HC Deb 21 March 1877 vol 233 cc241-306

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he thought he should best consult the convenience of the House by not making a long speech. He would confine himself to an explanation of some differences between the present Bill and that which he brought under the notice of the House last year. The Bill of last year consisted of three parts, the first of which gave better protection with regard to the tenant-right of Ulster; the second made certain alterations which he deemed absolutely necessary in the Land Act of 1870; and the third gave to tenants the power of acquiring a Parliamentary title. The first and second parts of that Bill were not very strongly pressed, and the third was the most important part. He would now state briefly the alterations he had made. Under last year's Bill every tenant who was entitled to compensation of any kind under the Land Act of 1870 would have been entitled to obtain perpetuity of tenure. By the present Bill, however, he proposed to give that privilege only to tenants who had rendered services upon the land. The difference of the present from the former proposal was that it would exclude all grazing farms rated at over £50 a-year, and also all grazing farms on which the tenant did not reside. The Land Act excluded those farms from compensation for disturbance, and he proposed to adhere to that Act. He thought the Legislature had admitted the principle that capricious eviction was wrong; but he would not argue that now—he merely sought to carry out the principle to its rational conclusion, by enacting that there should be no capricious eviction, and no eviction at all, except for very cogent reasons. He thought this ought to remove a great many objections made to the Bill by some hon. Gentlemen, who he believed were true friends of tenants in Ireland, but who refused to vote with him last year. He had thought there was no real reason for giving the tenants of grazing farms the privilege of obtaining fixity of tenure — the considerations which might be applicable to the tillers of the soil failed altogether when applied to farms devoted to grazing. To meet those objections he had changed the character of the Bill so as to exclude that class of farms altogether. There were two other alterations which he confessed he had introduced into the Bill to meet objections, although he did not think those objections had the same force as had been given to them in that House. By the Bill of last year it was proposed that in very rare cases, where the rights of the landlords appeared to need protection a jury should be empannelled to assess the rent. He did not think the cases in which that could have occurred would be more than one in 500. But a cry was raised in that House and in Ireland that he wanted to assess the rents by a jury, and it was pointed out that the jurors might all be farmers. To meet that objection he had proposed that one-half should he special jurors, so as to give protection in any extreme cases. But he had now given up altogether this clause, which was not worth the misunderstanding to which it had given rise. He proposed that if the landlord did not appoint an arbitrator the Chairman should name one. Last year it was made necessary that the arbitrators should be persons holding land in the neighbourhood. That was objected to as implying that they ought to be farmers: he did not see how that could be inferred; but as he was anxious to meet every fair objection he had now omitted that provision, and had left both landlord and tenant free to choose any arbitrator they pleased. Another alteration was in a provision to which, in his opinion, far too much importance was attached. As the Bill was brought in last year it prohibited any sub-division of farms, but allowed the tenant to sub-let the farm if he sub-let it entire. That was objected to on the ground that it was creating a new right in the tenant. Now, the present Bill forbade the tenant from sub-letting as well as from sub-dividing. He thought those were the only changes that he had made in the Bill as it was introduced last year. In other respects it was an exact copy of the Bill of last year; and he could only repeat his conviction that they never would settle the land question in Ireland satisfactorily until they gave the tenant security against capricious eviction. He endeavoured last year to show both the circumstances of the country and the conditions upon which the Irish landlords held their estates. He was quite willing if ever the Bill became law—and something like it must become law one day — he was quite willing to see any alteration made in it to protect the landlord's just rights more effectually than he had succedeed in doing. In reference to the power of the landlord to object to the tenant, he was quite prepared to make considerable concessions in the Bill; but, at the same time, he might be allowed to say that he thought the Amendments would come better, if ever he succeeded in getting the Bill into Committee, from some person who represented the landed interest—although he believed he was himself as true a friend of the landlords as any of those who put themselves entirely on their side. Yet he certainly appeared in that House rather as an advocate of the tenants, although he would wish to appear both as the advocate of the tenants and the friend of the landlords.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Butt.)


rose to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice—that the Bill be read the second time that day six months. He said, he regretted that his hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive), whose Amendment—that it was expedient that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Land Act of 1870—would, had he been in his place, have taken precedence of his own, was absent. But, for his own part, he much preferred that the direct negative should be put from the Chair on this occasion, and that the Motion for a Committee of Inquiry should stand upon its own merits:—for, although he should always vote against this Land Bill as it stood, yet he was prepared to support the Motion for a Committee for inquiring into the Irish land question. He did so with all the greater pleasure, as he felt certain that such an inquiry would redound to the credit of the landlords of Ireland, and show how mischievous and without cause the agitation on the land question was. As Session after Session went by and came again many of the same Motions and Bills re-appeared—some of them in their original form, others altered and trimmed up to give them a more acceptable face. The Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) was among the latter category—it had been trimmed and altered in some particulars, and one or two of the glaring defects in the Bill of last year had been removed—but still its main principle was the same, and the Bill still stood out pre-eminently what he had described it to be last year, a Land Transfer, and not a Land Tenure, Bill. Its main feature was fixity of tenure—which meant bestowing upon the tenant for nothing the reversion which now belonged to the landlord. He would ask the forbearance of the House for a moment while he mentioned what was the value of the thing which the Bill proposed to dispose of. He would take the county of Kerry, in which he was himself a landlord, and about which he believed he could speak with some authority—certainly he had not spared his own labour in seeking to acquire accurate information on the subject. He was confident that the land in that county would be taken with avidity by solvent and industrious tenants at 50 per cent over the Government valuation, and that would give a rental of about £426,000. He was satisfied that no one acquainted with the county of Kerry could contradict what he said. When he stated that on that rental the tenants would most cheerfully pay five years' purchase for leases in perpetuity, that, for the county of Kerry alone, would represent a sum of considerably over £2,000,000. And that was the sum which, if this Bill was passed, would be immediately transferred from the pockets of the landlords into those of the tenants. To show the House that his calculations as to the value of the reversion in Kerry were not exaggerated, he might mention that within the last month the tenant's interest in a farm in the western part of the county held under a lease for 21 years—a recent letting—at the yearly rent of £50 was sold by public auction for £675, or over 13 years' purchase. And, if necessary, he could adduce many other examples to prove that his estimate was far within the mark. It was a fair argument that if this occurred in the county of Kerry the same calculation applied, at least approximately, to the three Provinces of Munster, Leinster, and Connaught; and he would leave it to the judgment of the House to estimate the enormous interests, even in a financial point of view, involved in the proposed measure. He wished it to be understood that he excluded Ulster from his argument, as that Province came under a different category. There was no analogy between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. The Ulster custom stood by itself, and was peculiar. It had prevailed since the days of the settlement of that Province by King James I., when it was made a condition that those who got the large grants from the Crown should bring over Protestant yeomen and their families to settle on the land; and the landlords in Ulster were from the outset little more than rent chargers so far as rent was concerned; although, no doubt, they had other landlord rights the same as elsewhere. The Ulster tenant always had had, and still possessed, the power of selling his tenant right, or, in other words, the value of the reversion. It was his property, and who would be so bold as to propose depriving him of it and handing it over to the landlords? Such a proposition would be met with a storm of indignation by the sturdy yeomen of Ulster, and it would never be attempted. But it was at the present day seemingly regarded as the highest effort of patriotism in Ireland to propose despoiling the Munster landlords of their reversion, which was at least as much their property as the Ulster tenant right was the property of the occupiers of the land in that Province. That was the practical way of looking at the question, and he thought it a melancholy thing to live in a country where attempts were continuously made to create war between landlord and tenant. There was another set of proprietors who were peculiarly entitled to the protection of that House. Up to the time this Bill was brought out, he expected that some little respect would have been shown for the rights of those landlords upon whom Parliament had conferred what was declared to be an indefeasible title—he meant the 18,000 persons who acquired estates by purchase under the Landed Estates Court. They owned 3,000,000 acres of the land—which was about one-seventh of the whole area of Ireland—and the purchase-money which they had paid for it amounted to over £47,000,000. Yet there was no more consideration shown for their rights in this Bill than there was for the hereditary owners of estates. The Preamble of the Bill declared "That the present tenure did not ensure to the industrious occupier the benefits of his industry." He believed that it did. He was certain it was the intention of the Legislature when the Land Act of 1870 was passed that it should do so; and if for any reason full effect had not been given to those intentions of Parliament, he would say let the matter be inquired into as his hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive) proposed, and if the law needed amendment then let it be done in a proper manner. The Preamble of this Bill also declared that it would better secure the payment of rent. There had been no complaint from the landlords that he was aware of that the rents required to be better secured than they were; and he believed that rents in Ireland were as well paid in that country as they were in either England or Scotland. He was not going to weary the House with commenting upon the Bill in its details, but he asked for their indulgence while he referred to one or two of the clauses. For instance, the 40th clause gave the tenant the right to sub-divide farms of not less than £60 in valuation and if not exceeding 60 acres in extent. That clause was but the narrow end of the wedge; because every person acquainted with Ireland knew that the inclination of the Irish occupier was to subdivide. There were two classes of farmers thus brought within the range of destruction by that clause. One would take a farm valued at £90 upon which a suitable homestead had been erected by the landlord. If this Bill became law the landlord must look on while such a farm was divided into three lots, with three corresponding cabins for the occupiers to live in; and the homestead, which had been intended for a tenant with the command of suitable capital for the farm of £90 valuation, was crumbling into ruins before his eyes, it having become wholly unsuited either to the requirements or resources of the now £30 valuation holdings. Take it the other way—namely, on the basis of area. Now, everyone acquainted with Ireland knew that in Munster and Connaught very extensive tracts of rough land were let to tenants who made their rents by the sale of butter, and who lived comfortably because their holdings were extensive; but if those tenants were permitted to split those holdings up into 30-acre lots for their relations in general, they would in Ireland have, instead of a decent, well-clad yeomanry, a return to those dismal times when the Irish peasant did not know the taste of fresh meat, nor what it was to be comfortably clad or decently housed. Those days, he was happy to say, were now