( Mr. Butt, Mr. Richard Smyth, Mr. Meldon, Mr. Ennis.)
Bill 10 Second Reading
Order for Second Reading read.
in rising to move that the Bill be now read the second time, said: The House, I am sure, Sir, will expect that as no statement was made on the occasion of its introduction, I shall now fully state the objects and provisions of the measure. To some Gentlemen present I must appeal for the indulgence which I am sure I will obtain. It has too often been my good or bad fortune to urge views which I consistently believe to be right against the views of the majority of the Members of this House. I perceive on the Notice Paper a Motion to reject the Bill by an hon. Member who is not now in his place; but it is worthy of remark that no Representative of a popular constituency in Ireland has chosen to put himself forward in opposition to this measure. I now wish to say one word with regard to the provisions of the Bill—and it is the only allusion I shall make to anything so insignificant as a personal matter. The provisions of this Bill, as far as I am concerned with them, have not been lightly taken up. As far back as 10 years ago, when I never expected again to have a seat in this House, I turned my attention to the Land question, being led to do so by the same power which caused statesmen to direct their attention to the condition of Ireland. It was my duty to defend the Fenian prisoners, and I so had an opportunity of knowing the depths of Irish disaffection and discovering its source. I made up my mind then, and I satisfied myself, that until the Land question is satisfactorily settled you never can have peace or contentment in Ireland. When I came to study that question I satisfied myself of two things—first, that you never can settle that question until you give the tenant security of tenure; and, secondly, that you never can give the tenant security of tenure as long as you leave to the landlord the arbitrary power of eviction. The attempt made by the Land Bill to give security of tenure without interfering with that power of eviction has failed. I then suggested this measure. I embodied all the principal provisions which I had inserted in the Bill, therefore I am not adopting anything in the present measure lightly, or without having devoted long attention to the subject. No one can understand the Land question in Ireland who does not take into account the past history of Ireland as far. as that history affects the question now under consideration. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but it is true, that almost all the land in Ireland is held, with very few exceptions, by the tenure of confiscation. Indeed, Lord Clare declared in the Irish House of Peers that the greater portion of the land of Ireland had been confiscated three times over. No person who is acquainted with past history and the present circumstances of Ireland will deny that the memoirs of that confiscation have descended to the present day, embittering the relations between landlords and the occupiers of the soil. In advocating the Act of Union in the Irish House of Peers, Lord Clare said—
That is the description given by Lord Clare in the Irish House of Peers in the year 1800. His Lordship went on to say—"It is a subject of curious and important speculation to look back to the forfeitures of Ireland confiscated in the last century. The superficial contents of the island are calculated at 11,042,682 acres. Let us now examine the state of forfeitures confiscated in the reign of James I. The whole of the province of Ulster, 2,836,837 acres; set out by the Court of Claims at the Restoration, 7,800,000 acres; forfeitures of 1678, 1,060,792 acres; total 11,697,629 acres. So that the whole of your island has been confiscated, with the exception of the estates of five or six old families of English blood, some of whom had been attainted in the reign of Henry VIII., but recovered their possessions before Tyrone's rebellion, and had the good fortune to escape the pillage of the English Republic inflicted by Cromwell; and no inconsiderable portion of the island has been confiscated twice or, perhaps thrice, in the course of a century. The situation therefore of the Irish nation at the Revolution stands unparalleled in the history of the inhabited world. If the wars of England carried on here from the reign of Elizabeth had been waged against a foreign enemy, the inhabitants would have retained their possessions under the established law of civilized nations, and their country have been annexed as a province to the British Empire; but the continued and persevering resistance of Ireland to the British Crown during the whole of last century was mere rebellion, and the municipal law of England attached upon the crime. What, then, was the situation of Ireland at the Revolution, and what is it at this day? The whole property and power of the country have been conferred by successive Monarchs of England upon an English colony, comprised of three sets of English adventurers, who poured into this country at the termination of three successive rebellions. Confiscation is their common title, and from the first settlement they have been hemmed in on every side by the old inhabitants of the island, brooding over their discontent in sullen indignation."
The feeling which Lord Clare described as animating the Irish tenants in his time has not yet passed away. Indeed, it would be idle to deny that its confiscation was intended always to be followed by settlement and by plantation. When King James I. obtained the province of Ulster, he distributed it among persons on condition that they should bring over Scotch and English settlers, though not to the exclusion of the native Irish. The estates were granted in Ulster, on the express condition that the holders were to place tenants on them, many of them in perpetuity, or with the express declaration that they were never to let their lands for uncertain rents, or for a tenure of less than 21 years, or three lives. The men who made these confiscations were far too wise to leave the persons coming in by right of conquest, as they did, totally uncontrolled. It is a matter of undoubted history that the conditions of the settlement obliged them to give secure tenure to their tenants for perpetuity, or else for 21 years. I will not trouble the House with any inquiry into the tenant-right of Ulster—but it should be borne in mind that the settlers in Ulster were of the same religion and race as the persons who got the estates, and had arms in their hands. It is a matter of history that the tenants did not get the tenure that was promised them. Inquiries were held, and the landlords were often questioned by the Crown why they had not given the tenure, and there then sprung up the custom among the landlords of not disturbing the men to whom they were bound to give leases, and thus the Ulster custom of tenant-right grew up, which virtually amounts to perpetuity—that is, there is no right on the part of the landlord to evict capriciously, or to raise the rent capriciously. This custom was not confined to Ulster. James I. settled large estates in Leinster and in Munster under the same conditions, and there were large settlements by Elizabeth in the confiscations which followed the Desmond rebellion, by which Raleigh got 30,000 acres settled in Cork on exactly the same principles. Sir John Davis tells us what James I. did in Munster and Leinster when he came to the throne. Great care was taken that the tenants should be protected in their holdings, and he adds that care was also taken that the occupying tenant should be continued at a certain rent and at a certain tenure. The result was that the land in a few years doubled in value both to the proprietor and to the tenant. I cite this in order to show that the original grants were not made to men for their own purposes. James I. expressedly said that they were not made, but were given to men to enable them to settle in the country for the good of the State. To this hour that trust has never been fulfilled, and now it is in the province of this House to enforce it. If matters had gone in the ordinary way I believe that in Munster, as in Ulster, this trust would have been at all events partially carried out; but then came what is called the Rebellion of 1641, that war which desolated Ireland and led to the Cromwellian confiscations and settlements of land. Though Cromwell made the same conditions, petitions were sent to him over and over again by his soldiers praying to be released from them in consequence of the troubles of the times; this continued down to the time of the Union, and the unsettled relations between the tenants and landlords have been the cause of all the miseries of Ireland. In a very remarkable speech made in this House in the year 1822 by Mr. Grant, afterwards Lord Glenelg, the remarkable fact was pointed out that invariably general disturbances in Ireland were created by local oppression. He was then speaking of one the most horrible disturbances which ever agitated the South of Ireland, and he said it originated in oppression on the part of an agent in charge of an extensive estate in the county of Limerick. He said that if we trace the history of Irish insurrection, we find that when once local disturbances originated, they spread through the country and became general. The reason of this is that unfortunately Irish tenants in every part of the country felt that they were insecure in not being allowed to remain on the soil of their native land; and whenever one landlord chose to exercise his power arbitrarily over his own tenants, distrust spread through the whole district, and distant tenants shared in it. We must bear this in mind, and I ask English gentlemen especially to consider these peculiarities of Irish society. I will now read two testimonies as to this difference between the landlord and the tenant. One is from a very able Report drawn up in 1842 by Mr. Otway, one of the Land Commissioners. He pointed out that the ruin of Irish manufactures had been caused almost entirely by the oppressive laws enacted by England. I do not like to mention those laws, for I know that no House of Commons would now dream of treating Irish manufacturers in such a way. Mr. Otway says—"Cromwell's first act was to collect all the native Irish who had survived the general desolation and who had remained in the country, and to transplant them into the province of Connaught, which had been completely depopulated and laid waste in the progress of the rebellion. They were ordered to retire thence by a certain day, and forbidden to repass the Shannon under pain of death, and this sentence of deportation was rigidly enforced until the Restoration. Their ancient possessions were seized and given up to the conquerors, as were the possessions of every man who had taken part in the Rebellion, or followed the fortunes of the king after the murder of Charles I. And this whole fund was distributed among the officers and soldier's of Cromwell's army in satisfaction of the arrears of their pay, and adventurers who had advanced money to pay the expenses of the war. And thus a new colony of new settlers, composed of all the various sections which then infested England—Independents, Baptists, Seceders, Brownists, Socinians, Millenarians, and Dissenters of every description, many of them infected with the leaven of Democracy, poured into Ireland and were put into possession of the ancient inheritence of its inhabitants; and I speak with great personal respect of the men when I state that a very considerable portion of the opulence and power of the kingdom of Ireland continues at this day in the descendants of those motley adventurers."
Mr. Otway went on to say—"It may be asked why the manufacturers of the North did not share the same fate as those of the South? But the question is easily solved by a glance at the state of the population of the province of Ulster. The settlement in Ulster was more complete and extensive than that in any other part of Ireland. The natives had been either wholly exterminated or driven into mountainous and remote districts. The landlords and tenants in the manufacturing districts of the North belong to one class. They did not regard each other as hereditary enemies. There was no legacy of oppression on one side and revenge on the other. The Ulster tenant felt (and feels) he had a property in his farm, something on earth he could call his own, and the fruits of his industry would be allowed to accumulate into a small capital, and, in point of fact, such accumulation did take place, for the greater part of the capital in the linen manufactures of Ulster was derived from the savings of agricultural industry, and hence arose the numerous class who were each at the same time a farmer, and a weaver, and a linen dealer (jobber)."
To these authorities I will add a greater testimony which I have never been able to read without a feeling of sorrow. It is from a Nobleman distinguished not only by his great scientific attainments, but also by everything that could adorn society, I mean the late Earl of Rosse. Writing in 1866, in reply to my own suggestions, his Lordship said—"The repeal of the Irish Act of Settlement by the Parliament of James II. gave the Protestant proprietors a fright from which they have not perfectly recovered even to this day. Since that time they have been persuaded that every change of policy or isolated disturbance threatens their titles. They seem to think that they only garrison their estates, and therefore they look upon the native occupants—I cannot call them tenants—as persons ready to eject them on a favourable opportunity. Hence the Munster landlord was afraid to give the persons who occupied his ground a permanent holding upon the land, or a beneficial interest in its occupancy. The old struggle in natural course produced the new interest of tenure, and Captain Rock and Lady Clare were as legitimately descended from the Catholic Lords of the Pale as Jack Straw and Wat Tyler were from the Saxon Thanes who fought at Hastings. There is, and until the relation between landlord and tenant is altered there can be, no accumulation of savings in the South of Ireland from agricultural industry, and hence there was not and can be no spontaneous growth of manufacturers from small capitals."
