§ MOTION FOR LEAVE.[ADJOURNED DEBATE.]
Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th March],
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the better disposal of the business under the Land Law (Ireland) Acts; and for other purposes relating thereto.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, that the Bill was a most disappointing and unsatisfactory answer to the request which had been made to the Government ever since the beginning of the Session, not only by the Irish Members who sat below the Gangway, but also by the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). The grievance which it was supposed that the Bill would remedy was that there was a block in the Land Court which prevented tenants receiving the benefit of the Land Act. This block existed in every county in Ireland at the present moment. If the Question Papers were looked over for the last five or six weeks it would be found that nearly every Member representing a popular constituency in Ireland had complained of the glut of cases in his constituency; but they had all been put off from time to time with the excuse that the matter was under consideration, or that there was a lack of men of sufficient legal standing at the Irish Bar to do the work. Take his own constituency of County Dublin, where the block was, perhaps, not so bad as in other places, though even there it was quite bad enough. In the years 1881 and 1882 the tenants of the County of Dublin made an effort to get into the Land Courts; but a brief experience in those Courts induced them to drop that experiment, as the reductions given were 408 perfectly farcical, and in many cases preposterously small. In some cases—upon Lord Talbot de Malahide's estate, for instance—the rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioners exceeded the figures given by even the landlord's valuer. In consequence of this state of affairs the tenants ceased to trouble the Land Courts. Of late, however, they had gone in again, and those who had had their cases heard had been able to get sweeping reductions. But the bulk of them just on entering the Court, from which they had been kept out for five or six years, had been stopped on the threshold by what he considered was a conspiracy between the Government and the landlords to prevent the tenants from getting the benefit of the Act. The result was that the tenants must go on paying the old rack-rents which it was morally certain would, if the cases could be heard, be reduced from 20 per cent to 50 per cent. Being forced to pay these rack-rents they would get into arrears, and under the "eviction made-easy" clauses of the Land Act of 1887 they would then be served with notices through the post, which would prevent them from getting into the Land Court at all. These circumstances had been present to the minds of the Nationalist Members during the past six weeks; they had also been present to the mind of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. The landlords had grasped at Section 7 as an instrument for robbing their tenants and turning them out of their holdings, which the hon. Member for Tyrone did not expect, but which the Nationalist Members fully anticipated. Meanwhile the block of the Land Courts continued, and tenants were kept out who would otherwise, under the present scale of prices, obtain large reductions. At last the Government had brought forward an answer to their complaints. They had asked simply for an addition to the number of Sub-Commissioners, which was not an unusual demand, because such additions had been made again and again. Most of the excuses given by the Government for not following the usual course were preposterous and ridiculous. The House was told that there was not enough legal talent in Ireland, with 800 practising barristers, to fill 20 or 25 extra Sub-Commissionships. He remarked that the Solicitor General heard 409 the statement without any reproof. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Madden) (Dublin University) dissented.] Did the hon. and learned Gentleman object to the statement?
§ MR. CLANCY
said, that the Chief Secretary for Ireland stated in the plainest language last night that there was a lack of legal talent and ability at the Irish Bar. Whereas the right hon. Gentleman could find any number of Resident Magistrates possessed of legal knowledge to try conspiracy cases under the Coercion Act, which was a much more difficult thing in many cases than deciding points under the Laud Act, he could not, forsooth, find barristers sufficiently learned to decide those points, most of which had been decided already. There were two objections to the Bill—first, that it postponed indefinitely the grievance which they lamented. No additional Commissioners could be appointed until the Bill passed, and thus the glut of the Courts would continue. The Chief Secretary for Ireland must be very sanguine, and the First Lord of the Treasury must have great confidence in the power of closure, if they thought this Bill was going through in two or three weeks. A Bill like this, which proposed to fix the constitution of the Land Commission for the next seven years, was a very important Bill, the clauses of which must necessarily attract a great deal of attention and criticism. He anticipated—what with the Local Government Bill, the Financial Scheme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and all the new versions of the British Constitution with which they were threatened—that the Bill would not get through till the end of the Session. The consequence would be that the glut in the Land Court would increase, and the tenants would be forced to pay rack-rents, with the result which he had stated. The second objection to the Bill was that it would hand over the settlement of cases from the Land Court to the County Courts. To compel the tenants of Ireland to go into the County Courts was to compel them to submit to robbery and confiscation. The House Lad passed several Land Acts of a beneficial character for Ireland. If the Acts of 1870 and 1881 had been administered in a fair, generous, and impartial spirit 410 the present Irish land crisis would never have arisen. Indeed, he believed that if the Act of 1870 had been properly administered the Act of 1881 would not have been required; and if the Act of 1881 had been administered in the spirit in which it was passed, there would have been no necessity for the Acts of 1882, 1885, and 1887. But the