied with that and some other passages to which I will presently refer, all I can say is that they are very easily pleased, and must have previously formed a very modest estimate of the way in which they discharge their duties. My noble and learned Friend quoted the following passage—We are also convinced that the administration of justice has not been poisoned by any systematic endeavour on the part of the Commissioners, or of the Assistant Commissioners, to benefit either side at the expense of the other.But he omitted to quote the sentence immediately preceding—We are convinced, as we have already shown, that the settlement of fair rents has been effected in an unsatisfactory manner—with diversity of opinion and practice, sometimes with carelessness, and sometimes with the bias towards one side or the other which exists in many honest minds.I do not think that very high praise either. Again, they say—We feel ourselves unable to conclude that the machinery of the Land Statutes has been uniformly worked with injustice towards landlords.203 I do not suppose anybody ever said it had been uniformly worked with, injustice. I imagine there never was a tribunal that did not occasionally deviate into justice. But it is not high praise to say that they have not been uniformly unjust. Again, the Report says, with reference to the occupation interest—For the reasons already given, we find it impossible to form any certain judgment as to the extent to which this allowance has been made; but so far as it has ultimately acted in lowering the amount fixed for fair rent it has obviously worked an injustice towards the landlords.I should have thought myself, on reading that Report, that it confirmed the greater part of the complaints that have been made for many years against the action of the Land Commission. It does appear to me that in many points at least it confirms what we have previously said. As to the remark of the Chief Secretary the other day deprecating further legislation, the noble and learned Lord agreed with that, and I am disposed thoroughly to agree with that too, for I am pretty sure that if any legislation were to be introduced to remedy the defects which we believe to exist in the administration, something would be thrown in on the other side as a makeweight, some new exceptions would be discovered—"sporadic exceptions," to use the words of the First Lord of the Treasury two years ago—which it would be found necessary to bring under the Land Act, for the sake of symmetry, and to ensure that the line of confiscation should be drawn with perfect accuracy and precision. I speak feelingly on this subject, my Lords, for I am suffering from one of these sporadic gentlemen myself at the present moment. There is a grass farm, of mine of just under £100 a year on which there is not a house or a building of any kind. There can be no question of improvement, and there has never been any tenant right on it. He is going to sell his interest, which he is able to do under the Act of 1896, and that means that about five years' purchase may be carved out of the fee-simple value of the farm and transferred to him. That is for the purpose of symmetry—and there is no real symmetry in the matter. That gentleman and his class have nothing in common with agricultural tenants excepting that they pay 204 rent at more or less uncertain intervals. One of the great grievances which have been dwelt upon is the qualification of the Assistant Commissioners and valuers. I am convinced that the noble and learned Lord and the Chief Secretary spare no pains to get competent men; but I believe that under the present system the task is an impossible one. In the absence of all rules and directions and of definitions, even a definition of that the fixing of which is the main part of their duty—namely, fair rent and of "true value," it is impossible that these men can discharge their duties in any but a most irregular and haphazard manner. I have, consequently, for a considerable time refused to recommend anybody to the Government for these appointments. No man is qualified to perform an impossible task. But what we now want the Government to consider is the position of the landlords under this present system. By legislation we have had about 25 per cent. of our property taken away. That is admitted by all. We know that my noble and learned Friend strongly disapproves of the Land Act; and the speeches made by the noble Marquess at the head of the Government have dealt more severely with it than anything I can say. Is the remainder of our property to be whittled away by a system the condemnation of which is affirmed by the Report of that most competent Commission? My noble and learned Friend tells us that a great many of these recommendations must be carried out by the Land Commission, that they are a judicial body, and that the Government have no power to force them to do anything. In that case our position is a very deplorable one. But we claim the protection of Her Majesty's Government. We say we have been, and are being, most grievously injured. If any of Her Majesty's subjects were injured by the action of any foreign State, the noble Marquess at the head of the Government would not be slow to demand redress. He would deem, and the country would agree with him, that the defence and protection of their interests was a point in which the national honour was concerned. But, my Lords, the national honour may be as much involved in dealing with Her Majesty's subjects at home 205 as it is in vindicating their interests abroad, and we are fully justified in calling upon Her Majesty's Government to exercise the same discrimination, the same sense of justice, and the same energy in regard to our claims as they would insist upon in the case of any foreign State.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
I think that your Lordships would not be grateful to me if I were to follow the example of one or two of the speakers and attempt to review at length either the Report of the Fry Commission, or the evidence taken by the Commissioners; nor will I quote the Report for the purpose of endeavouring to decide whether it amounts or not to a condemnation of the manner in which effect has been given to the Act by the Assistant Commissioners. We all know that when we get Blue Books we select passages which fit in best with our own particular theory. I notice that the noble Lord who spoke just before my noble and learned Friend selected one or two passages which apparently told against the Land Commissioners. My noble and learned Friend quoted other passages which seemed, I thought, to show that upon the whole the sincerity and good faith of the Commissioners, as a body, had come out unscathed from this inquiry. So far as the Report is condemnatory, it condemns, not the good faith of the men, but the methods which they have followed, and which, no doubt, have in some respects been faulty and imperfect. As to the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, we certainly regard the Report of the Commission as an extremely valuable document, and one which throws a good deal of useful light upon this question. Then the noble Duke and other Lords ask us why it is that, having had the Report before us for some time, we have taken no action upon it. My only object in now rising is to suggest to your Lordships that there has been no remissness on our part, and that everything that could be done to give effect to the recommendation of the Commissioners has been done, so far as opportunity permitted. The noble Lord who spoke last said, and I think your Lordships agree with him, that further legislation was not, upon the whole, desirable. 