in rising to move—That, in the opinion of this House, in order to ensure to the Irish tenantry the benefits intended to be conferred on them by the Land Act of 1870, it is essential that steps should be taken to prevent the exaction of rents which virtually confiscate the improvements declared by that Act to be the property of the tenant, and also that steps should be taken to prevent the eviction of tenants for refusing to submit to such rents,said: Sir, I think I am strictly accurate in saying that the Irish agricultural occupiers, who represent a population of little less than 4,000,000, live in constant apprehension of being called upon to pay increased rent, and of being turned out of their holdings if they refuse. This does not arise from a natural aversion to rent in any shape, but is a fear engendered by the power exercised by landlords of asking for whatever rent they want, and compelling its payment under pain of eviction. The great aim of modern land legislation has been to make land, as far as possible, an ordinary marketable commodity for the landlord, freed from such incumbrance as occupiers with even the slightest hold upon 37 the soil. This has been accomplished by devising a system of rapid eviction, which has practically detached the whole of the agricultural population from the land, and which prepares them for utter ruin by putting them through a short preliminary process of legal torture. In the opinion of some, one of the unpardonable sins committed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) has been his partial recognition of a continuous right of occupation in the occupier by giving him, in certain cases, a claim to compensation for disturbance. What is the effect of this rapid system of eviction upon the tenant? It forces him to pay whatever rent the landlord makes up his mind to ask for. This is a consequence of which the injustice is so self-evident that a doctrine has had to be invented for its defence, and is constantly being repeated by a chorus of landlords and agents. It is that the value of the land is whatever the landlord can get for it. This is the landlords' contribution to the principles of political economy, and a very handy one it is for their purposes. It rests upon the monstrous assumption that the land belongs absolutely to the landlord, and may be dealt with by him in whatever way is most advantageous to his pocket. We are referred for its justification to the fact that owing to the intense craving for land there is always some one found to gratify the cupidity of the landlord. With an air of the utmost innocence, and as if he was the helpless victim of an irresistible law, the evicting landlord says in effect, if not actually—"I am offered so much more for this farm than you say you are able to give me, and am I to be prevented from making money, because if I take your farm from you, you and your family will be consigned to utter misery?" Sir, when in the interest of humanity we resist the doctrine that the value of the land is whatever the landlord can get for it, and assail it as a false and mischievous proposition, we are treated by some with as much derision as if we had been guilty of an absurdity as great as the denial of a mathematical axiom. But the common sense and the innate sense of justice of mankind will never permit the selfish interests of landlords to be weighed against the rights which occupancy confers upon the farmer. I have frequently argued in this House that Ireland must 38 be dealt with as, what she is, a fully occupied country, and not dealt with as an uninhabited country, put up to auction to be knocked down in various allotments to the highest bidder. I can imagine an uninhabited island, or an uninhabited portion of a Continent, the ownership of which is vested in a few individuals — if they want tenants, and there is competition, they will, of course, let to the highest bidder; but that the tenant should be liable to lose his land merely by being outbid supposes a state of things incompatible with the peaceful enjoyment of life, with the adequate remuneration of labour, and for which history outside those islands furnishes nothing approaching to an example. And yet this is the principle upon which some Irish landlords maintain they have a right to traffic in the soil of Ireland, with this incident of aggravation—that in innumerable instances the ownership of the landlords is but a thing of yesterday when compared with the occupation of the tenants. The longer the occupancy the deeper its roots, and the greater and more painful the wrench required to separate the farmer from his home. Sir, I believe that the very nature of the man so treated is changed, that he is at the mercy of the fiercest passions, and becomes the irreconcilable enemy of the State that refuses him protection. Well, when we consider that every farmer in Ireland is liable to be torn from his home, if he fails to furnish the rent deemed necessary by the landlord for his general convenience, we may form a very clear idea of the feelings entertained by the Irish farmers towards a Government which allows such a system to exist. Sir, the Irish farmers are, and ever have been, prepared to give the landlord his fair share of the value of the land, but they insist that its value is only to be determined by ascertaining the producing power of the soil in the case of each particular farm. I am not to be met by being told that neither Mr. This nor my Lord That is a rack-renter. I do not know whether they are or not. I know that the law enables the landlord to fix his rent to suit his necessities, and it needs no profound knowledge of human nature to see what this must lead to. I take it to be almost as certain as any of the immutable laws of the physical world that where there is power 39 of rapid eviction there will be rack-renting. It cannot be denied that the landlords have the power of rack-renting, and what we want to do is to take this power from them and from their heirs and successors in ownership. It is a standing menace to the happiness of the farmers—that is, to the happiness of 4,000,000 of people; to the quiet enjoyment of their property, which may at any moment be confiscated by an undue increase of rent; to the safety of the State, by placing in the hands of a small class a controlling influence which must be injurious to public liberty. So overpowering is the terror with which the prospect of eviction inspires the farmers, from the fact that, generally speaking, they are very poor men, that they silently submit themselves to burdens with which they struggle through life rather than expose themselves to the dreadful consequences that rapidly and inevitably follow any serious opposition to the wishes of the landlords. From a practical, common-sense point of view what may we assume as most likely to be the nature of the rent of the tenant who has to choose between agreeing to the rent proposed to him or relinquishing his only means of providing for the support of himself and his family? We are bound to assume as reasonable men that a rent agreed to by a tenant so situated will be unfair in its nature, and the dilemma I have mentioned is one which the occupiers of Ireland, with scarcely an exception, have presented to them. The power of rapid eviction and the ruin which eviction entails form a lever with which the landlord can raise his rent to any height he pleases. The knowledge that he has this instrument at his command banishes the idea of resistance from the mind of the tenant, who falls back upon the most abject submission as the only policy he can with safety pursue. I may be told that the landlords do not and will not avail themselves of the facilities the law offers them for oppressing the farmers by exorbitant exactions. Can I be told they have not done so? And if I cannot, what guarantee can be given that they will not do so again? When the rack-renter has been found out—no one is so devoid of decency as to defend him. All admit that he has done wrong—that he has committed an act that ought never to be repeated—that any honest 40 man will avoid. The idea suggested to the public mind is that of an impoverished man from whom another has extorted money, to which he had no right, by means which are technically legal, but which are felt by all to be a gross outrage upon justice. The threat of eviction is the means employed, often used directly, always implied. Sir, is it not impossible to resist the conclusion that it is the duty of those responsible for the happiness and welfare of the people to prevent the perpetration of those acts? Of one thing at all events I am certain—that the Irish people believe this to be the duty of a Government claiming their confidence. Rack-renting is an evil of long standing. In the correspondence of the Duke of Wellington, when Chief Secretary, with the Chiefs of his Administration, I find numerous references to the exorbitant rents—that is the phrase he used—which the landlords endeavoured to exact. But then eviction had not been made easy—it was always a difficult matter, often an impossibility; and rack-renting frequently resulted in great accumulation of arrears, in periodical seizures of the tenant's stock, and in embarrassment often not very unfairly distributed between landlord and tenant. Although the House cannot be so oblivious of the past as to receive with incredulity the statement that Irish landlords are capable of rack-renting, I shall refer to two or three recent cases which in the shape of appeals came before Chief Justice Morris at the Spring Assizes, 1876, in Armagh. John Warnock, a tenant on the Harte estate, held a farm at a yearly rent of £10 8s. The entire holding had been reclaimed by himself and his father, and the fact was not disputed. He was served with a notice increasing the rent to £15 per annum. In the Court below the Chairman suggested, by way of compromise, that the tenant should pay £12 10s. 3d., but he rejected the offer and was refused any compensation. On the hearing of the appeal the Judge suggested a rent of £11 8s. The claimant said he would pay that rent sooner than leave his farm; but the agent said he could not agree to it. During the hearing of the appeal the Judge made some very strong remarks on the case, and said he did not see the justice of charging a man for his own improvements by an increased rent, when he had 41 reclaimed his holding and put up all buildings on it. In Meath, on the estate of Lord Gormanstown, there has been considerable rent raising. The tenants at first resisted, but when four were evicted the remainder had to succumb, the increase varying from 19 to 100 per cent over Griffith's valuation. I will detain the House while I give Griffith's valuation, the present rent of seven tenants on the estate of Captain Humphrey, in the county of Kilkenny, and the rent demanded: —Wm. Tynbol—Griffith's valuation, including buildings erected by tenant, £34; present rent, £49; rent demanded, £76. James Pool —Griffith's valuation, including buildings erected by tenant, £37; present rent, £57 17s. 10d.; rent demanded, £77 4s. Widow Shelly—Griffith's valuation, including buildings erected by tenant, £14; present rent, £20 4s. 4d.; rent demanded, £29 4s. 4d. Thomas Lalor — Griffith's valuation, including buildings erected by tenant, £12; present rent, £16 16s.; rent demanded, £25. Robert Shane—Griffith's valuation, including buildings erected by tenant, £33; present rent, £53 5s.; rent demanded, £68 1s. Michael Dwyer—Griffith's valuation, including buildings erected by tenant, £7 18s.; present rent, £7 19s; rent demanded, £28. John Comerford —Griffith's valuation, including buildings erected by tenant, £19 15s.; present rent, £29 7s.; rent demanded, £35. The tenants will have to comply with these exorbitant demands or quit their homes. Upon the property of Mrs. O'Brien, of Ballinasloe, 11 tenants are under notice to quit for refusing to agree to increased rent. One of them is a man named Killan. Griffith's valuation of his holding is £13 10s.; his present rent is £23 15s. 2d.; and the rent demanded is £43. An increase of rent varying very little from this is demanded in the other 10 cases. Of course, the tenants must pay or go. In all the cases I have referred to the improvements had been wholly affected by the tenants. No doubt before this debate closes many other instances of rack-renting will be cited; but the House must keep before it the fact that the tenants are afraid to complain, and do not like to be referred to specifically. Let the House remember that the only cases of rack-renting that meet the public eye are those in which the tenant actually breaks down. Until he 42 falls under his load nothing is known of his misfortunes outside his own circle. There cannot, however, be a doubt that multitudes of farmers in Ireland are in a tottering state from the excessive rents which they are forced to undertake; and that this must continue till an impartial tribunal has been established to which the tenant can appeal against the exactions of the landlord. It seems to me that we have reached a point at which the Legislature, in order to give proper effect to its own actions—in order to prevent their being nullified—must take away from the landlord the power he now exercises of himself fixing the rent he will have. We know that this power has constantly been abused in the past. It would be a renunciation of the faculty of reasoning not to infer that it will be abused in the future; and I feel that I would be guilty of a suppression of the truth if I did not express my firm conviction that at this moment it is being abused in innumerable instances. The Act of 1870 declared the improvements made by the tenant to be absolutely his property—that is, that he alone is entitled to derive any pecuniary benefit from them. This being so, is it not highly probable that, since the passing of the Act of 1870, every increase in the rent of an improving tenant has been an appropriation by the landlord of property declared by Parliament to be the tenant's? Whenever rent is raised, no matter what the real reason may be, some plausible reason must, at all events, be assigned for the proceeding. No one has the effrontery to say, point blank—"I want money for this, that, or the other purpose; I want money to meet this, that, or the other liability." If the reason given is the improved condition of the farm there is an open violation of the Act of Parliament, and appropriation of the tenant's property. It may be said the improvements made by the tenant have had nothing to do with the proposed increase of rent—it is looked for solely in consequence of the rise in prices. But, Sir, this does not dispose of the difficulty, because the quantity and quality of the commodities produced in the case of each particular farm will have been increased and enhanced by the improvements of the tenant, so that, even when the rise in rent is ostensibly based upon prices, the greatest precautions must be taken to 43 prevent encroachment upon the property of the tenant. It is clear that the sum derived from the increased productiveness of the farm and the enhanced value of the commodities produced upon it is the property of the tenant, as it is the result of his improvements. I ask, is there not a manifest necessity for the establishment of some means of fairly deciding the questions which, since the passing of the Act of 1870, must arise whenever a landlord proceeds to raise his rent? If a dispute occurs between landlord and tenant as to the fact of improvements having been made, or as to their value, what chance under the present system has the tenant of maintaining his view in opposition to that of the landlord? The landlord