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Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners of Inquiry into the Working of the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act, 1870, and the acts amending the same online

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presumed that the State, which for the good of the public, compels sale, will step
in and purchase on behalf of the public, and that the seller will get the full value of
the property. _ If this be secured to the seller I do not see any unwarrantable inter-
ference with his right in compelling him to sell, especially if this be accompanied with
the alternative of granting to his tenants that security of tenure, which looking to the
general good of the country seems to be required. Certainly an owner with this option
presented to him is not at least in a worse position than if he were compelled without
an option to give the tenure above referred to, and therefore, so far as the owner is
concerned, he would have far less reason to complain of unjust interference with his
rights than if he had forced on him, without any alternative, the granting of the
perpetuities.

_ I here is no doubt, involved in this a very much larger question than the rights or
interests of the owner, and that is the responsibility of the State ; and the question
arises, whether if all the owners of land in Ireland were willing to sell their estates



SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT BY THE O'CONOR DON. 45

at their fair value, the State ought to become even the intermediary purchaser, and
buy them up with the view of selHng them to the occupiers, or making these occupiers
tenants on tenures that would be more conducive to the good of the pubhc at large.
There is also involved in this the ascertainment of what would be the real fair selling
value of the property ; and it may be urged it would be as difficult to ascertain the
fair selling value as the fair letting value, that the one hangs upon the other, and that
all the difficulties I have enumerated, in regard to settling the fair rent, would have
to be encountered in settling the fair selling value.

With regard to the first question — the responsibility of the State — I think it is to
be regarded in two aspects. First, Js it a just responsibility? is it one that the
State ought justly to undertake ? Secondly, Is it likely to be of an overwhelming
character ? With regard to the first point it seems to me to be a most just respon-
sibility. The position of affairs is this : — Under the existing law certain persons, called
landlords, have the ownership of the land of the country guaranteed to them. They have
certain rights in that land, as owners, which it is considered expedient for the public
good to do away Avith ; and if the deprivation of these rights depreciates the value
of their property, it is in accordance with all the practice of British legislation to give
compensation to the persons deprived of these legal rights, or to take up from them
their property at its pre-existing value.

If the granting of the new tenure would not depreciate the value of the landlord's
property, there could be no great risk involved in taking it off his hands, granting
the perpetuity, and then re-selling to the outside public. Until the last year or eighteen
months there was no lack of purchasers for Irish landed property when put up for
sale ; and if the new tenure gave satisfaction, and that it did not materially depre-
ciate the value of the owner's property, there would be no great responsibility or loss
involved in buying up all the property offered for sale under such circumstances. In
any case it seems to me that the change in the position of landlord and tenant being
efiected for the public good, and not for the good of the individual owner, any loss,
should loss arise, should be borne by the public ; and that therefore the responsibility
is one that might justly be accepted by the State.

It has been suggested that this responsibility would be of enormous magnitude. I
cannot join in this apprehension. I do not believe that all or the great majority of the
landlords of Ireland, sooner than grant fixity of tenure at valued rents, would rush in and
demand that their estates should be purchased. But if there were grounds for this appre-
hension, nothing could more clearly show the adverse opinion entertained by these owners
as to the effect which the new compulsory tenure would have on their relations with
their tenants. It must also be remembered that the utmost responsibility accepted by
the State, even in such a case, would be an obligation to grant this very same tenure
to the occupiers ; and if the tenure did not depreciate the value of the property there
surely could not be much risk in the transaction, as the State, having granted the
perpetuity, could at once re-sell to the highest bidder.

We have had a great number of landowners before us, and very many of them
have expressed themselves most decidedly hostile to anything like compulsory sales,
but quite satisfied to give fixity of tenure. A landloi-d committee has been formed
in Dublin, and has formulated a scheme for the settlement of the land question ;
and it is based on fixity of tenure, and compulsory sale recommended only in regard
to particular estates belonging to corporations.

