§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [29th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time;" and which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Clive.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. LAW
As three months have now passed since this debate was adjourned, I hope the House will permit me, in the first instance, briefly to refer to some of the principal provisions of the Bill before us. As I mentioned in March last, in moving the adjournment, there are some clauses in the earlier parts of this measure which propose amendments of the existing law that, standing by themselves, would, I think, deserve a favourable consideration; but, on the other hand, the latter and larger part of the Bill of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butt), and which he rightly states to be its most important part, is framed on principles that I, at least, regard as totally inadmissible. In fact, Sir, the Bill is only nominally one Bill—it is in reality two Bills; and, moreover, two Bills which even the skill of my hon. and learned Friend has necessarily failed to mould into one, for this simple reason, that they are based on altogether dissimilar, if not opposite principles. The earlier clauses constituting the first and second parts of the Bill propose, for the most part, certain amendments of the Land Act to meet particular inconveniences and hardships that have arisen in carrying out that measure. But the third part of the Bill proceeds on wholly different principles, and, abandoning all attempt to complete the securities provided by the Land Act, proposes enactments which, if they were sanctioned, would practically transfer 625 the property of every holding from the landlord to the tenant.
And now, Sir, before I go further, let me remind the House what is the state of the law of landlord and tenant in Ireland, as settled by the Irish Land Act of 1870. In the first place, that measure has secured to every Irish tenant compensation for his bonâ fide improvements, whether by building or otherwise, as well as also compensation for disturbance, if he be evicted without just cause; and, in the next place, it has made the custom of tenant right legally, as well as morally, binding in Ulster. Such, Sir, in substance, was the Land Act of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone)—a measure which (pace hon. Gentlemen opposite) Parliament held to be one of simple justice, and for which several Conservative Members—Irish as well as others—accordingly voted. I know it is the fashion now to forget all this, and therefore I was not much startled to hear the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), in this debate, as in many others less connected with the subject, assail the Irish Land Act as a violation of all sound principles, and to be accounted for only on grounds not very creditable to all concerned in its enactment. Well, Sir, I have been agreeably surprised to find that when the principle of that measure was under discussion the noble Lord made, I need not say, an eloquent speech upon the subject, and then, to borrow his own language, "glided gracefully into the lobby and voted for" the second reading of the Bill. This is to me very satisfactory, for we may be certain that, however the noble Lord might relieve his feelings by a speech, he would not have voted for anything like an invasion of the rights of property; and when he deliberately recorded his vote for the second reading of the Irish Land Bill it must have been because he believed it to be a just mode of dealing with a pressing and difficult question. In fact, Sir, there was at the time a general concurrence of opinion as to how the matter should be dealt with, so much so that even that eminently sober Conservative periodical, The Quarterly Review, in a remarkable article in its January number of that year, suggested the very remedies which at the moment the Govern- 626 ment had resolved on as the basis of their measure. Well, Sir, the Irish Land Act having been passed to legalize the tenant-right custom of Ulster, to check capricious evictions by the imposition of pecuniary fines, and to secure to every tenant full payment for his improvements, I, for one, am quite willing to consider any reasonable amendments that may be suggested for giving more complete effect to these just and wise provisions. Accordingly, I should regard—not unfavourably—some of the earlier clauses of the Bill of my hon. and learned Friend which have the furtherance of this just policy for their object. Take, for example, some of the clauses of the first part of the Bill which deals with Ulster tenant-right. Here we find it proposed that the Ulster tenants should have the benefit of the custom in its integrity—unaffected by the office regulations which on many estates seek to undermine, and, in fact, violate the ancient and real usage—an object with which I fully sympathize, though I admit there are difficulties in the way. Again, it is proposed to settle the question of leasehold tenant-right—on which all, I hope, are now at length agreed—and further to provide that, as a matter of evidence, the usage of the district, and not merely of the particular estate, shall determine whether a holding is subject to the tenant-right custom of Ulster. These are proposals which I regard as perfectly reasonable in design. They do not, indeed, appear to me to deal with the subject so simply or satisfactorily as the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Down (Mr. Sharman Crawford); but, as they have the like objects in view, they should—standing by themselves—have my cordial support.
And here, Sir, I would desire to say a word about this Ulster custom, because I believe much misapprehension prevails upon the subject. It is treated by many hon. Gentlemen opposite as something anomalous and unreasonable, and indeed only to be accounted for as originating in the over-generosity, or even carelessness of the Ulster landlords. But, Sir, I take leave to say we Ulster folk are not, as compared with the rest of Ireland, of such gushing or careless temperaments as this theory implies; and, moreover, when, as is often the case, the same landlord has estates in Ulster, and also in other parts of Ireland, how would such a 627 theory account for the existence of tenant-right on his Ulster property, and not on his lands elsewhere? The custom has, for many generations, prevailed throughout the Northern Province, and (roughly speaking) nowhere else; and its explanation and justification, as it seems to me, are, to a great extent at least, to be found in the peculiar circumstances and history of Ulster. The Province is now so cultivated and prosperous that it needs an effort to realize its condition some two centuries and a-half ago, when colonized chiefly by Scottish settlers under the Plantation of James I. At that time not only Leinster (as having been so long the Province of the English Pale), but also Munster was, in comparison with Ulster (as Sir John Davis tells us), "well inhabited and cultivated."'Munster,' he writes to Cecil, 'has three ancient and well-built cities, besides divers towns, not inferior to the better sort of market towns in England; whereas Ulster is a very desert or wilderness, the inhabitants thereof for the most part having no certain habitations in any towns or villages, and never indeed building any houses, or making any gardens or orchards."Again," he says—Munster was divided into shires 300 years ago—an argument that our law hath as long been current there—but on the other part Ulster hath ever been such an outlaw as that the king's writ did never run there, until within these few years it was cut into several counties by Sir John Perrott—and no justice of assize ever visited the Province before the beginning of His Majesty's reign.So, too, Sir Arthur Chichester describes Ulster to Cecil as "inaccessible to strangers as China;" and in 1610, when the Plantation Commissioners were going down to divide the escheated counties into lots for the "adventurers," he says he fears they will be unable to endure the hardships that await them in a region "where no houses or other shelter can be had, but such tents as they may carry with them." Ulster, to quote the words of another contemporary writer, Camden, whom the right hon. Gentleman opposite has taught us all to recognize as an authority even on higher matters than the title of Ulster farmers to their tenant-right, was at that time a country "interspersed with many very large lakes, and shaded with immense forests." Why, Sir, a noble Lord who has contributed much to the 628 literature of the Irish Land Question, tells us that according to the tradition of his family, when they settled in the County Down, a squirrel could go from one end of the estate to the other without once touching the ground. But we have further evidence bearing on this point. Even at a later date, when another series of adventurers were advancing money to the Government of the day to assist in stamping out what remained of the Rebellion of 1641, the rated value of 1,000 acres of land in each of the four Provinces of Ireland was as follows:—Leinster, £600; Munster, £450; Connaught, £300; and Ulster only £200—that is to say, nearly half a century after the plantation, land in Ulster was worth only one-third of land in Leinster, less than half as valuable as land in Munster, and not within one-third of the value even of land in Connaught. The Province then, Sir, being by far the wildest and most unreclaimed part of Ireland, the escheated counties were divided into small lots to suit adventurers of very moderate means. Putting aside the county of Londonderry, which we all know was separately treated, the maximum extent of any grant was 2,000 acres, whilst the greater number were of 1,000 or 1,500 acres, representing, at most, values of £200 or £300. Now, these small adventurers were bound by the terms of their patents to bring over settlers from England or the lowlands of Scotland, to give them land for definite estates and at fixed rents, and to see that they were properly armed and ready to attend the general "hostings" of the Province. Well, they brought the settlers over—chiefly from Scotland—and let them do the best they could with the "wilderness or desert" (to use Sir John Davis's language) on which they planted them. The patentees did not undertake, probably had not the means, to reclaim the wastes, and place their tenants in suitable farms and farmhouses. This was all done by the humbler settlers for themselves. It was they whose labour and industry gradually changed the face of Ulster; who built the farmhouses, cleared the forests, and reclaimed the wastes; making the Province now the richest and best cultivated, instead of, as once, the very poorest and wildest part of Ireland. And, Sir, recollecting this, and also bearing in mind in how many ways these settlers were identified in in- 629 terests with, their landlords; and further, that they were the only armed force that existed in the country, or could be relied on for protection in case of need—for hon. Members will recollect that we had no Royal Irish Constabulary or even standing Army then—it is not, I think, very difficult to see how this tenant-right arose, and grew, and finally became established throughout all Ulster, based, as it was originally, on principles of natural right and justice. It was not the result of negligence on the part of the Ulster landlords. It was not even the result of their generosity merely—though I do most cordially, aye and with pride, admit that recognizing the righteous origin of the claim, and feeling bound by it as the authoritative tradition of their Province, the Ulster landlords did, without legal compulsion, universally acknowledge it, and until of late years never thought of trying to undermine or restrict it. It was, then, Sir, no "confiscation" when the Legislature, in 1870, gave this Ulster usage of tenant-right the force of law; and it would be no more "confiscation" now if it gave the Ulster tenant all reasonable facilities for obtaining the benefit of this ancient and now legalized custom.
Next, Sir, let me refer briefly to some provisions of the second part of the Bill. I find there a clause proposing that no merely new letting of a farm shall be considered a break in the continuity of the tenant's title, so as to forfeit his right to compensation for improvements. This, I apprehend, is proposed to remedy what I am sure most hon. Members will admit is a hardship arising out of the construction put upon the Land Act. Thus, if a tenant holding by lease has erected valuable buildings, and on the expiration of the lease comes to take the farm anew, either with or without alteration of its extent, it would, I think, be only fair to assume, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that his right to payment for his buildings remains unaffected; though, on the other hand, it is equally just to provide, as my hon. and learned Friend proposes, that if the new contract of tenancy expressly negatives the right to compensation, or if it can be shown that the improvements were taken into account in settling the amount of rent, or were otherwise in substance 630 paid for, the right to compensation shall be regarded as extinguished. Again, by another clause it is proposed that tenants evicted by title paramount shall be entitled to payment for their improvements just as if evicted by the person from whom they took the land; and this too, I think, cannot be deemed a very unreasonable suggestion. Proposals such as these proceed on the principle of better carrying out the main provisions of the Land Act, and, as such, would, I think, well deserve the attention of the House. So much, then, for the first and second parts of the Bill, which, however, I must add, contain, along with these reasonable provisions, some others of a more questionable character, and even some which, I frankly say, I do not think could be accepted by this House.
But now, Sir, turning to the rest of the Bill of my hon. and learned Friend, we find a totally new departure. Here, Sir, is no amendment of the Land Act, but a proposal that every occupying tenant of land in Ireland shall be enabled to obtain from the Chairman a declaration of tenancy which shall make him and his successors for ever absolutely irremovable from his farm, save for non-payment of a rent to be assessed from time to time by neighbouring farmers with similar interests, and, of course, similar prejudices. I know it is declared that the estate thus to be conferred on the tenant shall be a tenancy "from year to year." But, Sir, this is only our technical jargon. We can none of us enjoy property but from year to year, aye, from day to day, or even hour to hour. By the rules alike of common law and common sense the perpetual right to the profits of the land is the fee-simple of the land. The property must be in some one; and if we were to secure the possession of the land, and the enjoyment of its profits to the tenant and his successors for ever, subject only to a rent, we should, in effect, no matter how we try to disguise it, transfer the property of the farm to him, and change the present landowner into a mere rent charger. I may observe, too, that this Bill does not provide, as used to be suggested by my hon. and learned Friend and others in similar proposals, that persistently bad cultivation, or sub-letting, or sub-division, without the consent of the so-called land- 631 lord, shall involve a forfeiture of the holding. Take sub-letting, for instance, or sub-division. The landlord is in such cases to be permitted now to sue for damages merely; and supposing him to succeed in satisfying a probably not very willing jury that there has been such sub-letting or sub-division as he complains of, why he must just be satisfied with so much compensation as they may think fit to award him. It is, however, provided that neither letting the land in con-acre, nor for grazing or mead owing, nor even letting part of the dwelling-house, shall amount to a breach of this nominal obligation; and recollecting how sub-division commonly arises in Ireland—sons marrying, but continuing to live under their father's roof, and farming jointly with him—it is easy to see what facilities are thus provided for indefinite sub-letting and sub-division of the land. Why, Sir, the evidence given before the Committee of this House, in 1865, showed that, in the words of one of the witnesses, "the advantage taken of long leases was usually that of sub-letting, which the tenants did in spite of all the landlord could do." Take, as an example, Lord Palmerston's case. He had demised a farm of 250 acres; but when the lease expired he found it cut up into such miserable patches that there were actually 135 tenants on one town land containing 200 acres! Can we wonder that natural laws thus disregarded at last avenged themselves? or need I say that, when the year of famine came, the kindly landlord had to spend more than three years' income in keeping the wretched people alive? Well, Sir, if landlords found themselves powerless to cheek this perilous practice of sub-division, though forbidden by their leases—aye, and by statute too—and technically entitling them to evict the tenant, what prospect would there be under the new regime of my hon. and learned Friend, of the landlord being able, in the very smallest degree, to check this fatal tendency, the only power left him being to bring actions for damages against the tenants? Nay, Sir, why after all should he trouble himself to make the attempt? Reduced by the State to the position of a mere rent-charger, he might not unfairly ask the State, at least to guarantee his rent-charges, and let the State see after its new proprietary, and save them from the consequence of indefinite morselling 632 of the land, if it could. But the Bill proposing practically to give to every agricultural "occupier as such" the perpetuity of his holding, it further provides that every contract that would interfere with that paramount object shall be absolutely void. Now, the result must therefore be that even the favoured occupier, who thus gets the perpetual interest, cannot, under pressure of ill-health or other necessity, nor if he dies leaving infant children, can his family make any letting of the farm (even with the rent-charger's consent) to any other person, without thereby enabling this new occupier in turn to appropriate the perpetuity of the land, and convert the last owner also into a subordinate rent-charger. Only imagine the confusion and entanglement of titles into which we should thus be inevitably plunged—not to speak of the fearful dangers to which indefinite sub-letting and sub-division of the land would again expose the country. We have, with difficulty and after much suffering, just now emerged from such a sea of troubles; and I own I have too painful a recollection of the past to be willing to join in a scheme that I believe would be calculated to reproduce the like misery. But let us realize the effect of this measure from another point of view. There are in Ireland, it is said, nearly 600,000 agricultural holdings. Of these about one-half—that is, 300,000—consist of less than 15 acres, and 120,000 of them contain less than five acres. Now, Sir, in all the proposals that were formerly made for "rooting the Irish tenant in the soil," there was always a minimum of acreage below which it was said to be unwise to go. Fifteen acres was admitted to be the lowest point, and even this to depend on the land being good. Such was the opinion expressed to Mr. Maguire's Committee in 1865 by Mr. J. B. Dillon, then a Member of this House, and the trusted champion of the Irish tenant; and I see that even my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mallow, before the Lords' Committee of 1867, when suggesting that every Irish tenant should have, not a perpetuity, but a 60 years' lease at a fair rent, excepted from his proposal the small occupiers. Now, in speaking thus I do not mean to make any dogmatic assertion upon the vexed question of large or small farms or properties. What I do object to is a law which 633 compulsorily settles the question one way or the other. I strongly object to laws which seek to favour big estates, and I equally object to laws which would force small ones on us. What I desire is that things be left absolutely free to find their natural level, because I have no manner of doubt that thus the best solution of the question will be arrived at. Perhaps, however, I may be permitted to suggest that, at a time when very competent authorities tell us that in agriculture no success is, in the long run, possible without mechanical appliances, it would be a rather dangerous experiment to establish, by force of law, a system which, so far as it is operative, must keep the agriculture of the country entirely in the hands of those who cannot obtain help of this expensive kind; and which must, in short, practically divorce capital altogether from the cultivation of the soil. My hon. and learned Friend, in the Preamble of his Bill, refers to the existing law as a "hindrance of agriculture." Well, Sir, I will not adopt as my own the forcible language of Philocelt, a well-known Irish writer, in reference to "fixity of tenure," which, he said, would "smite Ireland as with a curse;" but I do very much fear that under the stereotyped, perhaps I might even say paralyzing system, that these proposals would fix upon us, the last state of poor Ireland, would, in respect of agriculture at least, be worse than the first.