Again, the Earl of Rosse observed that there was a strong objection on the part of the landlords to make leases; and he likewise refers to the severance between the landlords and their tenants on the subject of the vote. He says that Members had been returned for boroughs who had expressed strong opinions against the rights of the landowners, and that the landlords were afraid lest some injustice should be inflicted on them. Lord Rosse proceeded to say—"Many are dissatisfied that leases are not freely given by Irish landlords. In the absence of a lease the landlord's honour is the tenant's security for fair dealing, and throughout the greater part of the province of Ulster, where the tenants by old customs, dating many generations ago, enjoy certain privileges, that security has been found sufficient. An attempt was made in 1852 upon imperfect information to improve that security, but it was found that the opposite effect would be produced, and it fell to the ground."
I have now brought down to 1866 the testimonies as to the state of feeling which exists between the landed proprietors and the occupants of the soil. However much we may regret that feeling, and desire to remove it, the Legislature must deal with circumstances and with feelings as they exist. No such feeling exists in England, and therefore English Gentlemen have difficulty in forming a correct opinion upon it; but I do not hesitate to say that there is a general desire on the part of the landed proprietors in Ireland to keep their tenants in a state of subjection to themselves. Remember that this desire is not confined to those landlords who may be described as being cruel and hard; it is shared in by landlords who would treat their tenants kindly, and even aid them in distress. How was the object of the landlords accomplished? Simply by the power of the notice to quit. I am speaking, of course, before the time the Land Bill became law. In a trial in which I was engaged I examined a gentleman who was believed to have a large number of notices to quit, but he denied it. I then asked him—"Did you not serve some last year?" "Yes," he replied, "but I do that every year; it is part of the management of my estate. I never intend to act upon a notice; but I want to be able to take any field or holding in case I should wish to do so, and, therefore, I give notice to quit each year." Yet this was a landlord of a humane and kindly character, who would not treat a tenant harshly. It is his desire to keep the tenants under his own power that so easily reconciles to his conscience the practice I have just alluded to. The Irish landlords think they can do much better for the tenant than he can for himself. I believe that a country in which you allow the mass of the population to be reduced to a state of serfdom never can be prosperous, never can be contented, and never can be peaceful. Bad landlords will abuse the power which a good landlord will only use for a beneficial purpose. The landlords who could serve notices to quit have two powers in their hands. They have the powers of capricious eviction, and the power of arbitratorily raising the rents. While there are landlords in Ireland who would scorn to do either of these things, there were others who did them with a reckless cruelty which had not a parallel in history. I do not now wish to dwell on the fearful scenes enacted between 1847 and 1852, but in a book of high authority, Mr. Ray's Social Condition of Europe, I find it stated that in one year, 1849, no fewer than 500,000 civil bill eject-ments were served in Ireland; and I may add that I myself have seen whole districts desolated. Sir Matthew Barrington relates that immediately Parliament passed the Poor Law the landlords of Ireland began to clear their estates by notices to quit, and by tumbling down houses. On many occasions the military were brought in to throw down houses, and hundreds of people were, to use an expressive phrase, thrown on the road, simply because the landlords wished to get rid of the superabundant population. Many measures, passed by statesmen with a most honest intention of doing good to Ireland, have produced results directly the reverse. This was because they were framed by men who had not the knowledge which can only be acquired by residence among the people, and by a long and intimate acquaintance with the circumstances. The case of the Poor Law was an instance of this, for it ought to have been foreseen that the giving of relief to the poor would lead to the very evil which followed. I will give one instance of what occurred. The matter came into a court of justice because the landlord, fortunately for justice, made some slight mistake in his proceedings. It was the case of an estate in the county Meath, and there were on it 27 families. It was admitted that their labour made the property rich and profitable, and that they never had been in arrear one half-year's rent during the 30 years that the landlord been in possession of the estate. The landlord got embarrassed, and he sold the estate to a gentleman who purchased it on condition that all the tenants should be evicted. The landlord concealed this circumstance from the tenants, and when he served them with notice to quit told them he did not intend to act upon it. Well, a jury of landlords gave to one of the evicted tenants the full value of the fee-simple of the land. Such things, it should be remembered, could not be done in England, for Henry VIII, got his Parliament to pass an Act that every landlord who pulled down a house should build it up again in six months, and in the reign of Queen Elizabeth another Act was passed that gave a legal right of relief to everyone who was born on the soil. If there had been a Law of Settlement in Ireland, many of the landlords who were now living on their estate would be in the workhouse to which they consigned their tenants. But there was a still more grievous wrong—namely, the power of the landlord to confiscate the improvements of his tenants in Ireland. All the improvements of the soil—certainly, all the improvements made up to a very recent period—were effected by the tenants. Yet there was nothing to prevent an unscrupulous landlord from confiscating these improvements; and, in point of fact, it was done over and over again. Lord Clarendon, I think it was, spoke of it in the other House as a legalized robbery. It was to that state of things that the Land Act was applied. I believe that any friend of the Irish tenant would act very wrongly indeed if he spoke of the author of that Act in other terms than those of profound respect, knowing, as I do, the difficulties he had to contend with, and the prejudices he had to meet. I give him every credit for that Act. At the same time, I regret to say it has failed, from a reason which I foresaw, as you leave to the landlords the power of eviction. In the circumstances of Ireland, no device that the Legislature can make can prevent them from converting that tremendous power into an instrument to render themselves absolute despots over their tenants. Still, the Act established a principle. It first legalized the Ulster tenant-right. Now, what is the meaning of that? As property which was only protected by custom, and to which the tenant had no legal claim whatever, except in justice and in honour, was converted into a legal property, that is a very great principle as applied to Irish land. Next, the Act gave the tenant a property in his improvements; that property formerly belonged by law to the landlords. Whenever a tenant did not hold under a lease, he was bound to surrender the lands with all the improvements he might make on it; but because justice and equity were required, the Legislature did not hesitate to override this legal power, and to overrule these covenants, and to declare that the tenant should not surrender his land without getting compensation for the improvements he had effected. I do not say it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) who first laid down that general principle, for Mr. Napier, the Attorney General of Lord Derby's Administration, brought in a Bill for Ireland, which would enact more strictly than did the Bill of 1870 that the tenant should be compensated for his improvements. Had that Bill passed into law a multitude of tenants would have been kept in their farms between 1852 and 1870, and many an act of wrong and robbery perpetrated in the name of the law would have been prevented. The Land Act has also established the principle that the landlord has not a right capriciously to evict, and that when he does so evict it imposes a heavy penalty on him. When a landlord evicts a tenant, except for certain causes, the tenant has in every case a right to be compensated. I think I may argue with much force that when the Legislature of a country has established a principle, it may fairly be called upon to carry it into effect. The Land Act has now been in force for five years; at first it did good, no doubt, and is still doing good; but it is also doing harm. I am bound, however, to say that if the landlords of Ireland had been actuated by a desire to carry out the intents of the Legislature the results would have been more satisfactory, and there would probably have been no necessity for me to introduce this Bill. The first thing I have complained of is that under that Act there have still been capricious evictions. I wish to avoid mentioning names, but probably everybody knows the county I mean, when I say that in a county where you are still maintaining the most severe form of unconstitutional law the whole district was excited by notices to quit served on the estate of one gentleman. ["Name!"] I will name the district—it was the county of Meath. Can anybody who knows Ireland deny that the whole county of Meath was agitated by notices to quit served by one man over his estate, in opposition to the strong remonstrances of others of his class, and that evictions followed? Give me the Commission of Inquiry for which I asked you last year and I will prove all my statements on this head. Then, in regard to destroying the tenant's claims for improvements, I must mention names, because unfortunately it has caused great excitement, and the honoured name of the late Duke of Leinster was mixed up with it. I do not believe that the Duke or his successor wished for anything of the kind; but late one night a document was sent round to all his tenants for them to sign, with a message that if they did not sign it they would be served with notices to quit next morning. The document purported to be a lease from year to year, so worded as to be a surrender by each tenant of all claims for improvements. Now, was it the intention of the Land Act that such things should occur? I do not like to say there has been a conspiracy to defeat the intentions of the Land Act, but I do say the generality of the landlords of Ireland have set themselves to defeat the Land Act in reference to the improvements by tenants. In proof of that I have here forms of leases which have been sent to tenants to execute, and it is a bad sign for the country that those documents have been sent to me privately and confidentially, begging me not to give names, lest those who sent them to me should become marked persons by the landlords. These leases are very restrictive. They are leases from year to year, and they contain a covenant at the end that the tenant is not to ask for compensation under any legislation, either of the past or (in some cases) the future. In another case a noble Lord, who I believe would do nothing cruel to his tenants, nevertheless had cruel agents, and they sent notices to every one of the tenants telling them there was to be anew letting and a raising of the rent beyond what many of those tenants could really afford to pay. If the tenants accepted the new letting, as in the end they did after remonstrance, they abandoned all claim for past improvements. Now, if such things were to be done, and they have been done throughout Ireland, every tenant should be apprised of what he was doing. When he signed the agreement he should have been acquainted with the fact that he was surrendering his claim for improvements, whilst giving his landlord an increase of rent. I believe that the good landlords of Ireland are acting unwisely in their own interests in not having a full inquiry into this matter. I consider that it is perfectly legitimate and fair for the landlord to raise his rent in certain cases; but I am certain that in a multitude of instances the increased rent can only be paid by the tenant because of the improvements he has himself made on the farms, and which the Legislature has declared to be his own property. In such cases the raising of the rent amounts simply to confiscation of those improvements. For that view of the matter, I have authority which will be respected by many in this House—a gentleman in the county Limerick, uttering the opinions of his father, the late Mr. Smith O'Brien. I am not a landlord, and therefore, perhaps, not qualified to give an opinion, but as far as I can bear personal testimony, I may say that in all cases of this kind in which I have been consulted, the advice I have invariably given to the tenant has been—"If you can afford to pay this increased rent, do so, rather than run the risk of eviction." I have endeavoured to state the real and true effect of the Land Act. It has been frittered away. It professed to secure the Ulster tenant-right, and it has failed. The whole voice of Ulster has declared it to be a failure. Even the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) has acknowledged its failure. I hope I shall not be considered as saying anything inconsistent with the credit due to the late Government for passing that great Act when I say that the subject was one which required far more delicacy of treatment and more comprehensive care. The Act, however, has undoubtedly failed to a great extent in preventing capricious evictions and securing improvements to the tenants. I therefore now ask the House to join with me in devising some means by which this unfortunate land question can be settled, and settled for ever, so that any man who tries to upset that settlement shall have all the honesty and intelligence of the country against him. I confess that in all these matters we must more or less touch upon the rights of property, or rather upon the principles on which the rights of property rest, and therefore questions are not to be lightly discussed, and I only regret that the Land Act did not succeed in so settling them as to obviate the necessity of any further interference. The House will now bear with me while I explain what I propose to effect by this Bill. I am perfectly satisfied that you never can give a tenant security of tenure, while you leave the landlord the power of arbitrary eviction. I believe, therefore, that I am right in proposing to take away that power from the landlord. I defy any man to tell me how to give security of tenure to the tenant whilst leaving the landlord at pleasure to alter the rent. If you can show me how to do that, I will be delighted to give up my Bill. I feel the responsibility of proposing this measure. I