HC Deb 18 February 1867 vol 185 cc530-56

LORD NAAS moved for leave to introduce a Bill to promote the improvement of land by occupying tenants in Ireland. He said, in submitting some observations to the House upon this important question, he should take up the question as nearly as possible where it was left by the House last year. It would be idle to waste the time of the House in arguing upon the necessity or the advantage of legislating upon this subject. It was a matter for argument whether legislation at all was desirable, and very strong and cogent arguments had been adduced to show that the relation of landlord and tenant in Ireland was a subject that might fairly be left to arrange itself under the ordinary law which regulated supply and demand. The House of Commons, however, had repeatedly affirmed a principle contrary to that doctrine, and he himself believed that there were circumstances in the condition of that country which rendered legislation on this question desirable if not necessary. The relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland before 1845 were but little spoken of as a political question. Agitation at that time was carried on with great violence, was conducted by men of great genius and intellect, who possessed almost unlimited sway over the feelings and affections of the Irish people. But in those times what is called the land question did not take a prominent position in the list of Irish wrongs, and the existing tenure of land was seldom, if ever, put forward by popular leaders as a substantial grievance. But in 1845 the Government thought that the relations between landlord and tenant were in a sufficiently unsatisfactory state to justify them in issuing an important inquiry, known as the Earl of Devon's Commission; ever since that Commission made their celebrated Report this subject had every year occupied more or less of attention of Parliament. Since that time he believed no fewer than twenty-five Bills had been introduced into that House on the subject. It was not his intention to raise again this dreamy row of ghosts, or to weary the House with a description of the provisions contained in those abortive measures. It would suffice to mention that only one of them had become law—that which was introduced and passed through that House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford (Mr. Cardwell). How did it happen that legislation on this subject, though attempted on many occasions by men of great Parliamentary experience, knowledge, and talent, and also by men who, though not holding office, were well acquainted with the wants and wishes of the country, had resulted in so many conspicuous failures? He believed it was principally owing, not to any disposition on the part of the House to shrink from the question, but from the enormous difficulties inherent in it. While evils were admitted to exist, the remedy proposed always appeared to the House to be either wholly insufficient or to go so far as to interfere materially with what were considered to be the undoubted rights of property. With regard to the extremer measures which had been proposed elsewhere, they had seldom found their way to that House in the shape of a substantive proposition. Such extreme proposals had been generally confined to the platform, hustings, and pamphlets, and had seldom been submitted in detail to the consideration of Parliament. In attempting to legislate upon this subject the House must approach, and endeavour to deal with interests of a private nature, and matters most varied and complicated in their character. It was almost impossible to legislate fairly in regard to all the numerous interests which must come under the purview of any proposal on this subject. This was the more remarkable because of late years there had not been any great divergence of opinion as to the objects to be attained by legislation. It is alleged and generally agreed that it was a grievance that tenants in Ireland were in the habit of making improvements at their own expense; but that, in the event of their being evicted or leaving their farms before they had an opportunity of reaping the fruits of the money they had laid out, no machinery existed for providing adequate compensation. It is further alleged that this absence of security discouraged industry and rendered the land unproductive, that it begot a feeling of carelessness and indifference, so that a lack of exertion existed among the peasantry of Ireland. That was generally, he believed, the substance of the view put forward by moderate politicians, and it was not very different from that of the Devon Commissioners as far back as 1845. The Commissioners said— In some instances the tenant may have capital which he will readily expend upon the land, if he can only be assured that he shall enjoy an adequate return for his expenditure in the length and certainty of his tenure, or can have secured to him a fair compensation for his outlay and labour on quitting the farm. On the other hand, it not un-frequently occurs that the only capital which the occupier of the soil possesses is to be found in the labour of himself and his family. If you show to him in what manner the application of that labour may be rendered most conducive to his own comfort and permanent benefit, and assist him with money or materials which his labour cannot sup- ply, you will generally find the Irish peasant ready to co-operate with you in effecting improvements beneficial alike to himself and to the country. It is because we believe in the concurrent testimony of many witnesses, that the attainment of these desirable objects is impeded by the feelings of distrust and insecurity that too often prevail among the tenant class in Ireland, that we venture to recommend some legislative interference upon this point. Although it is certainly desirable that the fair remuneration to which a tenant is entitled for his outlay of capital or of labour, in permanent improvements, should be secured to him by voluntary agreement rather than by compulsion of law; yet, upon a review of all the evidence furnished to us upon the subject, we believe that some legislative measure will be found necessary in order to give efficacy to such agreements as well as to provide for those cases which cannot be settled by private agreement. We earnestly hope that the Legislature will be disposed to entertain a Bill of this nature, and to pass it into a law with as little delay as is consistent with a full discussion of its principle and details. So, in reality, the reasons put forward by the Devon Commission twenty-one years ago varied but little from those advanced at the present time in favour of legislation on this subject. It appeared to him that the discussions which took place last year were characterized, as far as that House was concerned, by a far different spirit from that which formerly prevailed respecting this question. Though these discussions were few—he believed they only extended over one night and a half—they were distinguished by a spirit of moderation and an apparent desire to do something practical, such as had seldom or never been evinced before, the objections there from raised against the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite were not so much against the objects he had in view as against the machinery he suggested for attaining his end. In the present Bill he proposed to arrive at the same object as the right hon. Gentleman, but by a somewhat different road. He should endeavour to attain that object by apian which should offer to the tenant the means of obtaining compensation for bonâ fide improvements of the land, without incurring the dangers of the proposal introduced last year. On the present occasion it was not his intention to enter into a discussion on the general state of Ireland. In that country, which was almost wholly agricultural, there was hardly any political or social question which was not in a greater or less degree mixed up with the land. On the present occasion, however, he should merely submit in the briefest possible way the provisions of the Bill which he was about to ask leave to introduce, although no doubt in the future stages of the measure many questions would be discussed which though, perhaps, not comprised in its provisions were yet to a certain extent connected with it. He should now endeavour to avoid any question which might raise differences of opinion, least of all was it his intention to attack or find fault with the measures proposed in previous Sessions. A great number of those measures were proposed in the sincere desire to effect something towards a settlement of the question, and he believed the chief cause of their failure was the enormous difficulties inherent to the subject. In most of the moderate measures which were introduced the great defect was that it was proposed that the tenant should be obliged to serve a very elaborate notice on the landlord as to what improvements he proposed to make, and that notice was liable to be considered by the landlord in the shape of a hostile proceeding, and might be challenged item by item before an officer before the landlord's consent was given. The second defect, common to most of the Bills, was that when the claim which was made and had been established came to be settled a great and elaborate machinery of arbitrators, courts and Judges, assistant barristers, clerks of the peace, and so forth, was considered necessary in order to decide upon the value of the claim and the amount to be paid to the tenant. In fact, in many instances litigation was made not only possible, but probable in every case. Now, in the Bill which he proposed to submit there would be no elaborate machinery of that kind. In his Bill there was no trace of a Judge, clerk of the peace, arbitrator or umpire, while even the well-known form of the assistant barrister was conspicuous by its absence. He should propose as simple a machinery as possible, his great object being to avoid, both at the commencement and termination of each transaction, anything likely to lead to litigation. He proposed to found his Bill upon the principle of the Lands Improvement Acts, which had been in operation for many years, both in Great Britain and Ireland, and had been attended invariably with beneficial results. Perhaps no Acts had ever been passed by the Legislature that had worked more easily and beneficially. They had been tried under different forms in the various parts of the United Kingdom with invariable success. The principle of those Acts was that money lent to or expended by the owners under the provisions of the Acts should be charged upon the land without reference to title, so that the money being expended under certain restrictions and rules it became a charge on the land and the land only. If, for example, an owner borrowed money under the Lands Improvement Acts, and laid it out upon the land, even though it turned out the very next day that he was not the rightful owner and had no right to effect the loan, yet whoever the owner might be, the charge would attach itself to the land until the debt was entirely paid off. In England and Scotland the operation of this principle had been very extensive. Here the money was provided by financial companies, who undertook that duty, but the carrying out of the improvement was sanctioned by a public body. In Ireland, however, the money was provided by Government. The beneficial effects of the working of this principle in England and Scotland were illustrated by what had been done by one company. It had been in existence nearly twelve years; it had lent £2,300,000, every