But, Sir, there are still other ways in which we may regard this proposal. I cannot but believe that the landlords now converted into rent-chargers—with little interest in what were once their estates—would cease to live on them. They would, I presume, disappear from the country, and become absentees and loungers here and in other great cities. This, Sir, I think will hardly be deemed desirable even by the followers of my hon. and learned Friend. Absenteeism used formerly to be the bête noir of Irish politicians—and yet a measure is now calmly proposed which would tend to make every country gentleman in Ireland quit its shores, and leave his estate and its occupant-owners to shift for themselves. Sir, I believe there is no country in Europe in which a resident gentry is more to be desired than in Ireland, and for this reason also I regard these proposals of my hon. and learned 634 Friend as unsuitable and unwise. But let us consider for a moment the justice of the measure. The landlord is to be practically expropriated, and given in return for his ownership of the land, a rent measured by arbitrators or by a jury—by arbitrators who, according to the Bill, must be practical farmers of the district, or by jurors who, as a matter of fact, will be substantially of that class—that is to say (speaking roughly), the landlords of Ireland are to get for what is now their land, whatever amount of rent the tenants of Ireland think fit to give them. But, this which, let me say, Sir, is no mere matter of detail, as my hon. and learned Friend would represent it, but is really the most important part of his scheme, the central principle of his measure, has been sufficiently criticised already, and by none more acutely than by my hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon (The O'Conor Don) when he pithily asked his farming constituents how they would like to have the price of their fat cattle fixed by a committee of butchers. Again, Sir, this measure would be unjust not only to the landlords, but also, as has been pointed out already, to all other classes in Ireland that desire to take land. Consider the farm labourers. They are in number nearly equal to the farmers, and we know their very proper ambition is to become farmers themselves. Or, take again the small shopkeepers, and many others on the look out for farms. What have all these people done that they are to be debarred by law from getting what they want and are willing honestly to pay for? My hon. and learned Friend complains that "outsiders" are, in many instances, ready to bribe the landlord to evict the present tenants, offering to repay him all that may be awarded for disturbance or improvements, and to take the land themselves on higher terms. Well, supposing such cases to be common, what do they prove? Simply that there is a keen competition for farms, and this my hon. and learned Friend would seek to check by force of law! I own I thought legal attempts of this kind had long ago been wholly abandoned as alike impolitic and futile. Why should all these "outsiders" be forbidden to become farmers? Nay, is it not plain is light that in the end those who are ready to pay the highest price will get 635 land as well as anything else. Naturam expelles furca tamen usque recurret. Things will thus adjust themselves as surely as water rises to its natural level; and the only difference will be that the increased value will have been transferred from the present landowner to his more fortunate tenant. I have not yet, Sir, heard any sufficient reason advanced for entering on this legislative enterprize, nor can I myself discern any; though I think I do see that such an attempt would be unjust to the landlords as well as other classes of the community, and would also prove a real "hindrance" not only to the agricultural but also to the general improvement of the country. But, Sir, it is needless to criticise these proposals further. Such proposals have been made before. They were made during the discussions that preceded the introduction of the Irish Land Bill in 1870. They were referred to and examined in the luminous speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich when he introduced that measure. He there showed the injustice and the impolicy of any such virtual transfer of property as must be involved in the compulsory establishment of "fixity of tenure," and for himself and the Liberal Party which he led pronounced emphatically against it. Instead of disturbing and unsettling the foundations of property, my right hon. Friend and those who acted with him carried through Parliament the Irish Land Act, the substantial effect of which I have already stated—a measure which I do not say is absolutely perfect—none of us here pretend to be infallible, or to have foreseen, much less succeeded in providing for, all the difficulties that ingenious minds, sharpened by hostility, might create to obstruct the application of the Act—but a measure which was at least honestly designed to give, and which, so far as it has been loyally accepted and fairly carried out, has, I believe, given real security to the Irish tenant. For I contend, Sir, that the capricious eviction of which we have heard so much has been almost practically stopped in Ireland by the penalties which the Land Act imposes for any such unreasonable exercise of proprietorial rights. If we refer to the last Irish judicial statistics, and look at the Return of civil bill ejectments carried out to actual eviction, we shall see that 636 putting aside—as we must do for this purpose—cases of non-payment of rent, there were in 1874 ejectments for all other causes executed by the sheriff just 453, being, according to the same authority, less than nine for every 10,000 holdings exceeding an acre in extent—that is, less than one in every 1,100 such holdings; whilst if, as we ought to do, we include in the comparison all agricultural holdings of every size, we find that the evictions in 1874 for all causes other than non-payment of rent were about one in every 1,300 holdings. But even this proportion must be further reduced. The Returns do not distinguish whether these ejectments are by landlords against tenants; or, as constantly happens, and now more than ever, by one member of the family against another, to assert his right to the farm; by the purchaser under a sheriff's sale of the tenant's now valuable interest; or by other claimants. We cannot, therefore, I think, in fairness, assume the proportion of evictions by landlords, for other causes than non-payment of rent, to be higher than one in every 2,000 holdings. Putting it in another way, and, for the reason I have mentioned, reducing the number of these evictions from the gross 453 to 300, as representing cases of landlord and tenant, we get 300 as the number in 1874 for all Ireland; and taking the number of landowners as just returned to us to be about 30,000, showing an eviction by only one landlord out of every 100 in the course of the twelvemonth. Again, I find in the same volume that there were decrees made in land claims for compensation to tenants in 222 cases, and for sums amounting in all to nearly £20,000, being an average of £87 all round. Now, I think, in the first place, we may fairly assume that as to the balance of the number of evictions, they must have been either cases not between landlord and tenant at all, or, at all events, cases in which the tenant had no just cause of complaint. For we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that, as there may be bad landlords so there may be bad tenants, whom it is the interest of the country to have replaced by better and more industrious men; and, for the rest, I own it seems to me that an average fine of £87 is such a smart duty on the transaction as to amount to a virtual prohibition of, or at 637 least a very substantial protection against, capricious or unjust eviction. It is also, Sir, somewhat remarkable that by far the largest number of land cases arise in Ulster. Thus, they were in 1874, in that Province, 39 for every 10,000 holdings above an acre; whilst in Leinster they were only 6; in Connaught 5; and in Munster just 4 in every 10,000 of such holdings—a result which I submit would rather tend to show that the Land Act has been even a greater success in the other Provinces than in Ulster. I may add, that in dealing with these statistics I have not based any of my calculations on the figures given us in the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland, on the first day of this debate. If these are to be relied on, the results would be still more striking than those I have just stated. He says he finds that in 1875 there were in Ireland only 686 evictions altogether; of which two-thirds must be deducted for non-payment of rent, leaving only some 228 for all other causes, or about 150 by landlords—that is to say, one in every 4,000 holdings, or an eviction by one landlord out of every 200 for the year. I confess, however, Sir, that I am not satisfied that the figures with which the right hon. Baronet has been supplied are correct; and, therefore, I prefer to rest on the published statistics, which have not yet gone beyond 1874, and are, I think, sufficiently significant for our purpose. On the whole, then, with this evidence before me, proving, as it seems to me, the almost virtual cessation of capricious eviction which alone has been relied on in argument as the justification of the proposal, I must repeat that I decline to vote for the transfer of the property in the soil from the landlord to the tenants of Ireland—first, because I believe such a measure would be unjust; next, because I believe it would impede agricultural improvement, instead of promoting it; and, finally, because I believe it would in many other ways check all progress in the country. And here I would venture to remind my hon. and learned Friend, and those who think with him in this matter, whether in this House or outside, of the wise words of the Bishop of Cloyne before the Committee of 1865, when he more than once expressed his deep regret that what he called "exaggerated claims" had been put forward 638 by some for "fixity" of tenure, as distinguished from "security;" because he believed that such claims prejudiced the case of the Irish tenantry, and prevented the redress of real grievances. But, Sir, "fixity of tenure" being now once more put forward as desirable, if not necessary, for the interests of Ireland, and my hon. and learned Friend having embodied the proposal in a Bill, enabling us more clearly to see how such a system would practically be carried out, and in some measure to realize its effects, it becomes the duty of us who differ from my hon. and learned Friend, frankly to state our views. Well, this I have endeavoured to do, and whilst I have very freely criticized his proposals as the course most respectful to one of his great abilities and experience, I venture to express a hope that I have, at the same time, done so inoffensively, and I shall now only add that if my views or arguments are mistaken or unsound, I trust they will be corrected.
However, Sir, it may be asked, Is there nothing to be done to improve the conditions of land tenure in Ireland? My answer is, Yes there is much that may, and in my opinion ought to be done, and that speedily. First, I would say, provide for the Irish tenant a suitable local Court, in which he may obtain all necessary protection for his interests, instead of having, as now, no means of relief, save by the costly process of a suit in Chancery. Pass a measure giving the like equitable jurisdiction to the Irish County Courts, as was long since done in England. Reduce the number of Chairmen if you will, but furnish each with a Registrar, or such other assistant as will really enable him to do the business that awaits him. You pay 499 County Court Registrars in England, and possibly you might afford to pay some 20 or 30 in Ireland. Again, if defects have been discovered in the Land Act of 1870, which, it will be remembered, had, like other measures, to undergo much unfriendly handling in "another place," and some even in this House, or if professional ingenuity has since succeeded in inducing the tribunals to create obstructions to its fair operation, let all such difficulties be removed by an amending Act. Finally, instead of forging new fetters for the land, in addition to what have been provided by the wisdom 639 of our feudal ancestors, make the land of Ireland as free as you possibly can. We have abundant capital there ready for investment in the soil. Millions lie this moment in the various banks, on deposit at low interest, which the owners would gladly lay out in purchasing the fee-simple of the land. There are, too, landowners who would be willing enough to sell, but who, owing to "the complexity, delay, and expense which at present surrounds all dealings with real property," fear to make the attempt. Such a condition of things was pronounced in Her Majesty's most gracious Speech, two years ago, to be "a disgrace" to England, and an Act has since been passed with the object of taking away the reproach. I would again ask the Government, as I did in 1874, to give us a similar measure for Ireland. Let us, too, have an Act for the registration of titles and facilitation of the transfer of land. Every condition exists in Ireland to invite such a measure. We have a land tribunal to work it, we have a cadastral survey to form its basis, and we have, as I have just said, abundance of money ready to be thus invested, and so gratify that longing which, I rejoice to say, the Irishman has, to be absolute owner of his bit of land—a sentiment which, I own, appears to me to be as natural and healthy as it is Conservative, in the best sense of the word. It is a pity to let more time pass without doing this easy and needful work. We have, within the last 25 years, passed some £50,000,000 worth of Irish land through the crucible of the Landed Estates Court. The titles thus cleared are gradually, by the mere lapse of time, becoming clouded again; and, finally, under the provisions of the Irish Church Act and Irish Land Act, we have created some 6,000 or 7,000 small fee-simple proprietors, to whom, with the present state of the law of real property, this ownership is a very doubtful boon. I would, therefore, earnestly ask the Government to give us, at least, such a measure as has been passed for England; or, if practicable, a still bolder measure—an Act to facilitate the transfer of land in Ireland from those who may be willing to sell to those who wish to buy, and, as far as may be, to free the land from all artificial fetters of every kind. Let us have measures such as these—an Amend- 640 ment of the Land Act based on, and carrying out, its real principles, the establishment of efficient County Courts, and a bold measure to simplify titles and falicitate the transfer of land—and we shall then, I believe, have done nearly all that legislation can do to settle what remains of the Irish land question. And now, Sir, I have but to thank hon. Members for their kind attention, and to repeat that for the reasons already given I must vote against the second reading of this Bill.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
gave the fullest credit to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) for his efforts in passing the Irish Land Act; but the measure as the right hon. Gentleman introduced it, and as it passed the House of Commons, was not now the law, because some of the most material clauses of the Bill were eliminated from it in "another place." The present Bill was intended to give the people of Ireland the protection which the Land Act of 1870 failed to afford them. He supported its principle, but was opposed to many of its details; and he was authorized by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butt) to state that he did not intend to stand by that part of the measure which provided for the rent being estimated in certain cases by a jury. The hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) had strongly opposed it, and the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) had invoked even the shade of Lord Palmerston to frighten them; but the noble Lord's arguments were of such a character that he felt satisfied they carried very little weight with the House. Many deliberative Assemblies, acting under responsible Ministers, had sanctioned measures even much stronger than that which they were then discussing. What was the object of the Bill of 1870?Did not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich say it was to stay the evil of notices to quit, and evictions which fell as fast as snow flakes? But these notices had fallen far more thickly since the passing of that Act. After the Act of 1870, when questions were raised as to compensation to the tenants in the North of Ireland, a rivalry manifested itself in both Houses of Parliament as to who should be first to amend the law. He made a proposal to amend the Act, but it was opposed by the late Liberal Government. He was now pre- 641 pared to bring before the House the cases that had been described, and which would prove that some legislation was necessary to prevent the system that was now being carried out. In the Province of Munster especially there was a general movement to increase rents, and tenants who were not prepared to pay an increased rent were told that if they did not do so there was another tenant ready to take their place. He held in his hand a list of cases in which tenants who were ready to pay the highest rent were, nevertheless, turned out capriciously at the will of the landlord. Did the House think that tenants thus left open to eviction, and only getting three years' rent for disturbance instead of 15 or 20, as they would get in Ulster, were likely to be contented? Ought not the State to protect men of that description? A well-known Chairman of Quarter Session said the other day that from the number of ejectments going on there was reason to believe the Act had done more harm than good, and so it had. There were many cases of hardship which the public never heard of. He knew a case where a widow named M'Carthy was the tenant of a mountain farm which had been in the family more than 50 years. About 40 years ago she got some addition to her land, and made an excellent farm of it, dividing it between her two sons, and building a house for each upon it. She paid a rent of £70; but when the Land Act of 1870 was about to be passed, she was sent for by the landlord's agent and told she would be turned out, unless she consented to pay an increased rent of £102. After having built two houses on the land the woman and her sons were called upon to pay higher rents and a very heavy fine. As it was impossible they could do so, they availed themselves of the privilege of demanding an arbitration, and a valuer selected by the landlord fixed the rents at £64 and £52 instead of £70 each, and did not require the payment of any fine at all. The landlord then refused to be bound by the award of his own arbitrator, and served notices to quit. Could any Representative of Ireland justify conduct of that kind? Ought not the law to be amended so that acts of this kind, tyrannical, oppressive, and dishonest, might be put an end to? He had verified the statements made as to the treatment which tenants in Cork had 642 experienced. A company was formed to buy land and distribute it among the tenants, by helping them to become the owners; but the result had been that the company sold the land to the butler, who, not content with 6 or 7 per cent for his money, had made a re-valuation and had raised the rents enormously, as was shown by these illustrations, in the cases of as many tenants—from £3 8s. to £10 5s; from £4 7s. to £13; from £3 15s. to £10; from £20 to £32; and from £11 10s. to £31. Thus a once happy tenantry had been made miserable merely because a landowner would have an enormous interest for his money. All that was asked for was due protection from the tenant against such conduct as this. If the Bill would deprive him of any of his rights as a landlord he would not support it; but it would not take away anything which as a landlord he ought to possess. All that the Bill would take away was the power of arbitrary eviction and of demanding excessive rent. An Act was passed in 1868 which did for the ryots of India all that was now asked for the tenants of Ireland. The India Act said that no landlord should raise his rent without stating the grounds for doing so, and that the rent should not be raised to an amount out of proportion to the rents paid by the surrounding tenants. In Prince Edward Island, in 1872, notwithstanding violent opposition, a Bill was passed compelling the landowners to sell their estates, upon the award of a Commission, to the State, which desired to give them in perpetuity to the tenants. The principle of this Bill was fixity or perpetuity of tenure, which was essential to the people of Ireland, and without which there never would be peace. There ought to be a tribunal to regulate the rent and to put a stop to bad landlords endeavouring to get more from a tenant than he could extract from the land. In his own county (Cork) there were as good landlords as there were in England. He had never known of a capricious eviction on their estates, and the Bill certainly could do them no harm; but it would deter and prevent owners of a different class from inflicting the hardship and injustice and causing the misery and crime which were too often found under the present law. Of course, they all deplored the existence of agrarian crime in Ireland; but the cases he had cited, mostly from 643 official Papers and documents, showed how these crimes were the natural outcome of a sense of oppression and injustice. Though the Bill might be defeated he believed it would, if agreed to, be most beneficial to Ireland.