may almost say that I do it with reluctance, but I believe it to be absolutely necessary for the landlords of Ireland as well as for the tenants, for the peace of the country, and for the prosperity of all classes in the United Kingdom. I was going to say that this Bill was a permissive one, but that is not quite a proper word. I leave it to the tenant to claim the protection of this Act whenever he wishes to do so. The landlord, of course, has the power in any time to put an end to the state of things by serving a notice to quit, and therefore virtually neither the landlord nor the tenant need ever resort to this Act, although I leave either of them the option of doing so. I can conceive many cases in which a tenant holding land at a moderate rent, and living under such a landlord as some of those who sit in this House, would never have occasion to desire to resort to this Act. One other portion of this Bill refers to the better protection of the Ulster tenant-right, and another portion deals with some Amendments in the Land Act. These are only minor parts of the Bill, although I believe they are calculated to do much good for Ireland. The case of the tenantry of Ulster is this—In old times their ancestors, who were Scotch or English settlers, entered upon their lands and improved them. Those lands were made the subject of marriage settlements and family provisions, and in ancient times, beyond all question, they were entitled to what anybody would give for the tenant-right. At length the landlords tried to alter the state of things. It began with the Devonshire Commission, issued with the best intentions by Sir Robert Peel in 1845. The Duke of Devonshire said the Ulster tenant-right was giving the tenants a right in the soil, and he advised the landlords gradually to get rid of it. This was the beginning of the encroachments which had been made upon the Ulster tenant-right. The land- lords said to their tenants—"We won't allow you to sell your interest in the farm, except at a certain price." And I know that in the North of Ireland the price of the tenant-right is limited to two years' purchase. I say that, upon the principles of the Land Act, that is confiscation of the tenant's property. The Land Act recognized the custom as it had always existed; but how had the Act been interpreted? When the Judges came to interpret it, they said the custom which had been legalized was only the custom which existed at the time the Act was passed—namely, the restricted custom which had grown up since the Devonshire Commission. I have pointed out that the new lettings break the continuity of the title to compensation for improvements, and the result is very great hardship in many cases, because a man who made improvements before the Act passed can make no legal claim for them, although the Act shows that he has morally a right to do so. A landlord asks a man to give up his farm and take a new letting with this effect—that the Courts decide that the new letting breaks the continuity of title. Now, I believe that was not the intention of those who passed the Land Act; and another proposal of my Bill, to which I attach more importance, is that I propose to repeal the most mischievous clause in the Land Act, which provides that if a tenant is rated at over £50 he can contract himself out of the Act. The mischief of that is that it nearly counteracts all the checks put upon capricious evictions, and is a direct premium upon the consolidation of farms. Tenants themselves watch for that. A tenant who has 25 acres goes to his landlord and says—"If you evict another tenant and let me have his land, I can contract myself out of the provisions of the Act, and I will pay you the compensation." That has occurred repeatedly in Ireland. Of course the man gives an exorbitant rent for the land. Do not imagine that the day of exorbitant prices for land in Ireland is gone by. The competition is more and more close, and the competition is increased as men are returning from America, finding the country is not all they expected, and are outbidding others for the land. The result of that is in a great degree to promote the consolidation of farms. I, therefore, propose to repeal that power. I now come to the main provisions of this Bill. I propose that every tenant shall have permission to claim from the Chairman of his county the benefit of his improvements, and if he does that, I propose that a certificate shall be given him, protecting him against eviction by his landlord. That will establish in point of time a perpetuity of tenure. The great difficulty in anything of this kind is to get a tribunal which will fairly value the land. I confess that is a difficulty which I have found it very hard to meet. This idea of a valued rent seems to be getting largely hold of some of the landlords, and I see that some of them suggest the value should be fixed by the Government valuer. There are, I admit, some attractions in that proposal. Another suggestion is that the appointment of arbitrators should be vested in three Privy Councillors, and, sometime ago, I proposed that the Judges of Assize should appoint them. It is, however, a most difficult thing in the world to find a tribunal to which you can in trust the task. I, therefore, propose by this Bill that the landlord and tenant should each select one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators thus appointed shall agree on a third. That is the plan proposed by the Bill; but in Committee I shall be perfectly ready to accept any better method that can be suggested for the appointment of arbitrators. In cases where the landlord should not appear, I suggest that the rent shall be assessed by a jury composed of three common and three special jurors. I have inserted provisions for dealing with cases where arbitration absolutely breaks down. Those cases, however, I apprehend, will be of rare occurrence. Generally it will happen that the two arbitrators appointed by the landlord and tenant and a third selected by them will fix the rent. I defy the landlords to prove anything against that, excepting where the tenant wilfully interferes with the proper use of the farm, and then allows the landlord to evict. I propose to take away the landlord's power of arbitrary eviction and of exacting exorbitant rent. Those are really the two great principles of the Bill. It is easy to cavil at details, but those are not matters to be discussed on the second reading. The object of the Bill is to give the tenants perpetuity of tenure and a valued rent, with power to vary the rent after a certain period of time; and that principle has already been acknowledged in legislation. I propose that the tenant should still continue a tenant from year to year, with, however, protection against the arbitrary notice to quit. That will not leave him with more dominion over the land than he has at present. He cannot, for instance, plough up ancient pastures, and he is never to use the land but for the purposes of agricultural or pasture holding. If the land becomes more valuable he cannot let it out without the landlord's licence; but in cases of very large farms I propose to allow the tenant to sublet small quantities as a protest against the system of consolidating. That, however, is not a leading principle of the Bill, and might be amended in Committee. I believe we should extend the Ulster tenant-right in its original form to the rest of Ireland. A witness before the Royal Commission used the strong expression when he said that—"If you attempt to interfere with the Ulster tenant you make a Tipperary of Down." We can try if the Ulster tenant-right will not make a Down of Tipperary. The Ulster tenant-right, before it was legalized, was sustained by the Commissioners on the part of the landlord that any attempt to interfere with it would only lead to violence. We hear every day of the peace and the order of the North of Ireland. We also hear of its prosperity, and I am proud of it. The North of Ireland is my birthplace, and I am proud of its order and of its prosperity; but to what is the prosperity owing? Give to the people of the other parts of Ireland the same rights enjoyed by the Ulster tenant, and the tenant of Tipperary would be as loyal and as attached to his landlord as the tenant of Ulster. The Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench, a gentleman differing from me on every conceivable subject, has resided in Italy, and, in reference to the state of things in Tuscany, where a wonderful effect had been caused by Leopold the Reformer, he said that the attention of the English Legislature should be extended to the means of cultivating the soil in Ireland. I really propose nothing more than to extend the Ulster tenant-right to the rest of Ireland. You cannot do it by direct enactment. It is one thing to say you protect it where it exists, and another thing to say you protect it where it does not exist; but, practically, this Bill if fairly considered does nothing more than extend the Ulster tenant-right, and I believe it would be followed by the same results. I will now detain the House a few minutes by referring to some incidents which, I confess, have had effect on my own mind in reference to the value of giving security to the tenants. One of the incidents is an old one, as old as the days of Arthur Young, who certainly described in a striking way what was the benefit of giving security to tenants. He says that a man with a wife and six children met Sir William Osborne in the county of Tipperary. The man could get no land, and Sir William Osborne gave him 12 acres of heathy land, and £4 to stock it with. Twelve years afterwards, when Young revisited Ireland, he went to see the man, and found him with his 12 acres under full cultivation. Three other persons he found settled in the same way, and he says their industry had no bounds, nor was the day long enough for their energy. He says if you give tenants security, and let them be certain of enjoying the rewards of their labour, and treat them as Sir William Osborne did, there would be no better or more industrious farmers in the world. I have often thought of that, and have said that if there had been men like Sir William Osborne to give employment to those who have been evicted, and who took part in the Irish insurrection, there would not have been a better set of farmers in the Kingdom. Now let me refer to another case. A Roman Catholic prelate, whom I can respect as much as a prelate of my own Church, was examined before a Committee of this House, and illustrated the advantages of giving security to the tenants. He describes how he one day saw a man enter into occupation of some land. There was nothing but a barren heath, and he saw the man carrying on his back manure which he had brought from a road two miles distant. Two years after the Prelate again passed that way, and he found corn growing on what had been the heath, and a house built there. It had all been done by the man himself, and the simple cause, he had a lease, and was thus secure of his tenancy. The Prelate then went to another man who had no lease, and who said—"If I did the same as my neighbour has done my landlord would not only ask for an in- crease of rent upon my improvements, but also upon what I now hold." That is the sort of discouragement there is to industry all over Ireland, and it proceeds from the desire of the landlord not so much to extract money from the tenants—that is but an incident—but from the desire to keep the tenants in their power. Why, on some estates in Ireland they cannot marry, except with the consent of the landlord's agent, and at the risk of being evicted. ["No, no."] I assure you that those rules still prevail on many estates in Ireland. Another rule which used to exist was that the tenant should not harbour a man at night. There is a story of one poor boy whose mother had been evicted from a farm, and who sought shelter with his uncle; the uncle would have let him in, but his neighbours said he must not, or the agent would evict them all. Therefore, the boy was shut out, and next morning was found lying at the door a lifeless corpse. The men who had refused him admittance were tried for murder and were convicted of manslaughter, their defence being that they did not dare by the rules of their farms to give him shelter. Now, no rights of property can give a man such dominion as that over his tenants, any more than property can give dominion over the thews and sinews of your servants. Now, these evils can only be guarded against by taking away the arbitrary power of eviction, and allowing the tenant to hold his farm at a valued rent. The condition of every Irish estate was originally to give security of tenure. Your landlords have not done it. Your ancestors were placed there not to be lords over the people, but to settle and plant the country, and you are there still among the people whom you have neither conciliated nor subdued. There is not a landlord in Ireland who holds land except on trust for creating upon it a contented tenantry. I go upon the great principles of jurisprudence, which will allow no rights of property to stand in the way of the general good. I go upon the principles established by the Irish Land Act, and I ask you, as you value the peace of Ireland, to carry those principles into full and beneficial effect. I will say nothing more about, the peace of Ireland, or I shall be charged with making a stereotyped peroration. I have no official responsibility for the peace of Ireland; but I have the responsibility attaching to every man who takes ever so humble a part in public affairs to promote peace and tranquillity. I have the anxiety which any man must feel who looks back on the ruin, desolation, and misery brought to many parts of Ireland by that civil war—for it was a civil war—which has raged between landlord and tenant since the days of the Cromwellian confiscations, and who regards with trembling the indications of a renewal of the war. I rejoice to say that those indications have at present come only from the landlords. I trust they will cease before they come from the tenants. But it is only by giving protection to these tenants that you can have security against a return to that state of things which every man of right feeling deplored. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill."It cannot, however, be said that such apprehensions are unreasonable, and so long as they exist many will be reluctant to make leases. They think if they have to contend for their rights it will be better to do so with their hands untied. This apprehension with some goes even further, extending not merely to the leasing, but even to the letting of land. Some people ask the question—is it not much safer to farm the land ourselves? and in point of fact a great many small proprietors, just as in England, have long farmed their own estates, and with, I understand, a favourable pecuniary result. It is very desirable that the farmer should calmly consider all this, and ask themselves whether it is just to blame the landed proprietors, who, under these circumstances, hesitate to let on lease, and whether, if they were in their place, they would not, perhaps, do the same."