administrators of the Act of 1870, like those of the Act of 1881, killed the Act instead of carrying it out. They were County Court Judges and Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, and they were landlords to a man. A good many of them were subsequently proved to be rack-renting landlords. No wonder that the Acts which they administered proved insufficient to meet the grievances of the tenants. Now it was proposed to go back to the step that was abandoned in 1881, and to hand over the tenants of Ireland to be ground to powder by gentlemen who were, practically, of the same class, and who, although they were first-rate lawyers, were still so imbued with the landlord spirit that they could not possibly be expected to administer the Act in a spirit of fairness. The Land Commission Courts had been chosen by 99 per cent of the tenants in preference to the County Courts, and only two Judges of County Courts had had any considerable number of cases before them. The County Court Judges had been mistrusted by the tenants, and justly so, and yet it was to these gentlemen the tenants of Ireland were to be handed over to be still further robbed in legal fashion. The lay assessors who were to be appointed to advise the Judges would also be landlords' men. He had no confidence either in the promised additions to the strength of the Commission, because so many of the recently appointed Sub-Commissioners had been either rack-renting landlords or their agents. If this Bill was to be the answer to the requests of the tenants and their Representatives to have the Land Commission Courts strengthened, he might say that the idea of a good many tenants would be that the Plan of Campaign would be a very much better invention. The Bill was a fraud on the tenants of Ireland. It was insolent and an outrage, and, in his opinion, it was evidence of the conspiracy entered into between the Government and the landlords of Ireland.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, that his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had, no doubt knowingly, raised a very large question indeed by the introduction of this measure. It was not a large one altogether from the point of view of the hon. Member who had last spoken, but it was from another point or view. They were placed in some difficulty, because the Chief Secretary, from the exigencies of time on Monday night, was unable to explain fully the object of the Bill and the motives which led him to introduce it. Therefore, in any observations he made he hoped his right hon. Friend would understand that if he was in error in any way it was because his explanation, under the circumstances of last night, was not sufficiently clear or complete. And if he opposed the Bill on insufficient ground, it would be in his power, as he had the right to reply, to enlighten the House more fully as to his measure. He understood the hon. Member for North Dublin (Mr. Clancy) to oppose the Bill on two grounds—first, because it would take a long time to pass, and no additional Commissioners could be appointed to revise rents until it was passed; and, secondly, because, as representing the tenantry of Ireland, he did not profess the same amount of confidence in the jurisdiction and administration of the County Courts that he had in the jurisdiction and administration of the Land Commission. Those were two widely different objections, and he had some sympathy with the first, but none with the second. The County Court was, or it ought to be, an excellent tribunal for the determination of disputes about the hiring of land. He had been under the impression that the County Courts gave satisfaction to the mass of ordinary suitors who came before them. Undoubtedly, the County Courts had the advantage over the Courts of the Sub-Commissioners that the County Court Judges were trained lawyers who had had much experience in judicial matters and in litigation of all kinds. A County Court Judge was not picked up haphazard from the Irish Bar, as the exigencies of time or lower political motives might force Party Leaders to select adherents; but he was a man selected by presumed fitness for high judicial duty. Therefore, 412 a County Court ought to be theoretically the best tribunal for the settlement of these land disputes; that being the case, he did not sympathize with the hon. Member's second objection. But for the first objection of the hon. Member there was a great deal to be said. He understood there was a great desire on the part of the tenantry of Ireland to take advantage of the Bill of last year, and this was especially the case with leaseholders. An enormous number of applications for the valuation of land had been filed; and if the peace of Ireland was the first thing they ought to consider, means should be taken to deal with those applications without delay. Obviously, on a Bill of this kind, raising complicated issues, delay must arise before the very difficult, the burning question, of the valuation of land could be settled. On that ground the Chief Secretary for Ireland would do well to consider whether it would not be better to deal expeditiously with the more pressing difficulty of the valuation of rents on the part of the new claimants, the persons who had chosen to avail themselves of the privilege of going into the Land Courts, in order that they might not only suffer no injustice, but, what was equally important, that they might not think they suffered any. The Chief Secretary, by this Bill, had forced the House of Commons to review and re-examine the entire machinery set up by Parliament in recent years for the settlement of the disputes which existed in relation to land in Ireland. That machinery was most complicated, involved, and expensive; and, on the whole, he would say it was a machinery not characterized by sanity or reason, but rather, perhaps, by insanity and unreason. At present there were three separate tribunals for the regulation of the many disputes concerning the hire and sale of land which existed in Ireland, all of which were independent, and some antagonistic to each other. There was, in the first place, the old Landed Estates Court, an admirable institution, and he deeply regretted that that tribunal was not more regarded by Parliament in the earlier land legislation. Having all the machinery of a Court of Law, it cost the country between £12,000 and £15,000 a-year, and yet he believed he was not exaggerating when he said that at the present