farthing of which had been expended upon permanent improvements in land; and the repayments had been as satisfactory as the advances had been large. The annual repayments of principal and interest had amounted to something like £128,000 a year, and the arrears at this moment were only £689, so that in England and Scotland there was absolute certainty of repayment of the money advanced. In Ireland the mode of proceeding was somewhat different, and, though it was well known, it would be convenient to remind the House what it was. The owner of land might apply to the Board of Works, by means of an easily obtained form, for a loan to be employed in making improvements specified by the Act. The form was precise, but it was not so minute that there was any difficulty in filling it up. It required the applicant to state the probable expense of the improvement, the estimated increase of value that would be conferred on the land, and the actual sum required. Upon receipt of the application a notice was published by the Commissioners of the Board of Works inviting objections, and, if no objection was made within a fortnight, inquiry was instituted. If that were satisfactory the money was granted, and the work was carried on under the superintendence of the Commissioners. No second instalment was paid until the Inspector certified that the first instal- ment had been fully and properly expended in the proposed improvements. The loan was made a first charge upon the land, repayable in twenty-two years, and last year an Act was passed extending the term to thirty-five years. As yet, the money had been advanced for the extended term only for buildings and improvements of an expensive character, but there was nothing in the law to prevent money being lent for the full term for any contemplated purpose. It was competent to the Commissioners to lend the money at 5 per cent, repayable in thirty-five years. At present they had not done this, but they had power to do so. The result of the working of these Acts—for there were three or four of them—was most satisfactory, and from the first the beneficial effects of the advances had been manifest. In the Eighteenth Report of the Board of Works, made in 1850, Sir Richard Griffiths said— The Irish agriculturist complains r of low prices and deficient produce; let him drain and subsoil by the spade, and the return will be doubled, and frequently quadrupled. He is deficient in capital; a loan under the Land Improvement Act will provide it. He alleges he is borne down by rates, particularly the poor's rate; let him employ the people in draining and subsoiling his land, and his rate will be light. In fact, the provisions of the Land Improvement Act meet nearly every requirement necessary for the agricultural improvement of the country. We hear on all sides that it is impossible to support the present pauper population, but it should be borne in mind that the people have become paupers from failure of employment; and it is gratifying to know that, where employment has been afforded them on useful works their labour has been rendered productive, and that when employed by task, as is universally the case in the land improvement, as well as the arterial drainage, they have become industrious, skilful, and thankful labourers; and it is to be observed that, including the attendant main drainage, every acre drained and subsoiled gives full employment to about 160 labourers for one day, That was the opinion expressed nearly fifteen years ago, and it had been fully confirmed by the subsequent operation of these Acts. What was the financial result of the working of the first Land Improvement Act? Advances had been made to as many as 2,000 owners. The number of loans had been 4,210. The largest loan made was £7,000. The smallest £100. There had been 2,092 loans under £500. The total amount advanced since 1847 had been £1,866,000, the whole of which had been expended in the permanent improvement of land. The re-payments were nearly as satisfactory in Ireland as the re-payments in England, for since 1847 the re-payments of principal and interest had amounted to £1,618,000. The arrears amounted altogether to only £3,899, every shilling of which was, he believed, good and recoverable. He had received a letter from the Secretary of the Board of Works expressing his opinion to that effect. The conclusion to which he came to was, that the principle of these Acts was good, and that it was desirable, if possible, to extend the benefits they conferred. The proposed Bill was very simple and short, numbering only twenty-one clauses. The improvements it proposed to effect were—thorough and main drainage, reclamation of waste land, and the clearing of land from rocks and stones, the removal of old and useless fences, the making of new fences, the making of farm roads, and the erection of farmhouses and other buildings. With the exception of the reclamation of land from the sea, and other works of a large character, which were not suitable for tenants' improvements, the Bill comprised nearly every description of improvement that had been introduced in former Bills. As to the machinery by which the objects of the Bill were to be attained, he proposed that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with the approval of the Commissioners of the Treasury, should appoint a Commissioner of Public Works, for the special conduct of the operations to be carried out under the Act. Machinery existed already in the Board of Works, which rendered the appointment of a large staff unnecessary. The Special Commissioner would have to devote his whole time to the discharge of duties imposed by the Act; but he would be associated with the present Commissioners, and he would have the advantage of the assistance of the solicitor, architect, and inspectors, and the various officers of the Board now employed under the Lauds Improvement Acts. He (Lord Naas) did not propose to create a new department, to employ a large staff, or to incur any great expense. The great difference between the position of the Special Commissioner and that of the officers of the Present Board of Works would be that he would be more directly under the control of the Irish Government, and that the Irish Government, in conjunction with the Treasury, would be responsible for all his acts. More than once objection had been taken to the action of the Commissioners of the Board of Works in Ireland, and complaint had been made that there was not sufficient responsibility attached to their conduct. He therefore proposed that this Commissioner should be more under the control of the Irish Government than the present officers of the Board, and in this way the objections alluded to would be obviated. He proposed that this Commissioner should have the power, from time to time, with the sanction of the Lord Lieutenant and the Commissioners of the Treasury, to make rules and regulations for the carrying out of the Act, to frame rules for the making of preliminary inquiries, to defray and secure the repayment of expenses, to see to the due expenditure of each instalment of a loan, and the proper execution of the improvements, and to collect the rent-charges payable under the Act. These rules and regulations were, within a month of their being framed, to be submitted to Parliament, and an annual Report was to be presented to the Lord Lieutenant and also laid before this House. In order to provide the money which would be required in the first instance to give effect to the provisions of the Bill, he did not propose to ask Parliament to make any advances beyond those which had been already sanctioned. The Act passed last year, in addition to authorizing the Commissioners of the Board of Works to extend the time for repayment, sanctioned the advance out of the Consolidated Fund of £1,000,000 for the improvement of land in Ireland, and this, added to the advances authorized by three preceding Acts, gave a total of £3,000,000. He was happy to state that no further sum would be for the present required. The advances made under the four Acts, up to the 31st of January last, amounted to £1,874,042; the balance unissued was therefore £1,125,958. The claims outstanding sanctioned at that time amounted to £111,460; the loans applied for but not then sanctioned would absorb £36,656; these two sums amounted to £148,116, and that left a balance of £977,842. So that there was nearly £1,000,000, the advance of which had been sanctioned by Parliament, available for the object of land improvement. It might be said that this money was advanced for landlords' improvements, and that now it was proposed it should be laid out by tenants. There was not, however, much weight in that objection, for all the money was to be spent on the landlords' property, and if the plan worked well Parliament, he believed, would never be unwilling to lend the credit of the country—for that was what it came to—for an object so desirable as the improvement of the soil in Ireland. There could, therefore, be no substantial objection to the proposal that this £1,000,000 should be devoted to the purposes of the Bill. The next proposal was, that if any tenant was desirous of availing himself of the provision of the measure he should apply to the Commissioners by memorial, pretty much in the same form as the owner now did when he made application for advances, and that most of the proceedings necessary in the one case should be requisite in the other. The Commissioners would then give notice to the landlord and also to the person in actual possession of the land that such an application had been made, and would proceed to institute the proper inquiries in order to enable them to judge of the propriety of the proposed improvement. As soon as the Commissioners were satisfied that the improvements were good and would immediately or prospectively effect a considerable increase in the value of the land—that is, an increase above the charge which it was proposed to place upon it—they would grant to the tenant a certificate sanctioning the improvement, and that certificate would be in the form provided by the rules and regulations he had alluded to before. The proceedings, therefore, to be taken so far would be almost the same on the part of the tenant as were now required on the part of the owner. With regard to the different kinds of improvement he intended to make sonic distinction. As he had already stated there were six kinds of improvement proposed under the Bill. The first three were the main and thorough drainage of land, the reclamation of waste lands, the clearing of the soil from rocks and stones, and the removal of old and useless fences. That these must always be improvements would be admitted; but there was a substantial difference between these three descriptions of improvement and the three last, which were the erection of farm buildings and dwellings, the making of new fences, and the construction of farm roads. With regard to the first three classes, therefore, it was proposed that the Commissioners having been applied to in the first instance by the tenant, and having given notice to the landlord of his intention to permit the improvements, that notice should be sufficient. But, with respect to the last three classes of improvement, con- cerning which great difference of opinion might exist, and concerning which the landlord might think that they ought not to be made, and might be contrary to ulterior objects which he might have with regard to his property, it was proposed that if, in that case, after hearing what was to be said upon the subject, the landlord expressed his dissent, the Commissioners