THE DUKE OF ABERCORN
asked the Lord Chancellor of Ireland—(1) what alterations in procedure had been already adopted and put in force under the Irish Land Acts and Land Purchase Acts since the publication of the Report of the Fry Commission; (2) what further alterations in procedure had been decided upon; and (3) when would statuory rules be published to give effect to these alterations.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND (Lord ASHBOURNE)
My Lords, in the month of July last, my noble Friend drew attention to the Report of the Fry Commission, and to the proposals made by that Commission. He then made inquiries in the same direction as those which he has now quite reasonably addressed to Her Majesty's Government. The recommendations of the Fry Commission are divisible into several heads. Some of them require legislation, some statutory rules, and some would need only directions and suggestions to be made by the heads of Departments to the subordinates to facilitate the smooth and easy working of the machinery committed to their charge; and, therefore, in considering the matter one has to bear in mind the variety of topics that are involved. I will tell my noble Friend exactly how this matter stands, and give him the fullest information possible. In the first place a new form of valuer's report has been adopted, with instructions designed to secure greater care and accuracy m the matter of inspection, valuation, and report. That is a matter of obvious importance, and one to which attention was directed by the Fry Commission, in the interests of all parties concerned, both landlords and tenants. It has been pointed out that there was a certain un-evenness of knowledge on the part of the Assistant Commissioners with regard to the legal decisions that regulate the cases which come before them. That has been met by instructions for the circulation, for the information of the Assistant Commissioners and for their guidance, of legal decisions of importance pronounced both by the head Land Commission and by the Court of Appeal in Dublin. This is a matter which does not require statutory rules, but is accomplished by the ordinary machinery 675 of a department. The recommendation as to the inspection of drains, as to the way in which they should be carried out and so forth, has been accepted and put into force, and is at the present moment working with very great advantage. Another change which has been brought about by the ordinary mechanism is that the practice of communicating the valuer's report, which had been discontinued, has been resumed—I believe with extremely good results. Another matter which has always engaged a great deal of attention is the question of adopting some alternative procedure to the somewhat costly mechanism of fixing fair rents. The Fry Commission themselves sketched an alternative procedure, but they were not the first to do so. When the Act of 1896 was still before Parliament a very carefully and well-considered alternative procedure clause was embodied in the Measure. This clause, however, fell out of the Bill, because it was practically opposed by both Parties. Therefore it is not the fault of the Government that the alternative procedure is not found in a statutable form and in the Act of 1896. I have always thought it desirable to have an alternative procedure. The Fry Commission recommended an alternative clause, but I am informed—and I am disposed to think that it is so—that not only was it complicated in its character, but would require the aid of Parliament by further legislation to be carried out. Therefore, the Land Commission applied themselves to devise a consent alternative procedure, which was within their powers. Up to the present there has not been an opportunity of knowing how far it has been appealed to, but that procedure has been adopted, and I believe it will be found to stand the test of experience. I hope it will be accepted as an evidence that the matter has not escaped the attention which its great importance demanded. Another matter of procedure of considerable importance has also been adopted, and copies of the Pink Schedule will be sent to applicants within a certain fixed number of days after application. It is of the utmost importance that all the parties should have the fullest possible information. The Pink Schedule contains all the information that Parliament indicated in 1896 that it should contain, and has been brought up to meet the requirements of the Local Gov- 676 ernment Act. Then, as to the tenure of the Assistant Commissioners, it would be practically impossible to make every Assistant Commissioner permanent, the work varying so enormously. It varies sometimes to such an extent that 31 Assistant Commissioners may be required one year, 40 another year, and 80 the next. You must draw a distinction between the permanent stuff and the temporary staff, and there must always, be a certain number of temporary Assistant Commissioners. These gentlemen, have been practically given a tenure for three years, and will hold office until 31st March 1902. Another point that was pressed with great force was this—that even admitting the honesty of intention with which the Assistant Commissioners are selected, and assuming that the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary do their best, which everyone knows they do, to get the most capable, reliable, and independent men, it was desirable that a test should be applied to guarantee by adequate examination their fitness for their position. That has also been attended to, and a system of examination instituted for these appointments which will ensure that the applicants possess the necessary qualifications, and are acquainted with the value of land, the method of land valuation, and have a knowledge of land surveying. These are matters of very considerable moment, and the passing of the Civil Service examination will guarantee the possession of considerable qualifications by those who are employed to fulfil these important positions. Besides that, there is a test to be applied to see that the physical health of the applicants is adequate, and that they enjoy that robust health which will enable them to make outdoor inspections and examinations. Again, the old system of associating two lay Assistant Commissioners with each legal Assistant Commissioner will be returned to. These measures, which have commended themselves to the Land Commission, embody a number of substantial improvements in administration, and they will be worked with an earnest desire to secure efficiency and do justice to all parties. Directions have been given by the heads of the Land Commission to the staff in every way to try and meet the public requirements and the public conveni- 677 ence, to give all the information they are asked to give whenever they can do so, and also to supply copies of all documents when asked for them. I am quite sure that if my noble Friends who are interested in this question will apply to their solicitors, who are naturally in close touch with these questions, they will find that there are few complaints to be made now as to delays, hesitation, or unwillingness to give every information possible to facilitate and expedite matters. Turning to the subject of land purchase, the Fry Commission pointed out, not unnaturally, that at the time they made their Report, which covered the period from 1st April 1896, to 3lst March 1897, the output of that particular year was only £515,251. I believe this is practically the lowest figure ever touched, and is explainable by a variety of circumstances. But in 1897–98 the output was £876,000; in 1898–99 it had sprung up to the tremendous figure of £1,771,120; while in the three months ending 3lst March last it was £626,827, showing that in the present year, unless these figures unexpectedly collapse, and there is no reason to think they will, the output will be something like £2,000,000. These figures show that land purchase is working vigorously, and I think the natural deduction from that is that the existing rules are found adequate for their purpose, and that they are able to still further develop a great and growing business. This means an enormous increase in the work of the Land Commission. The noble Duke, when he last introduced this subject, referred to the working of the 40th section, and he was a little incredulous as to the possibility of that section working well. Of course, there were differences of opinion about it, but the section has passed through the diseases of infancy, and has been tested in the court over which I have the honour to preside in Ireland—the Court of Appeal. The decision swept away all doubts on the subject, and since then the section has been working perfectly satisfactorily. You have only to take up our Legal List to see the wide extent to which that section is being appealed to. I do not think there is a harder worked body in the Kingdom than the Land Commission. There are 8,000 fair-rent appeals awaiting their hearing at the present time, and involving prolonged investigation. The only interest 678 of the Commission is to make the machinery entrusted to them work smoothly, justly and fairly to landlords and tenants alike, and they are watching and noting with a view to further improvements in the Rules.
THE EARL OF MAYO
said the Land Commission had certainly advanced since last year, but he should like to see their Rules still further improved. He would like the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to inform the House where noble Lords could get copies of these Rules, so that they could furnish them to their solicitors.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
Every Statutory Rule is published and printed by the Queen's printer, and presented to Parliament. Copies can be obtained in London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and the particular Rule I have before me can be bought for the ridiculouslv small sum of one half-penny.
THE EARL OF MAYO
said that what noble Lords desired was to get copies of the Rules that were not Statutory Rules.