moment, and 413 for some time past, it had nothing to do, nor was it likely to have anything to do; as a friend had recently expressed it—"Literally the staff of the Court had nothing to do, except to read the newspapers and pass their time in the best way they can." It was set up by Act of Parliament in 1857, he believed, and it was a magnificent machine, but it was perfectly useless. Then there was the Land Commission set up in 1881; and, besides that, there was the Commission for the purpose of purchase set up by the Land Act of 1885. These two Commissions between them cost the country about £110,000 or £112,000 a-year. Now, would it be believed that those two Commissions were unwittingly neutralizing each others' acts? The more the Land Commission worked at the revising of rents, the more Parliament encouraged it to lower rents, the less the Commission for Purchase would have to do; the more the Commissioners of Purchase of Land had to do the less the Commissioners would have to do for the revising of rent, and yet they were keeping those two Commissions alive, and were encouraging them to find work for themselves, although it was obvious to even the meanest intellect that the objects the two tribunals were driving at were hopelessly incompatible with each other. It was worth the notice of the House and the public that these three tribunals cost the country from £130,000 to £140,000 a-year, and that they were independent, and two of them were absolutely antagonistic. The efforts of all this great land machinery had been to reduce the rental of Ireland by some £2,000,000 a-year, he believed, approximately, and it had cost the country over £500,000 to effect that reduction. Was that, he asked, common sense? He submitted it was not. And when the Chief Secretary brought in a Bill which was to add to the existing machinery the House was justified in calling upon the Government to review, not the policy, but the whole system of machinery regulating the dealing with land in Ireland. The Bill proposed to add £300 a-year to the salary of the County Court Judge, and to give him two assistants, who, he supposed, would receive between them close upon £1,000 a-year. The House did not know to what extent this was to apply. Was it to apply to the whole of 414 the County Court Judges in Ireland? If so, there would be no economy, and that could not be intended. On the other hand, all that hon. Gentlemen opposite more directly representing the tenantry asked for was a moderate and temporary addition of six or eight Sub-Commissioners to the existing machinery. He found that there had been a reduction in the number of Sub-Commissioners this year as compared with last year of 15, and he did not gather that the exigencies of the present rush into the Court on the part of the leaseholders demanded a more than temporary addition to the Land Commission of 10 or 12 Commissioners. If he had to choose between such temporary addition and a larger and more permanent addition that was to be made to the staff and salary of the County Court Judges, he preferred the proposal which emanated from the Benches opposite, because when the rents had been valued he imagined that the Commissioners would be dismissed from their appointments; whereas he had no security whatever that if the County Court Judge got an increase to his staff and salary he would readily part with either of those present adjuncts to his appointment. He was disposed to give great credit to the Chief Secretary for introducing this Bill, and for being unwilling to increase the expenses of the Land Commission by the appointment of additional Commissioners; but he should like to see the right hon. Gentleman aiming at a more perfect method of dealing with this great question of machinery for the settlement of land questions. The present measure of the Chief Secretary he did not think was large enough. If the right hon. Gentleman tried to unite the whole of the machinery for land disputes in Ireland into one, to be animated by one mind and one policy, and managed by one staff, whether as regarded the purchase or the valuation of land, that, he thought, would be an object well worthy of his great ability and of all the talent which he had shown in the administration of Irish affairs. That would be a worthy and a great object; but the Bill seemed to him, while recognizing the enormous evil and the absurdity of the present state of things, to afford no adequate relief for that state of things at all. He would much sooner see the more slovenly and less perfect method of Courts con- 415 tinned, and that the Chief Secretary should take time before presenting, as he hoped he would, to Parliament a complete scheme, than that they should have such a Bill as this. The great thing was to put this immense judicial machinery, which cost the country such an enormous sum of money, on something like a final and permanent basis. From the point of view of economy, and not less from the standpoint of the peace of Ireland, he attached great importance to what had fallen from hon. Members opposite. If the Government delayed the settlement of the claims of the tenants by legislation of this kind they might add largely to their difficulties in regard to administration. At the same time, the measure of the Chief Secretary was inadequate to the real evil as regarded the machinery of land litigation in Ireland, and he earnestly trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider it, and before long bring in a Bill to deal with the subject more largely and more permanently.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he did not think the House would be disposed to regret that, by the accident of last night, they had secured a little time for the consideration, not only of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, but of his proposal as embodied in his Bill. If they had secured nothing else, they had, at least, secured the most statesman like speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill)—a speech which would have its full weight and effect in Ireland. What were the facts of this question? In his speech last night the Chief Secretary for Ireland complained somewhat that for the last four or five weeks Members from Ireland had been pressing the Government upon the block in the Land Courts. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to believe that none of them pressed the Government without being severely pressed themselves. The block in the Land Courts was unquestioned, and there was not a single Member representing an agricultural constituency in Ireland who had not been importuned by his constituents to bring this question before the House of Commons. What was the result of the pressure they had been applying for the last four or five weeks upon the Government of Ireland? The Government 416 proposed to get rid of one grievance by creating a still greater grievance. What was the proposal in the first part of the Bill outlined by the Chief Secretary last night? As things stood now, an Irish tenant, who considered his rent an unfair rent, had the option or the choice of going to the Court of Quarter Sessions before the County Court Judge, or of going to the Land Commissioners' Court. The Bill outlined by the Chief Secretary last night proposed to destroy that option and that choice, and to force a certain number of tenants into whatever Court the Land Commissioners in Dublin thought fit to send them. The Land Commission in Dublin was set up as a kind of Committee of Selection who were to say to one set of tenants "Go here," and they must go, and to another set of tenants "Go there," and they must go; and, if he did not mistake, the end would be that the tenants would resolve to withdraw their originating notices and go nowhere. No one had ever heard him say, since he had had a seat in the House, either in or out of the House, one word calculated to either bring the law into contempt, or to reflect on the administration of the law. He had never used any such language, and he was certainly not going to do so that day. Let them reduce this proposal of the Government to the concrete and see what it meant. He would take the single County of Donegal. Outside the Barony of Raphoe, the County of Donegal was one of the poorest counties in Ireland. Who was the Chairman of that county; who was the County Court Judge? He had had for many years the personal friendship of Dr. Webb, a most brilliant, able, and conscientious lawyer, and, for his part, he should be ready to submit any case of his to Dr. Webb's judgment. But while he was perfectly certain that the County Court Judge in Donegal and the County Court Judges of Ireland generally would bring the utmost conscientiousness to the discharge of any duty they undertook, he asked the House if it was nothing to carry the sentiment of the people with them in the administration of this law? Who was Dr. Webb whom the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would place over the tenantry of Donegal? Dr. Webb was the author of Confiscation versus Contract. He was, or rather, he was formerly, the brilliant pamphleteer 417 of the Landlords' Committee, and went as near proving as mortal man could prove, that the whole Land Legislation since 1870 had been sheer robbery. Again he (Mr. T. W. Russell) said that, so far as he was personally concerned he was prepared to trust Dr. Webb, and to trust the whole of the County Court Judges of Ireland; but he maintained that the poor peasants in Donegal, and the poor peasants throughout Ireland would simply recognize that their case had been handed over to a landlord's man, and there would be one more grievance planted deep down in the hearts of the people. In all sincerity, and with no bitterness whatever, he asked the Government to pause before they took this step, to look well at what they were doing. Then he came to the question of the assessors who were to sit with the County Court Judge. They were called "Court Valuers." These gentlemen were very old friends. Everybody who had been concerned in the land question in Ireland had heard of Court Valuers over and over again. They appeared first of all about the year 1883 under the auspices of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan), but they were rejected by the House. They appeared in the Bill of last year, but were again rejected by the House. Why did they turn up now? The Chief Secretary for Ireland explained his action last night. He told the House that there was a difficulty in getting competent lawyers. He (Mr. T. W. Russell) should not be in the least surprised if the right hon. Gentleman heard of an indignation meeting in the Hall of the Four Courts to-day. But the right hon. Gentleman also said that there were difficulties in constituting fresh Commissions; that there were Treasury difficulties, and that time would be lost, and delay occur, if the Government were to appoint fresh Commissioners. He (Mr. T. W. Russell) wanted the House to understand what really lay at the bottom of all this. In his opinion, the Sub-Commission Courts—aye, even those chosen by the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland—had felt themselves constrained by the circumstances and facts of the case to give very large reductions in rent, and he looked upon this proposal, and the tenantry of Ire- 418 land would look upon it, as simply a desperate effort to undo the work of the Sub-Commission Courts. The tenantry of Ireland would look upon this as a stay put upon the proceedings of the Sub-Commissioners, who, in his opinion, had being doing substantial justice all round, no matter what class they had been chosen from. They had not been fixing fair rents in view of family charges and mortgages that had been piled up in the past; they had been fixing fair rents in view of the state of agriculture to-day. He maintained that the tenantry of Ireland would look upon the proposal to hand them over to the County Court Judges, and to these Court Valuers, as a proposal simply to put aside the Sub-Commissioners, and he believed there would be great danger that the tenantry would refuse to go into the Court at all. He could not think that this was a result that the Government could wish to bring about. He said nothing about the peace of Ireland. He stood here to-day to plead for fair play between man and man, and what were they told? They were practically told by this Bill that unless they accepted the proposals regarding the reconstitution of the Land Commission, to which the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) had referred—unless they accepted the proposals regarding the reconstitution of the Commission; proposals of the greatest magnitude, proposals of the utmost importance, proposals that would require to be debated for many an hour in the House before they were allowed to pass; they were told that unless they consented to this Bill as a whole, they would not get the part of it which was designed to relieve the block which existed in the Land Court. He thought the Government were committing another mistake in the thorny problem of Irish land legislation, and he could not help saying that he rejoiced that by the accident of last night, at all events, they had got time to discuss the Bill to-day, and that the tenants of Ireland would have time to look the proposals in the face during the Easter Recess. He very much mistook if, when the people in the Province of Ulster and elsewhere knew what was in store for them, this House did not hear of it loudly and strongly after the Easter Recess.