206 If, then, we are to exclude further legislation, what is there that is left? The large bulk of the recommendations of the Commission involve, not legislation, but alteration in the rules by the Commissioners themselves. Now, what is our position with regard to those rules? We are not able to dictate to the Land Commission what rules it shall issue, or by what procedure it shall be guided; that is a matter for the Land Commission itself. Is there any reason whatever for supposing that the Land Commission is reluctant in this matter? I think that the speech of the noble and learned Lord should have been sufficient to satisfy your Lordships upon that point. He was able to show to the House that in the very short time which has passed since the Report was issued the Land Commission have of their own motion taken action in respect of a number of points which, as anyone must know who has listened to the Debates in this House, are points which Irish landowners have always regarded as being points of the very utmost importance to them; and I may venture to mention one point which I think the noble and learned Lord did not refer to. I noticed the other day that the Land Commission had postponed the hearing of a case upon the ground that the tenant had deliberately allowed his farm to deteriorate. If that decision denotes a new departure in the work of the Land Commission, I think that is a new departure of very great moment, and one which your Lordships may well receive with satisfaction. That is what the Land Commission have already done in the short time which they have had to consider the Report of the Commission, and they give us to understand that that is only a beginning, and that in the Vacation, when they are no longer face to face with the great stress of work which has lately confronted them, they are prepared to go further, and consider at their leisure the remaining recommendations embodied in the Report. My Lords, amongst the matters which they will no doubt take into consideration is the question of the tenure of the Assistant Commissioners, a most important point. Here, again, we are given to understand that the mind of the Land Commission is open, and that it is in their contemplation to take steps to test more thoroughly 207 than heretofore the fitness of these gentlemen for the appointments which they hold, and also to take steps for the purpose of giving them greater security of tenure than that which some of them now enjoy. Of course, I do not think anybody would reasonably suggest that the whole of these Assistant Commissioners, who vary in number, I believe, from eight to 80, should all be made permanent officers of the State with a right to pensions; but, without going that great length, it should, I think, be possible to contrive some means of securing that in future some care should be taken in the selection and appointment of these important officers. I do not think, therefore, that your Lordships have any reason for being dissatisfied with what has been already achieved in the direction of giving effect to the Report, and I cannot help hoping that we are nearer at this moment than we have yet been to a material and substantial improvement in the practice and procedure of these tribunals. I would add one word. I do not think all the Royal Commissions in the world, however able, or all the Governments, however well disposed, are likely to evolve out of the land system now in force in Ireland a system which shall be in all respects satisfactory to all parties, and calculated in all respects to inspire them with confidence. You may elaborate your pink schedules, you may improve your valuers' reports, you may declare what is to be added to the fair rents, and what is to be taken away from the fair rent; but the initial figure is always one which depends, not upon scientific principles, not upon commercial competition, but upon the idiosyncrasies of the particular individuals who are called upon to adjudicate upon these matters. For these reasons I have always believed that the only really satisfactory solution for which we should look, in regard to the Irish land question, is the solution of purchase; and I do not think that any part of my noble and learned Friend's 208 speech was more satisfactory than that in which he called the attention of the House to the renewed activity which has lately manifested itself with regard to purchase, and which shows that, under the legislation of 1896, purchase is, at all events, progressing with much greater rapidity than it has progressed for some time past. I apologise to the House for saying these few words, and I trust that the noble Lords will not think that the result of this Debate has been one of which they in any way complain.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
I have no intention of detaining your Lordships for more than two minutes upon this subject, but I should like to draw attention to a passage in the speech which Mr. Gerald Balfour made in reference to this matter, and which I have quoted before. I think that is a very important and serious statement, because it resolves itself into this: that no matter what protection may be put into the Local Government Bill for the minority, it will be in the power of the Sub-Commissioners to do away with it altogether, and to throw the rates, by reduction of rent, practically again upon the landlord; and I think it cannot be denied that, when a tribunal which has such enormous powers given it as this has, great care should be taken that it should be of the most trustworthy nature that it is possible for the entire wisdom of perfect government to procure. I do not want to go further into the matter, but I am sure that your Lordships who have read that Report will see that the Fry Commission thinks that there are many reforms that are absolutely necessary, and I trust that no unnecessary delay will occur in introducing them. Only one word more, and that merely an appeal ad misericordiam. While this is going on, while these opinions are being taken, there are men and women reduced from affluence to a pittance, and from a pittance to poverty, and from poverty to charity, to prevent them from 209 going into the workhouse. If any improvement can be made in the administration of an Act which has occasioned so much misery, I do think that the responsibility is one that I should not like to share with Her Majesty's Government.
§ Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at 9.15.