§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, it sometimes is a useful and desirable course, in approaching the reconsideration of a subject of long-standing controversy, and about which, therefore, the prejudices of both parties have to some extent clustered, to inquire whether there is any common ground of agreement, and, if so, what that common ground is. I think that method may be usefully applied to this subject and to the Evicted Tenants Bill, to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading. There is surely some common ground between us all on this subject. There is, if not an absolutely universal, yet a very general desire, by no means confined to one side of the House, that some considerable number at any rate of the evicted tenants should be restored to their holdings or obtain other holdings. I need not labour that point. It was made clear from the legislation of 1903 1697 that such was the opinion of the then Government. The Government of that day went a little further. It did not desire to inquire too closely into the actual merits of the particular evicted tenants. I need not quote any of the statements of Mr. Wyndham to that effect; they have been quoted in this House before. But your Lordships will remember that he used in this connection the phrase that by-gones, ought to be by-gones, and that it was not wise to stop to inquire from what reason, and under what circumstances the evicted tenants had lost their holdings.
Here, then, is a certain amount of common ground; and on our side we are most freely willing to admit that this proposed legislation is of an exceptional character, and that its provisions, if they do not actually need defence, at any rate need most adequate explanation. I had hoped, my Lords, that there would be a further ground of agreement in regard to the urgency of this matter. Certainly, anybody who read the Report of the Land Conference in the early part of 1903, will, I think, have gained the impression that those representing the landlords were convinced that this part of the question was particularly urgent. Consequently, we on this side of the House were disappointed when a week or two ago the noble Earl opposite, Lord Donough-more, devoted an elaborate and ingenious argument to endeavouring to show that the case of the evicted tenants was no more urgent than that of the ordinary tenant purchaser in Ireland. He seemed to regard with perfect equanimity the possibility that the case of the evicted tenants might hang on as long as any transactions were taking place under the Land Act of 1903.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
Well, pari passu would involve the possibility that some of the last transactions might be those connected with evicted tenants. I admit that to those who know nothing of Ireland the deep interest taken in the evicted tenants may come somewhat of a surprise. If the same set of circumstances had arisen here in England, we should, perhaps, have taken a somewhat harsher view. We should have said that after 1698 all, these people were the victims of circumstances, of a great quarrel between different interests connected with the land, and that such a quarrel was bound to have its victims for whom nothing could be done. We might have repeated the old saying, "Hard cases make bad law"—an aphorism which is very comforting to everybody except the hard cases.
But whether it is that Irishmen are more generous, or more emotional, there can be no question that the case of the evicted tenants has sunk very deeply into the hearts of Irishmen as a body. I hope nobody will say that the agitation on their behalf has been anything in the nature of a political manoeuvre, because I do not believe that would be true. In the first place, for the mere purpose of political agitation all the time and energy and money that has been expended on behalf of the evicted tenants by the Irish Nationalist Party might have been far more fruitfully expended. In the next place, the interest in the evicted tenants is by no means confined to those who are engaged in pushing forward the Nationalist propaganda. The case of the evicted tenants does come home to a number of quiet people in Ireland, who are not specially concerned with politics, and, for all I know, may not be particularly interested in the National cause.
Now, my Lords, I come to the Bill which is before the House, and the first point to note in it is that Clause 1 gives compulsory powers for the acquisition of land for the purpose of reinstating evicted tenants, or for providing other farms for what are called the new tenants, of whom I shall have a word to say later on. Not long after the Estates Commissioners had begun their labours they applied to have some special assistance from the Treasury in order to increase their staff and to deal with these particular eases and kindred cases. That addition to their staff was refused, and it was refused on the ground that these transactions were secondary to the main purpose of the Act, which was to carry out purchase by agreement, and that therefore it was only in cases where the reinstatement of evicted tenants was part of the transaction of the purchase of an estate that the Commissioners ought to proceed to carry it through. The Estates Commissioners took a different view. They 1699 thought, holding, I suppose, that the Land Act of 1903 represented not merely an economic transaction but a pacifying influence, that it was advantageous to deal as promptly as possible with the difficult cases of this kind, and not to take them merely, to use the noble Earl's words, pari passu with the simple and easy cases under which large estates changed hands by the method of agreement.
The Estates Commissioners were, however, overruled, and in July, 1905, regulations were issued forbidding the carrying out of transactions in favour of the evicted tenants except as part of the sale of estates as a whole. Many of these regulations were cancelled in February of last year, and whereas in the first two years and four months of the operation of that Act only 387 evicted tenants were restored, in one year and four months subsequent to the cancellation of the regulations 646 evicted tenants were either restored or obtained new farms. It may be asked, then why do the Government wish to introduce the method of compulsion? There are several answers to that question. In the first place, the hope of proceeding further by voluntary appeal is pretty well exhausted. The owners of nearly 200 farms have refused, as they had, of course, a perfectly legal right to do, to enter into any negotiations with the Commissioners for the reinstatement of evicted tenants. There is the further fact that the Estates Commissioners did not find it possible to obtain by agreement land for farms for evicted tenants in some of the localities where they were particularly needed.
There have been other cases of a different kind, in which an agreement might possibly be arrived at, but the landlords, desiring to sell the whole of their estate, have declined to reinstate evicted tenants unless the particular terms on which they wish to sell the estate as a whole are agreed to by the other tenants; that is to say, not to put too fine a point on it, that a screw has been put on the tenants of an estate as a whole by means of the desire that a very small number of evicted tenants should be restored. Consequently in our opinion this machinery of compulsion is needed, even although, as we hope, it may not be very often used in practice.
Then it is said there is a great deal of untenanted land in Ireland which presum- 1700 ably might be secured by agreement, and why not take over a sufficient amount of that land for this purpose? Here, again, there are one or two matters to be considered. Some of this untenanted land will, we hope, in the future be used, as it certainly is wanted, for making holdings which are now uneconomic into economic holdings. In the second place, there have been a certain number of cases where, if not fancy prices, at any rate very full prices indeed, have been asked for untenanted land. The statement has been made—I do not know what colour there is for it—that the Estates Commissioners are a body of people who do not hold that a fair price ought to be given for untenanted land. I can only say that in any observations of theirs which have been published—and I think I have read all the published observations they have made—I find nothing which can justify such an observation as that. On the contrary, it has been their expressed view—a view which is shared by all reasonable people, I should think, in both countries—that it is impossible to ask or expect landlords to part with their land unless they obtain a reasonable price for it.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that the Estates Commissioners have to depend upon the reports of their inspectors as to what the value of land is, and, as a matter of fact, where they have altered the figures arrived at by the inspectors, it has almost always been in the direction of giving a larger price than the inspectors would themselves have named. But it has to be borne in mind what the liability of the Commissioners is in this respect. If they pay an excessive price for land, higher, that is to say, than can possibly be met by the annuities when the land is distributed among the tenants, the difference has to be found by a very easily exhausted fund, the Guarantee Fund, or, failing that, it has to be made up out of the rates. In these circumstances it is necessary for the Estates Commissioners to exercise great caution to avoid paying an excessive price, and it has to be remembered that the price which the tenants in some cases might be willing to give is not necessarily a fair price. I am afraid there is still quite enough land hunger in Ireland for people to offer, on the spur of the moment, to pay rents by way of annuity which are 1701 not justified by the economic conditions; and that is a further reason why great caution has to be exercised by the Commissioners.
As to the procedure for acquiring this land, the point in Clause 2 which interests noble Lords opposite is that there is no appeal from the decision of the Estates Commissioners except upon a point of law. It is desirable, in considering this subject, to know what the positive proposition is in contradiction to that which appears in the Bill. What is suggested as the substitute for the clause as it stands in our measure? I think I am right in saying that if you substitute for the clause in the Bill the provision of the Lands Clauses Acts as they apply to Ireland, you will bring in a jury; and trial by jury in Ireland has not always, I am afraid, had the best repute. I think I am justified in assuming that noble Lords opposite do not desire to leave the value of the untenanted lands to be assessed by a jury. Then, again, would noble Lords opposite prefer an arbitrator appointed by the Government? My right hon. friend in another place put that question to an hon. Member who was discussing the matter, and that hon. Gentleman hurriedly disclaimed any desire of that kind. The real difficulty is this, that when you come to the question of an appeal in a matter of this kind, you find yourselves appealing from a body of people who know most of the subject to a body of people who know least, and that is likely to happen whatever body you select. I do not see how it can be disputed that so far as knowledge of the subject is concerned, you will not find any people in Ireland with more experience and knowledge than the three gentlemen who sit as the Estates Commissioners. Of course, noble Lords opposite may say that knowledge is not everything, and that is a point which they are perfectly entitled to make. But I will not dwell any further on this point at present. I desire to wait, assuming that noble Lords opposite will produce some Amendment on that clause. I can assure noble Lords that any; suggestion they may make for an appellate tribunal will receive our very careful consideration.
Clause 3 carries out the provisions of the Bill with regard to the new tenants mentioned in the first clause. These new tenants are tenants who hold evicted 1702 farms, and by the provisions of the Bill they may in certain circumstances, if they leave those farms, be compensated either in money or in land. This is a matter upon which, from one point of view, we should all, I think, find ourselves in agreement. If the Estates Commissioners and noble Lords opposite and ourselves were to meet and discuss the claims of a particular tenant who now holds a former evicted farm to remain there, supposing he desired to do so, we should probably be in pretty close agreement as to his claim in any individual case after we had carefully examined the circumstances. But there is—noble Lords must forgive me for saying so—a certain degree of irony in this matter, irony which so often crops up in relation to Irish history and Irish politics. Here are noble Lords opposite standing up, almost with tears in their eyes, for a sacred right of fixity of tenure, and one cannot help wishing that they or their forbears during the last thirty years had held similar views as to the fixity of tenure of Irish tenants. It all depends upon the moral claim of a particular tenant. Where a new tenant, or planter, has taken one of these evicted farms and is farming it well, and especially if he has improved the land, we must all agree that his claim to retain it, if he so desires, is a strong one. We have shown what our view is, because we have not attempted to disturb any tenant of this kind who has purchased his holding.
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
It may be legal at present under the Bill. Mr. Birrell said, I think, it is left to the discretion of the Estates Commissioners, but they would not exercise it.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will raise the point later, and I will reply then. I ask your Lordships to consider the opposite case—the case of an evicted tenant whose family had for generations held a particular holding, and that holding may 1703 now be in the possession of a man who is, perhaps, little more than a bailiff, so far as his personal interest in the holding is concerned. In such a case as that there should be little doubt that the evicted tenant had a strong moral claim to be reinstated. Between those two extremes there are a variety of cases in which the balance of moral claim is difficult to adjust. In some cases I admit it may be exceedingly difficult to decide which way the scales rise or fall. How are you going in an Act of Parliament to define the relative weight of these claims? If you do not allow any of these particular evicted tenants to be restored owing to the fact that their farms are occupied, you undoubtedly run the risk of leaving this important side of the question unsettled. The cases in which the claims of the new tenants could not be met by an equivalent grant of land, or by a money grant, are exceedingly few.
Clause 5 makes provision for loss on re-sales, which I think will not be serious, and Clause 6 gives a very proper protection to the landowners. Clause 9 relieves restored tenants from any loss through any grant made to them for stocking their farm being taken for debts formerly incurred. That is, no doubt, an unusual provision, but I think it is one which on the whole must be agreed to be a reasonable one. The State advances a certain sum of money for a particular purpose, and it is entitled to decide the conditions upon which that money is to be paid; otherwise the Bill would become a Bill for the payment of old debts. It must further be remembered that the creditors are not, so to speak, altogether out of it, because the tenant is by this grant placed in a position in which he may be, and ought to be, able to pay off in time such debts as those mentioned in the clause.
I do not think I need dwell on any other clause until I come to Clause 13, that which has to do with the tenure of office of the Estates Commissioners. There seems to have been some confusion in the minds of many people as to what the position of the Estates Commissioners really is. There has been a tendency to regard them as purely administrative officers, who ought to receive their orders from the Government of the day, and who are not entitled to give a judicial 1704 opinion, or exercise any judicial function. Mr. Justice Meredith, in the case of the Scottish Union Estate, said the fact was sometimes overlooked that the Estates Commissioners were Land Commissioners, and exercised all the powers and duties of a Land Commissioner, and, of course, duties of a judicial and semi judicial character were exercised by the Land Commissioners. The effect of this provision in Clause 13 is to leave the Estates Commissioners fully subject to Parliamentary criticism, but it does relieve them from a possibility of their being subjected to Party pressure. I make no charge against any Party, and I dare say noble Lords could imagine circumstances in which either one Party or the other might be disposed to put undue pressure on the Estates Commissioners. We believe this to be a very valuable provision, and we hope your Lordships will not attempt to disturb it.
The complaint against this measure is that it leaves far too wide and large a discretion to the Commissioners. They might, it is almost hinted, buy up all the land in Ireland under compulsory powers and distribute it at their will and pleasure, and it is suggested, therefore that the Bill ought to be subject to a limit of time, a limit of area or acreage, and a limit of numbers. It is only on this List point that I desire to say one word. I sincerely hope that your lordships will not insert a limit of numbers. It is perfectly obvious that no limitation which is inserted in Parliament can give the precise number of tenants who ought to be reinstated. If the number inserted were too low, and you did not reinstate those who, it is agreed, ought to be reinstated, you would leave a very real and substantial grievance. On the other hand, if you fix the limit too high, it is likely to be taken, not as a maximum, but as a standard, and if the Estates Commissioners find that they do not wish to reach that limit because there realty are not enough deserving tenants to be reinstated, you will have a grievance of a different kind—not a substantial grievance, but what is supposed to be a grievance; because it will be said that Parliament decided that so many ought to be reinstated, and therefore there are, so to speak, a certain number of places vacant in your concert hall which you 1705 are not taking the trouble to fill up. I hope, therefore, that no limitation of numbers will be inserted in the Bill.
Then there is one further observation I should like to make. We fully admit that this measure must stand on its own merits as a measure devised to meet a particular difficulty. Noble Lords opposite may be afraid that this measure is to be regarded as a precedent for dealing with all the remaining land in Ireland. It is considered as the thin edge of the wedge. It cannot be the thin end of the wedge because we say there is no wedge.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
What noble Lords, I suppose, are afraid of is that, when Lord Dudley's Commission has reported, we shall immediately proceed to apply this Bill to the remaining land of Ireland. There is this difference between the two cases, that whatever that Commission recommends will be purely an economic recommendation. This measure, as we fully admit, is only very partially economic, and is mainly political. Anything proposed in consequence of that Commission's Report must also, like this Bill, stand on its own merits, and we shall not, in any conclusions we may arrive at when we receive that Report, pray this Act—as I hope it will be—in aid, or found upon it arguments for dealing with land under different circumstances.
I hope that the discussion which will ensue upon this Bill will be of a business character. It is almost too much to hope, I suppose, that a Bill relating to Ireland and proposed from this side of the House will pass through without some denunciation of somebody by noble Lords from Ireland. What I do hope is that if there is to be denunciation it will be denunciation of his Majesty's Government. We freely offer ourselves for that purpose. Our predatory instincts are well known. Brigandage is our daily pastime, and confiscation is our daily bread. We have heard all that before, and I am sure we shall hear it very often again; but I hope that denunciation will be confined to us, and that it will not be extended to this particular class of farmers in Ireland, who may not always have acted discreetly or well, but who, at any rate, have taken part 1706 in transactions where the fault was not always on one side, and who certainly have suffered the pain of hope long deferred. I hope also that there will be no denunciation of public servants who are labouring hard in Ireland and doing their duty there according to the best of their lights. I hope, in conclusion, that your Lordships will take the Bill as it is, dealing with it, of course, as you think best, but refraining from reading into its provisions any prejudices or fears under which some people in Ireland may labour; and that we shall achieve one more step in what I admit to be the very tedious march towards a final settlement of the Irish land question.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Crewe).
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I feel sure that on this side of the House, at any rate, we appreciate the courtesy and the moderation of the speech in which the noble Earl has moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I certainly do not rise to take advantage of the permission which he gave us a moment ago to denounce him and his colleagues in violent language. The noble Earl, in a passage with a fine vein of humour in it, suggested that noble Lords opposite might have it imputed to them that brigandage was their daily pastime. May we, perhaps, say of the Lord President of the Council thatHe is the mildest manner'd man That ever scuttled ship.But I must add that he scuttles the ship all same. The noble Lord admitted that this Bill contains provisions which are exceptional and need explanation. That is, I believe, a very gentle way of putting it. I would go the length of saying that this Bill contains provisions for a parallel of which you might search in vain the Statute-book of this country or of any part of the British Empire.
What are the pretexts which are alleged in defence of these exceptional measures? They are first, that there are in Ireland a large number of victims of a harsh system, who have been thrust out of their farms not entirely for any fault of their own; and who are anxiously awaiting reinstatement. We are told, secondly, that we on this side of the House were 1707 parties in 1903 to a compromise of some kind, part of which was a measure of reinstatement—I will not say the same as this Bill, but a measure corresponding in some degree to the proposals of his Majesty's Government. I venture to say that both of those allegations are of a somewhat fanciful description, and have very little correspondence with the facts of the case. I must be allowed to remind your Lordships of that which actually did take place in 1903, because it was out of the legislation of 1903 that this evicted tenants question, as we now know it, undoubtedly grew.
In 1903 there emerged on all sides a feeling that the time had come when a resolute effort should be made to bring to an end the intolerable system of land tenure which successive Acts had fastened on owners and occupiers of the soil in Ireland. We believed that that system could be brought to an end only by some great system of purchase. Let me remind your Lordships that the present system of tenure in Ireland has been condemned on all sides and by all whose business it has been to inquire into it. Some of your Lordships may have forgotten the memorable Report of the Committee of this House, presided over in the year 1883 by Lord Cairns. Every word that was said in Lord Cairns's Report was confirmed fifteen years afterwards by that well-known Royal Commission presided over by Sir Edward Fry—a Commission, remember, which included amongst its members Mr. Cherry, the highest authority on Irish Land Tenure and one of your law officers.
The Report of the Fry Commission condemned the system which it found in existence on the ground of the insufficient qualification and insufficient independence of the officials by whom these rent-fixing operations were carried out. They referred to the universal suspicions, not confined to the landlords, with which the sub-commissioners and valuers were regarded; they pointed out that the appeal, as provided by the Act, was an illusory appeal; and they dwelt, in words which cannot be too much taken to heart, upon the unrest and demoralisation created by the existence of this system throughout Ireland. We thought that the time had come for trying to bring that system to an end, and with the co- 1708 operation of representatives, both of the landlords and of the tenants, we were able to frame the Land Purchase Act of 1903. Those who were responsible for that measure all desired that, if there was to be a settlement, that settlement should be a complete one, and that, to use an often-used phrase, it should leave no open sores behind. The Bill was accordingly so framed that, in connection with and incidental to a system of sale and purchase, there should be a plan for reinstating evicted tenants so far as circumstances permitted.
The Bill passed, and the policy at first proved to be eminently satisfactory. Sales proceeded apace, so did reinstatements, and it would scarcely be too much to say that for the first time for many years something like a hope of a termination of a condition of things which every one regretted appeared upon the political horizon. With the advent of the new Government a great change came over the situation in Ireland. The language used by Ministers indicated from the very first that it was their intention to tamper with the settlement of 1903. They used language which could not fail to disturb the minds both of those tenants who had actually purchased their holdings and of those who were intending to purchase; and not only did they use such language, but they actually gave a Second Reading to a Bill uprooting the whole basis of the Act of 1903, and profoundly altering the law of land tenure in Ireland, forgetting that there is no greater obstacle that you can put in the way of purchase than a disturbance or a revision of the conditions of land tenure.
Now comes this Bill—a new and formidable element of disturbance. Let me say, in the first place, one word upon the question of the number of people whom it will affect. We know that four years ago those best able to judge estimated the number of evicted tenants who might be dealt with at somewhere about 400; we know that at this moment something like 8,000 applications have come before His Majesty's Government. That figure is the measure of the expectations which the language of His Majesty's Ministers has raised in the minds of the people of Ireland. We are told that of those 8,000 applicants 2,000 only, or about 2,000, are considered 1709 worthy of reinstatement. We have had no explanation from His Majesty's Ministers of the reasons for this immense increase in the number, and we have been wholly unable to elicit from them any kind of definition of the tests which they intend to adopt when deciding which of these men are worthy of being put back on their farms and which are not. I do not believe that the Irish Government will be able to defend this frontier of 2,000, which they have laid down for their own guidance. It is an arbitrary frontier, and it is not one which I believe for a moment they will be able to hold. We are told—I think the noble Earl used the expression—that bygones should be bygones.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I will take it either from the noble Earl or from Mr. Wyndham. It is a good expression. I should like bygones to be bygones, but I want to know a little about some of the bygones with which you are going to deal under this Bill. Do not let us allow ourselves to forget that since the year 1881 no tenant in Ireland has lost his farm by eviction unless he has brought that eviction upon himself. That may sound a strong thing to say, but I believe it to be perfectly true. Since the Act of 1881 the Irish tenant has had the right to have a fair rent fixed, a rent which has always been very much below that which the farm would command in the open market. He has also had the great privilege of free sale. The noble Marquess opposite, who remembers the debates which took place at the time of the Land Bill of 1881, will recollect that the great recommendation of the right of free sale was this, that it was supposed to provide an automatic measure of relief for every tenant who found himself in difficulties. He could sell his tenant right, and he was replaced by a man better able to do justice to the farm. The tenants have had fair rents; they have had the privilege of free sale; and they have also had the opportunity of making a composition for their arrears upon terms of the most generous and attractive description. Does it not follow that these people who have lost their holdings must have lost them either because they were incompe- 1710 tent farmers, or owing to the ordinary vicissitudes to which agriculture in all parts of the United Kingdom is exposed, or because they have deliberately preferred to take part in a dangerous agitation, and to allow themselves to be evicted rather than take advantage of the legitimate opportunities which were offered to them? It is to these men, who have had these great opportunities placed within their reach, that you are going to offer the extraordinary terms proposed in this Bill.
