§ (Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Chichester Fortescue, Mr. John Bright.)
§ COMMITTEE. [Progress 7th April.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 3 (Compensation in absence of custom).1507
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he would suggest that it would add greatly to the convenience of Members if the Chairman would, from time to time, read the clause, as amended, down to the last Amendment adopted.
said, he thought it would be hardly convenient to print part of a clause; but if the Committee arrived at the end of the clause to-day, the whole of it might be printed.
§ Moved, in line 16, to leave out from "£50" to "rent" in line 17 inclusive, and insert "£20 and under £30, a sum in no case exceeding two years' rent."—(Mr. Kavanagh)
said, they had voted up to £50 in the previous part of the clause, and the whole Amendment of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler), last night, depended upon their having disposed of this part.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. KAVANAGH
said, that the object of his Amendment to leave out sub-Section 4 had practically the same effect as that of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler), with this exception that he took the higher stand of £100 valuation instead of £50; and, although the decision of the Committee last night might be considered final, he should move it, and offer a few remarks in doing so. His sole object in supporting the Bill as he had done was to afford protection to a class of tenants who, from peculiar circumstances connected with the tenure of land in Ireland, were exposed to the harsh and arbitrary exercise of a power which had, he was glad to say, been of late years rarely used against them. Now, he could not regard tenants of 1508 over £100 valuation, as coming under that class; and he thought that, in legislation of this exceedingly exceptional nature, care should be taken not to extend its action further than was absolutely required. So far as this Bill proposed to afford protection to the really weak against the unjustifiable exercise of strength he would support it; but by so much as it exceeded the requirements for affording that protection, in that proportion must he regard it as partaking of the elements of injustice. When that limit was passed this measure ceased to be one of protection to the tenant, and became one of penal, harsh, and unjust enactment against the landlord. He could not regard the tenant holding at a value of £100 and over as requiring that protection, or as being at all helplessly exposed to the arbitrary will of the landlord; and if he could do no more, he must at least enter his solemn protest against that injustice. He therefore begged to move to leave out sub-Section 4, and down to "reclamation of land," in line 35, inclusive.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
said, it was now proposed to raise, in the same portion of the Bill which related primarily and directly to tenancies to be created after the passing of the Act, the selfsame question upon which a Division was taken last night, though on a different figure, £100 being now the limit proposed instead of £50. He thought it his duty to defer to what had fallen from the head of the Government, who, as he understood, said that those who thought some limitation necessary in the part of the clause relating to existing tenancies would do better to raise the question at a later part of the clause, and not interfere with the arrangement proposed by the Government relating to tenancies to be hereafter created. On the whole, then, he deprecated a new debate now upon a new figure of limitation, when it would be open to those who thought some limitation necessary hereafter to consider the question upon its own merits. He submitted that it would be better to defer the question now raised until they reached the portion of the clause relating to existing tenancies.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he had heard nothing in the debate last night to show that tenant-farmers in Ireland with holdings above £50 were not responsible and substantial men. They 1509 had voted, however, on this question last night, and. had been beaten. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury said he was far as the poles asunder from him (Colonel Barttelot); but they were rather nearer together in the Division last night than they had hitherto been, and he ventured to think they would be still nearer before they had done with the Bill. Nobody could deny that the man who paid a rental of £50 a year was able to take care of himself, and as they ascended the scale the Irish tenants were still better able to do so. The doctrine laid down in the Bill was, that it was necessary in Ireland to protect poor men who could not protect themselves, and the Committee would be departing from this principle if they protected men who were in a position to protect themselves, and did that in Ireland which was no more necessary than it would be in England and Scotland. The moment they reached a point at which protection was not needed they ought to stop; and if they went beyond it, they would be committing gross injustice to landlords and tenants, and injuring the welfare of the whole community. Contrast the position of a tenant-farmer in Ireland at £50 with that of a farmer in England or Scotland. The Irish tenant had no tithes to pay, and, although he might be called upon to pay the other dues, he paid only half the poor rate, and he got labour far cheaper than could be had in this country. The Irish farmer could got labourers when he required them far more easily than the English tenant could; and all these things, with regard to which the Irish farmer was in a better position than the English farmer, ought to be taken into account. It struck him last night that the proposal about free contract failed to supply this deficiency. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. R. Torrens) was prepared to supply it; because he wished to move that from £50 to £75 rent the compensation should be two years' rent, from £75 to £100 one year's rent, and that the operation of the clause should cease at a rent of £100. He thought that in the eyes of the First Minister of the Crown this would be right and just, for the right hon. Gentleman would not say that a man paying £100 and more was not in a responsible position and capable of taking care of himself, and therefore to go beyond this limit would 1510 be to do great injustice to the landlords of the country.
said, the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) said last night that in this clause they were dealing simply with prospective arrangements. If that were so, he agreed with his hon. and learned Friend that it would be better to postpone the question of existing tenancies till a future stage. But his belief was that the Government intended this clause to be retrospective, and retrospective in a most important manner. Suppose, for instance, that a tenant had a farm upon the usual indefinite holding, to continue till it was determined by notice on one side or the other—suppose that he paid his rent half-yearly, that he had been in occupation for five years, and was still in occupation. If the clause were to apply to a case of this kind, it would be clearly retrospective; because though it might be said that this was a tenancy from year to year, yet the farmer really held on a contract which began five years ago. He asked the Government clearly to state whether their clause applied to a case of this description.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he hoped the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) would press his Amendment, and give himself and others an opportunity of distinctly entering their protest against this 4th sub-section, for it embodied monstrous propositions. Compensation for disturbance was monstrous, and interference with contract was monstrous; they were monstrous in the sense of being new and unheard of; the 31 years' lease not covering reclamation of land was monstrous; and, therefore, he and others would take every opportunity of protesting against such legislation. It came to this, that tenants paying £100 a year and upwards, were in such a position of subserviency to this tyrannical power which had been exercised, that it required a Prime Minister with a large majority to save these men from their tyrants, and to override the rights of property. He was very much surprised last night to hear the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), which was conceived in a very different spirit from that he delivered a few nights ago. The hon. and learned Member, possessing influence on the Liberal side of the House, 1511 was almost the only one those on his (Lord Elcho's) side, in such a minority, could look to for the protection of the rights of property and for resistance to the dictatorship of the First Minister of the Crown. It was with something more than astonishment that he saw the hon. and learned Gentleman, influenced by what had been said as to something the Government intended to do at a future time, walk out of the House before the Division, instead of leading into the Lobby those who were ready to follow him upon this question. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said last night the Amendment of the Government did not satisfy him, the question arose what did satisfy him. What was the promise of the Government which had so marvellous an effect on the hon. and learned Member for Richmond that, whereas he was most strongly against going beyond £50, he was nevertheless prepared to assent to what the Government were going to propose? The Committee did not know what it was; they had received no intimation of it; and, therefore, it was the duty of every Member who valued the rights of property to support the right hon. and learned Member for Newcastle (Mr. Headlam). It must not be supposed that those who stood up for the rights of property had no feelings for the poor, or that feeling for the poor was monopolized by the First Minister of the Crown. They were sent to Parliament to maintain certain principles which were found in our legislation, and one of these was the security of property, which by these proposals would be monstrously infringed; and that would not be for the advantage of the poor. Therefore, he would use every opportunity of protesting against these proposals in the most emphatic manner, and if the hon. Member for Carlow divided the Committee he would vote with him. In the meantime, he wished to ask either the First Lord of the Treasury or the Chief Secretary for Ireland to state what change they proposed to make.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