§ MR. KAVANAGH
I will ask the indulgence of the House for a short time while I say a few words upon the subject of this Bill, and while I endeavour to put it before them in the light in which it appears to me. To do so I must ask the House to consider with me some of the remarks which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) made when moving the second reading of it. I must ask them to consider the main provisions in it, and weighing both together—the proposals in the Bill, and the speech by which it was introduced—I will ask them to consider what may be the probable effect of such upon the minds of the ignorant and excitable portions of the Irish people. I was not present on the 29th of March when the hon. and learned Member for Limerick moved the second reading; but it will, I am sure, be in the memory of those who were that he then told the House that he had formed his opinion on this Land Question from information he had acquired while conducting the defence of the Fenian conspirators. From them he had learned that the past history was confiscation, and that there never would be peace till the Land Question was settled, which expression, interpreted by the provisions in this Bill, means till there was more confiscation. In my opinion, the hon. and learned Member could not have adopted a more appropriate preface. He referred to the history of confiscations that have passed, and he proposes now to cure them by adding another chapter of a similar kind. The introduction may be suitable and proper; but I question both the efficacy or justice of the proposed means of cure. The true reparation for confiscation consists in restoration; but to effect that cure the property confiscated must be restored to those from whom it was confiscated. The Fenian conspirators forgot to teach the hon. and learned Member that part of the chapter, and he follows their teaching truly, for he now proposes to confiscate the land of the Irish landlords, and to hand it over to the occupiers, few of whom could be proved to be the lineal descendants of 644 the ancient owners of the soil. He proposes now to confiscate the property of men, many of whose titles are from time immemorial, and who never held by tenure of confiscation. I claim to be among that number myself, and with every respect for the hon. and learned Member's knowledge of Irish history, and notwithstanding the statement made by Lord Clare in the House of Lords, I must inform him that although I am not the descendant of any of the five or six old families of English blood, I hold my property by immemorial right. But immemorial right, prescriptive right, or any other right, human or Divine, only weigh as chaff in the minds of some when they interfere with other aims. I must now come to the proposals in the Bill itself, and I feel that I need not occupy much time in endeavouring to describe what they are. The Bill is clear in its object, and there is no chance or danger of mistaking its intent. It is divided into three parts. The first deals with the custom of Ulster tenant-right, which, I believe, means that the tenant having paid a sum of money for the possession of his farm shall be entitled to receive that back, or more if he can get it, when he leaves the farm. Now, on the presumption that the landowner originally received this price of possession, I have nothing to say to that. But I object strongly to the efforts which are being assiduously made to obtain for the Ulster tenant the right to be repaid that which he never paid, or to sell that which he never either owned or bought. And that is, as I read it, the real object of this part of the Bill. The second part deals with details, some clauses of which are only so slightly imbued with the principle of confiscation that one is inclined to wonder how they ever found their way into its pages. But in the third part we come to the real pith of the Bill. Clauses 26 to 42 provide for the conveyance, without purchase or without price, of the property of the landlord to the tenant "subject to a head rent." And Clauses 43 to 60 hand over the settlement of the amount of that head rent to a jury of tenant-farmers from the locality. The simplicity is charming. It is only necessary for a tenant to be seized with a desire to possess his landlord's property, and the Chairman of the county is to give him a certificate that he does so. He 645 need only feel aggrieved by the amount of the head rent to which it is subject, and he may have a jury of his friends to reduce or abolish it. It is something like empowering the consumer to regulate the price of bread and meat, depriving the butchers and the bakers of all voice in the matter, although it cannot be denied that it does concern them a little. I think the House will go with me when I say that I do not describe this Bill by too hard a term, when I call it a measure of confiscation. I need not dwell longer on its provisions, they are so plain that those who run may read; and I will now ask the House to bear with me while I endeavour to put before it what appears to me to be the most important bearing of the question. It is, I confess, with feelings of unmixed regret that I apply myself to this portion of my task—regret, not caused by any fear as to my personal interest as a landlord, which would no doubt be swept away and confiscated were this Bill ever to become law—not caused by any apprehension that let the exigencies or crises of parties be ever so imminent or threatening a proposal of this extreme nature could ever meet with the sanction or approval of a British House of Commons, and that I admit, considering the measures that have been passed through this House within the last few years under such circumstances, is a bold assumption. But it is nothing of that kind that causes the pain to which I have referred. It is the knowledge of the effects which wild and extravagant proposals of such a nature are likely to produce upon the minds of those upon whom they are only intended to work, and the discontent and ill-feeling—the creation and incitement of which is, I believe, their sole aim—they are, by being thus brought forward, calculated to engender and increase. The hon. and learned Member in his speech says that no one can understand the subject who does not take into account the past history of the country. I say that no one can understand the subject who does not, not only, know, but consider the present position of those concerned, the condition of the Irish landlord as well as that of the Irish tenant. In 1870, when the Land Act was passing through this House, it was urged on behalf of the Irish tenant that he was so helpless, so ignorant, so imbecile, that 646 it was absolutely necessary for the Legislature to step in to protect him, not only against his landlord, but against himself. The Land Act passed, and he was placed in a position which no English or Scotch tenant-farmer ever dreamt of. He was then secured by law in the tenure of his holding against the capricious action of his landlord by a penalty on eviction on a prohibitory scale, graduated in proportion to the supposed helpless nature of his position. He was then secured by law in all the improvements not only which he has made, but which by presumption he can be assumed possibly to have made. I must ask is this, either on its own merits, or compared with the conditions of any tenure in the world, short of the possession of the fee-simple of the land, a weak position? Secured in his own improvements, given freely and without purchase, a certain vested interest in the land which he occupies, he now shows his helpless imbecility by clamours for the fee-simple. Having tasted blood he now, through the mouth of his advocate, cries for more, and proclaims in no uncertain tones that the possession of the land is the only price which will purchase immunity from outrage. I dismiss at once from my mind any apprehension that such an argument as is conveyed in the threat would for a moment bear any weight in this House; but I cannot dismiss from my mind the certain knowledge of the harm, the incalculable harm, that such ideas and notions will do in Ireland. The people, the majority of whom are, I regret to say, ignorant and excitable, instructed by those who lead them, have been already shown how the Fenian conspiracy achieved the Church and Land Acts. This Bill, for the purposes of agitation, embodies the proposals of those who would lead them further. Another conspiracy—a winter of agrarian outrage will show the meaning of the menace. I have now shown, to the best of my knowledge and belief, what is the legal position of the Irish tenant. I think I have proved that, protected as he is by law, his position is exceptionally more secure than that of his English or Scotch brethren. I shall now only say a few words as to what I believe his practical position to be, as that has reference to his relations with his landlord, which the law cannot touch. So far as my experience goes, and it is 647 not a small one, I believe his position to be this, that he is regarded by the landlord as what I may term the natural occupier of the land, of the occupation of which, so long as he pays his rent—and on this point there is often great indulgence given and leniency shown—and farms his holding in a reasonably unobjectionable manner, he has no wish to deprive him. Further than this, ignoring the fact that he is secured by law in the rights to which I have alluded, it is the direct interest of the landlord to advance his tenant's interest in every way in his power—the wealthier the occupier the wealthier the owner of the land. On the plea of self-interest alone, leaving law and equity out of the question, the interests of the landlord and tenant are so identical and so bound together that he who regards the one preserves the other also—that is, as I have said, viewing the question from the point of self-interest only, assuming that the relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland are only governed by commercial principles, as hon. Members opposite would have us to believe. But I am happy to say—I am proud to assert without fear of contradiction—that there are, as there ought to be, higher principles and considerations which influence and regulate those relations. There are generations upon generations of landlords and tenants in Ireland tied by bonds of confidence and friendship more secure and more strong than law could ever forge, and I hope more true and more lasting than the assiduous efforts of agitators will ever be able to poison or destroy. I can speak from my own experience, and I am no exception to the rule. I am perhaps but a feeble type of the class to which I have the honour to belong. For 22 years I have occupied the position of an Irish landlord, and for 10 years out of that period I have been my own agent over the largest portion of my property. I have spent during those years considerably over £20,000 in helping tenants to improve their holdings, to roof their dwelling-houses and out-offices, for which I charge no interest, and during that time I have not had more than six cases of ejectment on title—that is, for other causes than non-payment of rent—and in those cases for non-payment of rent, there has seldom been less than three years' rent, with no prospect of the 648 tenant ever being able to pay anything had I left him in his holding. This statement applies to a rental comprising over 1,200 holdings, with a small average rent of not £14 per holding. This will afford, I think, a fair answer to the assertion of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Dunbar) made in the debate of 1874, on the Motion for the Second Reading of the Poor Relief (Ireland)Bill—that to relieve my property of rates I had cleared it of all the small holdings. It will, I hope, give a fair answer to the assertion of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick made in the previous portion of the debate which we have now resumed—that the Irish tenant could feel no security in his holding while his landlord retained the common rights of property. Facts are stubborn things, and it is as facts, the truth of which I am prepared to prove, that I refer to my own relations with my tenantry, and not from any wish to obtrude my personal affairs upon the notice of either this House or the public. In the majority of these cases the ancestors of these tenants lived on the same lands under my ancestors, and between them the same friendship and confidence existed which I fondly hope exists between their descendants and myself now. In days gone by their forefathers went to mine for help in trouble, for advice in difficulties, sure of a willing hand and a sympathizing ear, and now their children come to me with the same confidence, which, whatever may be my shortcomings, their kindly feeling and affection lead me to believe is not misplaced, and this is the state of things which the introduction of this Bill—the culmination, as I may call it, of this system of agitation—is meant to destroy. It has this recommendation—its aim is unmistakable—it is the effort to destroy the good feeling which I assert exists now between the Irish tenants and their landlords, and to sow broadcast discontent and distrust between those whose interests are indissolubly one. These efforts, if confined to speeches in this House, might be comparatively harmless, because the Communistic arguments upon which they are based are addressed to men of intelligence, who, no matter what may be the extent of Party feeling, can judge between right and wrong; but they have no such limit. The authors of this agitation understand their busi- 649 ness well, and know the profitable tools with which to work, the kindred passions upon which they can most easily play. To ignorance and poverty they address themselves with specious promises that those who join in the game shall share in the plunder. I am not far wrong in stating that to every chapel in the South and West of Ireland the emissaries of this agitation have been sent, who, painting the landlord as the foreign aggressor, and the tenant as the lawful owner of the soil, present Petitions in favour of this Bill for signature. I can speak again from experience, as I have been favoured by visits to my property from those messengers of peace. I know not, nor do I care to know, what their success has been—all I do know is that when last I was among my people, about three weeks ago, I was received by them not as the tyrant landlord, but as the welcome friend, and as long as this mutual feeling exists between us, I care little for the efforts of our common enemy. To nearly every Union in Ireland I believe Petitions have been sent in favour of this Bill. By the Guardians of some who were capable of distinguishing the difference between meum and tuum it was rejected; but by some others, where the majority of tenant-farmers predominated, it was adopted—adopted by men who in their blind greed for the possession of property to which they had no shade of claim ignored the first principles of right and wrong, and forgot that if their wild dreams of spoliation were realized it might not be far distant when their own time might come, and the labouring class having obtained a sufficient amount of political power, would covet their farmsteads, and be at no loss to find an able and learned Member to advocate their cause with just as much justice as the present proposal is pressed upon us now. If the landlord's property is to be confiscated and handed over to the tenants without purchase or without price, on the sole ground that the tenant covets it, and will commit outrage if he does not get it, what principle can there remain to protect any kind of property? What prospect of there ever being any kind of settlement or peace? The labourer, as I have said before, with equal right, if right it can be called, will covet the farmer's possession, the consumer the merchant's, and so on, the requisite elements for success being the possession 650 of sufficient political power and the absence of all just principle in pressing agitation to the proper point. I am now, I am sure the House will be glad to hear, very nearly at an end. I have shown, I hope, that the Irish tenant is legally in no weak position. I have given the House facts to prove that his relations with his landlord are not such as are described, and although I have not referred directly to the subject of evictions I have shown the House the manner in which my own property is managed, and I assert again, as I asserted before, that that is only a type of the majority. I believe most thoroughly that the large majority of Irish landlords are as averse to capricious evictions as I am, and that they possess, as they deserve, the trust and confidence of their tenantry; but I do not come here now only as the Representative of landlords. I am here also as the Representative of a large and respectable class, the tenant-farmers of the county of Carlow, who would scorn, as deeply as any of their English or Scotch brethren, unjustly to acquire the property of their landlords; and as representing them I am as ready now as I ever was, and as I hope I ever shall be while I hold that trust, to redress any grievance, to remedy any injustice in the present state of the law that presses on them. I hate speaking of myself, appearing to boast, as it were, of my own doings. But I must claim for myself that I have proved my sincerity by acts and not by words only, and this brings me to the last point upon which I shall touch. I was anxious to have the opportunity to offer these remarks, because I am forced to admit that, indirectly, I am in a way responsible for the continuance of this agitation, and for the present form which the question has assumed. In the year 1870, when the Land Act was passed through this House, I, in one respect, on one important point, severed myself from this Party, and supported the clause which placed a fine upon the landlord's free exercise of his undoubted right. I will not now go into the reasons which actuated me in taking that course, nor am I prepared to say that I now regret the line which I then adopted; but this I will say—that I am sorely and deeply disappointed at the results which it has produced. Results have proved me to have been politically 651 short-sighted, and wrong, results have shown that a free gift that was given by the real landlords of Ireland, who are the majority of their class, as a security to the Irish tenants against the unjustifiable action of a minority—for I do not deny the existence of that minority—instead of being taken in the spirit in which it was given, has been only used by agitators, for political ends, to excite the Irish tenantry by wild and extravagant promises, by the most unjustifiable misrepresentations, having got so much, not to rest till they acquire what remains. That is practically and simply the question upon which this House has now to pass an opinion, whether by passing the second reading of this Bill it will endorse the programme of spoliation, or by throwing it out with a decided voice, it will do its best to discourage an unprincipled agitation, which has been, which is, and which ever will be, while it lasts, the curse of Ireland.
§ MR. O'REILLY
I desire to state as briefly as possible why I cannot vote for the second reading of the Bill. The Bill consists of three parts. One for the better protection of the Ulster tenant-right, and to carry out the intention of the Act of 1870 in legalizing that custom. In that portion I fully agree. A second part aims at amending certain defects in the Land Act, and carrying out the intentions of the framers of that Act; and in doing so, follows the lines of the Land Act. To that portion I also fully assent. The third part aims at abolishing capricious evictions and giving to the tenantry security of tenure; but in arriving at that most desirable object, it proceeds on what, in my judgment, is a radically erroneous principle. The Bill proposes to enact that every person in Ireland who, on the day it becomes law, occupies land as a tenant, no matter under what circumstances and under what conditions, shall hold it in perpetuity at a valued rent. Now, will the House for a moment consider what a vast variety of different classes of persons will thus be transformed from holders of limited terms into holders in perpetuity. First there will be the class whom, I believe, the advocates of this measure really desire to benefit—the bonâ fide agricultural tenant-farmers who live on the land their forefathers lived on before them; and who live by 652 the cultivation of those lands. This is the class to which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick refers when he speaks, as he did throughout his speech, of "the tenant," not as the Bill does of every tenant. Now I am prepared to support any just and reasonable measure which will give to this class a secure and, I will add, permanent tenure. They resemble the copyholders of England, and as custom and law have in England given to that class perpetuity of tenure, so law might well give to the similar class in Ireland what the custom of good landlords already gives, perpetuity of tenure. But the Bill would do something very different. It would give perpetuity of tenure to far different classes. I will give a few illustrations. There are large tracts in the West and other parts of Ireland which were formerly occupied by Irish agricultural tenants, but which came into the possession of the landlords, on which they expended immense sums, and which they then let to Scotchmen and others. These new tenants were perfectly free agents; they looked after their own interests, and made hard bargains with the landlords. They took these farms on very definite conditions, and for fixed terms. The Bill proposes to upset these arrangements, and to give to these strangers that for which they did not bargain—perpetuity of tenure. I know two cases (there are scores of similar ones) of gentlemen of great wealth and position—land agents, who, in the years of distress from 1847 to 1855, took on lease for terms of years, on very favourable terms, large tracts of land belonging to their employers. These latter were glad in those difficult times to get solvent tenants, and looked forward to resuming the control of their lands at the end of the term agreed on. The Bill would make these agents the owners, subject to a valued rent, in place of their principals, and with the power of subletting. Then there is the great class of what are called in Ireland graziers—men who have taken for various terms, frequently from year to year, immense tracts of grazing land, on which most generally they do not reside, but only keep a herd or two. On all these the Bill would confer a perpetuity in all the lands which they chanced to occupy the day it became law. I know one gentleman of high position, not at all what is 653 meant by a tenant-farmer, who pays about £5,000 a-year for grass land, of which the Bill would make him the owner. I know one family who pay for grass farms in several counties, all taken on agreement in recent years, £11,000 a-year rent. The Bill will upset all their agreements, and give them these lands in perpetuity, with the power of sub-letting them. These are but samples of the great classes to which this Bill would transfer the ownership, subject to rent, of all the land they chanced to occupy. Nor can it be said that these classes are exceptions only. If we divide tenants in Ireland into holders of farms of not more than 100 acres (and this is emphatically the class of agricultural tenants living on and by their holdings who need and deserve protection) and holders of larger farms, we find that while the former class occupy 12,000,000 acres the latter occupy 8,000,000. If we take the class of larger holders of 500 acres and upwards, with an average of 1,400 acres each, we find that they occupy 2,000,000 acres, of which 700,000 acres are grass, and it is these 700,000 acres of grass land which the Bill would hand over for ever to the occupying graziers. I believe that to be unjust, and cannot concur in it. But I also believe this part of the measure to be impolitic and injurious to the bonâ fide tenantry of Ireland. There is one mode of letting, and one only, which escapes the action of the Bill—letting by auction for a term less than one year. This is a mode of letting land destructive to all bonâ fide agricultural tenant-farmers; but it is a mode of letting, I am sorry to say, daily more prevalent, and which the Bill, if it were to become law, would immensely increase. Hundreds of thousands of acres are now thus let in the counties around me; it is the mode in which all the large holders of land, whom the Bill would enable to become middlemen, would sub-let the land the Bill would hand over to them. They would thus escape the Act, while profiting by it, retain the entire control of the land, and obtain the last farthing of rent which the most keen competition would enable them to exact. I have said that I believe the proposals contained in this part of the Bill to be unjust; I believe that if it became law every acre in Ireland which ever came under the control of any person interested in letting 654 or sub-letting it, would be turned into grass, and let or sub-let annually by auction; and that, whilst 600,000 prosperous small farmers now occupy 12,000,000 acres in Ireland, such a law would make it the interest of all those from whom they hold to get rid of them on every possible opportunity—and opportunities will occur—and turn their land into pasture to be let by auction. I lately came across a remarkable instance of the effects of legislation similar to that proposed in the Bill. One of Her Majesty's Secretaries of Legation, in a Report, dated 1859, on the Portuguese wine trade, contrasting the condition of the two provinces of Minho and Alemtego, says—The contrast between the Northern and Southern Portuguese is as striking as that between their respective territories. The province of Minho is cultivated to at least the extent of one-fifth of its surface, while not one-fifteenth part of Alemtego is tilled. Yet land in the latter province is the most promising and improvable. The minister Pombal endeavoured to promote cultivation there by one of his arbitrary measures (just as this Bill does) which had a directly contrary effect. (Just as this Bill, if passed, would have). He prohibited the landlords of Alemtego from ejecting a tenant in order to let his land to another, only allowing it if the owner undertook to farm the land himself. 'This discouraged them from letting their land at all, and led to the present system of pasturing pigs, sheep, and horses, a system which requires large farms and few hands.'Thus we see what such "encouragement to agriculture!" has produced in Portugal. One hundred years of such legislation has not left an agricultural tenant in Alemtego. Fifty years of such legislation would convert most of Ireland into grazing farms let by auction. Such being my conscientious conviction, I should despise myself if, for the sake of ephemeral popularity, I voted for a measure which, however well intended, would, I believe, as now framed, prove neither just to the landlords nor advantageous to the tenants of Ireland.
