My Lords, in rising to put the question which stands in my name—namely, "To ask Her Majesty's 897 Government whether any (and if so, what) recommendations of the Fry Commission will be carried into effect in addition to those already adopted; and what are the principal recommendations of that Commission which cannot be carried into effect without fresh legislation "—I think it advisable to explain my reason for the second part of that question. Recently, in the House of Commons, the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, in replying to a similar question to the first part of mine, asked whether it was wished to reopen the whole question of land legislation. It would naturally be inferred from this that the adoption of all the recommendations, of any importance, of the Commission presided over by Sir E. Fry would require fresh legislation. Now, my Lords, speaking on behalf of Irish landlords, I may say that we believe that a considerable number of those recommendations, which would introduce a marked improvement into the administration of the Land Acts, could be carried into effect without any legislation whatever. I have given a list of them to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, but I hope I may be permitted to explain some of them to the House, and point out the advantages to be gained by adopting them. In the first place, my Lords, the Fry Commission Report points out that the assistant commissioners and valuers have never been furnished with any definition of what constitutes the fair rent which they are directed to fix. It seems to have surprised the Commissioners that this had not been done, or that any judicial exposition had not been given of what they term "the two weightiest words in the whole statute"—"fair rent"—during more than sixteen years; but it seems still more surprising that, after the defect had been pointed out by such a body as the Royal Commission, no steps should in the last three years have been taken to remedy it. The Report recommends, as a definition of the gross fair rent—The annual sum at which, after all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district have been taken into consideration, the holding in the landlord's hands might reasonably be expected to let from year to year to a solvent and prudent tenant who desired to derive a benefit from the occupation of the tenement, and not from its sale.This assumption that the holding was in the landlord's hands was not altogether foreign to the Land Commission in its 898 early days, for in a letter addressed by their secretary to one of their valuers (Mr. G. C. Grey), and printed in a Paper laid before Parliament in 1882, the valuer is directed to give his opinion—of the present fair letting value of each holding … on the assumption that the holding is now in the hands of the landlord and now to be let.In pressing this recommendation we only, therefore, ask that they should give as a general direction to all assistant commissioners and valuers what they gave in this particular instance to Mr. Grey. I now come, my Lords, to the recommendations of the Report as to Amendments in the Pink Schedule, in which the assistant commissioners give particulars of the holding of which they fix the rent. They recommend that the annual value should be stated in accordance with the definition which I have given of gross fair rent, so as to negative the tendency to allow for occupation interest. They further recommend that particulars of improvements should be more fully stated than at present, and that where an annual sum is allowed particulars should be given to show whether the charge is permanent, or is to terminate at any definite time. I need not point out to your Lordships the importance and the fairness. of these suggestions. In a Pink Schedule, for instance, which I have here, 100 perches of fences are specified and 5 per cent. allowed to the tenant on the capital value; but there is no description of what the fences are or where they are situated on the farm. We wish to submit that their nature should be stated, and their position laid down on the large-sized ordnance map (where procurable) and that map appended to the schedule. As regards the permanence of improvements, I would refer your Lordships to the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883, with which many of your Lordships are doubtless familiar. In Section 19, sub-section (d) it is laid down that the award shall specify—Where the landlord desires to charge his estate with the amount of compensation found due to the tenant, the time at which, for the purposes of such charge, each improvement, act, or thing in respect of which compensation is awarded, is to be deemed to be exhausted.We submit that the precaution thus taken in this country to prevent a landlord from being charged for an exhausted improvement should be adopted 899 in the Pink Schedule. At present there is nothing to show that a land-lord may not be charged 5 per cent. for ever for an exhausted improvement, and great confusion may arise. My Lords, too much precaution cannot be taken to prevent such future confusion. The case to which this Pink Schedule refers is a remarkable one in another respect. I will not give the names of the parties, or go thoroughly into it, as I am informed the decision will be appealed against. But I may state shortly that, at the first fixing of the rent in 1883, the dwelling-house was pronounced to be the property of the landlord, and a schedule (not in the present form) furnished to him by the Court to that effect. At the