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—( Mr. Butt.)
said, that in the absence of the hon. Baronet the Member for West Sussex, he had been called upon to move the rejection of the Bill—in doing so, however, he would not detain the House at any length. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had remarked that if the Ulster tenant-right were given to Tipperary, Tipperary would become such a county as Down. Now, he had very high authority for stating that there was no county in Ireland more peaceable, as regarded its land tenure, than Tipperary at present. He disputed the facts of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick; and in questioning the hon. and learned Member's estimate of the Irish landlords, he appealed to the authority of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) on this point, who said last year that Irish landlords were no worse than other landlords. The object of the Bill was three-fold—first, to prevent eviction; secondly, to enable the rent to be fixed by a Chairman of a county or by a jury; and, thirdly, to give the tenant the power of sale. It was only necessary to mention these three points to show that no measure more subversive of the rights of property or more full of fatal precedents for England and Scotland had ever been introduced. He would like to know what Irish landlords, as a body, had done, or what their conduct had been, to justify such a Bill, which would not only virtually deprive them of their property, but would substitute the occupier in every case, where hitherto the landlord had had control over the estate? In fact, the landlord would be deprived of all interest in his estate by the Bill, and if that was done the sooner he got out of the country the better. His position would be reduced to that of merely a rent charger. He hoped both sides of the House would join to reject the measure in such a manner as to leave no doubt as to their opinion of its merits. He had observed that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick did not seem very anxious to refer to the Reports of the Committees of the House of Lords or Commons before the passing of the late Land Act, but went back 200 years and more for arguments to support his case. What had Lord Plunket said about such a mode of reasoning? His words were to this effect, that when abuses of 200 years' ago were alluded to, it was done for the purpose of idle invective and nothing more. The state of things to which the hon. and learned Member had referred had ceased to exist. If in any particulars the Act of 1871 had failed to carry out its object, let there be a Committee of inquiry. The Bill would introduce a gigantic system of copyhold. It would introduce fixity where there should be flexibility; it would reduce the landlord to nothing, and make the tenant virtually the owner; and it would have the effect of introducing a fresh class of proprietors much more selfish and unwelcome to the labouring class than the present proprietors were. There might be a small minority of the Irish landlords who abused their rights, but to pass such a measure as this on account of a small minority would be most destructive. And who would be benefited by the Bill? The existing occupiers only, at the expense of future occupiers. It struck him that the labouring classes in Ireland, once the matter was clearly put before them, would be the last to wish for such a Bill. He begged to move that it be read a second time that day six months.
in seconding the Amendment said: It would, of course, Sir, have been open to me to choose between the alternative of either walking out of this House without voting or voting for it, well knowing that the second reading of this Bill would not be carried; but I think it is a far more manly course to come forward here and state publicly what my opinions are. I think every one is entitled to his opinion on this subject; and I think it will be understood that in expressing my opinion, should I say anything to offend the prejudices of my Friends behind me, that offence will be unintentionally given. I am very anxious to hear what some of these Gentlemen behind me will be able to say that they have done on their own estates in Ireland what is rigidly required of them in this Bill—whether they will say that they have acted up to their own wishes, and have given to their tenants all those privileges which have been demanded for them by those who have introduced the Bill. Those hon. Gentlemen who do not hold property can perfectly well come to this House, promise anything, and see the landlord despoiled; for it cannot affect them a bit. I think myself that the Land Act is not as perfect as I should like to see it—I will go that length with the hon. Gentlemen behind me; and I would gladly support a measure that would give to the tenants in Ireland that security which the Land Act was supposed to have given them. I say that, because I happen to hold property in Ireland. I do not think I have ever done a harsh act to my tenantry; I have done my best to carry out the trust that has been reposed in me as a landlord, and yet no one has suffered more from misrepresentations in the public Press than I have done—accusations of harsh treatment have been brought forward against me, which, when brought to the test of investigation, have fallen to the ground, and I have received apologies from the reverend gentlemen and the newspapers who had made them. I look upon this Bill in a different light from those hon. Gentlemen who have come to this House to support it. I myself think that instead of its being called a Land Tenure Bill it should be called a Land Transfer Bill, for it virtually hands over the property of the landlord to the tenant. There is in the Preamble of the Bill these words—
Now, what class of the community at large does the Bill benefit? It certainly does affect the landlords, because, in my opinion, it robs them. But for whose well-being is the Bill? Not for the labourers, because there is little mention in this Bill of the labourer, and it does nothing for them. Do hon. Gentlemen think that this Bill will settle the question, and that the labourers, whose ancestors might have been on the land before the tenants, and who might think they had a better right to it themselves, would stand quietly by and see the landlord obliged to hand over his rights to perhaps a Scotchman? How is this Bill to act? First of all, it contains tenant-right; second, fixity of tenure; and thirdly, fair rent. How unfair this treatment will be in the case of a landlord who has endeavoured to do his duty by his tenants, and who has spent a lot of money on the estate! I know landlords who have sacrificed a great deal for their tenants. I think I can say that for the landlords. I will put it in this way. Supposing this Bill happens to become law, what would you do in the case of an estate on which there has been no expenditure, and another estate on which there has been a great deal of expenditure? As regards fixity of tenure, I myself am one of those who are familiar with instances in which the fixity of tenure would operate very hardly;—suppose the landlord had the misfortune to have a man who would not do anything in spite of all that you might do for him. Then as to the fair rent—what is a fair rent? There is an endless difference of opinion on the subject. If rents are to be paid on a valuation, and the tenant neglected his farm, the landlord would suffer, while the tenant would be barely able to extract a livelihood. Or you may often see, on the same townland, a man paying a high rent, but he is industrious and prospers, while his neighbour who pays next to nothing is lazy and starves. Who can say what is a fair rent under such contrasting circumstances? Then the Bill enables the tenant to break any contract he may enter into with his landlord. Well, if you legalized the breaking of contracts between landlord and tenant, you would go on and extend the same principle to all agreements whatever. I should like very much to say a few words about the South of Ireland. In Clauses 16 and 17 the Bill deals with middlemen. Perhaps the House does not know what a middleman is? The middleman is a man who begins by getting hold of a large tract of land, and then sublets it to different tenants. I look upon that class as one of the greatest curses of the country; for he it is who rack-rents the land, and brings odium on the real landlord. Did this Bill propose to get rid of middlemen? Not at all. Yet I know one of this class who pays some £20 a-year for a piece of land, and by screwing up the rents gets about £400 a-year from the tenants. I know cases in which the tenants are praying the landlord to step in and put an end to such a state of things. As to the system of allowing the Chairman to settle the rent, I doubt very much whether he will like it. I was told the other day by two gentlemen that in cases of capital crime it was impossible to get a conviction—I think that is a serious state of things—yet how would a jury of tenant farmers, in default of the Chairman, act under this Bill? They are men of the same class, living in the same neighbourhood, who would never incur the odium of putting up the rent. I think the Bill takes the land from the landlord, because he has not the power to get the smallest compensation from anybody. I will take Munster alone. There, I believe, the immediate effect of the Bill would be to put into the hands of the tenant farmers some £18,000,000 or £19,000,000 sterling. Again, I will take my own county of Kerry. Suppose the landlords there were to say—"I will grant the tenants leases in perpetuity for five years premium calculated on their present rental." Now, the valuation of Kerry is about £284,500, and farms in that county are let at about one-third over the valuation. Deducting £31,000 for valuation of towns, there would remain a total tenement valuation of about £350,000. If that were multiplied by five, it would produce £1,700,000;and that would represent the sum which the landlords of Kerry would be able to put into their pockets, provided they agreed to sell their interest to the tenants in perpetuity at the present rent. Yet this Bill would immediately put this sum into the pockets of the tenants, and the landlords would get nothing. As to the shooting provisions, it seems to be a strange thing to take away the amusements of a man. You want landlords to live in Ireland, and yet you intend by this Bill to take away their amusements. With reference to the sub-division clause, I cannot help thinking its effect will simply be to revert to the old pernicious system of middlemen. Every tenant of 400 acres would immediately set to work and divide it into 12 or 14 lots, and the melancholy result would be to have little cottiers all over the country. As to the labourers, the manner in which they are treated by the tenants is shameful—if a landlord used them so he would be held up as a target for every one to shoot at. It is a melancholy state of things to see our countrymen going out of the country; but then you propose to go to the other extreme, which would be just as bad. I know the South of Ireland, and I know the way in which the unfortunate labourer is screwed down by the tenant—it is something shameful. I am speaking of facts, and I will challenge correction. I have heard labourers say—"When anything is done for us in the House of Commons I hope it will be under the head landlord, and not under the farmer." I think the fixing of the rate by the Chairman and jury is most ridiculous; in fact, to speak of tenant farmers fixing a rate is pretty much the same as asking the butcher to fix the price at which the farmer ought to sell his meat. Perhaps the tenant farmer would like it, but I do not think it would be right. In every section there is something to operate against the unfortunate landlord. To show you this you need only take beef, mutton, barley, &c, with butter and pork. The landlord might stand some chance of getting a little more, but they are with the greatest care left out of the Bill. I have already described the Bill as one for the confiscation of the landlord's property—but it does not follow that it will really benefit the tenant farmers. Astonishing as it may seem, this Bill does not content the tenant farmers. Here is a resolution of the Farmers' Club in Cork—"Which will make the land more productive for the general good, and better secure the rents payable, and thereby promote the well-being of the community at large."
