HL Deb 13 July 1888 vol 328 cc1231-6

, in rising to ask the Prime Minister, Whether Her Majesty's Government intend to propose to Parliament before the adjournment a grant in supplement to the £5,000,000 advanced under the Land Purchase Act (Ireland), 1885? said, when he put down that Notice on the Paper he was not aware of the discussion which had taken place last night in "another place" on the subject. In answer to a Question, the Chief Secretary for Ireland was represented to have said that it was the intention of the Government during the present Session to make a proposal to take steps to prevent from expiring the powers given under the Act of 1885; and then in reference to a further Question put to him as to whether a cessation would take place in the administration of the Act unless legislation took place this Session on the subject, he was represented to have replied that it would. He had read that discussion with very considerable regret, because he thought that this subject, which was one above all political controversy, would have received more favourable consideration. What took place last night was by no means satisfactory, and it would render it necessary that a reply should be given to the Question of which he had given Notice, and which, in the absence of the Prime Minister, could be answered by his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland or one of his Colleagues. The noble and learned Lord having stated in detail the circumstances under which the Land Purchase Act of 1885 had been introduced by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland on his first appearance in their Lordships' House, and was passed into law, and having pointed out the substantial advantages which it was calculated to confer upon the tenantry of Ireland, said the policy of that Act had met with general approval; and be recollected that in the discussion which had taken place upon it in that House on the occasion of its passing the noble Marquess at the head of the Government promised that if this tentative and moderate measure, as it was described by the noble Marquess, proved a success, the Government would be prepared to recommend to Parliament when the £5,000,000 were exhausted another sum of money, so as to secure the continuance of a measure which had proved to be a success. Last year they had before them another Land Bill, the whole of the second part of which, representing 17 or 18 clauses, was intended for the improvement of the administration of the Land Purchase Act, and he thought that the passing of these sections of that Bill was utterly useless if the Land Purchase Act was to be allowed to expire. He also recollected that he had on that occasion impressed upon the Government the necessity for providing a further fund to supplement the £5,000,000. The Land Purchase Act of 1885 had been a success, and a great success. He had called attention to this subject some three months ago, and he had taken pains, on his own responsibility, to get statistics as well as he could to lay before their Lordships, and he moved then, in reference to the administration of the £5,000,000, for a searching Return which would have shown its application, and whether any balance remained. Unfortunately, that Return had not yet been laid on the Table of the House, but he believed that the statistics which he had then laid before the House were wholly uncontrovertible. On that occasion he called attention to this—that out of the £5,000,000 which had been granted by the Government £1,945,530 had been taken by Ulster alone, and that that sum had been distributed among 7,667 tenant farmers, who had since become owners of their holdings. They were small tenant farmers, and they were now paying off the money they had borrowed. In Munster the sum was less, but it was over £1,000,000. In Leinster he thought the sum expended was about £1,110,000; in Connaught it was less still, the people not being able to take advantage of the Act. He called attention to the fact that the applications then before the Land Purchase Commissioners were sufficient to exhaust the whole fund provided if those applications were successful. He stated that, in addition, in one office of solicitors alone applications had come in to the extent of £600,000, going far beyond what then remained in the hands of the Land Purchase Commissioners untouched. He had since been in Dublin—a few days ago—and he met there a gentleman by accident who had a larger share in negotiating purchases and sales between landlords and tenants than any other, and he addressed him very anxiously on this subject. He was informed by him that claims were coming in very considerably, and that the parties would not go on because the cost was considerable, and because it was uncertain whether there would be any fund to meet it. The administration of this fund had been successful in another way. He believed his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Lord Ashbourne) would be able to say whether he was correct or not; but he believed that in the districts in which peasant proprietors had been created by the operation of this Land Purchase Act peace and order prevailed—and that those who had now got an interest in the land, and who would ultimately become the sole owners of it, were the best maintainers of law and order. He therefore thought he was justified in saying that the Land Purchase Act of 1885 had been a success, and a great success. It had conferred, as it was intended to confer, large benefits upon the small tenants who became owners of their farms under it. The case now stood in a peculiar position in which it ought not to stand. He observed in an article from the Dublin correspondent of The Times of yesterday a statement expressing the grave anxiety that existed in the public mind with regard to the continuance of the operation of this Act, and that the uncertainty that prevailed on the subject was doing very great mischief, and the estimate was that the claims beyond the amount which he had stated on a former occasion now before the Land Purchase Commissioners exceeded £1,000,000. Three months ago, when he put a question on the subject, he received an answer that the matter was under consideration. He thought, therefore, that he was justified in bringing the matter forward again, in order that the people might be re-assured that the benefits of the Act would not be allowed to cease. In order to prevent the discontinuance of the operation of the Act, he thought it was absolutely necessary that a supplemental fund should be granted before they seperated for the holidays. He hoped to get a favourable reply from his noble and learned Friend.