second fixing of rent, the assistant commissioners refused that schedule as evidence, and called on him to prove his case again. He had difficulties in doing so, owing to a change of agents, and they gave the house to the tenant. This decision may be reversed on appeal, but I would urge that there should be no necessity for appeal in such a case—that the decision of the Court should be placed on record, and should not subsequently be questioned. There is another point, my Lords, which has only quite lately been suggested to me, and which, although it is not mentioned in the Report of the Fry Commission, is worthy of notice. It is the custom of the Land Commission in the Court tests which are given to the parties concerned, and used by themselves, to describe the rents fixed for the first time as "old rents." Now, in ordinary parlance, "old rents" are the rents payable before the operation of the Land Act of 1881, and by describing the rents fixed for the first term as old rents, the total reduction is made to appear less than it has in reality been. For if a rent has been reduced, say 20 per cent. on the first term, and again 20 per cent. on the second, the total reduction is 40 per cent. from the old rent— whereas by describing the first judicial rent as "old rent" it only appears to be 20 per cent. I would now call the attention of the Government to the recommendations respecting Court valuers, who are appointed by the Land Commission when an application is made for rehearing a case which has been i dealt with by the assistant commissioners. The Report recommends that they should constitute a separate body or list of 900 officials, that they ought to be furnished not with the Pink Schedule, as the practice is, but only with the map and description of the property, and that their report should be made in ignorance of the finding below. Further, that they should attend the court, and act as assessors to the Land Commission, and be liable to be examined by them. To these recommendations, my Lords, we attach very great importance. It would take far too long to read to your Lordships all that the Report says on the subject, but I may say that it fully confirms the view which we have always maintained, that under the present system the decision of the court of rehearing is in many cases a foregone conclusion, and the proceedings therefore little better than a farce. For if the valuers are selected from among the assistant commissioners, and sent on to a farm with the Pink Schedule in their hands to review the decisions of the Sub-commission it is almost impossible that they should not be biased by the previously expressed opinions of their colleagues, and often content themselves with merely registering their decision. It is therefore urgently necessary that the Pink Schedule should be withheld from the court valuers, in order that they should form an independent estimate. Nor would this be without precedent. In the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890 it is laid down in Section 27, Subsection 3, of the Second Schedule, that where the local authority is the appellant in the case of an appeal from the arbitrator to a jury—The amount of compensation awarded by the arbitrator shall not be communicated to the jury, but they shall be required to make an independent assessment of the amount of compensation to which the party claiming compensation is entitled.It seems only in accordance with sound principles that the valuers should attend the court of rehearing, and be liable to examination at least by the Commissioners. I cannot see why they should not be examined by the parties. In other Courts the most eminent valuers are subject to examination and cross-examination. And now, my Lords, as to purchase, the Report states that the Land Commission—have been over strict in the matter of security, and applications to the Department have been thereby discouraged.901 It recommends that the form for the inspector's report should—unambiguously draw the attention of the inspector to the fact that he is required to value the conjoint interests of landlord and tenant, which will be brought together in the tenant on purchase.I commend these recommendations and others which will be found in the Report to the attention of the Government, who take so deep an interest in the purchase question. The Purchase Acts have hitherto been administered as if the interest of the tenant was the only thing to be seriously consulted. No pains have been grudged to make the conditions of purchase as tempting to the tenant as possible. On the other hand, all proposals for mitigating the loss of income and heavy costs entailed on the landlord have been dealt with in a grudging spirit. This policy has prevented many tenants from obtaining the benefits of the Acts. My Lords, I fear I have trespassed too long on the patience of the House in the statement which I have made. My excuse must be the importance of the subject, and the injuries which I believe landlords have been and are receiving from the faulty administration of the Land Acts, and the failure to adopt the recommendations of the Fry Commission. But I must add that, while I am speaking on behalf of land-lords, it is not only they that are concerned. It is equally for the interest of tenants, that all rules and principles of administration should be cleat, accurate, and easily intelligible; that all estimates of value should be made in a trustworthy and independent manner; and that all questions relating to sale and purchase should be conducted in a liberal spirit.
*THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND (Lord ASHBOURNE)
My Lords, the subject to which my noble friend has referred is one of importance, and I am not sorry that: he has drawn attention to it, because the matter is so much discussed in conversation, in the press, and in literature by those who are interested, that I think it is better to have a perfectly clear understanding with -regard to it. Now, my Lords, what was the Fry Commission? The Fry Commission was appointed on 10th July, 1897, and was presided over by a distinguished ex-judge, Sir Edward Fry, 902 for whom I, and I am sure every Member of your Lordships' House, have the most entire respect. That Commission reported on 4th February, 1898. It was not for a moment suggested that the Report of that Commission was to be taken as a new gospel, that every one of the pronouncements it contained was to be taken without challenge or without question, and that all its recommendations were to be accepted in globo without criticism or observation. It is obvious, however, that the Report was one to be considered, weighed, examined, and treated with respect, with a view to giving some effect to it. The landowners have themselves declined to accept some leading statements in the Report of the Fry Commission, which had (amongst others) refused to accept the argument that the high prices that were demanded and accepted for tenant right were of themselves demonstration that the rents had been unduly reduced. A great deal of the efforts of the landowning representatives who appeared before that Commission were directed to proving and to establishing this contention, but the Fry Commission declined to accept it, and gave reasons to show that it was one which had to be regarded from several points of view and needed very close examination. I mention that merely to indicate that my noble friend and those for whom he speaks so forcibly and strongly are not themselves in a position to accept some of the strongest and clearest findings of the Fry Commission. In inquiring what is the duty of the Land Commission we must remember that the Commission is not a Government Department, and that the Government have no control over the making of their rules. The Land Commissioners, when once they are appointed by the Crown, are paid out of the Consolidated Fund, and there is no member of the Government, in touch with the making of their rules. I, as Lord Chancellor, take part, of course, in the making of the rules for the High Court and also for the county courts, but I have no voice in the making of the rules for the Land Commission. They make their own rules on their own responsibility, and exercise their own discretion, taking into consideration what they think is right and just. Now, what is thepersonnel of the Land Commission? The members are sometimes spoken of in terms of disparagement, as if they were doing 903 things which were wrong and unfair, and which nobody else would do. In my opinion the members of the Land Commission are honourable gentlemen who are appointed to perform difficult and important duties, and their honour, integrity, character, capacity, and experience cannot be lightly assailed or called in question by anyone who is alive to the responsibility of his words. They are not only men of the class I have indicated, but they are presided over by a Judicial Commissioner, Mr. Justice Meredith, who is a judge of the High Court, and who, I beg leave to say, is as able, high-minded, and impartial a judge as can be found in any of the three kingdoms. That is the body who have to deal with the greater number of the recommendations of the Fry Commission, and whose actions you have to consider. If all the recommendations of the Fry Commission were not to be accepted without question, what was the duty of the Land Commission with regard to them? It was to examine for themselves honourably, fairly, and impartially the recommendations made, to adopt such of them as in their judgment appeared advisable, and not to adopt such of them as did not commend themselves to their fair judgment. The Land Commission are not responsible for the Act of 1881. If it has worked hardly on any class they are not responsible. If it is not a popular Act with any party in Ireland—and I am not prepared to say it is—the responsibility does not rest with them. They were appointed by the State to administer the Act according to their lights, guided by the obligation that devolves upon them to administer justice fairly and impartially. The Land Commission sedulously applied themselves month after month to this question, and they have adopted a great many of the recommendations of the Fry Commission which are of the very highest importance. They have adopted a rule regulating and rendering more particular and minute the inspection and reports of the court valuers. They have done what is of the highest importance in reference even to the topic spoken of to-day by my noble friend, and have taken care that the decisions of the Land Commissioners themselves and of the Court of Appeal should be circulated among the assistant commissioners so as to give them a clearer 904 knowledge and the highest guidance with reference to their duties; and anyone acquainted with the subject must know that there is nothing so important as to keep the lower tribunals acquainted with the decisions of the law to which they are bound to conform. With regard to the reference in my noble friend's speech as to giving directions to the sub-commissioners, I have to observe that you cannot give directions to a judicial body as to how they are to decide; but you can do what is the most efficacious thing, and the thing most likely to secure equal justice being done—namely, you can take steps to keep them informed of all the most recent governing decisions upon the Land Code to which they are bound to have regard. They have also taken steps to communicate to the parties at as early a date as possible the valuer's report. This was one of the points recommended by the Fry Commission. They are taking steps every day to facilitate the communication of these important documents. Another point to which attention was directed was that of having some automatic or alternative procedure that would save the tremendous