Order read, for resuming the Consideration of Postponed Resolution.
That a sum, not exceeding £80,687, be granted to Her Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1891, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish. Laud Commission.
§ Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ (12.6.) MR. DILLON) (Mayo, E.
I think it necessary to avail myself of this opportunity of bringing under the notice of the House a matter in connection with the administration of the Purchase Department of the Land Commission in Ireland. It must be evident that the Purchase Department will rapidly become, if it has not already become, by far the more important part of the Commission. It is equally plain that it is a matter of the gravest possible importance, not only to the people of Ireland, but also to the taxpayers in this country, that the Irish Land Commission should be administered in a way that is above suspicion. In my judgment, the Land Purchase Department of the Commission is administered in a most unsatisfactory way. The law has been expounded in a contradictory sense by the two gentlemen who are at the head of the Department, and, as laid down by one of them, it leaves the gate wide open for the most monstrous frauds on the Exchequer of this country. The law as it is now administered leaves it open to the Irish Landlords who desire to sell their estates to compel tenants to pay grossly unjust prices for their holdings, and to undertake obligations they are 1832 utterly unable to discharge. I shall bring under the notice of the Government certain statements which have been furnished to me by local men, regarding the estate of the Marquess of Waterford; and, I guard myself by saying, I am not prepared to vouch for their accuracy. They are charges of the most serious character, and I say it is the business and duty of the Irish Executive to see that they are properly investigated. In most, if not in all, of the cases in which agreements to purchase have been signed by tenants on the Marquess of Waterford's estate, the tenants were in arrear with their rent. I hold that, no matter what the merits of a case may be, wherever there is the slightest suspicion of duress, the tenant should always be able, up to the last moment, to get out of his transaction. On December 23rd, 1888, Mr. Lynch heard some cases from this estate, and refused to allow the tenants to withdraw from their agreement. The purchases were, therefore, compulsorily concluded, and a number of the tenants have since made default in their payments, being quite unable to find the money. I hold in my hand a letter from a well-known and respected priest, in County Waterford, who says nearly all Lord Waterford's tenants, who purchased, were forced to buy at about 20 years' purchase, and tome of them had not been able to pay a single instalment of their payments. He says that the holding of the defaulters has been put up for sale by the Land Commission, and has been bought in at a nominal figure "it is said for Lord Waterford himself." If that is true there was never a more monstrous fraud. The case can be summed up thus. A landlord coerces a tenant, through fear of eviction, to buy at an extravagant price. The tenant being unable to pay the instalment, the holding is put up for sale by the Land Commissioners. The sale is boycotted, or, in other words, the neighbouring tenants will not bid. The landlord then comes forward and buys in the holding at a nominal figure, and the State has to bear the loss. Say that the State has advanced £100 in respect of the holding. Of this sum the Commission hold £20 as the guarantee deposit, the landlord getting £80. When the farm is sold it 1833 is bought in by the landlord, say for £50. The costs amount to about £10, so that the Land Commission get out of the whole transaction £60. The landlord, on the other hand, gets back the farm free of tenant right, and pockets £30 or £40 by the transaction. I think the Chief Secretary is bound to get up in this House and explain what flaw there is in my statement. The gate is wide open to these monstrous frauds. The information I have received shows that this very course of action I have indicated has been practised in more than one case on the Marquess of Water-ford's estate, and, if the facts have not been correctly reported to me, the Chief Secretary is bound to explain whether it is a fact or not that it is possible to do such things in the Land Purchase Department, as the law stands; and if it is possible a more gross and shameful fraud on the Exchequer of this country was never perpetrated in the history of England. I wish now to draw attention to a most extraordinary case, which throws a lurid light on the proceedings of one of the members of the Land Commission, and constitutes a strong case for an inquiry into the administration and connections of Mr. Lynch. A certain estate in County Cork, belonging to Mr. Herbert O'Sullivan—formerly a butter merchant in Cork—was originally very much rackrented, the rental being £1,141. The Sub-Commissioners about two years ago reduced the rent—taking the whole estate—over 50 per cent. In spite of these immense reductions difficulties arose, and the tenants did not regularly pay their rents, and though it was sworn to in Court, and no attempt was made to deny it on the part of the landlord, that no combination had existed on the estate —that the Plan of Campaign had never existed on it, and that we agitators, on whose shoulders so much, blame lias been cast, had never operated there—so horrible had been the rack-renting that the tenants were unable to pay these reduced rents. Herbert O'Sullivan became a bankrupt, and the estate came into the hands of a Receiver, and it came out, in the course of negotiations for the sale of the estate, that the owner had refused £28,000 for it. After long negotiation the tenants signed an agree- 1834 ment to purchase the estate for £8,885, but the Land Purchase Department would only allow them to give £7,145. That conveys a most awful picture of the torture