I do not expect this Bill to pass; but it is creating, and has created, a vast amount of mischief which cannot be eradicated. It has persuaded people in the South—and, in fact, all over Ireland—that they can acquire the property of the landlord, and by means of this House—it keeps up the continual agitation. I am only anxious to promote the welfare of the Irish farmer, and I will go any length to promote a Land Bill for the purpose of doing that; but I cannot pledge myself to support a Bill which transfers the property of the landlord to the tenant."That while thanking Mr. Butt for his exertions in the cause of the tenant farmers, we feel this Bill does not come up to our expectations."
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months"—( Mr. Clive.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
observed that the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) had taken a number of small objections to the Bill; but he had no doubt his hon. and learned Friend would be quite ready to meet those objections in Committee, and in particular in regard to those articles which the hon. Member had referred to as being left out of the Bill, he gave his vote for inserting them. The hon. Member had also objected to the proposal that the Chairman should settle the rent. As a matter of fact the Chairman did not settle the rent, but that was a point upon which an agreement might be come to in Committee. And so as to the shootings—he had no doubt the tenant would very willingly surrender them. He had himself introduced a Bill on this subject, which he preferred to that of his hon. and learned Friend. With regard to fixity of tenure it ran in parallel lines for nine-tenths of its course with the present measure, but there were other differences between the two Bills. He had every confidence they would carry this measure, or some one very like it, before long. In the division to-day there would no doubt be an English majority against it; but how would, the numbers stand with regard to the Irish Members? It was said that the agitation was fictitious—but the other night they did not venture to say that the agitation on the franchise was fictitious—and an agitation would go on until some Government stepped in and settled the question, he anticipated very much on the basis laid down by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. The hon. Member for Kerry had made a rather clever hit, in attempting to set the labourers against the tenants; but he thought the hon. and learned Member for Limerick would be well contented to leave the passing of the Bill to the labourers. He admitted that the hon. Member had acted a manly part in boldly stating his opinions, not contenting himself with giving a silent vote against the Bill; but he could not approve the suggestion he had made that those who had property in Ireland, but declined to carry out all the provisions of this Bill in the case of their own tenantry, had no business to vote for it. Surely, hon. Members might vote for the second reading of a Bill without being pledged to support all its details.
regretted that the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert), to whose interesting speech he had listened with great attention, had not imitated the judicial calmness of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick in proposing the Bill. He spoke of the Bill as one of landlord spoliation—of landlord robbery. Surely an hon. Member should not make such statements in the House without being able to prove them. If the Bill became law, it would not take from the landlord one acre—not one rood—it would not take from him one pound of rent, or one legal right he now possessed. Then as to the strange assertion that the Bill would take from the landlord and transfer to the pocket of the tenants of one single county, £18,000,000 or £19,000,000—the hon. Gentleman entirely misconceived the Bill, for every tenant who applied for security of tenancy must do so subject to having his rent revised. The remarks of the hon. Member for Kerry were entirely founded on misconceptions. It was desirable to disembarrass this discussion as much as possible of all irrelevant and irritating topics. The question was not one between class and class. In that, as in other cases, to do evil that good might come was the policy of inducing disaster through disaster. If they violated one right of the landlord, they would curse the country for generations to come with a sense of insecurity, which, of all things, was prejudicial to the interests of the tenant; and, on the other hand, if they violated one real right of the tenant, they would stop improvement, diminish rent, en- danger peace, and deteriorate the value of nearly every acre which the landlord possessed. Those who knew the Irish best knew that they would be the last to disturb social peace—what really brought about the disturbed state of things in Ireland was the perpetration of abuse. The two real issues before them were—Was the existing system of land tenure in Ireland defective, and, if so, was this Bill calculated to remedy its defects? In answer to the first question, he would briefly call attention to the state of Irish land tenure before 1870. According to the Valuation Returns prepared for the Act of 1870, they had above 20,000,000 of acres of valuable land in Ireland. Those 20,000,000 of acres were owned by some 20,000 owners, they were occupied by some 600,000tenants, and they were maintained by an agricultural population amounting to 4,500,000—being more than four-fifths of the entire population of Ireland. Of the whole number of tenants, about one-third pursued their industry under the tenancy known inaccurately as tenancy at will. To the Ulster tenant-right custom it was objected that it was a custom merely, and that it was not sanctioned by law: to leases it was objected that leases sometimes were so arbitrary that the tenants were better without them; and to tenancy-at-will it was objected, on the ground of its effect upon the chief circumstances of agricultural holding—namely, rent, tenure, and improvement: it dealt with rent by making it completely dependent on the will of the landlord, so that no tenant-at-will could know what terms, or at how large a rent, he would hold his land in the next year. It dealt with tenure by making it completely precarious, so that no tenant-at-will could tell whether he would hold his land the next year or not. It dealt with improvements by throwing the burden of improvements upon the tenant, while virtually enacting that when improvements were made by the tenant they should become the property of the landlord. Such was the character of the Irish land tenure before the Land Act was passed. The Irish Land Act proposed to legalize Ulster tenant-right; but various doubts and difficulties had arisen, and it was the object of the first part of this Bill to cure those doubts and remove those difficulties. Surely this part of the Bill was entitled to cordial support. It did no more than follow out the lines already laid down by Parliament, and only secured to the tenant the benefit which Parliament intended to secure to him. The Act recognized the right of the tenant to his own improvements; but omissions rendered that part of the Act almost nugatory. In particular it permitted a majority of the tenants to contract themselves out of the benefits the Act was intended to secure to them. The Bill proposed to remedy these defects. The Act dealt indirectly with insecurity of tenure, and arbitrary raising of rents, by inflicting penalties on a capricious or unjust landlord; and this part of the Act had proved ineffective, for it allowed the landlord to escape the penalties it was intended to impose; and the main purpose of the third part of this Bill was to remedy these defects and to procure for the Irish tenantry what the Land Act proposed to give them—security of tenure, security against arbitrary eviction, and against arbitrary raising of rent. The first principles of political economy asserted the right of the producer to what he produced, and in agriculture this could not be obtained without continuity of tenure. It might be obtained by custom, or, as in Scotland, by lease, or, as in many parts of the Continent, by the occupier being the proprietor, or, as now proposed, by statute; but obtained in some way it must be, if agriculture was to thrive. The reason was that agriculture, of all arts, most required time, and the best agriculture must require most time, for it needed many years to produce a profitable return to the farmer. He was no true agriculturist who thought only of the next year. The true agriculturist must look for the reward of present investment in future years, and sacrifice the immediate present to a future more or less remote. If we did not secure the farmer continuity of tenure, we must either paralyze his industry or subject it to confiscation, and in either case we should violate some of the first principles of political economy. For these reasons he supported the Bill, and he supposed it would be supported by the majority of Irish Members—he hoped it would not be rejected by a majority of Members from this side the Channel. Many of the sorrows of Ireland were due to mistakes committed in that House, and he prayed hon. Members to guard against committing similar mistakes in the future. Appealing to English Members he said, "We have to plead for you in Ireland." The repeated refusal of that House to pass measures introduced by Irish Members had a tendency to produce disaffection among the Irish people, who said it was useless to expect anything but kind words from the House of Commons.