expenditure in costs, which constitute one of the great difficulties in the administration of the Land Code. The Fry Commission laid down a long and, I venture to say, a complicated and certainly difficult alternative system, which could not have been carried out without the aid of legislation; but the Land Commission, applying their own mind to the question, have themselves formulated an alternative procedure to promote simplicity and speed of decision apart from the danger and peril of high costs. That has been done, and 1,146 applications have come in under this new form. The furnishing of copies of the Pink Schedule without delay to the parties is being encouraged in every possible way. The Land Commission do everything they can to prevent delay, and they investigate every complaint that is made to them on the subject. I am informed that at the present moment they are applying themselves to perfecting the organisation of their records to prevent an hour being lost. The Fry Commission pointed out that the qualifications of the assistant commissioners were not satisfactory, and urged that these great interests of landlord and tenant should not be decided and regulated by men of 905 whom no qualifications were required either by Act of Parliament or by rules. The Land Commission, with the aid of the Government and the Civil Service Commissioners, at once applied them selves to this question. They have laid down a system of examination which is now working, and which has applied with reference to all the appointments that have since been made. Then there is another matter to which enormous weight was attached by the very influential class represented by my noble friend, and which also attracted the attention of the Fry Commission. The practice had grown up of having only one lay sub-commissioner to act with the legal commissioner. This was deemed to be unsatisfactory. It was, however, working fairly well, and there were not many complaints. But the Fry Commission reported that on the whole they thought it would be more satisfactory to all parties if that system was dropped, and a universal rule applied of having always two lay sub-commissioners acting with the legal sub-commissioner. This recommendation was adopted after the requisite correspondence with the Government and the Treasury, and it caused the appointment of seventeen new sub-commissioners at an annual cost of something like £15,000. If that is not a test of vigour in applying the recommendations of the Fry Commission, I am at a loss to know what is. This is a slight retrospect of what has been done. My noble friend passed it by as if nothing had been accomplished, but it is obvious from the short statement I have made that a great deal has been done which is of the highest importance. My noble friend has asked why the definition of fair rent given by the Fry Commission has not been adopted? I can answer that in a very few words, The Act of 1881—the governing Act— though every syllable, comma, and semicolon in it were debated, avoided giving a definition of "fair rent." It prescribed that the fair rent should be fixed, having regard to the interest of the landlord and the tenant, and to the circumstances of the case, holding, and district. That was the only guidance the Act of Parliament gave, and though the matter has repeatedly come before Parliament since that date, I am not aware of any effort having been made to place upon the statute book a definition of fair rent. At all events, the Act of 1881 deliberately 906 and distinctly refrained from giving a definition. Sir Edward Fry and his colleagues formulated what they considered would be a definition that would suit all cases. I ask my noble friend's attention to that. It was not a definition to suit a casual or particular case, but one which was to suit every case under every condition in every part of Ireland. The words they used were—The annual sum at which, after all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district have been taken into consideration, the holding in the landlord's hands might reasonably be expected to let from year to year, to a solvent and prudent tenant who desired to derive a benefit from the occupation of the tenement, and not from its sale.It is obvious that the new words introduced there are "in the landlord's possession," and when this was submitted to test of the judicial examination in the Land Commission, in the case of Ripley v. Macnaughten, before Mr. Justice Meredith, who had the benefit, which the Fry Commission had not, of hearing this matter discussed in all its bearings as a legal point, Mr. Justice Meredith was unable to accept it as a judicial definition which should be applicable to all cases. He pointed out that the words "in the landlord's possession" were not found in the Act of 1881, and that the very opposite was made the foundation upon which fair rent was to be fixed, a tenant being in possession. Mr. Justice Meredith therefore declined to accept the definition, holding it to be ambiguous, and likely in many cases to lead to the assessment of a competitive value of the land, which, in his opinion, was opposed to the true meaning and purpose of the Land Act. Later on the question came before the Court of Appeal. I have the honour of presiding over that court, but I was not present on the particular occasion when the matter came up. My able colleagues, however, were there, and the point was presented in the case of Lord Gosford v. Blair. Counsel for the landlord endeavoured to present for the decision of the Court of Appeal the Fry definition of fair rent, and asked the court to determine that it was a definition that should be accepted in all cases to regulate and control the administration of the Land Laws. The Court of Appeal felt bound to say that they could not answer what was a mere abstract question, and that they could only deal with a concrete question in relation to a particular holding that 907 was to settle a particular rent. Lord Justice Fitzgibbon said, in reference to the matter—If we were to treat the question strictly according to the letter, as simply asking whether the Land Commission was bound in every case to make a false assumption of fact as the basis for determining fair rent, we might answer it at