I ask your Lordships to consider for one moment how this Bill will operate. It may happen that the owner of an estate may have had his rents regularly paid by a quiet, law-observing body of tenants. There may have been a single one of them who has, for one reason or another, chosen to resist rent payment and been evicted. That man, under this Bill, can be restored to his holding, can be put back in the middle of the estate, and not put back on a level of equality with the other tenants but put back under conditions which, if the other tenants pay, let us say, 10s. an acre for their land, enable him to get his land for 7s. 6d. per acre. Can one conceive a more demoralising example to set in a country where even its best friends must admit moral courage and self-reliance are not always as conspicuous as they might be?
Then I come for one moment to the modus operandi. The noble Earl has explained to us that in order to find farms for these gentlemen you are to oust the people who are described in the Bill as new tenants, but who are best known to us as "planters." Noble Lords opposite are progressing rapidly. Four years ago even the Nationalist leaders were ready to admit that planters deserved to be protected. The noble Earl opposite held decided language upon this subject in your Lordships' House. I remember very well that a noble friend of mine, Lord Westmeath, moved an Amendment which was intended to protect the planters even against the voluntary sale of their holdings. Upon that occasion I find that I ventured to express the opinion, first, that the planters, who were sturdy and resolute gentlemen, were not very likely to make way for others; secondly, that I did not believe that the Land Commission would lend itself to such a transaction; and, thirdly, that I did not 1711 believe the Irish Government would for a moment allow these men to be sacrificed in the manner which was supposed. The noble Earl opposite supported my view, and told us that in his opinion it would be a monstrous thing if planter tenants who were genuine and reputable farmers were disturbed. The noble Earl has said something of the same kind this evening, and I hope that when the moment comes, as it will come, when on this side of the House we shall move an Amendment designed to protect these genuine and reputable farmers, the noble Earl will give us his support. He dwelt a few moments ago upon the great difficulty of discovering a formula which would include these particular people and not others whom it might be undesirable to include. I have an idea that we shall be able to draft a rather useful clause by adopting the very words of the noble Earl, and we may have to appeal to him for help when we come to the Committee stage on those grounds.
Then we are constantly told that this power of evicting planters is aimed, not at the genuine bona-fide planter tenants, but at people who are described as approximating to the status of caretakers and so on. I have my doubts about that, and for this reason. Is it not clear that if these men are occupying their land merely as birds of passage and caretakers you will not require the power of compulsory eviction to get rid of them. If you offer them a better or as good a farm elsewhere, or an adequate sum of money, your caretaker will be glad to accept and go. This power of compulsion, I am afraid, is aimed at the very men who have firmly established themselves on their holdings, who have taken root there, and whom you are going to disturb in order to admit much less deserving men from a distance. Why, I would ask, is it necessary to disturb the planters at all? You tell us that you want about 80,000 acres to find room for the evicted tenants, and we are informed that the Estates Commissioners actually have 80,000 acres in sight. They are in treaty for these 80,000 acres and will get them without difficulty. But following on that—I am quoting from the Report of the Estates Commissioners—is the extraordinary statement by the Commissioners that this land is not to be available for the 1712 purpose of putting evicted tenants upon it because the great bulk of the land, if ultimately acquired—is needed for the enlargement of small holdings in the localities in which the land is situated, and the people of these localities would strongly object to the whole or even a considerable portion of the land being set aside to meet the requirements of the evicted tenants alone; nor is it probable that the evicted tenants themselves would be willing to take land at a distance from their former holdings and in localities where their introduction would be met by local opposition.Unless I misunderstood him, the noble Earl accepted and made his own a considerable part of that argument. I would ask your Lordships, were there ever people who had less right to be fastidious in the choice of the land to which they were to be restored than these evicted tenants? They have ex concessus neglected the opportunities which were within their reach and have preferred to be evicted. So that it comes to this—on the one side are men who, in order to help you in resisting what has been described by the highest authority as an illegal conspiracy, have, at great personal risk, taken holdings, probably in a somewhat derelict condition, and settled upon them and improved them; and on the other hand you have—whom?—either these evicted tenants or the occupiers of those uneconomic holdings of whom we heard it said the other evening that they were watching with covetous eyes the rich grazing lands adjoining their holdings, and that their natural desire to be furnished with parts of those lands might be accepted, as an extenuating circumstance in connection with the Roscommon cattle drives. It really comes to this, that men, who are in every way deserving of your support, are to be turned out in order to put in their places either National Leaguers or cattle drivers from Roscommon. I must say that that seems to me to be a proposal which I can scarcely find words to characterise.
Consider, moreover, what will be the fate of these evicted planters when you move them to other parts of Ireland. In the passage which I have just quoted we were warned that the introduction of strangers would be likely to meet with local opposition. We have been told over and over again that there is nothing that the tenant farmers of Ireland dislike 1713 so much as the introduction of strangers from outside. But if they dislike a stranger, with what feeling will they regard the planter? The planter is something more than a stranger. He is a man who has been denounced, who has been held up to public execration as an individual who should be shunned like a leper and be denied all neighbourly treatment and recognition. What sort of a reception are these men likely to obtain? We have had some reference to the evidence given by the Estates Commissioners before Lord Dudley's Commission. I wonder if your attention has been attracted by the remarkable statement made the other day by Mr. Commissioner Finucane on this subject. Mr. Finucane admitted, in his evidence, that strangers were not very popular. He said—The objection was due to a narrow parochial feeling which he thought might be overcome by tact and persuasion.And then he went on to say—If these fail I would have no hesitation in putting down selfish opposition by the aid of taw and the police.He was then asked by a member of the Commission whether he thought many tenants would be likely to migrate under police protection; and he replied—Certainly I think they would.Can one be surprised that Sir Anthony MacDonnell, one of the Commissioners, interpolated this observation—I who have to work the police look forward with great pleasure to this Arcadia.We shall certainly move Amendments designed to meet the case of the bona-fide planters.
I have spoken of compulsion on the tenants. May I say one word with regard to the question of compulsion on the landlords? The case of the landlord from whom land is to be compulsorily taken is, no doubt, less hard than that of the evicted planter; because the landlord does not lose his house and his holding; but, on the other hand, let it not be forgotten that untenanted land in the landlord's possession is absolutely his own. He owns both the landlord's interest and the tenant's interest. It may always have been in his own occupation or he may have acquired it by buying up the tenant right, submitting willingly, perhaps, to a money sacrifice in order to relieve some little fraction of his property 1714 from the incubus of Land Court legislation. He may never have evicted a tenant in his life; his relations with his tenants may have been of the most friendly description; yet to him enter the Estates Commissioners and put down in the midst of his property one of these men imported from outside. He may be a planter. The landlord is probably fortunate if he should be a planter. He may be, on the other hand, a man deeply steeped in agitation, whose presence cannot fail to be a disturbing and demoralising element in the whole neighbourhood. We are used in this country to the idea of applying compulsory powers, but I must say it does seem to me to be straining the use of compulsion to apply it for purposes such as those which I have tried to describe.
Then one word as to the machinery of compulsion. As the noble Earl has told us, the preliminary investigations are carried on by the inspectors, who are the employés and agents of the Estates Commissioners, and upon whom the Estates Commissioners must necessarily depend. These gentlemen will, I suppose, be of the same class and standing as the sub-Commissioners who are now employed throughout Ireland to fix rents. Many of them, we know, are themselves tenant farmers, and many of them hold their appointments under a temporary tenure, coming within the description which I quoted just now from the Fry Commission. We were told by one of the Estates Commissioners, during his examination the other day, that these temporarily employed officials contract and expand in accordance with the demands of the times. We have had lately a rather striking illustration of one of those contractions and expansions in accordance with the demands of the times. I do not think I shall be corrected when I say that a few months ago eleven, or thereabouts, of these sub-Commissioners were deprived of their appointments, not, I believe, for any fault that was alleged against them—I am told, on the contrary, that their work had met with the approval of the Land Commission—and for them were substituted eleven other gentlemen, of whom I do not want to say a word disrespectful, but who notoriously are men of extreme political views, and whose appointment was welcomed enthusiastically by the Nationalist Press in Ireland, on the ground that they were men of 1715 extreme political views and were likely to give effect to those views in their new sphere of action.
Then we come to the Estates Commissioners. With them will rest the final decision in these important cases. It will be for them to decide whether a particular individual is worthy of reinstatement, whether he should be reinstated upon this or that particular plot of ground, and upon these terms or those. There is no appeal. My Lords, I am not going to say anything disrespectful of the Estates Commissioners; they are no doubt able men. I confess, however, that this proposal does seem to me to be one of a very novel and a very improper character, and I will tell your Lordships why. Without imputing anything against the Estates Commissioners, I must point out that they are really themselves parties to the litigation which will go on under the Bill. They are men who are largely the authors of this policy and most interested in making it a success. They are saturated with the strongest ideas as to the manner in which this land question should be dealt with. I do not see in the tone and temper of their evidence anything which can properly be described as characterised by a really judicial frame of mind. I think, indeed, that my case is almost proved by the language of the Bill itself, for in Section 7 it is laid down that for certain purposes the Estates Commissioners—shall be deemed to be the promoters of the undertaking.Yet it is these men, who are promoters throughout, that you propose to turn into a final Court of Appeal. Surely it cannot be right that one and the same body should find, not only what, in the inelegant language of these controversies is described as the "ginger," but also the Judge.
Perhaps I shall be asked whether it is our intention to move that the compulsory clauses of the Bill should be struck out. I recognise so fully that compulsion is an essential feature of this Bill, and I feel so bound to accept what the noble Earl has told us as to his belief that in certain cases it would be impossible to do what is wanted without compulsion, that I prefer not to vote against compulsion, but rather to endeavour by the Amendments which we shall add to the Bill to render the exercise of compulsion, less liable to abuse than it is, I believe, in the Bill as it stands. 1716 I hope that when the Bill leaves this House it will be in such a shape that no compulsion will be possible unless it has been clearly established, first, that there is a sufficient ease for reinstatement; secondly, that voluntary means have been tried unsuccessfully; and, thirdly, that the terms offered are really just and equitable. We, at any rate, cannot look forward to the passing of this Bill unless there is added to it some arrangement which will give us a competent Court of Appeal, by which I mean a Court of Appeal empowered to deal not only with questions of law but questions of fact, and composed of men as far as possible removed from that atmosphere of enthusiasm and excitement in which these Estates Commissioners have their being. I will only add this, that I believe that no one would be more grateful than the Estates Commissioners themselves if they were relieved of this very onerous and difficult function.
I have dealt with what seem to me the most glaring defects of the Bill, but there are several other clauses which we desire to criticise. I will only mention as clauses which seem to me to require alteration that in which power is given to the Estates Commissioners to sell land at a loss and then to charge the amount lost upon the Land Purchase Aid Fund; then there is the clause making a change in the tenure of the Estates Commissioners, and, next, the total absence in the Bill of any provisions tending to fix the limit of its operation, either in regard to time, money, or numbers. We must admit that it is a most extraordinary and exceptional Bill. Surely some trouble should be taken to render this transitionary state of things temporary and terminable, and that Ireland should not be left, say for ten years, seething under the friction and agitation to which clauses of this Bill are likely to give rise. The noble Earl made use of a very striking simile when dealing with the question of imposing a limit on the number of tenants reinstated. His image was that of a concert-hall, and on the harmony of that concert-hall I will not dwell. But does not the noble Earls argument show how impossible it would be for him, without any limit at all, to close the door of his concert-hall against the number of applicants who will be thundering at it for admission?
1717 I may be asked why, holding these views, I do not move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months. I will give to your Lordships, in half a dozen words, my reasons for preferring the course which I venture to recommend to the House, namely, that we should read it a second time and then endeavour to amend some of its most objectionable provisions in Committee. In the first place, we are pledged to a measure of reinstatement of some kind, and if your Lordships were to throw out this Bill on Second Reading it would certainly be said that you had receded, I will not say from a bargain, but from a kind of understanding which was arrived at in 1903. In the next place, this Bill comes here supported by enormous majorities in the other House of Parliament, and I believe your Lordships will always desire to treat attentively and respectfully Bills that come to you with such a recommendation.
But there is a third reason, and to my mind the strongest of all. I cannot help fearing that the summary rejection of this Bill might greatly increase the difficulties of the executive Government in Ireland. We know what those difficulties are. It does not matter for the purpose of my argument whether, as I believe it to be the case, some of those difficulties are largely due to the unwise administration of His Majesty's Ministers; they exist. It is impossible to read the language of learned Judges without a feeling of profound anxiety; besides which we know that, for the first time, I believe, that magnificent force, the Royal Irish Constabulary, has been touched with disaffection. In those circumstances, and when this Bill is represented to us by the responsible Ministers as one urgently needed for the sake of peace in Ireland, I am not prepared to take the responsibility of moving its rejection on Second Reading. I can imagine the kind of use which would be made of our rejection of such a Bill, and—I speak frankly—I do not wish to put that weapon in the hands of those who are instrumental in promoting agitation in Ireland or of those who support them in this country. In my belief it should be possible to amend the Bill in such a manner as to modify some of its most dangerous provisions without depriving those who are 1718 entitled to relief of one jot or tittle of what is due to them, and I think we have a right in resorting to that mode of procedure to appeal to His Majesty's Government for their support in so amending this Bill that, while it will bring relief where it is most needed, it will not leave behind it, as in its present condition it certainly would, a sense of rankling wrong and injustice.
§ LORD ATKINSON
My Lords, I should not have thought for a moment of intruding myself upon your Lordships' attention by intervening in this debate but for three reasons. In the first place, it has been my good or evil fortune through a long official career in Ireland, to have taken part in shaping the agrarian legislation that has been passed for that country from 1889 to 1905, and I do not like the last and fairest member of this legislative progeny to be mutilated before my eyes in silence. My second reason is this: I have never been what in Ireland is called a "landlords' man"; nor, although I had the honour of representing for ten years an agricultural constituency in Ireland, have I ever been what is called a "tenants' man"; but I am, my Lords, and have always been, the open advocate of justice to both of these classes—and it is because many of the provisions of this Bill, in my view, offend egregiously against that principle that I wish to criticise its details. There is a third reason, and it is this, that some of these provisions appear, to my mind, to offend against a principle which I have always understood was sacred—a principle which has elevated our judicial proceedings and our Executive administration—namely, that a man should not be judge in his own case.
I do not think that any friend of the evicted tenants can accuse the late Government of being their enemies. We brought in, in 1891, the first legislative provision that was ever introduced for the reinstatement of evicted tenants. Under that Act, notwithstanding that they had forfeited their position, they were entitled to be reinstated by purchase. In 1896 we went further still, and provided, under the Act of that year, that they might be reinstated not only by purchase but as present tenants, with all the advantages of present tenants and by the mediation of the Land Commission; 1719 and in the last Act—the Act of 1903— by voluntary methods and as incident to the great purpose of that Bill—namely, the conversion of the occupying tenantry of Ireland into owners—this question was, if possible, to be settled. There was not a single Nationalist member in the House of Commons upon the occasion of the discussion of this clause who did not again and again repeat that it should be carried out by voluntary methods, as all the other clauses were to be carried out; and Mr. Wyndham, who had then the carriage of that Bill, again and again, with universal consent, asserted that there was no desire to give priority to evicted tenants over any of the classes dealt with in Section 3—namely, the people in small holdings and the people in congested districts. Evicted tenants were to be treated with equal justice, and there was to be no effort to thrust the question of the evicted tenants into the front and make it the primary and main purpose of this great remedial measure.
I have heard the rules and regulations, the administrative guides to the carrying out of the principles and policy of the measure of 1903 characterised more than once. I personally am responsible in some degree for their shape, and I do not shrink from defending them. I knew they were legal; I thought they were wise; I believed them to be just. I am convinced of that now. What was our policy? We laid down that the question of the reinstatement of the evicted tenants should be taken up when the estate from which he had been evicted came on for sale, not that if it never came on for purchase he should never be restored. Quite the contrary. The passage which the noble Earl alluded to contains no such provision. The main lines on which the policy was to run was that the question of reinstatement should be brought up when the estate from which he was evicted came up for sale. The reason for that was obvious. Had that policy been carried out, when the tenant was reinstated he would have gone back to his own home, amongst his own friends. He would have been exactly in a position of equality with them, and would neither have been an object of envy to the other tenants nor have been placed in a position where his success would be an example to be 1720 followed. That was the main purchase of our measure.
But that policy was not good enough for the Estates Commissioners, and they accordingly applied—they rather boast of it—for the creation of an independent Department for the investigation of these cases. That independent Department was refused by the late Government, and refused upon the ground solely that it was desired to do nothing in this question of reinstatement which would induce any man not to pay his rent. The rule laid down was adhered to; but scarcely had the present Government got into office than a change was made. It was an unfortunate change. I think it has had unfortunate results, because it must be remembered that in 1893, when the Mathew Commission sat, the number of evicted tenants on the Plan of Campaign estates, as they were called—that is, those estates in which a criminal conspiracy not to pay rent had been rampant —was only 880. The claims sent in from Ireland in addition numbered 2,500, so that the evicted tenants who in 1893 claimed to be reinstated numbered, roughly, 3,500. Anybody who knows Ireland knows that there was no considerable eviction of tenants between 1893 and 1904; yet it has been found that nearly 5,000 additional men have sent in claims. In the last year that the late Government were in office the claims had gone down to 660, and even the number to which they then reached was a matter of astonishment. The Nationalist Members, who have behaved nobly in this matter of the evicted tenants, for they have never deserted them, must have known their real numbers, and the highest estimate put by Mr. Davitt was 1,000, while Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Redmond put the number at 800. The sum named by Mr. Morley when Chief Secretary for Ireland to settle the evicted tenants question was £250,000, but the Estates Commissioners now ask £2,500,000.
What was the next result of that new departure? It was that in twelve months 3,111 additional claims were sent in. Why? Because you raised false hopes and extravagant expectations. Although these claims have been investigated, and although you have reinstated over 1,000, two thousand more are to be 1721 reinstated. The noble Lord who so efficiently represents the Irish Office in your Lordships' House, Lord Denman, told us the other night that the Government were afraid to give the names of the men who had been selected because the disappointed ones might resort to crime. That is a triumph of administration What a tremendous proof of the confidence that is to be reposed in these Estates Commissioners, whom it is again and again suggested it is almost an iniquity to doubt! What do you propose to do? You propose a system which I bitterly regret to say—and I ought to know Ireland—will manufacture evicted tenants faster than you will reinstate them.
If this Bill were to pass into law a case such as this is quite possible. Take a landlord with fifty tenants. Two of them he has evicted; they are out, and their holdings are vacant; but forty-eight remain. He tries to sell. He and his tenants cannot agree. Down come the Estates Commissioners—those engines of destruction—and put back the two evicted tenants on to their farms, in the midst of the forty-eight others, with £150 or £200 in their pockets and a rent fixed in their case twenty or thirty per cent. less than their neighbours were paying. I would be the last to attribute to any of my countrymen a double dose of original sin, but it is crediting them with almost angelic virtues to think for a moment that they will be able to resist the temptation to follow a course that they have seen has been so lucrative and successful. I do not know how the Government intend to deal with the 5,000 disappointed tenants. I can well understand that there is a great reluctance to limit the number in this Bill; but I shall be amazed, if the Bill is passed and the numbers are left unfixed, if the 5,000 disappointed ones will not bring pressure sufficient to make you open the door again and reinstate them, although for the moment their claims have been declared to be unfounded.
I have searched through this Bill to endeavour to find some broad and general principle on which it is based, and the only principle I can find is this, that all human virtues are supposed to be concentrated in a man the moment he refuses to pay his rent, and that all human vices are supposed to be concentrated in a man who asks him to 1722 pay or seeks to make him pay his rent; that the interests of the sinner are to be sacrificed to the interests of the saint on every possible occasion, the Estates Commissioners acting as high priests at the ceremony. Landlords are to be sacrificed, planters are to be sacrificed, purchasing tenants are to be sacrificed, and tenants who have agreed to purchase, and whose agreements to the amount of £30,000,000 are hung up for want of money, are to be sacrificed. As Lord Dunraven pointed out so forcibly the other day, this is a state of things which brings loss upon the tenant, inasmuch as he has to pay a quarter per cent. more than he would pay if his purchase were completed, and it adds to the term of the interregnum during which that money has to be paid. I do not think this Bill will be popular when it is known that £3,000 000 are taken from the fund which should go to finance these contracts to reinstate evicted tenants.
My noble friend Lord Lansdowne has dealt with the question of compulsion. I quite agree that both Parties have pledged themselves as far as possible to reinstate the evicted tenants, and if compulsion be necessary for that I do not i think this Bill should be rejected because it embodies the principle of compulsion. But let it be honest and just compulsion. I have endeavoured to acquaint myself with the legislation upon this question of compulsory purchase, not only in this country but in the Colonies and in India, and I say this with confidence, that nowhere where the British flag flies was there ever a compulsory measure of this character produced. Generally speaking, the characteristics of all legislation by which a man's property is taken from him compulsorily are, first, that the object should be a great public object; secondly, that it should be necessary to take the land; thirdly, that the purchase should be sanctioned by some authority outside and different from the persons who are the purchasers; and fourthly—and this is a matter of vital importance—that compensation should be given to the person who is deprived of his property for the loss he sustains by that purchase, which is an entirely different matter from the price the article taken.