says that there are no improvements at all, or that they are only worth so much. The tenant says the improvements are considerable, and that their value is so much. If the tenant insists upon getting the fair value of what he believes to be his own—that is, if he insists upon the rent not being raised to a point which will give the landlord the benefit of the improvements, he does so at the peril of being driven from his home, and as this is a peril which no man who loves his wife and children can encounter, what comes to pass is this—the tenant's property is confiscated, the intentions of Parliament are defeated by the superior authority of the landlord, and the tenant naturally resolves that he will not exhaust his strength nor his capital in labour of which the fruits are to be enjoyed by another, and that other, his landlord. It is evident that, under the operation of the Act of 1870, difficult and delicate questions must arise touching the tendency of increased rent to absorb the property of the tenant; and is it in accordance with received notions of fair play, with the ordinary method of transacting business, that the decision of these questions should be left absolutely to one of the parties interested? I venture to say that if the parties concerned did not happen to be an Irish landlord and an Irish tenant there would be a general agreement that to leave the decision of a dispute involving the title to property to one of the parties interested was simply to give the property to the person to whom the decision of the dispute was left. Let me impress upon the House that the Irish farmer does 44 not, as is pretended, object to pay rent, but that what he does object to is, in the first place, to pay rent which is not solely based upon the value of the produce of the land, and, in the next place, that he objects to such an increase of rent as will deprive him of the benefit of improvements which he knows, and which Parliament declares, to be his property. But what is his position? It is this—that he cannot assert his claim to his property without running the serious risk of being turned out of his farm. Surely it is nothing short of mockery—and of wilful mockery Parliament could not even be suspected—to tell the Irish farmers that the improvements made by them are their property, and then to turn round and tell the landlords they may evict the tenants who resist the confiscation of that property by the imposition of an excessive rent. I cannot see how Parliament can sanction the eviction of tenants under such circumstances without stultifying itself, without being exposed to the charge of the grossest inconsistency, without admitting the truth of the statement that the provisions of the Act of 1870, which declare the improvements of the tenant to be his property, are so much waste paper until the tenant has been evicted. Until this time arrives the tenant as the law now stands can lay no claim to his improvements. When this calamity has befallen him he may, after a desperate wrangle, get something. Those who are acquainted with the work of the Land Act must acknowledge that it does nothing whatever to secure fur the farmers the ownership of their improvements till, as I have already pointed out, they are no longer occupiers of the soil. Is not this a glaring defect in the Act of 1870, and is Parliament not bound to find a remedy? Under the Act, as it works at present, a farmer stands a chance of getting something after he has been evicted. What is it that we want to do? We want to amend the Act, so as to secure for the tenant the enjoyment of his improvements while he continues in occupation, by preventing the landlord from appropriating those improvements wholly or in part by an increase of rent. He has no right to take the smallest portion of what belongs to the tenant. The Act of 1870 provides that, in certain cases, it is open to the Court to consider the character of the rent for non-payment 45 of which the tenant has been evicted. If the Court considers the rent unfair, it must impose upon the landlord for having been guilty of eviction, a fine, which the law has fixed at a very limited amount, and which the Court may still further limit at its discretion. What is it we seek to do? We seek to amend the Act, so that in no case shall the landlord have the power of evicting while the tenant pays a fair rent, and we propose to give the tenant the right of referring the decision of the question what is a fair rent to a tribunal equally representing landlord and tenant. As the House is aware, the tenant has hitherto had no voice in the decision of the vital question—What is a fair rent? The landlord makes up his mind what he will have; the tenant has to pay or go, and this in itself ought to satisfy everyone who realizes what are the consequences of eviction to Irish tenants, who know how industrious they are, that in the vast majority of cases of eviction for non-payment of rent under such conditions of assessment, the tenant is the victim of unjust demands. If it be true that the number of evictions for non-payment of rent as compared with the number of holdings is not great, the reason is that the farmer, knowing to what eviction certainly leads, makes almost superhuman efforts to meet his engagements, and clings to his land with the tenacity of a drowning man to the plank which affords him his only chance of life. I believe that I am strictly accurate in stating that it is only after a hard struggle, that the vast majority of Irish tenants are able to pay their rents, and that they have to deny themselves and their families many of the necessaries of life in order to be able to do this. Is not this the inevitable result of a system that enables the landlord to fix his rent irrespective of the value of the produce of the land—of a system that permits him to settle his rent, to meet liabilities he may have incurred, that he may have inherited, that he may have had imposed upon him—of a system that enables him to apply to the occupier the spur of competition, and threaten him with such a dreadful weapon as rapid eviction. Sir, there is no getting rid of this fact—that the power the landlord exercises of determining the rent he will have renders the Land Act almost useless in three out of the four Provinces of 46 Ireland. In the words of Chief Justice Morris, the landlord can charge the tenant for his own improvements by putting increased rent upon him. It is plain, then, that as long as this can be done, the portion of the Act which declares the improvements made by the tenant to be his property is so much waste paper. The state of the case is simply and shortly this—that the tenant has to choose between eviction or submitting quietly to the appropriation of his improvements by the landlord. But in every way the Act of 1870 is rendered worthless by the rent-raising power of the landlord. In 1870 a Select Committee of this House recommended the division of rates between owner and occupier. The Act of 1870 enacts that in all new lettings of agricultural and pastoral holdings the Grand Jury cess shall be divided between landlord and tenant. This sounds very well, but there is not a tenant in Ireland who is not convinced that the landlord will add the barony and county rate to the new rent, and I for one do not entertain a doubt that every burden imposed by the State upon the landlord will be transferred by him to the tenant at the earliest possible opportunity. There is the case of the National teachers. The Government are anxious to add to their emoluments, and propose a rate, to be equally divided between owner and occupier. The occupiers cannot be got to entertain the proposal, because they feel certain that eventually they will have the whole of the rate thrown upon them, no matter what may be its amount. The House may rest assured that the landlord will never allow his income to be diminished as long as he can raise his rent at pleasure. We admit that the principles underlying the provisions of the Act of 1870 are admirable, and also the arrangements for the equal division of burdens between landlord and tenant; but what is wanting is an independent system of arbitration to insure to the tenant the advantage of those principles and those excellent arrangements, and an authoritative declaration of the Legislature which will put an end to what all professedly condemn—the eviction of a tenant who is willing to pay a fair rent. Sir, the Irish farmers are making strenuous efforts to push the principles of the Act of 1870 to their natural conclusion. The tenant- 47 right movement was never so vigorous as it is now; and this is owing not, as some affirm, to the machinations of designing agitators, but to the recent acquisition by the farmers of a share of political influence, and to their determination to use that influence for the most legitimate of all purposes—the protection of themselves and their property. The farmers see with alarm that their property can by an increase of rent be appropriated by the landlords, and certainly their apprehensions have not been diminished by the Valuation Bill of Her Majesty's Government. The Schedule giving the prices upon which the valuation is to be based leads the farmers to think that the object of the Government is to make the valuation as high as possible. They do not object to a fair valuation; but experience has taught them that a high valuation must have a tendency to increase rent, because the landlords have laid it down as an axiom —and I challenge them to deny it—that the valuation cannot be taken as representing the letting value of the land. It is true that the valuation represents the value of the land calculated upon the prices the farmer obtains for his commodities. There is, however, a fancy value which the land acquires from the forcing qualities of competition and the threat of eviction—30, 50, 100, often 200 per cent above what must be admitted to be its real value—and this fancy value, from long habit, the landlords have come to claim as their lawful perquisite. Sir, I have to apologize to the House for having occupied their attention so long; but I hope I have said something to show that I did not put my Notice on the Paper without some reason, and that there are grounds for the active interference of Parliament. I shall only refer for a moment to what the legislation of 1870 was intended to accomplish. It was intended to check eviction; it was intended to give the tenant an indefeasible title to his improvements. The provisions respecting improvements evidently had a three-fold object—in the first place, to prevent the landlord from committing, what the late Lord Clarendon described as a felonious act, by appropriating the property of the tenant; in the next place, to stimulate the exertions of the tenant, by assuring him that he would reap the full reward of his labour; and, lastly, to serve the 48 whole community by that increased productiveness which it was thought must result from the renovated industry of the tenant. Well, Sir, it has been proved by Returns made to this House that eviction has not been checked, and all who have any knowledge of Ireland are aware that the landlord evicts with as much rapidity as he ever did, and incurs no pecuniary loss whatever by eviction. It is absurd to say that the provisions of the Act of 1870 respecting improvements have succeeded, seeing that the tenant cannot avail himself of them till he is, in fact, no longer an occupier. Rent-raising is going on all over the country, and the landlords are making as free with the improvements of the tenant as if the Act of 1870 had never been passed, and as if the tenant had no more right to resist the appropriation of his improvements by the landlord than to oppose the sale of the fee-simple interest. The tenant, therefore, sees that now, as formerly, he is working altogether for the landlord, so far as improvements are concerned, and there is an absence of that incentive of self-interest to which Parliament looked to rouse the farmers to efforts of which men only are capable when they feel that their labour will result in lasting advantage to themselves. But, Sir, the defeat of the Act of 1870 has not merely been injurious to the occupiers—that defeat affects the whole community prejudicially by retarding the development of the agricultural resources of Ireland. Since the improvement of the soil of Ireland mainly depends upon the occupiers, it becomes the duty of the Government to afford them every encouragement to put forth their whole powers, and to remove every obstacle to their doing so. As a class, the owners of land are too poor to do more than now and then put up a gate or slate a house. Here and there one meets through the country what is called an improving landlord, but he is held in abhorrence by the people, who have learned from bitter experience that the improvements of the improving landlord are not intended to confer any permanent good on the occupiers. The improving landlord is regarded as a man who wishes to be in a position to say—"I have done these things myself; you have no claim upon me, no hold upon the soil, and no right to complain if at any moment I turn you 49 out and get another tenant." The occupiers do not ask to have the land improved for them; on the contrary, their most earnest desire is to improve it themselves, on the understanding that the right to live on the land and enjoy the improvements shall be guaranteed to them and their children. It was thought the Act of 1870 would have done this, and no doubt this would have been its natural effect. The farmers never imagined that Parliament, after declaring the improvements made by them to be their property, would allow them to be evicted for resisting an increase of rent which is virtually a confiscation of that property. I submit that the Act of 1870 renders it impossible, morally impossible, for Parliament to sanction the eviction of tenants for the non-payment of such rent, and that Parliament is bound to confer upon the tenant the right of referring to arbitration all disputes with his landlord relating to rent. In this way alone can the improvements of the tenant be secured against confiscation. Sir, that Ireland is England's difficulty is a phrase so hackneyed that I am almost ashamed to repeat it. The staleness may be somewhat relieved by giving what I have not very often seen assigned—the cause of the difficulty. No one who has studied the history of Ireland can doubt that the oppression of the occupying tenantry by the landlords has made Ireland England's difficulty. So long has Parliament sanctioned this oppression that the belief is universal and deeply imbedded in the popular mind that England prefers gratifying the cupidity and upholding the sway of landlordism to securing the happiness of the great body of the people. You know that from time to time the conscience of the nation is startled by the revelation of deeds that have been done beneath a very smooth surface. The public gaze is fixed with horror upon the scene and the actors. There is an abundant outpouring of pity, of generous indignation—and all is quiet again. The spirit of the age, the searching properties of a free Press, suggest the necessity for caution, for temporary moderation, for temporary abstention from overt acts of sheer tyranny; but all the while the farmers feel that they are held as in a vice, which may at any moment be pressed upon them. I am anxious to 50 release them from this miserable condition, in order to insure the happiness of Ireland, to satisfy the requirements of justice, and lay the foundation of a thorough union between the inhabitants of the Three Kingdoms. I beg to offer my Resolution to the House.
