Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question (2nd April), "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Question again proposed.
said, that the House found itself in a very peculiar position with regard to the Bill. The Government had framed it, in their judgment, on lines of justice, for the removal of gross grievances affecting the economic wellbeing of the larger class of the people of Ireland, and they had framed it also in the interests of peace and of social order. What was the nature and character of the Opposition with which they were confronted? They were confronted by an Opposition so riven and distracted by internal differences of opinion on this topic that down to this hour it was impossible for anyone to understand whether the Opposition as a body really approved or disapproved of the principles of the measure. The Debate was less than academic, because from the point of view of the Opposition it approached to unreality itself. The right hon. Member for Dublin University viewed the measure as a disastrous and confiscatory one, and one, therefore, to be opposed to the "last extremity." But there was a first extremity to consider, namely, the Second Reading of the Bill, and that was not to be opposed. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, who exhibited a luminous mastery of the subject, approved of ninety-nine-one-hundredths of the Bill. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham, while agreeing in this matter to follow the lead of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, made statements which he heard with regret, and almost with pain, with reference to the conduct and utterances of Members on the other side of the House. But they might have regard rather to the conduct than the language of the right hon. Gentleman. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh (Mr. Dunbar Barton) was not marked by the irreconcilable tone of the right hon. Member for the University; on the contrary, the hon. and learned Member was for patient inquiry into the merits of the measure with a sincere desire that Ireland should benefit by its provisions. Now he came to the hon. Member for North Armagh. There, again, they found irreconcilability itself. The hon. Gentleman disapproved of this measure, but admitted that "a Bill" upon this subject was necessary. Yet though he spoke at considerable length, he gave the House not one spark of light or leading upon what that Bill should contain. But there was another Member who might be called as directly as any a representative of the Irish landlord class, and that was the hon. Member for Guildford. That hon. Member's speech was irreconcilable in tone and purpose, but in it their was one scintilla of light. The hon. Gentleman said, in effect, this:—
That Bill, the hon. Gentleman told them, should provide that when the statutory period of tenancy came to a close, be it in 10 years or 15 years, and when the parties to that tenancy, they being the landlord and the tenant, did not make a change in the conditions, then no change of conditions should ensue! What a remarkable contribution to the Debate and to the solution of the question! With all his professions of anxiety for the welfare of Ireland, they expected from the hon. Member some feast of fat things for the starving peasantry; but he seemed to be willing to say to the tenantry of Ireland that all he could do for them was to—"I am willing to agree to the proposition that after this protracted inquiry, and in view of the great suffering on the part of a large body of my fellow-countrymen, a Bill should be introduced and passed."
"…cloy the hungry edge of appetite
For there was nothing substantial in the suggestion he made. He might be asked what was the reason for the Bill, and there he found himself in direct opposition to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman said the Bill was not necessitated by the Act of 1881, it was not a corollary of that Act, but it was in contradiction of the very spirit of that statute. Now, what were some of the main provisions of the Bill? In the first place, it was intended to correct what in practice had been found under the Act of 1881 to disinherit a large portion of the tenantry of Ireland from that which, according to the spirit of the Act, was meant to be their inheritance. There were certain persons and certain holdings excluded from the beneficent provisions of the Act of 1881. Future tenants were excluded, although they had been created future tenants by the ejectment notices under the subsequent Act of 1887. Subletting tenants were excluded, although the landlord's security for his rent was absolutely unimpaired. He was told it was contrary to the spirit of 1881 that such people should have their rights guaranteed to them.By bare imagination of a feast."
said his hon. and learned Friend would remember he was rather hurried last night. It was possible, therefore, he might not have made himself perfectly clear. He believed he said—if he did not he intended to say—that with regard to the removal of all these exclusions he agreed in principle with the Government Bill. There might be some discussion in Committee, but in principle he did not object to the removal of any of the exclusions.
was glad anything he had said had evoked the right hon. Gentleman's interposition, tending as it did to clear the air. To pursue his argument, might he say it was not only persons who had been excluded from the benefits of the Act of 1881, but, by virtue of their location, holdings? The hon. Member for South Tyrone referred to the case of demesne lands. Well he might. What was the meaning of the exclusion of demesne lands from the ordinary statutes referable to agriculture? It was that as they were, as was said in Scotland, the policy of the landowner, the surroundings of his residence, that which gave pleasure and amenity to his home, they should not be made subject to conditions with regard to perpetual tenure as other land was. But when they had a landlord disappearing, when they had his demesne falling into ruin, when the land of that demesne was let, not for 20, 30, 60 years, but let in perpetuity, what was the reason of that land being treated on any different footing from the rest of the land in Ireland? There was also the case of the town parks, a not inconsiderable class of holdings. He had sufficient respect for the Judges of his own and every other country not to presume to comment upon their law in the application of the provisions of a statute, but as to the interpretations placed upon the Act of 1881 he had his own opinion. It was a matter of historical occurrence that, as years had gone on, the areas of holdings which were considered towns had been limited and limited, with the result that the areas of land falling under the exclusion of town parks had been extended and extended. In the old time, or near 1881, a town was considered to be a place where, roughly, there were 2,000 inhabitants, but now it was whittled down to a town or village of 300 inhabitants. But there was a far more serious thing to be consideerd On what principle were fair rents fixed under the Act of 1881? The language of the Act was that—
Would the House believe that the breadth and comprehensive power of those words had been whittled down by definition and sub-definition and sub-sub-definition, by interpretations of the Act, by administrations of the Act, until such an inroad had been made in the breadth of the provision that there was now left but a narrow strip of the ordinary signification of this plain English language? The intention Parliament had in passing the Act of 1881 was made perfectly clear by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. The right hon. Gentleman said:—"no rent shall be allowed or be made payable in any proceedings under this Act with respect to improvements made by the tenant."
He further said:—"The tenant's improvements were the tenant's own property, and he would not admit the principle that the time during which he had enjoyed these improvements was any reason for their passing away from him."
That was the principle of the Act of 1881, and he would now explain why he did not consider the spirit of the Act of 1881 was controverted in this measure. What had been the history of this matter? A fair rent was, according to the Act of 1881, to be adjusted by the valuers viewing the soil and the improvements upon it—that was, the improvements made by the tenant or his predecessor in title—and by a just reckoning, for the purposes of exclusion from rent of what those improvements were worth. The first step in the declension to the state of things which the Bill sought to remedy took place when the Judges of Ireland were asked to define "improvements." Laymen afflicted with common sense would have said that "improvements" were "whatever improved." "Oh, no," said the Irish Judges, "improvements mean executed work—something involving capital expenditure;" and they further said, in substance and effect:—"It is much better, I think, that those who make the improvements should have the whole benefit of the improvements."
Such was the finesse of Irish jurisprudence. Having got improvements into the category of works, the Judges proceeded to rule that what the tenant should be allowed was some kind of interest on the capital he had expended on those works. That was going pretty far, but apparently, the opinion of the Irish Judges, when it came to be administered and applied, was not going far enough. He had an extraordinary tale to tell, in connection with the next declension. The Judges, having given that decision, pointed out that the Act declared that both the interest of the landlord and the interest of the tenant should have regard paid to them, and they laid it down that that regard was to be paid, first, by giving the tenant an allowance by way of interest on his capital, and afterwards by allowing him and the landlord to share in the subsequent remainder profit. But would the House believe that, when that decision of law came to be administered by the Sub-Commissioners in the fixing of the fair rents, all of this remainder profit, or balance of the improvement value in which the tenant was to share, went to the landlord?"If a man has got labourers in hundreds upon the land, and improves it by their labour, that is capital expenditure; but if a man has only his own arm to improve the land, that is not improvement; that is tillage of the soil."
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman refer us, in support of that statement, to any specific evidence of the Commissioners?
The House will find it in page 7 of the Report.
I mean the evidence, and not the report.
said, his hon. Friend would find in the report 10 or 15 references to evidence on the point in the Blue Book.
I challenge the hon. and learned Gentleman to produce any evidence in support of his statement.
said, the answer was, that there was evidence from Mr. Bailey, Mr. Doyle, and Mr. Greer, also two Lay Assistant Commissioners, as well as the County Court Judge of Kerry, and Mr. Heard,—
How, then, did the Government propose to remedy that sore grievance of the tenants? Not by any new departure, but by going back to the lines of the Act of 1881: for the policy of the Bill was that the increased letting value from improvements should and must go to those who made those improvements, according to the spirit of the Act of 1881 and the clearly expressed intentions of its authors. Only in that way could they promote industry on the part of the Irish tenants; only in that way could they produce, not only a sense of individual contentment, but a new sense of social well-being; and only in that way could they secure the great national benefit which would ensue when, the tenants being guaranteed in the fruits of their industry, the soil of Ireland would be made to yield its utmost. It was said that in this question of improvement the Government were going back to prairie value. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was not content with that, for he had said they were going back to no value at all. But to say they were going back, in a chronological sense, to prairie value was absurd, and it was in direct conflict with the entire agrarian history of Ulster, seeing that the rights of tenants in Ulster were, nine-tenths of them, entirely analogous to those rights which they proposed to crystallise in the Bill, and to give to the tenants of the rest of Ireland. He was, however, in great sympathy with one remark made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh. "Prairie value," said the hon. Member; "but it depends on what prairie value." Of course it did. If they had the prairie value of Winnipeg in County Donegal that prairie value would be the best value the landlords of the county had seen there for centuries. What the Bill, when passed, would compel the valuers to do was, not to go back to the time of Brian Boru or to the time of the creation of man, but to judge of the capacity of the land, and, bearing in mind the improvements that brought it up to its present condition, fix a fair rent upon the land with that capacity and as at the present time. That was not prairie value in the historical sense at all. It was bringing the relations of the parties connected with land up to date. Then there was the question of occupation-right. It had been assumed by some hon. Members that they must take the value of the occupation-right in the sense of the price which had been paid by the purchasing tenant to get into the holding, and that then they should deduct, reckoning by such price, after they had assessed the fair rent. But this occupation-right was not to be reckoned or valued after the fair rent had been fixed; it was to be one of the things which entered into the judgment of the valuer in assessing the fair rent. What was the occupation-right? It could not be expressed otherwise than it was expressed in the Bill. The occupation-right in the Bill was stated to be the right of the tenant to the continued occupation of his holding. What did it matter what he paid for it? What had the valuers to do with that? He might have got it for a mere song; but if he had a statutable right to continue for ever, the valuers were deprived from valuing that tenancy on ordinary competitive principles, and they must value it on the principle of a fair rent apart from such competition. The occupation-right was the right to have the holding and to hold it against all comers, and when they extinguished the competitive value in that sense, then they had material for fixing a fair rent, taking the view that there was a right of occupation, but apart altogether from what that right of occupation cost the person to get it. The land was to be rented as land with all its improvable capacities in view. He took his stand here on authority, and he cited the judgment of Chief Baron Pallas on this very case. The Chief Baron said:—"that the practice was to give to the landlord, after allowing the tenant a percentage on his outlay, any remainder of letting value due to the tenants improvements in the soil."