once in the negative, because the Act of 1881, Section 8 (1) prescribes no such assumption, and, on the contrary, it requires the court to fix the fair rent between two litigating parties, one of whom is necessarily in every ease an occupying tenant, and it directs that regard shall be had to their respective interests, and that all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district shall be considered.It is obvious that, after these judicial utterances, it is hardly possible now to expect the Fry Commission's definition of fair rent to be accepted as universally applicable to all cases, save under the pressure of an Act of Parliament. Another matter mentioned by my noble friend was the Pink Schedule. The Pink Schedule, in the opinion of the Land Commission, is at present overloaded, and they cannot regard it as at all desirable that they should be asked to set out any more minute details. I have been asked a question as to the permanence of the allowance for improvements. When a rent is fixed for fifteen years it is for fifteen years, and I assume that the allowance for improvements is for no less a term. The Commissioners are only dealing with the term of fifteen years, and at the end of that time, of course, the matter may have to be examined again. My noble friend referred, I think, to the action of the Land Commission in dealing with tenants who had been guilty of unreasonable conduct, and he argued that it was only right, if a tenant had been guilty of unreasonable conduct and of deteriorating the property, he should be dealt with drastically. That is the opinion of the Land Commission. Over and over again, if a tenant has been guilty of such conduct his case is adjourned, and I am informed that where a tenant is found guilty of unreasonable conduct, his case is postponed until the Commission are satisfied that the holding has been placed in a normal condition.
I did not mention that point because I know that some steps have been taken in that direction.
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
I am glad to hear that the noble Lord is of opinion 908 that tenants guilty of unreasonable con-duct are adequately dealt with by the Land Commission at the present time. I will, therefore, not pursue that point further. My noble friend directed a good deal of his argument to the position of the valuers, and he held that they should be a separate body. It is true that the court valuers have the status, pay, and position of assistant commissioners, but although that is so, they are, I believe, mainly, if not always, confined to the work of valuing, and do not go backwards and forwards from one function to another. They are largely, if not altogether, bound to direct attention to the important duty of valuing; and does it not stand to reason that the higher the status and the better the tenure you give these men the more reliable will be their work? Then something was said as to their "independence." What is meant exactly by that word?
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
Surely they are at present independent of the sub-commissioners. How could they possibly be more independent? They go down as court valuers to examine and report upon premises without previously having had communication with the parties or with the sub-commissioners, and they are independent of the sub-commissioners in every sense that can be reasonably given to that term. They are sent to examine, to report, and to give their own independent view.
The Fry Commission specially mentioned a case where the arithmetical blunders perpetrated by the assistant commissioners were reproduced in the report of the Court valuers, owing to what they themselves called the slavish copying of the report of the former officials.
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
That was five or six years ago. We have lived and learned, and the sub-commissioners who are now engaged in the work of valuing are kept practically to that duty. Another point was that it was wrong for the Land Commissioners to have two valuers, and that they ought to stick to one.
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
I know you did not —you have too much excellent sense; but one of the points put most strenuously in one of the arguments on this question, in which the Land Commission were attacked in reference to the methods of valuation, was that they should have confined themselves to one valuer. I do not think it is necessary to say anything with regard to that point. My noble friend directed attention to the recommendation of the Fry Commission that the valuer should not be given a copy of the Pink Schedule, but should go down to make his valuation absolutely ignorant of what had happened before. This matter has been very carefully considered by the Land Commission, and they have arrived at the conclusion that it is not a proposal which commends itself to their judgment as business-men. They have not followed it, and they do not think it necessary or expedient to do so. Personally, I hardly think it is advisable, even if it were possible, to send men down to make valuations and keep them in ignorance of what has gone on before. When the matter came up for examination in the Court of Appeal, on a recent occasion, one of the Lords Justices used those words—So far as this objection insists upon the court valuers going dc novo through the details of the work it is a mischievous objection. All valuable information should be supplied, and having regard to the nature of the reference the information as to what was previously done should be especially valuable. The whole object of the rehearing is to correct the previous conclusion on the same subject. Though the Land Commission must rehear the case and pronounce its own judgment on its own responsibility, the knowledge of what was objected to is a help and not a hindrance to a better condition. The same remark applies even more forcibly to the court valuers. Experts are more prone to differ than to agree.The noble Lord urged that the valuers should attend and constitute part of the tribunal as assessors. That is not a matter that could be dealt with without legislation, for it would be a distinct change in the constitution of the tribunal. I now come to the question of