§ MR. ERRINGTON,
in rising to second the Motion of his hon. Friend (the O'Donoghue), said, it was a matter of sincere congratulation that this form had been chosen for bringing the question forward, for though long acquaintance with the evils of the present land system in Ireland sometimes led him to fear that some solution might ultimately be needed more radical than anything contained in the terms of this Motion; still he felt that if they desired to do anything useful or practical in the House on this question it could only be by proceeding as tentatively and judiciously as possible. Now, he could conceive no course more judicious and none more thoroughly in accordance with the best spirit of their Parliamentary usage than for his hon. Friend to take his stand as he did on the Land Act of 1870; and when he (Mr. Errington) remembered that the principle of that Act was affirmed by the united action of both sides of that House, and when he remembered the long and anxious discussions which took place in order to make its provisions as effective as possible to carry out its principle, then he could not help believing that when they were obliged, as they now were, to come down to the House, and say—"We accepted that Act hopefully and thankfully; so far as they went, its provisions were excellent; we have tried them fairly for six years, we find them insufficient; we therefore ask you to extend and amend them in such and such ways," they would have that consideration which the House always gave to important matters when treated in a business-like way. These then appeared to be the three practical points into which the question divided itself, and the burden of proof of which might fairly be said to rest on them. They must first confirm and strengthen the admission made in 1870, but since often denied, that the agrarian condition of Ireland was so exceptional as to need some exceptional treatment; second, they must show that the Act of 1870 had failed to afford the necessary exceptional treat- 51 ment; and, third, they must be prepared to propose such amendments as should effect their purpose, and at the same time they must satisfy the House that such amendments would not injuriously affect other interests, which he for one could never consent to sacrifice. His hon. Friend had, in his interesting and eloquent speech, so fully dealt with the two first of these points, that he (Mr. Errington) desired to say a few words on the last, the more so as it was of vital importance that once for all the House and country should realize how broad and sound were the foundations of the question, and how entirely genuine was this demand. It was often said this demand was the result of a spurious agitation. Nothing could be further from the fact. Of course there was agitation connected with it; but he wished to know what question could in these days be important or popular without becoming the centre for agitation? Why should this question be an exception? It was the same as with Petitions to the House. If an hon. Member was seen staggering up under a load of Petitions, he was told that his signatures had been obtained by a careful organization, and, therefore they did not mean anything; on the other hand, if no Petitions were presented, then he was told no one cared for his Bill; in the same way, if there were not agitation, they would be told the people of Ireland did not take much interest in this question. He was now going to state a fact, which he believed was patent to every one who knew Ireland, when he said that the people of Ireland were asking, not for something merely which they wished to have, not for something which they hoped the House of Commons would some day give them, but for something which they were convinced actually belonged to them. This was the perfectly honest and genuine expression of the national conscience. Now he did not contend that every expression of national feeling or conviction, no matter how genuine or universal, must always be accepted as conclusive of the justice of the demand: but he did say this, that when that feeling could be shown to rest on, and be confirmed by, a long course of historical and other circumstances, he did not know to what tribunal they could appeal against its justice. Fortunately 52 they were now in a position to account for and justify this feeling most completely. New and curious evidence had recently become available, and it had been developed in the most convincing manner by some of the greatest living authorities, among whom he need only mention the name of Sir Henry Maine. Now, when he remembered how many persons there were in and out of the House who, anxious to take a fair and kind view of Irish affairs, yet owing to ignorance of facts, were apt to regard this demand of theirs as savouring somewhat of Communism, as as founded rather on vague theories of the future than on solid facts of the past, he at once felt the great importance of this justification and asked attention to it for a moment. Up to the time when English law was finally introduced into Ireland, the land, by Irish laws, was divided between the numerous Chiefs and the members and families of the various tribes and clans. But owing to the circumstances of the time, the wealth of the Chief consisted far more in cattle and sheep than in land; hence arose a curious custom known as "giving" and "taking stock," and to this they could point with absolute certainty as the origin of the present relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland. Sometimes, owing to poverty or distress, sometimes to the direct power of the Chief, the independent tribesman was compelled to accept a certain quantity of cattle or sheep from the Chief and to pay him in return a tribute or rent in kind. This established a relation of dependence between them, which was regulated down the minutest of details; but what he wished to call attention to was, that, in this contract, it was the tenant who contributed the land—the Chief only contributed the stock; and that all through the details to which he alluded they found no allusion to any power of eviction, which, doubtless, did not exist. He would venture to quote a few words from Sir Henry Maine, who on this subject observed—The rent in kind, or food rent, which was thus proportioned to the stock received undoubtedly developed in time to a rent payable in respect of the tenant's land; but it certainly is a curious and unexpected fact that the rent of the class which is believed to have embraced a very large part of the ancient Irish tenantry, did not, in its earliest form correspond in any way to the value of the tenant's land, but solely 53 to the value of the Chiefs property deposited with the tenant.There was, however, another feature in the picture. In addition to his own share of land the Chief had certain rights over the waste lands of the tribe, and used to settle on them the waifs and strays and outcasts from other tribes, who became his dependents in a very absolute manner; they were called "Fuidhirs"; the power of the Chief over them was recognized and sanctioned to an extreme degree in these old laws; but even in this case we find no mention of eviction. Gradually as the power of the Chief increased, the position of the more independent class first alluded to called "Saer" and "Daer Ceiles" became degraded and assimilated in many respects to that of the "Fuidhirs"; but even still there was no mention of eviction. Now, when by the end of the sixteenth century all the Irish estates had been either confiscated or surrendered to the English Crown, and re-granted subject to English law, of course the landlords obtained the power of eviction; but he contended that at least over a considerable part of Ireland, and for a long period more than 150 years, this right was little exercised. And the reason was clear. The population was so exceedingly small, that though a tenant might be oppressed, he was too valuable to turn out. But this was not the only landlord's right which was to a certain extent in abeyance. It was known that almost indefinite sub-division of farms took place. This was due partly to political objects, but also, and still more, to the neglect and carelessness of Irish landlords in the management of their properties. Provided the tenant paid a certain amount of rent, he might sublet, sub-divide, and do almost as he pleased with his land; in fact, exercise over it those rights which in England not only belonged to the landlord, but were always most jealously guarded and exercised by him. Now, he contended that this practical non-user for so long of many rights by the landlord, and their user by the tenant, went far to justify the traditional belief of the tenant in the permanent character of his occupation. But there was another point which tended in the same direction. In England the landlord always provided buildings, fences, gates, and other permanent 54 works for cultivation of the farm, and kept them in repair; in Ireland, on the contrary, all this had to be found by the tenant. This was usually cited as an argument in favour of giving the Irish tenant compensation for his improvements; but to his (Mr. Errington's) mind it had a deeper significance, for it went far to set up the presumption that a tenure under such circumstances was more permanent than if the tenant had, as in England, stepped into a farm with everything ready to his hand. This might be illustrated by the difference they all felt in the present day between taking a furnished or an unfurnished house; and naturally the Irish tenant would have the same feeling when he saw all the wretched comforts and accommodation he had, had grown up under his hands, or by the work of his family, perhaps for generations. Now, as population increased, had there been, as in England, other outlets for it besides agriculture, such as trade and manufactures, none of these difficulties would have arisen. As in England some of these rights would have crystallized into a sort of copyhold, others would have disappeared, but by a process not harsh, because not stimulated by undue pressure. This was not so, however, and one of the reasons undoubtedly was the policy of England, which to protect its own trade, passed a series of laws intended to, and which had the effect of destroying all Irish trade. He did not say that Ireland would ever have been a very flourishing commercial country—certainly it could never have competed with England; but the laws to which he alluded undoubtedly did suppress several very promising branches of industry. He did not say this from any spirit of recrimination. He trusted the days of bitterness were past, and that Englishmen and Irishmen could now look back to the past, with regret, of course, but chiefly with a desire to join in remedying its results. And now he would ask—could there be a stronger chain of evidence than this he had adduced, to justify the traditional belief, which he asserted still existed in the mind of the Irish tenant, that he had a moral right at least to some security of occupation? And could they wonder that when increase of population caused the landlords to assert, often harshly, their some- 55 times long dormant and always questioned rights, they were met by this traditional belief, strengthened by what soon became a fearful struggle for existence, and that after years of a history too sad to look back to, the country now found itself in a state of chronic, and, as far as he could see, hopeless uncertainty and dissatisfaction? This was no mere Communistic theory; it was a hard and stern reality which lowered the value of all property, and affected the interests, not of tenants only, not only of Irishmen, but of all who were concerned in the welfare and advancement of every portion of the Empire. But, after all, to what practical conclusion did this lead? Why, simply to this—it placed them face to face with two sets of equal and conflicting rights. If this was not an exceptional state of things, requiring exceptional treatment, he did not know what was. It clearly was a case for compromise, if ever there was one. After all, the case might be worse. Instead of being merely conflicting, these rights might be contradictory and absolutely irreconcilable. In that case they would be obliged to stand by and see one or other of these rights sacrificed. They had already stood by too long. The policy of sacrificing one of these rights had failed in the past, and there was no reason to hope it would succeed in the future. That was why he urged most strongly that this compromise be accepted. But he would be told the Act of 1870 was a compromise. It was a well-meant attempt at a compromise, but his hon. Friend had shown clearly how that attempt had failed; he had also pointed out how it should be made effective. He would only observe—having already too long trespassed on the time of the House—that the compromise of 1870 was meant by a graduated scale of payments to discourage eviction on the part of the landlord, and to compensate the tenant for such eviction if it took place. In both these points the Act had failed. The money fine was totally inadequate to prevent the landlord who was determined to do so from evicting his tenant; and the more he considered the case the more he felt that no mere sum of money could compensate the Irish tenant for eviction, unless the sum was so large as to be virtually prohibitive of all eviction. In that case he far preferred to 56 accept the straightforward proposal of his hon. Friend, and to say that no eviction should take place, in the case of small residential farmers, except for non-payment of rent. It followed that the rent must be adjusted by some system of arbitration. This did not, in practice, offer any real difficulty. He would be content to leave the matter to be settled by two arbitrators, one to be named by the landlord, one by the tenant; with reference, as umpire, to the Chairman of the County. He would add one word as to the fairness of this compromise; for, as he had observed, it was incumbent on them to show that their proposals would not injuriously affect the landlord. It was usually said that everyone who spoke on this side of the question must be either a tenant or entirely unconnected with land. Now, he (Mr. Errington) spoke as an Irish landlord who had more than 10 years' practical exprience with all the details of managing property and receiving rents personally, and he had no hesitation in saying that this proposal would increase the value of property. It would do so in three ways: 1st. The security they proposed to give would encourage the tenant to improve his farm, and to expend, in doing so, the money which—if he had it—was now, for want of such security, left idle in the banks; thus, the landlord would obtain a better security for his rent. 2nd. It would render a fair increase of rent much easier to obtain. The power of raising rents had been so grossly abused, that even the fair use of that power was now difficult and odious. He had quite enough faith in the honesty of this demand to believe what the tenants always asserted in public and private—that they had no desire or expectation of having their land at unduly low rents, but only asked to be protected from the risk of having their rents exorbitantly raised. He had no doubt that, after a few years of this compromise, not only would his tenants be much better off, but his own income would be much increased. The third point was, as to the selling or capitalized value of land. Hon. Members from Scotland and England could have little idea of the absurdly low value at present of real property in Ireland. He ventured, though reluctantly, to cite an instance of his own, as affording a striking contrast. Within the last two years property of his had been sold in an out- 57 of-the-way part of England, high up in the dales, six miles from a railway station, without special local advantages, for prices varying from 35 to 42 years' purchase, on a revised rental. Now, if he wished to sell property in Ireland, much better circumstanced, with a good solvent tenantry, he would be too happy to accept 20 or 21 years' purchase. This was a strange difference. He could only attribute it to the chronic state of uncertainty and dissatisfaction arising from the conflict of the two rights to which be had alluded. There was no prospect that this would improve by leaving things alone; and, therefore, he strongly urged the acceptance of this moderate proposal. He would now strike the balance of the compromise. The landlord would lose a right which, fortunately, few landlords thought it right to exercise, and which fewer still found it in the long run profitable to exercise. It was a right of which he might say with regard to landlord and tenants—"It not enriches him, and makes them poor indeed." On the other hand, the landlord would gain—1st. Increased security for his rent; 2nd. A fair and easy increase of rent; 3rd. An increased capitalized or selling value for his property. If this was confiscation of the landlord's property, all he could say was the sooner such confiscation took place the better.
Amendment proposed,To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, in order to ensure to the Irish tenantry the benefits intended to be conferred on them by the Land Act of 1870, it is essential that steps should be taken to prevent the exaction of rents which virtually confiscate the improvements declared by that Act to be the property of the tenant, and also that steps should be taken to prevent the eviction of tenants for refusing to submit to such rents,"—(The O'Donoghue,)—instead thereof.
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PLUNKET
confessed he was disappointed in listening to the speech the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue). For several reasons he had expected the hon. Member to take a course different from that he had pursued. Having listened to his speech, 58 and to the most fair and conciliatory address they had just heard from the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Errington), he was obliged to suppose that the Motion was merely a peg upon which to hang those speeches, which failed to come off on the occasion when the second reading of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick was debated. The speeches were now directed to a simpler proposal than the proposed Bill.
As the remarks of the hon. Gentleman appear to be directed to me, I may be allowed to say that if he means I wanted to deliver my speech on the occasion to which it referred, he is quite mistaken.