to which tenants have been subjected in the past. This case came before Judge Munro, of the Landed Estates Court, whom the Chief Secretary proposes as the head of the future Land Commission, and that learned Judge, after giving the history of the estate, said he would not accept the offer of the Land Commission, and he left the unfortunate tenants, over whom there are notices of eviction pending, in their present condition, subject to this enormous rent. In the course of the negotiations some very remarkable correspondence took place between a solicitor, named J. B. Lynch, the son of one of the Land Commissioners, and the Catholic curate of the parish, Father Twoomey. In one letter Mr. Lynch stated that the total price which they ought to receive from the tenant should be at least £13,000, and if the tenants agreed to this purchase, Father Twoomey would be accepted as tenant at a price much below the value of the property. The letter went on to state that if Father Twoomey negotiated the sale he would be allowed 5 per cent. on anything obtained over £13,000. That is to say, if they got £14.000, Father Twoomey would receive £50, and if they got £15,000, Father Twoomey would receive £100. A more indecent proposal was never brought before the House, and I say that the whole transaction assumes a grave and serious character when we remember that this sale would be carried out by the son of the man who has to decide on the ultimate carriage of the sale. I doubt whether it is decent or proper for a son of Mr. Lynch to practice in his father's Court at all; but when we find him trying to get Irish priests to induce the tenants to give a monstrous sum for an estate— and the valuation of the Land Commissioners themselves shows this to be a monstrous sum—I say it is an outrage, and calculated to give a rude shock to public confidence in this Commission, and, so far as Mr. Commissioner Lynch is concerned, it throws a doubt on his impartiality as between landlord and tenant in these transactions. The greatest possible responsibility is 1835 thrown on these Purchase Commissioners,' both as acting between Landlord and tenant in Ireland, and acting for the good and the future peace of Ireland, and as guardians of the Treasury. It should be their aim to secure the country against further complications and difficulties in levying the instalments of this purchase money. I need hardly say that this clergyman I have referred to did not respond to the letters of Mr. Lynch. All he did with regard to them was to put them in the way of being made use of in order to expose the transaction. Mr. Lynch did not stop at this. In this way he furnished us with the first proof of the methods adopted in these cases, but on the 13th December last he wrote again saying that unless he received an answer before Christmas he would have the ejectment put in force against the tenants. That is the case with regard to O'Sullivan's estate, and I assert that the facts, which I have proved by documentary evidence, require some explanation, for they throw the greatest possible doubt on the bona fides of Mr. Lynch. I will add nothing to the bare, naked facts, or their result on the character of Mr. John P. Lynch, who, I understand, is the son of the Land Purchase Commissioner himself. I think Mr. J. P. Lynch is no credit either to himself or the profession he belongs to. I now come to the third point which I desire to bring before the House, and which, I believe, is the most important of all. It has reference to a recent judgment delivered by Mr. Commissioner M'Carthy concerning a most important question which arose in the administration of the Land Purchase Act. The cases which came before the Court were those of tenants on the Lansdowne Estate. A long list of agreements to purchase was brought before Mr. M'Carthy, and the point was whether new tenants should be substituted for the evicted tenants. Mr. M'Carthy laid it down that in administering the Act he was bound to consider its meaning and spirit and the purpose of the Legislature in passing it, and he held that the purpose of the Legislature was to apply a remedy to the evils existing in Ireland, and that no case could be made out for the Land Purchase Bill unless it was intended for the removal of grievances. Accordingly, 1836 Mr. M'Carthy refused to sanction the agreements. I regret to hear that we have not heard the last of these cases as yet, and that the influential position and great connections of the Marquess of Lansdowne will be used for a most unworthy purpose—namely, for the purpose of putting pressure on the Land Commissioners, overawing Mr. M'Carthy, and making him go back on the judgments he has delivered, and consenting to transactions which he has condemned as hostile to the spirit of the Act, and thoroughly subversive of the object of the Legislature. But there is another way in which this judgment can be reconsidered. About a fortnight after this judgment was delivered, a somewhat similar class of cases were brought before Mr. Commissioner Lynch, and he gave a decision which, to use the words of the Daily Express, was at right angles to the judgment of Mr. Commissioner M'Carthy. That judgment reversed the judgment of Mr. M'Carthy and laid down principles of law which are absolutely subversive and contradictory of the principles laid down by Mr. Commissioner M'Cartlry. Mr. Lynch said that the Commissioners had no jurisdiction to rescind a contract entered into between landlord and tenant. I think everyone will say that that judgment is absolutely contradictory of the judgment given by Mr. M'Carthy. Let us consider the character of the cases in reference to which Mr. Commissioner Lynch laid down this principle of the law. Everyone in the House will agree with me that the principles laid down by Mr. Commissioner Lynch are absolutely intolerable, and at variance with the objects and purposes of the House of Commons when it passed the Land Purchase Act. The cases dealt with by Mr. Commissioner Lynch came from an estate in Westmeath, and the tenants