said, he had listened with great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert), and admired the courage with which he pointed out what appeared to him—and, judging from the cheers which he received, what appeared to the majority in that House—to be defects which ought to prevent the Bill being read a second time. The first thing which struck him on looking at the Bill was what struck the hon. Member for Kerry—that there was a printer's error in its title, and that it should have been "Land Transfer Bill," because it was really a Bill to transfer property, or all that made property worth having, from one class to another; but he admitted the accuracy of the title, if the character of tenure in Ireland was to be inferred from the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the second reading, that nearly all the land in Ireland was held "by tenure of confiscation;" and this Bill proposed a tenure by confiscation. It was a Bill of confiscation, pains, and penalties, and nothing else. It enacted perpetuity of tenure at a valued rent; it took away the power of eviction, except for non-payment of rent or malicious waste—and the power of fixing rent—and it gave unrestricted right of sale. It thus gave unrestricted right to the soil; and to do these things was practically to dispossess the landlord of all control over the soil. To all intents and purposes this was a transfer of property from A to B. If this was a question of personal property, he should have no difficulty in finding words to describe the Bill in the reports of the Police courts. The hon. Gentleman who brought in this Bill had quoted words of Lord Clarendon which described as "legalized robbery" to appropriate improvements made on an estate without giving compensation for them; and the same term would apply to what it was proposed to effect by this Bill. He did not blame the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced it. Tenants were numerous and landlords were few, and the votes of tenants were protected by the Ballot. The hon. and learned Member was not only able and learned, but he had studied philosophy, and knew that political economy said that the great aim of statesmanship was the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and therefore this Bill regarded the happiness of the tenants, and paid no regard to the interest of the fewer number, the landlords. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said he had no property in land; to use an expression which he had seen applied to him in an Irish paper, he had not so much as would "sod a lark;" therefore he had not to consider how the Bill would affect himself. The Irish people and their Representatives were not to be blamed, because it was the treatment the Irish nation had received which was at fault. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not mean that in the sense of the noble Lord who cheered him. Hitherto the corner seat of the bench from which he spoke had been occupied by a noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu), of whom he might be permitted to say, that he and others on the Conservative benches thought that with the views he held as to Home Rule he had much better take his place on the other side of the House. It was the treatment Ireland had met with from the Imperial Parliament which was the excuse, apology, and justification for the agitation which rendered it necessary to lay such a Bill on the Table of the House. At the time of the Union, land tenure in Ireland was in all respects identical with land tenure in England and Scotland; but because the Irish farmers had votes and returned Members who held the balance between opposite parties in that House, things had been done by successive Governments which they never would have thought of doing otherwise for Ireland. The laws of political economy had been set aside, and concessions had been made that were not justified by right or reason, or by any consideration except the circumstance that Irish tenants had votes, and the votes of Members were wanted by the Government. The result had been that the Representatives of the occupiers of land—of those who experienced the inordinate, insane, land-hunger of Ireland—had come to the House with ever-increasing demands, and were always like the sons and daughters of the horse-leech, crying "Give, give;" and, like Oliver Twist, asking for "More." To show that he was not taking an extreme view, he would quote the Solicitor General of the Liberal Government in 1873, who then said—"The object of all law is to make men certain of their tenure of property." But the conduct of Governments had had the reverse effect, and had made landlords insecure. The first Irish Land Bill was brought in by Mr. Sharman Crawfurd in 1843, and all that it proposed to do was to give the evicted tenant compensation for improvements. In speaking upon this Bill, Sir Robert Peel discountenanced what was called fixity of tenure, or any alienation of the rights of landlords. Between 1843 and 1875 25 Irish Land Bills of varying scope were introduced; and speaking against one that was introduced by Mr. Maguire in 1863, Lord Palmerston said it was founded upon a violation of the natural rights of property. At another time that noble Lord uttered the well-known saying that "tenant-right is landlords' wrong." Parliament dealt with the question on the sound principles of political economy until we came down to the gushing Gladstonian treatment, and substituted passion and impulse for reason, by adding compensation for disturbance to compensation for improvements. At that time they might have expected the shade of Lord Palmerston to appear among them; if it did not, why was it? Why did he remain in peace in Westminster Abbey? According to his recently published letters, he believed that when he was gone there would be many changes which would produce anxiety and confusion in the country. Therefore, he would not have been surprised at anything proceeding from a certain quarter, and on that account he did not again appear on the floor of the House. But had the law of 1870, so pushed against the rules of political economy, succeeded? The statement now made, that there was an absolute necessity for the amendment of the law, showed that it had not. Even in 1870 there were prophets who said that even the measure of that year would not be accepted as a permanent settlement of the question. Since then a dozen other Bills had been introduced, and the House was now considering a Bill which was the corollary of that of 1870, in that it overrode law and covenant. Nothing would satisfy tenants until control of the land was taken absolutely from the landlords; that, then, was the result of wrongful Imperial legislation. What course, then, would the House take upon this question? He had no doubt as to the course of the present Government—he had no doubt they would stand by freedom of contract, and stoutly resist this Bill. Last year, in dealing with the Agricultural Holdings (England) Bill, and this year, in dealing with another Bill, they had stood upon the principle of contract, and he hoped they would not now coquette with Home Rule, in spite of the scandal of the Manchester Election. It was a scandal that both a Liberal and a Conservative should coquette with Home Rule and should pledge themselves, in order to secure the Irish vote, to consider a measure for the disintegration of the Empire. The great body of the Conservative Party were sound on this question, and he wished he could speak with equal confidence of the front Opposition bench. Would they speak out as Lord Palmerston would have done on this Bill had he been living? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) defended the action of the Duke of Leinster, when the Leinster leases were denounced as an infringement of the principle of the Irish Land Act of 1870. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Duke of Leinster had not gone beyond either the letter or the spirit of the discretion entrusted to him by that Act; and he declared that in the opinion of the Government tenants of above £50 were capable of taking care of themselves. He thought that the right hon. Member for Greenwich might well have been in his place during the present debate, and he owned he was curious to know how he should have spoken and acted on this Bill. Last year the House had before it the Agricultural Holdings (England) Bill, when several Amendments were moved by the late Solicitor General (Sir William Harcourt) providing that landlords should not be allowed to contract themselves out of the Act. Whenever the House divided on those Amendments he remarked that the right hon. Member for Greenwich glided silently into the Lobby and voted in favour of those Amendments. He wished, therefore, to know whether it was to be a point in the Liberal creed that there should be interference between landlord and tenant; and not only an interference to set landlord and tenant at variance, but to invest the latter with the greater power? If so, doubts would arise as to the rights and the security of property, and it would be a long time before the Liberal Party would cross over to the Ministerial side of the House. He trusted that the Irish Members would have the courage to follow the example of the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert), who had followed the hon. Member for Roscommon ["Hear!"] in his opposition to this Bill. He regretted that when an hon. Member had shown a disposition to form an independent view on this subject, the mention of his name should be received with a sneer by some Irish Members. He found by the report in the newspapers that the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don), having attended a meeting of his constituents, was asked whether he would support this Bill. He said his present impression was that he could not do so, and he put this question to the tenant-farmers, who supported it—"How would you like the value of your heifers to be appraised by a jury of butchers?" That was the argumentum ad hominem. Something was then said about the hon. Member resigning his seat, and he gave an answer which he thought did honour to him—"If I cannot hold the position of your Representative without sacrificing my own conscientious convictions I will resign with pleasure the representation you confided to me." He (Lord Elcho) was desirous of paying due tribute to the character of an Irish Member, and he trusted many other Irish Members would follow his example. If the Home Rulers supported a Bill of this kind the House would see what chance the Irish landed proprietors would have in an Irish Parliament elected under Home Rule. He knew the course that would be taken by the great majority of the English and Scotch Members; but a policy subversive of the rights of property could not be established for political and party purposes in a neighbouring island without exercising a prejudicial effect on this side the Channel. He had on a former occasion quoted stronger expressions used by Scotch farmers than anything they had heard during the debates on the Irish Land Act. That was the result of breaking through sound principles, and when they once departed from them there was no saying where they would stop. He trusted that English and Scotch Members, including the Members of the front Opposition bench, would put their feet firmly down, so that there would be no coquetting with Home Rule; and that the supporters of this Bill would be told there was no use in bringing forward a measure subversive of the rights of property. Every man interested in the rights of property of whatever kind should resist this attempt to palter with and upset those rights which were the real basis of the social system. This Bill established fixity of tenure with regard to land, and the House might just as reasonably be asked to pass a Bill affecting the monetary interests which established, for the benefit of the borrower, fixity of loans at fair interest, the rate of interest to be fixed by a jury of borrowers, and a free right of sale of the loan. He trusted that the Bill would be rejected by such a majority of English and Scotch, with an infusion of Irish Members, as to show that the security and rights of property were still main objects which it was the duty of the Government and of the Imperial Legislature to maintain.
Sir, the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) has been an attempt to show that the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick is an interference with the rights of property. This I absolutely deny. Much depends upon what is included in the term, "rights of property." The noble Lord evidently thinks it is an essential part of the rights of property that the landlord shall be able to dispossess his tenant at short notice, and shall be entitled to put upon the land any rent that he pleases. The position taken by the noble Lord and those who have joined him in opposing this Bill really comes to this—that they think that the Irish landlords have a perfect right, whenever they so please, to serve notice to quit upon the occupiers of the land, and to dispossess them of their holding in the soil. Sir, we take a different view. We contend that the only right of the landlord is right to a fair rental for his land, and that he is not competent himself to fix thatrate; and we contend, moreover, that the safety of the State absolutely requires that even the nominal power of dispos- sessing the whole of the occupiers should be taken away from the very few individuals who hold it. We know that this power never can be brought to bear en masse; but, nevertheless, every individual of the tenant class lives under the apprehension of being one day made the victim of that power. I have as much respect for the rights of property as any hon. Member who has addressed this House: yet I am one of those who approve of this Bill, not merely as to its principles, but as to all its details. I pointedly refer to its details, because we must all feel that the details are necessary to give effect to the principles of the Bill, and that the mere assertion of approval of the principle would really mean nothing. The Bill is not only worthy of support, but it calls imperatively for the support of those who represent Irish constituencies. There can be no doubt that the legislation of 1870 on the Irish land question was not conclusive. As one of those who warmly advocated the measure of 1870 in the hope of giving Irish farmers that security against eviction and its consequences to which they were entitled, I may add that my expectations were not realized: at the same time, every fair man will admit that the position of the Irish occupier is better since the Act of 1870 came into operation than it was previous to the passing of the Act. Whether we look at the actual and possible advantages or at those general principles to which it has given the sanction of the law, we must admit that the Act conferred certain benefit. That Act of 1870, at all events, by giving the tenant the inalienable right to compensation for certain improvements, has proclaimed that he has claims to the soil, which previously did not apply to the tenant exclusively, but to the owner of the land. Under the Act tenants have received a sum amounting in the aggregate to £1,000,000, where, but for that Act, they would not have received one farthing. To that extent the Act of 1870 has worked beneficially. But, nevertheless, I cannot admit that the Act of 1870 has settled the land question. On the contrary, there are special grounds for the introduction of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. The Act has not given the Irish farmer complete security against eviction and its consequences, and without complete security against eviction and its conse- quences the Irish farmer never can be content. The way in which the insecurity of tenure affects the Irish farmer is twofold. First, it renders him liable to be dispossessed of his land, leaving him in an almost destitute state, and without the means of beginning life anew. The Act of 1870 was intended as a remedy for these evils. The Act did not say—"You must not evict," but says—"If you do so the law will impose penalties in