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. Balfour) (Manchester, E.)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has attacked with great and, I think, unnecessary bitterness of spirit a proposal which, in the nature of the case, he could only imperfectly understand. The sincere desire of the Government in putting forward that part of the Bill which throws additional work upon the County Court Judges was that great and rapid progress should be made with the cases now pending before the Courts. My noble Friend the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), in his remarks, suggested, while quite recognizing that these arrears should be dealt with, that instead of a plan adumbrated by the Bill we should appoint 10 or 12 additional gentlemen, who should occupy themselves in dealing with these arrears. The plan of the Government is, in my opinion, far more calculated to deal rapidly with this question of arrears. We should have at once the services of 18 competent lawyers, with whom we should constitute 36 lay Commissioners, and they would undoubtedly be able to make extremely rapid progress with the business. But if hon. Gentlemen are so anxious before they see the proposals of the Government in print that they should be rejected, let them not blame me afterwards if the result is that arrears are not so quickly dealt with as they would have been by the Bill that I now propose to the House. The proposal of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill), which met with the cheers of hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway, and which, I believe, met with the approval of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), is a small proposal to deal with arrears. The Government proposal is a big proposal to deal with arrears. But, as I have said before, I do not wish to press it wholly without consideration for the views of those who represented the tenantry of Ireland. It is intended in their interests; and if they do not like it I am unwilling to force it down their throats. But I warn them, and the House ought to take the warning, that the result must necessarily be that the arrears will not be as quickly dealt with as under the plan which the Government propose. Let me deal with one aspect of the case, which, I think, 420 is misrepresented by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for North Dublin asked what we meant by saying that there were not a sufficient number of legal gentlemen at the Irish Bar, and the hem Member for South Tyrone, with his lively imagination and vigorous rhetoric, had spoken of an indignation meeting in the Four Courts. For my own part, however, I do not think it likely that what I have said will be so singularly misunderstood in Dublin as it has been by some hon. Members in that House. What I said was that for appointments essentially temporary it was impossible to get such good lawyers to deal with difficult cases as if we went to gentlemen like County Court Judges, who receive large salaries and are appointed for life, and who are the pick of everything in the second flight of the Irish Bar. Can anyone seriously maintain that that could be said of the great mass of these whom he should be able to secure for the temporary work of Sub-Commissioners? I turn to the observations of my noble Friend the Member for South Paddington, which dealt with the second part of our proposals, on which I was hardly able to touch last night. My noble Friend said I was, wittingly no doubt, opening up a very large and important question. My noble Friend is right. I was opening up a large and important question by even touching the Land Courts in Ireland, but it was not by choice that I touched it. My noble Friend is aware that the Land Commission lapses this year.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Therefore, it does not rest with the Government to say whether or not we shall touch it. We must touch it; and my noble Friend, who is imperfectly acquainted with our proposals, thinks them inadequate, and that we ought to deal in a larger spirit of reform with the constitution of the Courts which have to do with the land. I will travel thus far with my noble Friend; I will admit that if I had unlimited time at my disposal, if I could ask the House to give many days and nights to the subject, I might propose to deal with the Land Courts as constituted by the Acts of 1881 and 1885 and with the Landed Estates Court in which Mr. Justice Monroe presides. But the time to carry a vast legal scheme of re- 421 form is not at my disposal. Everybody knows the important business with which the House will have to deal, and I am therefore obliged to cut down to the narrowest limits the Irish measures which it will be my duty to lay before the House, and it is for that reason that I cannot suggest to the House such a vast plan as my noble Friend would like me to take in hand. But I must inform my noble Friend that the scheme is not so utterly insufficient as he supposes from the inadequate statement made last night. It is perfectly true that I do not propose to touch the Landed Estates Court in which Mr. Justice Monroe is doing such good work. I do not think that Mr. Justice Monroe is leading that life of dignity and case which my noble Friend supposes. Mr. Justice Monroe will probably differ in opinion from my noble Friend.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