were said to be tenants of large grazing tracts. Commissioner Lynch annulled the agreements of sale because, as he alleged, on inquiry, he discovered that the tenants, although represented to him as being in possession under yearly contract of tenancy, were in reality not in possession at all at the time the agreements were made. He stated it was on this ground that he had refused to sanction the sales, and that had the tenants been put 1837 in bonâ fide possession, with stock of their own, he would have sanctioned the sale. I think the House is entitled to know which of these judgments can be accepted as the law in Ireland. It is a matter most vital to the future of the Purchase Act in Ireland and to any attempt to pass another Purchase Act. Mr. Commissioner Lynch distinctly laid it down that he refused the agreements on the ground that the tenants were not bona fide in occupation of their holdings. A more preposterous or monstrous fraud could not be conceived with regard to the intentions of the Legislature than the judgment of Mr. Commissioner Lynch. I believe that if the people of this country had understood the true nature of such transactions as that of which Mr. Commissioner Lynch has approved they would never have sanctioned the advance of 1s. more for the purchase of land in Ireland, and, therefore, it is of the most vital importance that the whole matter should be thoroughly investigated Unless the Government can see their way to make a distinct declaration in reference to this matter, it will be the duty of the Irish Members to denounce the whole of the Act throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. I think that those who were in favour of this policy of land purchase are acting unwisely in mixing it up with the eviction policy. It should not be made subservient to the evicting landlords of Ireland, or turned into a department of the Property Defence Association, as I think it is being rapidly turned into. I believe that a new Department is to be started in connection with the Land Commission, known as the Congested Districts Department. It is proposed to place Mr. Commissioner M'Carthy at the head of it. I am informed that this is a scheme to get Mr. Commissioner M'Carthy out of the way, and that a threat is to be held over his head that if he is not subservient to the landlords in these matters he will be transferred to some other Department. If pressure is to be put upon Mr. M'Carthy to reverse his judgment, it will be one of the greatest scandals that have ever disgraced modern administration in Ireland. I feel that the matters I have called attention to deserve careful investigation, and if they are disregarded a 1838 serious blow will be struck at public confidence in Ireland in the administration of the Land Department. If the Government adopt the view of the law laid down by Mr. Lynch, and lend the public money of this country for the purpose of aiding the landlords to sell their land, the last hope will be taken away of any peace or order in the disturbed districts of Ireland. I shall be sorry if the Government take any such course. The chances that the Government have of passing the Purchase Bill during the coming Session of Parliament will be very materially lessened if we are in a position to come before the country and the House, and prove that the Purchase Bill has been used for such nefarious purposes, which will be the means of creating and perpetrating disorder rather than of creating peace in the country.
§ (1.0.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I think the hon. Gentleman through the greater part of his speech must have conceived himself to be addressing the House not on the Report of Supply but upon the Land Purchase Bill which was brought forward at an earlier stage of the Session. His observations went beyond any criticism, legitimate or illegitimate, of the proceedings of the Land Commission. Towards the end of the hon. Gentleman's remarks he endeavoured to extract, or I may say, he demanded, from the Government an ex pression of their legislative policy in the next Session of Parliament. I conceive I should be grossly out of order if I followed the line the hon. Gentleman has traced out for me to pursue. In the few remarks I have to make I will confine myself to those remarks of the hon. Member in which he dealt with the present action of the Land Commission rather than the future action of the Government. I wish to offer one observation to this effect, that if the hon. Member is afraid, as he professes to be afraid, that the Government desire to drive Mr. M'Carthy out of the Public Service because of a judgment he has delivered, then I would suggest to the 1839 hon. Member and his friends that they should assist the Government in giving to Mr. M'Carthy and his Colleagues that fixity of tenure the Government desire to give them. The hon. Gentleman has alluded at great length to a statement made by Mr. M'Carthy upon the general principle which regulates his action as one of the Land Commissioners. I feel sure that the hon. Member has entirely misrepresented the views that Mr. M'Carthy holds. The hon. Member has attributed to Mr. M'Carthy the doctrine that within the four corners of the Act is to be found a provision which prevents public money being advanced to any tenancy created subsequent to the passing of the Act. I am perfectly certain that Mr. M'Carthy never uttered any judgment so wholly absurd and so wholly baseless, so utterly at variance with the judgment of his colleague, Mr.Lynch. Of course, if Mr. M'Carthy thinks and holds, as is probable, that bogus tenants should not be encouraged, he is right, and in that he would be supported by any Government, but to expand that doctrine into the absurd opinion that because a tenancy has been created since the passing of the Land Act, the tenant is not to be allowed money to purchase his holding, is not only a doctrine wholly inconsistent with the Act of Parliament, but to attribute to Mr. M'Carthy an opinion that he never for one moment entertained.