§ MR. R. SMYTH
Sir, I am sure that every Member of the House will appreciate the courage which the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. O'Reilly) has shown in announcing that he will vote against the Bill; and I think our admiration for his courage will be increased when we reflect that he has been able to place his finger upon only one blot in the measure. But I should hope that he himself, on re-consideration, 655 will see that this is a blot which might very easily be removed in Committee. I presume that every one who has listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) has done so with the deepest interest, not merely because of the appropriate language in which the hon. Member expressed sentiments which are far from popular in the region where I stand, but because he is one of the best landlords in Ireland, and one of our most respected citizens. But at the outset of his speech I thought I detected a sentiment to which very few hon. Members would give their adhesion. If I understood him aright, he said he was not averse to the restoration of property which had been confiscated 300 years ago, if he could only discover the lineal descendants and heirs-at-law of those who were the victims of that ancient rapacity. I will not follow him into these dangerous speculations, and I say once for all that the promoters of this Bill have no notion of entering upon such a revolutionary undertaking in any shape or form. In the course of the debate, so far as it has yet proceeded, two classes of objections have been urged against this Bill. In the first place, my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butt) is charged with an attempt to unsettle the Land Act of1870, and, in the second place, with producing a bad Bill, irrespective altogether of anything that had gone before it. Now, as to the offence of being disrespectful to the Land Act, I should have thought that, in the opinion of Members opposite, that would have been no offence at all, and that nothing could have pleased them better than to see it unsettled, or even repealed. I am confident that if my hon. and learned Friend wanted to give vigour to any attack he was disposed to make upon the Irish Land Act, he could not do better than gather up the rhetorical projectiles which proceeded from the Conservative benches—especially from the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland—when that measure was under consideration six years ago. It seems to be the opinion of some Gentlemen, both inside and outside this House, that the work of those who occupy the Liberal benches is always very bad while it is in progress, but exceedingly good as soon as it is finished. If that be so, this Bill is only objectionable, because it is not yet law, and the best cure for it would 656 be to carry it. I hope I may be permitted to say that we on this side of the House hold ourselves at liberty to reconsider and criticize, if we think fit, Acts of Parliament which owe their existence to the efforts of the Liberal Party. But in this case, as it seems to me, the charge of being disrespectful to the Land Act does not apply, for my hon. and learned Friend—and he ought to know what he is about—has defended his Bill on the ground that it does no more than work out the principles which were affirmed in the legislation of 1870;and, on my own behalf, I own that I support it because it does not unsettle the existing law, but offers to make firmer than ever the foundation on which our land economy rests. But the hon. Member for Carlow says this is out-and-out a bad Bill. How are we to know whether this is so or not? The same thing was said about the Bill of 1870, which now appears to be the end of all wisdom. I am not much concerned by the hard words of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), or of the Chief Secretary for Ireland; for some new vocabulary of dislike and horror must be invented before worse things can be said about the hon. and learned Member for Limerick now than those which were said six years ago about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone). What does this Bill propose? It proposes to give increased security in their holdings to the farmers of Ireland, taken along with a fair revision of rents for the protection of the interests of landlords. The plan we recommend for doing this may not be a perfect plan; but it is, at all events, an effort to do a work which multitudes of intelligent men in Ireland believe necessary to be done—and among these I include the hon. Member for Down Patrick (Mr. Mulholland) who has his own little method for removing grievances—not to satisfy what the hon. Member for Carlow calls popular clamour and wild expectations, but to satisfy equity and secure contentment. A great part of the speech of the hon. Member for Carlow was taken up with florid references to the rights of property. What is the use of this? I should hope there is no man in this House so deeply sunk beneath the region of intelligence as not to know that when any encroachment is made upon 657 the rights of property, the principal injury is always done to him who makes the encroachment, and not to him who suffers in the first instance, for time always takes reprisals for injustice and violence. We who stand here to speak for the masses of our countrymen have stood elsewhere and have fearlessly told the farmers of Ireland that if they attempted—which they have not—or if they succeeded in the attempt—which they cannot—to take anything from the landlords by unjust aggression, they would themselves be the chief losers, because they would inevitably be the victims of some future deeds of spoliation. I admit that this Bill touches some of the most difficult and delicate questions of political economy and social administration. It deals with the law of contract, and asks you to limit it; it deals with rent, and asks you to regulate it; and it deals with tenure, and asks you to secure it. Those who make these demands ought to approach the discussion of them in no spirit of levity, but under a sense of deep responsibility. As to the law of contract, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire has asked whether it is to be a point in the new Liberal creed to interfere between landlord and tenant? It is too late to ask this question. Both Houses of Parliament have pronounced against the absolutely binding obligation of contract, and not only in the matter of land, but of ships, mines, factories, and other kinds of property, and they have so pronounced because there can be no freedom of contract where contract is not free; and anyone who now contends that every man must be eternally bound by every document to which he has been constrained to put his hand is really founding his argument upon an exploded principle of politics. It is not the freedom of contract, but the slavery of contract, which has been abolished by Act of Parliament; and the question we have now to consider is when and where to interfere, and how much protection we ought to give the weaker of two contracting parties against the injurious consequences of his own involuntary act. There are peculiarities in the case of Ireland which are not always appreciated or even thought of by Englishmen and Scotchmen. The physical condition of the country, the mode of making improvements on the land, the ideas and 658 traditions of the people are all different. Our resources are nearly all on the surface of the ground, and, whether it be a question of wealth or of bare subsistence, the struggle for wealth or for existence turns upon the product of the soil. And this brings me face to face with the question of rent. The principal way a man has of making himself rich in Ireland is by raising the rent of his land. It is not so in England. Here we see money made by trade, manufacture, commerce, mining, or by floating of companies and mines which do not float long; and when the money is made there is a laudable ambition to invest it in land, the investor thinking that he has done very well if he gets for his investment as good a return as he would get from the public funds. But in Ireland men buy land, not to invest money, but to make money. They borrow money on the land-mortgage to trade in the land. It was stated by some one in the course of the debate that it pays better to be a tenant than a landlord in Ireland. If that be the case in the South, I can assure the House that it is not the case in the North. With us in the North, fortunes are increased and repaired by speculating in land alone. There is an estate in the county of Derry, which was sold within the last four or five years, and it is paying its present owner, through a rise of rent which the previous owners would have scorned to assent to, if proposed by their agent, an amount of interest on the outlay which would bring water to the mouth of any English or Scotch proprietor. I tell the House that it pays excellently to be a landlord in the county of Londonderry. And as the landlord gets his wealth out of the land, so the tenant gets his only means of livelihood out of it. Having no other outlet for his labour or enterprize, he is tempted to give a rent for his holding which is just compatible with bare life and no more. It is well known that rents are higher in Ireland than in England. ["No, no!"] When I say well known, I mean, of course, in well-informed circles. I do not mean to say that a farmer in Ireland gives more rent than the land is worth to him, because that would be a proposition which I should find it rather hard to defend. The truth is, the land is worth more to the Irish farmer than it would be to the English 659 farmer, because he prefers paying a rent which brings him and his family to the verge of starvation, to emigrating, or to becoming openly and avowedly what he often is really—a day-labourer; and taking these preferences into account, the land is worth to him all that he pays for it. Besides, there is sometimes the calculation—Irish Members will understand me—that the tenant may, in the last resort, take a moonlight flitting where there is no tenant-right, carry off bag and baggage, and one or two years' rent into the bargain. More grim possibilities still enter into the minds of desperate men; but courageous landlords go on laying a few shillings per acre on the rent this year, and a few shillings another year, imagining that they can just stop before they have laid the last straw on the camel's back. Sir, this Bill deals with rent, and it would be the veriest sham that was ever laid on the Table of this House if it did not. But is it the first measure that has dealt with rent? Far from it. The Land Act deals with rent, not so avowedly. Well, but how much difference is there after all! This Bill would enact a system of compulsory arbitration; but then the Judges of the Land Courts have already almost compelled the litigating parties to submit to arbitration in disputes about rent. We ask Parliament to do what the Judges already may do. As to the rent-jury provided by the Bill, that is only a menace in reserve to compel the parties to submit to the arbitration; and as I do not believe it would ever in practice be called into requisition, I would ask my hon. and learned Friend to cut it out and hand it as a peace-offering to the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire. I have said that the law as it now stands interferes for the settlement of rent. I shall give proof of this assertion. [The hon. Member then referred in detail to a land case which came before Chief Justice Morris, in which the Chief Justice refused to sanction a rise of rent which was attempted by an agent. The agent having refused his consent to the rent proposed by the Judge, heavy damages, by way of compensation, were awarded on the spot.] I quote the decision of Lord Chief Justice Morris, not only because he is an able and fearless Judge, but because the defeated party could not possibly suspect him of a bias towards either the 660 Land Act or the tenants on account of his political antecedents. That is the law as we now have it, and if we could always make sure of having as good law as that, we might not think it so necessary to come once more to the Legislature. What we now ask is a system of skilled arbitration, so that questions of rent maybe taken out of the hands of the Judges and placed in the hands of carefully-selected men, who, in addition to high character for impartiality, will also possess a practical knowledge of the subject on which they are called upon to give their decision. The legislation of 1870 has made the position much better for some tenants, but it has not conferred material advantages on others. Previous to 1870—and I now speak of Ulster, with which I am best acquainted—it was quite the exception to find a harsh, or, as the country people called him, a driving landlord. The most of them, indeed, were lively and energetic at election times. Their predecessors in title had got the worst of it in the conflicts with their tenantry in the last century, and they had become tolerant of the custom of tenant-right which prevailed over the Province. And here I must help to correct and remove a delusion which appears to have settled down on the benches behind the Ministry. It has been said several times by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) that the Ulster custom was due for its origin to the generosity of the landlords. My right hon. and learned Colleague (Mr. Law) has effectually dealt with this strange misconception; but I must add one or two words to his. No, Sir, the tenantry of Ulster fought bitterly for the preservation of their rights, and it was only when the landlords of Down, Antrim, and Donegal had their counties on the verge of a civil war that they desisted from their attempts to abolish that ancient tenant-right which the people still enjoy, and for the safety of which they have only the pluck of their ancestors to thank. Let us get rid, once for all, of these namby-pamby compliments to the generosity of men long since in their graves, for they only call up historical reminiscences which had far better be left to sleep under the green sward that covers the dust of the insurgents of the 18th century. As I have said, it was only here and there a bad case cropped up; 661 but when it did it created alarm over a whole barony or county, and justly so, for it suggested the possibilities of severity which lay hid under the then state of the law. Two or three bad landlords in the county Donegal spread consternation over the whole length and breadth of that great county, for the farmers saw that, however good their present landlords might be, a change of owners might any day land them in distress and penury. They wanted legal protection against wrong, and they partially got it. But the very law which has done immense good to the tenants of harsh landlords has not done much for the tenants of the more indulgent class of owners. Men who were willing to be generously equitable without compulsion are now disposed to stand upon their rights, and are saying—"Our tenants were not satisfied with our good-will; we shall now give them as little of it as we can;" and the consequence is that the people in many places are harassed more than ever. The Legislature has gone far enough to irritate, and whenever power is irritated the only cure for it is to disable it. Therefore, it is necessary for Parliament to complete its work, and to make the rights of landlords and tenants so hard and fast by statute that the one shall have no power whatever to encroach upon the privileges of the other. I have heard a good deal said during the last two Sessions of Parliament about the propriety of assimilating the laws between England and Ireland. I confesss I never could fully enter into that view, for I am far more anxious to have laws adapted to the exigencies of each country than to have them assimilated in all. I was never more forcibly struck with the soundness of this political doctrine than in reading an able paper from the pen of the Duke of Argyll in a recent number of The Contemporary Review. The noble Duke says—Neither in England nor in Scotland are the persons competing for farms mere peasants struggling for the only means of living within their reach. On the contrary, they are shrewd, sagacious men of competent substance, which they are anxious to embark in this business.Just so; but then in Ireland the persons competing for farms are very often just what the Duke of Argyll says they are not in Scotland—they are mere peasants struggling for the only means of living within their reach. They are not shrewd, 662 sagacious men, for few of them are Scotchmen; but they are impulsive and hot-hearted Irishmen, who would pay down the last sixpence in their pocket, and let the last drop of sweat ooze from their brow, that they might be allowed to spend their days in their own country, and cultivate the piece of land which their fathers held before them. Again, the Duke says—30, 40, and 50 per cent of the whole rental, and this continued for many years together, has been, and still is, a not unfrequent rate of outlay on many estates. There are some, as is well known, on which for more than one generation sums greatly in excess of the whole revenue have been lavished on improvements.I suppose it may be so in Scotland, for aught that I know to the contrary; but I can only say that Ireland in general is unacquainted with this state of things. There the tenant does whatever is done—he builds, he drains, he fences, he puts up gate-pillars, erects gates, and if a landlord were thinning his wood, it is only in the rarest instances that he would give his tenant a few larch poles to help him to erect a shed for his cattle. I do not wonder that the Duke of Argyll sums up his argument with the following candid admission:—It is never wise to presume that systems of tenure which have done well in one country or district can therefore at once be introduced into another where they are not indigenous.Your Scotch and English systems of tenure are not indigenous in Ireland, and because you have transplanted them across the Channel they are fading away rapidly in our alien atmosphere to make way for another system which has its roots in the ancient history of our country. As to the part of the Bill which specially deals with tenure, I may observe that in Ulster, in the last century, nearly all the land was held under lease, and when the owner refused to renew the lease, the refusal was regarded, and justly so, as a breach of the custom of tenant-right. In truth, the right of renewal was one of the deepest veins in the heart of the Ulster custom. In proof of this, I refer the House to the speeches of the late Mr. Sharman Crawford, whose memory is revered in our Province; to the writings of the late Dr. M'Knight, of Londonderry, who has just passed away from a life of usefulness and honour; to the Report of the Devon Commission; and to the works of my hon. 663 and learned Friend the Member for Limerick. The lease was included in the custom, and a lease no more destroyed the tenant-right than a parenthesis destroys a book. By continuous occupancy, we in the North did not understand the absolute irremovability of the tenant; but we meant, and we do mean, that the tenant has a right to remain until the landlord has some better reason than his own whim for putting him out. I want to be candid with the House, and to keep nothing back. Now, my hon. and learned Friend aims at giving to the rest of Ireland what we claim to have in Ulster. The Bill empowers the Judge to declare the tenant to have a right of continuous occupation; but it only proposes to do this on the footing of a revision of rent. Some hon. Members profess to be alarmed at the words fixity of tenure; but we who live in Ireland can tell them that landlords—and some of them gentlemen with no redundant generosity in their nature—are beginning to consider whether it will not be for their own advantage to give their tenants perpetuity leases on a re-valuation of the rent. And whilst I myself should regard a system of perpetuity leases as the outcome of a wise and patriotic policy, I do not know anyone who proposes to hand over property from one man to another without payment; and, therefore, I am unconcerned by the remonstrances of indignant virtue which have been addressed to us by the hon. Member for Carlow. All those eloquent apostrophes to the rights of property are but the truisms of debate, and are ludicrously irrelevant. It is not a question of property, but a question of policy; and what you will have to decide sooner or later is, what is the policy you must pursue towards Ireland and the millions of an agricultural population. The division of to-night will not decide that question, for it will come up right through the crust of your hard majority, and demand for itself a hearing in the councils of prudent statesmen. If my hon. and learned Friend proposed to stereotype the present rents in perpetuity, there might be some ground for charging him with the attempt to re-construct a vast proprietary out of the ruins of the present ownership. But he proposes nothing of the kind. Security of tenure with periodical revision of rent—that is the principle of the 664 Bill, and by that we stand. Attack that principle, and we shall have nothing to complain of in the issue you have raised; but you need not be surprised if we defend it to the last, as fair to the landlord, just to the tenant, and essential to the peace of our country.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
said, if hon. Gentlemen opposite did not like the Act of 1870, he was sure there were numbers of Members on that side of the House who were not enamoured of it, if hon. Gentlemen opposite wished to have it repealed. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) said that he was authorized by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) to withdraw portions of the Bill; but the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. R. Smyth) said those portions were the essence of the Bill, and he insisted upon having them. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick, in introducing the Bill, said in every case where a tenant asked for virtual perpetuity, the Bill would make him pay the utmost value of the land. But in no possible case did the Bill provide that; it provided, on the contrary, that after a very short time he should pay nothing at all. That had been so conclusively shown that the hon. Member for Cork got up and withdrew that part of the Bill. The Bill not only robbed the landlord of his land, but it robbed him also of back and future rent. Suppose the Bill to become law, a tenant might refuse to pay rent; he might deliberately break every contract in his lease; the landlord would take steps to evict him, that proceeding would occupy from a year to 18 months; but at the last moment the tenant went to the clerk of the sessions and got a 6d. form; he served that upon the landlord or his agent, and thereupon all proceedings to obtain an eviction were stayed. But that was the mere starting-point of the tenant. For an outlay of 6d. he was entitled to receive the land in perpetuity; he was not made to pay the back rent which he owed. Clause 63 provided that in case of an application under this measure a tenant who owed any arrears of rent should not be liable to pay in respect of arrears more than the amount of one year's rent. The Bill provided that a tenant might have his rent assessed by his fellow-tenants. The fair test of the value of a farm would be to ascertain what would be given for it in 665 the open market. But that was not the course which this Bill adopted. It proposed that tenant-farmers should, with or without personal inspection of the land, award what rent should be paid, and unless their award were impeached for fraud, it would be final. Every one knew how impossible it was to impute fraud. Whenever fences were well kept and farms were well tilled in Ireland, it would be found that the property was cultivated by the large landowners or by the large and substantial tenant-farmer who paid a high rent for his holding; while on the farm of the poor tenant, holding under a long lease and at a low rent, the fences were full of gaps, the land was covered with weeds, and the hovel in which he lived was tumbling down. The hon. Member opposite had painted a moving picture of the thrifty tenant being turned out a pauper upon the road at the end of his lease. But he should like to know how it was that the thrifty man who had first received a considerable sum in compensation of his being turned out suddenly became a pauper. Under the Scotch system the land was sometimes re-valued every 19 years, and the rent of the tenant raised occasionally as much as 25 per cent without causing discontent; but if a periodical re-valuation were made in Ireland with a jury of tenant-farmers to re-adjust the rent, depend upon it it would become lower and lower. It was a mistake to assume that the general body of the Irish tenantry were as poor as they had been stated to be. The fact was that, in many instances, they were a wealthy class. Looking to the principle of this Bill he wished to know why if he lent one man money and another man land, the former was bound to repay the money, but the latter was not bound to return the land? It had been so long the custom to indulge in statements against Irish landlords and to cast imputations upon them that people had almost come to believe these allegations. He wished that every transaction between every landlord and every tenant in Ireland was fairly known to that House. By all means let them prevent bad landlords from bringing discredit on the great majority of the body to which they belonged; but let not a slur, which they did not deserve, be cast on all Irish landlords. But for this Bill there was nothing to be said. It was a Bill that 666 would bring ruin to the landlords, starve the labourers, and that was already proving dangerous to the tenants by the agitation to which it gave rise. The truth was, that this Bill was the last resource of a man who had cut himself off from the hope of gaining distinction in his own Profession. What was the Land Question? It was merely this—that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had pursuaded a certain number of the tenant-farmers in Ireland that if they were only sufficiently disaffected this Parliament might give them that to which they had not even a shadow of title. Such a measure as this sapped all notion of honour and of justice in the Irish tenant-farmers, who had rejected this Bill, not because they scorned to have a finger in such a thing, but because it did not go far enough. The hon. and learned Member had said that he hoped that Parliament would give security of tenure before the tenant was driven to retaliation. That was the hon. and learned Member's appeal, not to this House, but to the assassin. The hon. and learned Member had appealed to outrage and to murder.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the expressions used by the hon. Member for West Gloucestershire exceeded the ordinary limits of debate, and he called upon the hon. Member to withdraw them.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