I cannot suppose that all this is mere idle talk, and that if the owners had the
two options presented to them they would all prefer that which they have openly
denounced rather than what they have advocated. There are, moreover, a large
number of landlords who could not sell Avithout seriously diminishing their incomes.
The owners of life estates, for instance, who would have to invest the money arising
out of the sale in some Government securities at some low rate of interest ; and to
such as these granting of perpetuities, at either fixed or variable rents, would be
preferable. But whilst I do not think the granting of the alternative would lead to
universal or very general sales, I am certainly of opinion that it would bring a very
large quantity of land at once into the market. If I did not think so I would not
defend its being tried ; and it is mainly because I feel convinced that it would at once
enable the experiment of occupying ownership or peasant proprietary to be tried on
a very large scale that I recommend it. The experiment, so far as it has been tried
in Ireland, has, I think, been a great success. Evidence was given to us, showing that
the vast majority of the owners created under the Church Act and the Land Act
have been prospering, and are contented; and the year which we have lately passed
is one which must have severely tried the system. On all sides tenants, holding at S^Jo^^ "^^g^g'.
the most moderate rents, were receiving abatements, arrears were growing apace, and R^xddell, 5235; '



46



lEISH LAND ACT COMMISSION, 1880.



Iiityre, 10774 ;
anison, 10922 ;
ughrey, 11130.
islett, 11823;
sments, 38633 ;
Brien, 32734 ;
lith, 38458 ;
Causland,9271;
mungham,
36;

own, 9825 ;
ennan, 10068 ;
amockj 10345,
354;

Drrison, 10388;
imlole, 10895 ;
tzgerald, 24296;
)c]ie, 34300-3 ;
ner, 36579;
ingle, 36776 ;



i'Grath, 20147 ;
avoren, 2 1386-9;
■ISTeill, 38574-6 ;
Droule, 38393j
ilmartin,
)990-2.



rent-paying in many cases liad altogether ceased ; yet no abatements were made to
these purchasers, and the remarkable fact remains, that out of a rental, largely paid
by very small occupiers, only 1 per cent, of arrears appeared to be due to the Church
Commissioners at the end of the year 1879, and the whole of this they expected
to recover. In some individual cases the purchasers have failed, some have sold their
purchases, others are in debt, and will have to sell. This was to have been expected ;
but these cases are the rare exceptions, and that they should be so few after such
trying times, and that those few should leave tlteir holdings quietly when they found
themselves unable to retain them, are the strongest arguments in favour of the system.

I consider the option of sale, or offer to purchase on the part of the State, the most
important portion of my proposal, and by itself I think it would accomplish much of
what is wanted. Quite apart from the disadvantages arising out of insecurity of
tenure on the part of the occupiers, I believe the disadvantages of having the ownership
of land held by a mere handful of the population are in themselves most serious.
Security of tenure has long been the demand of the occupiers ; it will soon be the turn
of the owners to cry out for the security of their tenure, and their security will be
most unsafe unless it be largely participated in by the mass of the population which
now really governs the country.

In undertaking sucli a purchase, the State must of course be secured against having
to pay more than the real value of the land, and one of the first conditions ought to he
that the purchase-money should not be of a character to tempt the owner to part
with his property mainly with the view of getting a fancy price for it. In arriving at
the value of an estate offered for sale it would not be fair to proceed altogether on the
basis of the existing rental, and, therefore, it would be necessary in some cases to
have a valuation of the land irrespective of that rental, and here we may have to
meet with the same difficulty as would arise in valuing for a fair rent. The difficulty
is undoubtedly of the same nature, but not at all to the same extent. The valuation
of a rent for the purpose of purchase will be found much more easy than a calculation
of rent for the purpose of an annual payment. One of the greatest difficulties in
arriving at a fair rent as between landlord and tenant, on a uniform scale all over
Ireland, will be that such uniform scale would necessarily result in many raisings of
rents. This difficulty certainly will not exist to the same extent, and it may not exist
at all in regard to lands purchased by the State, and that because the State can afford
to take much lower rents than anyone else, and to do this without any loss. The
difference in the rate of interest at which the State can raise loans and that required
by any private individual being the explanation.