gone by, and he believed the wisdom of Parliament would never sanction a measure which would be certain to bring them back. He held in his hand a map of an estate in a rural district of Roscommon, where the sub-division system had been indulged in without hindrance; the area was 164 statute acres, the Government valuation £104, and the yearly rent £91; and, incredible as it might sound, there were 222 lots on it, and it was neither a town nor a village. Such would be the result of letting in this thin end of the wedge. Take, again, the 62nd clause, which provided for the periodical re-adjustment of rent according to the value of certain agricultural products. He should not refer to this clause now as he did so fully last year; but he was then given to understand that his objections to it could be met in Committee—that it was a mistake leaving out butter and pork. But though this Bill had been amended by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, he found that butter and pork were still left out of the list. By a curious coincidence the most important of these products—namely, butter, was the only staple that was rising, and likely to rise, steadily in value; and nearly £1,800,000 worth of butter passed last year through one market alone in the South of Ireland. He was unable to ascertain the number of pigs in Ireland, but the number was prodigious. That the prices of butter and pork were considered an important element in estimating the value of the land was shown by the fact that they were included in the Schedule of the new Government Valuation Bill. There would, however, have been something like fair play towards the unfortunate landlords by introducing these staples into the hon. and learned Member's Bill—but, of course, they were omitted. The way the agitation in Ireland on this question was carried on reminded him of a story he once heard about a man, who was most generous with the goods of others. One day he entered a church, and by chance heard a charity sermon. He was moved to tears of charitable sympathy by the discourse; all the best sentiments of his heart were called forth to such an extent that when the plate came round he emptied the whole contents of his neighbour's pocket into it. And that was the end of the present agitation—to empty the landlords' pockets into those of the tenants. It was not his intention to mention any names in that debate. He did not wish that the slightest feeling of acrimony should be created by anything which he stated, but he might state that charges most injurious to the landlords were recklessly made by some of those who spoke and wrote on the subject, that could not be substantiated. He would give the House one instance of this. A gentleman whose name and position gave weight to any statement he made, lately said—"I have known a particular district in your own county (Kerry) for 40 years back, and a large portion of it is composed of land reclaimed by the tenants, and the results of their industry and improvements have been confiscated by the landlord by means of increased rents." This statement was challenged by another gentleman managing large estates in the dis- trict referred to—(35 town lands out of the 75 town lands comprised in it)—and he asked the gentleman who made it the name of one of those town lands in which the rental was higher now than it was in 1836, excepting farms falling in at the end of old leases: adding that his office books showed the rents of some of the farms to be actually less now than in 1836, though the rents in Scotland had nearly doubled since that time. And to show this he quoted three farms, which he (Mr. Herbert) would call A, B, and C. They fully showed the truth of what he alleged—that was to say, the rental in 1836 was for—A £210; B £155; and C £220; while the rental in 1876 was for A £180; B £160; and C £208; while at the same time the outlay on buildings and draining by the owner was on—A £800; B £2,500; and C £1,500. He would be glad to give any hon. Member full particulars as to the district and names he was alluding to should they wish to know them. Large numbers of farms were in the same position; and if this Bill passed, not only would the reversion pass from the landlord, but all the money he had spent on improvements would go too. The President of the Farmers Club in the County Cork said he was much astonished at his (Mr. Herbert's) opposition to the Bill, as his tenants had real tenant-right. Now, though he opposed this Bill, believing it to be a measure of confiscation, he should be glad to vote for any Bill which put Irish tenants generally on the same footing as his own tenants. At all events he trusted that one result of this debate would be to remove the painful uncertainty which now prevailed in Ireland on the land question, and to terminate an agitation which was working serious mischief, so far as it existed, on the cupidity of one class and the fears of the other. If it seemed good to Parliament that property of enormous value should be conferred on the present occupiers of land in Ireland, let it be so; but let no injustice be done. On the contrary, let that vast property be purchased for its full value by the State, and then, if Parliament should deem it good for the common weal to bestow it on the tenant-farmers, Parliament could do so. A great authority—one whose opinions would carry weight with the hon. Members round him—put the question in a nutshell. He quoted from Mr. Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy. He said— The principle of property gives them (the landlords) no right to the land, but only a right to compensation for whatever portion of their interest in the land it may be the policy of the State to deprive them of. To that, their claim is indefeasible. It is due to landowners, and to owners of any property whatever, recognized as such by the State, that they should not be dispossessed of it without receiving its pecuniary value, or an annual income equal to what they derived from it. This is due on the general principles on which property rests. And again he said— When the property is of a kind to which peculiar affections attach themselves, the compensation ought to exceed a bare pecuniary equivalent."—[Book II, chapter 2, s. 6, p. 143.] He (Mr. Herbert) would not further trespass on the indulgence of the House. The landlords of three Provinces in Ireland had been for the last 12 months standing at bay in the presence of the agitators whose avowed mission it was to deprive them of their property: and if the discussion elicited such an expression of opinion in that House as would re-assure the landlords that Parliament would protect their just rights, and at the same time show the tenants that no amount of agitation would induce Parliament to sanction a great wrong, the introduction of the Bill by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick would have been productive of peace and good feeling instead of bitterness and turmoil. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name in the Paper.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now,"and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Herbert.)


No one, Sir, who has any acquaintance with the actual condition of Irish opinion can fail to see that it is unavoidable that this question of land tenure should occupy the attention of Parliament. During the Recess it has been the subject of constant discussion—in almost every form in which discussion can be carried on—in Ireland. The columns of the local newspapers have been filled with controversy on the subject. Farmers Clubs, conferences of tenant-farmers, and — in the county which I represent—a great public meeting, at which it was estimated that about 10,000 persons were present, have given expression to the strong and wide-spread feeling that exists. At every contested election in Ireland it is made a test question, and a considerable majority of the Representatives from that country are pledged, in one way or another, to advocate a change in the Land Laws. This movement is based on the conviction—I may say, the general conviction—which prevails in Ireland, that it is not possible to regard the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1870 as a final and satisfactory settlement of the land question. This conviction seems to gather strength as every year that passes gives greater experience of the practical working of the Act. This being the case, whatever our opinion as to the merits of the measure before us may be, we can all find, I think, ground for satisfaction in the circumstance that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) having framed a Bill which may be regarded as having received the approval of those who represent Irish popular opinion, and which gives a definite form to what had hitherto been somewhat vague and general demands, has, by introducing his measure here, brought the subject into an atmosphere where it can—and I venture to hope it will—receive calm, impartial, and dispassionate consideration. The strong public feeling on the subject being a fact which it is impossible to ignore, it is important to consider what are the grounds of that feeling, and whether there is reason to suppose that, as generally happens in the case of mere baseless and fictitious agitations, it will gradually wear itself out, and be no more heard of. There are those, I am aware, who think that this movement is but the mere disturbance of the waters after the exciting legislation of 1870; that legislation having, in their opinion, excited hopes which can never be realized but which may be expected to manifest themselves in a more or less troublesome manner for some time to come. The point, I venture to think, which it is most important for Parliament to inquire into is—not so much the precise nature of any manifestation of popular feeling in Ireland, but rather to ascertain whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that the present condition of the land system in that country is stable, satisfactory, just, and adapted to the social and economic condition of the people. If we can only feel assured that this is so, we should indeed be slow to listen to popular clamour, urging us again to re-open this dangerous and difficult question. We must all agree that the prolonged agitation of such a subject, calling into antagonism the opposite interests of different classes of the community, is a great and serious evil; it would be an evil anywhere, but it is especially unfortunate in Ireland, where the ties which bind various classes together are not so strong as we could wish them to be. If I believed that the introduction of this Bill was an attempt to kindle or add fuel to a futile and unnecessary agitation, I, for one, would think it my duty—as I believe it would be the duty of every true friend of his country—to discourage and oppose to the utmost, so mischievous a design. I cannot, however, believe that this is the case; on the contrary, the only prospect I see of calming the public mind, and setting the matter finally at rest, is, that the responsible Rulers of the country should meet this question boldly, carefully consider the circumstances with which they have to deal, and deal with them thoroughly and resolutely and as speedily as possible. Now, what is the actual state of things with which we have to deal in Ireland and what elements of stability and prosperity can we find in it? We have, to begin with, the ownership of the soil in the hands of an extremely small number of persons, so small that there is ground for the assertion that the general body of the people are practically excluded from it. The proprietary class is peculiarly uninfluential and in an invidious and unpopular position, because it is extremely limited in numbers. A Return, lately issued, which was asked for last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), shows that there are altogether 67,716 owners of land in Ireland, but of this number over 36,000 cannot properly be called proprietors of the soil in the sense of persons who occupy and cultivate land themselves, or let it to others to occupy and cultivate; they are persons who hold less than one acre, in many instances, only the few yards or roods of land on which their houses stand. So insignificant are the possessions of the great majority of those who swell the gross total of landowners, that there are 52,782 of them who hold between them only 235,558 acres, while two of the largest owners have between them no less than 282,198 acres. Of the 20,000,000 acres of which the entire surface of the Island is composed, 17 individuals are in possession of 1,400,000 acres, 107 have between them 4,000,000 acres, and 6,457,000 acres, or nearly a third of the whole surface of the country, are owned by 292 persons. Taking all proprietors, small and large, we find that, while in England 1 person in every 23 or 24 of the population is an owner of land, in Ireland the proportion is not more than 1 in every 79 or 80. The significance of this fact is greatly increased when we remember that, while in England it is estimated that not more than a third of the population are directly connected with the land; in Ireland, which may be called a wholly agricultural country, the entire population, with but trifling exceptions, look to the land for subsistence. No one who carefully considers the matter can doubt, that whether in a political, social, or economic point of view, the extremely small number of persons who own land in Ireland is a serious evil; and it is greatly to be deplored that the tendency of the law, as it at present exists, is to hinder and not to encourage, or I should rather say to permit, a wider distribution and a freer mode of dealing with the land. Look, for instance, at the effect of our system of entails and settlement by which, as every lawyer knows, an estate