said, that if he had used expressions in the heat of debate which he should not have done, he had much pleasure in withdrawing them. He appealed from the hon. and learned Member for Limerick to the honour and justice of a British House of Parliament.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, before dealing with the question to which he wished more particularly to direct the attention of the House, he must protest against the article by the Duke of Argyll in The Contemporary Review, to which the hon. and learned Member (Mr. R. Smyth) had referred, being accepted as a correct picture of the state of matters in Scotland. So far as he (Mr. Barclay) was aware, there was no material difference between the practices of landlords in Scotland and in Ireland in regard to tenants' improvements; for though some landlords had expended 667 large sums of money on their estates, this was in Scotland, as in Ireland, a rare exception. Neither was the tenure of land in Scotland materially different in principle from what it was in Ireland. If there was any difference it was in favour of the Scottish tenant, for there was no doubt that the clansmen originally held as good a tenure to their holdings as the chief of the clan; and considering how the change had been brought about, the assumption of absolute possession in the land came with bad grace from the Duke of Argyll. He did not mean to criticize the paper referred to at present, but hoped to have an opportunity of doing so when the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill came on for discussion. He probably should not have taken any part in this debate but for the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), when the Bill was previously under the consideration of the House. He was always much pleased when the noble Lord addressed the House on the Land Question. The noble Lord, as he (Mr. Barclay) thought, went to the root of the matter. He had constituted himself the champion of the landlords, and appealed to the principles of political economy. If the issues raised went far, it was not for him (Mr. Barclay) to cavil with the chivalry, he would not say rashness, of the noble Lord, but to take up the challenge he had thrown down. When the Bill was previously before the House, the noble Lord had described its provisions as an invasion of the rights of property in land, which, the noble Lord asserted, were as absolute and complete as any right of property whatever in anything could be, and he challenged opponents to point out any difference. He joined issue with the noble Lord, and hoped to make clear that the so-called right of property in land was a tenure of a qualified nature, and by no means unconditional, as the noble Lord asserted. There were two kinds of property, with broadly distinctive features. Every man had an absolute right of property to the labour of his hands or of his head, and in the produce thereof, or in what he received in gift from others of the produce of their labour. This right of property he did not hold by any title or charter, but from the fact of being born a freeman, and herein lay the difference between 668 the freeman and the slave. One of the principal objects of society was to secure to the individual the possession and free use of this right of property, so far as he did not injure his neighbours. But there was another kind of property to which the right was of a very different and qualified kind. These were what might be called the gifts of Providence which were common to all—the air, sunshine, land, and all that lay under it—the natural objects by which man lived, or on which he expended his labour for his comfort or advantage. No one could with any reason say that these were gifts only to the few; but as it was impracticable for each one to have directly a share of certain of these gifts, and no one proposed that they should, they might be assigned by the State to certain individuals in exchange for certain services or payments for the general benefit. It was evident that the right of possession in this description of property could not be of an unconditional nature, but that possession was to be used not exclusively for the benefit of the individual himself, but for the general advantage. These views were not his alone. He might refer to the writings of various political economists and philosophers, but would confine himself to one quotation from Locke, who says—Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man hath a property in his own person; this nobody has a right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he has mixed his labour with and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.According to political economy, to which the noble Lord appealed, there was thus a distinctive difference in the right of property in one's own labour or its produce, and in the so-called right of property in land. But, in fact, both according to the Constitutional law of England and to practice, however much it had of recent years been kept out of sight, the land of England was held upon the tenure indicated. Blackstone laid it down conclusively that there was no allodium—absolute property in the land of England. After the Conquest the land was held by the landlords of the lord paramount—the Sovereign—on feudal tenure, and on that tenure it was still held. The landlords were vassals 669 of the Sovereign, who then represented the State, and held the land on stipulated conditions. The land provided the Army and Navy and Civil List of the Sovereign. If the vassal failed to render the stipulated services, or rendered them to the wrong man, he forfeited his estates, and not unfrequently his life. The hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell), in the able and eloquent speech he addressed to the House on the discussion of the Real Estate Intestacy Bill, had referred to the duties and responsibilities of the feudal chief in having not only to provide an armed force for his Sovereign, but also to make provision for the junior members of the family. This state of matters continued to the time of the Commonwealth, when and in the subsequent reign the services in kind were commuted into a money payment, proportioned to the value of the land, and according to the exigencies of the State. It was not easy to ascertain what the amount of this payment was at first in England, but in Scotland it amounted to 8s. per pound of rental in time of war, and 4s. in time of peace. In the early years of the reign of William and Mary the rate was in England 4s. per pound of rental in war, and 2s. in time of peace, and provided the funds for the Army and Navy. By this change the landlord converted his holding from a life-tenure in exchange for services in kind to a hereditary tenure on a payment in money varying in amount according to the value of the land and to the exigencies of the State. But in the latter years of William and Mary, the Parliament of England then becoming the paramount power in the State, and consisting almost exclusively of landlords, converted this annual rent-charge, for it was not a tax, but rent for the land, into a fixed sum payable on a fixed rental, and so it continues till now. There is no doubt as to the history of these transactions. It is written in the various Acts of Parliament, and this land tax, more properly rent-charge, is still paid, except in the cases where, by a very wasteful process, it was redeemed by a comparatively trifling payment. He was not about to enter at present into the question whether Parliament ought to make the old rent-charge on the new valuation as almost all other rates were now levied; but if the noble Lord desired to raise this point, he was pre- 670 pared to meet him on a fitting occasion. His object at present was to show that there was an essential difference between property in labour and the tenure of land, and if he were not able to convince the noble Lord, he thought the public would have no difficulty in forming their own judgment. Now what had happened since this rent-charge was fixed? The land had increased 20 to 30 times in value, due principally to two causes—first, to the mercantile and manufacturing prosperity of the nation; then to the labour and capital expended by the tenants in improving the land; and lastly, to a certain extent, he was willing to admit, to the expenditure of the landlords; but whether due to general prosperity, or to the exertions of the tenant, or to the landlord himself, all the increase had been appropriated by the landlord. The Bill before the House did not propose to interfere with the appropriation by the landlord of the increase in rent due to the first cause. To this the tenant laid no claim, but its object was to secure to the tenant his right of property in the increased value of his holding due to his own industry and capital. The statement might look absurd to those who had considered the assertion by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) before the abolition of the Corn Laws, that Free Trade would raise the rent of land; but he had no hesitation in saying that this Bill might fairly and properly be described as a measure which would tend to raise rents, to increase the value of land, and to give peace, prosperity, and stability to society in Ireland. They all knew how much the tenant-farmers in Ireland—and he believed farmers in Scotland even more—had done to improve their land even under an insecure tenure. How much more would they not do so when that tenure was secure, and the tenant believed that the holding on which he was spending his labour would be his home for life! A new value would soon be superadded by the tenant's industry on the landlord's capital, and as in the event of bad times the tenant's capital in his improvements would have to be first exhausted, the landlord's capital would be rendered more secure and of a higher value, while the general prosperity would not be without its effects in giving the landlord a reasonable claim to a fair increase of rent. He 671 was dealing with the principle of the Bill, and did not mean to discuss its details, which were for consideration in Committee. He considered the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. Law) to be in favour of the Bill, because he had not objected to the principle, but confined himself to criticism of its machinery. The principle of the Bill was to give security to tenants for their improvements, and that could only be done by giving security of possession, because the greatest and most important manurial improvements of a farm, on which its fertility principally depended, could not be determined by any practical or chemical or microscopic investigation which had yet been discovered, and tenants would not invest money in permanent manures to the extent necessary to fully develop the resources of the land unless they were certain of security of possession to enable them to reap the fruits of their industry and capital. The Bill had been called revolutionary and Communistic. No one was more opposed to revolution than himself, or more anxious for steady and continuous progress based on justice and right; but what was more calculated to produce violent change than the persistent refusal to redress an injustice, after it was recognized to be an injustice by those who suffered from it and saw no hope for redress of the grievance under which they suffered? He had never seen defined what Communism fully meant. He understood, however, that one highly objectionable feature of Communism was that one individual appropriated to himself the results of the labour of others without making any return; but if the complaints which the Irish tenants made, and which he made on behalf of Scotch tenants, were well founded, he asked where did the Communism lie? Objections had been taken to the jury proposed to be appointed under the Bill to assess the rent; but if that was objectionable, he had no doubt that tenants would agree to a fixed rent to be raised in settled proportions at determined periods. That would be, or ought to be, perfectly satisfactory to the landlords, whose rights in the land it would respect, while it would at one and the same time afford security to the tenant and stimulate his industry in the improvement of the land. The noble Lord the 672 Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had said that this Bill would take away from the landlord all that the possession of land was valued for. He had shown that that Bill would raise the value of land by the additional security of the tenants' improvements, and tend to increase rents by the increased prosperity which would follow. What, then, did the noble Lord mean? Did landlords value the possession of land for the power it gave over the tenants? He admitted that the Bill would deprive the landlord of the power over the fate and future of his tenant which he now possessed, but which it was unjust and most inexpedient in the best interests of society that he should possess. He did not wish to deny, nor did he think it an objection to the Bill, that it would deprive the landlord of the power of expatriating his tenant, or, if not of expatriating him, at any rate of turning him out of the home of his childhood, the home with which all his associations were connected, the land which he had enriched by his industry and the expenditure of his capital. He quite admitted to the noble Lord that the Bill would have the effect of preventing arbitrary ejectment; but he maintained that the power of which the landlord would be deprived was of a kind which no man in this free country and in this enlightened age ought to hold, or ought to be assisted by law to exercise over his fellow-man. That power, he thought, however consistent it might be with the ideas of the past, was one which could hardly be seriously contended for in that House at the present day. At any rate, whatever might be the opinion entertained or expressed by that House, he had no hesitation in saying that if the question was put to the country the country would return no doubtful, or hesitating, or uncertain answer. He could not conclude without offering his grateful acknowledgments to the Prime Minister for giving the opportunity for this debate. It was not for him to scrutinize the motives. The Bill would no doubt be defeated by an overwhelming majority; but the Prime Minister must know that no division in the House would put this question to silence or defeat the object of the Bill so far as founded on justice and right. He preferred, with the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), to believe that in 673 this question at least the right hon. Gentleman had been, was, and would be a good, sound Radical; and although he himself could not venture to educate his Party on such a delicate subject as the tenure of land, he was not averse to a discussion of the subject, which could not fail to have its effect on hon. Gentlemen behind him and on the country. But whatever the fate of this Bill might be, he had no doubt that the arguments adduced would assist in drawing the public mind to the consideration of what he considered a subject of vital importance, and he had confidence that the people, when fully informed, would do justice to the cultivators of the land, and awaken to a sense of their own interest in the soil of their country.
§ MR. MORRIS
said, that individually, and not speaking for his constituents, he much disliked the political economist coming from Scotland, and if anything were necessary to induce him to vote against the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), it was the speech which had just been delivered by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay). The Bill, as it appeared to him, took a very wide scope indeed. It was a measure to make the tenant farmers partners in the ownership of the soil. To that he had no objection, for the Act of 1870 had made the tenant farmers joint proprietors in the soil. He did not mean to say that there were not bad landlords in Ireland, nor did he intend to vindicate them as a class; but although the conduct of some of them might be harsh he believed that the Bill would do more harm than good. Whilst he admitted that there were oppressive and grasping landlords in Ireland, he denied most emphatically that the old landlords—the landlords whose ancestors had lived in Ireland for centuries—belonged to that class. And when he heard the philosopher who had last addressed the House, and the remarks of those who considered themselves the regenerators of Ireland, he must say that from that class had sprung the worst landlords in Ireland, and he hoped there would be no further importation either of Scotch philosophers or Scotch proprietors. There was a class of proprietors in Ireland who had for many generations lived on the most amicable terms with their tenants. But he would ask the House whether the present Bill was 674 likely to promote that good feeling which had so long existed between landlord and tenant. It would not compel the bad landlord to do that which was done by the good one voluntarily. Whether he was returned to Parliament at the next Election or not, he would not vote for the transferring of the rights to property from one man to another, and, as he believed that this Bill would do that, therefore he should vote against it; but if the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had brought in a Bill that would have given every farthing to the tenant for improvements and that would have increased the number of years for disturbance without just and proper cause, he would have supported it. The Bill by giving great facilities for increasing rents would lead to heart burnings, dissensions, wars—and almost civil wars—between landlords and tenants. If this Bill could inflict on the bad landlords of Ireland—who were in a minority—the greatest punishment possible on man he would have supported it; but it would be most mischievous, because the first thing done under it would be to raise rents, the landlords thinking they had no interest in the country other than to get as much money as possible out of it. He regretted the number of absentees, some of whom rarely visited their tenants, whilst others appointed trusty agents, and as one of the latter class he objected to this Bill.
THE O'CONOR DON
Whatever may be our opinion as to the merits of the Bill now before us, it would be difficult, I think, to over-estimate its importance. We are asked by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick not merely to amend or to extend the Land Act of 1870, but practically to pass another measure in its stead, and a measure involving principles of such enormous magnitude that I trust the House will pardon me if, in dealing with them, I am obliged to trespass on its attention for some time. Much as the Land Act of 1870 has done for the tenant-farmers of Ireland, in securing them against being thrown out on the world deprived of the value of the improvements they may have made, it has not worked without some counteracting disadvantages. It has had a tendency to place dealings in land more upon the footing of pure commercial transactions than heretofore, to diminish special acts of generosity on 675 the part of landlords towards their tenants, and, in a word, to make them more exacting in all their rights. Indeed, both parties—the landlords and the tenants—know their legal rights better than before, and both are more ready to exercise them. This has naturally produced a feeling of dissatisfaction. Too much of unmixed good was expected from that Act, and its want of realization has produced a revulsion of feeling and created the opinion amongst a large portion of the tenant-farmers that permanent security in the occupation of their farms is what they must seek and use every constitutional means in their power to obtain. These, Sir, are the facts we have to look in the face, and when we recollect that nearly all the Irish Representatives owe their seats in this House to the will, and are dependent on the votes, of the tenant-farmers, I think it will be admitted that I have been guilty of no exaggeration in saying that the importance of the question cannot be over-estimated. For myself, I can most truly say that I approached the consideration of this Bill with the most anxious desire that I might be able to support it. No man in the House owes more to his constituents than I do. I asked from them a very large amount of confidence, it was freely given to me, and I feel all the more bound to prove that that confidence was not misplaced. Sincerely desirous to see an independent class of yeomanry established in Ireland, secure in the occupation of their farms, I would gladly support any measure calculated to accomplish this object, if it were founded upon principles of justice and fair play, and I would willingly vote for the second reading of a Bill, from many of the details of which I differed, if I believed that its principles were just. In dealing then, Sir, with the Bill of my hon. and learned Friend, I will try to avoid anything like a minute criticism of details. Passing over Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill which deal with the Custom of Ulster, and certain amendments of the Land Act—the utility of which I cannot discover, for if Part 3 became law Parts 1 and 2 would be wholly unnecessary—I come at once to Part 3, and here it is—I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me—that we find the true principles of his measure. Those principles appear to me to be two-fold. First, that 676 there should be established in Ireland compulsory fixity of tenure for all existing tenants, whether large or small, resident or non-resident, no matter what were the terms on which they entered on occupation, or whether it had been of long or short duration; and, secondly, that this continuous occupation should be held at a rent mainly determined by farmers resident in the district. Now, while ready to admit that it might be of advantage to the country that the majority of the real tillers of the soil had a secure and permanent interest in it, I am not at all prepared to extend this principle to all accidental occupiers, and especially am not prepared to extend it to the class of large non-resident farmers, who are often more wealthy and independent than their landlords, and who came into occupation on the extermination of the old residential inhabitants. The granting of perpetuity of tenure to such men, coupled with the provisions in the Bill as to the sub-letting of farms, would simply result in the revival in Ireland of one of the worst features of former days—namely, the resuscitation of the destructive system of middlemen, who would become the real owners, the present proprietors being transformed into the owners of a rent-charge. Fixity of tenure to all ancient residential occupiers is, as an abstract idea, one that commends itself to our best feelings; as a matter of fact it exists on many of the large estates in the country, and it would often be difficult, even where the owners can trace back their ownership for centuries, to discover whether the ancestors of the owners or of the occupiers had been longest in connection with the soil. The real difficulty in establishing this perpetuity by law rests in the second principle—namely, the adjustment of rent; and the moment you interfere with this compulsorily, that moment you destroy the very essence of ownership. I will say nothing, Sir, as to the tribunal selected for adjusting the rent—that has been sufficiently dealt with by other speakers—but the Bill not only provides the tribunal, but lays down a standard on which the rent is to be assessed—that standard being the "highest rent which a solvent and responsible tenant could afford to pay." To act up to this standard the farmers, arbitrators, or juries are to take an oath of the most solemn character, and of course the whole 677 justification of the proposal rests upon the assumption that they will conscientiously discharge the duties thrown on them impartially and without prejudice. Looking, then, at the Bill from the point of view of those who consider the tribunal a fair one, we are justified in assuming that they think the rent will be determined according to this standard. My hon. and learned Friend proposes to give to the tenant absolute perpetuity of tenure, he proposes to take from the landlord all the rights of ownership inconsistent with this perpetuity, and, in lieu of these rights and in consideration of their abandonment, he proposes to secure to the landlord the highest rent that a solvent tenant could afford to pay. I hope, Sir, I have fairly stated the proposal—now let us look at its consequences. As the greatest diversity at present exists between rents in different parts of the country, between rents on different estates in the same district, and even between rents on different holdings on the same estates, it is evident that if the Bill were put into immediate and general operation there must be a great deal of levelling up or a great deal of levelling down. All the disparities and differences as to rent must disappear and all must arrive at one dead level of uniformity. Now, Sir, I would ask any hon. Member from Ireland whether he could not, in his own neighbourhood, at once place his finger upon certain town lands, the rent of which is considerably over the average rent in the district, and yet which is a rent that has been paid for years by solvent responsible tenants, who, if they wished to leave the land and got permission to sell their interests, would be able to find many purchasers competing for those interests? Well, Sir, I would ask are all the rents in the neighbourhood to be raised up to the level of these, or are they to be reduced? If they are to be reduced, you will have to face difficulties and claims for compensation of which you have no idea, and claims which it seems to me cannot be honestly overlooked. Take, for instance, the case of an estate upon which the rents were raised some eight or ten years ago, and subsequently the estate was sold in the Landed Estates Court, and purchased on the faith of the Acts of Parliament, which guarantee purchases made in that Court. Suppose that those rents have since been most 678 regularly paid by solvent tenants, that family settlements have been made, jointures and younger childrens' portions secured, and mortgages raised upon these lands on the strength of these rents, could you, I ask, justly upset all this, lower these rents and injure these securities, without at least granting the most ample compensation to those who, upon the faith of your Acts of Parliament, invested their money? And if these rents cannot be reduced, upon what principle can you refuse to raise all the rents in the neighbourhood to the same standard? The value to the tenant, which is the only point to be considered by the tribunal, does not in the least degree depend upon the necessities or arrangements of the landlord; and if it be just to charge the tenants, upon the ideal estate to which I have alluded, the high rents they at present pay, it would be equally just for all the surrounding landlords to claim the same. I know that my hon. and learned Friend has seen this difficulty, and he proposes to meet it in this way. He does not provide in his Bill for a general re-adjustment of rents, nor does he contemplate that all holdings will be at once subjected to its provisions. Apparently he leaves this to the discretion of the tenant. Where the tenant is satisfied as he is, he need not take advantage of the Bill, or seek a "declaration of tenancy;" and as the landlord is not to have the right of going into Court and claiming that the Bill be put into operation, my hon. and learned Friend seems to imagine that in all cases where the rents are low things may go on as they did before, and no change be made. I may say, in passing, that every principle of reciprocity and fair play seems to me to dictate the conferring on the landlords