said, no one was better aware than he was that the course which he took last night was a course which very seldom ought to be taken, and one, even when justified, fairly exposed to observation and criticism. He took that course simply because it appeared to him to be, under all the circum- 1512 stances, most in accordance with that very duty which the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) had assigned him, and as the course which would least diminish any little chance he had of exercising any useful influence for the public good, either with those who sat on the Ministerial Bench or those who sat near him. The latter certainly were not of opinion that, upon the issue then raised, in the light in which it was put by the First Minister of the Crown, they could reconcile it with their sense of duty and their sincere desire to carry the Bill forward to vote against the Government. He was one of those who thought they never ought to give votes which they would not give if they expected to be in a majority. If there were, upon any point, just ground for thinking that the cardinal principles of property were, intentionally or unintentionally, invaded by the Bill, and that the ulterior consequences of the legislation proposed would be of greater importance than the object immediately aimed at, it might be the duty of himself, and others who agreed with him, however unwillingly, to go into the Lobby against the Government, even after the intimation which his right hon. Friend made last night; but that would be their duty only if their conviction was clear that the particular issue on which the vote was about to be taken was one which necessarily involved so important a principle. He was, down to that moment, quite as ignorant as his noble Friend of what the Government thought might be done, consistently with the principle of the Bill, to limit its application with regard to present tenancies. His right hon. Friend had shown, in the early part of the previous evening, a sincere desire to meet, to a considerable extent, the suggestions made to improve the Bill, and had done what seemed sufficient, both to the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Dr. Ball), and to himself, with respect to what he would call the future, by which he meant, in the language of the first part of the 3rd clause, "tenancies created after the passing this Act;" and the words of the clause, as far as the Committee had yet gone, grammatically related only to such tenancies. His right hon. Friend stated that he reluctantly consented to exclude from the operation of the clause, so far as it restricted the power of making 1513 future contracts, all tenants above £50, and that he attributed some importance to leaving the scale in operation in cases where the contracting parties, in contracts made after the passing of the Act, did not think fit to exclude themselves from its operation. He distinctly understood his right hon. Friend to say that he should regard in the same point of view any reasonable proposition to limit the operation of the Act, whether in one way or another, which might appear necessary to prevent injustice, when they arrived at the subsequent part of this clause, which alone introduced existing tenancies, and made them subject to it—namely, the part which provided that—The tenant of any holding held by him under a tenancy from year to year existing at the time of the passing of this Act shall, if disturbed by the act of his immediate landlord, be entitled to compensation under, and subject to, the provisions of this section.At the present moment he was under the strongest impression that if they drew the line at £50 after the passing of the Act, and then gave freedom of contract, they could not interfere with all existing contracts and say that they should be subject to the scale. His right hon. Friend intimated that the Government would endeavour to meet the views of those who felt a difficulty with regard to this point. When or how that was to be done he did not know; but the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Charley) had a Notice of a Motion on the Paper, which would on that portion of the clause renew the question about the £50 tenant, and make it necessary for the Government to declare their views. He was most anxious not to stick at a figure, or anything else, which did not involve a principle; but he adhered to what he had before said, that to require a landlord to pay £250 in cases where there was no justification for requiring him to pay anything, was not, to him, satisfactory. All he could say further was, that no man in the House would be more disposed than himself to regard it as a public calamity, that anything should happen which would throw this matter into a state of confusion and prevent a measure being passed on this subject. He would not personally be a party to anything which invaded the security of property, or which could not be reconciled with the principles of justice; but, on the other 1514 hand, he would not, in opposition to the Government, in whom he placed general confidence, and whom he desired to support to the utmost of his power, do anything which would prevent the passing of a Bill which he thought necessary, unless such a course should be absolutely forced on him for the sake of maintaining what he deemed vital principles.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, he did not rise to discuss the many monstrous things of which the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) had spoken, and some of which he was happy to know the House had sanctioned by a large majority; but he should be sorry indeed if the House were to legislate on this subject from the point of view of the noble Lord, which only showed that the noble Lord was blind to the more monstrous things that already existed in Ireland. [Lord ELCHO: Name them.] He could assure the noble Lord that if the House were not prepared to sanction those things which he called monstrous, but which they called wise and humane provisions, they would see more monstrous things still in Ireland. The noble Lord asked what were the limitations which the Government proposed to make with respect to the part of the clause they were now dealing with. The noble Lord could not have been in his place last night. In reply, he would state that the Government agreed to the proposition of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) that in no case should the maximum payment for eviction exceed £250. The Government also stated that, under the Bill as it stood, the line in respect to the power of entering into free contracts had been drawn at £100, and that they now proposed to reduce the line to £50; so that in the case of all persons holding land above £50 a year they should be at liberty to contract themselves out of the provisions of the Act. With regard to what had been said as to the distinction between existing and future tenancies, he would point out that at present the Committee was dealing with future tenancies, and, as they went further on, the occasion would naturally arise for considering the question of existing tenancies, and it would be for the Government to consider whether any change in that matter could be acceded to; but what was announced by the First Minister of the Crown came to this—that in all cases there would be 1515 freedom of contract above £50 valuation, whether in case of existing or future tenancies, to enable parties to contract themselves out of the provisions of this Act. He was surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) state that the Irish tenant above £50 valuation was, to all intents and purposes, as able to take care of himself as an English or Scotch tenant. Now, he believed that every Irish Member would be ready to maintain that it was a delusion to suppose that they were on an equal footing. At the same time, he admitted that an Irish tenant at £100 or £50 was in a bettor position than a smaller tenant, and required less protection, and, accordingly, the clause had been adapted to suit that state of circumstances. With that view it was proposed that the very outside amount which the Court could award under the head of damages for improper and capricious eviction in such a case should be one or two years' rent, or a sum not exceeding £250. Such a provision was important, for though causeless evictions did not happen every day, they happened often enough to create a great feeling of alarm and insecurity among the tenantry. The scale of compensation provided by the clause was not excessive; on the contrary, it was so moderate that landlords would have no difficulty in making arrangements with their tenants. The advantages offered were not such as to induce any enterprizing tenant to refuse a fair lease.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he regarded the intimation which had been given by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) of the reasons which had induced him to take the course he did last night as amounting to this—that he preferred consulting his apprehensions as to what the First Minister would do if the Committee did not sanction the proposal of the Government, rather than, the pure dictates of his reason. No one on that side complained of the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but most Members must feel that they had arrived at a very unsatisfactory state of affairs when important decisions on that Bill were arrived at not on the merits of the questions submitted to them, but in accordance with apprehensions as to what might or might not be the future course of the Government if the Committee decided 1516 according to their deliberate convictions. With reference to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, it was true compensation had been limited to the somewhat arbitrary sum of £250; but the hon. and learned Member for Richmond had expressed his strong opposition to the limits so proposed. The proposed substitution of one year's rent for two years' was no doubt a concession as to degree, but none as to principle. The concessions proposed by the Government, and that proposed by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) and accepted by the Government, rather complicated what was already a most complicated measure; and they ought to take every means in their power to diminish instead of increasing the complication of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) reserved to himself the right of considering the Amendment of the hon. Member for Salford when they came to it; but from what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman he inferred that the Government would accept that Amendment. What, then, was the corpus about which they were actually fighting? It seemed to him the veriest shadow. For the sake of simplicity and eliminating unnecessary phraseology and complication from the clause, they ought to assent to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh). His noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had stated that in vindicating the rights of property they were taking the best course for promoting the real interests of the peasantry and poor of Ireland, and he quite concurred in that statement. It was because he believed that to the landlords of Ireland, and not to the tenant-farmers, the peasantry had to look for the social and material improvement of their condition that he protested against this impediment put in the way of the free management of their estates. He therefore gave his support to this Amendment.