may be so tied up that after a man's death it cannot possibly be sold for 40, 50, 60, and sometimes even for 90 or 100 years. Look also at the extent to which limited owners are prevented by their settlements from doing many things with their property which would undoubtedly be advantageous to themselves and their tenantry and even to their successors. A highly respected Irish landlord pointed out some time ago, in a letter to The Times newspaper, how advantageous it would be if limited owners were permitted to grant perpetuities to their tenantry, receiving from them a fine by way of compensation for any prospective increase of value, precaution being taken that the heir to the estate should not suffer. Consider also the number of properties of which the owner is the possessor of a mere nominal income, the land being so burdened with mortgages and charges that he must be utterly unable, even with the best possible intentions, to do justice to it. I believe that if the facts were ascertained, the amount of land in Ireland, including many of the large estates, which is crushed down by a weight of liability, would be found to be perfectly enormous. It is obvious that the owners of such properties, after meeting their necessary expenses, can do nothing to improve and develop the resources of the land; and, as regards their dealing with their tenants, it is one of the best known, as it is one of the saddest, facts of humanity, that the constant pressure of pecuniary need, the res augusta domi, blunts the fine edge of many a noble character, and drives men, by a strong and almost irresistible force, to do many things naturally most repugnant to their feeling. Then, also, there is in Ireland the additional circumstance that a large proportion of the owners of the soil are absentees, and are necessarily without the practical experience and the active personal interest so important in the management of an estate. Many also of those who partially reside in the country have their chief expenditure in other places, and look mainly to their Irish estates as places where they may go to economize and from which to draw resources for fresh expense elsewhere. There are, as we all know, clauses in the Landlord and Tenant Act—those to which the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham has been given—designed with the object of helping tenants to become the purchasers of their holdings. But these clauses, passed, no doubt, with the best intentions, have not, and, in the existing state of the law, cannot be expected to have, any large effect. It is not much use to offer facilities for the purchase of a commodity, while artificial restrictions are maintained which hinder that commodity from coming into the market. No doubt these provisions are beneficial so far as they go, and up to the present time I believe about 600 tenants have availed themselves of them to purchase the fee-simple of their farms. The action of the Encumbered Estates Court, and its successor, the Landed Estates Court, has no doubt been beneficial in forcing many hopelessly encumbered estates into the market; it has been estimated that 3,000,000 acres, or about a seventh of the entire soil of Ireland have been sold in them. Their operation, however, has not been without drawbacks. It has led to the creation of a class of needy speculators, persons who buy property with money borrowed on the security of the land itself, and having extracted from the unhappy cultivators every shilling above the bare means of subsistence, put up the rental to the highest possible point with the view of selling again at a profit. Hardly less unfortunate, in its crushing misery, is the condition of tenants on land which is bought by some petty capitalists, persons who gratify their vanity by becoming landed proprietors, and their avarice by extorting the utmost farthing from the serfs who till the ground. Taking, therefore, all these circumstances into consideration, the general exclusion of the body of the people from the ownership of the soil, the number of absentees who enjoy the rights while they neglect the duties of property, the frequency of mortgaged and hampered estates, the existence of needy adventurers and grasping speculators in land, taking all these things, I say, into consideration, can we be surprised that, notwithstanding the undoubted fact of many well-managed and prosperous estates, the land question should still be the great topic in Ireland, and the laws which regulate the relations between owner and cultivator, in that purely agricultural country, considered of vital interest and importance. The great point to be inquired into is what is the nature of these laws and what provision do they make in the one great field of national industry, for the coincidence of the individual with the general well-being. It has been truly said that, before the legislation of 1870, the country of all Europe in which the nature of the tenure of land was of the most vital importance was the country in which that tenure was the worst. The consequences of that system are still felt, and will be felt, in Ireland long after the jarring voices of our day shall have passed into eternal silence. They are to be seen in the ill-cultivated lands, the badly-fenced and undrained fields, the dirty and miserable hovels in which the people dwell, and the extremely low standard of comfort which yet prevails among the rural population. The system which has produced those results was the consequence of the widest application of the so-called principle of "freedom of contract." The absolute and unrestricted power of the landlord to compel the tenant to enter into any agreement he chose to dictate was recognized and enforced by law. In other words, the monopolist owners of a limited and necessary commodity were permitted to exact from the enforced purchasers of that commodity any terms they pleased, and as a natural consequence, they exacted, in many instances, the entire produce of the land, except what was barely requisite to maintain the cultivators in a miserable and degraded existence. To meet this state of things the Act of 1870 was passed, a measure which is based on the clearest and most distinct recognition of the principle that circumstances exist in Irish life which render necessary some modification of the idea of an absolute ownership of land, and which demand an interference as between the Irish landlord and tenant on behalf of the weaker party, with what is called "freedom of contract." The clause which forbids a certain class of tenants —a class embracing the great majority of Irish occupiers—to contract themselves out of the operation of the Act is sufficient proof of this, and in the provision that a landlord shall be obliged to pay compensation to a tenant whom he capriciously evicts there is a distinct assertion of the principle that it is the duty of the State to interfere with and regulate the exercise of the landlord's powers for the public good. The question now is whether the provisions of that Act are really effectual in protecting the cultivator in everything in which he ought to be protected, and in securing for him a position of equality with those who devote themselves to other industrial pursuits. This is clearly the limit to what the cultivator of the soil has a right to demand from the State—that his occupation should be placed in a position of economical equality with other pursuits. He has no right to claim more than this, and the widest considerations of public policy require that he should enjoy nothing less. The cultivator of the soil is in a position of equality with those who put their labour and capital into other pursuits when he is called upon to pay neither more nor less than the fair rent of the land. By fair rent I mean an amount approximating to that portion of the produce of the soil to which the name "economic rent" has been applied by political economists. This is the amount which society, in permitting the private ownership of land, intends that the landlord should receive, and any sum in excess of this trenches on the due profits of the farmer, or on the wages of the labourer, deranges the relations of society, and discourages industry by placing the cultivators of the land in a position of disadvantage as compared with others. An eminent—perhaps the most eminent economist of our time—the late Professor Cairnes, has thus written on this subject— The phenomenon of agricultural rent," says he, "economically considered, consists of the existence in agricultural returns of a value over and above what is sufficient to replace the capital employed in agriculture with the profit customary in the country. This surplus value arises from the fact that, from various causes, different soils or farms are not equally productive, while no land is cultivated which does not yield a return equal to the profits other occupations would give. This "economic rent" cannot properly be said to owe its existence to either labourer, capitalist, or farmer. It is rather a factitious value incident to the progress of society under external physical conditions which necessitates the raising of raw produce at different costs. So long as the rent paid by the cultivator of a farm does not exceed what the amount of "economic rent" would be, so long those engaged in agricultural industry will be on neither a better nor a worse footing than those engaged in other occupations; the labourer will have the ordinary wages, the capitalist the ordinary profit of the country. If, on the other hand, the cultivator be required to pay more than this—if the rent exacted from him encroach upon the domain of wages and profits—he is so far placed at a disadvantage as compared with other producers, and is deprived of the ordinary inducements to industry. It thus becomes a question of capital importance what security we have that the limits set by "economic rent" shall, in the main, be observed in the actual rent which landlords obtain. How then do law and custom in Ireland protect the peasant farmer from being obliged to pay more than this fair rent? It must be answered not at all. Herein lies a great difficulty that Englishmen and Scotchmen, reasoning from the analogy of their own country find in comprehending the real nature of the Irish Land Question. The notion with which they are familiar is that, the fair rent for land is the rent which solvent and competent tenants are willing, in open competition, to offer for it. A capitalist English farmer will not offer a higher rent for land than the sum that will allow him the ordinary profits on his capital after paying the usual wages to his labourers and meeting the other expenses of cultivation. There can be no question that the landowner is entitled to receive the highest rent offered to him in these circumstances; no one is injured by his doing so, certainly not the tenant who receives the ordinary rate of profit current in the county, and merely pays the landlord for the special advantages he enjoys in the cultivation of a certain portion of the land. Englishmen cannot be too often reminded that this state of things is almost entirely exceptional. There is hardly any part of Europe in which the possibility of thus dealing with land on purely commercial principles exists. It certainly does not exist, it never has, and there is no reasonable prospect that it ever will, exist in Ireland. Two conditions are essential to the commercial treatment of land on the principles of competition rents—namely, that farmers should be capitalists, and that there should be a variety of occupations other than agriculture into which farmers, if landlords demand excessive rents, can turn their capital. These conditions are not perfectly fulfilled even in England, and consequently even in the letting of English land the principle of competition is practically limited in its application on well-managed estates; but in Ireland they are, as a rule, entirely absent. Where, as in that country, the cultivators of the soil are, for the most part, poor men and not capitalists, and are obliged by the necessity of their position to till the ground the result must necessarily follow that the landlords, under the system of competitive rents will be in a position to exact, not the fair amount to which they are justly entitled, and which is all they would receive if the tenants were in a position to contract on equal terms, but the entire produce of the soil except what is necessary for the bare subsistence of the cultivators. To maintain this system is not to protect the rights of property, but to lend the sanction of the law to a gross violation of justice, the consequence of which must be to weaken the legitimate exercise of the rights of property and to lend an apparent justification to wild Socialistic follies deeply injurious to society. It is quite obvious that no agricultural community in which the cultivators of the soil are not effectually protected by law or custom from being reduced to this condition can be expected to be contented and prosperous. This is the point in which the Act of 1870 fails to meet the necessity of the case; it makes no effectual provision that rents shall not be raised to an amount far exceeding the economic rent of the land. The Act, it is true, imposes a penalty on capricious eviction, and where the valuation is £15 or under, the tenant, evicted even for non-payment of rent, is entitled to compensation for disturbance provided he can show that the rent claimed is excessive. Although these provisions, no doubt, have a deterrent effect on eviction, the competition for land is so great that an evicting landlord is generally able to get a much larger sum from an incoming tenant than he is obliged to pay to the outgoing one, and that effect is therefore limited. The Act has, no doubt, attained the result of securing to a tenant who