purchase. I must remind my noble friend that at the time the Fry Commission were conducting their inquiries—1897—purchase was at rather a low ebb, possibly in consequence of the Fry Commission. People's minds 910 were occupied with the expectations that always flow from inquiries of this kind, and great changes, it was thought, might result from the Commission. Thy celebrated Section 40 was then in its infancy, and the Commission gave very cautious, and I am bound to say I do not think particularly useful, suggestions with reference to purchase. One of the points most constantly pressed was that adequate attention was not directed to the fact that the valuers had to deal with a conjoint interest. I believe the Land Commission's view on that subject is that the valuers have always realised that they were dealing with a double interest. But, to prevent the possibility of any question or suggestion in the matter, the following note has been added to the instructions to valuers—N. B.—In answering this query the inspector must have regard to the fact that if the advance is made the security will embrace the consolidated interests of the landlord and the tenant in the holding.That, I think, prevents the possibility of any doubt and obscurity. Though I am not going into statistics, I would like to say that the purchase system is working in a perfectly satisfactory way. It will be a pleasure to the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, who has always taken an interest in the working of the Code, to know that even Section 40 of the Act of 1896 is working reasonably, fairly, vigorously, and hopefully. The purchase transactions this year have amounted to about £1,500,000. In 1897 the number of applications to the Commission were 2,787, but during the past year they have reached the great number of 6,911. Surely it is impossible to explain away these figures. The purchase system is undoubtedly working vigorously and hopefully, and in a way which I venture to think gives ground for the expectation that it will continue to grow and prosper. I am sorry that I have had to occupy so much of your Lordships' time, but, knowing the deep interest that is felt in this question by noble Lords from Ireland, I. deemed it right to give all the information I was able to get upon the subject.
*THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, L am sure we are all exceedingly obliged to the noble and learned Lord for the very long statement he has made, but when your Lordships come to examine it it will 911 be found that the question asked by Lord Clonbrock—namely, whether any, and, if so, what recommendations of the Fry Commission will be carried into effect in addition to those already adopted—has not been answered. The noble Lord considered at length those of the recommendations which had already been adopted, and he also made some remarks with regard to prices, upon which Lord Clonbrock did not say one word. The question of prices did not enter into the noble Lord's mind at all. The fact of the matter with regard to prices is that the Land Commission have an agricultural department which publishes prices, and a department which fixes the rents, and it is impossible to reconcile the tables. For instance, the reduction in agricultural prices is given at 4.7 per cent., whilst the reduction in rents has been 24.7 per cent. That shows how little the reduction in agricultural prices affects the reduction in rent. With regard to what the noble Lord said as to the constitution of the Land Commission, I should like to say that we do not dispute that the members are most honourable men. We have not said otherwise in this House or elsewhere, and surely gossip outside is not worthy of the noble Lord's attention. With regard to the definition of fair rent, it would appear that all the legal luminaries in Ireland have come together to try and decide the point, but they do not agree with the Fry Commission. But the Land Commission are in this position: they have to fix our rents, and they have no definition of what fair rent is. I was not satisfied with what the noble Lord said with regard to deterioration. The Land Commission carry out strictly the rule that tenants' improvements must not be charged with rent, but they seldom pay attention to the repeated instances of tenants' deterioration. The noble and learned Lord gave only one instance in which Mr. Justice Meredith dealt hardly with a case of deterioration, but throughout the whole of Ireland this question is a most important one. The sub-commissioners do not make any allowance for deterioration, but allow fully for tenants' improvements. What the noble and learned Lord said on that matter' was not at all satisfactory. I understood from his reply that the going backwards and forwards of the court valuers will not occur in the future, but I did not gather from anything he said that -any of the recommendations of the Fry 912 Commission which have not already been adopted will be carried out. The statement that the court valuers will not act in a dual capacity in future is most satisfactory, because their goings on hitherto have been, to say the least, open to suspicion. Then the noble and learned Lord argued that the court valuers should be provided with the Pink Schedule and all the information in the possession of the sub-commissioners. Surely, when a valuer is called in it is only fair that we should have an entirely independent opinion. We do not want the opinion of a man who is biassed by the opinion of his subordinates. There is no doubt that the court valuers must be biassed by having all the evidence of the sub-commission in front of them. I do not think it is at all satisfactory that the recommendation of the Fry Commission on this point has not been carried out. With regard to purchase, as the noble and learned Lord has said, it is going on vigorously and hopefully; but from the point of view of the landlords it is certainly not going on generously, because the Land Commission acts simply as a cautious banker of the Treasury. The answer of the noble and learned Lord seems to amount to this, that no further advance is to take place with regard to the recommendations of the Fry Commission. I regret that the answer is not of a more satisfactory character.