§ MR. PLUNKET
could not, of course, state what had been the intentions of the hon. Gentleman in reference to the debate on the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend, but there was not anyone who heard his speech that evening but would admit that it would have been an effective and pertinent one if delivered on the occasion to which he referred, though he took leave to say it was more violent than any of the speeches made on that former occasion. He very much regretted that his hon. Friend the Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) was not present to reply to that speech, as he was one of those improving landlords who were, as they had been told by the hon. Gentleman, held in detestation by their tenants. He had never heard greater—he must use the word—rubbish uttered in Parliament. He knew not what might be the hon. Gentleman's motives in attacking the Irish landlords as he had done; but he supposed he would not be wrong if he regarded what he had now said as a reconciliation speech, because while he was listening to it there came back to his ears the echoes of another speech which the hon. Member for Tralee made in that House in 1874 on the Motion for Home Rule. The memory of that address had not faded from his mind. He would not refer to parts of it which might be regarded as attacks on hon. Gentlemen opposite, but would give a passage from it which was typical of its general tone and tenour. In resisting the Motion for Home Rule on the 2nd of July, 1874, the hon. Member for Tralee observed that—The whole fabric of Government was attacked, Parliament was pointed at as the very 59 fountain of evil, and the voice of hate was poured unceasingly upon the popular ear, so that the most beneficent acts of legislation were like seed scattered upon barren or stony soil. The Imperial Parliament thought it had done a great thing when it passed the Church and Land Acts, and he was of the same opinion; but the orators of the Home Rule Association were at their posts, and shouted into the ear of the people that those Acts were concessions to fear, and thus called on the nation to gird itself for a final and crowning effort of intimidation.—[3 Hansard, ccxx. 929.]That evening, however, they were told by the same hon. Member that under the Land Act of 1870, which did so much good three or four years ago, the Irish landlords had not ceased from their old evil ways, but had entirely defeated the good effects of that "most beneficent legislation." ["Hear, hear!" from below the Gangway.] He was glad that he had extorted from hon. Gentlemen opposite, by a single sentence, a more hearty cheer than they had accorded to the whole speech of the hon. Member for Tralee. But that hon. Member went a little further. He was not content with assailing the landlords. The hon. Gentleman said that every speech made and every word used in that House was watched, read, and remembered in Ireland, and he went on to tell the people of that country that they resisted and wore hostile to the British Government because it was supposed to have done nothing to mitigate the oppression of the Irish landlords. It would be an utter waste of time to contrast the speech to which they had just listened with that which the hon. Gentleman delivered in 1874, and he would therefore pass away from the question of the hon. Gentleman's inconstancy. But what did the Motion now before the House come to? What was the drift of the speech of the hon. Member for Tralee? It was that the landlords of Ireland, without a single exception, had defeated the good intentions of the Act of 1870. That was a grave and serious charge to make. On what did the hon. Member found the assertion? He referred to three cases —only three—of which he had never heard before. Had no efforts been made to obtain cases on which to found such attacks? A circular had been issued by the Committee of the Central Association of Tenant Farmers calling on the people of Ireland to furnish any materials that could be collected to sustain charges of this nature. There was no want of ma- 60 chinery for that purpose. In fact, there was a club in every village of Ireland that could be brought into requisition. Yet, after all, only three cases had been cited. It was impossible for anyone to reply to such charges of which no Notice had been given. He was not prepared to say there could not have been such cases; but he was not prepared to admit them until he knew all the surrounding circumstances. Did the hon. Member never think that it would be but fair to give the landlords of Ireland the chance of clearing their character? Such a course was unjust in the highest degree, and could not advance the cause of those who resorted to it. The hon. Member for Tralee, founding his Motion on those three cases, maintained that—in order to ensure to the Irish tenantry the benefits intended to be conferred on them by the Land Act of 1870, it is essential that steps should be taken to prevent the exaction of rents which virtually confiscate the improvements declared by that Act to be the property of the tenant, and also that steps should be taken to prevent the eviction of tenants for refusing to submit to such rents.The hon. Member for Tralee had pointed out no better plan for accomplishing the objects intended to be secured by the Land Act of 1870; he simply asserted before the House and the country that the improvement intended to be secured to the tenantry of Ireland by the Act of 1870 had not been effected. He gave no proof whatever of his assertion; without adducing a tittle of evidence he left the grievance alleged without the suggestion of any remedy. He believed there were very few cases indeed of what the hon. Member alleged to be the practice of a general raising of rents in Ireland; there was no proof of the existence of the grievance the hon. Member had endeavoured to make out. But, supposing there was, why bring it before the House, unless he was prepared to suggest some practical remedy? The hon. Member said the landlords of Ireland had always been rack-renting, and there was no hope for the tenantry except fixity of tenure at valued rents. He did not deny that at a former period, some 30 or 40 years ago, there were cases of rack-rent, though these were by no means general; but what were the circumstances, what was the state of the country at that time? The landlords as a class were almost as poverty-stricken as the wretched te- 61 nantry themselves. The energies of Ireland were stifled by an overwhelming population, which, as an agricultural country, it had not power to support. There were at that time 8,000,000 of people, where there were now only 4,000,000; so that if there were two men doing the work and eating the bread of one, both would be half employed and half starved. Men resorted to reckless means to extricate themselves from this condition, and the results were crime and outrage, repression and punishment. Reference was often made to the times of famine, fever, and emigration, and, though they occurred in his youth, he had a fearful recollection of them—they were, indeed, so sad and terrible that they could not be depicted in language too gloomy and terrible. But out of famine and pestilence Providence had brought plenty and happiness, for those who went away had found an honest market for their labour, and had prospered all over the world, leaving room and the means of living to those who remained. No doubt they went with aching hearts from the land of their birth, and although they could not but refer to their departure with sorrow and regret, let them not hide from themselves the blessing which came after the curse, and when they found Ireland was more happy, more prosperous, and more contented than it was, let them recall those evil times and sad memories in order to contrast with them the brightness of the present. Not only had the tenantry improved, but the same progress was evident in the condition of the upper classes. There had been no more eloquent delineator of the improved condition of Ireland than the hon. Member for Tralee himself in 1874. Formerly there were rack-renting landlords, steeped all their lives in mortgages, or continually impoverished, and face to face with bankruptcy and disgrace, and no doubt they did exact exorbitant rents from a poor and distressed people. But what had been the operation of the Landed Estates Court? It had released those landlords who were able to stagger through these evil times from their encumbrances. Many a landlord who would have been a good landlord in prosperous times went down; but he was happy to think that many survived that dreadful period, and although the places of those deprived of 62 their property by forced sales had been taken by others who had not always acted in a friendly spirit to their tenants, it was only amongst a very few of even the new class of proprietors that they could find instances of harshness and oppression. He contended that the hon. Member for Tralee had not made out his case, except by the mere assertion that a certain thing would happen. Of course, there might be rack-renting landlords; and, if so, it would be a very bad thing for the tenantry; but might not there be rack-renting landlords in England, and were there not such landlords? He said there were, but they were not going to revolutionize all their land laws, because they succeeded in proving a few cases, and propose a total change in the system of property holding in this country. Neither for a few cases in Ireland were they to tear up by the roots the legislation of 1870, as would be done by the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, to which the hon. Member for Tralee suggested no alternative. He had not made out his case; he had shown no justification or excuse for his attack on the landlords, and, therefore, the House ought, by a decisive vote, which would leave no doubt of its meaning, to express its dissent from the Resolution.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
hoped that, as an English Member, he would be excused for saying a few words on an Irish land question. The emphatic declaration of the House against Home Rule constituted a special reason why a Motion of this character should receive the fullest consideration. He had put on the Order Book a Notice of Motion on an analogous subject, but had not obtained a day for bringing it on, being less successful than the Irish Members, who were singularly fortunate in the ballot. He was glad the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) spoke with approval of the Act of 1870, which was one of the greatest Acts ever passed by the House, considering the difficulties with which the subject was surrounded, for it carried the principle of compensation to the tenant to the very verge of English ideas of the right of property without infringing them. That it had benefited the landlord class was shown by the fact that, whereas the average value of the land sold in the Incumbered Estates Court in 1870 was 16 years, pur- 63 chase, it was now between 20 and 20½, and it was steadily rising from year to year. Therefore, the landlords had benefited to the extent of an increase of 25 per cent in the value of their land. That the tenants had benefited was shown by the amounts of compensation which they recovered from time to time, which proved that in all cases they now secured the value of the improvements they had made. The time had not arrived, nor was it near, when it would be possible to review the working of the Act, nor would the House, within any reasonable period, accede to either fixity of tenure or rents fixed by independent valuers. While obliged to vote against the Motion, he admitted that some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Tralee were worthy of careful attention. No doubt it was possible notwithstanding the Act of 1870, the object of which was to secure to the tenant the value of his improvements, for the landlord to confiscate those improvements by raising the rent; but it had just been denied that any such cases had occurred. When the Irish Land Bill went to the House of Lords an alteration was made in the case of £15 holdings. If the landlord raised the rent exorbitantly, and the tenant refused to give the amount, it was competent to the Court to give the compensation value for the improvements, but the compensation for disturbance was restricted by the House of Lords to evictions under £15 value. Now, in almost all the cases cited by the hon. Member for Tralee the rental of the farms was over £15, and in many of these cases the rents had been raised 50 and even 100 per cent. He would ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland to re-consider this point and see whether the restriction forced upon that House by the House of Lords should not be altered. Why should there be a different principle for farms above and under £15 value? Another point worthy of the attention of the Government was the failure of the Bright clauses in the Irish Land Act. They were intended to facilitate the purchase by the tenants of the land in their occupation. The total number of purchases under these clauses had been only 500, and the value of the farms did not exceed £500,000. During the last seven years between £8,000,000 and £9,000,000 worth of property had been sold under the operation of the 64 Incumbered Estates Act Court, yet only about 6 per cent of the land held by the occupying tenants had been bought under the Bright clauses. He believed that 250 of these sales were one operation, being purchases by the tenants of a single estate in the North of Ireland. He thought it would be well if the hon. Member for Tralee and those who attacked the Act of 1870 would turn their attention in this direction, instead of attacking the law itself. Similar provisions were made under the Church Disestablishment Act to facilitate the purchase of the Church lands by the tenants occupying them. The clauses in both Acts were practically the same, but the one had been a great success. Not less than two-thirds of the occupying tenants—and they were between 5,000 and 6,000 in number—of the lands of the Irish Church had bought their holdings, which showed that they had money wherewith to buy land. Now, if the same process were adopted upon the Land Act, and if some public functionary—
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he must remind the hon. Gentleman that he had given Notice of a Motion on this subject for a future day, and that it was not competent to him to address the House on the subject of his Motion on the present occasion.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
regretted to be out of Order, but he had alluded to the subject because it was almost impossible to bring it on in any other way. He thought the Chief Secretary for Ireland, as well as Irish Members, might advantageously turn his eyes in this direction. It was one which was recommended by simplicity of action and permanency of tenure, and it was in accord with the schemes devised by other countries improving land tenure by converting it wherever possible into proprietorship instead of tenancy. There were many points which had been raised by the hon. Member for Tralee with which he agreed; but, on the whole, the scope of his argument and the tendency of his Resolution were such that he must, however unwillingly, vote against the Motion if it were pressed to a division. The reason why he must do so was because it was directly in conflict with the ideas of English Members in regard to property, and because he had propounded doctrines which it was prac- 65 tically impossible should be adopted by an English House of Commons.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) appeared to be the standing counsel for those who thought that no Amendment was required in the land laws of Ireland. When the hon. and learned Member rose he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) could not help hoping that he was about to move the Amendment of which the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) had given Notice—namely,That it is expedient that an inquiry should take place before a Royal Commission as to whether any improper exactions of rent have taken place, and generally as to the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland, and the working of the Land Act of 1870.Had he moved that Amendment he would probably have found a majority of the Irish Members voting with him; and certainly, for his own part, he should have desired the withdrawal of the present Motion in its favour, so that the Amendment proposing an inquiry into the subject might be submitted to the House. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Plunket) had entered into a singularly unfortunate line of argument on this question calculated not to bind together the different classes of Irish society, but to separate them. No one could doubt that there was a prevailing sense of insecurity on the part of the Irish tenants. More than that, this sense of insecurity had increased since the Act of 1870, and for this reason—before that Act the law lent no sanction to evictions, but under that Act it was understood that a man might evict a tenant on paying a certain price or paying a certain compensation. The result was that evictions were no longer regarded in the same light as formerly, and were far more often resorted to. It was no longer considered a disgraceful thing to evict a tenant, for the landlord was now regarded as only availing himself of the rights which the law had conferred upon him. He maintained that it was impossible to maintain the same laws for England and for a nation so dissimilar in history, traditions, feelings, and circumstances as Ireland. We recognized in our Colonies the necessity of adopting our land laws to the circumstances of each Colony, and he could 66 not understand why the same system should not be adopted in Ireland. In Ireland the tenure of land had never been a matter of contract. It originated in the tribal relations between Chief and followers. The latter rendered service to their Chief, and were, no doubt, subject to occasional oppression; but they were no more exposed to be turned out of their holdings and no more expected to be turned out than did the children of hon. Members from their ancestral estates. The Irish farmer did within his own family what he expected the Legislature to do for him. There was scarcely a poor cottier who did not save up every shilling he could in order to bestow a portion upon his daughter when she married, or to give a start to his son when he began life. Now, when ho found the little store gone which he had accumulated for this purpose, he naturally resented this treatment. The House must enter into these matters and endeavour to understand the feelings of the people, or they would never understand, what he was thoroughly convinced of, that there was no crime which cried more to Heaven for retribution than that of heartless eviction. He might be accused of using inflammatory language; but he was speaking the truth. He himself was supposed to be a good and improving landlord, but he could not shut his eyes to the sight of what was going on, not only in the West, but in the South of Ireland. There was now no doubt many persons who, like himself, had bought land in Ireland of recent years, who looked upon it simply as a means of extorting the greatest amount of money from their fellow-creatures. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin had chided the hon. Member for Tralee for bringing forward cases of oppression without previous Notice to those concerned in them, and so that they could not be answered; but the cases which the hon. Member had cited were cases which had been brought before the Courts, and had been commented upon by the Judges. They were cases in which landlords exercised the power given to them by the Act of 1870 legally, but cruelly. He would, however, mention another case. It was that of a tenant who in 1862 paid 2s. 6d. rent. In 1863 his rent was raised to £24. In 1870 there was a change of landlord, 67 and he was called upon to pay £40. After great intercession on the part of persons in the neighbourhood, he was told that he might remain at the rent of £24 if he would pay a fine of £170. That showed that the landlords had found out that the tenant had this money which he probably intended for his daughter's portion, or to start a son in life. Knowing this, he had thought it possible to get this £170 out of this poor man. These cases had occurred, and were occurring, daily; and he would ask the Attorney General for Ireland, on his conscience, if he was not aware that the Judges of Ireland had from their seats on the bench of justice made the strongest comments on landlord tyranny in certain parts of Ireland? He had heard with great regret a recent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham defending a former Member of the House from the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) for acts which had drawn upon him the adverse declarations of three of the ablest and oldest Judges of Ireland in connection with his dealings with his tenants, whose rents he had raised 90, 100, or even 200 per cent. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman indignantly defend his friend, not because he knew anything of the circumstances of the case, but because he thought that a gentleman whom he had long known could not be guilty of these things. The facts, however, had all come out at a public trial, and it was proved that the landlord in question had raised his rents to the amounts stated. They had, moreover, caused murders and widespread misery. They were specimens of what might be done, and what he had no doubt, if the House rejected that Motion, would be done on a more extensive scale. It might be said —"What is the remedy you propose?" He had, for his own part, always felt regret that two new phrases had been introduced into their debates—fixity of tenure and fixity of rent. He would bring about fixity of tenure and fixity of rents; but he would not introduce new names and phrases which were distasteful to the House of Commons. The true and fair thing was to enable the tenants to obtain leases carrying with them the right to renewal. He would fix every tenant on the land, giving him a lease for 20 or 30 years, at 68 the end of which time he should have the right to remain in his home on a revised rent, and as sometimes it was difficult to settle the rent with unreasonable people, he would have in Ireland two or three Judges for the express purpose of taking the land cases, going circuit like other Judges, and having attached to them skilled assistants for every county, who would sit with them. At present, under the Act of 1870, cases between landlords and tenant relating to compensation for improvement and other matters went before the County Court Judges, whom the people sometimes regarded with distrust as being more favourable to the landlord than to the tenants. While some of them gave the tenants a fair sum by way of compensation for eviction, others gave little or nothing, and there were constant appeals from their conflicting decisions. The result was that the people had not got near so much benefit from the Land Act as they might have done had it been differently administered. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin had told them of the great benefits that had resulted in Ireland from the famine. That emigration and pestilence had led to the great diminution of her population. But he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) maintained that Ireland could support a population two or three times greater than now, if the land laws were placed in a better position. It was a shocking thing to talk of the disappearance in 30 years of the half of the population, as if it were merely the clearing out of an overcrowded rookery in St. Giles's. What, too, he might ask, was the case of the former over population? Why, the state of the law which induced landlords to split their property up into the greatest number of farms in order to obtain the greatest possible number of votes. The Legislature had given the temptation, and they were not, because they had since changed their minds and adopted wiser views as to the franchise, entitled to say that it was a happy thing that half the population of Ireland had been swept away. The hon. Member concluded by expressing a hope that the Government would agree to the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the subject.