§ MR. BAGWELL
said, he thought the Government should take warning when noble Lords and Gentlemen opposite got up and thanked them for their concessions on this Bill. When the Bill was introduced he said it was not agreed on, and would not work for the benefit of the people of Ireland as he believed the Government were anxious it should. But every step that had 1517 been taken in the line of concession weakened the Bill, and would weaken the cause of the Government in Ireland, especially when the people found that those concessions were not made to the Irish Members, but to the English Members, who were legislating for Ireland with England in the background, They ought to be very much obliged to English Gentlemen for the great care they were taking of the property of Irish landlords. The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) seemed to think that a £50 tenant was able to take care of himself; but he, for one, had great doubts on the subject. Many hon. Members in that House, like himself, had a number of small tenants, and he asserted deliberately that, as a class, rent was scarcely ever lost through them. A small tenant felt his precarious position so keenly, and was so anxious to keep his small holding, that he exerted every energy he possessed to stand well with his landlord. But a £50 tenant very often was not so industrious or so hardworking, and, if he fell behind with his payments, could not so readily got assistance from his friends to make up his rent. He hoped the Government would stand firm on this point and not weaken the Bill by any further concessions; for he was sorry to say that, as it stood, the Bill, he feared, would have little effect in Ireland, and any further weakening of its provisions would lead the people of Ireland to think that the Irish Members in the House of Commons had but a small voice in this matter. [Cries of "Oh!"] He was not; contending for the establishment of any distinctions between Members of the House elected in different portions of the United Kingdom, for they were all members of the same Empire; but he was speaking of the light in which the action of the House of Commons would be viewed at the other side of the water. It would be said that legislation beneficently intended by the Government had been weakened and frittered away by the English Members, who were looking not to the immediate circumstances of Ireland, but to the possible result of such legislation hereafter upon their own estates in England. He did not believe that the operation of the Bill would entail upon the Irish landlords anything like the burdens which were represented. Estates there nomi- 1518 nally sold for 20 years' purchase frequently proved to be of a letting value which would reduce the purchase-money to 17 years' purchase, more especially as there was not just now much competition of English capital, which was a comfort; then there was the year's rent falling due, which should be taken into account. So that, practically, if seven years' rent had to be allowed to every tenant upon the estate, with a view of getting rid of them, the landlord would not be paying more than three or four years' rent out of his own pocket. That was to say, after compensating and evicting all the tenants, he would have his estate for 24 years' purchase, against at least 34 years' purchase in England. Moreover, there were few Irish landlords in the position of his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) and himself who would object to assist their tenants to emigrate if they went voluntarily, and believed that by doing so they were bettering their position. But what the Irish tenants objected to, and what lay at the bottom of the discontent in Ireland, was the attempt to better them against their will. A man had no right to insist on another's living in a large house in Belgravia if he preferred to live in a small one anywhere else. It was the interference that the tenants objected to. On this point he hoped the Government would not yield one iota more; they had already yielded more than the supporters of the Bill desired.
Sir, my hon. Friend, who has just sat down, in his zeal to prevent further concessions has gone far to cut the ground from under our feet; for he has drawn such a flattering picture of the financial position of the Irish landlords, and of their willingness to give pecuniary help to their tenants out of their own pockets, that the Bill seems to be hardly necessary.
§ MR. BAGWELL
said, he had been only speaking of himself and his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory).
I hope and have no doubt he speaks for other Irish landlords as well. My hon. Friend entreats us not to give way any more. It would be inconsistent with our duty to agree to a general pledge of that character, because our pledge to the House is that we will look at all Amendments on their 1519 merits; and, consequently, were I to give him the assurance for which he asks I might be entangling myself in charges of breach of faith. But, looking at the question before us, the Government have not the slightest intention or idea of giving way, and I will state reasons for that decision which ought, I think, to be satisfactory. My hon. Friend said that if this portion of the Bill were to be, as he said, further weakened the effect would be very much to damage the cause of the Government in Ireland. Well, that I believe is true; but it is a very small part of the truth. It is not only a question of damaging the cause of the Government—that would be insignificant; but it is also a question of damaging the cause of the Imperial Parliament. For I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, in the whole of this discussion, we ought to bear in mind that we are dealing with a country which unfortunately wants that confidence—and I am afraid derives from history grounds for wanting that confidence—which the people of England and Scotland have for many generations been able to repose in Parliament. I, therefore, entirely assent to the principle which my hon. Friend lays down with regard to the solemn nature of the considerations that bear upon the manner in which we are to adjust the terms of the compact which Parliament is virtually about to make with the occupiers in Ireland. But let us look at the Bill. I make no complaint of the opposition of my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), who thinks the principle of the Bill monstrous, and who objected to it fairly upon the second reading. But I am addressing a House that assented generally to the second reading of the Bill, and still more warmly endorsed it in the speeches which were delivered. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) says we have arrived at a deplorable position in which hon. Members vote not because they approve the clause itself, but because of some declaration which the Government have made with regard to it. But the noble Lord has not accurately stated the facts. He said that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) objected to the Motion of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson). [Lord JOHN MANNERS: He did so.] Not a 1520 word of it. [Lord JOHN MANNERS: Oh, yes, he did.] Not a word of it—not one word of it. I will show that there was an unfortunate misapprehension, not only in the mind of the noble Lord, but of many hon. Members, as to the arguments which were addressed to the House. I do not recollect a case in which a vote of that kind was given under similar circumstances. To clear the ground it is necessary to observe that we are not at this moment dealing with the case of present tenancies. ["Oh! oh!"] We have not voted a word in this clause that touches present tenancies at all. The objections taken by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite and by my hon. and learned Friend behind me were retrospective objections applying to a portion of the clause entirely separate from that with which we are now dealing. Therefore, let hon. Gentlemen observe that present tenancies have nothing to do either with the vote we are now about to give or the vote which we gave last night. And I wish that part of the question had been better understood. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Dr. Ball) declared that, in his judgment, the prospective question was sufficiently met by the concession which the Government had made. My hon. and learned Friend (Sir Roundell Palmer) stated that the provision for free contract from £50 upwards was sufficient for merely prospective tenancies, and it is for them alone that we are now legislating. I must own that after these declarations—though I have no right to make any I complaint on the subject—I was greatly disappointed at the vote given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Dr. Ball), and at the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend left the House. I frankly confess that after the statements made by two such authorities? that the proposals of the Government upon this point sufficiently met the requirements of justice, it was disappointing to find the Amendment supported by the vote and authority of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and supported, if not by the vote, at least by the inaction, neutrality, and departure from the House of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond. Now, Sir, what has happened in addition to that? We have 1521 agreed to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Banbury. That Amendment is a very important one, because it provides practically that the sum which is to be the maximum that any tenant under £100 can in certain cases obtain shall be the maximum that any tenant over £100 can obtain. In point of policy hon. Gentlemen must feel that there is some force in our plea that, as you go upward, the argument of fear and necessity becomes weaker; but we are dealing with the agricultural population as a whole, as it would not be wise by a severe and sharp provision drawn at a certain point to strike the most important part of the tenantry of Ireland altogether out of the scope of the provisions of the Bill; and, consequently, we have accepted the suggestion of my hon. Friend, which meets, I think, every objection that can fairly be taken to including very large tenancies. Now, the noble Lord opposite says we are fighting for a shadow. If that be so it will be easy for him not to join in the fight. We, however, do not think that is the case. We believe that morally it is very important, that politically it is very important, and that it is material to the success of the measure we have at heart. But still if the noble Lord thinks that it is fighting for a shadow, the best thing he can do is to vote with us; or, if he does not like to do that, to pursue the course adopted by my hon. and learned Friend last evening. Now, the concession of free contract is admitted in substance to meet the cases. That concession has been made, and as far as we are concerned irrevocably made, for every man above £50, and, under those circumstances, I trust that the Committee will sustain the decision which we arrived at last night.