It was suggested by one of the speakers the previous night that when the land was let the parties had not in view the improvability of the soil; but the judgment of the Chief Baron proved that that improvability was taken into account, and was part of the ground upon which they came to an arrangement. As to everything else which was done to the soil by the tenant or his predecessors in title, the Government meant to make it clear that the whole of that should go to the tenant and his successors in title. It had been said that this Bill was a Bill for confiscation. It was not a Bill for confiscation: the law that confiscation by law should principle of the Bill was to declare by cease. The Government desired to abolish confiscation by law and to replace it by a system where industry would be secure of its reward. This question of rent upon improvements was very near the root of the entire controversy, and he should like to give an illustration from experience in Scotland upon this subject. It was said they were legislating upon novel principles in Ireland. They pointed to Ireland itself, and they replied that apart from legislation they had the case of Ulster, where, by long custom, the very rights they wished to set up by this Bill were enjoyed to the advantage of landlord and tenant. But, turning to the Crofters Act of 1886, the case of Adams v. Dunseath was, he was informed, quoted before the Crofters Commission, and they were confronted with some of its doctrines. He did not know what the dicta of the Judge, who so ably presided over the Crofters Commission and the Highland Commission, were; but they made very short work of Adams v. Dunseath. What the Crofters Commissioners had to do was analogous to what the Land Commissioners had to do in fixing a fair rent. A sub-section of Section 6 of the Crofters Act of 1886 stated that when an application was made to them to fix a fair rent to be paid by a crofter, the Commissioners, after hearing all the parties and considering all the circumstances of the case, the holding and the district, and after taking into consideration any permanent or unexhausted improvement in the holding executed or paid for by the crofter, might determine what should be a fair rent. When the Crofters Commission commenced their operations, application was made to them, on the one hand, by the tenants, that they should be credited with the entire value of the improvements, or, rather, that the improvements should not be reckoned against them; and, on the other hand, by the landlords that doctrines analogous to those in Adams v. Dunseath, and the refinements and distinctions that applied in that cause should be applied to the Scotch practice. What did the Crofters Commission do as recorded in their Report for the year and a half ending 1887? The head of the Commission stated that in determining a fair rent they had to consider the facts as between man and man. The wealth of the landlord or the poverty of the crofter did not touch the fairness of the rent, but the improvements that had been effected did touch the fairness very closely. And then followed these dicta, which looked almost like a direct paraphrase of the language of the right hon. Member for Midlothian in advocating the principles of the Bill of 1881:—"The increased letting value caused by the improvements is not due to the creation solely of the tenant, but the result partly of the expenditure of the skill of the tenant, and partly of the inherent capabilities of the soil. Of these two elements, however, the first is supplied solely by the tenant, and the second—the inherent capabilities of the soil—is portion of that which has been let to him by the landlord for the term of his lease."
In another passage of the Report Sheriff Brand said—"If the landlord made the improvements the crofters should pay a rent on them. If the crofter made them he cannot be asked, in fairness, to pay a rent on them."
That was the principle of this Bill. He had shown how the principle expressed in the language of the Member for Midlothian, in introducing his Bill in 1881, of giving the tenant everything which was due to him by reason of improvements, made by him or his predecessor in title, had been whittled away in Ireland until they had only got a narrow strip left, while it was not whittled away in Scotland at all. In Ireland the principle intended by the right hon. Member for Midlothian, as that upon which fair rents should be fixed, had been restricted point by point; but in Scotland they had fair rents on the principle of fairness per se. He would read one passage from the recently issued Highlands and Islands Commission Report, for the special purpose of showing what the Act of 1881, if it had been interpreted in such a sense, would have done for Ireland, and what they wanted this Bill to do for Ireland in the future. Sheriff Brand said—"The Commissioners are allowed to take into consideration how far the tenant has already in substance been paid for what he did. It cannot be a fair rent to charge a crofter rent on his own improvements for which he has not, in fact, received an equivalent."
Would that the following could be said of Ireland in connection with the administration of the Act of 1881!—"Before leaving this part of the subject-matter, we deem it right to place on record the results of our observation of the effect of the Crofters' Holdings Act of 1886. Our inspection of lands throughout the counties mentioned brought us into immediate proximity with many crofting townships, as well as with the individual holdings of many crofters, and accordingly we derived materials for judgment from a very large portion of crofting area."
It could not be concealed from the eye of even the most casual observer, this improvement due to the assessment of fair rent, coupled with the security of holding. The improvement was so marked as almost to transform many a country side in Scotland. For instance, the Commission found that more attention was being paid to cultivation, to rotation of crops, to reclamation, and to the maintenance and repair of township roads. The Lord Advocate, the author of the Statute, might well look upon that Report with extreme gratification. The Act was framed on principles which had not been misinterpreted, but it was framed on the same principles on which it was meant to frame the Act of 1881. They were not laying down new lines. They were going back to the old lines of 1881, but, in the light of Scottish experience, with a new determination to make those principles effective in law. When the example of Ulster was cited, and when, for instance, it was pointed out that the landlords' right of pre-emption did not exist in Ulster, and that there the presumption as to who executed improvements was practically what it was in this Bill, it was urged, "Oh. Ulster is different!" The taunt had been urged against a large portion of the Irish people that their indolence was the cause of their lack of prosperity, and they had said:—"Our opinion is that, speaking generally, the Act has had a beneficial effect, and particularly in the following directions:—In the first place, the fixing of a fair rent has to a large extent removed from the mind of the crofters the sense of hardship arising from the belief that they were made to pay rent on their own improvements, or otherwise made to pay an excessive rent for soil of poor quality. In the second place, the combination of a fair rent, with statutory security of tenure, has not only taken away or allayed causes of discontent, but has imparted a new spirit to crofters and imbued them with fresh energy."
That was true. But he did not ask people to judge by Ulster, but by the effect of the principle on a race akin to the Irish—the Highland population of Scotland. We found in the Highlands a people like the Irish people. They were alike in constitution and temper, alike in the chronic agricultural distress in which they had been plunged, alike in their passionate love of country, and alike in the fact that when they were placed under happier social and economic conditions they were able in any continent of the world to adorn and become illustrious in any rank of life. To a people so constituted, if they changed the economic conditions under which industry was conducted and made labour sure of its reward, they would find the like results in Ireland among Irishmen that they found in the Highlands. It was said that unless the Bill was amended it would be a "duty" to throw it out in another place,—that the same treatment should be meted out to this Bill as to the Home Rule Bill. In another place the Home Rule Bill was thrown out on Second Reading. Yet this Bill was not even to be attacked on Second Reading in this House, and what the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and his party thought not good enough for them was to be good enough for another place. He hoped such advice would not be taken, and that the Bill would be approached in a more reasonable frame of mind. The Government were prepared to adhere firmly to the great main lines of the Bill, not with the idea that it would bring contentment alone, but that it would bring national benefit. Taking the direct and indirect number of those who were affected by this measure, he reckoned them at not much under two million souls; to whom they wished to give a new sense of fairness as between man and man, by the elevation of tenant-right to that level which the honour of Parliament itself was pledged to attain to by the Act of 1881, and which they now declared in unmistakable language. These things reacted on the whole body politic, bringing fresh security to labour, and a fresh title by the way of justice to contentment and to peace."Don't judge by the people of Ulster; they belong to a different race; they came from the South of Scotland."