This may be illustrated by an example : Let us take the cases of two holdings on
different estates of really the same value — the one let at £90 -a year, the other at
£110 — the true letting or fair rent of each let us suppose to be £100 a year. If
perpetuity of tenure at fair rents were to be established, the one tenant's rent would
have to be raised £10 a year, whilst the other would be lowered £l0, and even if this
gave satisfaction to the one man the other would be certain to be dissatisfied ; but if
instead of this the State were to purchase the two holdings at 22|^ years' purchase of
the fair rent, and to charge interest say at four per cent., there would not be the same
dissatisfaction. Each holding would cost £2,2.50, and four per cent, on this would
equal £90, so that the one tenant would have his holding for the future at the
same low rent as before, and the other would have a very considerable reduction
—from £110 to £90.

I believe that in order to become the actual owner of his holding, the occupier would
be willing to pay a larger sum than for a perpetuity lease, and that there would be less
dissatisfaction at the rents being fixed at their fair value in such cases, than where the
occupiers were still to continue as tenants. Again, there is something in the very
certainty of the amount which has to be paid or received which renders it much more
easy to determine than if it is a recurring payment in the future. A lump sum paid
down at once as the price of a commodity is much more easily arrived at by arbitra-
tion or valuation than a periodical payment for the use of that commodity. Averages
also could be taken more easily into account in the one case than in the other. The
selling value of land should be ascertained by taking into account its average value
over a certain number of years. It would not be fair either to the seller or the pur-
chaser to calculate on an exceptionally high year or an exceptionally low one. The
same principle ought to apply in calculating the rent at which the land ought to let;
but it wouldbe far more difficult to apply it. In estimating the present rent to be paid
it would be impossible to give satisfaction by arranging it on the basis of an average of
years, as such rent, at the present time, would appear too high, and, on the other
hand, it would be unjust to fix it at the low standard of an exceptional period. If it be



SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT EY THE O'CONOR DON 47

granted that the land question in Ireland cannot be settled except on the basis of low
rents or low annual payments, payments under the real letting value ; and if this basis
cannot be taken without loss to the owners, I think the interference of the State is
absolutely necessary. It does not appear to me that the credit of the State would be
injured even if a considerable sum of money should be lost in these transactions.
Millions of money have been scattered broadcast in upholding the dignity of England
in Abyssinia, in trying to teach the Turk a lesson of good government in Cyprus, and
in attaining a scientific frontier in India, and yet the credit of Great Britain has not
been impaired, and I am bold enough to believe that even if some millions were
lost in pacifying Ireland the money would not be thrown away, nor the credit of the
Empire lessened.

What I therefore suggest is, that a commission should be appointed, with ample
funds guaranteed by the State, to purchase up, at a fair selling value, all the
estates offered for sale by the existing owners ; that, having purchased these lands,
they should be resold to the occupiers wherever tlie occupiers could pay down in cash
one-fifth of the purchase-money, four-fifths being advanced at annual payments, such
as would extinguish the principal and interest in a given number of years, which I
wovild suggest to be thirty-five.

Where the occupiers are not able to provide one-fifth of the purchase-money, they
should either have perpetuity grants made to them of the lands at a fair rent, and
these perpetuities should be sold to the public, or the perpetuity grants should be
made to them at an annual payment which would repay four-fifths of the purchase-
money, interest and principal, in thirty -five years ; that this should be paid to the Com-
mission simply as interest or rent, until such time as the first sale of the tenants' interest
took place, when, out of the purchase-money, realized by such sale, the original one-fifth
should be paid to the Commission, and that from that date the re-payment of
principal should commence. I propose this mode of repayment because I believe
that although many occupiers could not now, or at once, advance any portion
of the purchase-money; yet, on the first sale of their interest in the land, ample
funds would be forthcoming. In proof of this I refer to the enormous sums now
paid for the tenants' interest in Ulster. Under this proposal, taking the example I
have already given, if a holding worth £100 a year were purchased for £2,250, and
the tenant was not able to pay one-fifth of the purchase-money, or £450, his annual
payment should be fixed at five per cent, on £1,800, or £90, which should be regarded
simply as interest or rent, until such time as the £450 was paid to the Commission,
after which time the re-payment of principal should commence, the payment of the
£450, if not previously made, being obligatory on the first sale of the occupier's
interest.