is actually dispossessed of his holding compensation, more or less adequate, for the unexhausted improvements he may have effected in the land; but when we look closely into this we come to a point where it fails, even as regards security for investments, to realize in practice the purpose for which it was intended. There is no provision whatever to protect a tenant not actually dispossessed of his holding from having a most excessive amount of rent placed upon him—a rent which may have the effect of depriving him, either in whole or in part, of the value he has added to the land. The Act, as I understand it, has the object of giving the tenant protection in his improvements; but, unless in the comparatively rare case of actual eviction, this object is by no means effectually attained. In nearly every instance it will be the interest of the tenant to submit to almost any increase of rent while the bare means of subsistence are left him, to remain in the occupation of his farm. If he chooses rather to face eviction, even if he succeeds in getting the largest sum the law can award him as compensation for improvements and disturbance, he will still find himself in a desperate position. More particularly will this be the case if he be an elderly man with a family to maintain. The large competition for land will render it almost impossible for him, with the amount of capital at his command, to get another farm; he is almost certainly unsuited to any other kind of occupation, even if it were otherwise open to him; the money he has will gradually melt away, and he will end by sinking into utter misery and pauperism, bitterly regretting that he did not accept any terms, however hard, rather than leave his holding. This, we should understand, may be, and I know for a fact occasionally is, the fate of a man who has spent many years of toil, and whatever means he may have originally possessed, or, perhaps, got as a little fortune with his wife, in reclaiming and converting into a state of comparative fertility some barren moor-land or hill-side. It is idle, and worse than idle, to imagine that while such a state of things exists the peasant cultivators of Irish soil will be prudent, contented, and happy. The landlord has, of course, an indisputable right to any increased value he may give the land by permanent improvements effected at his own cost. While all the greatest names in Political Economy, from Adam Smith and Turgot, down to Mill and Cairnes, may be quoted in support of the view that the land of a country, taken as a whole, presents conditions which separate it economically from the great mass of the other objects of wealth. No one has disputed that this right of the landowner rests upon exactly the same foundation as the right of a man to the house he may build, the corn he may grow, or any other object of wealth he may produce. Equally clear, in my mind, though not equally undisputed, is the landowner's right to any increased value which is the result of the general development of the country—what has been termed "the agricultural expression of the progress of the age." I am aware that some authorities of eminence have denied the right of the landowner to this "unearned increment," which is the result of nothing he has done, and sometimes is actually produced by changes he has strenuously opposed; but it appears to me to be clear that, provided we secure to the cultivators the due reward of their industry, we are bound to interfere, as little as possible, with the reasonable expectations of those who, on the faith of Acts of Parliament, and the past policy of the country, have embarked their money in the purchase of Irish land. The development of trade and commerce, the growth of towns, improvement in railways and other means of communication, inventions in the agricultural arts which cheapen production, all are causes which may justly swell the landlord's rent without any hardship to the tenant, or injury to the State. But to allow a landlord to appropriate, in the form of increased rent, value given to the land by improvements made by the tenant, is a violation of the fundamental principle on which the right of private property in land is based, and a grievous hindrance and discouragement to all industrial effort. This is the necessary consequence of leaving an arbitrary power of fixing rent in the hands of landowners, where the principle of competition is not applicable; and this is what is done by the existing land law in Ireland. In the words of one of the Judges who delivered judgment in the notorious Mitchelstown case— Whatever rent the landlord thinks proper to insist upon, he must get, or he can by law recover his land from the yearly tenants. The legislation of 1870 has failed to touch the root of the Irish difficulty, because it has not faced the problem of the regulation of rent. Any attempt to grapple with the subject without meeting this, is no more likely to be successful than was the exploit of that gallant man, spoken of by Milton, who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his park gate. The regulation of rent is the very essence of the matter. Of what avail would be compulsory leases, or the right of continuous occupation, or free sale, or any other privilege you could confer upon the tenant, while the landlord is allowed to retain the power of attaching an impossible condition to the tenancy? While the landlord is able to exceed in his demand the limits set by "economic rent," the occupier of land is in a position of economical inferiority to those who follow other pursuits; and, to quote a well-known expression, he can be said to enjoy freedom of contract only in the sense in which a man may be said to enjoy very bad health. The conditions which make freedom of contract the proper means of determining the right amount of rent to be paid do not exist in Ireland. If they did, no wise man would propose to interfere with it; but that they do not is, as I have said before, a principle partially recognized in our legislation, and that legislation needs only to be pushed to its logical conclusion to meet the conditions of the case. Rents paid by capitalist farmers, able to protect themselves, may safely be left to competition. Rents paid by peasants—that is, by humble men obliged by the necessity of their position to enter into competition for a limited and necessary commodity which is the monopoly of a small class— cannot be left to competition without having the effect of depriving the cultivators of the soil of their due share of the produce, and handing over to the landlords, if they wish to claim it, more than a just proportion. It is mere waste of time to talk about the goodness or badness of landlords. The Irish landlords, I believe, as a class, are just as honourable as any other body of men, but "a web of circumstances" has been gradually drawn round them, and their position leads them into many difficulties. The notion that they entitled to all the produce of the land beyond the bare maintenance of the cultivator, has been so long familiar to them that it is looked upon as something like a self-evident proposition; and when, from motives of generosity, good-feeling, or public spirit they content themselves with less, they regard it as the voluntary cession of an undoubted right. Many Irish landlords do content themselves with moderate rents; there have always been some who did so. The considerable savings which peasant farmers on some estates are able to accumulate is an honourable testimony to the forbearance with which some Irish landowners have used their powers; but the fact that even on the most liberally-managed properties these savings go anywhere except where, under a good system, we should expect them go—that is, into the land—is a proof of the deep-seated spirit of distrust which the defective state of the law, and the example of some needy and grasping landowners has engendered. One case of genuine hardship will shake the confidence of an entire district. That such cases do occur, cases of rent raised beyond all reasonable limits, and of tenants' improvements practically confiscated by repeated exactions, no one who knows anything of the actual life of the Irish peasantry will have the rashness to deny. I do not rely for the statements I make on reports of public meetings, or on speeches made for political purposes. I am speaking of things within my own knowledge, and which I have learnt by going in and out among the people and seeing them in their homes. Oppression in the form of over-renting is by no means universal, but it is by no means rare. The worst cases are often those which never see the light. The unfortunate tenant knows well that the power of the law is against him, and that his only chance is to come to some terms with his landlord; and if lie exposes the landlord's proceedings to public odium, the last hope of any arrangement to save him from eviction will be lost. Instances of the most grievous hardship have come, more than once, under my own notice, and I have been entreated by the sufferers to keep them private. There is a small estate I know well which was bought with speculative objects some years ago in an Encumbered Estates Court Sale. At the time of the purchase, there were several, for the most part, respectable and industrious tenants living on the land, where, in some instances, their ancestors had been for several generations. The speculator, in this case, was ignorant as well as avaricious, and did not content himself with placing the highest amount of rent on the land, which, though it would absorb the entire value of the tenants' improvements, would leave them the bare means of subsistence; he exceeded this limit, and the consequence was that in a short time every one of the old tenants was ruined, and either ran away in debt or had to be evicted for non-payment of rent. The excessive competition for land enabled the owner to find another set of tenants to come in their place at the same rent. They also failed; and, finally, the landlord, grown wiser by experience, has had to reduce his demand to a considerably lower figure, and the land is now let to a third set of tenants who are in possession of the original tenants' improvements, but have to hand over to the owner all the produce of the soil, except what is barely necessary for their subsistence. The landlord class, comprising many men who regard such proceedings with the gravest disapproval, has to bear the odium resulting from them, and the country has to suffer the bad effects of placing irresponsible power over the main instrument of production in the hands of speculative adventurers. I am fully convinced that a system, justly and impartially worked, which would throw upon the State the responsibility of deciding, in cases of dispute, what is a fair rent, would be the greatest possible benefit and assistance to the good landlords of Ireland. Give the occupiers secure tenure and protection from arbitrary rent raising, and I have no doubt they would readily pay the very utmost—in many instances, oven more—than a good landlord under the present system is willing to ask, while the new spirit created within them would so encourage industry and draw out the hidden stores of wealth, that, in a few years, the general progress of the country would swell, beyond all expectation, the legitimate sources of the landowner's revenue. The problem of the State regulation of rent has hitherto been evaded, partly because it is repugnant to English minds familiar with an entirely different system, and partly, no doubt, because it possesses some inherent difficulties of its own. These difficulties, however, have been greatly over-estimated, and the fact has not been sufficiently recognized that economic science offers distinct principles for our guidance in the matter. It may be worth while observing that even the Landlord and Tenant Act throws upon the tribunals, in some circumstances, the duty of determining what is a fair rent. The Act provides, in a section to which I have previously referred, that in tenancies of £15 valuation or under a tenant, even when evicted for non-payment of rent, may be awarded compensation for disturbance, provided ho can show that the rent claimed was excessive. If the Court can decide what rent is excessive, it follows, as a matter of necessity, that it can decide what rent is fair. I put aside altogether, and the hon. and learned Member for Limerick has this year put I out of his Bill the notion, that a jury, composed mainly either of landlords and tenant-farmers, is to decide the amount of rent. The bias of self interest would be too strong to make such an arrangement workable, and results might occasionally be brought about somewhat analogous to a trial which is reported to have taken place some time ago in one of the Southern States of America. The jury was composed of 12 blacks, the judge was black, and the prisoner, also a black man, was accused by the complainant, who was white, of assault and battery. The evidence of guilt was unimpeachable, but, after brief deliberation, the jury brought in an unanimous verdict and found the complainant guilty of horse stealing. We must remember, however, that the problem of determining the fair rent of land cannot be one of such insuperable difficulty, since it is constantly being solved with sufficient accuracy for practical purposes by the landlords and agents of every well-managed Irish estate. The fair valuation rent of the popular demand and the rent charged on properly managed properties are identical. They are both capable of being reduced to a strictly scientific expression, as that element in the returns from land to which the name "economic rent" is given, of which both the conditions determining its amount, and the laws which regulate its growth, have been fully investigated. It must always be borne in