said, the Bill was admitted on all sides to be necessary, and if it had been presented to Members as explained by the Chief Secretary and the Solicitor General for Scotland, they would not have had so much opposition to it from the Conservative side of the House. He regretted, however, that the Chief Secretary, in his provisions relating to evicted tenants, did not go a step further by introducing, on behalf of those tenant-farmers who throughout the land agitation honestly paid their rents, clauses to grease the wheels of the Land Purchase Acts. Differing from the hon. Member for South Hunts, he did not object to the right hon. Gentleman giving a subvention towards the evicted tenants, provided he gave it out of Imperial funds, but he should oppose its being given out of the Irish Church Fund. His view of the Bill had been exhaustively and ably dealt with by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and with most of his views he concurred. Reading the Bill in the light of the explanation given by the Chief Secretary and the Solicitor General for Scotland, he did not believe there was any force in the allegation that it would reduce rents to prairie values. The intention of both sides of the House was that the tenants of Ireland should not be charged rent upon their own improvements. That the tenants in Ireland had been charged upon their improvements in times past no one could deny. He himself had had a long experience of the Land Acts in Ireland. He remembered hearing the County Court Judge of Fermanagh, when administering the Act of 1870, warning the landlords that if they did not honestly conform to the provisions of the Act and carry out the intention of Parliament, they would meet with a social revolution. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin University had described this Bill as a revolution—and no doubt, in his estimation, the Act of 1881 was a revolution. If it were, it was a revolution which the landlords had brought upon themselves by reason of the opposition which they gave to the Act of 1870 and the attempts which they made to defeat the intentions of Parliament. With reference to the first clause of the Bill, he understood that the reduction of the judicial term was advocated during the sittings of the Cowper Commission; and before the Select Committee one of the ablest of the County Court Judges in Ireland—a man who had had experience not only of Ulster but also of the South and West of Ireland—gave it as his opinion, having been a member of the Cowper Commission, and having been engaged in the administration of the Act of 1881, that the 15 years' term was too long, and that the ten years' term would be fairer and would work more justly to both parties. He was not prepared to differ with the opinion of so able and high-minded a Judge as the Recorder of Cork, and therefore he most gladly supported this provision in the 1st Clause of the Bill. But a matter of great difficulty was raised when they came to consider whether tenants now holding under the fifteen years' term should be allowed to come into Court at the end of ten years. He was quite willing to agree to the proposal provided it was feasible, for he did not believe it would work any substantial injustice to the landlord. But how was it to be done? It was estimated that there were 240,000 tenants in Ireland holding under a judicial term, nine years of which had already expired, and who would be ready to walk into Court. In addition to that, every tenant excluded from having a fair rent fixed under the Act of 1881 would also be ready to walk in. By what machinery would the Government fix all these rents? They might appoint 200 or 300 temporary Sub-Commissioners, but that would never settle the land question because there would be no end of appeals if the appointments made were of a temporary character. If the Chief Secretary thought he could get over the difficulty by adding 30 or 40 sub-Commissioners to the present staff he was labouring under a great delusion. With regard to town parks the absurd position to which that question had been reduced by the recent decision of the Court of Appeal, in the case of Archer v. Caledon, had rendered it absolutely necessary that the House should, in clear terms, either define in accordance with their intentions what a town park is in so many words, or define it by the population limit. As regards future tenants he was at one with the Chief Secretary as to the first portion of Clause Four. It was reasonable to say that a man who became a future tenant by the operation of the 7th Section of the Act of 1887, his old tenancy having been thereby determined, and who was afterwards re-instated, should be re-created a present tenant. But the Bill did not stop there. It said that any future tenancy, created before the 22nd of August 1887, was to be turned into a present tenancy. Why should that be? The Government of 1881 stated that upon no terms would they consent to extend present tenancies beyond those existing at the date of the passing of the Act of 1881, or created between the latter date and the 1st January 1883. He wanted to know who made the suggestion that future tenants who entered into contracts after the passing of the Act of 1881, and before the passing of the Act of 1887, were to be turned into present tenants? [AN HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member for South Tyrone"]. If that proposal emanated from the hon. Member for South Tyrone, for whose opinions and common-sense he had a great respect, all he could say was that he did not agree with him. He certainly would be no party to supporting the second portion of Clause 4. Clause 5 was the clause of the Bill, which, so to speak, had raised the dander of the landlords. He did not believe that clause, as explained by the Chief Secretary and the Solicitor General for Scotland, would have the effect that was anticipated by the advocates of the Irish landlords. But if the right hon. Gentlemen's intentions were to be carried into effect, they must be put in the Act in plain language. The Chief Secretary must not let loose a large number of sub-Commissioners over the country with the Section as it now stood. If he did, each Sub-Commissioner would interpret it as he pleased. The third sub-section of the Clause dealt with the increased letting value caused by reason of the inherent capabilities of the soil. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin University used the words "unearned increment." He did not think the phrase "inherent capabilities of the soil" was at all the same as "unearned increment." If the construction of a railway, for instance, benefited a man's land, that benefit was unearned increment. The late Mr. Butt, who was one of the ablest lawyers of his day, in his learned treatise on the Act of 1870, gave no sanction to such a doctrine as that enjoyment would amount to compensation for improvements, and he laid it down that, so long as the land was in the tenancy of the tenant, he was entitled to the full benefit of the increased value caused by the capability of the soil. He thought the landlords of Ireland had no ground for the belief so common among them, that their rents would be reduced to prairie value by this clause of the Bill. They had heard a great deal about Adams v. Dunseath. He had been engaged in a great many land cases in Ireland since October, 1881, down to the present time, and he had often to refer to that case; but until he heard the evidence of Lord Justice FitzGibbon before the Committee, he had never heard it suggested that a tenant having his rent fixed should be allowed anything in respect of improvements, except the interest upon the value and cost of the improvement works. He was so surprised at the answer of the Lord Justice that he availed himself of every opportunity to ask Members of the Bar, as also legal and lay sub-Commissioners, this question:—
Not one of them so understood it. No doubt what the Lord Justice said was perfectly accurate, but it was never so understood, and it was a curious thing that in 14 years there had not been a single appeal on that point. If this clause were put into intelligible language he should support it on the same grounds as the hon. Member for South Tyrone. As to pre-emption, in Ulster they had got no pre-emption, and in that respect Ulster differed from the other three provinces. It might be unjust to take away the right of pre-emption which the landlords enjoyed in the other three provinces, but in Ulster they never had the wholesale evictions of which they heard in other parts of Ireland. They had, in Ulster, farms descending from father to son ever since their ancestors came over from Scotland and England. No doubt the right of pre-emption might be useful, as the Member for Guildford contended, in keeping down the exorbitant prices paid by the tenants for the goodwill. With reference to Section 11, he thought it was perfectly just, and he should heartily support it. Reference had been made to the use, by the Member for South Tyrone, of the word "confiscation" in connection with the Redemption of Rent Act. The Member for West Birmingham seemed to take exception to the word, but anyone conversant with the administration of the Redemption of Rent Act would know what confiscation was. A man holding under a fee farm grant asked to have a fair rent fixed; he had built a good substantial dwelling-house, drained, fenced, and tilled his farm in the best possible manner. He goes into the Court under the Redemption of Rent Act, and what is the result? He got his rent fixed, no doubt, but because he was a fee-farm tenant, and not included in the Act of 1870, it was fixed on every single improvement. What was that? He called it confiscation. Another injustice was, where objection was taken because a portion of the farm was sub-let, even though the landlord might have been the party who sub-let. On that ground the tenant was held not to be in possession of the farm. The result was—the tenant, though he might be rack-rented, got no relief except the dismissal of the orignating notice with costs. That was a case which had come within his own personal knowledge, and occurred in the County Fermanagh. If that was not confiscation he did not know the meaning of the word. Next, as to the 14th Section, he confessed he did not understand it at present, but he had conferred with the Solicitor General for Scotland in the matter, and he thought it would be amended. There never was a greater curse in Ireland than the hanging gale—that was, the tenant was allowed to get one year in arrears, and then if he went for two or three years in arrears and could not pay up, the landlord might turn him out. The provision might work a little hardly, and perhaps a little injustice to the tenants for the next year or two, because the landlords might put on the screw and bring ejectments. But it was a step in the right direction, and if the clause carried out the right hon. Gentleman's intentions as he understood them from the speech of the Solicitor-General for Scotland, he would cordially support it. Those with whom he was in touch in Ulster believed that the Chief Secretary was sincere in his efforts to pass this Bill. He believed he could pass it, but it could only be by making some concessions and, above and before all, by making his intentions clear on the face of the Bill. The tenants in Ireland generally owed a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for South Tyrone for taking so much interest in elaborating their grievances before the Select Committee and for advocating their interest through the country. He, as a humble Member of the Conservative Party, viewed with the greatest horror, and, if he might say so, disgust, the manner in which his action had been treated by a section of the Unionist press in Ireland. He believed the hon. Member honestly acted according to his convictions, and that no pressure, from whatever source it might come, would make him deviate from the path he believed to be just."Did you ever understand that the decision in Adams v. Dunseath, after giving the interest on the improvement works to the tenants, declared that anything remaining should be distributed between the landlord and the tenant?"
said, the observations of the hon. Member who had just spoken, whether they were laudatory or critical of the provisions of the Bill, had no particular bearing on the question whether the Bill should be read a second time. He cordially joined in the well-merited compliment which had been paid to the Solicitor-General for Scotland. Scotch law, he believed, was as complicated as any other, but he ventured to suggest that the Irish land law had been so embroiled by the cumulative subtleties of the Irish tribunals that, originally complicated, it now almost passed comprehension by the human intellect. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not had a long Parliamentary experience and had not, until the present occasion, had any need to concern him self with the particulars of Irish law, and he thought it would be admitted that, in these circumstances, the grasp of principles and the mastery of details he had displayed in his speech was an achievement of notable excellence. He thought it must be admitted that the Debate, so far as it was directed against the Second Reading, might be described as sham fight. The Bill had been called a Bill of confiscation and a Bill of revolution. The Conservative Party regarded themselves as a bulwark against revolution, yet through the great part of the afternoon the Conservative Benches were empty. The Leader of the Opposition was absent and his followers were not present.