§ DR. BALL
As I have been referred to in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), I feel bound to say that I certainly did vote last night, because I conceived that the question which was then put, and which is now again to be put, did involve the retrospective compensation to persons holding existing tenancies. I find that the clause as printed provides as follows:—The tenant of any holding held by him under a tenancy from year to year existing at the time of the passing of this Act shall, if disturbed by the act of his immediate landlord, be entitled to compensation under, and subject to, the provisions of this section.Unless the right hon. Gentleman is pre- 1522 pared to alter the language of this portion of the clause, it is as plain as possible that the preceding words "above £100" will be governed by them. If the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government is prepared to make the concession, and state that the section shall retrospectively be confined to tenancies of under £50 valuation, I am prepared to admit that in contesting this we should be dividing on a matter of no consequence. If you insert in the clause some such provision, all existing tenancies above £50 would be excluded, and you would not be dealing with the past, but legislating simply in those cases where, in the future, the landlord remains silent. As to them, if you give me freedom in the future, I do not lay any stress upon the matter; but unless the right hon. Gentleman says, in plain terms, that he will insert in the 22nd line of the 4th page, "under £50 valuation," it is idle to tell me I am not voting on retrospective legislation. It certainly seems to me that the question as to what concessions generally the Government are prepared to make ought to have great weight in determining what vote we shall give, in particular instances, and there are two or three matters on which it would have thrown some light if the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his opinion. Thus, the term of 31 years provided in this clause to exempt, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer); proposes to reduce to 14. I propose to reduce it to 21, because a 21 years' lease is a very frequent term granted, and because I think that will be a very fair limit. It would probably much affect the votes of Members on this side of the House if they knew what was to be done as to this, and I repeat that, until we have got a substantial declaration as to what is intended with reference to that part of the clause which relates to past holdings, it cannot be said that we are not voting on the subject of retrospective legislation.
§ MR. W. H. GREGORY
said, they were simply wasting precious hours in the discussion of what it was perfectly clear would have to be discussed over again. The debate on this point would property arise when they came to the 25th line of page 4. It would be impossible to get the clause through the Committee at all if there was such a great waste of time over it.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he hoped the advice he was about to give would not be misunderstood. It seemed to him that they could come to a much more satisfactory discussion upon this question at a subsequent portion of the clause, and he, therefore, hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) would not press his Amendment.
§ MR. KAVANAGH
said, in answer to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman, he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed, in line 13, to leave out from "£10 and under, &c." to "reclamation of land," in line 35, both inclusive, and insert—
5. "Above £50, and not exceeding £100, a sum not exceeding two years' rent; 6. Above £100, a sum not exceeding one year's rent."—(Mr. Chichester Fortescue.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. B. SAMUELSON
said, that the arguments in favour of the Amendment he was about to propose had been so fully debated in the previous evening, and had been so reinforced by the Government in the course of the afternoon, that he should content himself with moving in page 3, line 18, after "rent," to insert "but in no case shall the compensation exceed the sum of £250."
§ Amendment agreed to.
Amendment proposed to leave out from "Provided," in line 19, to "land," in line 35, inclusive, and insert—
Any tenant in a higher class of the scale may, at his option, claim to he compensated on so much only of his rent as will bring him into a lower class: Provided, That no tenant of a holding valued at a yearly sum exceeding £10, and claiming under this section more than four years' rent, and no tenant of a holding valued at a yearly sum not exceeding £10, and claiming as aforesaid more than five years' rent, shall be entitled to make a separate or additional claim for improvements other than permanent buildings and reclamation of land."—(Mr. Chichester Fortescue.)
§ MR. PELL
said, he should be the last man to interpose any difficulty in the way of securing to tenants in Ireland compensation for improvements which they might have made on their farms; but then he wished to have some explanation of what was meant by the words "reclamation of land." There was a want of precision in the use of those words both in the Bill itself and in the proposed Amendment, and it looked as if they had been employed designedly. In the 40th clause, and there only, he believed the word "waste" was used to 1524 qualify the word "lands," probably because it was found absolutely necessary, in making a provision for the application of public funds for a public object, that object should be somewhat clearly defined. But the words "reclamation of land," used in the other clauses of the Bill, were very general, and he did not find any light was thrown upon them, even in the Interpretation Clause. Turning to previous legislation on such subjects, he had ascertained that in the Acts of 23 & 24 Vict., constant reference was made to "waste lands," instead of general terms being used, as in the present instance. Now, in Ireland farm labourers would be allowed to cultivate small plots of land, on which they would grow crops of potatoes, receiving no payment from the farmer in whose employment they happened to be for the reclamation thus effected, and which would be a positive advantage to him, inasmuch as he would, in the event of his being disturbed in his holding, be able to bring in a bill against his landlord for work on which he himself had not spent a penny, and which had been nothing to him but a source of profit. He thought, therefore, it was desirable to amend the Bill by the use of some more definite words than the words "reclamation of land."
§ SIR JOHN GRAY
said, he objected to the Amendment, inasmuch as it had left no provision at all for enabling certain classes of the tenantry to claim compensation for general improvement under the Act.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
explained that in making the observations which he had made on the previous evening, to the effect that, after the course taken by the Government, he would withdraw the Amendment which stood in his name on the Paper, he had misunderstood what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, and was glad to avail himself of the earliest opportunity to express his regret for having used those words.
MR. CHICHESTER FORTESOUE
said, he would beg to assure the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) that the Government used the words "reclamation of land" in the Bill with no dark design, as he seemed to suppose. The words were retrospective as well as prospective—the words "reclamation of land," and not of "waste lands," and he could not well imagine that a Judge, assisted by an agricultural 1525 expert, a first class valuator, could have any difficulty in pronouncing what was or was not the reclamation of land. If any serious difficulty should be raised hereafter it might be possible to meet it by way of definition; but he could not see any reason for changing the words at this part of the Bill.
§ MR. PELL
said, that through the neglect of a tenant, land that had been once reclaimed, and upon which compensation had been paid, might lapse into a state in which it could be again reclaimed, and he wished to know whether it could be made the subject of another charge. As he understood the definition, it implied improvement rather than recovering from a state of nature, and, if so, he did not see why it should not be classed with other agricultural improvements.