§ MR. STORER
said, that there was a well-known proverb, to the effect that when one's neighbour's house was on 69 fire, it became us to look well after our own, and it appeared to him that the Resolution of the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) was one that ought to put the landlords and tenants of England upon their guard. He looked upon this Resolution as partaking as much of the nature of political fireworks as the Motion in reference to Home Rule did, and thought that the speeches which had been made that evening were intended to produce an effect, not so much upon the House of Commons as upon the people of Ireland, in order to keep up political agitation in that country. The only operation that the Resolution could have, if carried, would be to give the tenants of Irish farms a perpetual lease of their land, and as long as they paid their rent to prevent their landlords from having any control over it. The proposal was a dangerous one, because it might be taken hold of by agitators who in times of distress might endeavour to excite English tenants of the lower class. They had been treated to the old argument as to the tenure of land in Ireland under chieftains ages back. The same might be said of England, and still later of Scotland, where the clan system survived till very lately. But they did not wish to revert to barbarism, and why should Ireland? He had heard a great deal about improving tenants, but not a word had been said about those who deteriorated their land. If the tenants of Irish farms were once impressed with the idea that they were entitled to hold their land in perpetuity, it would be exceedingly difficult to convince them of the necessity of paying rent at all. In his opinion, the tenants in Ireland should be placed exactly in the same position as those of England and Scotland. Hon. Members from Ireland were always crying out for equality, and he thought that equality should be complete in every respect. He saw no reason why the occupiers of land should be treated on a different principle from persons who were engaged in any other industry. When a tenant in England found that he could not continue to occupy his land to his own advantage he gave notice to quit, and did not come to Parliament for assistance; and the Irish tenant ought to follow the same course. He was rather surprised that the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) should have declared himself to be an improving 70 landlord after the hon. Member who had moved this Resolution had stated that improving landlords in Ireland were looked upon with abhorrence and detestation. In his opinion, however, an improving landlord was entitled to great credit as benefiting both his tenants and his country. The hon. Member who seconded the Resolution (Mr. Errington) had asked why land in Ireland should be worth only 20 years' purchase, while that in England was worth 30 years' purchase. It was because there was security for neither life nor property in that country. What sane man would invest his money in land in Ireland when the tenants believed that they were to get it for nothing? He admitted that there might be some ground for complaint on the part of the Irish tenants, just as for English farmers, with regard to the unfair taxation of native produce; but, still, their relations with their landlords should be regulated by ordinary commercial principles, such as those which governed landlords and tenants in other countries, and the laws of political economy must not be set aside merely that hon. Gentlemen from Ireland might indulge in those ridiculous and insincere manifestations meant for political purposes only.
§ MR. O'SULLIVAN,
in rising to support the Motion before the House, said, that he would commence by admitting that there were a large number of good landlords in Ireland; and in the county which he had the honour of representing he was glad to have to say that the large majority of the landlords in that county were just and fair to their tenants. He need only look at the other side of the House to one of those landlords in the person of the hon. Baronet the Member for Devizes. If every landlord in Ireland acted like the hon. Baronet and his brother there would be no occasion for the advocates of the tenant-farmers in this House asking for a Tenant-right Bill to protect the Irish tenants from rack-renting and evictions. During the last 30 years he never heard of an act of cruelty or oppression on the property of the hon. Baronet or his brother. Unfortunately for the country, and for the landlords themselves, all the landlords were not of that stamp, as they had many black sheep in their midst; and it was because they had those black shecp among them that they 71 had to come before the House to ask it to compel the bad landlord to do that by law which the good landlord did voluntarily as a simple act of justice, on the principle of live and let live. He did not purpose following the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) in his wild statements about the Irish tenantry and all they required, but merely to remind the hon. Member that if he had not promised the rev. Father O'Donoghue previous to the last Election, that he would vote for a Bill to secure the tenants in their holdings at fair rents, the hon. Members would now be in that House to misrepresent the large majority of the electors of Kerry. He would relate some cases of landlord cruelty and oppression that occurred very recently within the county which the hon. Member represented, and he felt satisfied when the House heard the facts of these cases, they would admit there was sore need of some law to restrain landlords in their dealings with their tenants. About four years since the life interest in the estate of an old Nobleman in the county Limerick, amounting to about £1,400 a-year, subject to some large charges was sold in the Landed Estates Court. Well, the interest in the life of this old man, who was rising up to 70 years, was so very little that the tenants and others concerned did not suspect that anyone would interfere with the next heir to the estate, and that he, or his representatives, would get it as a matter of course, without opposition; but after the sale they found they were very much mistaken, as there was a party in the neighbourhood, a money lender, who saw he had a good opportunity of squeezing money out of the poor tenants. So he bid for the property, and he got the rental of over £1,300 a-year during the life of this old Nobleman for the important sum of £1,600. He should have mentioned that on the estate of this old Nobleman (Lord Lisle), and his father before him, tenants were never disturbed from their holdings except for non-payment of rent, for they had a good agent as well as a good landlord. But what a change had come over that estate, where tenants, up to that unfortunate sale, felt as sure of their holdings as they did of their existence. During the last two years this speculator lad evicted the tenants off three of those farms, and had taken them into his own 72 possession without giving the tenants one shilling compensation. The tenants owed no rent more than the running gale, and he assigned no reason whatever for evicting them. If it occurred in the North their tenant-right would be worth over £3,000. Ten or eleven other tenants he compelled to pay over £1,500, or about as much as he gave for the whole property, though he was not able to give them one month's security in their holding, as he had only the life interest of the old Nobleman. He gave that case to show the House how unfortunate poor tenants in his county were treated, and to show the necessity there was for some security for them. There was another case of landlord's cruelty on Mr. Buckley's property, to which he would allude more fully—most of the injustice having occurred in his county—were it not that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cork County (Mr. Downing) had done so on the second reading of the Land Bill; but there were one or two matters in the case which he thought the House should know, they not having been touched on by his hon. and learned Friend. One was the number of notices to quit served on this estate, the next was the valuation of the celebrated Mr. Bridge, and the third was the class of tenants on this estate. He would first read a short extract from Bridge's evidence when under cross-examination in Cork. He (Mr. Bridge) could not tell how many hundred notices to quit were served on this estate, but on close examination he admitted he had 130 notices to quit out at one time. Was it any wonder that trouble and alarm should have existed in this district under such circumstances? And those notices were served for the purpose of increasing the rents of those tenants for the very improvements they and their fathers made in this mountainous district. He (Mr. O'Sullivan) felt very great interest in the alarm and the outrages which took place on this property, as part of it was in his county, and he well knew that, previous to its unfortunate connection with the notorious Mr. Bridge, it was as peaceful a district as there was in all Munster. So he wrote to a friend of his, who knew that part of the country well, to know what he thought of the tenantry on this estate, and the cause of the outrages. He would read one short extract from the gentleman's letter 73 to show what he thought of the tenantry on this property. He said—I know the tenantry on the Buckley estate over 30 years, and a more peaceful or industrious people I never knew. I firmly believe if they were paid for the labour alone which they expended in drawing manure on their backs to this mountainous district for reclaiming the land, and their continual work in extirpating the furze and the heather, it would more than purchase the fee-simple of half the estate.Those notices to quit were served because the tenants would not submit to an exorbitant increase of rent which was placed on them by this man, Bridge. It was well known in the counties of Limerick and Cork that this Bridge never placed a fair or honest value on a tenant's holding, and he (Mr. O'Sullivan) did not make that assertion to the House without being in a position to offer some evidence in support of it. He would tell the House one fact in connection with Mr. Bridge's valuation, and he felt sure it would be found to be a true illustration of most of his valuations. He knew a respectable man, named Mahony, who held a small holding at Kildorry, where this Bridge was agent. He believed the old rent was about £5 or £6 a-year. When the lease expired Bridge increased the rent to £14 per annum, on account of the improvements made by Mahony. Mahony protested against the increase, but to no purpose. He had to submit or quit his holding, on which he expended a large sum in buildings. Hon. Members might think the rent was not exorbitant, but he would prove to the House that it was by the fact that the very first time the landlord, who was James, Earl of Kingston, came on the ground, his attention was called to the largely increased rent put on the holding by Bridge. He admitted the rent was too high, and ordered it to be reduced to £10 per annum, thus taking about 30 per cent off Bridge's valuation. He (Mr. O'Sullivan) felt quite sure that if every one of the five or six hundred cases of notice to quit on Mr. Buckley's estate were examined by any hon. Member, they would be found to be more or less extravagant and unjust like the one he had just quoted. In conclusion, the hon. Member hoped he had shown sufficient reasons to warrant the House in passing the Motion or granting an inquiry which would secure the tenants in Ireland against 74 the petty tyrant, the rack-renter and the exterminator.
§ LORD FRANCIS CONYNGHAM
Sir, at the request of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert), I beg to apologize in his name for his not having been able to move the Amendment standing in his name on the Paper. While in the House he received a telegram which obliged him to leave at once, owing to the serious illness of a very near relative. He begged me to express his regret, as he knew how much interest was felt by Irish Members and in Ireland upon this question.
§ MR. STACPOOLE
expressed a hope that the Government would give his hon. Friend (the O'Donoghue) such an assurance as would induce him to withdraw his Motion, and let the Amendment for a Royal Commission be adopted.