But leaving that Court aside, we do attempt some, as I think, very important reforms in the constitution of the Land Court. That Court consists of two practically independent Commissions. The Act of 1885 has been interpreted by the Land Court as obliging them to hand over the whole work of purchase to the Purchase Commissioners appointed under Lord Ashbourne's Act, and to abstain from any interference with their work. One result of that is that the two divisions of the Court appeared to take opposite sides. The Bill proposes to amalgamate those two Courts into one. We take powers for the Treasury to abolish that part of the Court dealing with the Land Question, supposing their work should come to an end. We do more than that. As the Court is at present constituted Judge O'Hagan, a lawyer of the highest eminence, is obliged to travel about the country dealing with small questions of fact with respect to which his legal knowledge is wholly unnecessary, and the two lay Commissioners spend their time in listening to the discussion of questions of pure law, as to which they are not in theory qualified to give an opinion. The Government propose to give more elasticity to the Court, to enable the lay Commissioners to decide questions of fact not of law, and on important questions of law to associate Judge O'Hagan with a Judge of the 422 High Court, and thus to strengthen the Court which has to do with purely legal questions. At the same time the Government are of opinion that Mr. Justice O'Hagan's great legal acquirements might usefully be employed in dealing with the legal aspect of the questions which come before the Purchase Commission. At present he has nothing to do with it. The Government consider that while they are committing a great waste of time in compelling Mr. Justice O'Hagan to deal with questions of pure valuation, they are also committing a great waste of time in not enabling him to deal with legal questions for which his great competence so well qualifies him. I think, therefore, that though our proposals do not go so far as my noble Friend desires, he will probably be inclined, taking into account the circumstances, to withdraw some of the criticisms which he passed upon the measure I introduced last night, and to admit that the Bill will necessarily cover some of the ground which he desires to see occupied.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, that a great deal of what his right hon. Friend had now stated was in addition to what he had said last night. What his right hon. Friend said last night had nothing to do with the Land Court.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My noble Friend is quite right. I got up to make my statement at a quarter to 12, and I was not able to put the whole case for the Bill before the House. What I would respectfully submit, as the best course for the House to adopt, is that the House should allow the Bill to be read a first time and printed. The provisions which it contains, whether hon. Members value them or not, were assuredly not to be condemned unheard. I will not show myself specially obdurate in pressing the details with regard to the Land Commission, but I should like even those details to be seen in print before the House rejects them. Let the Bill be printed during the holidays, and let hon. Gentlemen consider it in a cooler spirit than they have already shown. [" Oh, oh."] I do not wish to hurt their feelings, nor do I see any reason for the violent criticisms they have expressed; but hon. Members opposite have described the Bill as a conspiracy between the Government and 423 the landlords to prevent the tenants from coming into Court.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone has stated that it was the last despairing effort of the landlord class.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, the right hon. Gentleman totally misunderstood him. What he said was that it was another mistake on the thorny road of land legislation.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will not further allude to what was evidently a casual rhetorical figure of speech. When the Bill was described as a conspiracy I trembled to think what might occur if the right hon. Gentleman opposite went beyond what was said by the hon. Member below the Gangway. My noble Friend the Member for South Paddington read out from the Estimates certain statements with regard to the Sub-Commissioners now at work. I cannot reconcile those figures with the figures laid before the House last night, and which I have now before me.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
observed that the figures in the Estimates were wrong. They had never been discussed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will read the figures again. In August there were 20 Sub-Commissioners, in September 30, and they continued at 30 to the end of November. The Government then, finding the arrears heavy, raised the number to 50, and at 50 they continued at the present moment. So far, therefore, from the number being fewer it has been raised from 20 to 50. I will now compare the present state of things with what occurred in 1882. I observe that for eight months of 1882 the arrears stood, roughly speaking, at about the same figures as they are now, and the eight months began with a strength of 35 Sub-Commissioners and ended with 51; so that with substantially the same amount of work now the number of the Sub-Commissioners remains substantially the same as in 1882. I think I have now explained to the House some of the things I should have liked to have explained last night. I hope I have, at all events, gone the length of inducing the House to allow the Bill to be printed 424 and considered by hon. Members at their leisure; and I shall not show myself too obdurate on the question of the County Court Judges, if on a sober review of the facts the House holds the somewhat paradoxical conclusion that the great legal talent which is now possessed by the body of County Court Judges should not be utilized for dealing with difficult land cases—cases on which questions of law of such difficulty have arisen that the Superior Court has been largely upset in its arrangements by the number of legal questions it has had to decide. If the House should think that all this legal talent should be wasted, of course I shall raise no serious objection, although I ought to point out to my noble Friend that if that decision is arrived at it will be entirely inimical to those interests of economy and efficiency of which he is so able an advocate. But if the House should decide, in spite of all these considerations, that it would prefer the present system, I am afraid the arrears will not be dealt with so quickly and so effectively as by the plan I propose, but it will not be my business to imperil the other reform which this Bill suggests, and which I hope we shall see carried into law.