I was in the House during the whole of the speech of the Solicitor-General for Scotland.
said, that during the whole of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down the Conservative Benches were empty with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman who was formerly, to his lasting honour, connected with the Nationalist movement in Ireland, and whose presence he attributed to his natural desire, if only for the sake of old times, to lift his voice on behalf of the tenants of Ireland. The action of the Conservative Party in not challenging a Division on this Bill had been denominated wise. He thought it hardly deserved that epithet. To say a course of action be wise was to suggest that it required some high and eminent faculties of human knowledge in order to select that course, but there were certain facts which he thought might have convinced the Conservative Party that any other course than that of assenting to the Second Reading of the Bill would be one of extreme impudence. He had no doubt they remembered that the Bill promoted by the Irish Party last year—a Bill which dealt more broadly than the present one with some aspects of the question and contained some propositions more advanced than any in the present Bill—was read a second time by unanimous assent, and that a dilatory Amendment directed against it was defeated by a majority of 89. The memory of that fact remained. He had also to notice as a reason for the course taken by the Conservative Party that the Report on which this Bill was founded, a Report in regard to which, he affirmed, every fact was directly founded on the evidence and every proposition directly proceeded from the facts, represented the unanimous opinion of the representatives of four or five organized bodies of Members in this House. The Report represented the unanimous opinion of the Liberal Party, the Irish Party, the Party led by the hon. Member for Waterford, and the Liberal Unionist Party. The Tory wing of the Unionist Party was alone not reprepresented in assent to the Report. It therefore indicated a majority far in advance of the normal majority of the Government. But perhaps the most weighty reason for the course of the Opposition was to be found in the state of public opinion in Ireland. Upon that public opinion in Ireland, and especially the public opinion in Ulster, he preferred the opinions of the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh to the opinions of the hon. and gallant Member for the northern division of the county. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh must have a very exceptional constituency, because he suggested that his electors would prefer him to follow his own inclinations rather than theirs, and that of the two his farmers would rather prefer that he should advance the interests of the landlords. The hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh very frankly declared to the House that 100,000 Unionist farmers in Ireland were determined to support the Bill. He doubted whether the number of Unionist farmers in Ireland reached anything like 100,000, but whatever their number might be he was convinced they were determined to support this Bill, and to oblige their representatives to support it. When the Second Reading had been taken and they entered on the Committee stage it would be found that the support of this Bill by the Unionist farmers in Ulster was not merely a support of the Second Reading but of all its material propositions, and that hon. Gentlemen were greatly mistaken if they thought they would be allowed to compound by assenting to the Second Reading for any obstructive opposition in Committee. Votes in that House were more valuable than speeches, and public opinion, taking note of the fact that the principle of this Bill was accepted by the judgment of the House, would, he thought, regard that as conclusive proof of the necessity, the equity, and the urgency of the Bill, and would regard speeches delivered in opposition to it as merely a dialectical display. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham last night levelled taunts against the hon. Member for East Mayo and against the work of the Land League. It was the right hon. Member for West Birmingham who declared in a public speech that if there had been no Land League there would have been no Land Act of 1881. The House was driven to pass that Act by the agitation inspired and mobilised by the Land League; and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was one of those who were responsible for the introduction of the Bill of 1881. It might be said that, in introducing and pressing forward that Bill, he acted substantially as a Minister of the Land League quite as much as a Minister of the Crown. The hon. Member for East Mayo could afford to bear the taunts of the right hon. Gentleman, because he was one of the foremost and most resolute of the men who, by heavy labour and at no small penalty of personal suffering, had led the Irish people, in the course of the last 14 years, from the position in which they stood at the outset of the movement—the position of a nation of serfs, subject to all the disabilities and obligations of serfs, but possessing not one of their rights—to the point which they had reached to-day—the point at which, according to the confession of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham last night, the only question that remained to be determined was how soon and by what mode the interest of the landlord was to be extinguished; how soon the despised serf of 14 years ago, whom the Land League inspired with the spirit of a man, was, by the disappearance of the landlord from the agrarian system, to become the sole owner of the soil. The men who had accomplished this object by the labour of their lives could bear with equanimity the taunts of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. The objects of the Land League had been affirmed by the legislation of this House, carried on the initiative of both parties. The prospectus and the card of membership, bearing the date of 1879, stated that the objects were—first, to put an end to rack-renting and unjust evictions; and, secondly, to enable every tenant to become, on fair terms, the purchaser of his holding. The confirmation of the first of these two principles was the main object of the Act of 1881. Ten years later the right hon. Member for West Birmingham having become, if not a Minister, a leader of the Tory party, affirmed the second of the two principles. Never had any popular movement been so conclusively approved by those who condemned it at the outset. Yes, the principles of the Land League had been affirmed, but they had not been carried out efficiently, as they would have been if the legislation had been conducted by a Legislature responsible to the people of Ireland. The great difficulty this house had in dealing with Irish affairs, and especially with the land question, was the ignorance of most British Members of the conditions of Ireland. In the intervals between legislative efforts old Members had forgotten all they had learnt and new Members had to begin learning facts that were familiar to every Irish peasant. In Ireland the conditions were so alien to those which prevailed in England that Irish Members had each time to begin, as it were, with the very primer of the question. So many efforts had been made to deduce the conclusion that the administration of the Land Act had done justice that he was obliged to point out that the conditions of occupation in England and Ireland were so different as to admit of no comparison except by way of contrast. In England the landlord was a landlord in the real sense of the term, and the tenant was really a tenant. The Irish landlord was simply a rent-charger, and the Irish tenant had boon made by law part owner of the soil. Rent in England was fixed upon a lower scale than in Ireland; and some day the House might be asked to pass a Bill to assimilate the relation between produce and rent in Ireland to what it was in England; that would be something like a fundamental change; but the object to-day was a more modest one. By general concurrence the English landlord took on the average one-fifth of the produce of the soil; and the Irish landlord took one-third. The English landlords made all the improvements, devoted to them a large proportion of their income, and every generation spent scores of millions for this purpose. The income-tax assessments showed that, since the establishment of the Land Courts in Ireland, the incomes of the English landlords had gone down from 52 to 41 millions. The income-tax returns were not exhaustive because there were many abatements which were not shown in them. If 20 per cent. reduction, and more, had been made in the rents of English landlords, who had made improvements and took but one-fifth of the produce, what reduction should have been made in the rents of Irish landlords, who did not make improvements and took one-third of the produce? The figures proved that the Land Act of 1881 had not had all the effect it ought to have had. No serious comment had been made upon 11 or 12 of the 17 operative clauses of the Bill; criticism had been concentrated upon three points, and the first of these was the shortening of the statutory term. The statutory term in the Act of 1881 was obviously experimental, and, if it were proved that the equity of the case required that that term should be shortened, he should think that neither the hon. Member for South Tyrone nor anyone else would venture to affirm that a demand for equity should be disregarded, because of the fact that contracts would have to be broken, Surely it was too late in the day to speak of breach of contracts in connection with Irish land laws. Contracts were broken by the Act of 1881; leaseholds were broken by the Act of 1887; permanent leases were broken by the Act of 1891. The Conservative Party went further in the direction of breach of contract, and decreed that judicial contracts should be broken, and that the rents fixed by the tribunals of the country should be subject to adjustment for a period of three years. Could the statutory term of 15 years be maintained? Was it not obvious that, if they passed this Bill and made these amendments to the law, if they guaranteed to the tenant that right in his improvements which administration now took away, if they guaranteed to him the recognition of his occupation right, it followed as a matter of necessity that the rents which had been fixed since the Land Act came into operation, the excessive rents, could not be equitable if they ran for 15 years. The reductions given by the Land Commission in and up to 1885 were only on the average about 18 per cent., the reductions in 1886 were 24 per cent., the reductions in 1887 were 31 per cent., and there had been since 1886 down to the present moment a fall in values, and there was still a drooping tendency. There was an overwhelming concurrence of testimony to the effect that the rents fixed in the earlier years of the Land Act were now excessive rents. The report declared them to be materially excessive. The inevitable consequence was that this Parliament should feel it a duty to seize the occasion to deal with the whole question for the purpose of enabling those tenants who were now paying excessive rents to have recourse again to tribunals. Not only were the rents fixed in Court excessive, but Mr. Bailey, a witness before the Committee, and a gentleman who by his exhaustive knowledge of the law, and by his great experience in its administration, did more than any other witness to lead the Committee through the labyrinths of the case, handed in a paper to show that in 50 cases heard in his own district, where agreements had been made in the earlier years of the Land Act which had not been filed and were therefore invalid, the tenants took advantage of that fact to enter the Courts in recent years, with the result that the original reduction of 18 per cent. given by the agreements had 20 per cent. added to it by the Courts. It was clear from that that the reductions granted in the earlier years were not adequate to the needs of the case. The only question was how long the terms should be; the term of 15 years was experimental. It had been seen that the Tory Party, six years after the passing of the Land Act, were obliged to adjust judicial rents, and that the amount of the reductions given in the Land Courts had greatly increased from year to year it was admitted that there had been a disastrous fall in prices, and he did not think there was one Land Commissioner who cast doubt upon the proposition that a period of 15 years was so long that it was perfectly impossible in fixing the rents to foresee the course of prices. He was disposed to think that a period of less than ten years might properly be fixed, but, at any rate, the statutory term should not exceed that period. The opposed provisions of the Bill were really those referring to the occupation-right and to the improvements. With regard to the occupation-right he referred to the direction in the Act of 1881 that the Court in fixing the fair rent was to have regard to the interest of the tenant. What was that interest? It could not have been anything else than what was popularly known and described in the Bill as the occupation-right. The Act also directed the Court that no rent should be allowed or made payable in respect of improvements. If, in the general direction as to the interest of the tenant, the House intended to refer to improvements, that would unquestionably have been stated. The direction in the ninth sub-section was explicit and complete in relation to improvements; it declared that no rent should be allowed or made payable in respect of them, and, therefore, he submitted it was quite clear that the instruction in the Act that the Court was to have regard to the interest of the tenant had no relation to improvements, which were dealt with elsewhere, but had relation to this occupation-right, to the right of the tenant to perpetual occupation, and the attendant rights under the Act of 1870, of compensation for disturbance and compensation for improvements, and the rights under the Act of 1881 to sell the interest to the landlord at the true value fixed by the Court, or, in the alternative, at the highest price to be obtained in the market. The hon. Member for South Tyrone thought he disposed of the question by calling it a valuable asset. How did that term prove that it was not to be considered in fixing the fair rent? The interest of the landlord might also be called a valuable asset, but that was no reason why it should not govern the amount of rent. If they went to the root of the matter and asked how the Ulster custom arose, they would find conclusive proof that occupation-right must be considered in the amount of the rent. The Ulster custom allowed the tenant to sell his interest in the holding, and imposed upon the landlord an obligation not to raise the rent so as to encroach upon the interest of the tenant. That obligation meant that the value of the custom formed an element in fixing the amount of the rent, and it was obvious that under the Ulster custom occupation-right was considered in relation to the rent. Passing from Ulster to other parts of Ireland, if a landlord purchased the interest of the tenant at what the Land Courts called its true value—namely, its economic value—would not the landlord consider himself entitled to raise the rent upon the interest he had purchased? If, then, the acquirement of the occupation-right by the landlord entitled him to change the amount of the rent, why should not the possession of the occupation-right by the tenant also affect the amount of the rent? The sub-Commissioners examined before the Committee gave evidence that they fixed the rent of a holding at what would be the fair rent for an incoming tenant if the farm were in the hands of the landlord, but the interest of the landlord was only part of the value of, the holding; the occupation-right was another part of the value. Why should the rent be fixed upon the occupying tenant who had a valuable right, which was a material part of the value of the holding, as if he had no interest, and as if the farm were in the hands of the landlord? It was obvious that the rent of the occupying tenant with a statutory right must necessarily be fixed at a lower figure than the rent to be paid by a new tenant without any interest in the holding. Of course, it must not be forgotten that the head of the Judicial Commission speaking for his Court, and Lord Justice FitzGibbon, speaking for the Court of Appeal, had justified the view that the occupation-right ought to be and was considered, and that it was only by considering the occupation-right that anything could be given to the tenant beyond the percentage on this outlay. Upon the general question of improvements he pointed out that the general direction of the Land Act, that no rent should be allowed or made payable upon the improvements of the tenant, had not been carried out by the judgment of Adams v. Dunseath, and had been wholly disregarded by the Courts of sub-Commission. The language of the Act was as plain as words could be—
These words must be understood in their natural sense and given their full ordinary meaning. But the tenant had been plundered because the term "improvement," if it required definition, was not defined in the Act of 1881. But there was at the end of the definition clause a paragraph, the significance of which was not perceived by one Member of a hundred in the House, enacting that if any word used in the Act of 1881 was not defined in that Act, but in the Act of 1870, the latter should be accepted, and that the two Acts should be read and construed together. The word "improvement" in the Act of 1870 was defined as "a work." The Judges were entitled, by the construction of the Act, to lay hold of the definition. They laid hold of it, and said,''No rent shall be allowed or made payable in respect of the improvements of the tenants."