should not be allowed to sanction the improvements. He had said there was a substantial difference between the two classes of improvements. The first description, if done in an efficient manner, could not but he regarded as beneficial, and could not but make the increased value of the land greater than the charge proposed to be laid upon it. No difference of opinion ought to exist on the subject. But it might be otherwise with regard to the other class. He did not think it necessary, therefore, that the dissent of the landlord should put a stop to improvements of the first kind. The Commissioners should proceed, then, to advance out of the money provided by the Act the amount specified, and when that advance had been made he should make a certificate of charge, and the land would be affected by that certificate precisely in the same way as it was affected by the certificates of charge for improvements made by the owner. The term of repayment was to be thirty-five years, and the charges should be repaid in the usual half-yearly instalments in the same way as were the charges under the old Lands Improvement Act. He now came to another portion of the Bill, which he hoped would be still more extensively useful than the part he had described. He proposed that in cases where the tenant should find it more to his convenience to lay out either his money or labour on his holding, if he should think fit to go through those easy and simple forms which he would have to do in order to borrow the money, the Commissioner would be enabled to charge the land precisely in the same way as if the money had been advanced by him. The tenant would, therefore, be in this position—if at any time he was evicted or wished to leave his land, or to get hack the sum of money that he had laid out upon it; if he should be able to prove to the Commissioner that the improvements made were maintained in an efficient manner, he would then be entitled to go and receive back from the Commissioner the money charged upon the land in a lump sum, minus only the instalments he should have paid had he borrowed the money in the ordinary way. The tenant, therefore, would be able during the period of his tenancy to recover from the Commissioner the remaining portion of the charge placed upon the land. There was ample provision made to enable the Commissioner to discover whether the improvements were maintained in thorough and efficient repair. The Commissioners would be able to say to the tenant, "If you have no money to lay out, if you show us that the improvements are good, we will lend you the money; or if you have money or its equivalent—labour—we will secure it to you in such a manner as will repay you over and over again for the improvements you may have effected." The Bill had a great advantage in this respect. The great blot in the tenant-right system of the North of Ireland was this, that the outgoing tenant in every case received a lump sum for his improvements from the incoming tenant. It was quite right that the outgoing tenant should be paid in this manner for his improvements, but it was very much to the disadvantage of the incoming tenant, because by the payment of a large sum, which he ought to have kept for the improvement of his farm, he was—as gentlemen connected with the North of Ireland could testify—often pauperized and rendered incapable of working his farm in a profitable manner. He would, therefore, by this Bill save tenants who chose to take the benefit of it from so great an evil. The outgoing tenant would still receive a lump sum, but the incoming tenant would be able to spread the payment of it over a number of years, the number to be measured by the remainder of the thirty-five years which still had to run. There was another great benefit which it was intended to confer upon the country by this Bill. They heard a good deal of improvements effected by the tenant, and no doubt some had been made; but they all knew that there was in Ireland a great want of agricultural knowledge, and that a great deal of money and labour had been expended upon works which were no improvements at all. It was intended by the machinery of this Bill to put within the reach of the tenant sound agricultural instruction for the making of improvements. The improvements before they were undertaken would have to be specified and described, and afterwards they would have to be carried out according to the description and specification. They would not be carried out in an expensive and extravagant manner, but according to the plans which our improved agricultural science and knowledge showed to be the best. Objection might be taken to the necessity which the Bill would impose upon perhaps a poor tenant, of serving such a notice as this. But let the House consider how it would act. The tenant would not be placed in the position in which other Bills put him, of serving notice upon the landlord, which, in many cases, would, he feared, he taken as a hostile proceeding. He would serve the notice on the Commissioner. Again, it would be objected that a poor and illiterate man would find great difficulty in drawing up the necessary specifications. But that would not be the case, for in every district there would be a surveyor of the Board, who would be perfectly competent to draw up those specifications and plans; and more than that, the officer of the Board would have a direct personal interest in persuading the tenant to make those applications, because he would be paid according to the work which the tenant undertakes. There would, therefore, be no difficulty in a tenant obtaining the assistance of a person of sufficient skill in drawing up notices and plans. There was no country in the world which offered such facilities for the framing of such notices as Ireland, inasmuch as there was an admirable staff of surveyors in the conn-try—one in each county—fully competent to perform those duties which the Bill proposed. Having placed the working of the measure in the hands of the Commissioner, he did not think it necessary to limit the outlay with regard to the size of the holding, because the Commissioner could not sanction any improvement unsuitable to the holding, or which would not increase its substantial value. The extent of land which would probably be affected by the measure would be very large. A Return, which had been prepared with the assistance of Sir Richard Griffiths the Commissioner for valuation, and which was one of the most important Returns ever made connected with the owners and occupiers of land in Ireland, would shortly be laid on the table of the House. Excluding altogether the tenements in towns or in the neighbourhood of towns, and those which could in any respect be regarded as urban, it showed the number of purely agricultural holdings, with the area, value, and population of each district. The number of such holdings in Ireland was 608,864. Were the Bill applied to all holdings of the value of £10 and upwards, it would; include 242,998; if to holdings of £15 and upwards, it would include 165,193; and if to those of £20 and upwards, 119,214. Taking the average valuation of the holdings under £10 to be £6, the Bill, if limited to the former sum, would embrace holdings valued at £7,980,552 out of a total of £10,175,748, or as nearly as possible 4–5ths of the holdings in all Ireland. As, however, the small farms were mostly situate in Ulster, where tenant-right already existed to a great extent, it would actually include nearly 9–10ths in value, and at least 5–6ths of the whole surface of Ireland. These were the principal provisions of the Bill, to which he had added two clauses relating to fixtures, taken from the Bill introduced by Mr. Napier in 1852. These would simplify the law on that subject, and would clear up some of the doubts which attended the construction of two recent statutes. They provided that all buildings and fixtures hereafter attached to the holding by the tenant at his sole expense, and not erected in pursuance of any contract, obligation, or agreement on his part, should be his absolute property, and might be removed by him at any period of his tenancy. The only stipulation was that he should give notice of his intention to the landlord, and that the latter should have the option of purchasing them at a valuation fixed by two arbitrators, or, in case they disagreed, by an umpire to be then appointed. These clauses went very little beyond the existing law, especially the provisions of the Act of 1860; but as there was some doubt as to the operation of that clause, they would, he hoped, receive the sanction of the House. He had thus explained the provisions of the measure, which, based upon the principle of a well-known and successful code, though it contained nothing new in principle, applied well-known principles in an extended and novel form, such as had never before been proposed. It was framed entirely in the interests of the Irish tenantry, and he believed that any occupier desirous of securing the benefit of his improvements would experience but little difficulty in availing himself of its provisions. While, however, it would tend to encourage industry and increase contentment, to promote exertion by the tenant, and to make his dwelling more fit than it usually is in Ireland for human habitation, the landlord also would, he believed, be no inconsiderable gainer. The Bill was calculated to show to the tenant that he had nothing to do but really and honestly to take advantage of it, and he would be able to make sure that that which he sowed he should also reap. If it benefited the tenant, it must also benefit the landlord, because there were no two classes in the social state whose interests were more identical than those of the landlord and tenant. The well-being of the tenant was really the life-blood of the prosperity of the landlord. The tenant might exist alone; but it was dear that the landlord could not exist without the tenant. He asked the House to consider whether the Bill would not really go far to remove many of the grievances complained of. The hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), in a remarkable speech which he delivered last Session, thus summed up what he regarded as the objects to be kept in view with reference to the Irish tenantry— How are the present tenantry, or the best of them, to be raised into a superior class of farmers? … Give them what you can of the encouraging influences of ownership. Give them an interest in improvement. Enable them to be secure of enjoying the fruits of their own labour and outlay. Let their improvements be for their own benefit, and not solely for those whose land they till."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 1091.] Now, this was exactly what the present measure was calculated to accomplish. It would enable the tenant to obtain all those advantages by the exercise of industry and exertion, which was the only way by which any tenant, whatever the nature of his tenure, could expect to obtain them. He would not describe the Bill as a settlement of the question. In a free country, and in an age of rapid change, it was presumptuous to affirm that any great question, political or social, was absolutely settled; but he believed that if the House, after calmly considering and possibly amending it, should pass this measure into law, it would remove many, if not all, the complaints that had been urged from time to time on behalf of the occupiers of land in Ireland.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Leave be given to bring in a Bill to promote the improvement of Land by Occupying Tenants in Ireland."—(Lord Naas.)