§ MR. CHICHESTEE FORTESCUE
said, he meant that, as the words were retrospective as well as prospective, they, of course, applied both to waste lands and to those that had been reclaimed. If it were possible that lands could be allowed to relapse like the old cotton lands of Virginia, a case might arise which would be left to the decision of a Court.
§ DR. BALL
said, the right hon. Gentleman evidently thought the words were ambiguous, and, if reclamation were to be classed with permanent holdings, there ought to be a definition to guard against trivial and light improvements in the condition of the soil. Would reclamation mean drainage, which in two or three years would repay its cost?
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. DOWSE)
said he thought not. He might refer to the definitions of improvement of land given in the Improvement of Land Act, 1864, of which there were no loss than 12, and one was "reclamation of land," which showed that the meaning of the term was well understood.
having pointed out that any amendment which was to be made in the Amendment must be made after the omission of the words proposed to be left out, and before the insertion of others, and that what was involved in the reclamation of land could be more conveniently discussed at that later stage, put the Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Motion negatived.
§ Words struck out.1526
§ On Question? That the words "Any tenant, &c," be there inserted,
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he would beg lo remind the Committee that the greater part of Scotland had been reclaimed under a system of 19 years' leases, which, were considered sufficiently long to enable the tenants to recoup themselves. It seemed to him that it ought to be clearly laid down in the Bill where reclamation of land should cease, for at present the matter was so indefinite that it might go back to the date of the Flood. He would submit that a line ought to be drawn at 20 years.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, that there was no phrase in the English language that was better understood in Ireland than that of "reclamation of land."
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, that Mr. Curling, the agent of the Earl of Devon, stated before a Select Committee of that House five years ago, that he attached such immense importance to reclamation, of mountain land especially, which was like creating new land, that he would give a lease of 60 years to anyone engaged in that process.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, he thought that the proposed proviso would place the small tenant under £10 in the position of getting seven years' rent for eviction and for minor improvements conjoined, though the Government had at one time suggested that seven years' rent should be given for eviction alone.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. DOWSE)
said, that the proposal now made by the Government as being on the whole most fair was that in the case of a tenant under £10 valuation being evicted he might claim seven years' rent, and in addition compensation for permanent buildings and reclamation of land; but if the tenant claimed compensation for minor improvements then he would receive only five years' rent on eviction. The improvements made by that class of tenants were very little indeed.
said, that by the 4th clause compensation was to be given for improvements made within 20 years; but with regard to compensation for the reclamation of land there was no limit as to time. He thought some definition 1527 ought to be given of what was deemed reclamation, for many would think taking up grass land and turning it into arable reclamation, though he might call it waste.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, he did not think there was any difficulty in the question of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley), but it was somewhat prematurely put. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to have overlooked one of the important provisoes to Clause 4, with respect to all existing improvements, including reclamations. When they reached that point there would be ample opportunity for discussion.
§ MR. C. S. READ
said, he could not see the connection between permanent buildings and reclamation. Everyone knew what permanent buildings were, but reclamations of land had no necessary connection with permanent improvements. They all knew how soon reclamations might revert to a state of absolute barrenness. A tenant might pare and burn the land, take two crops of potatoes, followed by oats, and he might then lay it down in what he would call permanent grass, by sowing a few hay seeds; but in about 10 years it would become as barren as ever it was before. As the hon. Member for Leicestershire said, a tenant in the course of a 31 years' lease might have to reclaim the "reclaimed land" three times over. He trusted that the Committee would divide on the question, so as to ensure the separation of reclaimed land from permanent buildings.
§ MR. PELL
said, he would not withhold from the tenant compensation or security for compensation for any improvements on the land in respect of agriculture; but he objected to what was so excessively indefinite as reclamations of land being mixed up with what were so well denned as permanent buildings. Everyone acquainted with Ireland must have noticed that the land was scored over with the marks of old potatoe ridges which had been abandoned in consequence of the disease of the plant. It was for the Committee to decide whether the fact that such pieces of land had been cultivated thirty or forty years ago was to confer a claim of the same nature as permanent improvements. He should therefore move to leave out the words "reclamation of land."
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, 1528 he thought they might raise precisely the same number of questions as to what were "permanent buildings." What were "permanent buildings?" A house, a pigsty, or a wall? They could not define them. "Reclamations of land" were as well understood as "permanent buildings." They belonged to a class of improvements as well known as embanking, enclosure, or fencing. These subtle criticisms were altogether misplaced.
§ MR. MOORE
said, he apprehended that these two species of improvements coming before a Judge would stand in one and the same light; if a tenant claimed for a house which was in ruins, he would get no compensation; and so a person claiming compensation for land he had reclaimed, but which had again fallen into wilderness, would got none.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion agreed to; The words "Any tenant, &c," inserted.
in rising to bring forward the Amendment of which he had given notice, said, that upon it the discussion would probably last beyond the hour of adjournment, and he therefore offered to the Government that they should proceed with the two next paragraphs, and proposed himself to postpone his Amendment until after Easter. ["No, no!"] As this proposal was not acceded to he would proceed to move it, and the first observation he had to make was that it had attracted a degree of attention, and assumed an importance which he, for one, certainly never had attached to it. The circumstances which had given rise to this importance were partly the desultory conversation that occurred on Thursday last upon the subject of this Amendment, and partly the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown had unnecessarily, and, as he thought, with some precipitancy, before any opportunity had been given for explaining the Amendment, interposed an opinion that it was against the principle of the Bill. The Solicitor General, also, had felt in duty bound to endorse that sentiment. When he put the Notice on the Paper nothing was further from his intention than to do anything to attack the principle of the Bill. He never dreamt that it was a principle of the Bill that a tenant under lease should be exonerated from the duty of giving up 1529 peaceable possession of the demised land at the end of his term; nor had he ever dreamt that it was against the principle of the Bill that a landlord resuming possession of his land at the termination of a lease should be deemed to be disturbing a tenant within the meaning of the Act. It might be asked what was his object in moving the proviso. He had given notice of it originally, because in this Bill the House had been doing much to shake well-established usages, and to interfere with principles recognized in all past times. It seemed right and fair, accordingly, to bring before the mind of every tenant-farmer in Ireland who might not be supposed to know accurately what was the law, and might suppose that many other things were shaken besides those which were dealt with in the Bill, the fact that the duty of giving up the land which he held at the end of his lease was one from which he was not to be exonerated. It was also duo to the landlord that it should be distinctly made known that he would not be acting as a disturber in doing that which at all times heretofore had been legal and regular. The discussions which had recently been held showed clearly the necessity of some such provision as he had suggested; for his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) avowed that he had read the Bill upon the assumption that it was not intended to make the landlord a disturber if he claimed his land upon the expiration of his lease. The interpretation put upon the clause by the Government being exactly opposed to that which he and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond had put upon it, it was due not loss to the Government than to the tenantry of Ireland that all possibility of misconception should be removed. he would explain as clearly and as shortly as he could the existing law upon the subject; and, speaking in the presence of many of his hon. and learned Friends, if he fell into the slightest inaccuracy they would at once correct him. If any person took land from another for a definite and stated period it was his duty to relinquish the land at the end of that time, and the landlord was perfectly entitled to take possession of it when that time arrived. Whether the period were long or short, and whether the rent were great or small, in every such case the landlord was not 1530 under any legal obligation to give notice to quit, but the tenancy determined, ipso facto, on the conclusion of the term. That was a matter of substance, and not a mere technicality, for it proved distinctly that the tenancy determined without any such notice being given. If, for instance, a landlord let land for a period of five years from the 1st of January, 1870, terminating on the 1st of January, 1875, the landlord, as soon as that contract was entered into, was at perfect liberty to let the land from the 1st of January, 1875, to another person; and, if he did so, the tenant for the five years would be bound to yield up possession on the day named to the person who was to succeed him, without any previous