§ MR. BRUEN
was constrained to say, after what had fallen from hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the Irish landlord was about the best abused individual in the Kingdom. It was painful for him, being a landlord, to be assailed in that way, and it was also painful for him to have to stand up and plead for landlords who had really done their duty to their tenants and had been kind to them. But being an Irish landlord—no better, and he hoped no worse—and in some measure representing the Irish landlords, he felt bound to say something on the subject, and to deny that they deserved the condemnation which had been passed upon them by some of the hon. Members who had addressed the House. He asked the House to believe that the cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Tralee were not typically true. As far as he had heard, only one of the cases mentioned by the hon. Member had been commented on by a Judge. He protested against the assumption of the hon. Member, that because land in Ireland had increased in value, therefore the valuations bore no fair proportion to the real value. Since Griffith's valuation, no doubt, land in Ireland had increased in value, just as the produce of land had increased in value. If higher rents were asked for improved values of land, the rents were paid, with, perhaps, a little grumbling, and it was only fair that landlords should demand an increased rent for their property, which had improved in value. In all cases where the tenant was obliged to 75 give up the possession of land owing to an increase of rent, he could go into Court and obtain full value of his improvements. The produce of land, as he had said, had increased and was of higher value, and consequently the landlord demanded the increased rent, but he denied that in so doing they fixed their demands according to the tenants' improvements. The tenants' improvements were valued; in general, the tenant's own valuation was taken, and the amount was either paid to him in money, and then the full value was demanded in rent or, if not, a deduction was allowed corresponding to the improvements made. The hon. Member for Tralee said that since the passing of the Land Act there had been a great increase in the rents owing to tenants' improvements. Well, the increase in the value of land since the Land Act was the property of the landlord, if not created by the tenant, for the land had increased in value since the passing of the Act. Then it was said that the tenants only improved the land. But that was not the case, for the landlords made enormous improvements. As to the charge that evictions were constantly being carried on in Ireland, what were the facts? The Returns showed that the evictions on notices to quit amounted to one in 1,400 tenants. Did that prove that evictions were constantly being carried on in Ireland? What had Lord St. Leonards said in 1868? His Lordship said that—The facts which had come before the Committee were diametrically opposed to general opinion in regard to the relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland. It had been said that the landlords spent nothing in improvements, but in the evidence which had come before the Committee the landlords laid out more money in improvements tham landlords did in this country.As to the rents of land in Ireland being high, that was a matter of opinion. The pamphlet of the hon. Member for Linlithgow who was in Ireland at the time of the passing of the Land Act said—There was one thing favourable to the settlement of the question, and that was the low rents at which the lands of Ireland are let. With such low rents as are paid for grazing lands in Limerick and Tipperary, and fixity of tenure, I should infinitely prefer being a tenant to being a landlord.He believed the real fact was that 99 out of every 100 landlords in Ireland did 76 not over-rent their land, and the charges which had been made against them were entirely unsupported by evidence. But it was said that these things had been done since the passing of the Land Act, but the landlords were the same as three years ago, and that short space of time could not have made them grasping and tyrannical. As to cases of injustice, the right hon. Member for London University said that he had sat on several Committees of the House of Commons to investigate the question of the land, but he had never found a charge of ill-treatment of the tenant verified with dates and circumstances. A Commission or inquiry had been suggested, and, as a landlord, he did not shrink from it. He was quite sure nothing could be proved against the landlords as a body. The appointment of a Commission would imply that the House believed charges which had not been substantiated. No case had been made out for inquiry, and the instances which had been adduced had not been gone into with sufficient detail to enable the House to say that they established even a primâ facie case of grievance such as the House ought to be certain of before it passed so heavy a sentence on the landlords. If a Motion for inquiry were brought forward, he would not vote upon it, because he would not have it said that any landlord had voted against inquiry into his conduct, although, in his opinion, there was no ground whatever for such an inquiry. The Resolution practically embodied one of the propositions of the Bill already rejected—namely, that with regard to valued rents—and it was a waste of time, by a Motion of this character, to revive a question which had been discussed and determined. To show the kind of fair play and justice that were to be meted out to the landlords he would quote two sentences from a speech of the hon. Member for Kildare at a Conference held in the Rotunda in January, 1875. The hon. Member said that—No landlord should be allowed to treat land as he treated property in a horse," but that the "tenants demanded that they should be entitled to deal with the land as they would deal with any other commodity. They must be allowed to bring the land into the market and realize the highest value they could for it and be allowed to sell it without restriction.Such were the ideas with which some approached the discussion of this question. 77 He hoped the friendly relations now existing between landlords and tenants would not be disturbed by the speech of the hon. Member for Tralee, and that those relations would be influenced rather by the moderate tone of other speeches, for he was afraid the repetition of such strong condemnations and the advocacy of such violent measures would produce some sort of retaliation by the landlords. That in itself would be most unfortunate. The clauses of the Land Act were carried against the feelings of the landlords, and their views of what was just and necessary; but, as they had been passed, the landlords had loyally endeavoured to carry them out. For the reasons he had given he hoped the House would not pass the Resolution.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
thought the question under consideration had been treated too much in the narrow spirit of the advocate. One side was all in favour of the landlords, and the other was in favour of the tenants; but what was wanted was a more judicial consideration of the question. It ought not to be approached in a spirit of antagonism, either to the landlords or the tenants of Ireland. When, in 1870, an appeal was made to the Irish Members by the then Prime Minister on the subject of his Land Bill, he thought it right to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he did not believe the people of Ireland would accept the Bill as a fixed settlement of this question. He imagined that no one would dispute the statement that advantages had resulted from the Act of 1870. On the other hand, however, some hon. Members seemed not to be aware of the fact that a great many landlords who, prior to the passing of the measure, were extremely good landlords in the world, considered themselves, after it became law, released to a great degree from the obligations their position imposed upon them. Those landlords, in effect, said—"You have obtained this law, and we are, as the result, relieved from those special duties which heretofore we conceived were incumbent upon us, and we are now no longer bound by anything but the letter of the law." As a landlord himself, he could say there was so much uncertainty in the three or four counties with which he was best acquainted that the Motion for an inquiry into the operation of the 78 Land Act was one which any fair man would be disposed to support. The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) seemed to be under the impression that if the House granted an inquiry into the subject, it would be an admission that the landlords of Ireland had been guilty of a gross dereliction of duty. He (Sir Patrick O'Brien), however, did not concur in that opinion. It could not be doubted that notwithstanding the improvement arising out of the legislation of 1870, the tenant farmers of Ireland were not in a condition to say that they occupied with certainty the position to which they were entitled, and they were of opinion that there ought to be something like certainty as to their tenure. His father had been accustomed to grant leases, the rent for which could easily be ascertained; and this system, if pursued generally, would in a great degree have lessened the existing land agitation. The days of exalted status derived from the possession of land, was a thing of the past. The practical solution was, that the tenant should derive a compensation for the expenditure of himself and his ancestors upon it. He believed that 99 out of every 100 landlords were well disposed towards their tenantry, and he referred especially to those who had not taken up the acquisition of land as a mercantile speculation. His opinion was that on the present occasion the simple duty of the House was to consider in fairness whether any primâ facie case for inquiry had been made out; and he thought that even those who were of opinion that no grievance existed might concur in permitting an inquiry, from which, if their opinion was correct, no harm could ensue to them.
§ MR. GREENE
opposed the Motion, remarking that he was puzzled to know which question was to be discussed. He had not voted, he was happy to say, for the second reading of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, as it was most objectionable, because it contained the principle of confiscation. It went very much further than he believed was proper, and he thought the people of Ireland ought to be contented with what had been granted to them. Parliament was willing to consider any grievance which the Irish Representatives might advance, but 79 moderation would have to be observed, and evils which had no substantial foundation ought not to be advocated to the loss of the public time. He had great interest, although no property, in Ireland; and the House ought to take an interest in the question. He did not believe that hon. Members opposite could bring forward any bad cases of eviction. Hon. Members were ready to hear all that could be said of Irish affairs, and he hoped that the Irish Members would allow them to have an opportunity of dealing with English affairs, which they had not always had of late. If tenants were to be entitled of right to leases perpetually renewed, no landlord would have a right to do what he pleased with his own land, even though he wished to enter upon and cultivate it himself. What was necessary for the good of Ireland was not for gentlemen, either in Parliament or out of it, to get up agitations; but for people to be taught the importance of putting their shoulders to the wheel and making the best of a state of things under which they were, relatively, more prosperous than the English. Supposing England drew a cordon round her shores and prevented Ireland sending her produce to our markets, where would she be? Why, Irish people would be shut up in in their own Island, and would eat each other up. The cries of "Fixity of Tenure," "Leases," and "Home Rule" were all very well, but he feared they were used mainly for the purpose of catching votes. He was one of those who thought that an act of injustice in favour of the tenant had been committed by the Act of 1870; and the sooner, in his opinion, the House divided on the question before it the better, for what was proposed to be done was simply to make the landlord a mere rent-charger on his own property.
§ MR. PATRICK MARTIN
said, he gladly acknowledged that there were many landowners in Ireland, such as the Marquess of Ormonde, Lord Mountgarrett, and Lord Portsmouth, by whom tenant-right on their estates was practically conceded; but it was not against them that the Motion of the hon. Member for Tralee was directed. He regretted to say there were others who forgot and neglected the duties which their position imposed upon them. It was in condemnation of the dealings 80 of this latter class with their tenants he understood the terms of the Resolution. Words had, it was true, been used which might be considered to assail the entire body of Irish landlords; but the tenants, as a class, had much more reason to complain of the accusations so ignorantly made as to the object of their tenant-right agitation. From having been present at many of the tenant-right conferences and meetings, he could say that, excepting, perhaps, cases where a few expressed very extreme views, the tenants asked nothing but what was fair and reasonable — they demanded nothing beyond what every hon. Member who was a landlord, and who had spoken on the subject, declared the tenants enjoyed on his own estate. The mode in which the just landlord would benefit from security might well be exemplified by the estates of Lord Portsmouth in Wexford. The agents of his Lordship asserted that what had made the tenantry happy and prosperous was the practical observance of the rules of tenant-right. The rules there were that in the selection of tenants regard was paid only to character, skill, and capital, without reference to religion or politics. New leases were granted to representatives of old tenants at moderate rents, and at the expiration of leases rents were fairly adjusted, having regard to situation and capabilities of soil. Forty years of such a system had inspired the tenantry with confidence and energy, had changed barren land into fine farms, had enabled them to erect suitable substantial residences, and changed a collection of mud hovels into an important market town. What the tenants demanded was not to be freed from payment of rent, but to be relieved from apprehensions by which their industry was paralyzed, and from a system of rack-renting under which the improvements made by them on their farms were confiscated. He begged the House to bear in mind that the position of the Irish tenant was entirely different from that of the same class in this country, for the former, when deprived of his holding, had nothing but the workhouse or emigration before him. So considerably did the demand for land exceed the supply that contracts in respect to land amongst the poorer class of tenants could be said to be only nominally free. It was not true that this ques- 81 tion had been brought forward merely as a display of political fireworks for election purposes. For his part, he believed it to be essential to the prosperity of Ireland that a tenant-right should be created. He could understand an opponent saying that, as he had opposed the Tenant Act of 1870, so he would oppose the present proposal. But it was too late to take exception to the principle involved, for the Act of 1870 had established the principle that Parliament might require bad landlords in Ireland to do what the good landlords did of their own accord. The hon. Member went on to give details, from his own personal knowledge, of evictions that had occurred on the estate of Captain Humphrey in the county of Kilkenny. Without special selection he might mention four cases of yearly tenants on that property: in one the value of the holding according to Griffith's valuation was £34, the rent paid by the tenant £49, and the rent demanded under the notice to quit £76. In another case the value was set down at £37, the rent paid £57 17s., and the rent demanded £77 4s. In the third the value was £7 18s., the rent paid £7 19s., and the rent demanded £28. In another instance the value was £32, the rent paid £53 5s., and the rent demanded £68 1s. 6d. But for timely and good advice there certainly would have been outrages in the district where the evictions in question occurred. The need of legislative interference was urgent. The changes of proprietors had made but too general the disproportionate raising of rents. It was quite true that produce had increased in value, but the price of labour and the burden of taxation had also increased in Ireland. It was wholly out of the question to let land in that country at competition value. The treatment of improving tenants had in many instances, which he could mention to the House, been outrageous. An English gentleman took the lease of a farm in Kildare within six years of its termination. The farm was in a very exhausted state, and he made it a model farm. He could only obtain a renewal of the lease on exorbitant terms, and his compensation under the Land Act amounted to merely a nominal sum having regard to his expenditure. On the Gormanstown estate tenants had been evicted, because they 82 would not sign agreements which even the Chairman for County Meath condemned as unfair, and depriving them of the right to past improvements. There was but too much reason to apprehend that this unreasonable, capricious exercise of the legal powers which the law vested in the landlord had brought the law into contempt and disrepute. On the Darnley estate an improving tenant had taken a farm on a 21 years' lease. The land had been impoverished to a degree; but by skill, money, and manure, he praised it to the highest state of cultivation. Before the expiration of the lease he asked Lord Darnley to renew. After some delay a considerable increase of rent was proposed and acceded to. A printed agreement was then produced, stated to be the usual form of agreement on Lord Darnley's estates, according to which the tenancy was only from year to year, determinable at six months' notice, all the tenant's improvements being forfeited to the landlord, and on the death of the tenant no interest was transmissible to his personal representatives. These agreements were forced on the Darnley tenantry, some of whom were poor men who could not resist the pressure. Were hon. Members from Ireland to be assailed because they saw urgent need that the Land Act should be amended? Another great grievance was the uncertainty of the decision of the tribunal. There were 30 Chairmen altogether, and many of them adopted a totally different principle in deciding the amount of claims for compensation that should be awarded to evicted tenants; and, in addition, there were different constructions placed upon the Act of 1870 by the learned Judges of Assize to whom appeals against those varying decisions lay. All these diversities of opinion and judicial treatment diminished the protection intended by that Act to be given to the poorer class of tenants in possession of small holdings. He thought that a strong case had been made in favour of the Resolution. Security of tenure woulde xercise an influence for good on the moral and social condition of Irish tenants. He trusted some measure might soon be passed which would give to the tenants a just legal protection, and free them from the dread that the very capital, skill, and 83 industry which they had expended on their farms, might not be the cause of their rents being increased.