said, he would not attempt on that occasion to discuss what his noble Friend called the simple, but what appeared to him the very complicated and elaborate provisions of this measure. He must, however, congratulate him on having—though somewhat timid and restrictive in his application of it—entirely departed from the principle which he so zealously impressed upon the House last Session for the purpose of defeating the second reading of the Bill introduced by the late Government. The Resolution which his noble Friend then moved declared that compensation should be given to the tenant in respect only of improvements made with the consent of the landlord; whereas, with regard to one class of improvements made in the land—namely, drainage, reclamation, and clearing of land from stones, and the removal of old and useless fences, his noble Friend, in defiance of his own antecedents, now entirely abandoned that principle. It was only to be regretted that he had not carried his change of opinion further, and had not extended the principle to improvements in farmhouses and buildings, which were above all others required on Irish farms. Upon the first blush, the measure appeared liable to many and serious objections, the cardinal one being to the lending of money by the Treasury to those who were in one sense tenants-at-will. It was surprising that the present Treasury should have consented to such a proposal. The principle of lending money on laud to those who had a long interest in it was a recognised one; but his noble Friend proposed to make loans of the public money to tenants who were liable to be removed at six months' notice. This, of course, was an objection from an official or Governmental point of view, but he thought it was one of no slight importance, and one which be should have thought would have nipped the Bill in the bud. Another objection was that the plan of his noble Friend required more from the poor Irish tenant than could be fairly required from him. The fatal error which had prevented the twenty-five ghosts of Bills spoken of by the noble Lord from being embodied into Acts of Parliament, and which had led to the Act of his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) becoming a dead letter, was that too much had been expected from the peasantry in the way of putting those elaborated processes in motion. His noble Friend had spoken of the tenant arriving at the same result by this Bill as the late Government had intended he should arrive at by theirs, and he gave him credit for that intention; but before one arrived he must start. What he feared was that under the Bill of his noble Friend the Irish peasant never would be able to start on the race of improvement. Was it to be supposed that the Irish tenant would go through all the proposed forms of applying to the Board of Works for a loan to enable him to begin and carry on his improvements? He must confess that to him it appeared that unless some of these preliminaries were struck out, and the proceeding were made more simple, the Bill would contain in itself a fatal obstacle to its provisions being carried out by the occupiers of Ireland. It was this view which had induced the late Government to proceed on a totally different plan, and to provide what he might call a self-acting piece of machinery. The principle upon which they had proceeded was not only to change, but actually to reverse, the general presumption of the existing law as regarded landlord and tenant in Ireland. In nine cases out of ten, improvements on the land in Ireland were made by the tenant. Under the existing law, those improvements were handed over to the landlord on the expiration of the tenancy, unless there had been an agreement to the contrary. In the Bill brought in by the late Government that principle was reversed, and those improvements became the property of the tenant, unless the two parties had specially agreed to the contrary. He believed a self-acting system, such as that, would have had a most salutary influence on public opinion, and on the dealings between landlords and tenants in Ireland. He did not wish to prejudge the Bill of his noble Friend; but he feared from the character of its machinery that the measure would not work in the beneficial manner that the Government wished and intended it should.