I will take the liberty of calling your Lordships' attention to the very first 1723 words of this Bill, which are certainly the most extraordinary that ever found their way into any compulsory measure. The words are—If the Estate Commissioners deem it expedient.'We happen to know their opinions, for they have given them with some ostentation and at length in their evidence before the Dudley Commission. I might for a moment contrast the language of this Bill with the language of a kindred measure—the Allotments Act—in this country. The words of that Act are—If a parish council or district council are unable to hire or purchase land by voluntary meansthey may put compulsory powers into action. "If they are unable." There is nothing of that kind in this Bill. This Bill merely provides that "if the Estates Commissioners deem it expedient" they may roam all over Ireland and take land compulsorily when they please, where they please, in any quantity they please, and at what price they please. If the Bill passes in its present form it would have been simpler to have introduced a Bill in the following terms:—Whereas the Estates Commissioners are possessed of all knowledge and are deserving of all confidence, be it enacted that for the purpose of reinstating evicted tenants in Ireland they may take any land they like, at any place they like, at any time they like, in any quantity they like, and pay for it what they like.For that is really what this Bill does. I should like to contrast the provisions of this Bill with the provisions of kindred measures in this country. Let me take, first, the Education Department. Surely the Government; will not assert that the School Boards were not worthy of all confidence, and surely they will not say that the education of the children of England was not an object as much deserving of the care of the Government as the reinstatement of the evicted tenants. Yet they did not give the school boards power to acquire any land they liked in any place they liked. On the contrary, school boards were required to present a petition to the Education Department; the Department were then required to direct an inquiry; they then had to make an Order which was to be affirmed by Parliament, and the Lands Clauses Act, 1845, was to be incorporated.
1724 I come to the question of the housing of the working classes. Surely one would suppose that the persons who rot and pine in want and misery in the slums of London or in the great towns of England were as worthy objects for the beneficent action of the Government as the evicted tenants, and surely one would suppose that the municipalities of England were as worthy of confidence as the Estates Commissioners. But did the Government give them absolute authority to go where they pleased and to take what land they pleased? No. The local authority must prepare a scheme; the scheme must go before the Local Government Board; a Secretary of State in London or Parliament, must investigate the matter; compensation must be awarded by an independent arbitrator, and if the amount exceeds £1,000 it is to be tried before a Judge and jury.
I ask, what special grace has fallen upon the Estates Commissioners? What special merit do these men who have not paid rent possess beyond that of the poor in our slums and the children in our schools? I challenge the noble Earl or any noble Lord on the opposite side of the House to point to any one instance where, in all the wide expanse of this great Empire, power has been given similar to that which is proposed to be exercised under the provisions of this Bill. Take, again, the question of allotments in England. The local authorities cannot take land compulsorily for this purpose without securing the sanction, after inquiry, of a Government Department. And if you go to Ireland you find that for all purposes of public health and for the Labourers Act the power given does not in the faintest degree correspond to the large power which it is proposed to give under this Bill to the Estates Commissioners. Therefore I say that to give the Commissioners these powers is without parallel, and is, I submit, most unjust. Even under the Defence Acts and the Military Lands Acts, the Secretary of State for War cannot, except in the case of actual invasion of this country, take land except with the consent of the lord-lieutenant of the county, or by Provisional Order.
It is not necessary at this stage to indicate what should be the method provided for an appeal; but for myself I 1725 think there is no difficulty whatever in providing a competent and satisfactory tribunal of appeal. Under Mr. Gladstone's Land Act of 1870 a Judge of Assize was the tribunal to fix the compensation to be paid to a tenant who was evicted, and also to fix the amount to be paid for an unexhausted improvement. There would, therefore, be nothing unprecedented in making the Court of a Judge of Assize the tribunal of appeal from, the Estates Commissioners. An appeal has been made to us to have confidence in the Commissioners. Whether it is their misfortune or their fault, the Commissioners Shave not got the confidence of the landlord party in Ireland; and I do not think they will have the confidence of the 5,000 disappointed claimants, nor of the planters whom it is intended to turn out, nor, indeed, of those tenants who have purchased their holdings and would be comfortably living on their land as proprietors if the Commissioners had completed the contracts.
And I do not think the evidence of Mr. Finucane is likely to inspire confidence. I think it ought to be read at every landlords' club and at every village inn. It is not generally known that he proposes that he should go all over Ireland and that, for the purpose of obtaining land for the relief of congestion, whenever he finds a man with a farm valued at more than £100 he should take half of it away from him. I do not wish to make any accusation against the probity, of the Estates Commissioners or any suggestion as to their anxiety not to do what is right. But I say that they have views upon this question of the value of land which must deprive them of the confidence of those who have interests in land. Mr. Commissioner Bailey, who was for fifteen years a sub-Commissioner, gave evidence as to the mode in which the rents were fixed. I believe that frequently in this House, often in the other House of Parliament I know, statements were made that the settlement of rents went on upon no fixed or rational principle; but Mr. Bailey is the first official to make that 'confession openly and apparently unabashed. Mr. Bailey acknowledges that there was no principle ever laid down in fixing rents. I forgot to refer to the happy position of the evicted 1726 tenant when reinstated. He is to pay nobody. His property is not to be made available for the payment of debts. This reminds me of an amusing Irish romance in which words are put into the mouth of an Irish chieftain that he had—''no idea of frittering away his property in paying his debts,but this is the first time I ever saw that precedent embodied in a Bill.
What is the next thing that Mr. Finucane lays down? It is that in estimating the price to be paid for land the Commissioners are not to take into account what the owner is making out of it. If property is taken under the Lands Clauses Act, or any kindred Act, the first question asked in estimating the value is, how much is the owner making out of it, and how much will he lose by being deprived of it; and compensation on that basis would be given by any just arbitrator. But not so according to Mr. Bailey and Mr. Finucane. Although men are letting grazing lands to graziers and getting £2 an acre, they are not to be compensated at that rate. A distinguished friend of mine, long a Member of the other House, put to Mr. Bailey this question, Supposing a man for the last fifteen years has been getting £2 an acre for his grazing land, why should you not pay him that price? Sir Antony MacDonnell came to the rescue and said that grazing was, after all, precarious; and Mr. Finucane added that the law with regard to the importation of Canadian cattle might be removed at any time, and that then the price of grass land would go down to nothing. I have not the advantage of possessing grazing land, but if I had and was letting it at £2 an acre I must say I would not have much confidence in a gentleman who entertained those opinions. That view is concurred in by Commissioner Bailey, and the mystery to me is how it comes that grazing rents that have been paid for the last fifteen years are considered unsuitable to be taken as the basis on which to calculate the value of the land.
I do not wish to trespass unduly upon your Lordships' time, but there is, one 1727 other matter which, to my mind, is extremely grave. It is complained that some landlords have desired to cut up their grazing lands and to sell to tenants under the Purchase Act; but, according to the Estates Commissioners, that would not do, as it "would not carry out the principle of the Act." Sir Antony MacDonnell says—Parliament in its wisdom has enacted a measure which is for the good of the whole community, and that measure lays down the rule that a landlord disposing of his property shall only do so in accordance with the spirit of that measure.The Commissioners' ground for refusing to declare such land an estate is that it is not fit to be so declared for the purposes of the Act. Power is given to the Commissioners to declare land as an estate—that is for two purposes, mainly for the purpose of securing the bonus, and secondly, for applying the zone; and I submit that that is a discretion which ought to be exercised by them in a judicial spirit. Where a landlord proposes to sell grazing land to a tenant, and the Commissioners refuse to define that as an estate in order to put pressure upon the landlord to sell the land to them—I say that a greater abuse of judicial discretion could not well be conceived. If a landlord is selling land to a tenant within the Act and the transaction is fair and square, they have no right to say they will not define it as an estate in order that they may themselves acquire it for some other project they may have in view. No doubt they are enthusiasts. I do not mean for a moment to impute anything intentionally wrong to them; I only impute to them erroneous notions as to their powers and false tests as to value. I think the provision in the Bill with regard to the bonus rather mean. The bonus fund was created for the purpose of inducing landlords who could not afford to sell without it to bring their estates into the market; and while it is true that the present landlords will not be deprived of it by the provisions in this Bill, it is certain that landlords will who may sell after this period.
I wish to say a word as to the position of the Commissioners. If there was one thing more than another insisted upon by the Nationalist Members, and by the 1728 Government at the time the Act was passing, it was that these were to be administrative offices. For that reason it was provided, in Section 23 of the Act, that the Commissioners should be under the control' of the Lord-Lieutenant, and obliged to carry out their duties in conformity with general regulations made for them. You now seek to make them Judges. Do you take them from under the control of the Lord-Lieutenant? A Judge, if he is to be a Judge, ought to be independent of all control by the Executive. And if that control is to be removed, and they are to be in the position of Judges, who ever heard of Judges having administrative duties, and paying away millions of money without the Treasury or any other body being able to control them, or to remove them from their office, if their management was not wise and right? Therefore I insist that there is no case whatever made out for the proposed change in the position of the Commissioners.
I object to this Bill, not because it embodies the principle of compulsion, but because it sets up machinery for carrying out a wrong and vicious proposal and one which is absolutely without parallel. I confess, my Lords, that I was one of those who looked to the Act of 1903 with high hopes. I had hope that that Act would prove a message of peace—it was said to be a Divine message, and to have healing in its wings— and that it would put an end to the bitter strife that has for generations poisoned the social life of Ireland and blighted the energies of her people. But by the proposals embodied in this Bill the fair promise has been blighted, and instead of peaceful, harmonious co-operation in the carrying-out of a great agrarian revolution for the benefit of all concerned, this measure will be the forerunner of others in whose wake will arise greater evils, with discontent and friction, where there-might have been happiness and progress.
*THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, in spite of what was said by the noble Earl opposite at the close of his speech I confess that I find it somewhat difficult to consider this measure purely on its own merits and entirely within its own limits, owing to the fact that 1729 coming events of a much larger character cast their shadow through and beyond this measure. I think we may take it as absolutely certain that before very long Parliament will be called upon to deal with a very much larger question— namely, the uneconomic condition of large tracts of country in the West; and I think we may take it as morally certain that that measure, whatever its special provisions may be, will be at any rate based on the principles that obtain in this Bill—the compulsory acquisition of land. I do not intend to go into that subject, at any rate, not to the extent to which it was dealt with by the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, and who, in his eloquent and instructive speech, criticised very fully the evidence given before a Royal Commission inquiring into a totally different subject and which has not yet reported. But, at the same time, in view of the fact that another and larger measure dealing with land in Ireland is absolutely certain to come before Parliament ere long, I think this measure, which certainly contains principles which will be found embodied in the larger Bill, deserves careful scrutiny and a consideration from your Lordships which, under ordinary circumstances, might possibly be thought hypercritical.
This Bill is founded on two propositions—that the reinstatement of evicted tenants is an urgent question and should be promptly dealt with, and that for that purpose compulsory powers are necessary. With both of these propositions I agree, and I may be excused for holding fast to the terms in the Report of the Land Conference. We reported that any measure dealing with land purchase in Ireland should be accompanied by a measure for the restoration of evicted tenants. I think the very words themselves show that it was not in our minds at any rate that the operation of restoration should be confined to estates as they were sold. The two questions are not identical—they are closely allied, but they are not identical; and the very expression we used, that any project for land purchase should be "accompanied" by a measure for the restoration of evicted tenants, precludes the argument that we could possibly have had it in our minds that restoration was 1730 only to take place as estates were sold I think Parliament took the same view
I am sure that all your Lordships who know Ireland will admit that the fact that this evicted tenant question has not been dealt with stands in the way of a clean settlement of the whole land question—it stands in the way of peace and contentment, it causes delay, it causes friction, and in the interest of peace the causes of delay and friction ought to be removed. Delay tells very hardly on the evicted tenants. The case of an evicted tenant desiring restoration in order to purchase is a very different one from that of the ordinary tenant who has not been evicted and who desires to purchase. I quite admit that in the latter case it is a great hardship upon the tenant that, owing to lack of money and to delay, due, perhaps, to other causes, he is unable to get the land vested in him; but, while he is waiting, he at any rate reaps some advantages under the Act of 1903. He ceases to be a tenant and to pay rent, and pays a fixed interest instead, and he is relieved of all the uncertainty which is incidental to the position of a tenant. So that he reaps some considerable benefit. But how about the evicted tenant who wants to be reinstated in order to purchase? His condition is a pitiable, and, in many cases, a most deplorable one. He cannot afford to wait. Delay affects him disastrously. There is no sense in telling a man who is starving that he may get a meal in a week or a month's time; and if an evicted tenant is desirous of being reinstated in his holding or in some other holding for the purpose of purchasing, and you admit that his claim is a just one and that he ought to be reinstated, it surely is very small comfort to him to say that his claim may possibly be attended to in fifteen or twenty years time. The case is urgent and ought to be dealt with; and I think the first proposition on which the Bill is founded, that the reinstatement of evicted tenants is an urgent question deserving prompt and efficient treatment, is amply proved.
Now, as to compulsion, I admit that I can see no case for compulsion if it is to be based upon the assumption that reinstatement has not been effected 1731 by voluntary means, or that landlords have proved obstructive and have as a class shown unwillingness to reinstate evicted tenants. The Report of the Estates Commissioners proves conclusively that landlords have not been obstructive but have been perfectly willing to restore evicted tenants. On fifteen out of seventeen of the Plan of Campaign estates the evicted tenants have been reinstated voluntarily. Altogether, I think, 1,033 reinstatements have taken place voluntarily, and it is absolutely impossible to say that compulsion is necessary because landlords as a class have proved unwilling voluntarily to reinstate these tenants. It may seem an absolutely ridiculous paradox, but really, in a sense, it is true, that in proportion as voluntary methods have been successful their very success proves the necessity for compulsion. Is it right that the action of one or two unreasonable men, or one or two men putting forward perfectly unreasonable objections to reinstatements—is it right that their action should stultify, if not entirely nullify, all the good resulting from the action of the great majority, who have been perfectly ready voluntarily to reinstate evicted tenants? I say it is not right, and the very fact that reinstatements have voluntarily taken place to this large extent, but are stopped in very few cases where they will not be permitted under any circum- stances or on any terms, shows that it is wise and necessary and justifiable to resort in those cases to compulsion.
I am bound to say that some of the objections mentioned in the Special Report of the Estates Commissioners as raised by landlords seem to me not to be valid objections; others appear to me to be perfectly valid. I should have hoped that for the sake of peace, in the case of a great measure of; appeasement such as the Act of 1903 to a large extent is, matters of mere personal feeling would be dismissed. They do not seem to me to be valid objections; but, on the other hand, there is surely a great deal to be said for the landowner who has lost heavily in arrears on an evicted farm and has then laid out large sums of money upon it and now farms it as part of his own farm or domain. I have 1732 always thought, and think still, that if the Estates Commissioners had had power to make a composition of arrears and to offer, say, one year as composition for all arrears as a free gift, it would have been most stimulating in the reinstatement of evicted tenants. I agree, therefore, to the main principle of the Bill, that the reinstatement should take place quickly; and that for that purpose compulsion is necessary. I daresay the provisions of this Bill as regards the exercise of compulsory powers are quite extraordinary. I have no doubt the noble and learned Lord who spoke last' is perfectly justified in all he said, in all the comparisons he drew with the provisions concerning compulsory powers in other Acts. I do not wish to follow him into that, except to say that in my humble opinion the schemes prepared by district councils and county councils, and the provisions affecting, say, the Allotment Act in Great Britain, would not be at all commodious or wise if applied to the exercise of compulsory powers in Ireland. But I submit that if the procedure is peculiar, the whole circumstances in this case are peculiar. There is nothing like it that I know of in any other part of the British Empire. Parliament wisely agrees to find a sum of £112,000,000; or £120,000,000—I forget which—for the settlement of the land question of Ireland, for a great act of appeasement; and Parliament wisely says at the same time that, in order to insure that it shall be a great act of appeasement, the evicted tenants have to be restored. Promptness is the very essence of the matter I do not think you will find anything on all-fours with this, or anything sufficiently closely analogous to it to justify argument as to what procedure should be used in this Bill from the procedure which is used in regard to other Acts dealing with compulsory powers under totally different circumstances.
But, my Lords, I do not mean to say that I am at all satisfied, myself, with the methods employed in this Bill. The powers granted to the Estates Commissioners are enormous, and so are the duties cast upon them; they have got to buy the land and settle for themselves what price they are going to pay for it: and not only that, but they 1733 have got afterwards to sell the land and to settle what price they will sell it at; and, contrary to all the ordinary dictates of commerce, they are not to endeavour to buy cheap and sell dear, but they have got to buy dear and sell cheap; and they will have the microscopic eye of the Treasury scrutinising their every action in that respect. There is no limit whatever placed upon their actions—no limit of time, no limit of acreage, no limit of money, no limit of any kind. I have, personally, great confidence in the Estates Commissioners—I think that by that time they know probably more about the value of land than any other three gentlemen in Ireland; and I should have confidence in them in all these matters if only the Bill stated explicitly the lines on which they were to act and said explicitly what they were to do and what they were not to do. But I think it is rather a strong order to give to any three men—I do not care who they are— the powers that are conferred on the Estates Commissioners by this Bill, without at the same time giving them specific indications of how those powers are to be used. I, myself, am not satisfied with the definition in the Bill of what is a fair price to be given to the expropriated landlord. The words in the Bill are "the fair market value thereof."
*THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
I think it is a bad word, because I am not sure, but I think generally it would be considered to mean the fair market value that land of that character and kind fetched in the market. I may be wrong, but my impression is that grazing land, which is the land that probably would be taken up, very seldom changes hands in market; it is not currently bought and sold; and the value of the land ought to be not its selling value, but the rental that is received out of it. Now I must prefer the formula which I think was used by Mr. Finucane in the evidence which he gave before Lord Dudley's Commission. I admit I have not looked at the proceedings of the Commission, and from what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Atkinson, it seems to me almost improbable that Mr. Finucane used those words, but the Chief Secretary to 1734 the Lord-Lieutenant quoted Mr. Finucane as having laid down a formula and approved of it, and that formula was that Mr. Finucane thought that a fair price would be such a price as would yield the vendor the normal income he had received from the land for the last five or ten years. Now that seems to me perfectly fair, and infinitely better that the words that are contained in the Bill. This is a matter that ought to be very carefully defined in the Bill, because as I have said, the Commissioners have got to buy the land, and then they have got to sell it for a totally different purpose. It is no use blinking facts, and the fact of this matter is that for certain purposes—the purposes of this Bill, which to my mind are very wise and beneficent purposes—you are taking the land compulsorily and turning it from a more profitable to a less profitable use. That is an absolute fact. You take, we will say, 100 acres of first-class grazing land, which I will suppose is let for 3 an acre, or something of that kind; you cut it up into four farms to be devoted to tillage, which may be worth I do not know what—probably 15s. or £1 an acre—but there must be a big loss on the transaction, and it is quite possible that the Estates Commissioners, perfectly naturally and honestly and properly, may say to themselves, "We have got to use this land, when we have got it, for certain purposes, and the fair price for it is its fair market value when devoted to that use. That is what we have got to sell it for, and therefore we ought not to give more than its fair market value when it is turned into tillage." That would not be a fair price, and I hope it will be clearly specified in the Bill that the fair price should be based upon the normal rent received for the land when it is grazing land over, as Mr. Finucane suggested, say, the last five or ten years.
I think some limitation, whether of money, or of area, or of time, is absolutely necessary, and I think the more your Lordships look into this Bill, the more you will find that the necessity for some limitation arises. And I would ask your Lordship; to remember that Clause 11 states that—Any land acquired under this Act which is not required for the purposes of this Act may be 1735 sold under the Land Purchase Acts to any person mentioned in Section 2 of the Act of 1903.That is to say, that if the Estates Commissioners become possessed compulsorily of more land than they require for reinstating evicted tenants, they can use it for the ordinary purposes of the Land Purchase Act of 1903. I do not think that the Estates Commissioners will make an improper use of that clause, but I would point out to your Lordships that it undoubtedly enables the Estates Commissioners, if they choose, under instructions from the Government, or without any instructions, practically to convert the 1903 Act from a voluntary Act to a compulsory Act. Another clause of this Bill gives the Estates Commissioners the whole of the unexpended portion of the bonus to draw upon in case they make a loss over the purchase and sale of land. I suppose of the bonus there must be at least some £8,000,000 unexpended, and you give the Estates Commissioners absolute power to draw on nearly £8,000,000 of money in this matter, and they are not limited, therefore, on account of expense. And it is possible—I do not say that it is possible, but it is perfectly possible—that under those circumstances the Estates Commissioners, up to that limit of £8,000,000 loss in the transaction, can buy any quantity of land in Ireland, and then say, "We do not require all this for the evicted tenants; we will turn it over to the ordinary purposes of the Act, and so convert the Act into practically a compulsory Act."
Neither do I like the powers of the Estates Commissioners over what are commonly called the planters. I do not think it can be denied that it was perfectly understood by all parties and on all sides in Parliament during the discussions on the Bill of 1903 that a planter who had become a bona fide, real, occupying tenant should not be dispossessed— that no pressure, direct or indirect, was to be placed upon him. It is ridiculous to say that no pressure has been exercised upon a man in those circumstances if the Estates Commissioners are to approach him armed with compulsory powers. I do not think that there is any real disagreement on that point. I think it will be agreed and 1736 accepted on both sides of the House that if a new tenant—a planter—has really acquired a substantial interest in a holding, is a bona fide tenant, and is rooted in the soil, he ought not to be, and is not to be, dispossessed. I do not think there is any difference of opinion about that, but there should be something in the Bill to show that that is the intention, and there is not a word to that effect in the Bill at present. It may be said that it is quite safe to leave that matter to the discretion of the Estates Commissioners. Possibly it is, but at the same time I should be much more satisfied if there was something in the nature of an instruction inserted to the effect that where a new tenant has, as I say, obtained a real, substantial interest in a holding, has held it for a long time, has improved it, and so on, and is acclimatised and rooted in the soil, he should not be absolutely turned out.