The net result was that, whilst the Act declared that no rent should be allowed or made payable in respect of the improvements of the tenant, the Judges, by a masterpiece of subtlety unequalled in the administration of the law, converted the plain declaration of the Act that no rent should be allowed or made payable in respect of the improvements of the tenant into a declaration that rent was to be allowed on the improvements of the tenant, and all that the tenant was to receive was only 5 per cent. on the money he had expended. That was rank plunder of the tenant. Five per cent. was no more than he would have obtained if he had invested the money in any business. It took no account of any risk or losses, but said that when there was a profit in excess of 5 per cent. the profit should go to the landlord. So the law in Ireland only gave the tenant interest upon his money whilst the improvement lasted, and the profit of his capital went to the landlord. The definition of improvement in the present Bill, if it stood alone, made no alteration in the law. "Improvement" was "work" in the Act of 1870. In the present Act it was "the expenditure of labour and capital," and, if it was open to the Courts under the Act of 1870 to say they had sufficiently compensated the tenant by a percentage on his work, it would be equally open to them to say they would compensate him by a percentage on his expenditure of labour or capital. So if the Amendment stood alone the law would not be improved. But sub-Section 3 appeared to make a valuable improvement in the law. He said "appeared," because he had fear of the Irish Judges before him. It appeared to concede the principle that a tenant was entitled to the letting value derived from his improvements. Seeing that rents in Ireland reduced by the Land Courts were old competition rents which the fierceness of competition had run up to a level so intolerable that the law had to interfere, that they were fixed on the value of the improvements of the tenants, and only 20 per cent. reduction was obtained, he was of opinion that these rents, whether fixed by the landlord before the passing of the Land Acts or by the Land Courts since, included the utmost value of every quality, capacity, incident, and characteristic of the soil. He did not understand what was meant by the use of the word "inherent." It did not change the facts; the capacity was there; the capacity of the soil was the quality of the soil, and that was fully valued in fixing the amount of rent; and he could not assent to the suggestion that any part of the letting value added by the tenant to the soil should be paid away in rent to the landlord. Agricultural improvement was of vital importance to Ireland. The future of Ireland depended upon it. The agriculture of Ireland was backward because the soil was unimproved. This was so, very much because the value of the improvements, or a part of it, had been confiscated by the landlords. It was essential that the tenants should be encouraged, and not discouraged, by being told that any improvement in the letting value would go to the landlord. If the tenant in Ireland understood that any part of the improved letting value would be added to the rent, and that there would be a fine levied on his industry, it would be most discouraging and prejudicial to the future of Ireland. His own contention as to the increased letting value of land was simply and plainly this—that the landlord, by the judicial rent, was paid already for every quality and capacity of the soil, and he could not agree that a class of rent-chargers, whose only remaining care was to obtain a certain number of years' purchase of the rent as it now stood, should have a royalty upon the future fruits of the industry of the Irish peasant. The Irish representatives, with one voice and one determination, would maintain that the rent now payable to the landlord by the fiat of the Court exhausted to the last penny his interest in the holding, and that every penny added in the past by the labour of the tenant, or which might be added hereafter, must be secured as his property, and not a bit of it must go to the landlord. He would not further discuss the question of improvements except to say generally that, in his opinion, the lines of obstacles placed by the interpretation of the Act of 1881 between the tenant and the realisation of his right in respect of his improvements were likely to be, in the main, removed by the provisions of the Bill. There was no fact more notorious than that improvements in Ireland had been made by the tenant and no one else. He did not understand what was meant by "prairie value" or by the mention of prairie value in relation to this case. When hon. Members spoke of it, to what time did they refer? Was it suggested that the landlords were to be thrown back on the value of the land at some former era. There was no improvement upon the soil of Ireland which was of monetary value and could affect rent except improvements made in recent times. Drainage had to be renewed at intervals, and reclamation such as they found in Ireland—of marsh, bog, and mountain—had to be maintained and renewed from time to time by further expenditure. The argument of prairie value had no relation to the case. He regretted that the notorious fact that the improvements in Ireland had been made by the tenants, and that recommendation of the Committee, had not been acted upon. The disastrous consequences of the time limit, fixed by the Act of 1870 and applied in the Act of 1881, was that the tenant's presumption was virtually abolished. He was entitled to the presumption in respect of improvements effected after a certain date, and not with respect to those effected afterwards. The practice of the Courts, in order to ascertain whether the tenant was entitled to the presumption, had been to make him prove the date of the improvement, or, in other words, to make him prove what he would have had to prove without being entitled to the presumption. He feared that the same result would follow from the time limit in the present Bill, having regard to the tendency in Ireland to warp the law to the prejudice of the tenant, and to the universally admitted fact that, while the landlord could always prove his improvements, the tenant had no legal proof as to improvements made before his occupation. As to the subjects omitted from the Bill, he regretted that there was no provision in regard to arrears, such as was embodied in the Crofters Act. The question of arrears was shut out from the consideration of the Committee by a Division taken when only 11 Members were present; but it was not necessarily shut out from the scope of the Bill. No one who had studied the subject could question that the existence of arrears in Ireland was due to excessive rents, and had operated as an obstacle to many tenants going into the Land Courts. He had no expectations that the benefits of the Land Act of 1881 would be extended to the full body of those who were entitled to claim them until the Courts were given some equitable jurisdiction in regard to the liquidation of arrears. There was another material omission from the Bill. The Committee unanimously recommended that certain particulars connected with the fair rent should be given to the parties. At present all that the parties were allowed to know was the amount of the fair rent; and no doubt they found in the valuer's report a specification of the improvements which were held to be those of the tenant. But they did not know what capital value had been attached to them, what percentages were allowed, or what amount had been deducted, by reason of the improvements made by the tenant in occupation, from what would have been the fair rent for an incoming tenant. This information was very material. The Court ought to state what was the fair annual value of a holding as for a solvent tenant entering the holding, and having no interest in it, the holding being valued land and buildings together. In Ireland alone, of all civilised countries of the world, the system was pursued of valuing the land and buildings of agricultural holdings separately. It was obvious that such buildings could never be let or sold apart from the land. As the land in Ireland was valued upon a system which took note of the different qualities of land on a holding, and applied a rent to each based on the value of the produce, and as the buildings as well as the land entered into the value of the produce, it was evident that under the present system of valuation in Ireland the Sub-Commissioners, though they declared that they ignored the buildings, did really take them into account. Therefore, when the buildings were the tenant's, he was obliged to pay rent on them, and when they were the landlord's, he was obliged to pay rent on them twice. With regard to the proposal for the evicted tenants, he could not agree that it was to be regarded as a substitution of the Bill of last year. The Bill of last year had not been abandoned, but maintained. It could not be drafted upon the present measure with a reasonable prospect of success; but when that Bill was rejected, it was said that the proposal of a voluntary measure would be gladly entertained. The present measure was voluntary. If it passed into law with the evicted tenants clause in it, and if it settled the question, the Bill of last year would be no longer required. But, on the other hand, if by the action of those who invited a voluntary measure the clause was found to be inoperative, then the necessity for the Bill of last year would continue. That, he believed, would be admitted by the Chief Secretary, who would then urge forward the Bill by every means in his power. Some of those who affected a concern for the welfare of the evicted tenants had declared their unwillingness to give them any financial assistance by the Bill. But if they desired the end they must desire the means. Remembering that under the Bill of last year the landlord had in every case the option of purchase, that the evicted tenants were destitute, that they would need assistance on re-entry, and that new tenants would have to be dealt with, he saw no reason for withholding financial assistance. The circumstances of the present scheme showed no such difference from those of last year's scheme to entitle the Chief Secretary to omit the financial provision from the Bill. The main body of the Irish Members would encourage the insertion of such a financial provision and would sustain it. As to the simplification of procedure, economy and expedition were both important, but there was one thing more important beyond all comparison—namely, that the fullest security which the law could afford, by investigation of the circumstances of each case, should be allowed to the parties concerned. Expedition and economy were not to be purchased at the expense of justice. It had been suggested that some sliding scale should be adopted on the principle of the Act of 1887. The scheme of that Act was welcome as a rough-and-ready and temporary remedy for an extremely urgent condition of affairs; but regarded as a permanent measure, that scheme did not rest upon any defensible basis. It was to reduce rents in proportion to the fall of prices; but it was obvious that a fall of prices meant a greater fall in rent, and not a merely proportionate fall. Supposing that the produce of a farm was worth £150 a year, that £50 went for the cost of production, £50 for the subsistence of the tenant, and £50 for rent; and supposing that prices fell by one-third. There would be only £100 of the £150 left. Assuming that the cost of production and the tenant's subsistence allowance remained the same, the economic rent would be at once exhausted. But the scheme of the Act of 1887 was that, when prices fell one-third, rent should fall one-third. So that under the plan of the right hon. Gentleman one-third of the loss would fall on the landlord and two-thirds on the tenant. It was evident that a rough-and-ready remedy of that kind could not apply to a case of such emergency, could not even be mentioned in a discussion which was directed to the devising of a permanent remedy. As to the scheme of referring the price to the Land Commission, if the parties were to be bound to accept their determination as final, such a scheme would never be accepted. If the parties were to be bound to accept the determination of a body of gentlemen appointed by the late Ministers, the scheme would certainly not be regarded with confidence by the tenants. He was quite ready to reconsider the suggestion contained in the Report, that the parties might invite a valuer and, if they pleased, accept his arrangement, and, if not, might go before an ordinary sub-Commission which would include men appointed both by the late Government and by the present Government. In conclusion he would say that this Bill, which was undoubtedly founded upon equity and which was necessary to rescue the intentions of the House from ambiguity, would certainly pass the House, and pass it by virtue of a strong and solid preponderance of opinion in its favour. If it was rejected in another place, having regard to the strength and universality of public opinion in Ireland, the tenants of Ireland would not be those who had the most cause for regret. The Times declared a day or two ago, and the declaration was repeated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham last night, that the true path of deliverence for the Irish landlords lay in the extension of purchase. Let the House observe that in the judgment of The Times and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham it was the Irish landlords who were in need of deliverance. He was not disposed to quarrel with that phrase. He had already pointed out that while the first principle of the Land League was to put an end to rack-renting, the second principle was to enable every tenant on fair terms to become the owner of his holding. He did not deny that the path of deliverance for Irish landlords lay in the extension