The probable immediate results I' would anticipate for this scheme are the follow-
ing : — First, that a very large quantity of land would be at once brought into the
market, and rendered available for peasant proprietary. Secondly, that the land so
brought into the market would to a great extent be the property which it_ would be
most desirable to take from its present owners. Thirdly, that these operations would
not be confined to any particular district or portion of Ireland, but would be general,
and make its influence felt everywhere. And lastly, that the absolute ownership thus
conferred on such a large number of proprietors would have such a general
wholesome effect, that even the relations between the occupiers and owners where
sales did not take place would be greatly benefited. That a large quantity of land
would, at once come into the market for sale, and that on very reasonable terms,
cannot, I think, be doubted. But if, by any chance, this turned out not to be the case,
I would be quite prepared to go further and compel sales. Where a property was
incumbered to a certain proportion of its absolute value, I would compel its sale,
and then the requisite amount of land for peasant proprietary could be easily got, but
before having resort to this compulsion, the offer of general purchase should be
first tried, and I cannot doubt it would be found quite sufficient.

In the next place the estates that would be offered for sale would be just those
which it would be most desirable to have sold. Most probably if the alternative
of granticg perpetuities at fixed or variable rents to the tenants, or of selling to
the State were offered to all proprietors, the old established residential owners,
between whom and theirtenants,feelingsof good-will had always existed, and who had
always asked for only low rents and permitted practically fixity of tenure to exist, would
'come to an arrangement voluntarily, with their tenants, and would grant legally what
they had previously been in the habit of allowing. Neither landlords nor tenants in
such cases would like to part company. Some general rights of ownership, such as
rio-hts of shooting, rights over bogs, quarries and minerals could be reserved to the



48 IRISH LAND ACT COMMISSION, 1880.

owner, which would give him an incentive to retain his land even on the altered con
ditions. Lowness of rent and fixity of tenure being secured to the tenant, he, too,
would be satisfied to remain in his present position. .

The case would be different with the new purchasers ; the men known as the rack-
renters. Those who had no interest in the possession of the land, beyond that of getting
the most they could out of it. They would be almost certain to sell even if they had
to sell at a loss compared with the prices which they themselves had paid. The first
loss to them would be better than a perpetual loss in getting only a Ioav rate of interest
for their money, and having all the expense and perplexities of collecting an unwillingly
paid rent. Again, where estates were heavily incumbered, most probably an amount
sufficient to pay off the incumbrances would be sold, and one of the gi-eatest disadvan-
tages of the present system where land is nominally owned by one man, and is in
reality the property of another would be done away with. Outlying townlands, distant
from the residence of the owner, and the estates of absentee proprietors who took no
interest in their property, would probably be amongst the first to be sold.

This would also take place all over Ireland; it would not be confined to any par-
ticular district or county, and everywhere throughout the length and breadth of the
land, occupying owners would be established, influenced by every feeling that actuates
the human breast to maintain and to uphold the rights of property, a state of things
which could not but affect even the relations between landlord and tenant where these
relations still continued.

Of course in opposition to this the financial difficulties of carrying it out have to be
considered. For the State all at once to become as it were the landlord of the
majority of the tenants in Ireland would be a most serious responsibility, and if the
occupiers were to refuse to pay the Government a very serious state of affairs might
arise.