I wish to enter a very strong protest against placing the loss that may be incurred by the Estates Commissioners between buying and selling upon the grant-in-aid. I would suggest that it is, to say the least of it, a very unusual thing to insert in a Bill a provision which will practically amend, in one of its most important particulars, a former Act of Parliament. The object of the grant-in-aid is perfectly well known to your Lordships. I must be excused for constantly alluding to the Land Conference, but still, the Land Conference recognised that between the price which the landlord could be expected to take and the price which the tenant could be expected to give, a certain gap must exist. The Land Conference recommended that that gap should be bridged over, and Parliament did bridge it over to the extent of £12,000,000. And the absolute words in the Act are that the grant-in-aid is "for the purpose of aiding the sales of estates under this Act"—that is the Act of 1903. What the present Bill proposes to do is to apply the bonus to a totally different purpose and object under a totally different Act. That seems to be at any rate a most unusual proceeding. Of course it may be argued that applying it to this purpose does aid, or will aid, the sale of estates. That would be a very 1737 disingenuous argument, I think, and it might be equally well said that the bonus, if applied to the Department of Agriculture, or to the enlargement of small or uneconomic holdings would also aid in the sale of estates. So it would in a sense, but not in the sense in which it was intended. The Act of 1903 provides that the Treasury has power at quinquennial periods to revise the percentage, and the reason is given perfectly plainly. The Treasury can revise the percentage for the purpose of adjusting the relations between the unexpended portions of the fund and the claims that may be made upon it. That is to say, that if the Treasury found that the claims were not so large as they expected, they could increase the interest beyond the 12 per cent.; if, on the other hand, they found that the claims were greater, and that the £12,000,000 would not go round, they could decrease the interest. The operations of the Act of 1903 are confined to the definite purpose of bridging over the gap between the price the landlord ought to take and the price the tenant ought to give, and I protest strongly against the diversion of the bonus to any other purpose than that.
I object to it, too, because it interferes seriously with the Land Conference Report. I look upon the Report of the Land Conference as a treaty of peace, and I protest against that treaty being denounced. If this bonus is to be applied in this manner, it certainly will be a complete stultification of the Land Conference Report; and I entreat His Majesty's Government—I do not know whether it can be done in this House, but I entreat His Majesty's Government, if it be possible, not to do anything in this Bill which can possibly invalidate the treaty which was arrived at in the Land Conference. It was owing to that Land Conference that the great and beneficent Act of 1903 became possible; and in my humble opinion the education question and many other problems in Ireland can only be solved, or at any rate have their best chance of being solved, by agreements entered into in conferences of a similar character and animated by a similar spirit. I look with positive dismay at any legislation that 1738 can possibly lessen, in the eyes of the people of Ireland, the importance to be attached to the Land Conference and to the Act that followed upon it. It is perfectly true that the amount required may not be very large, and my noble friend the Earl of Crewe said the amount should not be more than £100,000. If that is true, I would venture to say that the unexpended balance of the reserve fund is quite ample to find a sum sufficient to pay the interest on £100,000, if the loss made by the Estates Commissioners is not to be larger than that. But I would point out to your Lordships the necessity in this case also of a limit to the operations of the Estates Commissioners. As it is, with their operations absolutely unlimited, it is possible for them to draw upon and expend the whole of the grant-in-aid—the whole of it that is not already expended. If they are properly limited, as I suppose it is assumed they will be limited, in this Bill, then it is quite possible the loan may be a very small one, not more than £100,000. Still, in that case, I enter my protest, upon the principle of the thing, against the grant-in-aid being diverted, on any pretext whatever, from its original purpose as set out in the Act of 1903.
My Lords, I would respectfully ask His Majesty's Government for information on one or two points. I should like to know what land can be taken—I mean to say land subject to what conditions of tenure? Clause 1 of the Bill is very comprehensive; it says that the Estates Commissioners can compulsorily take up any land. Then the Bill goes on to specify the exemptions—the land which cannot be taken up. In the same clause, Subclause (3), it says that no tenanted land is to be acquired compulsorily, unless it is in the occupation of a new tenant; and Clause 6, I think it is, exempts untenanted land which forms part of the demesne, home-farm, garden, and so on. Therefore, the exemptions are: untenanted land that forms part of a demesne, and so on, and tenanted land which is in the hands of planters. Over all other land the Estates Commissioners have absolute powers. Does not that include all holdings, freeholds, that have been purchased under the 1903 Act or 1739 other Land Purchase Acts? These holdings are not tenanted land. The proprietors are not tenants. They are not exempt on that account. I do not know whether there is any special legal meaning to be attached to the expression "tenanted land." I imagine not, because, according to the Bill it seems to have merely the ordinary meaning. In Clause 1, Subclause (4) it says—For the purposes of this enactment a person shall be deemed to be a tenant notwithstanding that he may have agreed to purchase his holding, if the agreement was entered into after the 1st day of January, 1907, and if the holding has not become vested in him as a purchaser under the Land Purchase Acts.A person is a tenant if the holding has not become vested in him; and, I suppose, he is not a tenant if the holding has become vested in him; and if he is not a tenant, his land is not tenanted land.
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
A tenant purchaser possibly might be turned out unless there is some saving language.
*THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
A tenant purchaser can be turned out to-morrow by the Estates Commissioners. I cannot imagine for a single moment that that is the intention of His Majesty's Government; but I am perfectly certain that if by this Bill, or by any other Bill, it is impressed upon the minds of tenant purchasers in Ireland that there is any possible doubt of the validity of their title, that they are not absolutely secure in their holdings, and in the enjoyment of the fruits of their holdings and of their labour and industry, and the expenditure of their money—if the smallest inkling of doubt arises, you may say good-bye to any possible improvement in agriculture and in the prosperity of Ireland. The men will feel themselves, and naturally, to be in a less secure position than if they were tenants. If they were tenants at any rate they could have the rent fixed, and could be secure for fifteen years. Now as this Bill stands, it is possible for the Estates Commissioners to go to any man who has bought, say, 200 acres of land and to say to him, "Here, we want your 200 acres of land; our price is so and so, you must go out at once." I am sure that cannot be the 1740 intention of His Majesty's Government, and I trust they will see that it is not rendered possible in this Bill that the property of a freeholder, a man who has bought under any of the Land Purchase Acts, can be compulsorily taken from him.
My Lords, I must also admit, although I dare say I am very stupid, that I cannot clearly understand what will be the financial condition of the expropriated owners. The Estates Commissioners buy the land, and I suppose more or less under the conditions of, I think it is, the 6th clause of the Act of 1903. In a case where estates are sold to the Estates Commissioners, is the expropriated landlord to receive interest at 3½ per cent., and, if so, from what date? The Estates Commissioners cannot vest the land in themselves until the purchase money is lodged in the Bank of Ireland, and it may not be convenient for the Treasury to find the money, and there may be considerable time between the date when the owner ceases to derive any money from the land and the date when the purchase money is deposited in the bank and the land becomes vested in the Estates Commissioners. "What I want to know is, are the expropriated landlords entitled, to receive interest at 2½ per cent. from the moment when they cease to derive any benefit from the land?
*THE EARL OF BUN RAVEN
And from whom? I take it from the Estates Commissioners. If the Estates Commissioners have to borrow the money from the Public Debt Commissioners they will probably have to pay them interest; and the Estates Commissioners may find themselves in the position of paying the Public Debt Commissioners. 2¾ per cent. interest, and the expropriated landlord 3½ per cent. interest; that is 6½ per cent. altogether. If that is right, I want it made clear. I have no earthly objection to the. Estates Commissioners paying it; the only thing I am anxious about is to know first of all, that the expropriated owner gets his interest from the date when he ceases to receive rent; and secondly, whether 1741 the Estates Commissioners are responsible to him for arrears. He may have a considerable sum for arrears due for rent, and he cannot possibly collect it himself; there would be no legal process in Ireland quick enough for him to recover it; and I should be glad to learn that the intention of His Majesty's Government is that in such a case the expropriated landlord is not to be subject to any hardship.
I think those are about all the questions that I desire information upon. I can assure your Lordships that I do not ask these questions in any carping or cavilling spirit. I am convinced that His Majesty's Government desire that under this Bill the expropriation should be carried out by fair and honest methods; and I only ask these questions to make sure that no class will be injured or damaged. Because it is quite obvious that though the methods may be honest, sound, and fair as regards the price to be paid to the expropriated owner, yet so much inconvenience and loss of money may occur to him by the other and incidental means that I have mentioned, that really the whole transaction may turn out to be one of extreme hardship. I am convinced that His Majesty's Government desire that the Bill should be carried out fairly and honestly; and I cannot imagine for a moment that they really intend that the Estates Commissioners should have power to expropriate any number, or even any single one, of the occupiers who have purchased their holdings under the 1903 Act or the other Acts. And I would appeal to His Majesty's Government whether it is not absolutely necessary to place a limit in some shape upon the power of action of the Estates Commissioners, because that will in itself obviate the difficulties which I have endeavoured to point out may arise on account of the fact that this Bill provides that the Estates Commissioners may draw upon the grant-in-aid, and many other difficulties of that kind? I have not, of course, dealt with details which have got to be dealt with in Committee, and I do not go into them at all in their particulars now. All that I would be glad to elicit from His Majesty's Government, if I could, is an expression that they will themselves 1742 in Committee consider these subjects, and introduce Amendments where they are necessary; and, if they do so, and treat Amendments which arise from this side of the House in a sympathetic way, I myself most earnestly hope that not only will the Bill be read a second time, but that it will find a place in the-Statute-book this session.
My Lords, in the opinion of many noble Lords well acquainted with Ireland this Bill is so unnecessary, and it contains so many singular and absolutely unprecedented provisions, that there was a strong disposition to move its rejection at the present stage. I think that what weighed as much as anything else with these noble Lords, and made them alter their decision, was that the Bill had been so little discussed in another place—it may be said to have passed through without any discussion whatever—that it was thought desirable that it should be fully discussed in your Lordships' House, and not only considered and all its points mentioned, in the Second. Reading debate, but that it should be taken clause by clause, and all its-details scrutinised, so that its exceedingly objectionable provisions might be thoroughly threshed out and made public.
I have spoken of the Bill as unnecessary. Now I only speak the opinion of those who best know my own part of the country—the West of Ireland—and that is the part of Ireland to which this Bill chiefly applies—when I say that this compulsion is absolutely unnecessary, and that there is plenty of land to be procured by the Estates Commissioners, provided an adequate price is paid for it. It practically all comes to a question of purchasing untenanted land, for whether the evicted tenants are to be placed on the land so acquired, or whether the extremely monstrous proposal is. to be carried out of removing the new tenants and replacing the evicted tenants; on their former holdings, in either case, whether it is for the evicted tenants or the new tenants, land will have to be found for them; therefore it all turns on the purchase of a sufficient quantity of untenanted land. That has been laid down 1743 by the Estates Commissioners as being about 80,000 acres. They say they have enough land in their hands at present—or available—for the purposes of this Bill, but they cannot employ it, because they want it for other purposes. If they have been able to acquire this land voluntarily, what reason is there to suppose that they would not be able to acquire more in the same way? It is a great mistake to think that there is any animus among landlords in general against evicted tenants. I think all are disposed to look with a certain sympathy upon these unfortunate misguided men, who were misled by people who ought to have known better into joining a morally and legally indefensible association, which practically amounted to a conspiracy, and who have, in fact, suffered and been ruined by so doing. We therefore believe, my Lords, that compulsion is not necessary, and we wish to object to it, and to protest against it in any shape or form. But compulsion is the very essence of this Bill. If you take it away, the whole fabric falls to the ground, and therefore it very naturally may be said: "If you think that, why do you not move the rejection of the Second Reading?" It is not only that we object to compulsion, but we object quite as strongly—even more strongly —to the mode in which compulsion is applied by this Bill, and we consider it a most serious matter, because although it is now applied over a considerable, but still, limited extent, and for a certain j purpose, it is not at all unlikely that it may be applied on a much larger scale, and for other purposes hereafter. We received an assurance from the noble Lord the President of the Council that this was not to be taken as a precedent, and that any other case would be decided on its merits. But it may be discovered by His Majesty's Government next year, or the year after, that the settlement of the people whom it may be thought desirable to transplant from the congested districts—is a matter of such importance as to cause them to bring in a Bill on the same lines as this for the settlement of these people who most certainly are deserving of compassion, because of the wretched way in which many of them are now living.
1744 As I say, we object not only to compulsion, but to the manner in which the compulsion is applied. I need not repeat the objections. They have been fully stated by the noble Marquess on the Front Bench and equally by the noble and learned Lord who spoke after him. Both noble Lords laid down that it was an utterly unprecedented proceeding that the Commissioners should not only settle on the purchase, but should fix the price, and without any sort of appeal. I want to ask, is it probable—is it even possible— that an honest price can be arrived at under these circumstances? I do not for a moment mean to impute any mala fides to the Estates Commissioners, but they are the people who have got money to lay out, and everybody who has got money to lay out in buying anything wants to buy as cheaply as possible, to make as good a bargain as possible, with the money in hand, and to consider what he is to do afterwards with the purchase which he has made. That is what the Estates Commissioners do, and what they ought to do. They make the best bargain they can, and we know that they do it with a view to the future, because it has been pointed out by the noble and learned Lord that when they are about to purchase land, they look not to the value which the vendor has been receiving, but to the price at which they will be able to dispose of it. That is to say, they believe that the purchaser to whom they intend to sell it—the tenant purchaser—can only pay a much smaller sum than the landlord has been receiving for the land as a grass farm. This would seem to confirm a view I have heard very often expressed in Ireland—that the produce of a large grass farm is of more value than would be the same farm when divided, and that therefore it is an economic mistake to break up a large farm into small holdings. I do not know if that view will commend itself to His Majesty's Government, judging from the legislation which is now pending for other parts of the United Kingdom, but they must anyhow surely acknowledge that it is an unfair proceeding that the landord should only be paid at the rate at which the Estates Commissioners think they can re-sell it, and not at the rent which he is receiving. 1745 I rather think that the Estates Commissioners who took this view introduced a sort of corrective by saying that they would give the landlord a sufficient number of years' purchase so as to amount to a sum which, when invested in a security equal to Irish land, would give him his present income. There would appear to be a certain irony about that comparison with Irish land, for undoubtedly, with legislation such as this which is now before us, and with the state of agitation in Ireland which, from the light and airy way in which the authorities treated it at the outset has now advanced to a most dangerous extent, Irish land cannot be considered to be a gilt-edged security, or anything like it.
I have only spoken hitherto about the injustice to landlords, but I should like most strongly to support what fell from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne)and from the noble and learned Lord (Lord Atkinson) as to the extreme injustice of the treatment that it is proposed in the Bill to mete out to the new tenants. I have had no direct relations with any of the new tenants, because I do not happen to have either evicted tenants or new tenants, but there are a considerable number in my own county, and I have taken the trouble to inform myself about the condition of these men, from what I can learn, they are, as a rule a solvent and most respectable set of men, who have been paying their rents, laying out money on their farms, and working them in a proper agricultural manner, and therefore the outcry which is made against them is an extremely unjust one. They are held up to popular obloquy, as planters, land-grabbers and so forth. A land-grabber of course, I hardly need inform your Lordships, is anybody who takes a farm which has become vacant from any cause, the theory apparently being that a man ought to hold a farm for ever, whether he pays his rent or not, and anybody that comes in is called a land-grabber and an enemy of the human race. These men, I have every reason to believe, are working their farms in a proper manner, and are most deserving of support. I will not take up your Lordships' time further; I am sensible that everything I have said is merely 1746 a repetition of what has been said by the noble Lords who have preceded me, and who have said it a great deal better. It is only because of the fact that I am living in the West of Ireland that I desire to submit to your Lordships' House this view in support of what has been said by other noble Lords. There are other points which we object to in this Bill which have already been brought before the House, and I will not trespass any longer upon your Lordships' time.
§ LORD BARRYMORE
My Lords, alter the able and eloquent speeches which we have heard from my friends around me who have dealt so fully with the Bill, there appears to be very little left for anyone to say. One does not like to reiterate the criticisms which have been made upon the Bill, but one cannot help feeling that this is a Bill of a most extraordinary and drastic kind. It is a Bill that we all feel bound to protest against in every possible way, and as loudly as we can. It is a compulsory Bill with a novel machinery, a Bill which will probably form a very dangerous-precedent in dealing with land in the future, beyond the work that it is intended to do on this occasion. It makes the Estates Commissioners both parties and judges in their own case; it enables them to take land and to fix their own price for it without any appeal except to themselves, and by the 13th Section, I think it is, of the Bill they are to be freed from the control and criticism of Parliament. I think that is so novel and far-reaching a measure that it ought to be sufficient to condemn it without anything further, without taking into consideration the fact that it is likely to cost the country an expense of from. £2,000,000 to £2,500,000.
Mr. Birrell, in the other House, when he introduced this Bill, said that it was an enabling Bill—that it was to enable Parliament to keep faith with the Irish people. I really do not know what he meant, but it certainly is not a Bill to keep faith with itself, and to stick to the agreement which was come to in the year 1903, because that agreement was of a voluntary kind, and on a voluntary basis; compulsion was carefully eliminated and kept out of it. I always understood that land purchase 1747 and reinstatement of evicted tenants was to go on pari passu. The noble Lord, Lord Dunraven, said just now that as far as the Land Conference is concerned (and the Land Conference and the agreement in Parliament afterwards are two distinct things) that was not so. But at any rate it was certainly understood in Parliament that they were to go more or less hand in hand, and this is a violation, I maintain, of the agreement come to in 1903.
Then there is the question of the trenching upon the bonus, which has been adverted to by noble Lords on two or three occasions this evening and was very fully dealt with by 'the Earl of Dunraven. The noble Earl the Lord President of the Council said in his speech that it would be a very small thing, and that the whole amount that the bonus would be trenched upon would be only £100,000. Let the noble Earl put that figure in the Bill. I object to its being trenched upon at all, but at any rate let us know exactly where we stand, and do not let the remainder—the whole balance of this bonus, or grant-in-aid fund, I think it was called—be left for the Commissioners to trench upon and deal with as they please.
What is the necessity for this Bill? I cannot see myself that there is any necessity for it at all. Has the Act of 1903 failed? On the contrary, the Act of 1903 has gone a great deal faster, both as regards the purchase operations and also as regards the reinstatement of evicted tenants, than it was expected to go. There appears to me to be no reason whatever why such a measure as this should be introduced, for the only justification for its being introduced would have been that the Act of 1903 had failed. Now with regard to the number of these evicted tenants. Mr. O'Malley said in 1899, when he introduced a Bill on this question, that there were 400 Plan of Campaign tenants out. Another authority said he thought there were 1,000, and Mr. Gerald Balfour, at that time the Chief Secretary, gave a still higher figure. In 1900 Mr. John Redmond dealt with the question, and gave yet a different number, and in 1903 1748 Mr. Dillon, who I think ought to be the best authority of them all, because he is the gentleman who I have always understood has had control of the Land League Funds, and has had to pay the pensions to these evicted tenants—Mr. Dillon said that in 1894 there were 800 of them, but since then about half of them had disappeared through death and emigration and other causes, and that there were then (in 1903)about 400, and that the whole question could be settled for about £200,000. Mr. Dillon, as I say, is a gentleman likely to know. And. what has happened since 1903? Why, we have it on the Report of the Commissioners that over 1,000 of these tenants have been reinstated. That must clearly include, on the statement of the Commissioners, all the Plan of Campaign tenants who have been reinstated, excepting those upon the estate of the noble Marquess who, I understand, is to address your Lordships presently (the Marquess of Clanricarde) and a few —some thirty—upon the estate of Mr. Lewis, who has been perfectly willing to sell if he could only get what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack calls an honest price.
My Lords, who are these people who will come under the operation of this Bill? They are not Plan of Campaign tenants, with the exception of those two estates alone, and one surely cannot think that His Majesty's Government had brought in a measure such as this, which is to operate throughout the whole of Ireland, and to put the land of every landlord, and of every planter, and I do not know who else, at the mercy of the Estates Commissioners, because two estates in the west of Connaught have not been settled since the Act of 1903. That surely is impossible. But then who are the tenants who are likely to come in under this Bill? They must be the ordinary tenants who have failed in the ordinary business of life—men whose position has been since 1881 amply safeguarded—who could only be turned out because they had not paid their rent—who had failed in business simply because they were ignorant, or intemperate, or incapable, and had failed in business, as other very excellent, but no doubt incapable 1749 people are very apt to do. We may be sorry for them, no doubt, and I am very sorry for many of them, but that is no reason why they should be given a further chance at the public expense. If you admit such a principle as that, I do not see why every broken down shopkeeper—the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker—should not ask to be put back into their businesses, and ask for a dole out of the public exchequer to set them on their legs again. But I do not think that that can be the intention of His Majesty's Government; I do not think His Majesty's Government can intend that those men are going to be reinstated. We had a most interesting little debate in this House the other day, started by my noble friend Lord Donoughmore; and a very interesting speech was made by the Lord President in answer to my noble friend. In the course of that speech he made these remarks, which I thought were extremely interesting, and with which I very fully agree:—I think it is important to draw a distinction between an evicted tenant and a tenant who has been evicted. Evicted tenant has become—I am sorry it should be so—almost a technical term; and what I think is clearly understood by evicted tenants, when they are spoken of as a class in Ireland, are those who have lost their holdings owing to the agrarian disputes which have existed in that country, and that therefore, when there was a desire that there should be a general eirenicon at the time of the Land Bill—as Mr. Wyndham said, that bygones should be bygones—these man were to be treated on precisely the same terms as those who were tenants of farms. But no one ever imagined that, when evicted tenants were thus spoken of, every man who had lost his farm, whether it was because he was an impossible tenant, or a bad farmer, or a generally undesirable person, should necessarily be reinstated.