mind that the responsibility of deciding what is a fair rent, either at the first letting or as regards subsequent adjustments, would only fall upon the State in those cases where the parties concerned had failed to agree among themselves. No reasonable man would propose to intrude the interference of the State where it was not asked for, and I am persuaded that the moral effect upon the landlord and tenant of knowing there was a tribunal to which the one could appeal for the enforcement of his just demands, and the other for protection against undue exaction, would be such that, in the great majority of cases, at all events, after the first start, but little use would be made of the legal remedy. Such views as these have no doubt much unpopularity to contend against, arising out of associations and habits of mind formed from the peculiar land systems of England and Scotland. There can be no more delusive guide in legislating for one country than notions derived from the state of things existing in another country, the feelings, habits, associations and history of which are entirely different. There is, perhaps, no part of Europe, except Russia, more unlike England in its social condition than Ireland is, and in no respect is this unlikeness greater than in the land system, in which a complete difference is veiled under an apparent similarity. Let us recognize the fact that the purely commercial treatment of land which peculiar circumstances have rendered possible in England is completely inapplicable to Ireland, as it is found inapplicable in nearly every part of Europe. Let us abandon for ever the deadly policy of applying the same remedies to persons of different constitutions and afflicted with different disorders. Let us also beware in dealing with this matter of imitating the mistaken kindness of the man who, wishing to cut off the tail of his dog, thought it more merciful to do it a joint at a time. Let us rather face it boldly and deal with it thoroughly, so as to remove altogether a dangerous and irritating question from the arena of political controversy. Let us, neither too greatly scorning nor fearing the voice of popular agitation, apply to this difficulty in a just and impartial spirit, the principles which true economic science indicates—not that so-called political economy which is a mere generalization from English circumstances, but that which is founded on a careful examination of Irish facts, remembering that "the true secret of the power of agitators is the obstinacy of Rulers, and that Liberal Governments make a moderate people." Let us, while we respect every reasonable 'pretension of the owners of land, try, for the first time, what the effect on Ireland, on Irish public opinion, on Irish loyalty, and on the material prosperity of the county, may be of a pesantry, industrious and contented, because enjoying in security the fruit of their labours, bearing all just burdens, but subject to no tyrannical caprice, and learning to forget, in a more fortunate present, the memories of a miserable past.


Sir, I hope the House will grant its indulgence to a Member who has not before addressed you when he endeavours, as I now do, to deal with such a difficult and important subject as the question of land in Ireland. The difficulty which I feel is augmented because I approach the subject in the twofold character of a landlord and a tenant. Many Members of this House on both sides were of opinion that the Land Act of 1870 had effectually settled this question; but to those living in Ireland it was manifest that the matter was by no means put at rest. I have no hesitation in saying that a vast amount of good that might have been done by the Act of 1870 was left undone and untouched. I believe that the hon. Member who last spoke (Mr. Blennerhassett) was right in saying that the landlords of Ireland may be characterized as good landlords. I am of opinion that the question of absenteeism is exaggerated, and in proportion to its size I think there are not more absentees in the case of Ireland than there are in the case of Great Britain. I freely concede, however, that Ireland feels it more than England, owing to the circumstances in which she is placed—for the condition of the people in the two countries is different. The people of Ireland take a great interest in this matter—the Land Bill was a test question at all the recent elections. When I was asked if I should vote for Mr. Butt's Land Bill as it stood, I said undoubtedly I should not; but I added that I would pledge myself to vote for any measure which would give security of tenure to the tenant and give him the fruits of his toil. I cannot say that I agree with all the particulars of the present Bill; but I think the most objectionable clauses of the Bill of last year have been removed. This question is one which so demands investigation—it is a question which the Irish people have so deeply set their minds upon—that I hope the House will look carefully into it. This is not a question to be burked on a second reading—it is a Bill which ought to be passed into Committee, where it could be examined clause by clause. In the interests of the landlords of Ireland it is desirable there should be a close examination into the whole facts; and they are convinced, as I am convinced, that any investigation that is made will benefit them. A great deal of the agitation which has vexed the country has sprung, not from the people who really suffer—the small tenants—but from the middlemen and the large grazing farmers, and I believe the more this question is brought before the light of day, the better the landlords will stand before the country. I believe it will be proved that the oppression comes from the middleman, and this measure will I believe, lessen their power over the small occupier and cottager. I have recently had a case which illustrates what I mean. A lease of 99 years has recently fallen into my hands. I went down upon the land, and I found that the middleman had been oppressing a number of small tenants. It appeared the tenants had got a piece of bog which at the time they took it was worth a farthing an acre. When they had reclaimed it and built the miserable hovels in which they lived the middleman came down upon them, and charged them £3 2s. 6d. and £3 5s. an acre; he obliged them to graze their cattle on his pasturage at his own rate, and he obliged them to work for him on any day—not constant work—he might choose to call for them at 8d. a-day, and that at a time when the adjoining farmers in harvest were paying at the rate of 2s. 6d. a-day for similar labour. Is not this a state of things, Sir, which requires investigation at the hands of this House? Is it any wonder that a case of this kind should destroy the confidence of the poor tenants in some of their landlords? Is it any wonder the money is kept in banks at 2 per cent, instead of being spent on the improvement of the land? There is, no doubt, a very great difficulty in the way of English and Scotch Members understanding the Irish land question—and even for Irish landlords who do not go among their people. They might say that what does for England should do for Ireland; but they must deal in things as we find them—we must legislate for what actually are the facts of the case. The facts are that the small tenants are frightened, and that they are ground down by the middleman, and that the Act of 1870 has not remedied the great evils of this system. The workman of old spoke of the middleman. Solomon said—"When a poor man oppresseth the poor, it is as the sweeping rain that leaveth no food." It would be easy to take many exceptions to the Bill now before the House, and I shall reserve my right when it gets into Committee to take exception to some of the details. I shall have something to say about the clause which deals retrospectively with agreements since 1870. If that clause pass, what guarantee have we that a Bill in 1880 or 1887 will not be introduced to cancel this Bill? Another point to which I take exception relates to arbitration. The hon and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), I observe, has omitted the clause providing for arbitration by a jury; and I am very glad that he has done so. In its principle he proposes two referees, one to be appointed by the landlord, and the other by the tenant, and they are to appoint an arbitrator. But if the landlord proposed an arbitrator and the tenant proposed an arbitrator, and they both stick to their arbitrators, what will he do then?


Of course, in that case there would be no appointment. They would go to the Court.


That is a point to be considered. The principle on which I support this Bill is that I believe this is a question which cannot be shelved without inconvenience. We must have a clear and full investigation. I believe if the House refuses to pass the second reading of this Bill Ireland will say that the Bill has been shelved without getting fair play: but if it is allowed to go fairly into Committee we can go back to our constituents in Ireland, and we can tell them that the House met our Bill fairly, and that it was fairly discussed clause by clause. If we cannot go to Ireland and say this, I am certain the agitation which has been going on this subject will be continued and extended. I beg to thank the House for the attention it has given to me while I have trespassed on its patience, and, in conclusion, I must express the hope that the Bill will receive a second reading.


who had placed on the Paper an Amendment, to move— That it is expedient there should be a full inquiry before a Select Committee of this House as to the operation of the Land Act of 1870, and the relations of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland, with a view to any alteration of the Law which may be taken into consideration, said, he greatly regretted that by not happening to be in the House when the hon. and learned Member for Limerick sat down, he had lost the opportunity of moving his Amendment, as he was convinced that an inquiry would have resulted in showing that the Act of 1870 had acted most beneficially for the country. He found, for instance, that the number of miserable cabins which had formerly disgraced the country had materially diminished, and this was itself a proof of the improvements that, under the action of that measure, had taken place in the condition and habits of the people. It would appear, from some of the speeches which had been made in support of this Bill, as if the usual practice in Ireland was that rents should be screwed up to the highest farthing, and everything done by competition, and otherwise to prevent the tenant from reaping the fruits of his industry. He denied everyone of those charges, and maintained that if the House consented to this Bill it would disturb the relations between landlord and tenant on account of a few persons who abused their rights. The probable explanation of the present demand would be found in this — that the tenants, having got some portion of their landlords' property, thought they ought to get more. Speaking as an Irish landlord, having land in three counties and residing three months of the year in Ireland, he would say— "Let us know whether this case has been proved." In a letter to an American journal, The Irish World, dated from London, and signed "Transatlantic," the writer, speaking of the Mitchelstown case, said— Mr. Bridge did not deny any of the facts alleged by Casey. 'The agent simply maintains that a printed history of his iniquities is likely to bring him another dose of lead. He thereby confesses, at all events, that he deserves shooting, and humane men can only regret that poor Crowe's aim was not surer.' A Member of that House (Mr. O'Connor Power), in one of his American lectures, printed in the same journal, said— He found the root of all our evils in our system of land tenure, and asserted that nine-tenths of the Irish landowners hold their property by no title superior to that which is derived from tyranny and confiscation, and have, therefore, no more real right to it than he had to the North Pole. That he (Mr. Clive) denied altogether. He believed there was not a single word of truth in what had been said about Mr. Bridge, and that a more humane man never lived. The valuation of the estate of which Mr. Bridge was the agent was made by Mr. Walker; and as for the allegations that he was directed to make the valuation as high as he could and that Mr. Bridge walked the land with him, they were all false. Mr. Bridge was a most respectable gentleman, and quite incapable of the conduct imputed to him. What had Judge Longfield said? These were his words— In many cases the tenants hope by agitation and outrage to acquire more than they at present possess. They have great political power, and are able to reward the agitators who inflame their passions or their cupidity. They are taught to believe that it is in their power to acquire the absolute ownership of the land which they have hired for a limited period. Their well-founded complaints are mixed up with the most unreasonable demands, and by skilful sophistry and metaphorical language they are almost led to believe that murder may be justified when it is committed from motives of avarice or revenge. If any man searches for grievances suffered by tenants, he will have plenty of stories told him. Many will be utterly false and many will have a slight foundation of truth, distorted by the most monstrous exaggerations; when names, dates, and facts are not stated, it is impossible to expose and detect the falsehood. Cases of inconsiderate and unjust hardships could never have been very frequent, and are now exceedingly rare. In conclusion, he wished to say that all the charges brought against the landlords might, in his opinion, be disposed of and set at rest if an inquiry were conceded.