of purchase; but could purchase be extended by such a device as that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, to remove from the Act of 1891 the excessive, cumulative, and offensive guarantee placed in it by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader if the Opposition? The House might pass purchase Acts, but the question whether they would have any effect depended on the tenants of Ireland; and if, as The Times said, the true path of deliverance for Irish landlords lay in the extension of purchase, that true path would not be found lay the landlords except upon conditions which obtained the concurrence of the tenants. Before they attempted to raise the superstructure of purchase they must lay down the basis of fair rents. So long as the interest of the tenant in his holding was disregarded in fixing the amount of his rent, so long as the law in Ireland conspired with a class who for 200 years had had absolute lordship over the land in Ireland, and who, if their connection with Ireland terminated to-morrow would leave no beneficial traces of their lordship, by technicalities, by subtlety, by chicane, by manipulative presumption, by considerations of tenure, by refinements between percentage and letting value—so long as this continued, so long as the tenant was charged rent on what belonged to him, so long it would be impossible to extend the policy of purchase. He said, therefore, that it would be requisite, not simply to take away unnecessary guarantees, but before the state of the land question could be fundamentally altered it would be necessary, either by the adoption of this Bill, or by the adoption hereafter of some more comprehensive measure, to secure that the rents of tenants in Ireland should not include one penny of charge on property that was theirs. When that was done, and not before, they might bridge over the gulf that existed between the difficult ground on which the landlords stood at present and what had been called the "true path of deliverance.""An improvement is a work. The tenant under the Act of 1870 is to be compensated for his work when quitting his holding. He can be compensated for his work by allowing him interest on his outlay."
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has, in various portions of his speech, held out the agreeable prospect of a long series of future proposals for land legislation in Ireland. Even if this Bill were passed in its present form, there are various other proposals which he would desire this year, next year, or at some future time to bring before the House. But, not only so, we are not even to be relieved from the necessity of an Evicted Tenants Bill by the clause which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced into the present Bill, and in regard to that last statement I should like to put a definite question to the Government. They have introduced a clause into this Bill which deals with evicted tenants. Is it or is it not a solution of the question? Does it or does it not, in the view of the Government, promise an adequate solution of this question, or do the Government hold the view of the hon. Member who has just sat down, who has said that the necessity for the Bill of last year is not mitigated, certainly not removed, by the introduction of this Bill?
What I said was that the question would depend on the action of the Irish landlords and on the offer of a voluntary arrangement.
I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the necessity for the Bill would not be removed by the introduction of this Bill.
Not by the introduction.
Well, by the passage of this Bill. If the hon. Gentleman did say so, I should like to know what the Government think of that, because, if we are to have further legislation on this subject, I think it would be unfortunate to burden an already over-weighted measure with any such proposal. I have watched the course of the Government with regard to this Bill with something like extreme amazement. I have always recognised that some Bill was absolutely necessary, or if not absolutely necessary so desirable that it certainly was the duty of any Government to attempt to deal with these necessary questions, which have been brought up by the fact that we have now almost reached the end of the judicial term of 15 years. The measure which I anticipated was a measure which would make the proceedings in the Land Courts less costly and less slow, and which would clear up and make unmistakable the principles of the Act of 1881, and would introduce no new principles for discussion in this House. But what do I find? I find that the Bill, instead of cheapening procedure, will make it more costly, and that instead of lightening the labours of the Commission it will so increase them as to overweigh, if not to crush that department. There is no suggestion in the Bill for making procedure either cheap or expeditious. The Bill, instead of clearing up the difficulties of the Act of 1881, introduces a whole group of new difficulties of its own, and the unfortunate Chief Commissioners and sub-Commissioners will be even more confused by the ill-expressed principles and vague wording of this measure than they were by the loose terminology of the Act of 1881. Whilst I find that this Bill contains all these defects, I find that it involves in addition a superfluous and unnecessary re-opening of the Irish land question, and that it will therefore compel the House to again go over the weary ground of the exact principles upon which judicial rents ought to be fixed. I am astonished at the course taken by the Government, not merely from an Irish point of view, but from an English point of view. The Government must know quite well that it would have been possible to introduce a Bill which would have met the necessities of the case, and excited but little controversy in this House. They have chosen, however, to prepare a Bill containing proposals which must excite the utmost bitterness of feeling between various sections in this House and in Ireland, and they must know that the time that will be taken up by the consideration of the band of heterogeneous suggestions which they offer for our acceptance will make a very large hole indeed in the Session. From an English point of view that is bad policy. We surely have devoted enough time in the past to the tenants of Irish land. The Government told us in the Queen's Speech that they had pigeonholed in their offices measures which, in their judgment would do great good to agriculture in England, now languishing in a condition of distress absolutely unparalleled in the last two or three generations. But it appears that, rather than bring in a simple Bill with regard to Irish land, which could be passed with comparative rapidity, and which would leave room for other Irish Bills, the Government prefer to overlook the needs of agriculture, and I suppose we are now to spend June, July, and part of August in a wearying and arid discussion of the ever-lasting claims of hon. Members below the Gangway. I hope English electors will take note of the distribution of Parliamentary time which the Government think it advisable to make. But I pass from the English aspect of the case, which, however, is well worthy of the attention of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and of which I hope they will hear more anon in other places. I pass from that to the effect that the scheme of legislation proposed by the Government will have upon Ireland. I remember Lord Spencer's making a speech in 1884, in which he endeavoured to explain, acting as the mouthpiece of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, to the Irish tenants that, as far as the fixing of fair rents was concerned, they must not expect any further intervention on the part of this House; but since then there has been the Act of 1887, for which I was responsible, and we are now threatened with this fresh legislation. The Act of 1887 had in view the sort of object which the Government ought to have had in view when they determined to introduce their measure this year. It was intended to make workable the Act of 1881, which was only tolerable to reasonable and practical men when it was regarded as a bridge between the old state of things in Ireland and the state of things which we all, I believe, now desire to see introduced—namely, a large system of peasant proprietary. I may say in passing that when the hon. Member who has just sat down gave to the Land League the whole credit for the invention of the purchase system, he went beyond the facts of the case, because the principle of land purchase had been embodied in our Legislation some years before the Land League was thought of. Politicians were convinced long before the agitation of 1880 that in land purchase lay the proper solution of the Irish Land Question. The hon. Member seemed to me to be as infelicitous in that historical commentary upon the history of the Land League as he was with reference to the Land League card and prospectus. If the League had never done more than to issue that card and prospectus, and had tried to carry out the objects therein specified by legitimate methods, I should have been delighted to join. We all know that in the history of the Land League the card of membership and the prospectus occupy a very small and insignificant place. But what I am endeavouring to lay before the House is this—that the system of valuing rents in Ireland by a Land Court is necessarily and intrinsically demoralising, and that it is only tolerable and possible as a transition. The Chief Secretary alluded distantly in his speech the other day to the case of India, where it is the fact that the Indian officials of the Home Government do in large provinces fix the land tax, which is equivalent to the rent of the land. But what parallel is there between the case of India and the case of Ireland? In India you have a dominant race absolutely free from party distinctions and party quarrels, who are animated by no desire except to get a fair revenue for the Government and to do justice to the ryot, undisturbed by any such influences, governmental or judicial, as necessarily have free play in Ireland. In regard to Ireland, what is the state of things? If a gentleman gets up in this House and argues, be it never so fairly, that some particular proposal supposed to be in favour of the tenants is intrinsically unjust, he is at once attacked as being a landlords' advocate, a landlords' man, and goodness knows what besides. The hon. Member who spoke last told us that the tenant would think it a very poor boon to be sent before a Court of Appeal composed of sub-Commissioners appointed by the late Government. No doubt the hon. Member thinks that, and no doubt persons who differ from him might think that Commissioners appointed by another Government might be hostile to the landlords. [An Irish MEMBER: "Let the Commissioners be half on one side, half on the other.''] What a strange idea of justice to propose that half the number of Judges, half the number of judicial Commissioners, should belong to the landlord party and the other half to the tenants' party! If that were the system no doubt the average reduction of rents might be fair in a way; but how about the particular reduction in each individual case? Half the tenants would be paying too little and half would be paying too much. To hold out to any community engaged in agriculture only that if they return a particular person to Parliament he will, in so far as in him lies, promote legislation favourable to the class that returns him, and do his best to keep in power a Government presumed to be in favour of that class, would be a most demoralising condition of things to which no unhappy country ought over to be subjected. I cannot help thinking that the Government, by reopening the principles of the Act of 1881, and not contenting themselves with filling up the details and building up the structure of that necessarily incomplete effort, have done a great deal to foment and perpetuate a state of things which is intrinsically intolerable. I would point out one of the effects of this legislation upon the ultimate solution of this question. What did the hon. Member who has just sat down practically say? He advised the tenants of Ireland not to purchase their holdings until the utmost had been squeezed out of the landlords by Legislation. What he said amounted to this—Hold your hand; do not purchase. There can be no sales unless you consent to buy, and do not consent to do so while a substantial hope remains that by our pressure in the House of Commons we may squeeze out of some soft-hearted Government, some Government sensitive to votes, a little more favourable machinery for adjusting that fair rent on which, after all, the amount of your purchase-money will depend. That is deplorable advice. I have said that in my judgment this Bill reopens the principle or some of the principles of the Act of 1881. If anything is clear from the statements of the Minister who brought in the Act of 1881, it is clear he had no notion whatever of occupation-right as it is now applied by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. I should have been ready to leave the intentions of the framers of the Act of 1881 alone, and not discuss their policy, but if you insist upon re-opening the question we are bound to go behind the letter of that Act, and look at the intentions of the framers, and we are bound to consider whether the intentions of those framers really were in all respects consonant with justice. Take the case of occupation right. Is it possible for the House to absolve itself from the duty of considering whether occupation-right as defined by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, and apparently recognised by a few, though not by all, of the sub-Commissioners, is consonant with justice. [Mr. SEXTOX: "By the head of the Land Commission."] All Judge Bewley said was that, according to the action of many of the sub-Commissioners, occupation-right was recogniesd.