§ LORD BARRYMORE
Then the noble Earl went on to say—You have only to study the debates on this subject to see that, when the Irish Members of Parliament spoke of evicted tenants, it was to those who had suffered in the land war that they confined their remarks."That is admirable; but those men have been put back already; and the men who will come under this Bill are the very undesirable and worthless people whom the noble Earl says nobody wants back. 1750 If the noble Earl will limit the scope of the Bill to those whom he calls "evicted tenants," and will put a definition in the Bill to that effect, I admit it will very largely modify my hostility towards it.
Then there comes the question, of compulsory powers. Are compulsory powers necessary? The Estates Commissioners have already got compulsory powers; at any rate, if they have not got them, they exercise them. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkinson, told your Lordships a little while ago, and as I myself can vouch, on many estates the Commissioners intimate to the vendors that unless such and such evicted tenants are reinstated they will not declare the property an estate, and therefore the bonus will not attach to it. There are a number of cases I could quote where evicted tenants have been reinstated under pressure from the Commissioners. I do not say it is wrong, but there it is. The Commissioners have got those powers, and they exercise them now; and I say that to ask for further compulsory powers is a most unnecessary thing, because they have already got compulsory powers which are quite sufficient, and I say that, even with the power they have got, they have reinstated a very large number of evicted tenants, and might have reinstated more. I know one estate down in my part of the world where, ever since the Act of 1903 was passed, the owners, those who have to manage the estate, have been endeavouring to sell the remainder of the estate to the Estates Commissioners, so that certain evicted tenants were there for life. I am alluding to the Ponsonby Estate. I am glad to see that in their Report they state that an agreement has now been entered into, and that it is to be purchased. But if the Estates Commissioners had hurried it a little more they might have bought the remainder of that estate three years ago and the men who had been evicted might have been reinstated long ago. I got a letter a day or two ago from an agent in Cork, a friend of mine, and he writes asking why the Estates Commissioners do not reinstate in cases where the landlords are willing. He mentions two cases on one estate where he says he accepted the inspector's valuation and purchase price six months ago, yet where nothing has 1751 been done so far about reinstating. I have no doubt that up and down the country there are plenty of cases where the landlords want to sell, where they have evicted tenants on the property, and where they are perfectly willing to put them back now that the properties have been sold. I suppose it is partly owing to the fact that the Commissioners have not got the money; but it is certain that the delays are, to the lay mind, the outside mind, the mind of the landlord who owns the property, most tedious and most unnecessary. There are 80,000 acres wanted to be purchased for the purpose of reinstating those tenants. There is a good deal of land to be had, no doubt, as grazing land in the west—Roscommon and elsewhere. Down in the South of Ireland, where I live, there is very little. What land there is, is in the hands of occupying owners, who have acquired the land and are farming it themselves. Sometimes, of course, tenants have had to be evicted, and sometimes they have gone owing large sums of arrears. In some cases the tenant right has actually been purchased; in other cases—my own, for instance—I have acquired in that sort of way the land round the town, in order that, for the benefit and development of the town, one might be able to have the land in one's own hands. As far as I can see, down in the South, the people whose lands have been taken would be the people who have land which has been held by landlords, and which has been farmed and worked by those landlords. There is a certain number of derelict farms, but those really nowadays are very few. But it would not only be a great hardship, but a great injustice to the landlords who are working these farms—farms which are outside the demesne, it may be some miles off, possibly, but which are worked in conjunction—if their lands were taken from them to put evicted tenants upon. And, I venture to submit, it would be a very great misfortune to the country generally, because I do not suppose that anybody wants to drive out of the country landlords who are living in the country, who are spending their money there, who are working at their farms, and so forth, because those farms are probably the best cultivated 1752 farms in their neighbourhood; they set a good example to their neighbours, they probably employ a good deal more labour than an ordinary tenant-farmer does, the cottages and buildings are generally in very good order; and I think it would be a very great misfortune to the country if men of that kind— and there are a great many of them—ceased to exist. I think they ought to be encouraged to remain in the country, instead of being discouraged, as they undoubtedly will be if their farms are taken away from them for this or any other purpose.
I do not want to detain your Lordships, but the question of there being no limit to the operation of the Bill appears to be a very serious and unfortunate one. The Lord President gave us some rather elaborate reasons in his speech this evening why there should be no limit. I admit that he did not convince me, but it seems to me that, unless there be some limit, you never will, and never can, have a settlement of such a question as this. There will be fresh complications from people calling themselves "evicted tenants," coming from America, New Zealand, and everywhere, for years to come. It will be as bad as the case of the "Veterans" in the United States, who, I am told, are still being born every day. Unless there be some limit, either of number, or of acreage, or of time, I am am sure it will be a very great misfortune and a very great mistake.
I do not know that I need make any more tedious remarks about the Bill, but I do not think there is any real serious demand in Ireland for such a measure at all. There is a sort of idea which has got about in Ireland, and it is a thing which has been encouraged during late years by Governments and Parties giving way and bending too much before the popular Press and before popular bogies, popular clamour. If, when Mr. John Morley was in office in 1894, he had put his foot down, I believe the whole evicted tenant question would have disappeared by now, and you would have heard no more about it. But he did not do so; and the result has been that of late years a sort of idea has grown up throughout the country that a new wave of confiscation was coming. Throughout 1753 centuries there have been property confiscations in Ireland, and that country is no more peaceful and happy now than it was in the days of Queen Elizabeth. But that is the sort of idea which occurs in the minds of the people of Ireland. This is a bogus and officially-created agitation; it is got up by one set of men for political purposes, and it is advanced and supported by others—farmers who have lost their farms through their own indolence and their own incapacity. It is a great misfortune that such an agitation should be fostered and encouraged by the Government, and by the great Liberal Party standing behind them. I cannot help feeling myself that they are only encouraging such an agitation by their attitude, and that it will be more difficult in the future to settle either this question or any other similar one arising out of it. I am afraid that harm will result if this measure passes. I hope it will not pass without being seriously amended, but I am afraid that even then it will do a great deal more mischief than it will do good.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Barrymore, who has just spoken, said that he regretted to have to repeat arguments which had been already used. I venture, with all deference, to disagree with him, because I think the arguments against this measure are so strong that they will bear repetition. I think it should be recognised that the landlords all over Ireland object very strongly to the measure in the shape in which it now is.
I hold no antagonistic brief against the cause of the evicted tenants. If the reinstatement of the evicted tenants is to bring about peace and contentment to Ireland, let every tenant who has ever been evicted be reinstated, so long as it is not done at the expense of injustice to somebody else. It has been contended that the reinstatement of evicted tenants formed part of the agreement of 1903. All the landlords with whom I have discussed this question are only too anxious to carry out, not only in the letter but in the spirit, the terms of that Agreement; and, that being so, I think we must remember that every agreement has two sides, and that if we carry out the agreement both in the letter and 1754 in the spirit, it is only fair that the other side should carry out the agreement at least in the letter. That agreement, as far as I understood it, and I think as far as most of us understood it, was that as, under the Land Purchase scheme, estates were sold, so would evicted tenants be reinstated; and it was agreed, upon the part of the landlords, that if no compulsion was brought upon them to sell, and no compulsion—and even more stress was laid upon this—was brought upon the planters to leave the holdings which they had taken up, the landlords would do all they could to reinstate the evicted tenants. If the landlords had failed to keep to the terms of this agreement or understanding, then I think compulsion would be not only just but necessary. I know also that rumour has been busy to the effect that landlords on the whole are either unwilling to reinstate the evicted tenants except on terms which are exorbitant, or are unwilling to reinstate their evicted tenants at all. There may be a few cases of such a kind; but I venture to ask of His Majesty's Government that someone will, to-night, show us a sufficient number of concrete cases to prove that the landlords as a whole have refused to keep to their bargain, so as to justify the compulsion which has been brought into this Bill.
I believe it is also argued that the evicted tenants are not being reinstated sufficiently quickly. But we are passing through great constitutional changes in Ireland, and great constitutional changes cannot be carried out in a moment. As estates are sold under the Land Act, so will the evicted tenants be reinstated; but if you carry on their reinstatement in a hurry, or try and do it all in a moment, you run great risk of doing injustice to other people; and it is not fair that you should indulge one class at the expense of another. I think if the Estates Commissioners would confine themselves to carrying out as far as they are able those agreements for which there is money, and which have already been made under the Land Purchase Act, evicted tenants would be reinstated for all practical purposes 1755 sufficiently quickly, while the far greater problem, namely, the problem of delay in land purchase, would be more rapidly solved.
But let us turn for a moment to the other side, to another view of the question of compulsion—I mean, as it affects the planters. Under this Bill, you are giving to the Estates Commissioners power to turn men out of their holdings, men who have honestly and courageously striven to do their duty, and to put into their places (we are asked by the Lord President of the Council not to use any hard terms, and I do not wish to do so) men who have either failed to make successes of the farms which they at present occupy, or men who have not recognised the necessity of fulfilling the contracts which they have undertaken. I know that under this Bill compensation is to be given in the shape either of money or of another farm to those planter tenants who are turned out under this Bill. But I do not think the money that would be given by the Estates Commissioners would be sufficient to compensate men for being turned out of their homes —men who have been living there, perhaps, twenty-five years— through no fault of their own. It has been already said by Lord Atkinson and Lord Lansdowne, and is surely well known in Ireland, that migrants, as they are called, have to undergo the same odium—the same disagreeable treatment in their new surroundings—as was experienced by the planter tenants when they first took their residence in the holdings they now occupy. The Estates Commissioners, I believe, say it is not fair to expect the tenants to undergo these difficulties; but I think from the point of view of ordinary justice, if you have got to choose between the men who have failed and the men who have succeeded, the men who have carried out their contracts and the men who have not, it is not fair that the faults of the idle man should rest upon what I may call the industrious apprentice.
To return to the question of the understanding as regards these planter tenants, even before that understanding was ratified in an Act of Parliament in 1756 1903, the most enthusiastic supporters of the case of the evicted tenants did not recommend that the planters should be turned out. I read that Mr. John Redmond, who is the leader of the evicted tenants, as he is of all National politics, said that if the planters wished to remain in their present holdings he would not give his sanction to any attempt to turn them out. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, has already told us what went on in your Lordships' House as regards this question of the evicted planters. And I may say that on all sides it was universally recognised that the planters should not be turned out, whatever might be done to the evicted tenants. I have not heard, and I do not think any of us have heard, what new lights have been brought to bear on this matter, and why His Majesy's Government have taken an entirely different view from that taken by the whole of Parliament in 1903; and I think we are justified in pressing for a direct answer to that question.
Now, as regards the authority by which this compulsion is to be exercised, I venture to think that never since the neolithic age has there been any case of two men having such powers of compulsory acquisition as are given under this Bill to any two out of the three Estates Commissioners. Not only are they given powers of compuslory acquisition of land, but they are also given power of fixing the price. This has also, I know, been brought up over and over again this evening, but I think it is so strong a proposition to bring into an Act of Parliament that I venture to bring it to the attention of the House again. I have no prejudice in any way against the Estates Commissioners. I believe they are, according to the very strong personal views every man holds, absolutely impartial. Mr. Birrell, in another place, described the Estates Commissioners one as a tenant's man and the other as a landlord's man. Personally, I prefer to hold the view that they are absolutely impartial. But we have heard from the noble and learned Lord (Lord Atkinson) the view put forward that two out of three Estates Commissioners hold powers of compulsory 1757 land purchase. And there is another view of Mr. Finucane which the noble Lord did not bring forward. The Times of 25th July says that Mr. Finucane's view on the compulsory acquisition of land is this—In taking land from any man, whether it is pasture land or of any other description, it is not a question of what is fair or unfair, so much as a question of what is required in the public interest.Is it surprising that we who own property in Ireland deeply resent the idea of giving ourselves, as far as that property is affected, body and soul into the hands of two gentlemen who, however impartial they may be, hold such views of land purchase as those quoted by the noble Lord (Lord Atkinson) and that which I have just quoted from The Times, and are the representatives—I think I am stating it fairly— of the purchaser of the property in question?
Then, as regards the limits of the Bill, I think we may say that there are no limits—either as to number, as to time, or as to money. Therefore you are giving to two Estates Commissioners absolutely unlimited power of financial control and unlimited power of compulsion, without any power of appeal whatever. I think it is entirely without precedent that you should leave large sums of public money which, as far as I can calculate, may run into well over £1,000,000, without any power of control or any power of criticism such as that which is exercised in Parliament. I do not know who has inspired this Bill, but in every line of it I read teachings which have always been those of the United Irish League, and His Majesty's Government hold the same views. But I am not now speaking so much on behalf of the landlords—I am speaking more on account of the planter tenants. In the case of the landlords I regret to say it, but I believe that before many years are over the whole of the landlord class will have left Ireland, but the evicted planter class, as they will come to be called, cannot leave Ireland unless they emigrate. They have shown by their determination and their industry that they are men whom no country, if they possess them, can afford to do without. 1758 The only thing they can do, if they are dispossessed, is to emigrate, to go away from the country. If they emigrate, you are losing some of Ireland's best men; but, if they remain in Ireland, their treatment will remain, during the whole of their lives, as an object lesson to the remainder of the people of Ireland. I know it is said that if this measure does not pass, or, rather, is greatly altered by your Lordships' House, Ireland, enraged by her disappointment, will enter into a fresh campaign of lawlessness and agitation. There may be a fresh campaign of lawlessness and agitation; but I do not believe, whatever may be the fate of this Bill, that that will be the absolute cause. I believe very much indeed in the possibility of a very bad time during the coming winter, but I think that that bad time will arrive just as much from the interpretation which has been placed in Ireland upon many of the Chief Secretary's speeches, and the belief, as I have said before, that His Majesty's Government can be squeezed into further concessions by agitation.
I will not detain your Lordships any longer, excepting to say that I have heard this Bill described, by people who imagine that they understand Ireland, as a proof of the new day that is dawning for Ireland. I believe if this Bill passed in its present form into law, that on the contrary it would be one step in Ireland's degradation; because it would be an illustration of that lesson which has been for the last two years so ardently preached; and the real meaning of that lesson is, that lawlessness and agitation are the sure roads to success, while industry, law abiding, and fair dealing have no claim to reward. I repeat that I am all for the reinstatement of evicted tenants as long as it is not done at the cost of any injustice to anyone else. But I venture to think that this Bill in its present condition does offend against some of the most ordinary canons of justice, and as such, if it passed into law, it would not be fair to anyone, least of all to Ireland herself, and would be much more likely to prove an irritant than a salve.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE
My Lords, as one of the parties intentionally aimed at by this Bill, I should like to point out the somewhat ominous fact that the compulsion which is avowedly the essence of this Bill has already appeared in sinister haste with the gag in another place. That ominous haste would adequately suggest, and be prophetic as, a warning. Seizure officially and by compulsion is always at best so difficult to defend or even to excuse, so liable to abuse, so open to suspicion, and so liable to be made a precedent for further acts worse than felony, that it always requires a most jealous curb. There is no such curb in this Bill. Instead, it gives to any two of these unreliable Commissioners power for which there has been no precedent for hundreds of years; it gives them the power not only to seize land by compulsion, but even more land than is required for the purposes of the Act, and at their own price. Think what that means. They have power to take a single farm on an estate at their own price. That will, in most cases, injure the subsequent sale of the whole estate, and also, by their fixing their own price, which they will probably be bound to fix low, set up an unfairly low standard of quotation for the rest of the locality. They are to have an ambiguous position as to tenure. As far as one can understand, the tenure is to be perpetual—that of a County Court Judge, and at the same time something entirely different from that. Whether the suitable epithet for that tenure would be epicene or bisexual, or amphibious or what not, certainly seems to suggest and invite further elucidation. They are also to have the power of issuing their own warrant—not that of a court to the sheriff for possession. Even the worst and most tyrannical acts of the worst times—even the old Tower of London—are not in it. They might actually smother the cries of their victims with an appeal to themselves as effectually as with the Malmsey butt. The one tenable defence of official seizure by compulsion is, that the man must give way to the many, as in the case of railways. If land is taken from an individual for railway purposes, it is excused on the ground of advantage to the general 1760 public. That defence does not hold good with regard to this Bill. Each of these acts of seizure is to be exclusively for the benefit of one single individual— as it happens, the evicted tenant. No other person on God's earth is to benefit; while, on the other hand, at least two persons, both the landowner and the planter, will be prejudiced in what is called their rights of citizenship. Past evictions are to be remedied by more evictions on a colossal scale quite unprecedented as coming from any one single quarter. The planter is to be rooted up. He will object to going out of his actual holding; others will equally object to his going into his new holding. On my own land, I know that part of it within the scope of the Act is coveted already by the small tenants around to enlarge their own holdings in case of a change. They emphatically resent, and would oppose, the intrusion either of evicted tenants or of planters—a sort of pandemonium of discontent
We have been asked to sympathise with the planters and to defend them. I fully concur; they do deserve it. At the time of the Wyndham Act, the noble Marquess, I think it was, spoke up for them sympathetically and tersely, and I, for one, wished to thank him for the hope which I think he expressed that no Irish landowner would countenance the extrusion of the planters and the substitution of evicted tenants. He hit the nail on the head; and it is permissible to hope that his firmness and consistency are also of the same fine temper. The present Bill does violate the Wyndham Act. I myself should certainly have opposed it—and I have something to do with it I am sure—had it not been made abundantly clear, that it was to be optional without compulsion. One of the devices to float this Bill has been to conjure with the blessed word eirenicon. Eirenicon, I think, is the correct term. Unfortunately these Irish sops do not satiate, but whet, greed. In the case of the last Irish sop, the Town Tenants Act, passed only a few months back, hardly was the ink dry than this new sop was immediately demanded also. Another device has been to raise up bygones, in the name of bygones being bygones, and stale slanders against 1761 landowners, and to paint the evicted tenant as an injured lamb or something of that kind. It may not therefore be amiss to fortify our recollection by a passing glance at the bad record of these "Plan of Campaigners" themselves. They demanded on one Campaign estate that holdings and tenancies with rents 30 per cent. below the Government valuation should be cut down an additional 50 per cent. Hundreds of them paid, or professed to pay their rent to the Campaign "war chest," instead of to their creditor. A number of them, fifty-nine I think, insisted upon being evicted to live on the Campaign funds, though known to be able to pay, as many of them boasted. A still larger number owed from five to ten years rent, which was between 20 and 30 per cent. below the valuation. But as one individual case speaks a clearer language than a general statement, a tenant named Michael Moran publicly apologised for having, nearly two years earlier, paid something on account to his creditors, and in atonement he at the same time gave the League fund three years' rent. He had, moreover, on his farm at the same time live stock equal to eleven more years rent, which was 45 per cent. below the Government valuation. The wholesale repudiation of exceptionally low rents was backed up by violence—such violence as to preclude wholesale reinstatement, though it was more difficult for the owner to find new tenants for a number of farms than for only a few.
Such facts I contend—and fairly contend as I believe—are a sufficient protest against the sacrifice of the planters to the Plan of Campaigners. This Bill will set on a pedestal and be the apotheosis of that most gigantic conspiracy to swindle, the Plan of Campaign, and will enable its instigators to establish its pretension that bygones are never to be bygones until every verdict against them, however just, has been reversed into one in their favour. We have been summoned to trust the official Commissioners. Such juggling with the confidence trick is rebutted by the official confiscation of the Land Court of 1881. Those confiscations have impaired confidence in the official arbitrators et hoc genus omne, has impaired also their trustworthiness 1762 and lowered and dwarfed the tone and quality of honesty in such matters. We have been invited also from another quarter to cure the evils of this Bill by Amendments and talk. Surely prevention is better than cure, as for instance in the case of a fire in our art collections. Prevention is sound; cure is doubtful, even a cure when it is perfect and permanent, and in such an Augean stable as this Bill, Amendments are simply synonymous with the Partington mop. The one pleasing feature—the only clear patch in the dirty sky of our legislative daub—is that it would at length deck the brow of the gentleman in charge of it, Mr. Augustine Birrell, with those legislative bay-leaves which have hitherto untowardly eluded his ardent pursuit. But even such blessings may be bought too dear, and even Mr. Birrell himself may become too expensive a luxury at the price of a Bill so tainted with an inept callous levity of despotism unworthy of any sane Government accountable for the liberty of any free people.