the shape of fines." It was thought the imposition of fines would have a double effect on the landlord; but all our experience of the working of the Act has clearly proved that the obstacles thrown by the law in the path of the evicting landlord are wholly insufficient to prevent him from evicting. The Act is wholly inadequate to save the tenant from passing through an ordeal prejudicial to his mind and his body, and destructive of his attachment to the institutions of his country. The most that can be said of the Act is that it has to some limited extent checked the process of evicting, and to some extent diminished the fearful consequences of eviction. Under the law as it stands the position of an evicting landlord is in no sense materially changed—he can evict as much as ever he could, and I deny that he is a material loser—all he wants is to find some one who will recoup the outlay of the outgoing tenant in consideration of his getting the tenant's holding. The landlord has good reason for believing he will not be much of a loser. He prepares to dispute the claims of the tenant, knowing on how slight a foundation his claims rest, and knowing that his object is to secure all that he can. Long before the case comes to be tried the landlord has had transferred to his pocket more than the sum likely to be awarded to the tenant. The Act of 1870 has provided the tenant with an arena where he can meet his landlord, but from which he always retires landless. All his claims are resisted step by step, and, resting upon uncertain foundations, are diminished to the lowest extent. The Court feels—and I think with truth—the tenant asks for more than he is likely to get, and that makes the Court give him less than he is fairly entitled to. There is room for disputation as to what are and what are not improvements, and as to whether the tenant has or has not enjoyed the benefit of the improvements fully accomplished—there is no certainty as to the sum to be awarded. No two of the 30 Judges agree. Where one Judge gives £50 another gives £25 for a similar claim, and another £15. It seems impossible to set up a standard by which claims can be equally decided. Then there are deductions to be made. So that so far as tenant's compensation goes, the result left to the tenant is almost equivalent to nothing—whatever may be the decision, the tenant is landless and ruined—driven from his old home, and without the means of providing himself with a new one. It is my opinion that this is a just description of the working of the Act of 1870 in three out of four of the Provinces of Ireland. This state of things not only justifies, but renders absolutely necessary, such a Bill as that of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. The Act of 1870 created great expectation in the minds of the Irish farmers. But what do the tenants see? Not only that the landlord can evict without loss, but eviction may be a source of absolute gain. The result is a state of apprehension and discontent, which may be easily imagined when the causes which give rise to those feelings are discussed. Men live in apprehension of being evicted and ruined, I assert, without fear of contradiction, that even when living under the best landlord, he is merely at the mercy of that landlord's will. They know that the will of the landlord may be capricious, and there is the universal desire to be delivered from that precarious condition. Uncertain of the nature of their tenure of the soil, depressed with the disastrous consequences of eviction, they have no more faith in the realization of their wishes under the present Act than they have of the Man in the Moon. They believe this Bill affords the best means of providing for their security against eviction and its consequences. I am not the less disposed to believe that the landlord has certain inalienable rights. Those rights I take to be, getting a fair rent for his land, and providing against the land being sub-divided at the mere will of the tenant. In case the landlord and tenant are not able to agree, the question of improvement might be decided in Court. It is admitted that there are cases in which sub-divisions are most injurious to the public interest, and there are cases in which sub-divisions might take place with advantage; and here I would say the right of the landlord to interfere with his tenant ought to end. All I would say is that the tenant has a right to farm the land at a reasonable rent—I would invest him with fixity of tenure as long as he paid his rent—with the absolute right to dispose of his interest as tenant whenever he was disposed to leave, or when the time fixed by law for the expiration of tenancy has expired. It may be superfluous to mention that Ireland is a country occupied by tenants, and I merely direct attention to the obvious fact in order to call attention to another fact, equally obvious, that the power of the landlord to select others to take the places of those in occupation is a perpetual temptation to evict, and a frightful source of eviction. Under the Bill the premium now paid to the landlord for the eviction of a tenant would be gained to the tenant if he wished to, or was compelled to, sell his interest. We all know that landlords get enormous amounts from those anxious to get into the occupation of their farms. We are told if this Bill passes the tenant will neither be able to cultivate his farm nor pay his rent. If injurious consequences follow from payment to the tenant, injurious consequences must certainly follow from payment to the landlord. No one ever heard a landlord say to a tenant—"You are offering me too much; if you pay me so much I must reduce your rent." On the contrary, the very utmost price is insisted upon and the rent not unfrequently raised. What would be the effect on the occupiers of land in Ireland of giving them absolute protected right, and forbidding the landlord to interfere, unless the tenant failed to find a purchaser or unless the tenant failed to pay the rent? The main cause of eviction would be removed, and in addition the tenants would feel that if the worst happened and they were evicted, they would be supplied with ample means to set up a new home or to emigrate without the risk of incurring dire want. We all know the pertinacity with which the Irish farmer sticks to his land. The reason is that the loss of it entails ruin; and the principal reason against the late Act is that its provisions have failed to arrest this ruin. The agents of the Land Court go in, and through their being skilled in the process everything is undervalued—it may be fairly said that the tenant receives only nominal prices. By the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman the reverse of that would take place. The tenant would have something real and tangible to dispose of, and the probability is that instead of getting less he would get considerably more than what, from a British point of view, might be deemed the exact value of his land. If the tenant was empowered solely to dispose of his interest, the sale of the tenant's interest would be as rare, if not rarer, than that of landlords is now. The first and dearest wish of an Irish farmer's heart is to retain possession of his farm and transmit it to his child. By this Bill his means of gratifying his wish would be considerably increased. He never leaves his farm except under compulsion, and I believe the sale of the tenant's interest would be less frequent than that of the landlord. We have yet to consider what would be the effect on the general condition of agriculture by the change proposed in the Bill. The tenant would have in reality increased incentive to keep his land in the highest state of cultivation. His two objects now are to supply the landlord with rent and to supply his family with something to eat. Under the Bill proposed he would work to keep his farm in the possession of his family, with a view of keeping his land in such a high state of cultivation that if necessity compelled him to leave he could take it into the market and sell at the highest possible price. If he allowed his land to fall into waste, if he exhausted it, he would get little in comparison with what he would get for better working. All who know the Irish farmers know that there are not in the world more industrious or honest men, or men more alive to their own advantage. All they want is to be enabled to work for themselves as well as their landlords. They want a right in their farms, either by fixidity of tenure or by an honest right to sell their tenant-right. These rights stimulate them to the utmost exertion of which man is capable, and which create universal contentment, where there is now discontentment and uneasiness. There is one thing against which I am anxious to guard myself, and that is, against the suspicion of making an attack on the Irish landlords. I deny that they are oppressors. I believe, as a body, they are men with good feelings towards their tenants—not only feelings of self-interest, but feelings generous, good, and benevolent. It might be asked why, if this were so, should there be any interference? Why not leave them as they are? Well, it was an intolerable grievance for the farmers to be dependent on the will of a body of men. It was not less true that the Irish farmer lives in constant dread of being evicted. The old despotism was intolerable, not because feudal serfs were decapitated, but because they were liable to decapitation. They asked for an Act of Parliament to release them from eviction and its consequences, and from being completely dependent on the will of others. We live under a Sovereign renowned for Her virtues and whose benignity is proverbial; but if any one proposed to invest even Her with all the prerogatives of the Tudors or Stuarts it is certain the nation would go frantic at the proposal to place such power even in such hands, as a traitorous attempt on public liberties. The Irish farmer never can have more satisfactory foundation than the virtues of a class, which I am ready to recognize, but who are subject to human frailties, and cannot always overcome the temptations to which they are exposed. The Bill of the hon. and learned Member would invest the Irish occupier with greater security, and would in no way impair the rights of the landlord. The tenant never again could be disturbed so long as he paid a fair rent. The question of sub-division would be regulated on public grounds, and there would be no more profits from eviction. The landlord would only be entitled to interfere in case of the transfer of land, or in case the tenant, on leaving, failed to find another tenant to purchase his interest. As to the question of rent to the landlord, the principle of valuation has been already admitted. No one ever lets a farm without having it valued. The valuation should be such as to inspire and command public confidence. Such confidence could never be inspired by any valuer who was the mere nominee of the landlord. The Bill would not involve any great sacrifice; but even if it did, I have such an idea of the chivalrous sentiments of the landlords of Ireland that I believe they would make such sacrifice in order to secure the repose of the country and the satisfaction of the people. The Irish land question is such that an Irish Parliament, even when incorporated with an English Parliament, is entitled to deal with. If Irish landlords would bestow on the tenant fixity of tenure, subject to a fair rental, with the right to dispose of their interests and to invest those interests with the sanction of the law, it would be impossible for the Imperial Parliament to interpose its veto. It has often been said that this is a question which can only be settled by a local Legislature. But what are the peculiar arguments to be submitted to the Lords and Commons sitting on the other side of St. George's Channel, which cannot, with equal force, be submitted here? For my part, I cannot understand why reason and argument ought not to be as potent in this House as in any other place in the world. You do not say that our organization here is less potent than it would be in other parts of the United Kingdom. The Imperial Parliament, by settling this question, would give Irish occupiers that sense of security in their holdings which is essential to their happiness, would confirm their confidence in its justice, and crown the strength of the Imperial Government.
said, he should endeavour to compress his observations into the smallest possible compass because of the lateness of the hour; but it was right he should state at the outset that the Government felt bound to give a most decided opposition to the Bill. The last speaker (the O'Donoghue) had referred to what might happen in an Irish Parliament, and the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had said he felt sure that an Irish Parliament would not inflict wrong on Irish landlords. He did not know how that might be, but he was convinced that in no reasonable deliberative Assembly in the world, representing not only owners and occupiers of land, but also all other classes interested in the real welfare of the community, could such a measure as the present ever become law. The measure before the House consisted of three parts—The first related to the Ulster custom; and the Preamble of the Bill stated that in order effectually to carry out the intentions and object of the Land Act, it was essential to make provision for the enforcing of those customs. Now, the provisions of the Land Act with respect to the Ulster custom rested on this basis. Parliament recognized in Ulster the rights of property in the landlord; but it also recognized that those rights had, by usages varying in different parts of the Province and on different estates, become subject to certain limitations on behalf of the tenant, and the Act legalized those limitations. But this Bill proposed to reverse the procedure of the Act of 1870. That Act provided that it should rest with the tenant to prove the usage with respect to his holding; the Bill placed the onus of proof on the landlord. It proposed that all holdings in Ulster should be subject to the most extreme tenant-right prevailing in any part of the Province, unless the landlord—on whom they threw the utmost difficulty of proof—was enabled to prove the contrary. So far, then, as the Ulster custom was concerned, the Bill could not be considered as proceeding on the principles of the Land Act or as being framed with a view to carry out the intentions of that measure. It took a totally different point of departure, ignored what had been done by the Land Act, and by the provisions it proposed to enact with regard to the Ulster custom, would deal most unfairly with the landlords of that Province. For its effect with regard to many recent purchasers of land would be this—that in cases where persons had given high prices for properties because they were subject to certain limited customs, it would impose on the properties so bought a tenant right of the most extreme extent, and transfer to the pockets of the tenants sums for which they had never paid anything, and to which they were in no way entitled. Again, it would deal most unfairly with existing owners in Ulster, who had purchased from their tenants the tenant right. It was impossible to create a custom by law. A custom might be legalized, and that they had done by the Land Act, but there they must stop; and, on the part of the Government, he was bound to say that he could not assent to any Bill which dealt with the Ulster custom on any other basis. The second part of the Bill related to compensation to tenants for unexhausted improvements. Now, the contention of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Butt) was that certain landlords in Ireland had induced their tenants to contract themselves out of the Land Act in respect of their rights for unexhausted improvements, and he gave two instances, as to one of which he gave no name. He mentioned a case of an estate in Meath. Perhaps he referred to the case of Mr. Preston.
said, it was not that estate—he alluded to the Meath case only in reference to the service of notices to quit, and the consequent disturbance of the peace of the whole county.