§ MR. DILLON
I did not say he entertained that opinion. I read out Mr. M'Carthy's statement. What I said was that Mr. M'Carthy claimed a discretion to refuse certain tenants on the ground which I read out, and Mr. Lynch said that no discretion existed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am quite sure Mr. Lynch never said the Land Commission is bound to advance money to bogus tenants, and I feel bound to protect Mr. M'Carthy from the imputation that he holds that public money ought not to be advanced to tenants whose tenancies have been created subsequent to the passing of the Act. Now, the hon. Gentleman has given us a large number of details, for the accuracy of which he did not vouch, in relation to Lord Waterford's estates. Though the report of this Vote has been pending for many days, the hon. Member has given me no notice of the 1840 subjects he intended to refer to, and it is, therefore, somewhat difficult to reply fully to the speech of the hon. Gentleman. It is said that certain sales on Lord Waterford's estate in 1888 were carried out when the tenants were under duress. But that point has been threshed out before the Land Commission, and proved to have no foundation. The terms of the sale were such that the tenants would have had 20 per cent. reduction on their rents. So there was no reason to doubt the rents would be paid in the form of an annuity. Next, complaint is made that Lord Waterford bought in certain farms at a nominal price when, in default of the purchasing tenants, they were put up for sale. The hon. Gentleman did not tell us, but I conceive the land was subject to the original annuity. Nor did the hon. Gentleman tell us that the land was boycotted by the neighbouring tenants. Then the hon. Gentleman brought forward the conduct of a Mr. Lynch in regard to the sale of the O'Sullivan property. But this has really no connection with the Vote. Mr. Lynch was alleged to have offered a certain Catholic curate a commission if he could induce the tenants to give 17 years' purchase. It is said that Mr. Lynch is a son of Commissioner Lynch; but Commissioner Lynch took no part in this matter, and, as a matter of fact, so far from the Land Commission having anything to do with this action of Mr. Lynch, the Land Commission subsequently refused to authorise the purchase at more than nine or 10 years' purchase. The incident merely shows that Mr. Lynch did the best for his employer, and Mr. Lynch, the Land Commissioner, did his best for the State. How this can be made the foundation for an indictment against the Land Commission I confess I utterly fail to see.
§ (1.14.) MR. SEXTON) (Belfast, W.
I cannot agree that my hon. Friend has gone beyond the proper area of the subjects which may be debated on this Vote. As to the Waterford estate, the tenants were in arrear, and in cases in Ireland where the tenants are in arrear we cannot exercise too much caution in reference to the transactions of purchase, because when a tenant is in arrear 1841 the landlord has a terrible force of compulsion in his hand for inducing the tenant to agree to his terms of purchase If the tenant will not so agree his only alternative is eviction, which, to an Irish tenant, means ruin. In the case of the Waterford estate the tenants who were in arrear entered into agreements to purchase. They represented to the Land Commissioners that these agreements had been signed under duress, but the Land Commissioners, disregarding that intimation, insisted on carrying out the agreements, with the natural consequences of default, and in all such cases where the landlords or someone were able to purchase the farms at a nominal sum, the balance between the nominal price and the original purchase money remaining unpaid becomes a dead loss to the State. I submit to the Chief Secretary the gravity of the fact, be cause his Land Purchase Bill holds out three alternatives in case of default in payment of instalments; the State is either to manage the farm, or to re-let it, or to sell it. The story told by my hon. Friend shows how two of those may fail. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to advance the proposition that a tenant being evicted from a farm because of his inability to pay his instalments, another purchaser can make it pay when he buys the land at a nominal price, plus the instalments? The suggestion is absurd. In the case my hon. Friend cited the tenants were in arrears, they were put under duress, and agreed to pay an excessive and impossible purchase price; they failed to keep up their instalments, the Land Commission could neither manage the farms nor let them, and so had to sell at a dead loss to the State. My hon. Friend, though he did not pledge himself to personal knowledge of the facts of the case —though when he has done that it has not availed him with this House—yet has every faith in the credibility of his informants. My hon. Friend has made out a case which is certainly deserving of a better answer than has been given by the right hon. Gentleman, and the matter is one which ought to be inquired into. With regard to the O'Sullivan estate—
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
With respect to that portion of the hon. Member for Mayo's speech, I listened in expectation of seeing the missing link to connect it with this Vote, but I cannot say that the hon. Member produces any link to connect it.