My Lords, at this late hour I must apologise for saying a few words, but what I wish to say is this. Both political Parties of this realm agreed on the principle of the restoration of the evicted tenant. At the same time, the whole question is one to be discussed, and the point we all object to in this Bill is compulsion, and compulsion without appeal. That, it seems to me, is the critical point of the Bill. We landlords in Ireland, as well as every other part of the community, have at heart the peace and prosperity of the country to which we belong, and there is no spirit of hostile criticism in what has been said from these benches to-night. We say what we have said because we believe it is for the good of the country. I want to say one word with reference to what are called the planter tenants, and I do so because I have had during the last year practical experience of dealing with them. As noble Lords from my country know perfectly well, my estate has been a Plan of Campaign estate, and it is only in the last few months that the whole thing has been settled and that the evicted tenants are being put back on that estate. The view I took, and the 1763 view I hold now, and always shall hold, is that no evicted tenant is to be put back at the expense of anyone else. That seems to me to be the only just and reasonable procedure. I have had many a talk with these planter-tenants about this question; they were men who had borne the burden and heat of the day. When they first went there, they first of all had to be protected; they could not sell their crops, they could not sell their stock. They had lived all that down and were living at peace and charity with their neighbours. The question came to me when I came into the property, How was this question to be got over? Well, it was a voluntary settlement. It was done solely by compensation, and I venture to state that if this House passes this Bill, which enables the Estates Commissioners to force the planter-tenant to go, and to give him land elsewhere, or to compensate him, not a single planter-tenant in Ireland will take land. I do not see how he possibly can. These men said with perfect truth, "We are marked men in Ireland. We cannot go anywhere." The only place they can go to is the North of Ireland—and there is no land there for them. I venture to state that the Government must compensate these men and compensate them very heavily. They are law-abiding men. I do not say a word against the evicted tenant; he is a man who has been misguided, misinformed, and misdirected in every way, but these planters are men to whom I am quite sure His Majesty's Government does not wish to do any injury; they are men of sterling worth—otherwise they would not be where they are at the present moment; they would not have lived down what they have done, and I do earnestly hope that when this Bill is considered in Committee a clause will be put in giving them full and ample compensation for their trouble and all the hard times they have had. I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything else. All the other points have been far more ably dealt with by those more competent to speak than myself; but I feel very strongly on this point—that the planters should be given every facility and all the compensation they are fully entitled to have for all the hard times they have been through.
My Lords, I do not rise to take part in this debate from any exhilarating sensation which I derive from the process, but rather because it has been represented to me that there have been few speakers on this side of the House, and that the eloquence of noble Lords from Ireland demands that some arguments should be put forward on this side of the House which, with that prowess in debate for which they are so famous, they will presently proceed to knock down and trample upon.
I would like, before offering any arguments of my own, to say one word with regard to the speech to which we have just listened, of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Massereene. I am not going to enter into any of the ordinary compliments which are generally paid from the Table of this House upon the occasion of a noble Lord making, as I understand the noble and gallant Viscount has made to-night, his maiden speech; and I do not do so because, as the noble Lord and myself were cadets at Sandhurst together, he might think that any such proceeding on my part would savour of presumption. But I may perhaps voice the opinion of the House when I say that we are aware of the gallant service which he has rendered the country, more particularly in the South African war, and now that he has left the service, and that it is, I believe, his intention to take part in the ordinary work of this House, we welcome the assistance and co-operation which I believe it is his intention to give us in carrying on that work.
I do not propose to endeavour to reply to the speech to which we have just listened from Lord Clanricarde, who I think has now left the House. Lord Clanricarde and myself have entirely different views with regard to property and the rights of property, and I would only say that I differ from nearly everything that the noble Lord told the House. I am glad to think that as noble Lords opposite are not going to divide the House on the Second Reading, there is after all no very great difference between us with regard to principle in this matter, and I am enboldened in that belief by reading what Mr. Walter Long 1765 said in another place in speaking on the Report Stage of the Bill. He said—On the contrary, they accepted the view that the evicted tenants were to be reinstated, and the Motion of his friend had not denied that it might be necessary to resort to compulsion in certain cases.He goes on, it is fair to state, to object to the manner in which compulsion is exercised in portions of the Bill. But I gather from that that at any rate there is no very great difference between both sides of the House with regard to the principle of this measure. I understand that noble Lords from Ireland fear that "this particular Bill may be taken as a precedent for further land legislation with regard to Ireland. T think after the assurance which was given in his opening remarks by the Lord President they may rest content that no such course is contemplated by His Majesty's Government—that if ever the question of taking land compulsorily should arise again, the case would certainly be argued upon its own merits and without any reference to anything which may have been done in this particular Bill. I maintain that the whole thing is exceptional. The Land Act of 1903 was exceptional. It was the result of an entirely exceptional agreement between parties who are generally found in rather bitter opposition. And the case of the evicted tenants is exceptional, even when you are dealing with the exceptional case of the Land Act of 1903. The Land Act of 1903 was designed to put an end, if possible, to agrarian agitation in Ireland, and also to transfer the land, or the bulk of the land, in Ireland from one class to another class in that country. I had to point out to the House the other day a flaw in the Act of 1903, or what threatened to be a flaw, with regard to its financial provisions, which might prevent the first-named object being carried out, and the necessity for this Bill arises because it has been found that it had failed to carry Out one of the objects which was designed by the Act of 1903—namely, to restore the evicted tenants of Ireland. I am perfectly well aware that a considerable number of tenants have already been reinstated, and it is true that the number which the Estates Commissioners now propose to reinstate is far larger than that which was originally contemplated some 1766 years ago. I think the reason—or one reason at all events—is to be found in the fact that some years ago it would have been only, I think, about 800 people who were contemplated as being necessary to reinstate. But that was an estimate which was formed without any actual inquiries. I believe this is the first actual inquiry which has been held on that point, and therefore I think it is not a criticism that we need be afraid of, that some years ago only a certain number of evicted tenants were proposed to be reinstated, and that now we find it necessary to reinstate a very much larger number than was contemplated at that time.
With regard to the numbers which have been fixed upon by the Estates Commissioners, we have been attacked by noble Lords in this House because the number of 2,000, which they estimate will be the number restored under this Bill, is too high, and we are attacked by Nationalists in another place because that number is far too low. I think the mere fact that we are attacked in tins way by two opposing authorities is an argument—I do not say a conclusive argument, but it does at all events go to show that the number the Estates Commissioners have fixed upon is a fair and reasonable number.
I think it was Lord Barrymore who raised the point that a' large number of men have returned from America and the Colonies in order to take advantage of the privileges afforded by this Bill. I understand that that is not the case, but that only in about half-a-dozen cases, as far as I know, have the men returned specially from America and other parts of the world in order to be able to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill.
Lord Dunraven also raised many other points, to one or two of which I will endeavour to give a reply. He said that he objected to any money being taken in order to finance this Act from the Land Purchase Aid Fund. Some £12,000,000 altogether will eventually, I presume, be paid by the British taxpayer for the operations of the Land Act of 1903, and surely it is not very much to ask that the comparatively small sum—the almost insignificant sum—of somewhere about 1767 £100,000 might be allowed to be taken from the £12,000,000 for the purpose of restoring the evicted tenants of Ireland. Then Lord Dunraven emphasised a point which I think was also raised by Lord Lansdowne—that the tenants who have purchased holdings under the Act of 1903 might be displaced by the provisions of this Bill. I am informed that that is not the case; nothing is said about it in this Bill, because it does not require to be said.
I will endeavour to explain. It is because you cannot buy land subject to a land purchase annuity unless that annuity is redeemed, and therefore the planter who has purchased his holding under those terms cannot be put out of his holding without his own consent. I think that is the answer to that point.
It is not in the Bill, because it does not require to be in the Bill. It is dealt with by the ordinary law of the land.
No, I am afraid I have not got the reference. Does the noble Lord mean the reference in the Land Act of 1903?
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I mean whatever it is that the noble Earl relies on—can he give us the reference to the clause in the Act he relies on?
I can give it to the noble Lord directly. I had it just now. I do not think it can be as the noble and learned Lord would suggest, because an Amendment was moved in the Commons to enable you, under the Bill, to remove planters who had purchased their holdings, and that Amendment was resisted by the Government. I do not, therefore, think that it can be as the noble and learned Lord would suggest.
Then I come to another question, with which I will deal very briefly—the question of planters. We have been severely criticised in many parts of the House because certain planters may be displaced by the provisions of the Bill. I maintain that the interests of the planters are, after all, carefully safeguarded. If they are displaced, they are given equally good holdings elsewhere, or they are given monetary compensation, and I think it is obvious—and I think it has been stated—that if they prefer to take monetary compensation, that compensation will be given them on a generous scale. I quite admit that there is no precedent in any Act of Parliament for what it is proposed to do with the planters under this Bill. But there are many cases in which the planters are not suitable persons to be occupiers of land. There are many cases in which they have no great knowledge or experience of agriculture, and where their holdings are not improved—or at all events there are some cases—and they might certainly be better off for many obvious reasons, because they may be unpopular or they might possibly be better off in other holdings in other parts of the country. There are cases, I am informed, where the planters still require police protection. In that case, surely it is obvious that they must be centres of disturbance and agitation in those particular localities, and that it would be to the interests of law and order in Ireland if holdings could be found for these men elsewhere or monetary compensation afforded to them.
I will only deal with one more point, and the House may think that I am rather 1769 rash and foolhardy to attempt it. Still, I should like to endeavour to make some answer to the speech which was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkinson, in which he made what appeared to me to be rather a bitter attack upon the Estates Commissioners. With regard to the Estates Commissioners being the tribunal under this Bill, I assert that I do not see where any better tribunal could have been found. These men have been dealing with questions of land for the last four years. They are experts in the valuation of land, and in estimating the price of land in Ireland, and if you had searched over the whole of the Empire I maintain that you could not have found three men who were better qualified to estimate the price and the value of Irish land. No Member of this House has yet offered any alternative suggestion with the exception of Lord Atkinson, and I think his suggestion was that we should follow the precedent of the Act of 1870, when appeal would be to a Judge, and the case would be tried by a Judge and jury.
No doubt I am wrong on that point, but I rather question whether Judges are likely to be better, or can possibly have nearly such expert knowledge in questions concerning the value of land, as these men who have been doing it, and doing it very fairly and very well, for some years past. But what seemed to me, I confess, rather unfair in the remarks of the noble and learned Lord was that he took out points from the evidence given before a Commission which has not yet reported, to show that Mr. Finucane particularly was a most unsuitable person to have anything to do with these questions at all.
I quite agree that the Report cannot alter the evidence, and I will try and show the House from the evidence that Mr. Finucane is not the kind of person which the noble and learned Lord represents him to be. For instance, in the 1770 statement which he made in his evidence, Mr. Finucane said, at page 135—As to tenanted land, I think that if the State, in the public interest, and in pursuance of public policy, calls upon an owner of land to sell it whether he wishes to do so or not, the State is bound to pay him a full and even generous price for it.That is one point. And then again, Mr. Finucane says—In determining the price of untenanted land I would have regard, as in the case of tenanted land, first, to the net income actually obtained by the owner during the preceding ten years; secondly, to the precariousness or stability of that income; and, thirdly, to what the land would let for, to a solvent tenant.Naturally, of course (it is almost ludicrous to have to state it), the Estates Commissioners take the question of intimidation into consideration, and if I were better read in this evidence, I should be able to show that this is the case—that where land is vacant owing to intimidation, naturally the Estates Commissioners give that question very fair and ample consideration. Then I think Lord Arran quoted a passage in Mr. Finucane's evidence where he said that a man might receive £2 an acre for eleven months, but a yearly tenant might only pay for that, say, £1 an acre. There was no definite statement of any kind that that was the opinion of Mr. Finucane. With all respect, I think that is an unfair suggestion to make with regard to a distinguished public servant. As I say, if I were better versed in these matters, and if I had a tithe of the ability of the noble and learned Lord opposite, and of his training, I should be able to put this case very much more forcibly to this House than I am able to do. But in conclusion I will only say that I do not pretend for a moment that this is by any means a perfect Bill, or one incapable of Amendment. I understand that it is to pass through Second Reading to-night. I can only hope that when we get to the Committee stage, the precedent of the Education Bill of last year will not be followed, and that the Bill will not be battered out of recognition. It seems to me that this is an honest and straightforward endeavour to grapple with an extremely thorny and complicated question, and as such I commend it to the attention of your Lordships' House.
*THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, we have heard many fair promises from the benches opposite, but I must draw your attention to one thing before dealing with the Bill as it stands before us, and that is that there does not seem to be an agreement among the occupants of the Front Bench with regard to the appeal. I noticed that Lord Denman said that he was quite satisfied with the Estates Commissioners as the parties to settle everything; they were to buy, to sell, to decide what is to be done in every way with our land and with the planters' land. The noble Lord the Lord President said he wanted to hear an Amendment as to an appellate tribunal. I will let it stand there, and when the time comes that Amendment will be submitted to the noble Lord.
With regard to this question of the evicted tenant, it came before me for the first time in my life when I was a member of the Land Conference, and it originated; in a paragraph of which I should like to remind the House. It was this—that any project for the solution of the Irish land question should be accompanied by a settlement of the evicted tenants question upon an equitable basis. I must freely state that if there had been any idea of compulsion put forward at that Land Conference, it would have broken up the Conference, and prevented all the good that accrued from that Conference; and I must also tell your Lordships that at that time it was considered by the Nationalists—and I defy them to deny it—and by ourselves, that the evicted tenants question was not that enormous question which it suddenly loomed up as being in consequence of the Report of the Estates Commissioners. The arrangement was embodied in the Act of 1903, and the foundations of that Act were based upon the principle that all transactions under it should be voluntary, and that compulsion should be excluded from them. All parties in Ireland, I must remind your Lordships, agree to that, and as estates came up for sale, the question was dealt with and the evicted tenants put back, the result being that the number up to May last that had been restored was 1,033; and out of seventeen Plan of Campaign estates which were inquired into by the Evicted Tenants 1772 Commission of 1893 practically all have been settled but two. One would think that after the Land Conference, and after the Act of 1903, things were progressing most favourably. The only two estates that have not been dealt with are the Clanricarde estate and the Lewis estate. As I am reminded, the Lewis estate is only a question of price; they have offered to sell it. But the present Government wanted to hasten matters very much, and special regulations were made and extra inspectors were appointed to inquire into, and I may say search for, evicted tenants. Now, the number of applications is nothing short of enormous, because they have now reached the total of 8,401. For be it remembered that the total number of evicted tenants, including the Plan of Campaign estates tenants, inquired into by the Evicted Tenants Commission of 1893, was at 23rd February, 3,639. The truth of the matter is that it is not at all a bad business under the present circumstances, and with the present Government in power, to be an evicted tenant, or to make out that you are one.
I do not want to go into what has been said, and the promises, or rather hints, thrown out from the opposite side. I want to deal with exactly what is in the Bill. What does the Bill do? It takes land compulsorily from the owner, and that owner has no redress and no appeal. The Commissioners can decide the amount of land to be taken, and the situation of that land; they can evict the men who have been paying the rent of that land, and put in their place other men who formerly did not pay such rent. They can do all this absolutely, and there is no appeal of any sort or kind in the Bill, except to the Commissioners themselves. These Commissioners, I must submit, are a trinity in unity; they form their own appeal court, and they are unassailable and impregnable. There is a comic side, I think, as well as a serious one to it. The whole thing reminds me of the proceedings of Alice in Wonderland, where the Queen stalks about saying to everybody, "Off with his head, off with his head!" That is exactly what can be done under this Bill as regards the power of the Commissioners. 1773 If there is to be compulsion under this Bill, it is certain that this House will agree that there must be an appeal from the Commissioners—an appeal on law and fact, including the question of the necessity of putting the Act in force. If the owner is willing to reinstate, surely compulsion is not necessary, but it might be put in force in order to drive a very hard bargain. I do not believe there is a necessity for compulsion, for if the Act of 1903 is worked properly, and sufficient financial assistance is given to that Act, the evicted tenants can be dealt with as they have been dealt with before. But if Parliament sanctions compulsion, it must be carried out after due inquiry on the subject, and in the most public manner, and not, as proposed in this Bill, by three gentlemen who are responsible to no one, and who are constituted into a court such as has never been known before, as the noble and learned Lord said, in the whole of the British Empire.
The Government propose to reinstate 2,000 tenants, and they are each to have 40 acres. This will take about 80,000 acres. By Paragraph 40 in their Report, the Estates Commissioners said that they have got already 80,000 acres of land. I know this has been said before, but I should like to impress it again upon the House. That land is not to be used for evicted tenants; it is to be used for improving the holdings which are supposed not to be economic, and therefore it shows pretty well what this Bill will do. They can take any amount of land for whatever purposes they like. I should like to know where the money is to come from to do all this, because they propose also that they should equip the farms, and stock them, and put up buildings. Besides this, as far as I can understand, there is nothing to prevent the Commissioners from dealing with the 8,401 so-called evicted tenants who have sent in applications. Pressure may be brought to bear upon those Commissioners which would be very hard to resist, and I cannot see how they could stop. And therefore, I think it is most essential that there should be some limit put in the Bill—either 2,000, or perhaps a little limit beyond that.
Now as to the dispossession of the so-called planters. It is interesting to 1774 note what Mr. John Redmond, the Leader of the Nationalist Party, said on that very subject, when the 1903 Bill was being debated, and I should just like, if your Lordships will allow me, to read that sentence. He said—that there was no intention to put into the Bill (that is, the 1903 Bill) any provision by which pressure, direct or indirect, could be brought to bear on existing tenants; that the number of these new tenants who were really bona fide agriculturists was comparatively few, and that if they desired to continue in their holdings he would not give his sanction to any attempt compulsorily to put them out.Evidently the learned Gentleman has changed his opinions, and I am afraid that these sayings can only be accounted as political pie-crust prepared and baked for the occasion. But it is interesting to note them, and I quote them for the benefit of noble Lords who do not live in Ireland and who now understand the sort of changes and opinions and promises that we have to put up with. It is utterly unfair and unjust, I say, to dispossess of his holding a man who has been farming properly and paying his way. I think the noble Lord in charge of the Bill said that if he is a farmer and farmed properly, his claim should be considered. I am very glad we have got that concession from him, and I only hope that when an Amendment is put forward in those terms he will agree to it.
*THE EARL OF MAYO
I took them down as well as I could. Now I pass from this to the Commissioners themselves, and their altered position under this Bill. In the 1903 Act, their status was most clearly defined; their actions could be criticised and debated by Parliament. What has happened under this Bill? You have made them Judges, and there also still remains the power—because it has not been repealed 1775 —of the Lord-Lieutenant to make regulations with regard to those Commissioners. The Lord-Lieutenant cannot make regulations with regard to Judges any more than he can make regulations with regard to the Lord Chancellor who is sitting on the Woolsack; therefore, I say, and many of us will agree, that having put in the Bill that they are Judges, you remove them from all Parliamentary criticism and from all power of the Lord-Lieutenant to deal with them by regulations. If there was one thing that was fought over by the Unionist and Nationalist Parties in the House of Commons in the 1903 Bill, it was the status of the Commissioners—the power to criticise their actions, to bring what they did before Parliament, and to deal with the matter in the most open and free manner; how on earth can noble Lords get up and say that their status is not altered and that this is only put in to secure their tenure, when the words used are "County Court Judge"? Under Section 13, it is provided that—The Estates Commissioners shall hold office by the same tenure as if they were County Court Judges in Ireland.That is plain English, and we object most strongly to that status being altered. I never heard any complaint on the score of the Commissioners as to their tenure. I never heard them complain that their present tenure of office was not perfectly secure, and therefore I cannot see why this was done. The real truth is that it is to remove them from the power of criticism in Parliament, and to give them those autocratic powers which exist under the Bill.
Now I pass to the powers given under Clause 5 to enable them to fall back on the Land Purchase Aid Fund when they incur a loss on re-selling. That was dealt with fully by Lord Dunraven, and I fully concur in what he said about that. If there was one thing embodied in the 1903 Act it was that this Land Purchase Aid Fund was a golden bridge which was to make up the difference between the price given by the tenant and the price which the landlord was to receive; therefore I consider it is breaking a pledge to interfere in any way with this. I was glad to see that the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, suggested that 1776 the sum might be limited to about £100,000. I should like to see something of that sort put into the Bill. But it is not in the Bill now, and I hope that when the matter is brought forward we shall not be told that we are encroaching upon the privileges of the House of Commons. Once you begin to encroach upon that fund, there will be no end to it; it will be only a premium to the Commissioners to buy land here, there, and everywhere, and deal with it as they like —to buy dear and sell cheap—when, they feel they have this bonus to fall back upon.
There is another question I should like to deal with, and that is the limit of the evicted tenants. There was a point raised by Lord Denman in regard to this Bill not being meant for returned sons of tenants, or returned tenants, from America. I have got a case on my own property. I have only got one evicted tenant on my property; it is a matter of years and years ago, but the Commissioners proposed to put back the son of a man who was returned from America, who was lately come back when he saw a chance of getting on a farm. He has been working on the railway and they were prepared to put him back. I do not myself object to his coming back, but as for the noble Lord saying that the Bill is not intended i for that purpose, there is a case in point, where this man, the son of an evicted tenant, has come back from America specially to get back into the farm.
Now, my Lords, I have indicated, I think, the points to which Amendments will be directed. I admit that the evicted tenants question in Ireland is a source of constant trouble, and I admit the fact of its being mentioned in the Land Conference. It was essential to that Report that a good understanding should be arrived at; but having admitted so much, I cannot agree with His Majesty's Government that compulsion should be applied indiscriminately by a Commission of three without a vestige of appeal, and that further evictions should take place. That seems to me to be a complete reversal of the policy of the 1903 Act, which the present Government have declared they are 1777 ready to carry out to the best of their ability.