notice to quit having been given by the landlord. On the other hand, the tenant was entitled to go out at the end of his term without giving to the landlord any notice of his intention to do so. The rights of both parties were perfectly equal—it was assumed that they both understood the law; and, of course, the same power of giving notice to quit existed for both parties. If, however, the tenant did not go out at the expiraration of his term, but remained in occupation, and paid a year's rent, which was accepted by the landlord, then, under these circumstances, a contract of a now and entirely different nature was built up and implied by the law from the conduct of the parties, the tenancy, instead of being for a fixed and stated period, was hold to be for an indefinite period, continuing until one or other of the parties gave to the other a notice to quit; and, consequently, the tenancy being brought to a close by the notice to quit, the giving of this notice became an act of disturbance on the part of the landlord. This was a matter so familiar to all who had knowledge of the subject that he felt almost ashamed to quote authorities upon the point. But, as it was necessary that the matter should be clearly understood, he might refer to the definition to be found at page 305 of Woodfall's Law of Landlord and Tenant. Something had been said in the course of the discussion as to a lease for a year and a day; but precisely the same rule applied to a tenancy for the shortest period known to the law. There were thousands of cases in London of tenancies lasting for a week. Where lodgings were taken merely for a week, and nothing more was said as to the relations of parties, 1531 the tenancy expired at the end of the week; but if the tenant continued in occupation after the end of the week, paying weekly rent, then the law built up precisely the same kind of implied contract, which might last for an indefinite period of time, and was only to be terminated by a notice to quit. And here, again, the notice to quit determining the tenancy constituted an act of disturbance on the part of the landlord. On referring to the valuable Blue Book upon the tenure of land in other countries which had been laid before the House, he found that the state of the law was precisely similar in France, Belgium, Schleswig-Holstein, and other countries of Europe. Which form of lease was generally adopted in the State of Maine would be found at the end of this volume, by which it appeared that a tenant in that country bound himself to give up and peaceably quit the lands at the end of the term. Observe, therefore, the nature and character of the proposed legislation. If an Irishman should expatriate himself, and going over to the State of Maine, should take land there, he would enter into a covenant peaceably to quit and give up his land at the end of the term, and, what is more, he would by the laws of that country, be bound to fulfil his covenant; but, under the legislation now proposed, if an Irishman remaining in Ireland should, with a reckless disregard of his own interests, enter into a covenant that he would give up the land he took at the end of the term for which he took it, the law would step in and say that he should not be bound by such a contract, that he required protection, and that such a contract should be deemed against public policy, and ought not to be enforced. Could anything more startling be conceived than legislation of this character? What, however, he had stated was the result of the proposed legislation. But he objected not only to the result, but to the manner in which that result was arrived at. It was not by clear and distinct legislation on the subject, but it was obtained by putting a forced and unnatural meaning on the words—"disturbed in his holding by the act of the landlord." Those words could not with any propriety be held to mean the resumption of the land by a landlord at the end of a lease. He would defy his right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to show from any work of authority on law that the word 1532 "disturbance" had ever been applied to such a thing as the landlord entering upon the possession of his own land. He would even go further and say that colloquially it bore no such meaning. Under these circumstances he had fully expected that when he proposed his proviso Her Majesty's Government would have said that his proposal contained nothing but truisms; and, consequently, he was startled at the sudden and precipitant statement from the Treasury Bench that something so simple was contrary to the whole principle of the Bill. He had explained his own view of the matter, and he would now advert to what he understood was the exact intention of the Government. He apprehended that with respect to leases executed after the passing of this Act, a totally different principle was intended to prevail from that which now existed, and that the relation between the landlord and the tenant would be altered—that the landlord would be unable to let his land at the end of the term for which he had leased it, and would be unable himself to resume possession of it, and that the tenant would cease to be bound to give it up at the end of the term. Those new principles were, however, only to apply to leases made after a certain date, so that the same words would have different meanings according to the date of the document. Was it wise that they should have two sets of leases in which similar words were differently interpreted; that, for instance, a man who in October, 1869, entered into a lease for five years, should be bound to go out at the end of that time, but that if he entered into the lease in January, 1870, he should not be bound to go out. He would ask the Committee whether they could conceive any state of things more absurd or more likely to produce confusion and injustice? He believed, too, that such distinctions were calculated to make all law and all contracts uncertain, and to inflict unmixed mischief on the tenant himself instead of conferring upon him any benefit. He could understand it if they were to say that the Irish tenant was a person who could not be trusted to look after his own interests, and therefore that he should not be allowed to make a lease, or enter into a covenant; but to pass an Act of Parliament to say that both parties might enter into a contract, but that that contract should bear an interpreta- 1533 tion intended by neither, was, in his opinion, in the highest degree absurd. It was for the benefit of all parties that the law should be clear, distinct, and intelligible, that contracts should be interpreted according to their meaning, and that the Irish tenant should know and understand the nature and extent of his obligations. It was with these objects that he moved the proviso on the Bill, sure that if the Committee consented to its introduction they would be proceeding for once in the progress of this Bill on firm and substantial ground which, would not crumble away beneath them. He therefore begged to move, in page 3, line 35, after "land," to insert—Provided always, That nothing in this Act contained shall exonerate a tenant under lease from the duty of giving up peaceable possession of the demised land at the end of the term, nor shall a landlord resuming possession at the termination of a lease be deemed to be disturbing a tenant within the meaning of this Act.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Headlam) had stated that he intended to make the Bill clear and distinct. One thing, at any rate, was clear and distinct—that if his right hon. Friend's Amendment was carried the Bill would be utterly useless. His right hon. Friend had occupied a great deal of time in proving what, as far as he was aware, no human being had ever disputed—that if persons entered into a contract it was their duty to abide by it. Nobody ever questioned the doctrine that if a man took land for a certain number of years under a lease he was bound to quit at the end of the term: it was equally certain that if he took land as a tenant from year to year on the condition that he should quit on a six months' notice, that on the expiration of six months after receiving the notice he was bound to quit. His right hon. Friend had urged that a landlord who entered upon possession of his land at the termination of his lease could not be regarded as a disturber, but he (the Attorney General) went further and contended that a landlord entering after notice upon land held from year to year could not be regarded as a disturber. If that were so the right hon. Gentleman's argument fell to the ground, because it was entirely based upon a distinction which did not exist. The question involved in the Bill was one of policy. The Government had never denied that they were asking Parliament to deal with the 1534 relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland on different principles from those which prevailed in England; and if they were not justified in adopting that exceptional course for the sake of giving not fixity, but greater security of tenure, the Bill ought to have been rejected on the second reading. The clause before the Committee provided in substance that, with respect to tenants from year to year and having only short leases, the landlord who entered into possession should pay a certain amount in the shape of damages or compensation—he did not care which it was called—under circumstances which had been explained over and over again. The landlord would have the same right to enter that he had now; he might take possession of the land immediately on the termination of the lease, but their object was to give compensation for eviction and also for improvements where the land lord entered into possession of the land, unless he gave leases of a certain duration. As the Bill now stood, in the case of a 31 years' lease the tenant would have no claim; and also in the case of 21 years' lease, under certain circumstances, he would have none. These were provisions which they would subsequently come to and discuss; but what he was now anxious to point out to the Committee was, that the effect of the Amendment would be, that any lease, however short, whether for 12 months or only for a week, would disentitle the tenant to any claim whatever for compensation. That was altogether contrary to the principle of the Bill, and if it were once affirmed, any further discussion of the clause would be idle. He hoped, therefore, the Committee would not agree to the Amendment.