similar rights of appealing directly to the Court; but even although this be not granted, it must be evident that the landlord can, through the instrumentality of a notice to quit, compel the tenant to go to the Court. This being so, what ground have we for supposing that if a landlord's rent were low he would refrain from raising it to the very highest figure he could get? What would he gain by not adopting this course? If he could secure thereby that his estate should be free from the operation of the Act, we could perhaps understand his forbearance. But such will not be the case. The very moment such a Bill as this 679 became law, every estate in Ireland, so far as the landlords were concerned, would be subject to it. The landlord could not sell his estate or deal with it in any way except subject to this right, and every disadvantage that the law could entail on him would be placed on him at once. A landlord with his rents at a low rate, after the passing of this Bill, would be very much in the same position as one who had promised in writing a lease for 999 years to a tenant at an increased rent but who had not executed the lease. Why should he not execute it? He must do so whenever the tenant wished, and every day he refrained from doing so merely caused him a loss of rent. The case of landlords under this Bill was even stronger than this, for not only would they lose the additional rent to which they might be entitled, not only would they lose the advantages of periodical re-valuations, but they would run a great risk of never having their rents increased at all; for in the end when the tenants did seek for the declaration of tenancy it might very fairly be urged that the rents having been allowed to remain for so long a time at the low rate this was conclusive proof that it was fair. At all events, the landlord would run a great risk of this; and why, under the circumstances, he should refrain from at once demanding his full rights, I am quite at a loss to conceive. Yet unless the great bulk of the landlords do so, the Bill, if fairly carried out, must lead to a very general and, in some cases, a very considerable raising of rents. If this were to be its consequence—and I say, if fairly carried out, it must be its consequence—then I have no hesitation in saying that the Bill would be one of the most unpopular measures which ever passed this House. But, Sir, we know that this could hardly be its result. I have no wish to say a word derogatory of the tribunals to which the hon. and learned Member would refer the question of rent; but giving them credit for the possession of all the virtues usually enjoyed by mankind, it would be contrary to human nature that a tribunal of farmers, or, indeed, any tribunal, would be able to withstand the indignation and uproar with which such a proposal as the general simultaneous raising of rents would be met, and therefore I believe the Bill could not be fairly carried 680 out. In considering the Bill it seems to me we are placed in this dilemma, either it would give to the landlords that which it promises them—the highest available rent, in which case we should have a very general raising of rents throughout Ireland—or it would fail to do so, and then the promise is a delusion and a deceit. Probably the result would be to stereotype existing rents, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), and it is needless for me to point out that by this the chief sufferers would be the kind and indulgent landlords, who would have their low rents fixed at this rate for ever, whilst those who had previously exacted high rents would be rewarded by having those rents equally secured to them. Moreover, in the course of a very few years, the indulgence of the good landlord would have been sold away, and upon the estates where rents were lowest there would be found tenants who had paid to their predecessors, or it might be to their brothers and sisters, the full value of this comparative lowness of rent, so that the actual occupiers would not entertain on account of it the slightest feelings of thanks or gratitude to their landlords. Well, Sir, I say if this were to be the result of the Bill it would be monstrously unfair to those who least deserved this treatment, and the very demand for it holds out the strongest inducements to all landlords in Ireland to look to their rents in time, and hence we cannot wonder at the symptoms already showing themselves in this direction. Again, there is another disadvantage which this Bill would bring upon the occupiers. Let the books of any large proprietor be taken up, and I venture to say that it will be found that in allowances made to tenants in one form or another, in assistance given for making improvements in the dwellings or on the farms, in remissions of rent or advances for temporary wants, considerable sums of money are given away. Of course with the passing of such a Bill as this, all this would cease. No mere rent-charger ever does anything, or is expected to do anything, for his tenants. His whole connection with his property is to get out of it a certain sum in the year, and when he has got that all his interest and concern in it ceases. Then turning to the case of the owners of property, the change to them would be 681 a most vital one. We all know that the very best secured rent-charge is not of equal value with absolute ownership, and upon what principle of justice can we at once change the character of a man's property without at least giving him the choice of compensation? Within the last 20 years thousands and thousands of acres have been bought and sold in the Landed Estates Court, millions of money have been invested in purchases upon the faith of Acts of Parliament, and can we upon any principle of justice take from the purchasers that which they purchased—namely, absolute ownership, and give them in place of it a mere rent-charge, without at least offering them compensation for the change? Parliament, it is true, may be supreme over the land of the country; but I submit it cannot justly give an absolute right to-day, on the strength of which large sums are invested, and then to-morrow take that right away or alter it without at least compensating those whose rights are thus interfered with. This Bill may be defended upon the ground of public policy—it may be said it is necessary to give the occupiers of the soil a property for which they never paid and to take from the present owners that which they purchased; but, if so, call the Bill by its proper name and accompany it with compensation. Moreover, if this great and radical change be necessary let it be made boldly, once and for all, and let the occupiers, who would then really be the owners, have all the rights of ownership. Do not attempt to tie up and hamper transactions in land for ever. The whole effort in other countries, where great and radical changes have been made, has been to free the land from restriction. Here in this Bill exactly the opposite course is taken. Were it to become law no one henceforward could do anything with land except subject to complicated legal restrictions, and probably a reference to a Court of Law in every case. The tenure of land, the rent of land, the very size of farms is to be regulated by Act of Parliament; and not alone is freedom of contract to be done away with in regard to the present owners and occupiers, but it is to be done away with altogether. Instead of freeing land we are asked to bind it up and hamper it with new restrictions unheard of in any other country, the chief result of which would be for the benefit of the 682 legal Profession, whose members would probably reap a rich harvest, if, by any chance, this measure became law. Now, Sir, I trust my hon. and learned Friend will not think that I have criticized his Bill with any feeling of hostility towards the object he has in view—namely, increasing the permanency of the interest which the occupiers have in the soil of the country. I have tried, as far as I could, to confine myself to the principles of his Bill, and I have not endeavoured to produce a hostile feeling towards it by carping at details. Those principles I regard as principles of restriction, and interference by law where freedom from interference should be the rule. Principles which would reward the bad landlord, who had exterminated his tenants, by increasing the value of his property, and injure the good one by diminishing the value of his, and which, if fully carried out, might benefit one tenant in a 100, but would raise the rent upon the other 99. I am as anxious as my hon. and learned Friend to bring about a lasting settlement of the Land Question; but I think more effectual aid will be given towards the accomplishment of this object by fully and fairly canvassing the merits and demerits of proposals laid before us than by silent, grudging, I might almost say—in my own case could certainly say—servile acceptance of any scheme which might commend itself to popular favour. I have always thought that we were here to do something more than record our votes in favour of proposals that might be approved by our constituents. There is a thinking and an unthinking approbation, and it is our duty to try and assist in bringing out the former. It would be very easy for me to invent an excuse or to give a plausible reason for voting for the second reading of this Bill. To the Bill in its present shape I could not give an assent; but it might be said it can be altered in Committee, and in voting for the second reading you only pledge yourself to the agreeably vague proposition that something ought to be done. Sir, we all know that the Bill will not go into Committee—we all know perfectly well that it will never pass a second reading; perhaps some votes will be given for it, for this very reason; but, at all events, this is the only vote on it which we can get the possibility of recording. Under these circumstances, no matter how conciliatory my 683 hon. Friends the Members for Cork and Londonderry Counties may be in promising to secure the withdrawal in Committee of almost every essential detail, yet the only fact officially recorded in the proceedings of this House will be, that every man who votes for the second reading will have voted for a measure transferring to the present accidental occupiers of the soil, part ownership in the same, without any provision for compensating the present owner, and for establishing by compulsory valuation the price to be paid for the hire or use of a certain commodity, that valuation, in the main, being left to the decision of a tribunal selected from amongst the body of the hirers. Sir, I cannot vote for such a measure; to vote for it with a mental reservation that I was voting for something else would not be honest; to vote for it even with the publicly expressed declaration of voting for something else would not be commendable; and I have come to the conclusion that I assist the attainment of the object which the hon. and learned Gentleman has at heart more by frankly stating the objections which I entertain to his scheme than by any attempt at subterfuge or equivocation to cloak over or give a gloss to a vote which, straightforwardly and on its own merits, I could not defend. But, Sir, whilst I say this, for which I may have to pay the penalty of being misrepresented, I cannot say that on public grounds I regret that this Bill was introduced here. It is far better that the question should be discussed here than reserved for meetings in Ireland, where false and delusive hopes might be raised and fostered. The hon. and learned Gentleman told us when introducing the Bill that he placed it before the House as the demand of the tenant-farmers and that it embodied their views, views which many of them have been taught to believe to be founded injustice, and which I most distinctly say should not be met with mere denunciations and cries of confiscation and robbery. They deserve at our hands a patient and respectful consideration, and every motive of public and political policy compels us to give them, not alone this consideration, but to meet them only by fair and legitimate argument. Here, Sir, let me remark upon a statement made, I think, by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), that we might see in this Bill 684 one of the great dangers to be apprehended from the establishment of Home Rule. The noble Lord asked—"When such a measure as this was proposed in the Imperial Parliament, what might not be expected in an Irish one?" Sir, I say, with the clearest conviction of its correctness, that such a Bill as the present would not have a chance of passing in an Irish Parliament, and further than that, I do not believe it would ever be introduced there. If we consider what is meant by Home Rule as defined by my hon. and learned Friend, and elaborated at the Conference in Dublin, we will see that it would place all Irish legislation absolutely under the control of a Chamber composed exclusively of Irish Peers, or, in other words, of Irish landlords; and is there any one who really imagines that a Chamber so constituted would be likely to entertain, I will not say to pass, such a measure, especially when the alternative of refusal, even if it resulted in an altercation with the Irish House of Commons and a consequent dead-lock, would at the worst lead simply to the abolition of Home Rule and a return to Imperial Parliament? No, Sir, an Irish House of Peers never would pass such a Bill as this, it is contrary to common sense to suppose that they would do so; and the very knowledge of this fact, the knowledge that the mere raising of the question would lead to probable disagreement between the two Houses, would be the surest pledge that even in an Irish House of Commons this proposal would not be made. Indeed, Sir, I doubt very much myself whether even the Land Act of 1870 would have been passed by an Irish House of Peers, and I would say to my noble Friend that he has far more reason to fear the necessities and wants of English Parties than anything that could happen in an Irish Parliament. But whilst an Irish House of Peers would certainly never pass such a Bill as the one before us, they would meet the question of land tenure in a fair and conciliatory spirit and for their own sakes, if for no higher motive, would endeavour to place that question on a more satisfactory footing than it stands at present. There is no class in the community more interested in having the present state of the land laws and the results of recent legislation investigated than the landlords; and blind indeed will 685 they be to their own interests if they allow things to drag on unchanged as they have been during the last few years. Nothing to my mind could be more dangerous to the landlords than a succession of little petty amendments and extensions of the Land Act of 1870, which, in reality, would give no satisfaction or security to the occupier; and upon this point I am obliged somewhat to differ in opinion from my hon. Friends the Members for Longford and Londonderry. There are principles contained in the Land Act which might lead, step by step, to the most extraordinary consequences, and treading in this path is most dangerous progress. For myself, I would much prefer to look to the end which we propose to reach, and if it be the establishment in Ireland of a class of occupiers secure in the occupation of their farms, to try whether this could not be accomplished at once upon some principles of justice and fair play. I believe that a great deal may still be done in the direction of stimulating voluntary agreements, which would lead to practical fixity of tenure, advantages and inducements might be held out to landlords to give this, and facilities afforded to tenants to secure it. When the Land Act of 1870 was before the House, I regretted that some such scheme as that originated by Judge Long field and proposed in a modified form by the late Sir John Gray was not adopted. I do not despair of its being revived in some shape or form. At all events, none are more interested in a settlement than the owners of land, and no course could be more suicidal than meeting this Bill with a mere negative, and allowing things to drift on as they have been drifting. Opposed as I am, Sir, to this Bill in principle, and objectionable as I believe many of its details, I regard it with far less apprehension than the petty tinkering legislation which, if the subject be not inquired into, may very probably take its place; and if my words have any influence with hon. Gentlemen opposite I would say to them, look to this question and look to it in time, do not imagine that the mere rejection of this Bill can settle it, or that meeting with contempt the demands of the occupiers can tend to remove misapprehensions; resist this Bill if you will, but in resisting it and defeating it try to convince the judgment rather than 686 coerce the will of the tenant-farmers of Ireland.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
The opposition to the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), which has come to-night from the right hon. and learned Member for the county Derry (Mr. Law), seems to me to be quite unjustifiable. The right hon. and learned Member for Derry traced for us the history of Ulster tenant-right, and recounted the wonderful achievements of the tenantry of that part of Ireland in reclaiming the forest and making the bare mountain side smile with abundant vegetation; but I would ask the right hon. and learned Member does he for a moment suppose that the work of improvement, which was begun in Ulster so many years ago, would have continued down to our time, if the Ulster tenant had not been secured in the possession of his farm? Certainly not. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech is a sufficient answer to my question; and everything he has said in favour of Ulster tenant-right may be said with equal force in favour of fixity of tenure in the other three Provinces of Ireland. I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the tenantry of the West and South have not been wanting in the qualities of industry and perseverance, to which, he says, the prosperity of the Northern farmers is mainly due; but they have never yet received that protection and encouragement, without which no amount of industry can bring to the tenant either contentment or prosperity. But the impression conveyed to me by the right hon. and learned Member's speech was that there was scarcely anything in the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick that he would not be willing to accept, provided only that we could manage to engraft it on the Land Bill of 1870, so as to make that famous Whig measure the beginning and the end of all legislation on this subject. The Bill before the House has been opposed also by the hon. and gallant Member for Longford (Major O'Reilly), and the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don.) The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Smyth) disposed in one sentence of the groundless opposition of the hon. and gallant Member for Longford; but the course of the hon. Member for Roscommon is, I think, particularly objection- 687 able; for, after condemning the principle of the Bill, and finding fault with almost every one of its details, the hon. Member concluded an eloquent speech without throwing any light whatever on the difficulty with which we have to deal. The hon. Member is always ready to plunge his dissecting knife into the body of every Irish Bill; but he does not appear to gain much practical knowledge from such exercises, else we should be indebted to him for some one act of practical statesmanship. Now, it would be well if the hon. Members for Longford and Roscommon put their wise heads together and framed a Bill themselves that would include all the main objects of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, while being free from its objectionable details, if they did this, they would receive my humble support; and I should rejoice to know that they were capable of something greater than analyzing and criticizing the work of others. It has been said that some of us are not quite competent to discuss this question, because we have no land; but I should think that those who have nothing to do with land, and who are, therefore, free from the selfish considerations that might naturally influence both landlords and tenants, are just the very people who ought to be able to take an impartial view of the question. When a discussion arose last Session on a kindred subject, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive), after recounting his own services to his Irish tenantry, wanted to know whether I had done anything to root the Irish tenants in the soil. Well, I was not in the House at the time the hon. Member addressed this question tome, and I had no opportunity of answering him. I would now simply say that if I have done nothing to root the Irish tenants in the soil, I have done nothing to root them out, and if every landlord in Ireland could say the same, our country would to-day be supporting, in comfort and happiness, more than double its present population. There can be no doubt on the mind of any one who will take the trouble to investigate the condition of Irish society, that the peace and prosperity of Ireland depend upon the settlement of the Land Question, and that the settlement of the Land Question equally depends upon guaranteeing fixity of occupation to the tenant as long as 688 he is willing to cultivate his farm and pay his rent. I do not say that when the Land Question is settled there will be a truce to political agitation; but the social war which has raged for centuries between landlords and tenants will be superseded by social peace, founded on mutual interests, and sustained, therefore, by mutual good-will. As to political agitation, we have arrived at an age when it appears to be a necessity of every country that is in a state of progressive freedom. You cannot dispense with it in England. Why, then, should you expect us to be able to do without it in Ireland? Every great reform inscribed on the Statute Book was effected through its agency. When the masses of the people become conscious of a grievance, they do not at first call aloud for redress. They bear their wrongs in sullen silence, and nurse their resentment until it ripens into disaffection; but when the storm of agitation sweeps over them it calls forth an expression of their discontent, and then good statesmanship steps in and allays the storm by removing the oppression which was at once its justification and its cause. If the House puts this question aside as unworthy of serious consideration, it will, in effect, be telling the exterminating landlord and the midnight assassin to fight it out between themselves; but it will not effectually shelve the question. From these benches you will hear fresh protests against landlord tyranny, and from the Treasury benches, perhaps, fresh demands for more coercion. Now, the tenure of Irish land is a subject upon which successive floods of light have been thrown by the Reports of innumerable Commissions and Select Committees; and there is no subject with which the House is likely to be called upon to deal that has been so thoroughly investigated by statesmen of all Parties, and political philosophers of all schools. It is, therefore, a subject which is fully ripe for legislation; and that legislation must, I admit, be of a sweeping character, which aims at doing common justice to the 600,000 tenant-farmers who occupy the Irish soil. We boldly advocate fixity of tenure, because we are determined to be perfectly candid with the House. Anything less than fixity of tenure would be less than justice to the tenantry, because it would leave the property, which they have 689 created upon the land, insecure, and it would be less than justice to the country at large, which is now anxiously looking forward to the increased prosperity that must ensue from the increased industry on the part of the tenant which fixity of tenure alone can promote. The system of land tenure which obtains in Great Britain and Ireland is anomalous in its character; but it does not affect the prosperity of the former country as it does that of the latter. Great Britain, with far greater manufacturing industry, finds ample employment in her towns for the evicted population of the fields; but since you destroyed all our principal manufactures, with the exception of the linen, by repressive enactments, we have had to depend on agriculture as the national industry; and hence the Land Question, which excites so little agitation in England, is vital to the population of Ireland. There is one thing certain, at all events—that is, that we are not proposing an untried experiment. There is not a country in Europe that has not had to encounter this question at one time or another, and it has been dealt with, I believe, in every instance either by giving the tenantry fixity of tenure, or erecting them at once into peasant proprietors. Sometimes this result has been accomplished peaceably by the courageous statesmanship of a Stein or a Hardenberg, as in Prussia. Sometimes—as in the case of France—it has been achieved only when the oppressed peasantry, by combining in their millions, elevated a social war to the dignity of a national revolution. But it is worthy of note—and the landlords of Ireland might profitably reflect on the fact—that in no case did the struggle terminate adversely to the interests of the tillers of the soil. Our method of dealing with the Irish Land Question is suggested, I think, by the soundest principles of economy—by principles which are axiomatic—and it is sustained by evidences of the plainest expediency. Let us consider, for a moment, what Mr. Mill says on this subject—The land of Ireland, the land of any other country, belongs to the people of that country. The individuals called landowners have no right, in morality and justice, to anything but the rent or compensation for its seasonable value. It is the duty of Parliament to reform the landed tenure in Ireland. There is no necessity for depriving the landlords of one farthing of the 690 pecuniary value of their legal rights; but justice requires that the actual cultivators should he enabled to become in Ireland what they will become in America—proprietors of the soil which they cultivate.Mr. Mill's position I hold to be perfectly sound; and the application of the principle he lays down can only be a question of expediency. There is no such thing as absolute property in land? How could there be under a Constitution which declares that the Queen has no absolute property in the Crown which adorns her Royal brow? Her Majesty possesses the Crown conditionally on her observance of the Constitution which is the expression of British liberty and the interests of the State. Property in land is held, conditionally, in the same manner, and whenever it conflicts with the interests of the State its tenure ought to be reformed by Parliament. The first thing we have to do in advocating a thorough reform of the landed tenure is to purge the territorial mind of the pernicious and absurd notion that any handful of the community have a right to do what they like with that which God provided for the sustenance of the whole. They have no such right. I, for one, distinctly and emphatically repudiate it. Least of all does that right belong to that handful of the Irish community, nine-tenths of whom have derived their property from robbery and confiscation. Listen to what Paley says on this point, in his