MR. W. E.GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
said, there were two admissions he would at once make. The first was that it would be eminently reasonable, without challenging any Division, which, in point of fact, could not raise the issue fairly between the different opinions entertained in the blouse, that this Bill should as soon as possible be brought in; the second admission was that it was certainly very unjust to complain of the Government for not making this the occasion of introducing into the whole Land Court system of Ireland all the improvements that possibly it might be susceptible of. In point of fact, that would be to give additional force to the very thing that was complained of—the delay in meeting the great, urgent, and grievous want there was, not only connected with judicial improvements, but connected also with the social order of the country. The difficulty he found in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that there was nothing whatever in it to show or explain whether, in his opinion, the method the House understood him to propose would be the speediest method 425 of dealing with the accumulation of business. On the face of it, he thought the House was driven to a directly opposite conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to entrust the whole of this business to a body of men very limited in numbers, having much else to do besides this land business. It was quite evident, from the difference of opinion that prevailed in the House, and from the fact that the Irish Members who had spoken appeared to take but one view upon the matter, that, whatever might be the abstract merits of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, there was a great body of opinion directly at variance with him upon a question which seemed to him (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) to be all important—namely, the question of providing for the discharge of this business in the most rapid and effectual manner. The choice evidently lay between the plan of the right hon. Gentleman and a large temporary extension of the judicial strength in the shape of Sub-Commissioners, who were already at the command of the Government if they chose to seek them. He apprehended that there could be no doubt that the Government had sufficient material at their command to adopt the latter alternative; quite as much material as Mr. Forster had at the time when he had to encounter still greater difficulties. Having before him in that way the guidance of experience, he had generally felt that the method then adopted was a rapid and effectual method without including the County Court Judges. The House was now asked to believe—although at present the action of the County Court Judges was not excluded, but their collateral assistance was availed of—that to restrict this business to the County Court Judges alone, assisted by valuers, would produce a more rapid settlement of the whole matter than was effected under the former system. It was extremely doubtful, to his mind, how far the use of these valuers would in any way expedite proceedings; but supposing the use of valuers to be necessary, there was no reason why, if the want of valuers was the essential flaw in the present system, a greater amount of assistance in the shape of valuers should not be given. There was before the House a proposal that the Government should proceed by its Executive authority, subject, of course, to the ap- 426 proval of the House, to enlarge very considerably the number of Sub-Commissioners, with a view to extended action, leaving the County Court Judges to render all the assistance in their power, as they had already rendered it. That surely had on the face of it the presumption of being a more rapid and effectual method of proceeding than that of trusting to the County Court Judges alone or limiting the action of the Sub-Commissioners, if not throwing it aside altogether. The appearance of the plan of the right hon. Gentleman for dealing with a matter in reference to which extension was the one thing necessary, not only for the satisfaction of the parties, but also for the social order of the country, was that of a great limitation of the means available for action; and the right hon. Gentleman, although he had explained himself fully and freely on the subject, had not shown that enlarging the powers of the County Court Judges would be so effectual a method as an extension of the number of Commissioners.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
said, he rose for a moment, in consequence of the Chief Secretary for Ireland having exhausted his right of speaking, to make clear one point which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian had raised. This Bill did not in any way propose to do away with the action of Land Commissioners or of the Sub-Commissioners. Whatever might be the merits or demerits of the proposal, it did not in the least interfere with their action, It was merely intended to supplement their action to a very considerable extent, and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian had pointed out, the existing system included the action of the County Court Judge. The County Court Judge was part of the existing system, and he was at present assisted by a valuer; but the employment of a valuer stood on a totally different basis to that of a Sub-Commissioner. There were, therefore, at present two systems—namely, the Sub-Commission and the County Court Judge assisted by a valuer. Without going into the question of the extension of the work of the County Court Judge, so far as the Bill strengthened his position by giving him more competent assistance, he thought that portion 427 of the Bill would commend itself to the judgment of the House. With reference to the observations which fell from the hon. and learned Member for North Dublin (Mr. Clancy), he (Mr. Madden) should be sorry to listen in silence to any imputation on the Body to which it was the great honour of his life to belong. But he understood the observation of the Chief Secretary exactly in the opposite direction to the interpretation put upon it by the hon. and learned Member. It was not a question as to the ability of the Irish Bar. What the Chief Secretary intended to convey was that it was very doubtful whether it would be possible to get the same class of men to fill the position of Sub-Commissioner, appointed temporarily, as they would to fill the position of County Court Judge; whether it would be possible to get men of position and practice at the Bar to leave that position and practice for an appointment which was temporary. That was the statement in which he acquiesced.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