§ MR. R. POWER,
while admitting that the debate had not been a very lively one, thought that, at all events, it had been instructive. It was impossible to exaggerate evils that would arise if a Resolution like that now before the House were to be rejected. The contention that the farmers of Ireland should be placed upon the same footing as those of England was not sound, inasmuch as those laws which might be suitable to the constitution of an Englishman would not agree with the temperament of an Irishman. This question had been before the public, it had been discussed in the newspapers, it had been debated in that House, and it had been made one of the principal subjects upon every electioneering platform. There were few Irish Members of that Assembly who had not given some pledge that they would seek for a reform in the land laws of Ireland. He did not intend to make an attack upon the landlords of Ireland. He thought they were as a rule good and generous men, but the bad and unjust acts of a few brought disgrace upon many, and caused much turbulence and bitter feeling in the district, and sowed suspicion in the heart of every neighbouring tenant. The landlords in his own county were the best landlords and the worst politicians in Ireland, but who could tell what their successors might be—these men had been so good for so many generations that it was but natural to expect that some bad ones would shortly appear. What was the objection to this proposal, and to the Land Bills which had been brought forward in this House? The pill which the landlords refused to swallow was fixity of tenure. He could assure them that their dislike to it was solely imaginative, and that however nauseous it might seem at the first taste it would, when it had time to operate, do them a world of good. He knew cases where families had lived on land for centuries without any disturbance or increase of rent. That had been fixity of tenure, as it affected the rights of the landlord, but not as it affected the improvement of the land or the interests of the tenant, because the tenant was unwilling to invest his capital and labour in an uncertainty. It was said that un- 84 less there was personal valuation an injustice would be done to the landlord. If land was to be valued for what it was worth, the tenant's improvements must be valued, and in order to accomplish that it was necessary to know the exact condition of the farm at the time the tenant took it. The Irish landlords were short-sighted individuals, and they ignored the advance of chemical and other sciences; they appeared to imagine that their worn-out and perhaps rack-rented fields could compete with the boundless prairies of America and Mexico, or the well-kept fields of the sister country. But he did not understand in what the idea of the continued increase in the value of land was founded. But even if the tenant was benefited by the increase in the value of the land, the landlord would not the less be benefited. It would be recollected that good landlords did not rely upon the power of resumption, or look to it as a source of profit. He quite admitted that the Land Act was well meant, but it could only work for the advantage of a tenant on condition that he was willing to engage in a lawsuit with a man much wealthier than himself. He was not, of course, willing to accept this condition, and the consequence was, that he did not invest in the land those savings which the accounts of money deposited in the banks or the family stocking showed that he possessed. Why? Because the tenant feared that if he invested his money, it, together with his labour, would fall into the hands of his landlord at the expiration of a certain number of years. Their object ought to be to induce tenants to invest capital and labour, because thereby the food supply of the country would be largely increased. By this means the value of the landlord's property was increased, and if it was said that he would thus be reduced to the condition of the owner of a mere rent-charge, it must not be forgotten that the power of resumption would still be left to him, and that his security for the punctual payment of his runt would be increased by the improvement in the value of the land. They did not seek to diminish the value of the landlord's property, but, on the contrary, to place it on a firmer basis by rendering it consistent with the welfare of the country. That the farmers of Ireland had capital was proved by bank returns. That the present system 85 did not offer sufficient inducement to them to invest their capital was proved by the fact that they did not do so. More than once in this debate the question had been asked—Why did not the Irish tenant as the English tenant improve? but he would ask, why did not the Irish landlord do as the English landlord? The Irish landlord never made improvements himself, nor would he allow his tenant, by giving him security of tenure to do so. Security of tenure would tend to give a higher rent, because it would induce tenants to sink their capital in farms, and in consequence of the improvement of the farms there would be increased competition for them. He would allow the tenant to take his farm as he took his wife, "for better or for worse." Of course, there was some risk and some speculation in both cases, far less, he believed, in the case of the farm. However, he hoped the House would agree with him, that security of tenure was as desirable in the one case as in the other. That idea of security of tenure was no new or Utopian scheme. In France, the half-starved labourers of the old regime had been replaced by petty proprietors who formed the richest and most Conservative peasantry in the world. They wanted to make a similar revolution in Ireland, and if they could not all at once make the Irish peasantry proprietors as in France, they could at all events, by giving them security of tenure, make them part proprietors. They wished to close for ever that miserable war between landlord and tenant, which, so long as it existed, must be a stain upon the character of the country, and must tend to check her social and material prosperity.
THE O'CONOR DON
could not allow the Motion to go to a division without explaining the course he intended to adopt. Because he had on a former occasion opposed a Bill founded on wrong and unjust principles, which he believed would be injurious to those whose interests it was intended to promote, he should be very sorry if it were supposed that he was indisposed to give due consideration to any just claims made on behalf of the tenant-farmers of Ireland. Notwithstanding all the abuse which had been heaped on him in Ireland, and the representations which had been made, picturing him as the opponent of the tenant-farmer's interest, and as the ad- 86 vocate of the most extreme landlord views, he ventured to assert that few hon. Members were more anxious than he was to support any just claim possessed by the tenants, or to see them protected in the enjoyment of the fruits of their industry, and not deprived of those fruits, either by rack-renting, or by any other process. He had always held that no settlement of the land question in Ireland could be final or satisfactory until they had established in some way or other in that country a large class of men who united in their own persons the two positions both of occupiers and owners. He was far from concurring in many of the statements of the Mover of the Resolution. The hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) had made grave charges against the landlord class as a whole. He would not himself then enter into the consideration of those charges; but he held that having been made, and gaining considerable belief in Ireland, it was important that they should be thoroughly investigated. He could not agree with the assertion made by his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen), that, in assenting to that investigation, they would thereby admit that the charges were made out. They knew that those charges were preferred, and also that the conduct of a few unscrupulous persons had brought discredit on the class to which they belonged, and therefore he desired an investigation. He understood that the Question the Speaker would put to the House would be, that he do now leave the Chair—in other words, that the House should pass away from the consideration of the subject. Now, he did not think they should pass away in that manner from its consideration. The hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) who had given Notice of an Amendment to the Resolution under discussion had been called away, and could not move his Amendment; but if the House came to the conclusion that the Speaker should remain in the Chair, and the Resolution of the hon. Member for Tralee became a substantive Motion, it would then be in the power of any hon. Gentleman to move the hon. Member for Kerry's Amendment. If no one else moved that Amendment he (the O'Conor Don) would do so himself. Therefore, he would in the first instance vote that the Speaker remain in the Chair.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING,
though he did not agree with much that had fallen from the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue), yet thought that that hon. Member did not deserve the severe animadversions which had been made upon him by the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Plunket). He regretted the very strong language which had been used by the hon. and learned Gentleman, who had no right to characterize the supporters of that Motion—who had as great a stake in the country as their opponents—as desperate and reckless in the course they were taking. He wished to invite the attention of the House to a few facts bearing on the Motion before them. They were not discussing a Bill. The real question that the House had to decide was not that the tenantry of Ireland should have fixity of tenure, but simply that there should be an inquiry, either by a Select Committee, or a Royal Commission, whether, after six or seven years' experience of the working of the Irish Land Act of 1870, that Act had not failed to secure the object of its promoters, and whether it did not require to be amended to a very large extent. It was stated by the Devon Commission that, while in England everything was done by the landlord in the way of building, putting up gates, and so forth, to enable the tenant to cultivate his land, the very reverse was the case in Ireland, where everything was done by the tenant. He need not read what was stated by the same Commission about the labouring classes in Ireland, for whom nothing had been done up to the present time. On the Motion for the second reading of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), he alluded with pain and regret to a particular individual, but representing the county which he did, he felt bound to refer to the circumstances connected with the Michelstown estate. If there were no other case which could be adduced, the circumstances connected with that case would justify him in asking for, and the House in granting, a Royal Commission to inquire into the the facts. He would read a portion of the judgment delivered by three as able Judges, and men as pure and with as high a sense of justice as any that ever presided in a Court in Ireland, when application was made to them by Mr. Bridge for a criminal information against 88 a third party. Mr. Justice Barry, after reviewing the facts of the case, used words to the effect that a more unjustifiable course of proceeding during his experience at the Bar or on the Bench had never come before him. Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, in a portion of a judgment also declared the proceedings to be "high-handed and oppressive." He must respectfully appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General for Ireland) for his opinion on the subject, for if every landlord in Ireland had acted as Mr. Buckley had done, there would have been a rebellion in the country. He was surprised that the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was not one of the very first Members to rise to support, at all events, an inquiry into the action of landlords such as the one he described. He believed that nearly every landlord would be glad of this inquiry, even though some of them had taken advantage of the law to exercise their powers unfairly. The tenant was often treated very ill; and, in the words of Mr. Justice Fitzgerald—"What was he to do?" All he could do was to pay as much rent as possible, in order to keep a roof over the heads of his wife and children and save them from the roadside. He would like to know whether all landlords were to be allowed to raise rents in this manner? If so, there would be rebellion. One gentleman had showered notices to quit like flakes of snow upon his tenants. The rent, in one case, had been raised from £5 7s. 6d to £17 10s. There were landlords who had never turned out a tenant; and they would be glad if this inquiry were granted. But there were others who were silently raising the rents. He had moved for a Return, which showed that the ejectments after the Land Act exceeded in number those before the Act by 50 per cent. Was not that a pregnant fact? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was bound to make inquiry, and the Commission, he believed, would report that the statements of the raising of rents made in the House were actually understated. There was a great quantity of waste land, and if they had capital, double the population of Ireland might be employed on it. He was therefore compelled to differ from the hon. and learned Member for Dublin on the subject of waste lands, considering the 89 number of men at present supported by every square mile. In conclusion, he trusted the House would not be led away by hon. Members who were quite unacquainted with Ireland; but that it would be guided by those who had lived among the people and had sympathized with their sorrows. The House was not called upon to decide whether the tenant should hold the land in perpetuity, but to inquire whether the Act of 1870 had not failed, and, if it had failed, to consider how it should be amended.