Moral Philosophy—The introduction of property was consented to by mankind upon the expectation and condition that there should he left to every one a sufficiency for his subsistence, or the means of procuring it. And, therefore, when the partition of property is rigidly maintained against the claims of indigence and distress, it is maintained in opposition to the intention of those who made it, and of Him who is the Supreme proprietor of everything, and who has filled the earth with plenteousness for the sustentation and comfort of all whom He has sent into it.Acting on the principles here laid down the statesmen of Prussia, in 1807, revolutionized the whole land system of that country, and gave a fixed tenure to the agricultural class; and it is notorious that from that year may be dated the rise of Prussian power, and the development in her people of those great mental and physical qualities, which have made the soldiers of Prussia invincible on the battle-field. From the first moment that bold conception of the sweeping change entered the minds of the Prussian states- 691 men, they had no misgivings as to the beneficial results that would inevitably accrue from putting it into practice, and hence the work which Stein commenced in 1807 was completed and confirmed by Hardenberg in 1815, of course not without exciting the opposition of those who believe in the sacred rights of landed property, for they raised the cry of Socialism, Communism, spoliation, and confiscation, but that cry was disregarded by patriotic statesmen, who thought more of saving the life of a nation than preserving the life of a class, and the time came when the territorial party in Prussia were ready to acknowledge that they had themselves largely benefited from the agrarian revolution which they had vainly endeavoured to oppose. The authority of Lord Brougham has, I am sure, great weight in this House, and I am sustained by what he has written on this very subject. Lord Brougham says—It is remarkable that the nobles who had, of course, complained much of so violent an interference with their property, felt soon the benefits resulting from the new arrangement, especially in the improvement which it effected in the condition of their tenants, and they represented it as advancing them a century.With regard to the nature of the evils of the Irish land system we have abundant information in the ample Reports of Royal Commissions and Select Committees; and, if we are really in earnest in a desire to apply an effectual remedy, we must have regard to the manner in which the agrarian difficulty has been met and surmounted by every civilized people outside the shores of the United Kingdom. And how has the difficulty been met? Simply by placing the tenant, in one form or another, in secure possession of his holding. In this way and in no other can the difficulty be successfully encountered in Ireland. The tenant cannot safely be left to the mercy of the landlord. The history of Ireland speaks loudly of the selfishness, callousness, and recklessness of the average Irish landlord. I will go no farther back than the time of Swift. He has left us his estimate of Irish landlordism in the following words:—Another cause of this nation's misery is that Egyptian bondage of cruel, oppressing, covetous landlords, expecting all who live under them should make bricks without straw; who grieve and envy when they see a tenant of their own in a whole coat, or able to afford one comfortable meal in a month, by which the spirits of 692 the people are broken, and made fit for slavery—the farmers and cottagers being almost through, the whole kingdom, to all intents and purposes, as real beggars as any of those to whom we give our charity in the street.Now, Sir, I have taken the trouble to trace the history of Irish landlordism from Swift's time down to our own, and the mass of testimony as to its rapacity and cruelty is really overwhelming. Lord Clare spoke on the subject in the Irish House of Commons in 1787, and what was his testimony? He said—I am well acquainted with the Province of Munster; I know that it is impossible for human wretchedness to exceed that of the miserable peasantry of that Province. I know that the unhappy tenantry are ground to powder by the relentless landlords, who grasp at the whole produce of the soil, and not satisfied with present extortion, have been so base as to instigate the insurgents to rob the clergy of their tithes, not in order to alleviate the distresses of their tenantry, but that they may add the share of the clergy to the cruel rack rents already paid.When, in 1846, famine and pestilence visited our unhappy country, how did the landlords acquit themselves of the obligations attaching to their wealth and station? Read the testimony of the Agricultural Commissioners and of the Inspectors employed on the public works. Read the correspondence which appeared in the leading journals of this City at the time, and the debates which took place in both Houses of Parliament, and the Report of the Society of Friends, whose noble benevolence in the darkest hour of our misfortunes Ireland will ever remember with heartfelt gratitude, and you will be struck with the remarkable concurrence of testimony derived from various sources, all going to show the want of sympathy exhibited by the landlord class towards their suffering fellow-countrymen. I do not content myself with a reference to mere Irish authorities. Earl Grey, speaking in the House of Lords in 1846 on the cruel evictions then daily taking place, and which, I regret to say, have not been discontinued in our day, said—It is undeniable that the clearance of estates has taken place in Ireland to a great extent, and in a manner utterly impossible to reconcile to our ideas of real justice and real humanity. I think it is contrary to what every man's feeling must tell him to be right and just, that when, whether by the fault of the actual owner or his predecessor—I care not how—a large population has been suffered to grow up on a particular district of land, they should, when a lease falls in, be driven off in wretchedness and 693 misery. That such things should be possible, I think, is a disgrace to a civilized countiy."—[3 Hansard, lxxxiv. 1357.]And The Times of February 25th, 1847, thus writes—The people of England have most culpably connived at a national iniquity. Property ruled with savage and tyrannical sway. It exercised its rights with a hand of iron, and renounced its duties with a front of brass. The 'fat of the land,' the 'flower of its wheat, its milk and honey,' flowed from its shores, in tribute to the ruthless absentee, or his less guilty cousin, the usurious lender. It was all drain and no return. But if strength and industry fared but ill in a land where capital was in perpetual flux and decay, how much more poverty and weakness? In an integral part of the British Empire, on the soil trodden by a British Sovereign, the landowner was allowed to sweep away the produce of the earth, without leaving even a gleaning for them that were ready to perish.And they did perish year by year continually from sheer destitution. The whole Irish people were debased by the spectacle and contact of licensed mendicancy, and recognized starvation. England stupidly winked at this tyranny. Ready enough to vindicate political rights, it did not avenge the poor. It is now paying for that connivance. In what position do the landlords stand in relation to the tenants at the present day? Why their exorbitant demands in every county in Ireland are the subject of indignant protests in every organ of popular opinion. I represent a county that knows only too well how to estimate the unrestrained power of a greedy proprietor. I will not refer to the sufferings endured by the peasantry of Mayo during the terrible Famine period—sufferings that were multiplied and aggravated by wanton cruelty of territorial despots. Enough for me to show, that the same inhuman, unchristian spirit, which Irish landlordism has manifested in the past actuates it at the present hour. I had the honour a short time since to present a Petition to the House from the inhabitants of Louis burgh, praying for legislation on behalf of the tenant-farmers of Ireland. At a public meeting held in that parish last December to protest against the oppressive dealings of the Marquess of Sligo with his tenants, it was stated, in a resolution adopted at the meeting, that the rents, which have been in some instances increased three or four times since 1850, by the present increase of from 20 to 50 per cent, are now become exorbitant, when 694 taken in connection with the heavy imposts for turbary, seaweed, kelp, and the landlord's share of the poor rate and county cess—so that the inevitable and not far distant fate of the tenant will be the poor-house or the emigrant ship. It will be said, perhaps, that the lands yield greater produce now than formerly, and that the landlord is therefore entitled to a higher rent; but if the rent is to be increased in proportion as the soil is enriched by the tenant's industry, I should like to know what earthly advantage the tenant can derive from his labour? If you filch from him the fruits of his toil in this manner, where shall he find a sufficient motive for renewed injustry? And if he turns to the Government and demands protection against this plain and open robbery, and his just demand is scornfully rejected, can you be surprised to find him in the chamber of the conspirator plotting for that Government's overthrow? Louis burgh is not a district in which the value of the land has been enhanced by the rise of any flourishing industrial community. There, as elsewhere in Ireland, while wealth accumulates in the coffers of the landlord, men, and the habitations of men, disappear off the face of the country. No railway passes through it to enhance the value of its produce by facilitating its transfer to market. Nature has done but little for it. The hands of its hardworking peasantry have alone rescued it from mountain barrenness on the one hand, and the fury of the Atlantic on the other. Those who are well acquainted with the place assure me that it is not an unusual sight to see the poor people, men and women, wading out into the sea up to their necks for sea-weed, which the landlord will not allow them to use, without wringing from them an additional tax equal to one-fifth of its value. And yet we are told that the Land Question is to be settled by mutual agreement between landlord and tenant, while the landlord has still the power of dictating such terms as these. Those who talk thus know very well that the Irish tenant has no resource but the land; and that he must of sheer necessity close with the terms imposed by the landlord, and work while body and soul hang together to save himself and his family from extermination. I read, not long since, in The Standard, a journal of influence, I believe, and one that repre- 695 sents a large share of Conservative opinion, the convenient argument that, as the price of produce increases, so must the price of land increase also. But The Standard took no note of the fact that if the farmer gets a higher price for his produce now than formerly, he has, at the same time, to pay a higher price, not only for the labour he employs on the farm, but for the coat he wears on his back, and for all the necessaries and comforts of life which he is obliged to purchase. Of course, it will not be pretended that the increased price of agricultural labour is a proof of agricultural prosperity. The political economist who puts forward that opinion must be very short sighted indeed. The rate of wages is no test of prosperity in an economic sense. The only reliable test of prosperity, in my judgment, is the facility with which food, clothing, and shelter may be obtained. Now, I would like to say a word on the Land Act of 1870. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) told the Liberals of Retford that after the passing of that Act Ireland had no more grievances, that the measure of English justice had filled to overflowing. Will the right hon. Gentleman show me that the Land Act has stopped eviction? Has it prevented the landlord from exacting 100 per cent more than the valuation rent for his land? It has done neither of these things; and it has, therefore, failed to touch even the fringe of that difficulty which has contributed so much to the impoverishment of Ireland, and the expatriation of its people. The right hon. Gentleman took, however, an enlightened view of the situation in depicting the hopeless prospects of the Liberal Party, and I can give him the assurance of one Irish Representative, that he is quite right in not counting on Irish support. Speaking for myself, I can promise him that a Liberal Party ruled by Whig counsels such as his will not only have to encounter Irish neutrality, but Irish hostility as well. A Liberal Party with illiberal leaders is a "mockery, a delusion, and a snare." I would rather, ten thousand times, contend with the open foes I see on those benches before me, than accept the ignoble toleration which the right hon. Gentleman might think it prudent to extend to me, for I should feel in that case that I was standing on 696 solid ground, not resting on a Liberal quagmire. The accursed land system of Ireland is wasting away the nation's life. It is despoiling the homes of the industrious poor, who have as good a right to life and liberty in their own land as the proudest aristocratic idler who sets his foot upon their necks, and sends them outcast over the face of the earth. I allude to what is of daily occurrence. What can be more worthy of Christian sympathy than the position of a peasant father under sentence of eviction, as he sits the last evening at his humble fireside? His children, nestling at his feet, lookup at him, and behold with wonder the once cheerful face marked with the traces of sorrow. Oh! what a saddening, maddening thought for him, that this night is to be his last in the home of his fathers, beside the hearth where he first saw the light of day, and where he trusted that, by honest endeavour, he might rear his tender offspring! While fields within sight of his cabin door are running to waste for want of hands to cultivate them, political economy will proclaim the base and cowardly lie that there is no room for him in his native land. But the peasant knows and feels in the depths of his grief-torn heart that he is the victim of cruel injustice sanctioned by law. Thrust out on the roadside, he may remain to wreak vengeance on the head of the individual exterminator; but if he quits his native country rest assured he will carry with him an undying hatred of its rulers, and a resolve to join the very first movement designed to hurl them from power. The social disorders that break out in Ireland occasionally are not to be wondered at. The extraordinary patience of the Irish people under untold oppressions is what strikes impartial foreigners visiting our country with unutterable surprise. No wonder that there are occasional rebellions and perpetual conspiracies, and that you are driven to maintain your rule in Ireland by force of bayonets rather than by force of law. No wonder that John Mitchel, the most powerful genius that our country has produced in modern times, should declare, with his dying breath, that he had made no peace with England. Truly there can be no lasting peace that is not based on justice. I invite the House to lay the foundations of social peace in Ireland by doing justice 697 to the tenant-farmers of that country, a class not less worthy of legislative consideration than their taskmasters, because they have to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.
§ MR. GIBSON
, having listened to the remarks of the hon. Member who had just sat down, would readily admit that if that Bill was to be carried by the language of menace, and if the House was to be convinced by arguments founded on animosity, that hon. Gentleman had made a most cogent speech. He had spoken of civil wars that might be raised, of conspiracies that might be fomented, of revolutions that might not be far off, and of the disturbance of social order that might break out, if some such measure as that of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) did not pass; and he also added that if that Bill was rejected another of a much worse character could easily be produced and ultimately forced on the landlords of Ireland. [Mr. O'Connor Power: I say a better Bill.] The hon. Member might call it a better Bill, but he interpreted that to mean a worse Bill in his mind. Having the good fortune to be a resident Irishman himself, he could state that the tenantry of Ireland were at present exceptionally prosperous, and the country also was prosperous, and he asserted further that if Ireland were only let alone it would be thoroughly contented. But it was extremely difficult for the tenant farmers—a most respectable as well as a tolerably independent class of men—not to be a little misled by the proposal of Bills like the present one, and it was only surprising that they were not debauched by the temptations held out to them. The hon. Member for Limerick had entered into an historical review of the various confiscations in Ireland; but those transactions were centuries old; and what was the use of raking them up now unless it was to lay the foundation by way of precedent for some further confiscations? And when that Bill was characterized as one that would give security of tenure and fair rents to the landlords, that description was not borne out by the Bill itself, because it would destroy the landlord's tenure and make his rent absolutely insecure; while as regarded the tenants, it might render them a little doubtful whether their rents might not be raised under certain possible condi- 698 tions. He should only discuss two or three of the broader features of the measure; but he must protest against the language which had been used in support of the Bill, because when it was desired to discuss the broad principles and salient sections of the measure hon. Members called them details or slips in drafting. This Bill was an attempt on the part of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick to redeem pledges given by him months ago to various constituencies in Ireland. The Bill was the work of an able lawyer and an eminent literary man, and it would be idle to say that it was not the result of thoughtful preparation. Would any man dream of asserting his right to the Ulster tenant-right custom if the third part of the Bill were carried, which would make that tenure utterly worthless? Therefore, no part of the Bill need be discussed except the third part, which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick said contained the principle of the Bill. The Act of 1870 set forth the desirability of interfering as little as possible with contract; and under Section 12 of that Bill it was stated that tenants who held farms of a certain value should be able to contract. That freedom of contract rested on the principle that it was not desirable to restrain contracts except where absolutely necessary, and yet this Bill swept away even this freedom. Suppose a grass farm had been let for 10 years at a rental of 1,000 a-year to a tenant who was bound by his contract not to make any claim under the Act of 1870; if this Bill passed he could at once serve on his landlord a claim which would put an end to the solemn contract between them; he could turn the 10 years into a perpetuity, and draw his pen through the contract which prevented him from making a claim under that Act. Take another case. Many gentlemen who did not care to cultivate a farm let it, but wished to retain the exclusive right of shooting over it. A tenant might have bound himself by the most solemn contract in the world to give the exclusive right of shooting to his landlord; but under this Bill, by serving a notice upon his landlord he could turn his tenancy into a perpetuity, and get the right of shooting for himself and his friends. Take another case. A man desirous of providing for an old retainer and friend of his family put 699 him rent free into a small cottage and into a small farm, intending that for the short time he should live he should have it on very easy terms. That tenant might serve a notice under this Bill, and turn his tenancy at will into a perpetuity. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick shook his head at that, and he (Mr. Gibson) did not wonder at his being a little startled at the consequences of his own Bill. Every person who was entitled to claim compensation under the Land Act of 1870 would be entitled to avail himself of the provisions of this Bill. He could understand revolutionary changes suggested in the future by a vigorous thinker like his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick; but it was rather too much to ask the House to adopt clauses which would absolutely sweep away freedom of contract, not only in the future but in the past, and which placed freedom of contract outside the pale of the law altogether. Important social consequences would be the result of teaching men that they could violate a most solemn contract in this way. The necessary consequence of the Bill would be substantially to offer a premium to tenants for being dishonest. He did not like to make a charge against the hon. and learned Member that he had framed this Bill in the interests of tenant farmers because they had the majority of votes in the counties; but under his Bill the landlords would be robbed, the agricultural labourer was ignored, and the class that had the votes was given power over the property of those people who had property to take away. He did not quarrel very much as to the principle on which the hon. and learned Member would fix the rent, which his clause said should be as much as any other tenant without collusion would agree to pay. But that, if fairly and judicially applied, would lead to the raising of rents in every part of Ireland—a result which would not suit those the hon. and learned Member desired to please, and so it became necessary to add on certain sections, so contrived as to lead necessarily to the lowering of rents all over Ireland. It was obvious that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick did not intend by this measure to raise the rents all over Ireland, and it would be unfair to the good landlords to leave the rents where they were 700 at present, because that would be giving a premium to the bad landlords who had screwed them up to the highest possible point, while it would be punishing the good landlords who had allowed their tenants to have their farms upon easy terms. It was perfectly clear from the provisions of the measure that its whole policy was to lower the rents. What was the machinery appointed to carry the Bill into effect? The scheme of arbitration so carefully put forward in the front was doomed to certain failure. Under that scheme the tenant was to name one arbitrator and the landlord was to name another, both arbitrators to be selected from among the neighbouring tenant farmers, and then the two were to agree upon a third, who was to act as umpire. But in the not improbable event of the arbitrators not agreeing in their selection of an umpire the machinery of a jury—a jury of tenant farmers—was to be put in motion, and that was the tribunal which was to determine the question finally and without appeal between the tenant farmer and the landlord. This was not a mere slip on the part of the draughtsman. This measure had been for months under the consideration of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, and, therefore, it must be taken that it was the deliberate policy of that hon. and learned Gentleman that such a tribunal was to regulate the land laws of Ireland. He asked whether that was not a monstrous measure to submit to a British House of Commons. Hon. Members opposite objected to the words "robbery and confiscation" as being too strong and as being un-Parliamentary, and therefore he would not use them, especially as he had already uttered them. After what he had said it was almost amusing to refer to the Preamble of the Bill. The hon. and learned Member had a great touch of humour in his composition, and, having prepared a measure of this description, he quietly introduced into the Preamble the statement that this Bill was intended to secure the rent to the landlord. Moreover, the direct and obvious effect of the Bill was practically to confiscate the arrears of rent. It provided that if an action of ejectment was brought against a tenant who owed two or more years of rent he might paralyse that ejectment and stay the hand of the law by giving a notice under this Bill. True it was that the Bill authorized the Chairman, if he should think fit, to award to 701 the landlord payment of the arrears due to him, but to the extent of one year's rent only, thus almost confiscating for the benefit of the tenant the remainder of the arrears, whatever they might be. But there was something even more amusing behind, because although the Chairman might order the tenant to pay the one year's arrears, there were no means whatever of compelling the tenant to pay, and the latter had only to go on serving notice after notice upon his landlord to avoid paying his rent at all. He did not wonder at the emotion of the hon. and learned Gentleman at finding what the full consequences of his Bill were. It was not possible to gainsay the proposition that under the Bill which was being considered, if a landlord who had not received a year's rent proceeded against a tenant by ejectment for its recovery, the tenant could stop proceedings by giving a notice in the terms of the Bill. So that if a landlord allowed two years' rent to become due, his claim could be defeated as to half; and if he proceeded to recover the amount due to him at the end of one year, he would bring about his ears all the epithets which the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) could command at a moment's notice. The tenants of Ireland were a clever and intelligent race, who knew that it paid better to be tenants than landlords, and they would remain in the position of tenants in the hope of being able to take advantage of the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick, or of that other measure whose provisions had been sketched by the hon. Member for Mayo. He could see no possible justification for the merciless measure that had been proposed. No justification could be found in the present state of the country, for it must be well known that the savings banks were teeming with the millions of the people. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members might dissent from his statement; but the published Returns in reference to the banks would prove the accuracy of what he had said, and a further examination would show that the people generally of the country were eminently prosperous. Reference had been made to the number of ejectments which had been served, but nothing was proved by this without it being shown who it was that served the ejectments. It was well known by anybody who went Circuit 702 that since the Land Act the great number of ejectments were brought for the purpose of bringing about family arrangements, and in nine cases out of ten he was happy to say that they were settled without going to trial. The point to look at was the absolute number of evictions that took place; and the figures of the Chief Secretary for Ireland upon this point had not been answered in the course of the debate. The number of evictions which were traceable to the landlords was ridiculously small, and furnished no foundation for any such Bill as this. What parties in Ireland, he asked, were favourable to the Bill? Not the landlords, certainly. The agricultural labourers had not been mentioned; and they did not seem to have given any opinion. Were the tenant farmers themselves satisfied? He ventured to think not. A great many said that they were not, because they said that the Bill did not go far enough. The Return which was placed that morning in the hands of hon. Members showed that out of all the Unions in Ireland only 29 had passed resolutions in favour of the measure, and those resolutions in many cases were not unanimous. A great many bodies outside the Guardians had also expressed opinions which were not favourable to the Bill, and among them the Club in London called "The O'Connell'82 Club." The members of that Club passed a series of resolutions, in one of which they said—"The Bill of Mr. Butt now before Parliament is vicious in principle," and the reason it gave was racy of the soil—it was that instead of giving fixity of tenure it only "ensured litigation renewable for ever." He imagined that the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) must know something of this Club, for many of the phrases which he used were also used in the resolutions of the Club. They concluded magnificently by saying—We on the part of an oppressed and dissatisfied nation, offer those fair terms to the present landlords of Ireland, and thereby place on record for the future historian the honesty and moderation of our proposals.He trusted that the Bill would be rejected by a large majority.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he was anxious to make a few observations before the House divided, but he would endeavour to economise the 703 time of the House as much as possible, and he must say that his task had been made easy by the admirable speech of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Law), who had well expressed the views he entertained in reference to the Bill. He should like, before the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) replied, to say that he thought it was incumbent upon him to explain that part of his speech in introducing the Bill to which reference was made more than once in the course of the debate, in which—as a historical argument—he said that the land of Ireland had been more than once confiscated. If the Bill professed to be a measure of restitution of the soil to its rightful owners he could understand the relevancy of the statement; but it was not asserted that the present occupiers claimed to be in any sense or degree the representatives of the victims of any of those confiscations, and therefore he did not see with what object the Bill had been introduced with such a statement. There was one intention with which such a statement might have been made, which he hoped was not the intention of the hon. and learned Member. It might have been his intention to convey to the House the impression that a policy of confiscation had been a traditional policy with reference to land legislation in Ireland, and that that policy was still pursued by the landlords of Ireland. He trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman did not intend to convey any such imputation. If he had done so he would have felt it necessary to accompany the imputation with some more conclusive proof than he had given that a policy of confiscation had ever been, or was at that moment, pursued by the landlords of Ireland. It was perfectly true that before the passing of the Land Act, owing to social and economical causes—owing, he thought, to the unfortunate mismanagement of their estates by a large number of Irish landlords, a state of things had arisen which was in many respects most unfortunate. What was the state of things that had arisen? A class of tenants had been allowed to grow up who were so small and dependent that the most ordinary rights of the landlord could not be exercised without inflicting upon them the most cruel hardships and depriving them of the means of 704 existence. Another circumstance was that, owing to the dependent position of that class, customs which in England and Scotland had obtained legal force and validity had not obtained legal sanction in Ireland. Under these circumstances, what did the Land Act do? It improved the position of the tenants in any legal proceedings that might be taken against them. It gave the sanction of the law to everything in the shape of custom, and gave the tenant the presumption of the law in claiming compensation for any improvements he might have made. It further gave to the tenant many advantages, and in the event of the landlord proceeding to evict him it imposed a heavy pecuniary fine upon the exercise of that right, and prevented the tenant from being turned upon the world altogether penniless in the event of the loss of his holding. The House had been told that in these respects the intention of the framers of the Land Act had failed; but no sufficient proof of the accuracy of that statement had been given. The figures quoted by his right hon. and learned Friend as to the working of the Land Act and the number of actual evictions that had been made conclusively showed that there was no reason to suppose there had been any policy of confiscation of the property either of the tenants or of the landlords. He would recommend that all doubt might be put an end to by further Returns from the Judicial Statistics; because, valuable as those Returns might be, they did not, as had been pointed out, contain a sufficiently clear and distinct account of the causes tried under the Land Act, and did not give a Return of those which were properly landlords' evictions and those due to other causes. What were the objects proposed to be attained by this Bill? He did not think the actual occupiers were entitled to any historical consideration at the hands of the House. He had no doubt the hon. and learned Member who introduced this Bill was actuated by considerations, not of restoring such rights to the present occupiers of the soil, but of conferring some public advantages on the agricultural community. He no doubt thought that by conferring security upon the tenants they would be induced to invest their capital and industry in the soil, and that thereby the produce 705 of the soil would be increased, and the political contentment of the country in every way promoted. With regard to that point, he should like to know whether it was the fact that the tenant did not possess to a very great extent security of tenure at the present moment? Was it not the fact that in 99 cases out of 100 the tenants who gave their landlords proof that they were either prepared to apply capital to the soil or their own industry to their holding were able to obtain from their landlords almost any security they might require? Was it not a fact that a tenant who could give his landlord proof of his good disposition would easily obtain a lease? He believed landlords were not so in different to their own interests as to lose the opportunity of receiving good tenants. Further, it had not been proved that in the case of landlords who were less intelligent and less alive to their own real interests, the legislation of1870 had not given practical and sufficient security to tenants for their holdings. One provision in the Bill had not been much dwelt upon, and that was the 39th clause, as to which he hoped he should not now be told that it was not an essential part of the Bill, and could be got rid of in Committee. It provided that farms of 60 acres might be sub-divided. He knew there was in the previous part of the Bill a provision against the sub-division of smaller holdings, but it had been pointed out that it was slight and illusory, for when you had deprived a landlord of the power of ejectment, it became extremely difficult to say what control he could have over his estate. The words of the Bill provided against the sub-division of smaller holdings; but the 39th clause positively invited the tenants of larger holdings to sub-divide their farms where the result would be a valuation of not less than £30. A calculation had been made showing that between 8,000,000 and 9,000,000 acres of land would come under the operation of this clause, and might at the will of the present occupier be sub-divided. The effect would be to establish that which had been one of the worst curses of Ireland, a system of middlemen, to which Judge Longfield attributed much of the country's misfortune. He could not conceive that Parliament could do anything more likely to effectually bring back that sys- 706 tem than by the proposal contained in that clause. He did not deny that there was a gradual and steady progress going on in Ireland in the increase of rents, and that by legislation they could give temporary protection to the present holders against the competition that was going on for the occupation of land. They had been informed that the competition for the occupation of land in Ireland was as keen and sharp as ever it was, and he did not suppose it was desired to prevent changes in occupation. It had been urged as a great evil in this country and in Ireland that there was so much difficulty in the transfer of land from one owner to another, and he did not suppose it would be considered a less evil to make the transfer of occupation impossible. He did not suppose it was desired to prevent the transfer, under proper circumstances, of the occupation of land. If that were so, and if it was admitted that there was a keen competition for land, could legislation prevent land rising in value, either in the form of rent or payment for goodwill? Could any legislation prevent a man who desired to occupy land from paying money for the occupation of it, and going into occupation for that money? The effect of the Bill in regard to rents would simply be that where there was competition, if the landlord chose to strain his rights to the utmost, the whole value of the increase in price would go into the pocket of the landlord; whereas at present it went partly into the pocket of the landlord and partly into that of the tenant in the form of payment for goodwill. By the legislation now proposed, the whole of the additional price to be obtained by competition for land would go, not into the pocket of the landlord, but into that of the existing occupier. He was unable to see how the agricultural community in Ireland could benefit by such legislation, either now or in future. On the contrary, it would probably do much to unsettle the prosperous state of things which was admitted on all hands to exist at the present moment. He regretted, for various reasons, that the present measure had been brought forward. He believed, with others who had spoken, that it had no prospect of obtaining a second reading in that House, and he was much inclined to agree with the 707 hon. Member for Roscommon (The O'Conor Don) that it would not have a much better chance of passing in an Irish Parliament; but, at the same time, it was to be regretted that such proposals had been brought forward, whether they were likely to become law or not, because they were likely to be believed in by farmers in Ireland, since their effect would be to place sums of money, not belonging to them, in the pockets of the farmers without any exertion on their part. When such prospects were held out to them, was it likely that they would devote themselves with steadiness, energy, and industry to the legitimate means of improving their holdings? Reference had been made to certain clauses in the Land Act. He believed they would all have been glad to see the ownership of land distributed among a larger number of persons in Ireland; but was it not probable that one of the reasons for the comparative non-success of the clauses known by the name of his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) was the hope held out to tenants that they would be brought into practical possession of their holdings without payment? Objectionable as the Bill was, however, he was glad it had received an ample discussion. He believed the time thus occupied would not be lost; but that the strong expression of opinion which had been heard not only from English but from Irish Members against the Bill would not be without a salutary effect in Ireland.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PLUNKET)
agreed with the noble Lord who had just spoken in thinking that the ample discussion of the Bill which had taken place was matter for congratulation. It was difficult to treat the subject seriously, so preposterous were the proposals which the House were asked to adopt. There could be no doubt that a considerable number of Irish Members had pledged themselves on the national platform to fixity of tenure, free sales, and value of rents as the result of an agitation which had been increasing for the last five or six years. The question was one which had, in that form, been taking hold of the minds of the peasantry. But when they came to read that debate, and learned that by an overwhelming verdict of English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish 708 Members the Bill was pronounced to be unjust, and fraught with danger to the community, he believed they would be as unanimous in condemning the measure as they had been in supporting it. He concurred in the eulogium passed on the people of Ulster, and he went entirely with the observations of his hon. and learned Friend as to the propriety of considering the various parts of the Bill which dealt with Ulster tenant right. If proposals were made with the view of remedying some of the shortcomings in the Act of 1870, he considered that would be a fair subject for consideration on the part of the Government and the House. As to the three proposals made with the view of settling the Land Question, he doubted very much with regard to the first for a land register whether, considering the admirable arrangements of the Landed Estates Court, they would gain much by it. As to the second, that relating to amendments in the Land Act, he thought they might consider it, and as to the Civil Bill Courts Bill, he was as anxious as anyone could be to facilitate the progress of that Bill. But it was perfectly easy to see how artificial was the excitement created in Ireland on this subject. How long had it been growing and how had it been fostered? It was the unfortunate legacy of the excitement attending the Act of 1870. If they examined into the history of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member, they would see how with leaps and bounds he had advanced to meet the demands made on behalf of the tenant-farmers of Ireland. He held that the demand of the Bill was an unreal demand, and when the tenant-farmers of Ireland were assured by the result of that night's proceedings, as they would be assured, that Parliament had no intention of granting their wild and extravagant demands—when they no longer entertained the hope that some political Party, on the pinch of necessity, would grant them—they would regret that they had been led into this agitation. He now understood that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had given up the clauses with regard to the fixing of the rent, but it would not do for the hon. and learned Member to have two political voices. He must not tell the people in Ireland that nothing less than this Bill would satisfy them, and then say in this House that this 709 matter of arranging the rent was a mere matter of detail. It was this sort of thing that had demoralized the people of Ireland. They were led to expect the fulfilment of these wild desires, and when the time came they got nothing at all, or very little. Under the provisions of the Bill, into which he would not at that hour of the evening enter further, the landlords of Ireland would be deprived of their property without receiving any compensation. They would be merely idle rent-chargers on the face of the land. Freedom of contract was abolished in every portion of the measure which touched upon contract at all, and the present generation of tenant-farmers would receive that to which they were not entitled, and which would be taken out of the pockets of the landlords for their benefit. In speaking of such a measure he could use no milder term than that it would be an act of Parliamentary plunder. And what was there to justify the proposals of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick? They could not be justified by the Returns which had been quoted by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing), for, as had been shown by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. R. Smyth), his figures vanished down to almost nothing when the actual number of evictions came to be taken into account. It was also somewhat remarkable that after two long days' debate the supporters of the Bill, who had, no doubt, been well primed by the tenant-farmers' associations, could adduce only three cases of real hardship, to justify them in bringing before the House so sweeping a measure of confiscation. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick cited some dramatic cases, but had to go back 10 years for the most recent of them. It was a serious responsibility which learned, able, and eloquent men undertook when they endeavoured to associate with the present time those traditions of oppression centuries ago which were enough to make any honest heart ache, and told the peasantry of Ireland that because their land was confiscated three times over long ago they were therefore to rest satisfied with nothing less than the fulfilment of the claim put forward in this Bill, which the hon. and learned Member must know would never be conceded by that great and famous As- 710 sembly. Was there no hope that this artificial, vicious, dangerous, and injurious agitation would die away? Yes, there was such hope for it now in Ireland as there had been never before. There were influences at work in Ireland more powerful even than the advocacy of his hon. and learned Friend, or than the most able and skilful agitators. Education and prosperity were walking through the land, bringing with them civilization; silent and unseen, but irresistible as the forces of gravity and attraction. Appeals made to class interests, to old traditions, to past wrongs, would then no longer be made with success. We should then see the happy day for which true Irishmen had long looked, though often with a trembling and fitful expectation, when the peasantry of Ireland would rely on their own enterprise and industry for their prosperity, wealth, and happiness, and not upon the spoliation of classes or the prospect of obtaining property which was not theirs, and when they would be as contented, as happy, as loyal, and as prosperous as the peasantry of any other portion of Her Majesty's dominions.
§ MR. BUTT,
in reply, said, that if violence of assertion could put an end to this Bill, its existence would be imperilled indeed. He deprecated the caricature given of the provisions of the Bill by more than one hon. Member; and with regard to the criticism that it would prevent the landlord from recovering arrears of rent, he declared that it did not interfere with a single remedy which the landlord now had for the enforcement of arrears. The principle of the Bill was fixity of tenure and fair rents, which could only be ascertained by valuation. Everything else was a detail. He denied altogether the statement of the noble Marquess that there was no evidence of the failure of the Act of 1870. Abundant evidence to this effect had been supplied from many quarters. It had been said that the Ulster custom was nothing but the mere tolerance of the landlords; but that this was not so, clearly appeared from Gordon's History of Ireland. When the Marquess of Donegal refused to renew the leases on his estate, some of the tenants rebelled, and were taken to gaol, whereupon 50,000 persons marched into the town of Belfast and took them out. The Protestant juries, however, acquitted 711 the men—first in Ulster, and afterwards in Dublin, to which city the venue had been removed by the Government. Ultimately, Lord Donegal renewed the leases, without a fine, according to the tenant right custom. It had been calculated that £24,000,000 of property was held by the tenure of that old custom, which had since been recognized by the Act of 1870. Again, Parliament had sanctioned the principle that the tenant had a property in the improvements he had made. How was that principle respected all over Ireland? He would tell them it was made away with. Agreements had been sent round on large estates. ["Name!"] He would name—the Duke of Leinster's, the Marquess of Lansdowne's. Agreements had been sent round on the Duke of Leinster's estate, dexterously drawn up, altering the rent, varying the tenure; and the tenants were told that if they did not return next morning to the office and give their consent, notice to quit would be served. There was not one of those agreements which did not confiscate the rights which Parliament had conferred on the tenant. All over Ireland—not in consequence of this Bill, the Bill was in consequence of it—landlords were raising their rents. Mr. Edward O'Brien, himself a landlord, said that under the Act of 1870 the security for the tenants' improvements totally broke down, and that it provided no guarantee, direct or indirect, that the rent should not be screwed up until the tenant was reduced to the verge of ruin, and the value of the improvements became the property of the landlord. He repeated, the landlords in Ireland were increasing their rents, doubling them, and in many cases even doubling the valuation. This was general all over Ireland, and the effort of the landlords to increase their rents was attended with the utmost cruelty. Last year he had asked for a Royal Commission on this subject, but he was refused. He now repeated the demand for a Royal Commission, and he called on the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh), and those who sympathized with him, to vindicate the honour of the class to which he belonged from the odium which was being brought upon them by the proceedings of some of the Irish landlords. As long as there were landlords who exercised their power in doing injustice and wrong it would be necessary to give 712 the tenantry protection against it. He did not say the system he recommended was perfect, but he insisted in the first place that the land should be held in perpetuity. An eminent judicial authority held that the Land Act had done a great deal of mischief to the tenants although he had thought at first it would do them good, because there had latterly been a great number of ejectments under notices to quit. For himself, he wished that he could devise any means by which they could really protect the tenant and give him security for his improvements, and yet give the landlord the power of arbitrary eviction; but his ingenuity failed to enable him to do so. Eviction was ruin in Ireland; no compensation that they could give would make it anything but ruin to many tenants. He proposed to meet that state of things by allowing the tenant to ask for perpetuity of tenure. He believed, however, that the effect of the Bill, if passed, would be that in a great many instances the landlord and tenant would go on as they were now doing. The tenant would be afraid to ask for perpetuity, because if he did so there must be an increase of his rent; and, on the other hand, the landlord would be afraid to increase the rent because the tenant would apply for perpetuity. The matter would be arranged by arbitration. It was not true that the arbitrators who would fix the amount of rent under this Bill would necessarily be tenant-farmers. The landlord could appoint his own agent or the agent of any other landlord or any person engaged in farming an arbitrator on that matter. He was told that he was going to increase rent all over Ireland. The only time he had spoken on this question out of the House was when he was requested at a meeting of the Farmers' Club to take the Land Question in hand. He told the meeting that if he brought in a Bill on the subject they must leave him to settle the clauses himself. He was asked to explain the Bill at a meeting of tenant farmers, and he distinctly said that the Bill he had prepared left it optional with a tenant to seek perpetuity of tenure; but he told them to remember that a great many of them held their land at a low rent, and that they could not get perpetuity unless they were willing and prepared to pay the highest rent that a solvent and re- 713 sponsible tenant could fairly and reasonably pay. If the landlords could suggest a better tribunal than the Bill proposed for the fixing of rent he was ready to adopt it. He would not condescend to reply to the hon. Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Plunkett), who charged him with appealing to murder, a charge which displayed ignorance of more than Parliamentary language. His only regret was that it came from one with an Irish name, who might say—True patriots we, but be it understoodWe left our country for our country's good.This was the question—was the land tenure of Ireland in a satisfactory state? He ventured to say that it was not. He agreed in this—that there was nothing more dangerous than constantly tampering with questions of property, and it was on that ground that he proposed a measure which would set at rest the Land Question in Ireland for the present generation. It was a great misfortune that the landlords of Ireland had not loyally accepted the spirit of the Act of 1870, and had not permitted it to give reasonable security to the tenant. He would not speak of disturbance; but he must remind the House that no country could be at peace where the sword of eviction was constantly hanging over the heads of the tenants. In conclusion, he asked the House to pass the Bill in order that an end might be put to the arbitrary power of landlords to evict their tenants, a power which was altogether inconsistent with the principles that ought to guide the conduct of properties owned under the circumstances attaching to most of the estates in Ireland.
§ MR. A. MOORE
said, he had spoken nine times previously, and he wished to state that although he thought the Bill would confiscate the rights of the landlords and would not touch those whom it was intended to benefit, yet being in favour of fixity of tenure and a new valuation, he felt bound to vote for it.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 290: Majority 234.714
|Allen, W. S.||Blennerhassett, R. P.|
|Barclay, J. W.||Bowyer, Sir G.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Brady, J.|
|Brogden, A.||Murphy, N. D.|
|Brooks, M.||O'Brien, Sir P.|
|Brown, G. E.||O'Byrne, W. R.|
|Burt, T.||O'Callaghan, hon. W.|
|Butt, I.||O'Clery, K.|
|Callan, P.||O'Donoghue, The|
|Collins, E.||O'Gorman, P.|
|Conyngham, Lord F.||O'Leary, W.|
|Cowen, J.||O'Loghlen, rt. hon. Sir C. M.|
|Digby, K. T.||O'Shaughnessy, R.|
|Dilke, Sir C. W.||O'Sullivan, W. H.|
|Downing, M'C.||Parnell, C. S.|
|Dunbar, J.||Power, J. O'C.|
|Ennis, N.||Shaw, W.|
|Errington, G.||Sheil, E.|
|Fay, C. J.||Sherlock, Mr. Serjeant|
|Gourley, E. T.||Smith, E.|
|Henry, M.||Smyth, R.|
|Kirk, G. H.||Sullivan, A. M.|
|Lawson, Sir W.||Synan, E. J.|
|Lewis, O.||Taylor, P. A.|
|MacCarthy, J. G.||Ward, M. F.|
|M'Kenna, Sir J. N.||Whitworth, B.|
|Meldon, C. H.||Nolan, Captain|
|Moore, A.||Power, R.|
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.