He recognised it in his own Court.
If you re-open the question whether the wording of the Act of 1881 carries out the intention of the original framers, and, if it does, whether it is consonant with justice, I say occupation-right as defined by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway is not consonant with the expressed intentions of the framers of the Act, and it is not consonant with the principles of justice. Give the tenant his improvement; give it him fully, and give it him honestly, but occupation-right, which appears to be, as far as I can understand it, the capitalised value—[Mr. SEXTON: "No."]—well a money equivalent for the privilege of not being turned out—a money equivalent in the form of a reduction of rent given in addition to, or on account of, some privilege with regard to not being turned out without compensation, has no foundation in common-sense, in justice, or in any properly interpreted speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, and I cannot believe that when this House really looks at the question, as it will have to look at it in all lights, it will be content to give the Irish occupier something he is certainly not entitled to. I now come to the burning question of improvements, and here I must make allusion to the able speech a learned countryman of mine delivered earlier in the afternoon. The Solicitor-General for Scotland, in the last part of his eloquent address, made a comparison between the Highlands of Scotland under the Crofters Act and Ireland under the Act of 1881. He read us a long and very interesting extract from the report of the Crofters' Commission. He told us that, while we might go through the Highlands and find contentment and improvement everywhere, Ireland was still in disturbance, still clamouring for fresh legislation, still suffering from injustice, and the distinction between the two cases he found in this, and in this only—that in Ireland the compensation for improvements was fixed on the principle settled in the case of Adams v. Dunseath, while in the Highlands it was fixed upon some general principles. That really is a most preposterous theory to advance. In the first place, the differences between the Highlands and Ireland are countless. There is no doubt a great community of race and the languages are allied, but the history and the traditions and the circumstances which have moulded the national character are absolutely different in the two cases. To assert that the only difference between the two is adequately found in the case of Adams v. Dunseath is to put too great a strain upon our imagination. Let him remember the principal point of complaint which is made with regard to the case of Adams v. Dunseath. It is that the tenant in Ireland has not got, in the form of compensation, for his improvements, more than what is equivalent to interest on the capital value. The number of cases in which the increased value of the holding is in excess of the interest upon the capital value of the improvement must be relatively insignificant; and to tell us that the few cases in which the tenant has made an improvement, bringing into the holding an enormously increased value, part of which has been absorbed by the landlord, makes a distinction between Inverness and Galway, is a view of the effects of legislation which those who have more carefully studied it than the hon. and learned Gentleman has had an opportunity of doing can hardly accept even from him. The case of Adams v. Dunseath has become a terror. I do not mean to dwell upon any technicalities, but there is a broad principle of justice underlying it which I am only bound to look at. I detect considerable differences between the utterances on the Government Bench on the subject. The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant gave us to understand that he perfectly recognised the rights of the landlord in what are called the original properties of the soil, and in such a case as that of, let us say, the draining of a lake at a small expense and trebling the value of a holding thereby—I take the extreme case because it is always convenient for illustration—he does not propose by his Bill to give to the tenant all the increased value which would accrue in consequence of the improvement. That may be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman—I do not now inquire how far it is carried out by the wording of the Bill—but the Solicitor General for Scotland went, if I may use a vulgar expression, "the whole hog;" he went as far as the hon. Member for North Kerry, and said distinctly the tenant had a right to every increased value, no matter what it might be, which resulted from any operation which he had undertaken.
said, he was not aware that he laid that down in substance, but he cited a judgment of Chief Baron Pallas in the opposite sense.
I am even now in doubt, but if I am to accept the intervention of the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Members of the Treasury Bench are absolutely agreed, and are not of opinion that the tenant has a right to such results of improvements, then they are at loggerheads with their supporters below the Gangway. The hon. Member for North Kerry, who is always lucid, who always expresses his opinions in language which is not capable of misinterpretation—a quality not always shared by the Front Bench opposite—has told us in absolutely uncompromising language that the tenant in Ireland has a right to every result, no matter what it may be, which follows from the increased value given to the holding by his improvements. I think there ought to be some agreement between the supporters of the Government. To my mind the equities of the case seem perfectly clear. I am unable to understand why it is that the tenant is to have more than the full value of that which he has put into the soil. Possibly the reduction of rent may be insufficient to meet the interest on capital and the repayment of capital. That is a matter with which I have nothing to do, but that it should do more than that upon a liberal scale appears to me to be unjustifiable upon any theory of landed property whatsoever; and if you are going to say that the tenant has a right to this unearned increase as to the result of improvements, I want to know why the tenant is to monopolise them. A farmer has the tenancy for the judicial term of 15 years of a holding in which there is a large sheet of water which can be readily drained at a small cost and labour. He employs a few men at 8s. or 9s. a week to do the work. I cannot conceive why these men are not to share in the unearned increment which accrues to the holding from that operation. Why is it to go to the tenant rather than to the labourer, or why to the labourer rather than, as Mr. George advocates, to the community? If you are to have private property in land, that private property covers such a case of unearned increment as I have described. But if you are not to have private property in land I cannot conceive how the tenant has any more right to the unnearned increment than the labourer; or the labourer any more right than the community at large; and the community at large, if you go to that, any more right than the whole family of the human race. The Chief Secretary, who differs from the hon. Member for Kerry on the point, is going to introduce into the Bill words which he thinks will meet the difficulty. These words are: "having regard to the circumstances of the case."
I do not say these are to be the exact words.