said, there was an unintentional inaccuracy in the statement of the noble Lord that previously to 1845 no person possessing popular influence in Ireland had manifested an interest in the settlement of the land question. Long previously to 1845 O'Connell had pointed to the position of the Irish tenant, and indicated the manner in which it ought to be improved. The Bill now before the House must be regarded as one of the most important measures of the Government; because, no doubt, it formed part of that great scheme by which, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they were to stop the hæmorrago of people from Ireland, and by which, accord- ing to the Attorney General for Ireland, there was to be a prodigious development of that country's resources. Much must have been expected from the measure, because it was known that one of its principal framers was acting under a revulsion of feeling. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland had more than once stated in that House that the measures brought forward to improve the relations between landlord and tenant would have the effect of injuring rather than of benefiting the tenant. He was far from blaming the noble Lord for having changed his mind. He rejoiced at the circumstance, because he thought it was a confession on the noble Lord's part that those relations were not satisfactory, and that those who would have the confidence of the Irish people must endeavour to deal with the land question. The House and the country had now to consider whether the Bill which the noble Lord proposed to introduce would be accepted as a satisfactory settlement of the land question. It was quite possible that the provisions of the Bill might be good in themselves, but, at the same time, fall so far short of what was required as to insure the condemnation of the Bill as a proposal for such settlement. The land question was not an abstruse one. They all knew of what it was the occupiers complained. They all admitted that every facility which could be given to all classes of cultivators to improve the land ought to be given to them, and that every obstacle in the way of such improvement ought to be removed. He believed that this Bill would have no beneficial effect practically on the masses of occupiers, while it might make that position worse than it was at present if it could possibly be accepted as a final settlement of the land question. He believed the provisions of the Bill might in themselves be good; but it never could be accepted by the occupiers as a fair settlement of the land question.