My Lords, I venture to support Lord Clonbrock in the question he has brought before the House. However honourable a body of men the Land Commissioners may be, their point of view regarding what ought to be done on the question of the valuing of rents in Ireland is, to say the least, peculiar. The noble and learned Lord said that the Land Commission made their rules with a view to the consideration of justice from their own point of view. In that I heartily concur. It is from their own point of view, and from no other, that they consider the whole transaction. The noble and learned Lord said that it required an Act of Parliament to give a definition of fair rent, or to read the definition into the Act of 1881. I do not deny that that may be so, but I do contend that it is impossible to fix a fair rent unless the Commissioners have some definition of the phrase before them, and that until some definition is produced justice cannot be done to the Irish landlords. 913 One of the highest authorities who has discussed the question said that the only test of value was the price which the tenant was willing to pay, but that price is entirely excluded in Ireland. I would ask the noble and learned Lord where in Ireland is a landlord able to get the rent which a solvent tenant would offer him? And why is he not able to get it? Because of the Act of 1881. The Land Commissioners fix rents at the present moment on the wildest principles. The noble and learned Lord has referred with a great deal of satisfaction to the fact that applications to purchase farms in Ireland have risen from 2,000 to 6,000 odd. I do not know how he explained that, but I should like to offer an explanation. The increase in the number of applications to purchase farms is due to two causes—first, the reductions in the rents have been so tremendous that the landowners have been forced to sell their land; and secondly, the tenants are waking up to the fact that they can buy land for less than they can sell their own interest in their farms. The noble and learned Lord said more than once, "Oh, that happened years ago." I want to quote to your Lordships a few figures showing what has occurred since the second fixing of rent in Ireland. Here is one estate. The rent in 1881 was £237 5s. 10d., the poor-law valuation being £151. In the first term the rent was reduced from £237 5s. 10d. to £159 2s. 6d., and in the second term, in 1896, to £79 10s. 2d., or something less than half the poor-law valuation. I will not mention names, but here is another case: The rent of the estate prior to 1881 was £205 15s. 6d., the poor-law valuation being £176. In the first term the rent was reduced to £162 17s., and in the second term, four years ago, to £95 6s. 6d. I do not know what justifies these reductions, for they are certainly not due to economic-causes or fall of prices. I will quote another case selected out of many. The old rent was £351 9s. 4d. It was reduced on the first term to £246 18s. 3d., and was further reduced at the last hearing to £159 19s. 5d. That is to say, in fifteen years, starting from 1881, these rents were reduced on an average by 60 per cent. I think I have said enough to show that the question of fixing rents in Ireland is one that still requires attention from Her Majesty's Government. If this 914 process is continued and the fads of the tenants are given way to as they are at present, landlords will end by paying tenants to take their property. It is said that the fall in prices accounts for the reduction in rent, but I could quote many cases which prove the contrary. The particulars of a case were placed in my hands the other day by one of the land agents in Ireland in which the rents had been reduced by about 50 per cent., whereas the value of the farm and the prices generally had gone up. I would ask the noble and learned Lord how he can justify reductions in a case of that kind? I am sorry the Lord Chancellor of Ireland has not dealt more satisfactorily with the matter. I hope questions such as those will be brought frequently before the House, in order that your Lordships may be convinced that the hardships of which we complain are real and substantial and require remedying.
*THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I do not rise to make a speech, but I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that at the last sitting of the Land Commission at Belfast twenty-five appeals from decisions of the sub-commissioners were heard. In eighteen cases the rents were raised, and in seven only were the decisions confirmed. That is a remarkable number of decisions to be reversed by the Higher Court, and I would ask what your Lordships would think of a Court of First Instance whose decisions were reversed to this extent. I do not reflect upon the sub-commissioners; they are all honourable men. Brutus was an honourable man, but I do not suppose Cæsar found much comfort in that fact.