§ LORD HEMPHILL
My Lords, I should not intrude any opinion upon your Lordships' House in this protracted debate were it not that I happen to be an Irishman sitting on the Ministerial side of the House, and that I think I may fairly say that I have had a longer experience of Ireland in its various phases and forms than almost any— I may perhaps say than any—of the noble Lords whom I have the honour of addressing. Speaking with such experience, I accept this Bill as a means of healing a sore which, to my knowledge, for the last twenty-five years has defeated the objects of every successive Government in producing peace and goodwill in Ireland. I was struck with the speeches of the noble Marquess on the Front Bench and of my noble and learned friend Lord Atkinson, because those speeches, if they really were intended to affect the judgment of your Lordships' House, would have gone to reject this Bill altogether; and they were speeches which made it, as it appeared to me, almost inconsistent for either of those noble Lords to support the Second Reading of the Bill. But I can very well understand how that came about; because we all know that the cause of the evicted tenants was one of the levers by which the late Government was enabled to carry the Land Purchase Act of 1903 through the House of Commons; and this very provision about the evicted tenants was the sop thrown out to the Nationalists in the House of Commons on the one hand, and a bonus of £l2,000,000 was the sop thrown out to the landlords on the other hand, by means of which that Bill became law—a most beneficial Bill, and a Bill which, with this necessary corollary—for I say the present Bill is a necessary corollary to the Bill of 1903— crowned the efforts of Mr. Gladstone, who redeemed Ireland, by his Land Court, from being—as it now would have been indeed—a land of desolation. Landlords and tenants alike would, I believe, have ceased to exist in Ireland, and the whole of the country would have been a perfect pandemonium. I have no hesitation in saying that, for I am old enough to remember the variety of movements 1778 which existed in Ireland. I have as a child heard of the Tithe War; I have heard of the various agrarian disturbances which decimated the country; and from the year 1870 down, a new era arose, and that new era was crowned by the Bill of 1903, followed by this measure which your Lordships are now considering.
I am not going to trouble your Lordships with any quotations, but I cannot resist making one exception as demonstrating the necessity, I might also say, for many noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House to consent to the Second Reading of this Bill. Mr. Wyndham, in Committee, used these words, which your Lordships will find in Hansard, Vol. CXXIV.—They could not pick out here and there those who were misguided, others who had been fraudulent, or others who had been misled. If they did, they would be raking up the past. They must not look beyond this: that it was desirable, if they could, to give these men another chance.That is to say, the evicted tenants—no matter why evicted, or from what circumstances their eviction came about— that it was desirable to give these men another chance. It was by observations such as that that the Bill was got through; and, in another place, in answer to a question of one of the Irish Members, Mr. Wyndham says—The words 'evicted tenant ' are not in the Bill; the class of persons referred to "(that is evicted tenants)" is covered by the provisions of Clause 2 (1) Sub-section (d).Therefore, it is as clear as that I am now addressing your Lordships that it was part of the compact by which that Bill became law that evicted tenants should be restored, no matter what had led to their eviction. There was only one limit, and that limit exists, and is not interfered with, namely, that they should have been evicted within twenty-five years before the passing of that Act. We know from the Report which has been so constantly referred to, that according to that Act, a great number —nearly 1,000—of the evicted tenants have been restored, because the owners of the land from which they were evicted have come to terms with the Land Commission; and even in the case of what were called the Plan of Campaign estates, which led to the phrase "the wounded 1779 soldiers of the war," applying that phrase to the evicted tenants, out of seventeen estates recapitulated in that Report, all, except two, namely the tenants of the noble Marquess who addressed the House from the Opposition Benches (The Marquess of Clanricarde) and those of Mr. Lewis have been reinstated.
It is said, why is not a limit mentioned in the present Bill? There could not be a limit, because until it is ascertained what men have been evicted who are now seeking to be reinstated and who come within the condition of having been put out of their holdings within twenty-five years, it is impossible, without doing serious injustice, to put a limit of, say, 2,000 or any other number. But we know, as a matter of fact from the Report that 2,000 will more than cover those who will probably seek to be restored. After all, it is really a very small Bill; and knowing what I do about Ireland, having had some experience of the north and having represented a northern county for many years in the House of Commons, having been born, and lived the early part of my life, in the south, and having had opportunities of going through almost every county in Ireland, and knowing more or less what was going on between landlord and tenant, I am astonished at this stage that those who are interested in the great question of the land ownership of Ireland should offer any opposition to this which, I say, is in substance but a paltry Bill.
The great objection, and the main objection which has been put forward with so much force and energy by some of the speakers, has been with regard to the tribunal. Was there ever such an ill-founded objection as that? What is the tribunal? It consists of three gentlemen. Who are the gentlemen? Men selected and appointed by the late Government, and one of those men a member of the Privy Council in Ireland, a man who had been for years one of the most extensive land agents in Ireland, and an Englishman by birth. That is one of the three. Who are the others? Another is a barrister who was not particularly connected with land, not a partisan of either landlord or tenant, or, from his antecedents, likely to be so—Mr. Bailey who, for fifteen 1780 years, being appointed by the late Government, has acted more or less in connection with administering the Land Acts of 1903 and the antecedent Acts; and the third is a gentleman who, an Irishman by birth, passed, as I understand, the greater portion of his time in India, and who cannot have any leaning one way or the other. Why should not they be a fair tribunal prima facie? What better tribunal would you substitute? It is said, and the noble Lord who spoke last (The Earl of Mayo) dwelt very much on the fact, that they are to be put into the position of Judges. It is not exactly Judges—they are to be in the position of County Court Judges, who are removable by the Lord-Lieutenant by an order of the Privy Council on the certificate of the Lord Chancellor.
§ LORD HEMPHILL
I am speaking of Ireland. I think my noble and learned friend will find that I am right. That was the tenure of the County Court Judges. Of course we know that the Judges of the High Court are only removable by an Address of both Houses of Parliament to the Crown. However, I will not discuss the matter, as it is not very material. But at all events the reason of that is plain, and if it were not in the Bill, I could understand noble Lords opposite insisting upon it being put into the Bill. What was the object of making the Judges of the High Court independent? One of the very great charters of English liberty and English law was making the Judges independent of the Crown. This was followed in Ireland in 1792 by one of the great movements which have brought about the partial regeneration of Ireland; and this is merely carrying out the same idea, that as you are giving these men power over the property of others, you should make them independent of a popular breeze, so that they should not be subject to the alterations of Government, or to the apprehension that, being appointed by the Tories, when the Liberals came in, they might be displaced. That is the real object of the measure; and, as I have said, if that were not in the Bill, I have not the slightest doubt 1781 that my noble and learned friend, if I may so call him, who never lets any point pass, would make it one of his strongest objections to the present measure. If it is insisted upon that there should be an appeal, there may be analogies for appeals. Under the Railways (Ireland) Act, when land is sought to be taken by a railway there is an appeal which is tried by a Judge and jury. Would the landlords like to have the value of their land tried by a jury? Certainly not, if I know anything of landlords, by a common jury in Ireland, although they may, under procedure, have a special jury. That may be a matter for amendment; and if that was proposed by noble Lords opposite it is quite possible that my friends on the front Ministerial Bench would not very seriously object. But of course I am not in a position to answer in any way for that. This idea about objecting to there being no appeal is merely to fasten upon some point upon which to criticise a Bill which after all is only carrying out a measure to which on every principle of justice and honour the Opposition as well as the Ministry are bound to give effect. It has been stated by one of the members of the Conference, the noble Lord who last spoke—and this is a matter of history and well-known by other noble Lords—that the Land Conference, which was the basis of the Bill of 1903, was based upon the idea that these wounded soldiers of the war, as they have been called, should be reinstated, and recollect that they cannot be reinstated unless they were evicted within twenty-five years; and also it has been stated as an objection (I was astonished when I heard it) that, forsooth, there is a provision that the creditors of the men who were evicted could not come down upon the farms after they were reinstated. If that were not so, it would be a nugatory measure, because these unfortunate men may have incurred debts and liabilities, and you would only be doing this through the medium of this Act of Parliament—you would be benefiting not the evicted tenants but their creditors. That is not the policy of the Bill. Any debts contracted since 1st May, I think it is, in the present year, will attach to the land when it is restored to the existing tenants; but old debts 1782 of course will not have any operation. If they had, the Act would be nugatory. I will not further detain your Lordships. I have only touched upon some general topics; but I felt that I should not be doing my duty, I might say, to my country if I did not express my astonishment that so much heat has been thrown into this debate with reference to a Bill which as a matter of fact is a very small act of justice to a very distressful country.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, before I venture to say a very few words with reference to what has passed since we commenced discussing this subject at about five o'clock, I want to take the first opportunity that I have in addressing your Lordships upon this subject of entering my strongest possible protest and denial against something that was said last Friday, I think it was—when this Bill was read a third time in the House of Commons—by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Mr. Birrell suggested that the Act of 1903 had put money into the landlords' pockets, and that was a ground upon which he should ask the landlords to throw themselves into this undertaking. Mr. Birrell seems unable to forget that he was at one time responsible for the political publications of the Party opposite, and he does not seem to have been able to resist, on Friday last, something which instinct probably taught him might at some future date be useful at elections. I wish to enter my strongest possible protest against the suggestion made. It is not true that any of us are going to have money put into our pockets by the Act of 1903. Some of us hope some day to be able to save what we have got if we can sell under the Act, but I do not know of a single case of any landlord who is likely to make any profit—or in other words, to have money put into his pocket—as the result of that Act. Therefore I protest against this attempt almost to suggest that we should consider ourselves to have been bribed into giving support to the scheme outlined in this Bill.
There are two things which T think irresistibly strike one in contemplation of the debate that we have had this 1783 evening. First, one cannot help being struck by the extraordinary enthusiasm with which the noble Earl opposite has been supported in presenting this Bill to your Lordships. The noble Earl finished his speech at a quarter to six. It was half-past nine before anyone rose on his side of the House to support the Bill. It was ten minutes past ten before the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down (Lord Hemphill)—that is to say before the first person not officially connected with the Government—rose to support the noble Earl. I can only say that I hope it will be a long time before the noble Earl again receives such wretched support from his Party when he makes a proposal to your Lordships.
What is the second thing which strikes one in connection with this debate? One is, I think, irresistibly struck with the thought that it is quite evident that His Majesty's Government have given no consideration whatever as to what will be the general results of the passing of this Bill in Ireland. For the first time, I think, this Bill establishes the principle that agitation pays, and that if you do not carry out your obligations, you are likely to get into a better position than if you had carried them out. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, drew attention to this point in his speech earlier in the evening, and I am not going to labour it, but it seems to me a most extraordinary position that you are going to set up. A right hon. friend of mine in another place has pointed out that His Majesty's Government are going to keep two tribunals going in Ireland. You are to have in future the Land Commission fixing fair rents, and you are to have the Estates Commission finding holdings for individuals who have failed to pay fair rents. Surely this can have nothing but a lamentable educational effect upon people in Ireland! It may even have a worse effect than that in this case from an English point of view. I cannot help wondering whether perhaps forty or fifty years hence, when the grandchildren of the tenants who are now buying land are getting a little tired of paying back to the English taxpayer the instalments upon their purchase—I cannot help 1784 wondering whether any old friend will be found to remind them of the happy days of 1907, when it paid to agitate—when it paid not to carry out your obligations—and to suggest that perhaps a little of the same treatment might be good for our grandchildren when they are sitting upon the benches of this House.
So much, my Lords, for the more distant effect that I am afraid this Bill may have. But what is going to be its immediate effect? You are going to set down men who are now planters in other parts of the country if you find them holdings. You are going to set down evicted tenants in other cases from other parts of the country, and they are to come in as strangers. It is not denied that in Ireland there is the greatest objection to what is known as migrating. It is not denied that there is the greatest objection in many localities to receiving migrants, and the evidence given before the Commission which has been so much referred to this evening goes to show that the objection is increasing rather than decreasing. I believe it is an open secret that a certain number of evicted tenants from the Clanricarde estates were found new holdings in the same county, but at some distance from their old holdings, and were taken to them last March, and that although they were shepherded by a representative of the Estates Commission, they rapidly came home, refusing to take the new holdings that had been found for them, under the influence of what has been called local opposition. It is quite possible that if this Bill works on a large scale you may have a great deal more cattle-driving and other sorts of intimidation against these planters and against evicted tenants whom you set up in new localities— and you will have parts of the country in as bad a state as parts of the country are in now if not worse. There will be this difference, of course. At present cattle driving is aimed either at the landlord or at the planter, and His Majesty's Government do not consider it a very serious crime. I wonder if they will consider it a very serious crime when it is aimed against them and their proteges? I confess that if—what I should regret 1785 extremely—we find serious attacks organised against these migrants I shall have much pleasure in reminding my noble friend Lord Denman of a speech I have already commented upon several times, and which I am not going to rub in any further now.
The noble Lord, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, referred to what is known as the agreement of 1903. I cannot flatter myself that I ever expected to convert him to the view I expressed about the intention of the Act, and I hope he does not think that he has converted me. But I still maintain that it was the intention in 1903 that evicted tenants should be reinstated pari passu with the other provisions in the Bill, and I take my stand, in saying that, upon two main grounds. The first ground is that as soon as the Bill was passed, His Majesty's Government of the day issued a regulation to that effect, and I do not think that it can be maintained that they would have issued that regulation if it had not been understood at the time to be a part of the bargain. Secondly, I take my stand upon the actual words of the Act itself. These operations, as your Lordships are well aware, take place under Clause 2 of the Act, which (the words are perfectly plain and straightforward) states that in the case of the sale of an estate advances may be made for the purchase of parcels thereof for certain purposes, and the fourth of the purposes mentioned is with regard to evicted tenants. Surely the wording of that clause is perfectly straightforward. In the case of the sale of an estate, evicted tenants were to be restored, and they obviously were not considered particularly urgent, because they do not appear until subsection (d) of the clause; it is not even considered worth while to single them out for special treatment, they have to take their turn with tenants requiring enlarged holdings and so forth. That was the agreement as I remember it in 1903. That was the agreement also in the Bill, and I claim that it is the only agreement that binds anybody on either side. His Majesty's Government are departing from that agreement, and they are applying compulsion. I am anxious to see this question settled, 1786 and I do not object to compulsion myself nearly as much, perhaps, as several of my noble friends behind me. But I do not object to compulsion only upon the distinct understanding that the compulsion is to be exercised in a fair manner, and that there is some case for its exercise. No case as yet, I maintain, has been shown to us.
I do not believe that anybody in Ireland, and I am going to quote evidence from my opponents to show it, objects to selling untenanted land if he is sure of what the noble Lord on the Woolsack calls an honest price. But do not let us forget what an honest price is. I think that His Majesty's Government do not quite realise what the value of some of this grass land is to many owners—particularly not very large owners. I apologise for mentioning for one moment purely elementary facts, but every landlord's property (I am speaking now of the generality of landlords) divides itself into two classes. There is a certain amount of tenanted land, and a certain amount of untenanted land. But perhaps that is not quite a wide enough distinction. There is a certain amount of land to which the Act of 1881 applies, and there is a certain amount of land to which the Act of 1881 does not apply. In the case of land to which the Land Act of 1881 applies, all competition in fixing rent is eliminated. The Land Commission has reduced rents about an average of 40 per cent. since 1881. Why? None of us know. We used to think that the reason for reduction of rent—at least, the only logical reason I have ever heard put forward—was that the tenant right did not belong to the landlord; and therefore a reduction was made from what was obviously the commercial value of the land in fixing the rent. But, unfortunately, Mr. Bailey's evidence, quoted by Lord Atkinson, made it perfectly clear that the Land Commission never even had such a logical view as that on which to base its decisions, and that the whole thing was more or less a rule of thumb. But the fact remains that the rents have been reduced 40 per cent.; and that has had this result: I fancy if you analyse a certain number of average-sized properties in Ireland owned by a landlord, you will find that the rents 1787 he receives from his tenanted land, that is to say, rents fixed by the Land Commission, do very little more than pay his legal outgoings upon that land, and in those I include head-rents, Crown rents, quit-rents, land improvement charges, family charges, and so forth. He has practically no income at all of his own from tenanted land, because whereas rents have been reduced, the head-rents and those other items I have mentioned have not been reduced. Doubtless you will be able to quote some cases of big landlords to whom this does not apply; but I am speaking of the average landlord in the South of Ireland as I know him. What remains to him as his personal income? There remains only his income from his untenanted and grazing lands, where competition remains. These latter rents are fixed by competition in the open market. They provide the owner with practically all the income he receives, and which enables him to live at home and keep up his place. Some of it is the finest fattening land in Europe, I might almost say; and, Canadian cattle or no Canadian cattle, it is not unreasonable, we think, that we should be very chariot' parting with this land, except at the honest price which we hope this Bill when we have done amending it is going to secure us. After all, that is the basis on which all arbitrations have taken place hitherto, arbitrations resulting from the compulsory purchase of land—that is, the honest price, the price that secures the present income. And, though I acknowledge at once that the noble Lord upon the Woolsack has promised us an honest price, there is no machinery in the Bill that makes it likely that we shall get anything of the kind.
Now, my Lords, one word as to the necessity for compulsion. My noble friend beside me (Lord Dunraven) told us that it was necessary. He did not actually quote any case to prove it, but I think he went a good deal further than Government speakers are accustomed to go in dealing with this point—although of course I am not classing Lord Dunraven as a Government speaker. The noble Earl who moved the Second Beading of the Bill treated it very gingerly 1788 indeed, I thought. I should have been much better pleased if he had gone into the question of compulsion, and the necessity for compulsion, a great deal more deeply than he did. But I am not surprised that he did not, because we have a tremendous amount of evidence upon that subject, evidence which is up-to-date and which points all the other way. I lay it down as a general proposition, and I should be greatly interested if it can be contradicted, that wherever an honest price has been offered there has been no case of failure to purchase. There is plenty of evidence from various departments on this point. I make no excuse even at this hour for quoting some of this evidence at length, for this point is very important. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Denman, objected a little hardly that Lord Atkinson had been inclined to pick out evidence and draw conclusions from that. I am going to read one or two extracts, and I promise him I am not going to leave anything out. I think it well to quote several instances on this point, because the subject is one of very great importance, and it is so frequently avoided by Government speakers. The witnesses all appeared before Lord Dudley's Commission. I will first quote the evidence of Mr. Doran, Chief Land Inspector of the Congested Districts Board in September, 1906. In answer to Question 2,628 he says—They have opened negotiations with very few persons they had not dealt with.Question 2,633—They had never got a blank refusal.'By Question 2,636. he is asked—In fact in every case of failure to come to terms it is because they have asked a price you could not offer? —Yes.The next witness is Mr. Commissioner Wrench. His evidence was given on 5th and 6th November, 1906, and he wrote a memorandum in 1898 and brought it up to date by his comments.
Question 14,468—Many owners of tenanted lands and also of grazing lands in or near the congested districts would be inclined to sell if they felt that they would be fairly treated? —My idea is that if men knew they would get a fair equivalent for the land they had to sell, then a lot of men. 1789 would offer their grass lands. I think that has been borne out by what has happened since.Question 15,047—I believe by fair treatment you can arrive at what you want without compulsion.Question 15,080—I say the first thing is to offer the vendor the equivalent of his net income, and, if that fails, it will be time enough to resort to compulsion.There has been no attempt to prove that this attempt suggested by Mr. Wrench has ever been made, and, of course, there has been no attempt to prove that it has failed. Why has not Mr. Wrench's suggestion been followed? Why is it that compulsion is necessary in the opinion of the Government? I do not think it has been referred to yet in the course of the debate, but I think the answer is to be found in another answer given by Mr. Wrench close by the extracts I have just read. At Question 14,951, he says—I do not believe that if you did approach these people and tell them you would give them an equivalent income, they could refuse, but you must remember this, that the Estates Commissioners have no power to take this course. Of course our valuers, when they come to look at land of this class, see to what account it can be turned and see at what price it can be relet in smaller holdings. They cannot put a price on it which we cannot recover, and, therefore a landlord or owner may have land that is more valuable in its present position than it would be when it is sold to us and cut up into the small holding; which we want to create.We therefore have this position. The land is worth more to the landlord than it is to the Commissioners. This Bill consequently is brought in to enable the Estates Commissioners to force down the price which they may feel justified in giving. We are grateful, as I have said before, to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for promising us an honest price. I say it with the greatest regret, but I believe if an honest price was intended, the machinery of the Bill is absolutely unnecessary. The sole necessity for this Bill lies in the need which the Estate Commissioners have to force down prices, In fact, the Estates Commissioners are setting up a system of bearing that is enough to make the mouth of a member of the Stock Exchange water. This is proved further by other passages in the 1790 evidence, from our own experience, and from the circumstances of the case.
I would remind your Lordships again of the difference between tenanted and untenanted land. There are two interests in all land. There is the owner's interest, and there is the tenant's interest. In untenanted land both are there, but they are concentrated in the owner. We claim, and we always have claimed, that the owner should be compensated for both when untenanted land is taken from him. He very often has to pay a high price for what is technically known as the tenant's right, and on what principle of justice he should not be compensated for this when the land is taken from him I am personally unable to guess. The fact remains that one of the Estate Commissioners, Mr. Finucane, who has already been referred to, has absolutely scouted the idea that any owner has the right to compensation for any tenant right whatever. The noble Lord will find that on page 326 in the note made in the Appendix of vol. 3, in which Mr. Finucane's evidence appears. I think therefore we are not unreasonable in claiming, knowing the facts of the case as we do, that any man who denies to us the right we have in the tenant's right in the land that is on our hands is not the person who should be asked to arbitrate the price at which the land is to be taken from us compulsorily.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Hemp-hill, recited, and recited perfectly correctly, the qualifications and characters of the three Estates Commissioners. The last thing that I desire to do is to attack their qualifications or their character, but I do attack what they have said, and I say, in view of what they have said, they are not the right people to arbitrate the price at which our land is to be taken from us. But more than that; I say in no case whatever is the purchaser the right person to fix a price when the land is taken compulsorily. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill made no attempt to attack that general proposition. He himself is the owner of some of the most beautiful and valuable property in the whole of England. Would he himself consent under any 1791 condition whatever to allow that property to be referred to in a Bill and to be scheduled subject to the fact that the purchaser, who might be one of his colleagues on the Front Bench, was to have the right of deciding whether he would purchase that property or not and how much he would pay for it when he did? That is exactly the position the noble Earl is putting us in when he seeks to subject us to the conditions of this Bill as introduced. We do not object to, and nobody is dreaming of attacking, the personal qualifications or characters of the Estates Commissioners; but we say, on a general principle, it is unheard of that the purchaser should fix the price and be arbitrator on countless other questions which are bound to arise in the course of the administration of this Bill.