said, he wished to inquire whether it would be necessary for the tenant to get the landlord's sanction before he could borrow money for improvements?


said, that as one of the framers of the Bill, he shared in the responsibility of the proposals now before the House. He was surprised to hear the charge that the noble Lord had departed from the principles upon this subject on which he acted last year; and he could only account for the charge by supposing that it was forgotten that the present Bill was founded upon totally different principles from that of last Session. The Bill of the late Government proposed that the tenant, without notice to the landlord, might make improvements, and that after a number of years, and when there could no longer be an opportunity of testing the validity of the claim in a satisfactory manner, he might demand compensation for those improvements from the landlord or his successor. Under the Bill which his noble Friend sought to introduce, all parties were effectually guarded. The tenant was made to a certain extent independent of the landlord for improvements made in the land; but, on the other hand, the landlord had a security that the improvements would be beneficial. Notice was required, but it was notice to a public officer, independent of both the parties, whose duty it was to see that the money was honestly expended, and that the improvements were bonâ fide, and such as to increase the value of the land. Was it fair to represent such a proposal as a departure from the principle on which resistance was last year made to the proposals of the then Government? Improvements in the land were distinguishable in general from improvements on the land. There were improvements on the land, particularly in the case of buildings, by which a landlord might be improved out of his estate; buildings of so extensive a character, and so entirely unsuited to the character of the holding, that the landlord might never be able to recover anything proportionate through an increased letting value. The veto of the landlord against this latter class of improvements was to be exercised after the Commissioner, an impartial public officer, had been afforded the opportunity of putting before him reasons which ought to be solid. If the landlord were convinced that the change was really for the benefit of the estate, the veto of course would not be exercised; but if he were not convinced, he had clearly a right to exercise that veto. The next objection of the right hon. Gentleman was that the money to be lent to the tenant was the money of the State. But whose money did the Bill of last year propose to lend? The money of the landlord, without security or check of any kind. The present Bill, on the contrary, only sanctioned what would be a secure investment, for the money was to be invested under bonâ fide inspection from time to time by a public officer. As to the fear that tenants of small holdings would not understand the complicated provisions of the Bill, what were these when looked into? Printed forms containing all the necessary heads would be freely supplied to persons requiring them, and the Inspector in the district would supply every information requisite as to how these were to be filled up. When a tenant was about to give the legal notices, it surely was not too much to expect that he should have made up his own mind as to the character of the improvements which he contemplated. Between the tenant and a captious or objecting landlord, if any such should be found, an impartial public officer was judicially interposed by the Bill. He would not enter into a discussion of what the hon. Member for Tralee called "the land question." He did not really know what the land question meant. But he might suggest that this measure afforded a very good test of what some meant by that phrase. If by the land question were meant something in the nature of a transfer of property from the landlord to the tenant, this measure was not intended to do anything of the kind, or to aid or abet any such design. But if it meant merely an honest desire to get secured to the tenant the value of bonâ fide improvements effected in the land, then he believed this measure would deal justly and effectually with the land question. As to borrowing money, the provisions of the Bill, when these were in the hands of Members, would bear upon their face evidence that they were intended to apply to improvements in the land as distinguished from those on the land—that was to say, to improvements by which all who were interested in the land would be benefited.