§ MR. KIRK
said, he was of opinion that the Land Act carried by the late Premier, though honestly intended, had proved to be a signal failure in consequence chiefly of the Amendments introduced during its passage through that House. That measure was satisfactory only because it was an admission by the Representatives of the United Kingdom that the Irish tenant-farmers had an interest in the land they occupied that ought to be protected just the same as the interests of the landlords. Statistics showed that capricious evictions instead of ceasing had, in fact, increased in numbers since the passing of the Land Act. He was informed that the amount given for compensation in the South of Ireland, was comparatively valueless to the tenants. In that part of the country the Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, who were generally landlords themselves, acted, as an almost settled rule, that if a tenant had been in possession for 10 years before he was evicted they would not give him any compensation for permanent improvements. He considered this was a great injustice.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, no one could affirm that the subject of Irish land had not been sufficiently before the House for the present Session. It was brought forward a few days ago by the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) in a form that could hardly be rivalled, and now, in a somewhat different form, it had occupied the attention of the House for seven hours. As some of the later speakers had diverged from the actual question, he would remind the House what it was, by reading the Resolution, that was proposed. He ventured to think that no Resolution ever introduced to the House was more misleading, or based upon more thoroughly groundless as- 90 sumptions than that which was under discussion. It coolly assumed that the rule at present prevailing among Irish landlords was the exaction of confiscating rents, attended by merciless and heartless evictions, whereas the real state of things was wholly different, as every one who had the slightest acquaintance with Ireland, or who even studied the Irish correspondence in English newspapers, was well aware. In support of so startling and extraordinary a Resolution the hon. Member for Tralee, as the result of months of research as the Apostle of this question in the South of Ireland, had only been able to produce three cases, one of which was sufficiently typical to merit attention in passing. This was a case in Ulster, in which a tenant had been asked to pay a rent which was held to be unreasonable, and the Court made the landlord pay over £200 for improvements, and give a substantial sum for disturbance, at the same time allowing the tenant all his costs. Now, if the law was strong enough to punish a landlord so severely in a case like that, he was at a loss to see what necessity there was for making it more stringent. That was the only case mentioned by the hon. Member for Tralee which had come before the Courts, and with regard to the others, it would surely have been only reasonable to have, by proper notice, afforded the landlords concerned an opportunity of having their side of the case presented to the House, so that hon. Members might be put in possession of the whole of the facts. Moreover, the hon. Member for Tralee, although he stated that the cases were very hard, and mentioned the rents paid at a given time, gave no details as to the size of the farms, the conditions of the leases, or, indeed, a single circumstance which could enable the House to arrive at a fair and just conclusion. The hon. Member's speech was remarkable in other respects. He was rather hard upon the Irish landlords who did not improve their land; but he was still harder upon those who did. The non-improving landlord, according to him, was bad, but the improving landlord was still worse. Nor did the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) give any satisfactory details, of either of the cases to which he referred, and as for the case of Mr. Buckley and Mr. Bridge, however much of a god- 91 send it might be to these debates, it was one of which the House was getting just a little tired. Then as to the case of hardship mentioned by the hon. Member for Kilkenny county (Mr. P. Martin), Mr. Battersby, for whose sake this great change in the law was to be made, so far from being a poor, ignorant tenant, was a man of means and position, and also, he believed, a magistrate of the county of Meath, who was perfectly able to hold his own in any matter of bargain and contract. In the case of Lord Gormanstown, the land had been let originally when rents were very low, they were raised very moderately, and out of 230 tenants 221, before this great wave of agitation got at them, acquiesced. Almost every one in this age of legislative quackery had a panacea for one thing or another, and the hon. Member for Reading had his little plan for redressing the wrongs of the Irish tenant. But how did the case stand? There was a provision in the Irish Land Act which enabled a tenant whose rent was under £15, if he were evicted even for non-payment of rent, to get damages for disturbance from the landlord on the ground that the rent was exorbitant. The hon. Member on the front bench opposite would take away the £15 limit, and the consequence would be that a tenant, no matter what his social position and education might be, might, on the plea that his rent was excessive, obtain the benefit of a provision, which was intended only for the benefit of very poor men. With regard to tenure, it should be remembered that all Ireland was not under tenancies from year to year. There were tenures which were leases for life, with perpetual renewal; there were 99 years' leases; there were leases for three lives and 31 years, and leases for 31 years, and other long terms, which were unknown in England and Scotland. These were important circumstances when one came to consider the occupation of land in Ireland. With regard to tenants from year to year, it would be found that their position compared favourably with that of English and Scotch tenants, especially in the matter of compensation for improvements. If tenants were dispossessed in England or Scotland, they must go. In Ireland, if evicted, they must also go; but they could make their landlord pay to the 92 very last farthing for improvements as well as for disturbance. In Ireland, therefore, where the landlord was often a poor man, he had to think long and anxiously before deciding on evicting a tenant. Then it should be also borne in mind that rents in Ireland were very much below what might be called competition rates, and were lower than those which prevailed in England, Scotland, or on the Continent; and this should not be lost sight of when charges of a wide character were made wholesale against Irish landlords. The Returns that had been asked for stopped short of asking how many evictions had occurred, and merely asked how many decrees for possession had been applied for. Many of these cases were, however, compromised, and the Returns showed a substantial decrease in the number of absolute evictions. In 1876 the number of families evicted was 620, last year it was only 414, so that at the very time this Resolution was brought forward, the actual number of evictions was less than at any previous period. No doubt, the power to evict existed, but it had not been shown that it had been used widely or oppressively, and, therefore, he thought the principle of fixing and regulating rent by anybody except the tenant or the landlord was wholly inadmissible. In fact, this principle of a valued rent, to be valued by any one but the owner, would result in making him the owner not of a fixed, but of an unfixed rent charge. Why not sweep away all freedom of contract? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) drew a line for those who were thought to require protection, leaving the tenants above them in the social scale to fight their own battles and make their own bargains. But where was this interference with freedom of contract to stop? Why should it not apply to the other transactions of life, and if a man lent another £1,000, why should not the borrower be allowed to fix the interest he was willing to pay? The hon. Member for Tralee did not mention the word "tenure," and he would ask the House in voting for this Resolution to remember that it presupposed a system of fixity of tenure. The House should remember that this underlies it. The whole thing implied fixity of tenure, yet the hon. Member had not employed the phrase in his 93 Motion, though he could not deny the construction put upon it. This suggestion was a panacea which, of course, had to be considered, and the House had expressed its opinion upon it. It proposed really to read contracts upside down. It proposed that if a man held land for a few years he should hold it for ever. It was the old project for regenerating Ireland proposed by an eminent financier—namely, to turn all the I O U's into U O I's. The hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Downing) asked for a Commission, even assuming that he had no case, because then, if the Commission was granted it might be they would find a case. That was what lawyers would call a fishing case. But why should there be a Commission when no case was made out? Would it not excite false hopes and prolong the agitation; and would it not lead the tenants in Ireland to believe that something would come of it? The alternatives should be fairly considered; supposing that the Commission reported against change, who had power to undertake that these agitating associations would be dissolved? Did not every one know that the agitation would derive new force from the mere granting of the Commission, and that if it reported against change, it would be arraigned as unsatisfactory, and there would be a new outcry for a further Commission, differently composed, with wider powers, and which would only listen to the tenants, and never summon a landlord before them? It was kinder and wiser that this demand should be met by a decided "No;" and he did not believe that a case either was, or could be made out, and it was only in simple justice that he refused to set loose further topics of agitation. The Kerry Defence Association had taken sweet counsel together and had got one piece of advice from a man entitled to be heard with respect by every tenant-farmer. The Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese in which Kerry is, wrote, in reply to the Secretary of the Association—It is a matter of serious consideration whether your Association is calculated to further the just status of tenants, and whether the statements usually made at your meetings are founded on fact. I am convinced that you have done mischief to those whom you undertook to serve, and that the tenant-farmers could not trust their interests to you.He thought it desirable most clearly to 94 negative the Motion. He was happy to say that emigration from Ireland was rapidly ceasing, and that that country was now in a state which required no exceptional or startling legislation. The prosperity and peace which Ireland now fortunately enjoyed would ultimately bring contentment and union among all classes, and it was most desirable in the interests of the whole nation to leave the people to work out their prosperity by their own intelligence, industry, and self-reliance.
§ MR. BUTT
thought it was necessary for him to say a few words, as it was evident that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had a little misunderstood that Resolution. It said nothing about fixed rents, nor about valued rents; it simply affirmed that for the protection of the property already given by the Irish Land Act to the tenant more legislation was necessary. For a long time all the improvements made on the soil of Ireland were made by the tenant, and not by the landlord. Of late years there had been some exceptions to that rule; but, in the main, all existing improvements had been effected by the tenant. Under that system instances which Lord Clarendon had not hesitated to call robbery had been common. A Conservative Government had brought in a measure to protect tenants' improvements; but unfortunately, Mr. Napier's Bill was not passed, and evictions went on, by which unscrupulous landlords put into their own pockets the value of immense improvements made on the land by the labour and capital of their tenants. To correct that injustice, the Land Act of 1870 was passed, and by that Act the Legislature had solemnly recognized the property of the tenant in his improvements, and declared that he should have compensation for them if he were in his holding. The tenant's property was just as sacred as that of any landlord in the country, and it rested quite as much on law, morality, and justice. The Resolution now before the House affirmed that it was necessary to give further protection to that property. A landlord went to his tenants and told them—"I will evict you, if you do not assent to what may, perhaps, be a small increase of rent." That had been done, in many instances where the increase of rent was entirely taken out of the 95 tenant's improvements, which the Land Act declared to belong to the tenant. If that could be established, was it not a case which called for a remedy? He would give the testimony of a man of large estate, who was universally respected, and who was allied with many of the first families in Ireland. Mr. Edward O'Brien, in a public letter to him (Mr. Butt), said that the Land Act as a security for the tenant's improvements totally broke down; that it provided no guarantees, direct or indirect, that rents should not be screwed up until the tenant was brought wholly to ruin, and the value of his improvements was taken from him by the landlord. It was not worth while for a tenant to enter into litigation with his landlord with reference to increased rent. Eviction was a weapon in the hands of a landlord which, if he chose, he could use unscrupulously, and Lord Carling-ford, one of the framers of the Land Act, had said that this power of raising the rent to an unlimited extent was its weak point, though the instances of raising the rent might not be so frequent as Mr. O'Brien had stated. No amount of compensation that they could put into an Act of Parliament would protect a tenant against the terror of that weapon. The money given for compensation to a man driven from home and cast out upon the world was soon expended in the support of his family. Of this threat of eviction Mr. O'Brien told us the instances were not uncommon, and every man who knew Ireland told us the same. They could not pass lightly over the case of Mr. Buckley. His estate, when it was held by Lord Kingston, was a barren mountain. Under the Encumbered Estates Act it was bought for eight years' purchase. It came into the hands of an English company, who valued the rents and raised them. It was purchased from the company by a gentleman, of whom he did not wish to say a word of disrespect; but immediately after the purchase by him, the rents, which in the hands of the company, who were bound to make the most of the estate, were £4,000, were raised to nearly double that amount. In some cases the rents were raised from 100 to 150 per cent. He held in his hand the printed affidavits of the tenants, which had been proved in a court of justice. He could give numerous instances of a similar 96 description. Some of the tenants who were settled were settled because they could not bear to leave the house where their fathers lived, nor could they bear to see their wives and families enter the poor-house. This Resolution raised the question whether they would allow the tenants who had reclaimed land on mountain sides to be robbed of their rights. In eight months no less than between 4,000 and 5,000 notices to quit had been served in Ireland; but they had not all been obeyed, because very many of the tenants had yielded to the demand for increased rent. Hon. Gentlemen talked of tenants feeling confidence, but when such a thing as was clone by Mr. Buckley was heard of, the confidence of the whole country was shaken. He could bring forward a number of cases in which circulars had been issued to the tenants, calling on them, exactly the same as in the instance he had cited to submit to an increased rent, but he did not think he would detain the House by going through them. In former years—from 1847 to 1860—any one who could not find a tale of desolation as ruthless as ever swept over a land in 20 years of war, must have wilfully shut his eyes to what was passing. With regard to the Motion, he was authorized by the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) to say that he wished to withdraw his Motion in favour of the hon. Member for Kerry, so that the division would be whether there should be a Royal Commission or not. He knew something of the relations between landlord and tenant, and with all the responsibility of his position he could vouch for the necessity of an inquiry. Not an Irish newspaper but continually gave instances, and in a Court of Justice they were shown the miserable result. The oppression produced crime, crime its punishment, and again retaliation, and the miserable circle of oppression would never cease. He hoped there was no fear of agrarian crime in Ireland; but the fact of there being such an inquiry would give strength to the man who resisted temptation to join secret societies. It would strike down the arm of the would-be assassin, and save from crime. Oh, but he knew to what lengths some men, driven under the feeling of injury and hopelessness of redress, would go! So also the knowledge that their 97 conduct would be brought into the full blaze of a House of Commons inquiry would deter many an unscrupulous, griping landlord.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, that whatever opinion might be entertained as to the propriety of the proposed inquiry, he could not give a vote which would have the effect of submitting the proposition of the Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) as a substantive Motion to the consideration of the House. That Motion meant, in his opinion, valued rents, or it meant nothing at all; and a principle which involved valued rents, appeared to him to conflict altogether with the freedom of contract. He knew that it might be said that the Act itself conflicted—and no doubt it did, in certain particulars—with freedom of contract; but it only did so in the way of imposing certain restrictions upon that freedom in order to meet evils which had grown up out of an exceptional state of things. The Land Act was not intended to upset the ordinary relations between landlord and tenant; but no doubt hard cases occasionally arose in connection with its operation. He was not convinced, however, by anything he had heard that evening that the prosperity of Ireland would be advanced or improved by the adoption of an altogether new and untried system, instead of that which had been found to work, on the whole, in a satisfactory way. The proposal of an inquiry, however, contained in the Amendment of which Notice had been given by the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert), appeared to find a considerable amount of favour among the Representatives of the landlord class. He, however, could be no party to the appointment of a Committee or Commission which would be of a "fishing" character, and which would go over Ireland to seek for charges against landlords which could not otherwise be found. Neither did he think it would be a sufficient ground for the appointment of a Commission, that certain landlords felt themselves aggrieved by allegations which had been made against them, and which they might feel to be without foundation. But, on the other hand, it might be remembered that the Act which was passed in 1870 was to a certain extent a new settlement of the land question in Ireland. It was founded in some mea- 98 sure upon experience; but it was also founded a good deal upon theory, and a good deal upon principles which had never before been tried. It would not be reasonable to suppose that such an Act would immediately work in a manner which would be perfectly smooth, and the time might shortly come—if it had not already come—when an inquiry into the operation of the Act might possibly be attended with advantage. He should be averse to an inquiry, if it were supposed by the people of Ireland that it was intended to be a prelude to legislation on new principles, for the purpose of establishing fixity of tenure and the valuation of rents; but an inquiry into the operation of the Act with a view of seeing how far its objects had been obtained, and whether in its details it was not capable of amendment, might be desirable. Without pledging himself to say that the present was the proper time for such an inquiry, he should be sorry to see the wishes of landlords and others who desired inquiry altogether neglected. As the two proposals came as an Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and as it would be impossible to say who among those who voted against that Motion voted for the one or the other of the Amendments, it would be necessary for him to vote for the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
reminded the House that the question before it was the Motion of the hon. Member for Tralee. He was surprised at the observations of the noble Lord opposite with respect to the general working of the Land Act. He had always supposed that the Land Act was one of the great efforts in legislation of the late Government, that it was considered by them with the utmost possible care, and carried through both Houses of Parliament as a settlement of that great question. If that were the case, it was certainly somewhat strange to hear the noble Lord, six years after the passing of that Act, state that in his opinion the time, perhaps, had already arrived when a fresh inquiry into the whole subject might be necessary; and, in fact, that this great Land Act was no settlement at all. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had rested his argument in support of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Tralee 99 almost wholly on the case of Mr. Buckley; but he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) deprecated the introduction into the debate of such cases, unless the circumstances could be fully discussed upon both sides. He desired to point out to the House that Mr. Buckley's case was still sub judice. A series of statements appeared in the public Press in Ireland, written by Mr. Casey, which imputed to Mr. Bridge very much what had been imputed in the House that night. A criminal information was obtained, it was argued, and it now stood for trial before the Courts. No one knew better the circumstances of the case than did the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, who was professionally engaged in it, and he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) did not think it was right to bring a matter of this kind before the House in a one-sided way, without giving Notice of an intention to do so.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
gave Notice of his intention to call the attention of the House to the question alluded to by the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and said he was perfectly prepared to substantiate what he had stated.
§ MR. A. MOORE
said, he had addressed public meetings on this subject, and stated openly that he was prepared to prove that the greatest tyranny had existed.
The House divided:—Ayes 189; Noes 65: Majority 124.—(Div. List, No. 96.)
Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Committee deferred till Monday next.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock till Monday next.