I was maintaining that the object of this Bill is not to make it possible for the Estates Commissioners to get the land, but in order to enable the Government to force down the price. I quote, secondly, the case of the Lewis Estate. It is obvious from the experience in that case that the thing fell through, not through any unwillingness on the part of the owner, but because the Government would not pay the honest price for the land they desired. Lastly, I referred to the circumstances of the case. I desire to point out that my case has been admitted by one of the Estates Commissioners. Mr. Commissioner Wrench, in answer to Question 15143, stated: —If the valuation of such land is left to the officials of the Estate Commissioners or the Congested District Board, they would naturally be tempted to discount the price for the land below its value to the owner in its present condition, so as to minimise the total loss on resale.There is a direct statement of one of the Estates Commissioners that his Department is not the right person to to fix the price without subsequent appeal. Do not forget another point in the circumstances of the case. After all, who are the Estates Commissioners? Like all Government Departments they are subject to the control of the Treasury. I cannot imagine that they are going to be allowed to hand out public money without the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury being fully consulted. Anyone who has had anything to do 1792 with the Treasury knows it has very little soul and no charity. We cannot conceive the Treasury, being given powers as they will get indirectly under this Bill to pay a low price for a thing, not exercising these powers. In every case where they can get£1 off, there will be plenty of pressure brought to bear in the Estates Commissioners to get it off. The idea is ludicrous from the point of view of the vendor, and yet it is part of the working of the scheme proposed.
It is late, and I of course acquiesce in the suggestion that the Bill is to be read a second time. But we are making our protest on this occasion as we shall do later when this Bill gets into Committee. We are only a small minority in Ireland, of course, and we know that Mr. Birrell holds strong views to the effect that minorities must suffer—in fact, I think he is never so happy as when he sees that minorities do suffer, or is giving them an opportunity to suffer—but I hope there will be no doubt in your Lordships' minds that it is quite impossible to pass this Bill in the form it has reached your Lordships, and I sincerely hope your Lordships will support the view of my noble friends from Ireland when they come to move their Amendments.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord LOREBURN)
I am sorry to intervene in this debate, but I do so for one main reason. I think the Bill has been justified, because after all the result of this debate is that it ought to be read a second time and go into Committee. I do not understand that any of your Lordships take a different view. I would rather not have spoken for the Bill at all, because so far as it deals with the law it is not law with which I profess to be very familiar. The Statute law is of a very complicated character, and so far as it deals with facts I have not had the advantage I wish I had had of seeing the conditions in Ireland. I am afraid any facts that I might introduce would probably be erroneous. It is quite clear, however, that you must not expect an ordinary Bill to deal with this subject. The Bill is one to stay agrarian strife and to clear up abnormal difficulties which have arisen. All you can require is 1793 that the methods should be just, and that I think you are doing. Everyone I have heard in this debate agrees that there ought to be a reinstatement of these evicted tenants. It is quite true that the noble Earl who has just sat down said the Bill showed that it paid to be dishonest and not pay your rent. If that is so, then the Land Act of 1903 also showed it, because it, too, provided for the restoration, although not compulsorily, of the evicted tenants. The truth is, people are willing to let bygones be bygones and to try and heal the wounds. That, I understand, was the spirit which dictated the provision of the Act of 1903, and that and nothing else dictates the spirit of the proposal to-day. Therefore we are all agreed that these men are to be reinstated. The noble Earl spoke very strongly about compulsion not being necessary. Does he wish to exclude compulsion from this Bill 1 He will not say so The noble Earl, Lord Mayo, does not wish it. He said quite frankly he thought there ought to be compulsion.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
With justice: justice is the necessary concomitant of any proposal. Very well, then, there ought to be compulsion. Under those circumstances the only question is as to what are the terms, and that, I venture to think, is a matter entirely for Committee. It is not that I wish to avoid or shirk for a moment any one of these questions. We are quite prepared to meet them, but your Lordships must have observed in the course of the debate that there is a practical difficulty in dealing with different points on a Second Reading stage, because they all get mixed up one with another, and those points which are good lose by confusion with other points. It is difficult to get a clear issue with regard to any of the numerous points. I do not believe anyone who had listened to this debate can have failed to have seen that it is a signal illustration of what I have said. In other words, these things really ought to go to the Committee.
I have put down in pencil, and will devote one sentence to each of the different points referred to. "Are bonu fide, 1794 farmers to be turned out?" That is not the purpose of the Bill at all. If you want to put words in, let us wait and see what they are. "Are purchasing tenants to be removed?" I was under the same impression myself as Lord Denman that, by reason of the Purchase Acts being included in this Bill, it could not be done—that purchasing tenants could not be extruded. If Lord Ashbourne thinks otherwise, who am I to stand before him?
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
The Chief Secretary in the other House stated, in reference to this point, that it would be a matter for the discretion of the Estates Commissioners what they would do, and he had no doubt they would not disturb the tenant purchaser.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord is a great authority on this point, and, if he says I am wrong, I will not say any more. "Are honest prices to be paid?" I have been rightly reminded of what I thought was an elementary truism when I said that honest prices ought to be paid. Of course, I think they ought to be paid. "Is there to be an appeal, and are there to be limits to the Bill?" Let us see any proposals that are made, and we will give them perfectly fair consideration.
The only other point that really remains is whether the Estates Commissioners are trustworthy or proper persons to be entrusted with these duties. May I say this: I think the House will generally agree that it is a very distressing thing that men's capacity and character—for after all, there were reflections on the Estates Commissioners in regard to their impartiality and honesty, which are very dear to anybody—should be spoken of in a hostile spirit when they are not able to be here to answer for themselves. I always have a strong feeling about that, and I think we ought in Parliament to be particularly careful. I have a great respect for my noble friend Lord Atkinson, but I think, if he had reflected, he would perhaps have refrained from saying something he did say. I was glad to hear Lord Donoughmore speak of these gentlemen as worthy of respect 1795 for their straightforwardness. The other evening Lord Mayo said substantially the same thing. You may say they ought not to be the right persons to judge. We will discuss that. You may say that they are not, and we will see how the matter stands. But do not let this debate end with a sort of aspersion cast upon the character and honesty of gentlemen who, I believe, are thoroughly entitled to our respect.
Under these circumstances I think I have really said everything that I want to say. This Bill is a Bill which, according to the general consensus of opinion, ought to go to Second Reading. I think behind it there is even more. Lord Lansdowne warned your Lordships—he gave reasons for which the Bill should be read a second time—that it might produce serious results if the Bill were not passed into law. I understood him so to say. He is a statesman of great experience, and from all I know— not professing to have any special knowledge beyond that of a Member of the Government—I believe that is absolutely true, and I sincerely trust that your Lordships will not use the numerical power you have for the purpose of defeating in Committee or otherwise a Bill which I believe, and which the Government believe, to be necessary for the peace, order, and good government of Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I do not think even the reassuring words of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will convince the Members on this side of the House that full justice has been done to the feelings of the Opposition in this House, and of a large body of opinion in the country, as to the merits of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord has spoken as if we were all agreed upon the principles, and as if there were only a few details which required explanation in Committee. I think it should be made perfectly clear at the close of this long discussion, as it was at the beginning by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, that we are not agreed upon the principle of the Bill, that we do not admit it is a good or a wise principle, the principle of compulsion, and that we assent to the Second Read- 1796 ing solely on the ground of a patriotic desire not to incur in Ireland difficulties which the noble Lords opposite have declared to be imminent, and with regard to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has just addressed to us a solemn warning. I would go further and say that if there is so small a measure of divergence between us as the noble and learned Lord leads us to believe, I welcome the statement, and I hope to see the opinion put into actual words' and terms when we come into Committee on the Bill. Anything more divergent than the views expressed and the explanations given by the Members of the Government from the actual wording of the Bill has never, I venture to say, been heard within the walls of Parliament.
I speak with some recollection and experience of previous Bills on this subject. I had not the honour of being in Parliament, I am glad to say, because I was not of age at the time, when the Act of 1870 was passed, but I have been present at every discussion in the House of Commons on every Land Act since that Act, beginning with 1881, and I would appeal to my noble and learned friend behind me whether throughout the Act of 1881 we did not have assurance of the firm convictions of Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues that the objects of the Bill were the determination of fair rents, from which all sorts of advantages were to follow, and that any general revision of or interference with rents in Ireland was not to be expected. That genuine opinion turned out to be wholly at variance with what occurred.
To-night I would trouble your Lordships for a few moments in order to point out that what there is in the Bill has not been substantiated by the speeches we have heard from the other side of the House. Take the question of appeal. It is perfectly true Lord Denman uttered an encomium on the Estates Commissioners, which, if it stood alone, would lead us to believe that the Government did not intend to give us anything in the nature of an appeal; but there was the speech of the noble Earl who introduced the Bill, and also the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack who 1797 spoke repeatedly of justice, and who pointedly avoided making any reference to those parts of my noble friend Lord Atkinson's speech in which he pointed out that there was not, not only in the United Kingdom, but in any part of the British Empire, any statute by which those who were a party to a suit were allowed to be the judges, and the uncontrolled judges, of the amount to be paid. Are we to have an appeal, or are we not? I believe from the language used to-night that such an appeal will receive something more than what the Lord President said—the earnest consideration of the Government. If we are to have this appeal, how comes it that when the Bill comes up to this House after discussion in the Commons we have not got a word in it to mitigate the asperity of the provision which leaves the whole land of Ireland at the mercy of the Estates Commissioners?
Then again comes the removal of the sitting tenant—the planter. I would say this just in passing. I am not going to reiterate arguments put by those who have previously spoken. This Bill goes back on the teaching of all Irish Land Acts, beginning with 1870. A feature of all those Acts has been respect for the sitting tenant, and the effect of that has been to make it difficult for any landlord or all the landlords in Ireland together to resume possession of a single hundred acres of land for any purpose whatever, unless it be by the volition of the tenant or by reason of the non-payment of rent. It is assumed in this Bill that, whereas it is difficult, be the desire what you may, to resume possession of a hundred acres of land, 80,000 acres are going to be obtained without in any way prejudicing existing conditions of peace or prosperity in any county and without pressing hardly on any sitting tenant or landlord. There again, the language of the noble and. learned Lord on the Woolsack would lead us to believe that proper and reasonable safeguards will be accepted, but I again ask is it not extraordinary that a Bill which is supposed to have run the racket in another place should come before us without any safeguard whatever against our fear that for every tenant you put back you will make 1798 another man suffer? I say in that case the detail of the Bill is the principle of the Bill, and I submit that the power we are asked to sanction and to put into the hands of the Estates Commissioners is one which will not lead to peace or order in Ireland and will only cause further measures to become necessary at no very distant date.
Then, again, the language of the Chief Secretary the other night was most satisfactory with regard to the extent to which the Bill was to be used. He said it was to be used cautiously and warily. He said compulsion was to be rare, and he added a rather ominous reference to one or two cases where it was desirable in the interests of the law and order of a neighbourhood that a man should go. One or two cases, my Lords. These cases will have rather a tendency to multiply themselves when it becomes known to the population in various localities that it such cases are established they will be made to go.
I remember perfectly when I was at Oxford an unfortunate undergraduate who has now a seat in your Lordships' House had been subjected to some of the discipline we hear of in cavalry regiments occasionally. He was a most inoffensive individual, but his windows were occasionally broken, and we were all struck when one day the head of his college sent for him and told him he must go. He asked what his offence was, and he was told that he was an element of disorder in the college. I was never satisfied quite of the justice of that incident, which I think the Undersecretary for War may remember, although it does not refer to him personally. It certainly struck me very much with regard to Mr. Birrell's statement that because they were elements of disorder in their neighbourhood, although they might be inoffensive men, properly cultivating their holdings, they must go. I thought that was a vice versa reference.
Even the Chief Secretary is a highly advantageous witness when we come to compare his views with those of the Estates Commissioners. I will only trouble your Lordships with one quotation. If the spirit of the Chief Secretary 1799 is to animate the whole business, we might hope for something, but at the very last moment he put the Estates Commissioners outside his control by making them County Court Judges. I read Mr. Finucane's evidence at page 116 of the Blue-book. He said—In counties where the deficiency cannot be made good by voluntary sales, demesnes, then farms of over£50 valuation instead of£100 may have to be made liable to diminution, or the people for whom farms cannot be found in their own counties may have to be migrated on to untenanted land in the nearest county in which it is available.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
May I ask the noble Lord if that is in reference to evicted tenants or to the general question of uneconomic holdings? I ask for information.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The quotation is as to Mr. Finucane's views as to what is desirable in the way of meeting the needs of the congested districts. I understand his view is that in administering these Acts it is desirable that you should decrease holdings so as to provide for those who have insufficient holdings. His view, therefore, certainly does not square with that of the Chief Secretary. It is thought that only in one or two cases it may be necessary to remove men and not make this general clearance which is part of the scheme of Mr. Finucane and his colleagues. I confess that the whole of what Mr. Finucane has proposed or suggested might be allowed to do is justified by the language of the Bill. To take that language and leave it where it is, would, I think, be equivalent to starting that revolution in Ireland which we all desire to avoid. If I were to use the extreme language which the noble Lord opposite, Lord Hemphill, applied to the Gladstonian Acts, I might say that this would be a case in which landlords and tenants would cease to exist and the whole country would become a pandemonium. I think that might be compared with the Arcadia which Mr. Finucane has suggested in which the country is to be studded with returned tenants who have got land at under cost price and are therefore to some extent the guests of the nation, amongst tenants who have paid their Tents and therefore who have not got 1800 their land at under cost price, some 2,000 of whom will be removed to other locations and will have to carry on their business under police protection. I think, so long as the words of the Bill remain unamended, we are entitled to have great suspicion as to the effect of them.
I desire to say one word more with regard to the opinions of the Government. I notice a very great gradual change in those opinions during the passage of the Bill. I venture to say no man has been so largely educated in public opinion during the passage of a Bill as the Chief Secretary. The language used in his last speech was very different from that in which he told us some months ago that the people of Galway could not be long expected to acquiesce in the existence of these large grass farms which they desired to divide up. I should be the last to quarrel with the opinions of the Government, if, when we go into Committee, they are found to square with our; in this respect, but, before I sit down, I desire to point out that this Bill is not a Bill of progress. In every respect, except in the desire to benefit the evicted tenants and to pacify public opinion in Ireland, it is a retrograde measure. It unsettles much that has been before regarded as settled. Why is it that all these Bills, founded in hope and manned with public money, have been doomed to disappointment? It is because there has been no finality and because they have been supplanted by other measures. I am not saying that one Party is more to blame than another, but each Bill has been followed by something more favourable to the tenant farmers, and when the noble Earl who introduced the Bill said this was one more step in the tedious—or was it devious? —path of attempting to settle the Irish Land question, I could not help asking whether when we are willing to do what we can to close up the sore, it can be wise to open the door to all these fresh sores, to induce people to believe that the one protection, which was left to the landlord, the penalty for non-payment of rent, is to be disregarded and disregarded so that those who are put back are placed in a better position than those who had fulfilled all their liabilities.
1801 Therefore, although we assent to the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, I think it should be understood that we do so with a perfectly clear understanding as to our own position. I am not going to trouble your Lordships at this hour with any questions which might be raised in Committee, as to the amount of money which will be requisite to put back these tenants, and whether that can be allowed to take precedence of the £20,000,000 of agreements which have already been allowed, and for which there is at present no Treasury provision; nor will I ask any question with regard to the important point whether a landlord who has on large farms bought the interest of the tenant, and is the owner of the tenants' interest as well as of the landlord's interest, is to receive any consideration. It is not found in the Bill at present. What I press upon the Government is this: we assent to the Second Reading with the clear intention of asking your Lordships in Committee to re-consider the tribunal which shall ultimately decide both as to law and as to fact, and also as to value. We are determined to introduce Amendments, and to press upon the Government Amendments which will take care that the sitting tenant, if he is genuinely cultivating his farm, is not injured. We are also clear that the agreements made under previous Acts must be respected, and must not be shoved aside for additional agreements, for which money may hastily be found to the detriment of the first agreements. We are not satisfied with statistics of the Commissioners as hastily changed after the closure had been applied in another place. We think that the Government, after the unique experience by which in their brief period of rule 800 evicted tenants have developed into 8,000, and the cost has risen from £250,000 to £ 2,500,000, must be given some protection against those who will press them again to extend the number of evicted tenants. If we do not succeed in doing that, we believe the unrest which exists in some parts of Ireland will be fostered and accentuated by the Bill. Holding these views, I have risen, after the soothing speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, to assure your Lordships that nothing will be wanting on our side to restrict the Amend- 1802 ments we will put forward to what will be just between the parties. The Amendments will not be directed to an attempt to wreck the Bill or to prevent reinstatement of the evicted tenants. We, however, consider that the several points I have named are absolutely vital to the Bill, to the good faith of Parliament, and to our reputation as a legislative assembly for justice.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marques of RIPON)
The noble Viscount who has just sat down tells us in strong and almost threatening language what the noble Lords opposite are going to do with this Bill in Committee. As I understand the noble Viscount, it is not intended to divide against the Second Reading of this Bill, but it is intended to oppose every one of its principal provisions when we get into Committee. We understand that game. We have had to deal with it before. I venture humbly to think it is not a good game for any Opposition to play. It would be much better that you should meet this Bill by moving that it should be read a second time this day three months. That would have been a perfectly straightforward method. I do not think the method you propose to pursue will reflect upon you all the honour which the noble Viscount seemed to think would result from it.
At this hour I do not propose to follow those who have preceded me into the details of this Bill. They can all be discussed and they will all be discussed in Committee. We have already been told to what extent that discussion will be carried, and we shall be prepared to meet it when the time comes. I think, after much of what has been said in this debate, it is my duty before the House adjourns to ask your Lordships to consider what is the position which the Government had to deal with in this matter. What is the position in which this question was left by those who preceded us in office I confess I was greatly surprised by a good deal that fell from the noble Earl the Earl of Donoughmore. I remember very well the year 1903, and I remember the ability with which, from the back Benches on this side of the House, he discussed the Land Bill and made for himself that 1803 reputation which has led him to the seat he now occupies, and which will, I hope, only be the commencement of a distinguished public career. I was surprised when the noble Earl said that he did not think that the clause in the Land Act of 1903 which refers to the question with which we have to deal to-night gave any substantial security or pledge to the evicted tenants that they should be to any extent restored either to their ancient holdings or to equal holdings of another kind.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I do not want to interrupt the noble Marquess, but my point was that they were not to have a preference
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
They were not to have a preference? Then what were they to have? That is just what I want to know. I want to know from the authors and supporters of the Act of 1903 what they meant, because, after what had passed, that is exactly what I am unable to understand. I thought they meant a great deal. I thought they meant something very serious. It so happens that it was on the 6th August, exactly four years ago, and this is the language used by the Leader of the Opposition. He was, I think, following the speech of Lord Barrymore, and he said—Surely if the noble Lord followed, as no doubt he did, the discussions which took place elsewhere, he must know that those provisions which contemplated the possibility of the restoration of the evicted tenants or their representatives in suitable cases to the holdings they once occupied was an essential element in the compromise, and that if the element had been excluded it was possible that the Bill might not at this moment be upon the Table of your Lordships' House.What does that mean? It means that the provision for the evicted tenants was a provision in the nature of a compromise made in the House of Commons for the purpose of securing the passing of the Bill through the House. Stronger language could not be used, because my noble friend said that if the compromise had not been made the Bill would not have passed the House of Commons. It would not have come up to this House. Well, then, it was a compromise. It was an understanding, and my noble friend opposite does not deny it. It 1804 was an understanding by means of which the Bill came up to this House.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Might I point out that more evicted tenants have already been replaced than were then known to exist; so that at all events the late Government did their part?
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
Then the compromise was wholly illusory. If there were no evicted tenants to be restored, why talk about a compromise? What is the good of that? There was nothing to do. I cannot accept the explanation. The noble Lord could not have used the language he did employ unless he had meant to say that the provision affecting the interests of the evicted tenants was a real and substantial provision intended to place them in an advantageous position. I do not want to use too strong language upon the subject. That was the position which he took up. That was the provision contained in the Act of 1903. The singular part of the position we had to deal with was this; I think Lord Donoughmore said that very little after the Act was passed— I know it was not very long—the late Government put out regulations in which they altogether set aside for immediate practical purposes that provision; they refused the application for additional aid from the Estates Commissioners, and told them to deal with their other duties and leave that matter alone. That left to the new Government a position of no ordinary difficulty. We were forced, as we thought, to carry out the undertaking which had been made—the compromise which had been arranged by the Act of 1903. We took the matter into our consideration. We found that nothing had been done, and that, on the contrary, the Commissioners had been practically prohibited from taking any step up to that time. There was a growing feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction at what was naturally considered to be a breach of the compromise made. You have no right to say we have needlessly taken up the question. We have taken up the technical situation which you left, and we are endeavouring to deal with that situation and to do something which will satisfy the aspirations which you created. I observed, by the 1805 bye, that the noble Lord opposite, Lord Atkinson, told us not to hold out false hopes. It is not we who have held out false hopes. It is you who, by the provisions of the Act of 1903, and by the language used about it, have raised false hopes. They have been created and they do exist; and we have therefore thought it necessary and right to complete that great and noble work which the Act of 1903 undertook—an Act which I have always said reflected the greatest credit upon the Government which passed it, but which remains incomplete unless you give to this part of its provisions full and complete satisfaction. It is in order that we may fulfil the pledges we have inherited that we offer this Bill to your Lordships' House.
§ Question put and agreed to. Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.