Sir, like many other hon. Members of this House, I was disappointed by the shortness of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, and by that shortness I find myself at a disadvantage, because, having long known that hon. and learned Member, I am sufficiently aware of his talents, sufficiently conscious of his deep knowledge of his own native Ireland to be quite sure, that what falls from him —whether the House may agree or disagree with what he says—is worthy of its attention. In years gone by I have stood upon the same platform with the hon. and learned Gentleman. We stood together as Protectionists on the same platform at Liverpool. I, Sir, am a Conservative, unpopular, I fear, at present among some modern Conservatives, because I am not afraid of my own opinions. I always felt and will advocate the justice of the principle of protection against foreign competition; but I was always aware that the principle of protection might be applied, as between classes of this country, in a manner most detrimental to its interests, and I feel also that the principles of protection may be applied to one section of the United Kingdom and not to another, to the detriment of both sections, to the disturbance of the whole United Kingdom. Now, I admit that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick has an excuse against this argument from the fact of his being a Home Ruler. He proposes all his measures, such measures as the present, with reference, as I understand, to Ireland only, and the hon. Member for Kerry warned us against expecting that the principle of this Bill would be found applicable to any other part of the United Kingdom but Ireland. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick may, Sir, be excused for having made so short a speech, because he has given us an old-fashioned explicit Preamble as part of his Bill. It should be remembered, that although it is the habit of this House to postpone the Preamble in Committee, yet, according to the practice of Parliament, if either House sanctions the second reading of a Bill, that House is then committed to the principle of the Preamble. I object to the principle embodied in this Preamble, and I think the House is bound to consider this Preamble, as part of the Bill on the second reading of the Bill, to approve or disapprove of the principle embodied in that Preamble, as declaratory of the principle of the Bill, and thus to declare its approval or disapproval of the Bill as a whole on the second reading. This may seem a mere matter of form; but I remember, Sir, your Predecessor in office, Lord Eversley, when he was leaving that Chair, warned this House that all the Forms, the Rules, and Practice of this House and of Parliament were founded on common sense; and the interpretation of the principle of a Bill by its Preamble is founded on common sense, because if this House were to sanction the Preamble of this Bill on its second reading, the hon. and learned Member for Limerick would have a right to go to Ireland and tell people, that the House of Commons was committed to the principle of this Bill. It is, therefore, no mere matter of form; it is a matter of substance whether the House sanctions the Preamble of this Bill, which it would do bypassing the second reading, because the consideration of the Preamble is not postponed till we get into Committee. The postponement of the Preamble, then, implies that the House has agreed by its majority to the principle of the Bill, as expressed in the Preamble. I hope hon. Members will forgive me for having recalled to them the Parliamentary effect and the popular effect of sanctioning the second reading of a Bill with such a Preamble as this. I do not object to long Preambles; I think they illustrate a wise custom; they explain the principles of the Bill to the Members of this House before we enter on debate, aye, before we come down to the House. Much of the confusion of our recent proceedings would be avoided, if the House had generally known beforehand the principles upon which their Bills were drawn —drawn in a manner as explicit as I must say this Bill is. But, at the same time, the House is bound to express an opinion for or against the principle of a Bill which is drawn in this manner; it cannot avoid creating confusion in the public mind if it ignores a Preamble thus drawn. This Bill recites that there is a custom in the Province of Ulster which was recognized by the Land Act of 1870, and it proceeds upon the assumption that Parliament ought not only to preserve the existence of the Ulster custom, but ought to extend it to other parts of Ireland where it does not exist. Now what is custom? It is the foundation of Common Law. A custom is the growth of the habits of the people, whether with respect to property, or their relations to each other; habits consistent with the common sense and feeling of the people of the district in which that custom has grown up; it expresses their common sense of their duties towards each other. Well, the custom has grown up by habit in Ulster, that the tenant shall have certain securities for his property, because the tenant's property has been invested in the land of Ulster. This investment exists as a fact in that Province of Ireland. That fact does not exist, we are told, in the rest of Ireland, and yet Parliament is requested by this Preamble to presume a fact. It is proposed that Parliament shall assume the investment of capital in the rest of Ireland, according to the Ulster custom, which does not exist, and the whole grievance rests upon the fact, that the capital does not exist, and is not so employed. [Mr. BUTT: No.] The hon. and learned Member dissents, but why does he bring in a Bill to create a custom, if that custom exists elsewhere than in Ulster?


As the hon. Gentleman appeals to me so pointedly, and, indeed, has almost invited me to reply, allow me to point out that the Preamble distinctly says—though perhaps it does go a little too far in that respect—that the Ulster custom does not exist out of Ulster.


But the custom existed in Ulster before Parliament legislated, and the capital under it existed also, and yet Parliament is now asked to legislate for the rest of Ireland, in the sense of Ulster tenant-right, where it does not exist, and where the capital of the tenant has not been applied, as it has in Ulster. Well, Sir, it comes to this, we are asked to legislate upon a presumption—the presumption of a fact which does not exist. The custom of Ulster did not grow out of any Act of Parliament; it grew out of the nature and character of the population. Is the hon. and learned Member for Limerick prepared to say we shall change the character of the people of the other Provinces of Ireland by legislating for them in the matter of land tenure as if they were the people of Ulster? Are we to change their religion and their character by a Laud Act? The hon. and learned Member knows too well that this Bill is founded upon the presumption of a state of facts which do not exist in any Province of Ireland except Ulster. Therefore, I look with deep suspicion upon the principle of this Bill. Anyone who will read the able work of my Oxford contemporary, Mr. Froude, will see that the difficulties in dealing with Ireland are not merely those which are inherent in the character of the population—inherent in their history, they are the effects of their education and of their religion in great measure. I admit that I am very far from justifying all the conduct of England towards Ireland; but at the back of this Home Rule movement—for this is a Home Rule Bill—["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members cheer. [Renewed cheering.] Well, then, Sir, the House must understand that this Bill is a preparation for the separation of the government of Ireland from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. Am I not, then, justified in opposing this Bill, since I am not prepared at present for either Home Rule or Repeal, in looking upon this Bill as preparing the way to something further—as founded upon deeper principles than the mere desire to secure the capital of the tenant-farmer. It is adapted to a phase of legislation to which the great body of this House is opposed. If the great body of this House votes for the second reading of this Bill, the hon. and learned Member for Limerick will be justified in going to Ireland and telling the people of Ireland that the House of Commons has taken a substantial step towards the establishment of Home Rule. I gather from the speeches of hon. Members from Ireland, and especially from the speech of the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett), in opposition to the speech of the best landlord in Kerry (Mr. Herbert), who has recently addressed the House, that the hon. Member claims the admission of Adam Smith, that the application of economical principles of what is called free trade to the land of any country, which is the food-producing power of every country, ought not to be viewed in exactly the same light as the application of that principle to any other capital. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick would at one time have admitted that certain qualifications of the abstract doctrine of Adam Smith with respect to free trade are necessary in their application to the tenure of land as a wholesome exception, that these doctrines might be carried to excess as regards the national provision of food. I admit the appeal of the hon. Member for Kerry. It is true that Adam Smith admitted that land could not be considered economically in exactly the same light as other capital, because it was essential to the existence of the people as a nation. He placed land and the navigation laws, as an element of national defence, in the same category, and I think ho did quite right, because provisions which may be necessary to secure the external safety of this country from naval aggression, and for the transmission of food, are essentially to be taken out of the category of those species of property which may safely be left in the rule of buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market, under all circumstances. I admit all this. But what inference do I draw from it? That Parliament ought to be more careful in dealing with property in land than with any other kind of property. Depend upon it, Sir, the capacity for freedom of every nation is more dependent upon the character of the tenure of land within it than upon any other physical or material consideration. I see in this Bill the vicious principle of the Land Act of 1870 carried somewhat further than it was in that Act. I objected to the Bill of 1870 because it tended to place the State in the position of the landlord, and to reduce real property in land to the condition of a feudal tenure. That is a principle which is embodied in this Bill. It is a direct attack upon the tenure of property in Ireland, as it has existed in like manner as the tenure of property throughout the United Kingdom since the abolition of the feudal system. I know that the authorities of the dominant Church in Ireland would, if they could, restore the principles of feudalism in many matters. At this moment the monastic dependents or allies of these Roman Catholic authorities hold property in this country in a manner which is beyond the law, and distinct from the tenure of other property. The property held by the monastic corporations throughout the world is held upon a strictly feudal tenure—this fact has been recognized in Italy—that the tenure of monastic property is a feudal tenure, the difference between this feudal tenure and that of other property being that these monastics hold not under the headship of the State, but under that of his Holiness the Pope. Italy has just declared that she will not have this tenure exemplified within her dominions, and the law of England does not at present give that tenure any sanction. It is the worst form of the feudal tenure. I object to this Bill because its principle is founded upon the right of the State to dispossess the owners in Ireland of the land which they at present hold, on the same principles that land is held in the rest of the United Kingdom. I see plainly that there lies behind and within this Bill an intention of creating a feudal tenure, a tenure which has long been discarded by this country, and has been discarded within the last 10 years by the Italian nation. I hope the House will forgive me for having spoken at some length; but I wish, whether right or wrong in what I have said and think, to direct the attention of the House to the principles elucidated by the Preamble of this Bill. They are principles to which this House has never agreed, but to which, if it passes the second reading of this Bill, it will be held to have committed itself, as the representative, not only of Ireland, but the whole of the United Kingdom.