said, with reference to the last remark of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he had to remind him that the Government were not confined in their choice of legal members to the Irish Bar, and one of the most respected Sub-Commissioners at this moment was a solicitor. The Government were perfectly able to choose from that branch of the Profession as well as from the Bar. The House wanted to know what was going to be done with reference to the cases now listed. To introduce what would evidently be a severely disputed Bill, was the most extraordinary method of expediting the business they were all desirous to see completed. From the elaborate exposition which the Chief Secretary had given, it was clear that a great amount of discussion would take place upon the Bill, and that its passing through the House would occupy many weeks, without even then entailing any undue discussion, and during the whole of that time the block in the Land Courts would continue to increase. He feared that the Bill, which had been prepared to meet a temporary pressing emergency, had been framed in a way which would prevent it from fulfilling its purpose. Before sitting down he wished to ask whether there was to be any increase of salary for the County Court Judges? If 428 there were, the proposal would have to be discussed fully, for there was a good deal to be said on that subject.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that by the indulgence of the House he would endeavour to answer the question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As the right hon. Gentleman was aware, each Sub-Commission had at its head a legal gentleman, who received £1,000 a-year. The idea of the Government was, that for that gentleman they could substitute a lawyer, to whom they would certainly not have to pay £1,000 a-year, or anything like it. But they did think that, as much additional work was thrown upon that lawyer, it would be proper that the Treasury should pay him something. He did not road that part of the Bill at all last night, but he casually mentioned £300 a-year. He said that if this heavy work was thrown upon these lawyers £300 a-year would be a fair substitute for the £1,000 which they were now obliged to pay.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said, the best thing for the Government to have done would have been to appoint a few additional Sub-Commissioners to help over the glut. He condemned the proposal of the Government to split up the Head Land Commission and allow the two lay Commissioners to run in pairs, whilst the only man of the Chief Commission who had shown sympathy with the tenants was to be put under the shadow of a Judge of a Superior Court, who was never appointed with special fitness for the trial of cases between landlords and tenants. He would warn the Chief Secretary that his proposals were dangerous to the peace of Ireland, because the tenants and their Representatives would not place confidence in County Courts. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had not treated the House fairly in slipping out a few sentences last night, which were apparently of no importance, and then coming down to-day with a proposal which meant handing over to the landlord class in Ireland the hearing of cases between landlord and tenant; but neither the tenants nor their Representatives would permit the right hon. Gentleman to carry the cases wherever he liked. The County Court Judges were the very men who had de- 429 nounced from the Bench the combination of the tenants, on many occasions, in violent harangues, and yet the Government wished to force the tenants into the Courts of those officials. What would satisfy the Irish Members was the withdrawal of the Bill for a few weeks, and meanwhile the appointment of some additional Sub-Commissioners. If the Government were really desirous for the peace of Ireland, they would listen to the warnings of the Irish Representatives, who made no undue proposals to them. This was a measure that it would take a whole Session to discuss; and if it was the only answer the Government had to make to their modest and peaceful request, it was only mocking them.
§ MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said, he was sorry to interpose in the debate; but he desired to point out that for weeks and months past there had been a glut in the Land Court. If this Bill was introduced to-day, and considered some time after the holidays, the glut would continue, and there would be no apparent means of relieving it. Though he did not like to oppose the introduction of any Bill, he thought it would be wise for the Chief Secretary for Ireland to withdraw the portion of the measure referring to County Court Judges, and reserve that part dealing with the renewal of the powers of Land Commissioners as a subject for future discussion. Might he be allowed to ask the Chief Secretary to consider one point? The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) had admitted one objection to the Bill by stating that the tenants had hitherto had power to go to the County Court Judges. There had been this glut in the Land Court, the tenants had complained of it, and yet for all that they had not gone to the County Court Judges. Now the Government were proposing to force the poor tenants to go to the County Court Judges, which, even in the face of the block in the Land Court, they had refused to do. His hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) had referred to the "Court Valuers." In Ireland they had always had a great objection to Court Valuers. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) suggested the appointment of Court Valuers 430 some years ago, he (Mr. Lea) gave to the proposal his strongest opposition. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) very properly said just now, that in matters such as this they must consult the sentiments of the people as well as the facts. The reason of the objection of tenant farmers to Court Valuers was that they had noticed that every time there had been a rise in the rents, it had always been preceded by a visit and a fresh valuation by such valuers. Just now reference was made to Mr. Justice O'Hagan. Might he call the attention of the Chief Secretary to the fact that another member of the Land Commission was also a lawyer. Mr. Litton was an eminent counsel, and had devoted great time and ability to the work of the Land Commission. He (Mr. Lea) hoped that in any reorganization the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would not forgot Mr. Litton's devotedness and honesty of purpose.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, he hoped that the part of the Bill, whether good or bad, referred to by his hon. Friend (Mr. Lea), would not be withdrawn without substituting something in its place. He thought it would be better to have a systematic and complete machinery such as that existing in India, set up for effecting the object with which the measure was concerned. It would not be expedient to make the County Courts special tribunals for trying a special class of cases, unless they were relieved of their ordinary business. It would be wise, in default of a better arrangement, to withdraw a certain number of County Court Judges from the present sphere of their duties, in order that they might devote themselves exclusively to the work which the Bill would render necessary.
§ MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)
asked, whether any steps were to be taken to relieve the glut in the Commissioners' Court during such time as would be occupied in passing the Bill through the House. What did the Government propose to do in case the Bill should not pass?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the Government would consider some scheme for temporarily relieving the block in the Land Courts. He hoped the House would have an opportunity of arriving 431 at a decision on the Bill after it had full knowledge of what it really contained.
MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.) said, that unless a few additional Sub-Commissioners were appointed, a crisis of very grave importance to the country would be created.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. A. J. Balfour, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, and Colonel King-Harman.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 199.]