:If the hon. and learned Gentleman did not refer to the case I have mentioned, I cannot tell to what he alluded.
I had better mention the name. It is Nicholson, and the case related to the service of notices to quit.
:Why, that case occurred 10 years ago. It was an old habit of the hon. and learned Gentleman to seek to support his proposals by resuscitating that which he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) feared was not likely to tend to the promotion of order and peace in Ireland—the history of ancient wrongs. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Leinster leases. What happened in that case? Undoubtedly these tenants, having holdings over £50 value, contracted themselves in their new takings out of the benefit of compensation under the Land Act. But why did they do so? Because in obtaining fresh leases of their farms at the rents agreed upon they unquestionably received fair compensation for the improvements they had made. In considering the question before the House, it should be remembered that the value of land in Ireland had enormously increased of late years, and that not so much from the action of landlords or the improvements of tenants as from other causes, such as the greatly increased price of produce—and tenants, finding themselves in possession of farms at rents which were fixed, perhaps, at the time of the famine, wished that those low rents should continue not only for their own lives, but also for the lives of those who succeeded them. The landlords, however, naturally thought that they had a right to share in an increase of the value of their own land which was due to an increased demand on the part of the consumer for the article produced and not to any act of the tenants themselves. Their right to do so would not be questioned in England or in Scotland; but as regarded Ireland it was claimed—and the claim was urged by an ex-Professor of Political Economy—that the tenant, who was essentially a temporary occupier of his farm, should have, not only a proportion, but practically the whole of that which in all other parts of the Kingdom was recognized as belonging to the landlord at the termination of the tenancy, and to the tenant up to that date. The fact was that tenants under the Land Act, if their landlords tried to exclude them from their rights to compensation, could appeal to the Chairman of Quarter Sessions; and were entitled, if holders under £10, to as much as seven years' rent for disturbance, and also to the value of any unexhausted improvements that might be left. Why, tenants in Ireland were in an infinitely better position than those in England or Scotland—for in England they were not entitled, even under the recent legislation, to anything more than their unexhausted improvements. In Ireland they were also entitled to compensation for disturbance; and if under £50 they could not contract themselves, under the Act, out of any claim for compensation which the Land Act allowed them. It might, indeed, be said that the terms of the Act rendered it impossible for any Irish landlord to carry out a scheme of such wholesale eviction as had been referred to by one or two speakers during the debate, but which he could not believe ever existed. He now came to the third part of the Bill, as to which he really must quote the words of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Butt), in order to show what the House was called upon to accept. The hon. and learned Member spoke to this effect—"Until the land question is settled you will never have peace and contentment in Ireland. It cannot be settled without security of tenure, and you cannot give security of tenure without depriving the landlord of the power of eviction and fixing the rent at which the farm is to be held." But what reason had there been shown to the House for this change beyond an old story of landlord tyranny in Ireland, composed of anecdotes dating from any period within the last 500 years, except the present time? What proof had been shown that this revolution in the interest of the tenant and against the landlord was really required? They had hardly heard lately of evictions. What was the extent to which they had gone? He had taken some trouble to make himself acquainted with the facts for the last year, 1875. He found that there were 686 evictions in that year, out of nearly 600,000 occupiers of land; and of these something like two-thirds were for non-payment of rent. Of the residue, there were instances of all kinds to show that the eviction was rarely, if ever, the act of the landlord—they were for debts due by the tenants to other creditors, or arose from quarrels between relatives, decrees in bankruptcy, orders of the Landed Estates Court, and legal causes of various kinds. In many cases the tenants were re-admitted, and in some, where the eviction was for non-payment of rent, compensation was, he believed, voluntarily given by the landlord. These facts showed that the case attempted to be made was really as unsubstantial as it could possibly be. The Bill, in fact, was not wanted by the good tenant. The good tenant had security enough at present; for, under the provisions of the Land Act, no landlord in his senses would try to evict him. The tenant on whose behalf the Bill was promoted was the man who did not pay his rent, and who allowed his farm to deteriorate from year to year; and it was asked that that man should be put in permanent possession of his farm, in order, forsooth, that having deteriorated it to the utmost extent, he might be enabled to sell his interest in it to an incoming tenant—perhaps even more insolvent than himself. But they were told by the hon. and learned Member that the proposal was in accordance with the principles of the Land Act. Well, it was not for him to defend the principles of the Land Act. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite might take that task upon themselves. But he ventured to say that the Land Act never was intended by Parliament entirely to take away from the landlord the right of evicting tenants from his property. It was intended to deter landlords from capricious evictions, and that he believed it had succeeded in effecting so far as legislation could possibly effect it. Now, by what process did the hon. and learned Gentleman propose to carry out the third principle of his Bill? The tenant was to give notice that he required his rent to be fixed; and he and the landlord were to agree, if they could, on an arbitrator for that purpose, who was to be a person practically engaged in farming land in the division of the county in which the land was situated. The arbitrator was to fix the rent of the farm and to do so without reference to the rent being paid for it at the time by the tenant; and it was gravely argued that the decision was likely to be a fair one as between the parties. But if by chance the landlord should object to his rent being dealt with in that way, then the tenant was at liberty to appeal to a jury. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) ventured to think that no description of such an appeal could be more true than that which had been so wittily and courageously given by the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don), when he said it was like asking farmers to submit the price of their fat heifers to a jury of butchers. The jury would be selected from the special and common jury lists of the county in which the farm was situated. He had endeavoured to ascertain how the juries at the last Spring Assizes, in some purely agricultural counties, were composed, and he found that in the county of Clare the common jury panel consisted of 137 farmers and 29 persons of other classes; and the special jury panel of 40 farmers and 8 of other classes. In the county of Limerick the special jury panel included 33 farmers out of a total of 48, and the common jury 137 out of a total of 141; while in Cork County the common jury consisted of 164 farmers and 73 persons of other classes; and the special jury of 30 farmers and 18persons of other classes. The jury, then, would be a jury of farmers, and could be nothing else, and by their decision the future rent to be paid by a farmer residing in their locality was to be fixed. The decision was to be subject to the determination of the Chairman of the county that it was reasonable, but if he should think it was not, which, he should like to know, would soonest tire of the discussion—the jury or the Chairman? In point of fact, the Bill—or this portion of it—would take from the landlords and put into the pockets of the existing tenants that reversion of the landlord's property which had hitherto been considered as a principal portion of a landlord's rights. And how would it affect the improvement of land in Ireland to place the landlord in the position of a rent-charger, and to deprive him of all inducement to reside upon and manage his own property, and to aid in those thousand ways in which a resident landlord could, the moral and physical well-being of the community in which he was interested? Would not such a measure discourage him absolutely and entirely from expending any of his own money on a property of which he was no longer master? So far as the rest of Ireland was concerned, apart from the existing tenantry, he ventured to say it would be the worst Bill that could be passed. It provided that where farms existed of more than 60 acres, they might be divided, and let to subtenants. But it might be said that the landlord could, if he chose, object to such a proceeding. Why should he object, when he was deprived of all interest in his property? Would not the result of this be a return to the old exploded system under which the great majority of the land of the country would come into the occupation of a class of middlemen who would sub-divide their farms, the population would be increased as in the earlier part of the century, and you would have, in the end, such a lamentable conclusion as the Famine of 1847. Or, on the other hand, if such sub-division did not take place, by giving to the existing occupiers the monopoly this Bill would confer on them they would debar all other classes from all chance of becoming occupiers of land, a position which agricultural labourers and industrious men of all pursuits were so desirous of obtaining. He could see no reason which would justify the House in assenting to such a proposal. Ireland was in a condition of progressive improvement—the comfort and wealth and contentment of the tenantry were increasing in spite of this agitation, and he trusted the House would not, at this period of the history of the country, afford any countenance to a measure which appeared to ignore those principles of right and justice on which alone the prosperity of a people could be based.
said, he had wished to state to the House the reasons why he and those with whom he acted, whilst regarding the first and second parts of the Bill as suggesting Amendments of the Irish Land Act, some of which at least were entitled to favourable consideration, with the view of better carrying out the main provisions of that measure; yet, on the other hand, believed that no sufficient grounds had been or could be shown for such a total departure from its principles as was proposed by the third and admittedly most important part of the Bill. As, however, the few minutes then remaining would be quite insufficient for the purpose, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—( Mr. Law.)
said, that under the circumstances referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman he thought it but fair that the debate should be adjourned.
hoped that the earliest possible day would be fixed for the renewal of the debate.
also strongly entreated and pressed the Government to grant a day for the resumption of the debate.
proposed that the debate should be adjourned till Monday next.
We have already fixed Monday for the Budget, and it can hardly be suggested that we should displace the discussion of the Budget for that of a question which, after all, is one of abstract policy—a question of great interest, no doubt, but one in reference to which no reason can be shown why we should disturb in its favour the existing arrangements as to the public Business. I have no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to obtain a day by the usual means and resources at the disposal of all hon. Members, for the continuation of this discussion, which will be equally fresh even if it is not renewed for a month.
said, he only suggested Monday in order that on that day a future day might be fixed for renewing the discussion.
Motion agreed to.
Debate adjourned till Monday next.
And the House having gone through the Unopposed Business on the Paper—
House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.