said, he could assure the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) that the only reason why his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick had not spoken at length on moving the second reading was that he was suffering from illness, and felt unequal to the exertion. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire had spoken of the Bill as founded on the principle of depriving the landlords of the land which they now held on the same principle as the land was held in the rest of the United Kingdom. Now, as one of those who was to a certain extent responsible for the introduction of the Bill, he was prepared to justify every principle it contained. He should be extremely sorry, both as the Representative of the largest agricultural constituency in Ireland and as a landowner himself, to allow his name to be placed on the back of a Bill which would warrant the observation that it was intended to convey the property of the landlord to the tenant, and which deserved to be stigmatised as a robbery, as it had been by the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert). It had been argued that this Bill would make the landlord a mere rent-charger. But it did not deprive the landlord of any right which he at present enjoyed—if this Bill passed it was merely permissive. It did not say that the lands in Ireland were to be held perpetually by the tenant, but it gave to the tenant the right of going before a legal tribunal, and by making a declaration he was to retain the land while he paid a reasonable rent. He might say that, if the law passed, very few cases would arise under it, because there was a good feeling between the good landlords and their tenants at present:—it was only where there were landlords who tyrannized over their tenants that the Act would be brought into operation. If the Bill became law the landlord would still enjoy all the rights he at present possessed; he would not only be the owner of the royalties, mines and minerals, but he would have the sole right of ejectment for non-payment of rent; the only power that the landlord would be deprived of was the power—a power he never should have received—of putting a capricious rent upon the tenant; if the tenant did not pay a fair rent the landlord had power to evict him. In return for the loss of this power he would have the prompt payment, a happy tenant, and a cordiality of feeling between him and his tenants. The landlord would raise the moral standard of the people, crime would lessen, and Ireland would become a happy and contented country. That would be the effect of the Bill. He wished to recall a circumstance which, he hoped, would induce Members to vote for the Bill. Hon. Members who opposed the Bill might have heard of Mr. Buckley—a Gentleman who formerly sat in that House, and who supported the Land Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich. Had they heard of his conduct towards his tenants? and, if so, would not they desire to come to the protection of the hapless and oppressed people on that gentleman's estate? The Mitchelstown estate was formerly the property of the Earl of Kingston. A portion of that estate was purchased in the Incumbered Estates Court by a land company, among the original directors of which were the Earl of Devon and Mr. Monsell, now Lord Emly. Mr. John Sadlier having become trustee of the estate, introduced as manager a Mr. Bridge, who had been a greater part of his life in America, and was afterwards connected with the Tipperary Bank, which had brought so much discredit on Mr. Sadlier's name and so much misery on his countrymen. The estate was purchased for £35,000—nine years' purchase—and it yielded the company a clear interest of 6 per cent. They were not, however, satisfied with this, and raised the rents until the land gave them an interest of 7 per cent. Mr. Brogden, a Member of that House, was for a time manager of the estate, and he was succeeded by Mr. Massey, who had before been agent for the Kingston estate. These gentlemen were highly respected by the tenantry; but a great misfor- tune befel them when they fell into the hands of Mr. Nathaniel Buckley, who acquired the property for £96,000. He was a wealthy Manchester manufacturer, and dealt with his tenantry in the same way as he dealt with a bale of cotton or a bale of flax. What was the first act of Mr. Buckley? He employed a Mr. Walker, a stranger to the district, to value the land, and Mr. Walker recommended that the rents should be enormously raised. He proposed, for example, that one man who paid £3 6s. a-year should in future pay £17 10s.; and that the rent of a widow should be raised from 19s. to £3. The tenants said they could not pay these rents, and immediately 100 notices to quit were served upon them, over 550 people being thus threatened to be thrown homeless on the roadside. Mr. Buckley was warned by the authorities of the consequences of his acts. Mr. Bridge, his agent, was fired at and wounded. He obtained £1,000 compensation from the Grand Jury, and that sum was placed on the unhappy tenants themselves. The consequence was that many of the tenants were in receipt of outdoor relief, and a memorial had been sent to the late Lord Lieutenant representing their deplorable condition. It had been found necessary to build an iron barrack at the entrance to Mr. Buckley's demesne, in which a dozen constables were stationed, two of whom accompanied Mr. Bridge everywhere he went. Notwithstanding these precautions he was fired at a second time, the driver of his car was killed, two of the policemen were wounded, and he himself received nine pellets. Surely that was a state of things which ought not to be allowed to exist in a Christian country. Mr. Buckley had turned a smiling district into one of the most miserable spots of the known world. He would contrast the conduct of Mr. Buckley with that of another gentleman of large landed estate in the county of Cork—Mr. Penrose Fitzgerald, a deputy lieutenant of the county. Mr. Fitzgerald sent a circular to his tenantry informing them that he intended to have a new valuation of his estates, which had not been valued for 100 years, and inviting them, if they wished, to appoint a valuator of their own to act with his nominee —any difference between the two valuators to be left to an arbitrator, whose decision was to be final. Mr. Fitzgerald had just informed him by telegraph that the tenants had consented to leave the matter to the valuator named by him; that they had accepted the rents which he recommended, and that he and his tenantry were now both happy. What Mr. Fitzgerald had done was just what was proposed in this Bill, and there was no tendency to confiscation or robbery in that. Ireland was discontented on this question. She had no manufacturers like England; she was in a state of poverty, and she had no mines or manufactories to employ her surplus population. He warned the House that the time would come when the manufactories would decline, the coal would not be found, and then the land question would be the question of England. Ireland had no coal and iron, and the result was that while the population of the cities and towns of England was four-fifths of the whole population, and only one-fifth depending upon agriculture, in Ireland three-fourths of the population depended upon agriculture, with only 1,200,000 people in the towns. Did not that show that the circumstances of the two countries were entirely different? The people of Ireland had still a claim upon Parliament. After 700 years of adverse legislation they were not wanting in allegiance and loyalty. There was one point of dissatisfaction, and that was the question of the land. Give the people some interest in the land, and instead of Ireland being a weakness and a danger to England, they would make Ireland happy and contented and loyal to the English people.