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, he trusted that he might be allowed to say a few words in support of the proviso of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Headlam). The Government had every right to be anxious and solicitous about their Bill. They had every right to be jealous of the beautiful structure of this clause, lest what the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had called a miscellaneous cargo might be imported. But was the Government clause incapable of misconstruction? He thought not; and, therefore, he was desirous that a provision like that before the Committee should be introduced. It had been said that for Ireland they must have exceptional legislation, and as- 1535 suredly the language of the clause was exceptional—exceptional even to a learned lawyer, as had been admitted—and he did not know what it meant. He asked, therefore, that a distinct interpretation should be furnished, otherwise, instead of this being a message of peace, it would be likely to prove a message of war to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government made an appeal last night to his followers, which was not implicitly obeyed. He wished the right hon. Gentleman could have seen the faces behind him. They went into the Lobby with him, but they came out discontented men, feeling that they had voted against their convictions. They asked for a reason, but no reason had been vouchsafed to them. It was for the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to justify this peculiar proponal for legislation. Such legislation ought to be clear and understandable, and conformable to reason, rather than that force of numbers upon which the right hon. Gentleman depended. Let him remember the vote of Thursday. The state of things before him reminded him of a passage which he had read History of the Crimean War, and which ran thus—In their English way, half sportive, half surly, our young soldiers began shooting easy shots into the big, solid mass of infantry which was solemnly marching against them. The column was not unsteady, but it was perhaps an over-drilled body of men unskilfully or weakly handled. At all events, those who wielded it were unable to make its strength toll against clusters of English lads who stood facing it merrily, teasing it with rifle balls. Soon the column was ordered or suffered to yield, and, since it Cell back to a spot where the ground was hollow, it lapsed nearly or quite out of sight. Portions of the column—mainly those in the centre and in rear—became discomposed and unsettled.And lot him mark what followed—Upon his retreat he met on the road a lone man—a lone man on foot, walking away from the field. He looked, and came to make out that this lone pedestrian was Prince Gortschakoff—Prince Gortschakoff, the chief to whom he had intrusted the command of the whole centre and the whole light wing of his army. 'What is this?' 'What is the matter?' 'Why are you on foot?' Why are you alone?' These, as was natural, were the questions hurled at Prince Gortschakoff by his troubled, amazed commander.With every hope that the parallel might not be further realized, he should give his cordial support to the Motion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ MR. BRUEN
said, the Committee had now to learn that a man who signed 1536 a contract to give up his holding at the end of his term, quietly and peaceably, according to the usual covenant of leases, was to be absolved from the contract when the time came for carrying it into effect. It was well to learn gradually what was the intention and scope of the Bill. On the one hand, for the first time, he believed, in legal history, the Government were seeking to enforce an imperfect moral obligation by legal enactment, while, on the other hand, they were seeking to set aside a perfect moral obligation—a contract in a lease, by the omission of provisions which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Headlam) now sought to supply. He hoped the Committee would hold that contracts deliberately entered into by men who were able to protect themselves should be enforced by law, and not be subject to this exceptional course of legislation.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
said, he wished to recall the attention of the Committee to the precise position in which they stood. There could be no doubt that the Amendment of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Headlam) was meant to raise a question of principle of very great importance; but the same question of principle was proposed to be raised in a different manner by three Amendments, one of which he had himself placed on the Paper, upon the 3rd sub-section. The Committee would observe that they were now dealing with a portion of the 3rd clause which was prospective only. The retrospective part, at which they had not yet arrived, applicable to present tenancies, left all leases for fixed terms exactly as they stood by law, so that there would be no claim against the landlord upon the termination of any existing lease. It was entirely prospective legislation with which they were dealing now; and whenever landlords and tenants meant hereafter to agree on the terms on which a future tenancy was to be constituted, if they determined on a lease for less than 31 years, the effect of the Act would be to superadd something to the agreement, and to confer on the tenant a right, unless he was permitted to continue in possession of his farm after the expiration of his lease, to prefer a claim to compensation on the footing of what was called loss for quitting his holding. Now, it appeared to him impolitic and unwise, 1537 and in no degree whatever necessary, to impose such compulsory terms upon all future contracts between landlord and tenant for fixed leases for less than 31 years; because he thought neither landlord nor tenant would benefit thereby, and the landlord could, by making terms as to rent and in other ways, protect himself; the effect of such legislation being really to discourage by law a fixed term of lease unless for 31 years. He continued to be of opinion that it was not expedient to make a 31 years' lease the minimum lease for the future in Ireland; but he repeated that this was not taking away property from the landlord, because it was prospective only; it was simply proposing to introduce compulsory terms into contracts of a certain description. The question was, in what manner the Committee might best consider the policy of this provision. Originally, he had used the same language as that of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Headlam), and had said he could not conceive why any lease whatever should be interfered with. As far as the principle went, he saw no reason to retract that opinion. Subsequently, however, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) pointed out what had escaped his notice, but was very just and required attention—namely, that the object of the Bill was to protect the small tenants in Ireland with ordinary holdings from year to year; and that if in all future contracts the landlords were permitted to create tenancies, not from year to year, but for a single year, you would have the same kind of complication under the form of a perpetual legal notice to quit. Now, he did not intend to advocate anything which would open the door to an evasion of the spirit and principles upon which this legislation was founded in the class of cases for which it was meant to provide. What he had in view was bonâ fide leases fairly entered into and clearly understood on both sides. Bearing this in mind, he said on a subsequent occasion that he thought a seven years' lease would be a fair term. However, others who were equally desirous with himself to legislate prudently on this subject thought a seven years' lease too short a term. For that reason he had put on the Notice Paper an Amendment proposing to substitute 14 for 31 years as the term which the law should in future recognize as the 1538 length of a bonâ fide lease, being sufficient to obviate the necessity of bringing the claim under any exceptional provisions. His right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Dr. Ball) had also put on the Paper a Notice in favour of 21 years. Under these circumstances, he was of opinion the Committee had not arrived at that stage of the Bill when the question might best be raised, and therefore he could not support the present proposition.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON
said, they had been told that the whole object of the clause was to prevent the arbitrary eviction of small tenants, and he did not see why it should not be limited to that class. The Committee had given those small tenants every protection, and had even, by Clause 3, made them co-proprietors with the present owners of the land to the extent of one-third of their property; what reason could there be for hesitating to declare that a man who had a lease for a certain number of years should, at its expiration, peaceably give up possession of the land let to him by the owner? It was idle to say the Government did not wish to extend the provisions of this measure to England or Scotland, for they might be sure that an impetus had been given to the ideas of men who could see that attacks might be made upon the rights of property. Such ideas were catching. A letter had been written to The Chamber of Agriculture Journal, signed "An Essex Farmer," in which the writer said—We have no desire to embarrass the Government by pressing our claim at this moment. Let us see a good Bill passed for Ireland first, and then we can press our claim for a good tenant-right Bill for England, Scotland and Wales.If a Scotch landowner was to be at liberty to retake possession of a farm at the end of a lease of 19 years; if he might advertise it for reletting, and was not bound to renew the lease to the outgoing tenant, why should leases in Ireland enjoy more favourable terms? He wished to remind the House of what the Postmaster General (the Marquess of Hartington) said at Sheffield last September—It is not only the property of Irish landlords which is at stake; it is not only the property of English landlords, but it is property of all kinds which will be at stake; for do not suppose for a moment that any discussion will arise next year, or that any measure can be passed, without principles and doctrines being enunciated equally hostile 1539 not only to the interests of landlords, but of capitalists of every description.Those were very important and almost solemn words; they were spoken by a Member of the Cabinet, and it was astonishing to think that the noble Marquess who uttered them could remain silent while he saw the rights of property gradually melting away. It was not likely that, in the few months that had elapsed, the noble Marquess had changed his sentiments; but if he had done so, would he state to the Committee what were his reasons for having changed them? Hon. Members should recollect that legislation to be effectual must be just; and if the Committee rushed into extremes, they would rue the day when they made a landlord-wrong out of tenant-right. They might be sure that would result in the tenant's ultimate discomfiture, because all the fines and penalties that might be imposed on the landlords would recoil on the occupiers, sooner or later. He protested against the infraction of the rights of property attempted by the Bill, for while he would not have justice denied to the Irish tenants, he thought that in combination therewith justice should not be lost sight of in regard to the landlords.
§ SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER
said, he had been obliged to vote against the Ministry in previous Divisions on this Bill, and as he intended to do so again, not having any doubt that this was the proper course for him to take, he hoped the Committee would allow him to give his reasons. Although the Amendment might be open, as the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) had pointed out, to objections as to time, its principle could not be touched, for it was plainly the duty of the Government to insert in the clause words that would limit its action to other than cases of bonâ fide leases. In his opinion the position taken up by the Government had no justification, for if their principle was a good one for Ireland, why—although the Attorney General turned up his eyes with horror at the idea—should not the same measure be extended to England? It was unreasonable to expect hon. Members to believe that a six months' notice to quit was a bad thing in Ireland but a good one in England; and therefore, agreeing as he did with the principle of the mea- 1540 sure, he was prepared to go beyond it, and would say that if the Government wished to be consistent they were bound to make the same provision for England as for Ireland. It was fair to argue that the tenure of land was different in the two countries, but before long the Government would be called upon, and justly, to terminate the power of English and Scotch landlords to evict without a cause. When he read the Bill he felt convinced that the Government could not stop at legislating for Ireland, for did they suppose there was no "screw" put upon the tenantry in England? Would it not be found on inquiry that there were hundreds and thousands of cases in England of tenants being obliged to vote and do many things, not according to their own consciences, but in obedience to the will of their landlords, because the latter had the power of turning them out of their farms? Hon. Members should face this matter and not be afraid of it; and as they would have to face it very soon, his respectful advice to them was to do it at once. The Attorney General wished the Committee to believe that a man who held under a six months' notice to quit was not worse off than he who held under a contract. But that did not affect the question, for the Committee were asked to affirm that, from the passing of the Bill, it should be in the power of an Irish tenant to make a contract with his landlord, the binding part of the contract to be wholly on the side of the landlord. There was not a shadow of a reason for what was proposed. If there were men who were fit to contract, let them contract fairly, and let the tenant be as much bound on his side by the terms of the lease as the landlord was bound on his side. It appeared to him that the Interpretation Clause embodied a distinct violation of the principle of freedom of contract, for it contained this definition—The term 'tenant' in relation ton, holding shall mean any tenant from year to year and any tenant for a life or lives or for a term of years under a lease or contract for a lease, and where the tenancy of any person having been a tenant under a tenancy which does not disentitle him to compensation under this Act, is determined or expiring, he shall, notwithstanding such determination or expiration, le deemed to be a tenant until he has received the compensation, if any, due to him under this Act.This seemed to him to be a violation of the first principle of the law of contract, 1541 and he had, therefore, no hesitation in giving his support to the right hon. and learned Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Headlam).
LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
said, that to avoid the possibility of its being said afterwards that he had assented to a principle which he disapproved, he felt bound to speak, equally in the interests of landlords and tenants, which were identical and inseparable, and to assert that if the Committee violated the essential principles of justice and right, in order to obtain for the tenant a temporary advantage, the certain result would be to involve both parties in loss. ["Divide!"] He must remind those who were so anxious to rush into the Lobby that, rather than stand in the way of the second reading of the Bill, he waived his right to speak upon it; and he therefore trusted hon. Members would restrain their impatience while he discharged a duty to those who returned him to Parliament. Hon. Members were endeavouring to lay on other men's shoulders heavy burdens which they would not touch with one of their own fingers. He would ask whether the principles now enunciated by the hon. and learned Attorney General were to be applied to England and Scotland? On a former occasion the hon. and learned Gentleman argued that the legalization of tenant-right in Ulster was an assimilation of the law of Ireland to that of England and Scotland, and he referred to certain usages in Dublin and elsewhere. Now, however, the hon. and learned Gentleman took another and an opposite ground, and he said that policy rendered it necessary to deviate from the principle which obtained in England. Surely, it was striking at the root of equality between the different portions of the Empire when it was said that what was right in one part of the United Kingdom was not to extend to the inhabitants of another part. Surely this was venturing on a dangerous course; and the hon. and learned Member had assumed, without attempting to show, that there were peculiarities in the case of Ireland which made it politic in legislating for Ireland to deviate from principles that were adopted in England. It had been alleged that one of the main causes of the unsatisfactory state of Ireland was the insecurity of the tenant, owing to the indisposition of the 1542 landlords to grant leases; but further inquiry had shown that in the greater portion of Ireland the tenants were not anxious to have leases. What could be more inconsistent than to endeavour to establish a system of covenants which professed to be binding on both parties, if at the very outset we said that one of the parties was not to be bound by the terms of the covenant? If two per-sans were to sign a document defining their relative position for a certain number of years, upon what principle was one of them, at the expiration of the term, to turn round and say to the other—"As the prescribed time has elapsed, I say that you are a disturber," and to summon him to a Court for the assessment of damages? The hon. and learned Attorney General, in order to raise a prejudice, resorted to such a wretched argument as to speak of a lease for a year and a week; could he be serious in suggesting the possibility of a lease for a week? The hon. and learned Gentleman had put that statement forward as a sort of ridiculous hobgoblin to frighten those who were in the habit of following their leader into the Lobby without knowing why or wherefore. When it was found that an hon. Member armed at all points, as was the hon. and learned Member, resorted to such wretched picas as these, everyone must appreciate the weakness of his position. He was glad to find that the protest against undermining the value of leases had not proceeded from that (the Opposition) side of the House only, but that it had proceeded from at least two hon. Members sitting behind the Government Benches. This principle of setting aside the terms and covenants of leases had been introduced into the Bill since the House had assented to the second reading of the measure. The subject had been treated in a very off-hand manner by hon. Members opposite, and he thought that the question ought to be calmly and quietly considered by the Committee before they arrived at any decision with reference to it.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday 28th April.