This is really not to be apprehended and it could be met effectually, if apprehended,
by placing a limit on the price beyond which the State would not go in purchasing pro-
perty. Assuming, however, as we are bound to assume, that a very large amount of
property would be sold, where is the money to come from, and how is the repayment of
interest and principal to be secured ? 1 believe a great deal of the money could be found
in Ireland itself A large amount of money is now lodged on deposit at very low
interest at the banks, and if land debentures were created, guaranteed by the Govern-
ment, and bearing interest say at three and a half per cent. , and issued for very small
sums, I believe they would be largely taken up through the country.

In order to secure this it might also be provided that the landowners selling their
property should take a considerable portion of the purchase-money in these debentures.
What is wanted is not so much a large amount of money as the guai'antee of the State,
and if this were once given there would be little difficulty in finding capital.

The next question which arises is, Whether this could be safely given? If it were
necessary that the Government should directly stand in the position of landlord to a vast
number of occupiers, I think the objection would be a serious one, but here again I think
local machinery might be introduced. The example of other countries might be imi-
DufFerin 33168 ^^^ed in this respect. In the evidence given to us by Lord Dufferin, the course pursued
by Russia under somewhat similar circumstances was quoted to us, and by making
some such local unit as the poor law union responsible for the payment of the annual
instalment, I think this difficulty could be got rid of

The course which should have to be provided would be to transfer to the union autho-
rities the duties of collecting the annual payment from the occupiers, and in default of
payment by any individual occupier, to make the rateable property within the poor law
union responsible, giving of course to the authorities the most summary powers of seizing
and selling the interest of any defaulter.

_ The result of this proceeding would be, to make every occupier of land within the
district, and every man who had paid his own instalment, interested in having the pay-
ments punctually made ; and, instead of public sympathy running in favour of the
defaulter, it would run in exactly the opposite direction. Moreover, every man who had
invested his capital in any of the debentures, would also have a stake in the country,
and become little desirous to see any revolutionary changes.

^ When once these perpetuity holders or occupying owners are established, other
difficulties will still liave to be met. Every one interested in the well-being of Ireland,
must desire that some check should be placed on subdivision or subletting. Excessive
subdivision of land has been in many instances one of the greatest curses of the country ;
yet it will be extremely difficult to prevent it unless the habits of the people change,
and that greater intelligence and foresight is produced by the new position in which
they will find themselves. Subletting might possibly be prevented during the time



SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT BY THE O'CONOR DON, 49

that 9-ny instalment of purchase money was due to the State, and both it and subdivi-
sion should be strictly prohibited.

Theoretically, I am opposed to any unnecessary interference with the rights of the
new others, m disposing of their property, and practically I fear it will be next to
impossible toprevent subdivision so long as the people themselves look to it as a means
of providing for their famihes, and to a change in their habits and views we must look,
in the long run, for a remedy. '

One of the curious anomalies of the present state of affairs is, that whilst the Land
Act places penalties upon subdivision and subletting, the common law of the country
seems to encourage subdivision. The Laud Act makes subdivision penal, and yet it has
created a property, which, by the common law of the country, is divisible, in case of
intestacy amongst all the children of a deceased tenant. When a tenant dies intestate,
if the land be not divided amongst all the family, it must be sold and the profits of the
sale divided amongst them, so that either division of the land, which is subject to
penalties, or sale of the holding, to which the tenant has no right, should legally be
resorted to in many cases. The difficulties arising out of this have been adverted to by
many witnesses, and these difficulties will exist with regard both to perpetuities and
ownerships, unless by law one person is made to inherit the whole.

This_ brings prominently forward a fact which is well worth noting, and that is —
that with a perpetuity tenure and free sale, and a prohibition against subdivision, the
land of the country, unless the law of primogeniture prevents it, will in a very short



Online LibraryGreat Britain. Commissioners of inquiry into the wReport of Her Majesty's Commissioners of Inquiry into the Working of the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act, 1870, and the acts amending the same → online text (page 21 of 295)