said, he admitted that the Bill would not constitute a settlement of the land question; but he did not think the objections taken by his right hon. Friend (the Member for Louth) were well founded. It was a very fortunate thing, he thought, that his noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been able to induce the Treasury to lend the money of the State to the Irish tenant farmers to improve their lands. As to any objections on that score, let the noble Lord settle those with his own Colleagues; as far as the country was concerned, it was of great benefit that the noble Lord had been able to carry his Colleagues along with him. Bearing in mind that of the £3,000,000 advanced for improvements in land a balance of £1,200,000 was available, the noble Lord, he thought, was quite justified in his proposal. Moreover, the improvements being made in the land itself, and remaining a charge upon the land, there would always be good security for the investment. He found no fault now with the noble Lord for any opinion which he might have expressed in former times. He had come down now, in the responsible position of Chief Secretary for Ireland, speaking the sentiments of the Government, to recommend a principle which went considerable lengths in the direction for which Members at that side of the House always contended. He wished the measure had been more extensive; but such as it was it ought to be welcomed, and, if possible, improved when before the House in detail.


said, he wished to express his grateful thanks to the noble Lord for having introduced the Bill, the principle of which he hoped, for the advantage of Ireland, would be carried out. The people of Ireland were in a very distressed condition owing to the state of the law as regarded landlord and tenant, and any measure which would have the effect of alleviating that distress ought to have the sanction of every Member of that House. If this question could be settled the people of Ireland would become more happy and prosperous, and in the future would be as loyal as the citizens of any other part of Her Majesty's dominions.


said, he thought the Bill a good one as far as it went, but it did not meet the case of three-fourths of the tenants of Ireland. The noble Lord, who understood the Irish land question as well as any Member of that House, must see that its provisions did not meet the case of the tenant who little by little, without the consent of or having given notice to his landlord, and probably without any settled intention of doing so at the outset, by long years of labour reclaimed the hog or cleared the mountain side of stones. In many cases, also, he believed that the very dread of the landlord entertained by the tenantry would deter them from giving notice to the Commissioner.


said, he thought that the Bill would be in a great degree inoperative, because, if it became law, a tenant would not be able to make improvements without the consent of the landlord. If a landlord did not desire his land to be improved, he would forthwith give his tenant notice to quit. He feared that the Bill of the noble Lord would not settle the land question in Ireland.


said, he approved of the principle contained in the Bill of allowing the tenant to become a borrower, which might get rid of many existing difficulties which occasioned the eviction of tenants, under whatever circumstance they might be evicted. The value of their improvements would, at all events, not be lost to them. The proposal of the noble Lord seemed, however, to be surrounded with considerable difficulty. The system was too complicated and elaborate for a simple people like the Irish peasantry. The appointment of the local inspectors, who were not to be paid salaries, but according to the amount of money expended on the work under their supervision, might have the effect of increasing the expenditure without due regard to the requirements of the land. The noble Lord must not flatter himself that this Bill, however well it might he accepted, would settle the land question. He had been much about Ireland of late, and had endeavoured to ascertain from the people what their feeling in the matter was, and he was convinced as to what was at the bottom of that discontent which had made the soil there so ready to receive the seeds of every attempt made against our Empire. The source of discontent in Ireland was not a feeling that the tenantry were not paid for their improvements, but a conviction that the whole system of land tenure in the country was abnormal, since the tenants had no security for their holdings. In Scotland, on the contrary, they found a tenure in which the largest amount of produce was derived from land; while, at the same time, the largest rents were there paid, and the tenants were contented. Security of tenure, even for a limited period, was the source of Scotland's contentment; insecurity was the cause of Ireland's discontent. Some Irish landlords were surprised at the views he entertained, knowing the perfect security their tenants had enjoyed from father to son, and how little weight they attached to leases. But it was not for the good, but for the bad, that he would legislate; and the language of all the tenants advocated before the late Committee was to this effect:—that if all landlords were considerate and just, there would be no cry for tenant right. There were, however, too many cases where tenants were turned out, sometimes from caprice, and sometimes from interested motives, under circumstances which produced the most painful impression in the country, and gave rise to that feeling which indisposed the people to the institutions under which they lived. He was convinced that if the general system of tenure in Ireland was assimilated to the system in Scotland, and the tenants were secure of their holdings for a certain period, every man thus secured would be, as it were, a sworn special constable in favour of law and order. He should do his best to assist the noble Lord; but he did not think we should ever have thorough peace in Ireland until the tenure of land was assimilated to the tenure in Scotland and Prussia, and in those other countries where agrarian discontent was unknown.


said, he had looked in vain to find a satisfactory measure in the Bill of the noble Lord, and he regretted that he had not been able to find it. He was anxious to give the noble Lord all the assistance in his power if the Bill could be made a satisfactory one, but he feared that that was impossible. He believed that a much shorter and more effective road must be taken in dealing with the question, which was one more of tenure than of compensation, and he believed the Bill to be brought in by his hon. Friend (Mr. Agar-Ellis), which related solely to the tenure of land, would be much more likely to prove an effective remedy for the existing state of things. The evil against which he wished them to provide was not one of a merely imaginary character, and he would give an instance of the mode in which it operated. A Belfast merchant had lately purchased in the county of Down a large estate, on which were settled a thriving tenantry. But those people were tenants-at-will, who paid 7s. 6d. per Irish acre. The new proprietor, thinking, as he had a perfect right to do, that that sum was too small, served the different holders with notices to quit; but, at the same time, intimated that he was prepared to accept from them rents which were to be increased by sums varying from 37s. 6d. to 57s. 6d. per acre. They declined to accept that offer, although some of them expressed their readiness to pay an additional rent of 40s. per acre, and as he was not satisfied with that proposal, they were all threatened with the total loss of their farms. But if that threat were enforced, they would, under the operation of the existing law, in ten days, be thrown helpless upon the world, and be deprived of any kind of claim to compensation for that improved value which the application of their own capital and industry had given to the land.