But there are words to be introduced of that general tenour which it is supposed will obviate the difficulty to which I have referred. What we have suffered from is the turning of men on to the lands to settle judicial rents without giving them any principle whatever by which to come to a decision. The Solicitor General for Scotland told us to-day that the duty of the Irish Land Courts was to find the value of the land apart from competition. There is no such thing as value apart from competition. It is a pure fiction of the imagination. And to ask valuers to find out the value of a thing apart from competition is to ask them to square the circle or to do any other impossible operation. What you ask the valuers to do is to form some idea in their own minds as to what the competition value would be if you had only rational tenants or rational bidders for the farms. That is the task which you have set these unhappy men to do, and you have given them no guidance in the Bill; and the every-day guidance they would obtain from experience is getting every day more remote. But having started upon this strange career of getting to the root of the ills of Ireland by asking people to determine what competition value reasonable tenants would give for a farm, you stop short in your career, for you take no steps whatever to find out what a rational bidder for tenant-right would pay. What will be the result? If you allow this system of fixing rents to go on for an indefinite period, you will have all the evils of the old land hunger coming back in a more insidious, but not less formidable, form. I do not know whether the Government intend to introduce provisions which will prevent those excessive sums being given for farms. I do not hear any responsive observation from any Member of the Government. Then I defy any of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite to give any reason why the Courts which settle the rent should not also settle the tenant-right, except that the tenants want the one and do not want the other. I will not say that it is not a good Parliamentary reason; but I do most emphatically say it is a very bad reason in argument, and it only points the moral which I have endeavoured to force on the House—that we are acting criminally if we do anything by our Legislation to arouse in the minds of the tenants the idea that if they only send a sufficient number of representatives to this House, and get a sufficiently squeezable Government in Office, there is no limit to the amount of concession they may extract from Parliament. But my main objection to the Bill is, that it diverts us from attaining to that healthy condition of agricultural Ireland to which we must absolutely look as the only possible solution of the difficulty. With land purchase I began my speech. I return to land purchase again at its conclusion. If hon. Gentlemen below the Ganway are sincere—and I would be the last to question their sincerity—in desiring Home Rule for Ireland, I tell them that probably amongst the subsidiary objections, but not the main objection, which we feel to it is the conviction of the intolerable injustice which would necessarily follow on leaving to a purely Irish Parliament the settlement of such questions as those which the Chief Secretary has raised by his Bill. I do not say that even in this House, constituted as it is, all classes in Ireland could be absolutely secure of receiving justice. I do not believe that to any assembly chosen, as we are chosen, by a democratic vote, and influenced as we must necessarily be influenced by Party considerations, would it be safe to intrust pecuniary interests in competition between various classes of the community. It is, at any rate, a very doubtful point. But I am sure such interests could not be intrusted to an Irish Parliament without gross wrong being inflicted. There are those who may be indifferent to that wrong; who may look upon it with absolute equanimity; who may regard it perhaps as the legitimate Nemesis for those imaginary centuries of oppression, which they are never weary of trotting out to the House; but even they must feel that, until you put an end to this perpetual Parliamentary warfare in regard to the rights of different classes to the soil of Ireland, by creating a large peasant proprietary in Ireland who would be as much interested in the maintenance of the rights of property as any class of the community, we can never hope for peace in Ireland; and we can never hope to be relieved from the intolerable burden which those perpetual discussions place upon us. I assent to the Second Reading of the Bill, because, in one sense, I admit that it is necessary. I admit, further, that many of the clauses of the Bill would, with a little amendment, do the necessary repair and patching to the original fabric of 1881. But my assent to the Second Reading must not be taken as implying that I approve of such modification of the principles of the Act of 1881 as the Government have rashly introduced; and when the time comes, both in Committee and on the Third Reading, unless, indeed, in Committee we can repair the wrong the Government are attempting to do, I shall consider it my duty to oppose to the utmost of my power a policy which is not merely a burden on the time of the British Parliament, but is an intolerable wrong to the very classes whom it intends to benefit.
said, the House had now been engaged for three long sittings discussing this Bill. His right hon. Friend who had just sat down had said he assented to the Second Reading, but that he objected to certain things in the Bill, and that unless they were altered or modified he might be led at a subsequent stage to take up an attitude of opposition to the Bill which he did not now occupy. But if they were to conduct future discussions of the Bill in the same fashion as they had conducted the debate on its Second Reading, he feared for the ultimate fate of the measure. They had had, as he had said, three long sittings, and the only thing that had come out of those sittings appeared to him to be this—that they had made many speeches without having come to any kind of understanding with one another as to what was the real subject of dispute between them, or to any kind of conference so as to arrive at a mutual agreement in regard to the Bill. His right hon. Friend who had just sat down had said that the Members of the Treasury Bench had not themselves come to an agreement with one another and had not sounded the great difficulties of the situation. With the first suggestion he could not agree; but he had followed the very able speech of the Solicitor General for Scotland, who had shown a great mastery of the subject, and the earlier speech of the Chief Secretary, and he thought he detected in both those productions this painful truth, that neither speaker had got to the root of the difficulty. They had been discussing the question of the allowance to the tenant in respect to the improvements he had made to his holding. What was the rule which was to govern what the tenant was to receive? The Chief Secretary, whilst impugning the doctrines of the case of Adams v. Dunseath and claiming for the tenant everything attributable to the improvements he had made, broached this case. The right hon. Gentleman said that an improvement might be made at a small cost by draining a hillside, producing a value to the farm occupied quite inconsistent with the cost of the operation, and he said that in that special case the landlord was entitled to a portion of the result. If that was true, then Adams v. Dunseath was upheld. That was the doctrine of Adams v. Dunseath. The Solicitor General for Scotland had also quoted a judgment by Mr. Sheriff Brand, which, whilst very amiable and very well-intentioned, left absolutely unsolved the critical question of whether, where there was a margin over what might be called the market remuneration for the expenditure made by the tenant to produce certain results, any part of that margin was to go to the landlord. That was the old difficulty which had been fought in Ireland for many years. That was the trouble at the root of the discussions before the Act of 1881 was brought in, and it was the trouble which even now, he regretted to say, the Chief Secretary and the Solicitor General for Scotland had not fathomed. If they allowed, under any circumstances, that the landlord was to come in and say to the tenant, "This operation of yours has been more remunerative and produced results beyond what you could possibly have imagined; I will allow you to claim what will remunerate you for your labour and trouble and expenditure, and something also for the risk you ran and the enterprise you showed, but beyond this I claim the balance myself," then it would bring in exactly what was decided according to Lord Justice Fitz Gibbon in Adams v. Dunseath. According to the view Lord Justice Fitz Gibbon took of that judgment the tenant was entitled to full interest on the full amount of what he had paid, to full reward for his energy and enterprise, and he said if there was something over the tenant was entitled to part of that too. Upon what principle this last apportionment was to be settled he did not know, and nobody had ever explained. The whole secret of the question at issue was involved in this. If there was such a balance over, would they give it to the tenant altogether, or would they partition it on some unknown method between landlord and tenant? Should they ever settle a question of this kind—obviously one of the most intricate and difficult—by hostile talk one against another? If there was a question to be settled and a difficulty to be got through, they must attack it in some other method. Much had been said as to what was intended by the Act of 1881. He remembered well when that Act was passing through the House what were the most frequent observations of one Member of the Cabinet about it. This right hon. Gentleman said it was like the Athanasian Creed—"something we none of us understand, but which we all believe in." He had watched, in a much more subordinate position, the progress of that issue, and he confessed he thought himself that his right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian did not quite see what was certain to come out of the Act even if it was not there already. And what appeared to him to be the only way of settling the question was to look upon that Act as something which created a sort of copyhold tenure by which the then existing tenants would be retained in possession at rents which might be valued or revalued at the end of each statutory term, and in the revaluation nothing should be taken into account except the unearned increment. So that at the end of 15 years the valuer who had to re-value the farm would say that if it was let at that date, quite apart from all the tenant had done, it would let at so much, and that what the tenant had done and the whole effect of it would belong to the tenant. That, with the abolition also of the right of preemption, would be the realisation of the three F's. That plan was, no doubt, open to the criticism of his right hon. Friend opposite, that it failed utterly as an attempt to defy and destroy competition. That was true. Competition could not be destroyed. As long as they had individual rights and individual property, competition must and would assert itself. Moreover, it must be conceded that what was taken from the landlord was given to the tenant in possession, and in no way to his successors purchasing from him. With free sale the pecuniary gain would be realised by the man in occupation at the time. But the great advantage of the change he had endeavoured to describe was this—that they had removed the conditions of competition from the relations between landlord and tenant, and all the rights which accompanied those relations on the part of the landlord, which had been derived from feudal laws, but which still subsisted, were rejected; and they transferred what was open to competition to a free contract between the person who bought and the person who sold. They could not destroy that, but they could reduce the relations between landlord and tenant to the position he had described, by which the landlord would be a rent-charger with a rent-charge capable of being modified from time to time in consequence of the development and condition of the country, apart from any action of the tenant. It was intended in regard to the Irish Land Question, for great reasons of State, and as an Act of State, to do something which did involve a transfer by the Act of 1881; but the doctrines laid down by the case of Adams v. Dunseath had, it was said, been such as to undo a great act of State. How were they to get out of the difficulty? Here was a Bill involving the deepest issues, which was to be discussed in a Committee of this House, then read a third time and sent to the other House, to be exposed there to such criticism and attack in consideration of details as they could all understand, and to receive such defence as the supporters of the Bill might look for, and look for in vain. A noble friend of his, Lord Monteagle, indicated in a recent article in The Nineteenth Century a very practical method of procedure, involving, however, a new departure in the procedure of the House. He said:—
What was involved in that? They lost no control over the Bill; after being considered by the Joint Committee, it came back to be considered in Comitteee of the House."Take this Bill, and refer it after Second Reading to a Joint Committee of the two Houses."
Who would have a majority on the Committee?
said, he would come to that, but he was not dealing with the subject in a polemical way. The Bill would come back to the House, and they should have complete authority over it in Committee, and in the Third Reading. They would then carry it to the other House, where it had already been considered by a certain number of Peers sitting in Council with a certain number of Members of this House. The hon. Member for Louth asked who would have a majority? No doubt the possibility of any good coming out of this procedure would depend upon the manner in which it was worked. If the ordinary course of procedure were adopted, there would be an equal number of Representatives of both Houses. But of course it would be essential, before the Government consented to refer the Bill to a Joint Committee, to come to an understanding so that the Committee so composed should not be unduly balanced on one side or the other, but should really afford the promise of a deliberate Committee coming together in a practical spirit to consider practical questions. Was it hopeless that such a suggestion should be considered? Probably at first there might be suspicions that the procedure might be misused; there might even be a feeling on the part of some Members of the House that they would not consider any proposal which would so much as involve the co-operation of the Peers in the legislation of the land. He hoped they should not hear very much of that kind of argument. If the Government got any promise of the Bill being fairly entered upon and fairly carried through by a Joint Committee, consider the prospect they would get of achieving a satisfactory result. Consider the effect it would have upon subsequent stages in this House itself. This House would, as he had said, have complete control. The Bill would come back, as far as the law and practice were concerned, and the power of the House to deal with it, as if it had never been considered elsewhere; but it would come back with great authority, and that great authority would have a moral influence on the conduct of subsequent debate here. Then, of course, they should hear no more of rejecting the Bill on Second Reading in the Lords. He thanked the House for having allowed him to submit what he thought deserved to be seriously considered as a means of rescuing Parliament from the working out of a problem the difficulties of which they must all recognise were enormous—a problem which would never be solved unless they were able to secure the co-operation of men of different minds, approaching it through different experiences and different modes of thinking and of opinion.
Bill read 2°.