said, he could hardly understand how Her Majesty's Government, with their previous experience, could hesitate to supplement the sum provided by the valuable measure commonly called Lord Ashbourne's Act by a further advance. There were reports in the air that Her Majesty's Government contemplated at some future time bringing forward a much more comprehensive measure, and on different lines. Whether those reports were true or not he was not, of course, in a position to say; but he was sure that some further extension of Lord Ashbourne's Act would add to the data so necessary for the preparation of a measure of a more important character. He would say nothing with regard to land purchase in Ulster; but he believed that Kerry, the county with which he was connected, was—outside Ulster—amongst those which had most largely availed themselves of the Act. He believed he was perfectly accurate when he said that the number of defaulters among tenants who had taken advantage of the Act in that county was almost nil. There could be no doubt whatever that there was a large number of tenants throughout the country who were looking with considerable anxiety for an extension of this Act with a view of availing themselves of it, and who would be much disappointed if they found that the Government were not going to adopt that course. He would also like to say that the £5,000,000 would not have been much sooner expended if the administration of this Act had been more perfect; but, rather than that the Act should be allowed to expire, both tenants and landlords would be glad to see it extended with all its faults and deficiencies.


said, he had had no opportunity of communicating with the Prime Minister with regard to this question, and he could only refer to the answers given in the House of Commons last night by the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chief Secretary for Ireland on the part of the Government. With regard to the statement made by his noble and learned Friend in reference to the subject, it was extremely clear and interesting, and he had listened to it with much personal sympathy. The operation of the Act had decidedly and unquestionably been attended with beneficial results throughout Ireland generally, and he believed that the tenants who had purchased had found it to be to their distinct benefit. He believed that it had a very good effect on them in every way—with respect to their pecuniary as well as with respect to their other interests; and certainly the working of the Act had shown that they were alive fairly and reasonably to the necessity of complying with the obligations which they had undertaken of paying the instalments. The statement made very recently in the other House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated that the instalments had been paid with extraordinary regularity, and went to show that the operation of the Act had been successful. He had not heard of the case of any tenants who had availed themselves of the provisions of the Act who did not find a benefit in their condition, or had expressed any regret whatever for having availed themselves of it. However, he was afraid that he was not in a position to supplement or go beyond the statement made in the other House yesterday, and which his noble and learned Friend had referred to.


said, he was afraid that if nothing was done before Parliament separated much disappointment would be caused. If no more money were granted for the purposes of the Act what were the landlords and tenants to do? Would the noble and learned Lord tell the House what his advice was? Many tenants were anxious to purchase their farms. Would the noble and learned Lord advise them to do so? If some statement were not made, the whole country would be reduced to chaos. Landlords would be asking for their rent; the tenants would answer that they were going to purchase; and the landlord would be obliged to say—"I cannot sell, because I do not know what the Government intend to do." Would the noble and learned Lord recommend the landlords and tenants to continue their arrangements as before, or to drop them altogether? From his own knowledge, he did not believe a more useful or more successful Act had ever been passed. He had had considerable experience of sales under the Act of 1870, which was not nearly so advantageous to the tenants as the noble and learned Lord's Act, and the instalments were being most regularly paid, notwithstanding the depression of the times. He was afraid, however, unless the Government were prepared to give a further grant, it would give rise to a feeling of despair among a large body of tenants who were anxious to purchase.


said, he had spoken as fully as he could on the statement of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Fitzgerald), but he was not in a position to give any advice. There was nothing more difficult than to advise people in regard to their own affairs. He had no doubt landlords and tenants would be guided by that excellent discretion and good sense which people generally brought to bear upon their own private affairs. He was sure that his noble Friend (the Marquess of Waterford) would himself consider the subject with an anxious desire to arrive at a sound and wise conclusion.


said, he thought it had been clearly shown from all parts of the House that this Act had worked very well indeed. Was it too late this Session to bring in a Bill to provide more money under the Act? He could not help thinking it might be possible to carry such a Bill through if the Government were determined to do so, and he had no doubt, from what he had heard, that it would give great satisfaction to everybody concerned.