said, be wished to congratulate the noble Lord on the introduction of his Bill, and on the reception which the House bad accorded to it. "Until they had seen the measure it was premature to talk of its complication. The noble Lord bad been taunted with altering his opinion on the subject; but surely, considering the recent circumstances of Ireland, he could well afford to bear that reproach. The emigration still going on from that country was a most serious matter; and, although a Bill such as this might not stop that emigration, yet anything which checked that tendency would be a blessing to Ireland. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory) had contrasted the Scotch system of tenure with that prevalent in Ireland; but bow was it possible to compare the case of a country where land was so much subdivided as it was in Ireland with that of a country like Scotland, where the farms were generally of great size? The introduction to a moderate extent of the tenant right principle which existed in Ulster would, he thought, prove beneficial. That principle might be carried to an unreasonable length, so as to be a bar to the landlord's sanctioning improvements; and he bad known a man to be pauperized by the large sum he had to pay for the tenant right. But where there was a moderate amount of tenant right, and where the tenant had a security, whether by a lease or through his confidence in his landlord, he had a permanent interest in the soil, and would think twice before he exchanged the security and associations of his native country for the attractions of the new one across the Atlantic.


said, he thought they were indebted to the noble Lord for the kind intentions with which he had introduced that measure; but, at the same time, he (Mr. Rearden) believed that the scheme would be found to be of very little value unless it were considerably amended. He should propose Amendments when the Bill was in Committee. He thought it fell far short of a final settlement of the land question.


said, he wished to suggest that when the Bill got into Committee a clause should be introduced into it pro- viding that a tenant-at-will, spending his own money on improvements, should have some kind of security in the shape of an extended period for his occupancy, and not be liable to be turned out summarily at the end of six months. He gave the noble Lord every possible credit for good intentions; but doubted whether the plan for making advances to tenants would be found to work in practice where they had not some security of tenure. The whole complaint of tenants in Ireland, as a class, was the want of security of tenure, in other words, an incentive to lay out their money, and to take an interest in their business. He remembered the time when leases in Ireland were the rule and not the exception as now. He thought a better Bill might have been introduced, but he reserved further observations for the Committee.


said, with regard to the charge of inconsistency which bad been sought to be fastened upon him, that it was true he had moved a Resolution last year in the terms which had been quoted; but that Resolution was, in effect, the Resolution of the late Government. It was proposed in the Committee in 1865, by the desire and with the consent of two Members who represented the late Government in that Committee, one of whom was the right hon. Member for the city of Oxford (Mr. Cardwell). So that if be was open to the charge of inconsistency in to a certain extent now departing from the principle of the Resolution of last year, how much more was the late Government open to it, seeing that they departed much sooner from that principle, and introduced a Bill directly opposed to it in every clause? He therefore left the House to judge on whom the charge of inconsistency principally rested; but, in reality, he only extended the provisions of the Land Improvements Acts now, which provided that the charge of re-payment should attach itself to the land, not to the owner. But he now turned to a more important point. It was said the Bill proposed that the Government should lend money to occupiers in Ireland, no matter what was the size of their holdings. Now, it was perfectly true that it did so to a certain extent; but, in reality, the charge was not upon the occupying tenant, but on the land; and the security to the Treasury for the loan under the Bill would be as sound, good, and easily enforced as a security taken under the Land Improvement Act. Additional security to what was given by that Act was taken; because the Bill provided, with regard to the repayment of the instalments, that they should, if the Commissioners saw fit, be collected with, and in the same manner as, the county cess and the poor rate.


said, he wished to ask whether they would be levied from the tenant or the landlord?


said, they would be levied from the occupier of the land whoever he might be, and not only would the land be liable, but the property of the tenant would also be liable till the money was paid. In the case of a change of tenancy, the tenant would take the land with that charge upon it. The Bill exactly met the case suggested by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake), with reference to the reclamation of mountain or bog land. As to the assertion that landlords could evade the Bill by giving their tenants notice to quit, be would ask what man could frame a Bill not open to the same objection? The Bill of the late Government not only permitted the landlord to evade the law by giving his tenant notice to quit, but actually suggested that course to him by the contract clause framed for the purpose of enabling the landlord to evade the preceding one. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory) had made some excellent remarks upon the subject of agriculture in Scotland; but, although they would all join with him in wishing for Ireland as happy a state of things as existed in Scotland, he did not believe the tenantry in Ireland would prosper under a system of short leases. Irish tenants would not relish having their holding put up for auction and let to the highest bidder after their nineteen years' lease had expired. Short leases might be profitable to landlords, and conduce to the improvement of the land; but they would operate harshly upon the holder, and lead to a constant change of tenantry, which was undesirable. There were no holdings the tenancy of which were oftener changed than these Scotch cases, and at the termination of the lease the land was frequently re-valued and sold by auction to the highest bidder. He hoped the House would calmly consider this Bill, which was simply a Bill to provide a tenant with compensation for his improvements. His Bill did not affect the question of tenure, and he would not recommend legislation upon the subject. If the House attempted to force the landlords of Ireland to grant any specific tenure, hon. Gentlemen would find the attempt both danger- ous and difficult; and the result would show that the greatest sufferer by coercion of this description would be the tenant.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord NAAS and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 29.]