HL Deb 15 July 1901 vol 97 cc367-70

My Lords, I beg to ask the Lord Chancellor of Ireland whether he can supply the House with any information as to the working and progress of State-aided land purchase in Ireland during the last five years; and whether he will give any statistics showing the scope of the operations under Section 40 of the Irish Land Act of 1896. I am sure there are many in this House who will listen to the answer of the noble and learned Lord with considerable interest. Although voluntary purchase in Ireland has lately received a check owing to certain drastic and revolutionary measures, at any rate in some parts of Ireland, it will be interesting to learn if, in the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, sales of land in Ireland are going on as satisfactorily as he could wish. The excellent bargains which lie within the reach of agricultural tenants in Ireland through this system cannot be too widely known.


My Lords, I am very glad to have an opportunity of giving my noble friend the information he asks upon this subject, which in importance is second to none in Ireland. I am happy to say the system of State-aided purchase is proceeding with vigour and success. Your Lordships will not want from me a detailed statement of the long purchase code of Ireland and the numerous attempts that have been made to apply it with success. The Land Commission is the body mainly working the system, although the operations of the Land Court under Mr. Justice Ross are entitled to prominent notice. In 1897 the Fry Commission found the system was not working very vigorously, the Act of 1896 had not come into full operation, and the figures were comparatively low. In 1897 the applications were 2,787, whereas last year they reached the immense figure of 6,157, and they were higher the year before. The Fry Commission applied itself to the subject, and made various recommendations for facilitating and accelerating purchase procedure. Several of those recommendations the Land Commission have adopted. One in working by the simple process of fiat in suitable cases instead of by the more complicated machinery of vesting order; another, dispensing with inspection in proper cases; another, dispensing with statements of facts in certain cases for apportionment of superior interests; then, again, the distribution of purchase money under the simple machinery of the Land Court itself rather than by the more elaborate procedure of the High Court; another, dispensing with extracts from original patents; and, further, the Land Commission have given express notification that those engaged in valuation with a view to purchase should, while taking into account the tenant's interest, bear in mind the security of the landlord's interest.


With regard to dispensing with extracts from original patents, may I ask for an explanation? Does it mean— —


I think it would be better that I should give the noble Earl any explanation afterwards in private. I think the adoption of these recommendations shows that the Land Commission is alive to the desirability of doing everything possible to smooth the path of land purchase. Of course a Bill, which I hope may receive the attention of Parliament, will be necessary for further facilities, but meantime it is important to notice the steps that have been taken. The figures with reference to the applications to the Land Commission under the Purchase Acts are: In 1897, 2,787; in 1898, 6,513; in 1899, 6,644; in 1900, 6,911; and in 1901, 6,157. The slight falling in the last year I have heard attributed to the fall in the price of land stock, and I am inclined to think that is the explanation. The amount of advances shows encouraging progress. In 1897 they were £515,252; in 1898 they increased to £869,000 odd, while in the following year, 1899, they increased more than double, to £1,766,000 odd; in 1900 they were £1,454,011; and in 1901, £1,958,357. These figures show steady progress of the operation of State-aided land purchase in Ireland. Between April 1, 1897, and March 31, 1901, loans were also issued under the Act of 1896 to the Congested Districts Board to the amount of £356,726.

The figures I have given refer to the Land Commission. As to the Land Court, it should be remembered by anyone who wishes to form a just view of its work that it has two sets of operations. It is the successor of the old Encumbered Estates Court, and comprises all the agencies to be found in Ireland for the sale of all classes of encumbered estates, on the application of either the owners or the encumbrancers. The court having to give an indefeasible title to purchasers, supreme care has to be taken to sell the right land to the right man. You cannot unduly hurry such a process as that, and many of the charges made against the methods of the Court are due to the immense care necessary to see that no mistake is made. Mr. Justice Ross is full of vigour and energy, and applies himself to the performance of all his duties with great determination, but he naturally has to be fully alive to the responsibilities of his position. Sales under Section 40 of the Act of 1896 are a matter of great importance. The section is now in vigorous operation. The advances made in the court during the last five years, under what I may call the voluntary jurisdiction of the Court, led to sales amounting to £843,310, and under Section 40 of the Act of 1896 the sales reached £540,123; in other words, the Land Court under Mr. Justice Ross has sold, in the period I have referred to, the large aggregate of £1,383,435. These figures show that the land purchase system as at present constituted is working efficiently and vigorously, and that we may expect its continued progress and development. Mr. Justice Ross told me that he understood something had been said to the effect that the receivers were causing delay in his Court, but he assured me that these officers were working extremely well and that he had no cause for complaint.


My Lords, what the Fry Commission said with regard to the Land Commission was that they were too strict trustees of the Treasury, and that it was very difficult, although the tenant and the landlord had agreed to the price of the land, to get the Land Commission to advance the money. With regard to the Land Court, we know that Mr. Justice Ross is doing his utmost to relieve the congestion in that court, but the difficulty is that proving title is a very lengthy and expensive business. I thank the Lord Chancellor for the statement he has made and the useful figures he has given.