§ MR. SEXTON
It is rather embarrassing that a case which has been treated to an opening speech, and a speech in reply, now appears difficult of debate. I would submit that this John P. Lynch, who made this offer to the priest, is a solicitor now practising before the Land Commission, and that, therefore, it would be the duty of the Land Commission to restrain him from practising in that Court.
§ MR. SEXTON
It is a function of the Land Commissioners to determine whether the solicitors practising before their Court are persons who ought to practise. But if you tell me, Sir, distinctly, I am not at liberty to pursue the subject, I will not do so.
§ MR. SEXTON
Very well, Sir. With regard to the conflicting judgments of Commissioners Lynch and M'Carthy, and I think no one who heard the contention of my hon. Friend can doubt there is such a conflict, I say the Chief Secretary has entirely evaded the issue, which is whether a certain class of bogus tenants are to be brought into farms after the eviction of the preceding tenants, for the purpose of enabling them to complete the transaction of purchase and enabling the landlord to dip his hands in the pocket of the State.
§ MR. SEXTON
Then it is a question what is a bogus tenant. Mr. Commissioner Lanch has said that where a contract of tenancy exists, the Purchase 1843 Commission is not in a position to inquire further. But I say that is only the beginning of inquiry. The intention of this Parliament was to put an end to the evils arising from the impossible position in which tenants were placed, to emancipate them from the sway of the landlords. A vital question for the Land Commission to determine is whether or not a tenant who desires to enter into a contract of purchase is a bond fide agricultural tenant who lives by the cultivation of the land. In such a case Parliament has declared that the credit of the State shall be employed to assist him to purchase. But there are numerous cases in which landlords, having evicted their tenants, enter into contracts of purchase with new tenants who are not agricultural tenants in any sense, who are mere adventurers from towns in Ireland, who merely go into the farm and go through the form of contract with the landlord in order to enable the latter to pocket the money of the State. They pay no rent, they have no stock, for that is supplied by political associations, such as that with which the hon. Member for South Tyrone is connected; they engage to buy at an excessive price, and when the plunder is secured from the State and divided these bogus tenants disappear. It is difficult to reconcile the unwillingness of the right hon. Gentleman to give a frank reply to-night with the reception he gave a short time ago to a speech delivered in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Cork. In that speech the hon. Member for Cork proposed a system of Courts of Arbitration in Ireland. I will not discuss that now, but I think I may say the right hon. Gentleman welcomed that proposal with effusion. Does the right hon. Gentleman not see that the establishment of such Courts of Arbitration, to determine in a reasonable and amicable manner disputes existing on estates where evictions have taken place, is at right angles with the policy that encourages the landlord to evict and then to bring in tenants upon whom he can impose any terms in order to secure the money of the State?
§ MR. SEXTON
No, the right hon. Gentlemen can be very prudent and taciturn upon occasion. But I say we have a right to know as between these Commissioners what view is to prevail. Mr. Commissioner Lynch holds that if there is a contract of tenancy the Commission can inquire no further in the matter, but that is only the beginning of the inquiry. Mr. Commissioner M'Carthy contends that they have a right to inquire what is the security to the State, and I say there can be no security to the State where a bogus tenant is allowed to purchase. If the policy of Mr. Lynch is allowed to prevail it will lead to bad results. It will give fatal stimulus to eviction, and the public opinion of Ireland will be considerably set against the whole policy of purchase. The public opinion of England will revolt against immense sums of Imperial money being advanced on such a doctrine as that laid down by Mr. Lynch. The Government are fond of taking credit for the success of the said Ashbourne Act. If the Ashbourne Act has been administered with safety to the State, it is due to the sagacity and prudence of Mr. Commissioner McCarthy, whose views secure a just balance between the claims of the landlord, the tenant, and the State.
§ (1.25.) Question put, and agreed to.