would not deny that in Ireland there was great excitement and some discontent in connection with this land question. He did not think it was possible that, under the most favourable circumstances, the old grievances of Ireland could have been redressed without leaving traces of embers of agitation, which he was sorry to say had been in some instances fanned into disaffection by the advocates of hopeless schemes which had been proposed to the Irish people, and impossible measures which had been held out to them as objects for which they ought to strive; but which when they came to be debated in that House had been deservedly scouted by decisive majorities composed of Liberals and Radicals as well as Conservatives. It was well that impracticable proposals such as this now before them should pass beyond the stage of platform oratory, to be embodied in Bills that could be submitted to the calm judgment of the House. The Bill brought in last year, after being debated for two days, was rejected by a majority of nearly 6 to 1. One of the fruits of that debate was to be found in the circumstance that some of the most striking details of the Bill of last year had vanished from the measure as it was now proposed to the House, and in the country also he perceived a calmer judgment and more reasonable ideas on this question. There was one remarkable feature about that day's debate. He had always understood that the great difference of opinion between what were called the Irish Members and the late Government in dealing with the land question was that the Bill of 1870 did not touch the tenure. Now, not one hon. Member who had supported this Bill had gone into the question of tenure. He had listened to the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Kerry—but he did not touch upon tenure. He gave a most learned and instructive discourse on the law of entail in Ireland, and also his ideas upon the effect of mortgages and other encumbrances, and he referred to certain clauses of the Land Act of 1870. But those were the very questions with which this Bill did not propose to deal. Notice had been given by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) of a Motion for a Committee to inquire into the causes which interfered with the complete operation of the clauses of the Land Act of 1870 which were associated with the name of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, and he should have much pleasure in supporting that Motion, which he hoped the Government would assent to, but that inquiry was also beside the real question now before them. On this occasion the question of rents rather than tenure had been gone into. It was well known that land in Ireland had been let at rents ridiculously low as compared with rents in England and Scotland. And even on this point a remarkable change has been made in the Bill. The picturesque, not to say grotesque, clauses providing that rents should be fixed by juries of agricultural tenants had disappeared: but there remained others, the tendency of which was to weaken the responsibility of Chairmen of Counties. But arbitrators and assessors must either be strangers whose awards would not give satisfaction, or local valuers who would be suspected of partizanship. The County Chairmen had performed the delicate and difficult duties imposed upon them by the Land Act in a very satisfactory and straightforward manner, and it would be unwise to diminish their responsibility. But for other reasons he did not like the debate to close without speaking as the representative of very many landlords of Ireland, and as one who had the interests of Ireland very much at heart—interests which he thought would be injured by some of the proposals in the Bill. This Bill was practically the same Bill that it was his duty last year to oppose on the part of the Government. As to that clause in the first part of the Bill, the object of which was the better securing of the Ulster Custom of tenant right at the end of a lease, he had himself supported similar provisions when proposed in 1876 by the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland), but opposed by the hon. Member for Down (Mr. Sharman Crawford), and which had since been filched—he would not say ravished — from its true author (Mr. Mulholland) by the hon. Member for Londonderry County (Mr. R. Smyth). He should be glad to see the question settled satisfactorily. The second part of the Bill was an attempt to amend the Land Act of 1870, and any proposals not going outside of the true principles of the Act of 1870 would be entitled to fair consideration. But the 15th clause proposed to repeal that clause of the Act which preserved the right of contract in cases of holdings above £50, and he wished especially to protest against this repealing clause. There was, however, no use discussing any amendment of the Land Act when behind all these clauses there remained those providing that, on the serving of a notice by a tenant upon the landlord, the County Court Judge might declare that the tenant was for ever proprietor of his holding on the payment of what was called a fair rent. This was the core, the heart, the pith of the Bill—what the tenant farmers of Ireland had been led to expect, but what they would never obtain from this House. In the simplest form in which it was possible to do it, the Bill would convert the tenant into an owner and the owner into a rent-charger. When the tenant had gone to the bad and the holding to ruin, and the rent could no longer be paid, the landlord might be entitled to some kind of reversion which would bring back the holding to him, to be let again if he chose under similar conditions to another tenant. But unless a tenant failed to pay the rent, the property was his for ever. The inducements offered in the Bill of last year to sub-division and sub-letting had not been got rid of, for the 38th clause, defining the acts that were not to be deemed a violation of the covenant against sub-division, was large enough to admit of a practical violation of the covenant. The grounds on which he would resist the second reading were those stated by the right hon. Member for Greenwich in support of the Land Act of 1870. Speaking against a proposal in favour of fixity of tenure as a counter policy—which the House refused to accept by an overwhelming majority of 442 against a minority of 11—the right hon. Gentleman said that if it were necessary for reasons of State to deprive any landlord of his proprietorial rights, then they must give him compensation; and then, he asked, who was to pay him? the State? If this movement succeeded, said the right hon. Gentleman, it would turn all the landlords of Ireland into idle loungers upon the land. It would deprive them of their rights and absolve them from their duties. The Bill had been advocated on the ground of eviction; but he believed the cases of capricious eviction had been very few. He did not deny that if the facts stated respecting Mr. Buckley's estate had been accurately set forth, they showed a very harsh case of landlord oppression. But the House should be made aware that opinion in Ireland was very much divided on the facts of that case, and that, as he was informed, Mr. Buckley was personally as good and estimable a man as could be found. That was the only case brought forward as an actual instance, although the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett) had evolved others out of his inner consciousness or of his more remote recollections. But even though some cases of harsh conduct towards the tenantry were to be found, when the House came to consider a measure which converted all the landlords, bad and good, into rentchargers, were these cases sufficient to induce the House to deprive of their proprietorial rights the good landlords of Ireland, who were admitted to be the overwhelming majority? It was all very well to talk of ancient oppressions and ancient confiscations, but was the House to tell the hon. Members for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don) and Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh), for example, that they were to be expropriated from their lands? Their ancestors were Kings of Connaught and Leinster long before Strongbow had invaded Ireland, and long before the ancestors of the hon. and learned Gentleman, or, at all events, his (Mr. Plunket's) ancestors, had crossed the Channel with the "proud invader." Could he go to these descendants of the old Irish Kings, because it was loosely said that the lands of Ireland had been confiscated three times over, and propose to them a fourth, and a crucial attempt at confiscation? Was he to go to men whose footsteps were almost worshipped by their tenants, and say that they were to be deprived of their property and their power of doing good because Mr. Bridge or some other landlord here or there was accused of having abused his position? The House had heard some stories of oppressive landlordism—let him in contrast tell the House what he had himself seen in Ireland since the last debate on the Land Question. There was a proprietor in the West of Ireland—one of the largest in Connaught—whose territories stretched from the shores of Lough Corrib to Kylemoor. For years and years he had been spending every penny of the income of this property in improving it. If they looked down from the lofty hills surrounding the estates of this gentleman they could trace its limits as if painted on a map, they would see that which had been comparatively a desert blooming like a garden. Would they deprive such a man of the power of doing good because coming there with his wealth he sought to redress the inequalities he found? He removed some tenants, who went to America, but with no heart-ache and well provided for, and he had squared the farms and changed the character of these badly managed lands, others he had bought up and improved. Did they suppose the tenants resented this treatment? On the contrary, when in the last autumn the landlord was stricken down with illness, and after a long absence, he returned to see these tenants, he found for 10 or 15 miles along the road, and at his park-gates, triumphal arches provided by subscriptions of his tenantry—humble men who gladly gave their pennies, sixpences, and shillings. And when his carriage arrived, his people—many of them had come great distances from their cottages and hamlets in the valleys of the Connemara hills—took the horses out and drew him home. Would the House pass this Bill upon the allegation of a few trumpery cases like those adduced? If they did they would violate the laws of property that had hitherto prevailed in the United Kingdom, and not only do a great injustice to the landlords, but inflict a grievous and irremediable injury upon the tenantry of Ireland.


Sir, the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) has lost nothing of his native Irish eloquence by his change of seat from the Treasury Bench to a seat below the Gangway. I wish, however, that in place of his glowing sketch of that happy valley somewhere in Connemara he had treated us to some solid argument upon the Bill. He told us that tenure was the really important element in this question. That is quite true; we do not hide the fact; we proclaim it. He told us that every speaker on our side had avoided that critical subject. I expected when he uttered the taunt that he himself, at all events, was going to favour us with his views upon Irish land tenure. But I call attention to the fact that he sat down without venturing a word upon the subject; and that of all those who have avoided or evaded it he has been the most conspicuous in his prudence. Well, I, at all events, am not afraid to face the question of tenure, although I know it is that which is most difficult to be understood and most sure to be disagreeable to this House. Irish Members, I am well aware, have a certain reluctance to grapple with it, because they utterly despair of being able to secure your appreciation of a state of things so unlike what you possess, so repugnant to all your ideas and notions of "property." Yet, if I must say it, there is displayed on this subject of property an amount of ignorance hardly creditable to men who undertake the office and duties of legislators. I heard in the Irish Land Bill debate last year the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) address to the House arguments on property that would not be tolerated in a boy student of 15 who sought to pass in knowledge of law. He ridiculed the idea of giving a tenant six or twelve months' notice to quit, and asked hon. Gentlemen how would they like to have their butlers or their footmen refusing to leave without a like formality? That was the style of argument which the noble Lord did not disdain to use on this question. Nay, more; he went on to ask why should men be more restricted in dealing with their property in land than with their property in consols? ["Hear, hear!"] Well, Sir, hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that as if they approved it; but let me tell them that if any of them went down to-morrow to the Inns of Court and entered as a student of law, the first book on real property that would be put into their juvenile hands would be called Williams on Real Property. Well, on opening this book, to learn the very A B C of the law, they would find this commencement—"The first thing a student of English law of real property has to do is to get rid of the idea that our laws recognize any such thing as absolute property in or dominion over land." I quote from memory the substance of the passage. Hon. Gentlemen will find it substantially accurate if they consult the text, and I wish them joy of their task. What! No absolute property in land! If the assertion came from the benches behind me, I know what would be shouted from the other side. They would call out "communism," "robbery," "confiscation." But here it is discovered to be not a proposal or a theory, but an actual fact of your existing law; nay, the very corner-stone and fundamental principle of your law of real property—"no absolute ownership of land!" Perhaps it was unreasonable of me to assume that the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire might have known as much as that on a subject on which he undertook to speak; at all events, I make him a present of the information for his future enlightenment. Now, Sir, we who plead the cause of the land tenants of Ireland are encountered by two cries, and if one is true, the other must be a fraud. In one breath it is said we are the origin and source, the authors and sole sustainment of the agitation; the people at large caring little about it. Very well; but in the next breath it is proclaimed that we do not care a straw about the question—that we are driven to speak on it by the clamours of the tenant-farmers, and that we take up the question lest we should lose our seats. Now, how can both these stories be true? Which of them is false? Or rather, on which of them—for they are equally devoid of foundation—will hon. Gentlemen who assail us take their stand? I tell them now they must make their election, and say on which line they will fight the case. They shall not be allowed this double resort, this alternate story, one side of which belies the other. Are we "agitators" who invent this grievance, or are we time-serving politicians who are merely driven to espouse this cause? I tell this House this Irish land question, with all its momentous issues, its important interests, its stormy passions, existed before our time, and will prevail when we are gone, if it be not settled ere then. It is as independent of our influence as to its origin as is the Atlantic gale. Contemplate the long array of legislative attempts to settle this question. Count the numerous Irish Land Bills of one sort or another brought into this House within the past quarter of a century. What does all this prove? That a terribly real evil is at the bottom of the question; that there can be no rest, no peace, no pause in resistance to, and struggle against, that evil; no cessation of debates like this till it has been overthrown. Those bygone attempts mark certain steps or stages in the land question. At first men plucked up courage to appeal to the principles of commercial honesty outraged by landlord confiscation of tenants' outlay. That was a feature in the case easily enough comprehended in a commercial country like this. Next, the appeal was as to freedom of contract; you were asked to protect the tenant because there could be no free contract in his case, which was true enough; all this left the strongest and the deepest part of the tenant's case untouched. The commercial dishonesty of confiscating the tenant's improvement was portion of the case; the farce of supposing a free contract between the land serf and his master was another; but beyond and beside all this there lay the greater and more important principle of the tenant's claim—rather let me say, his ancient lawful, traditional, and indubitable right —to undisturbed occupancy as long as he paid a fair and equitable rent. This is the pinch of the whole case. I tell you that until you boldly face this fact of the Irish idea of joint right or copartnership in the land you are only dealing with fragments of the case. The Land Bill of 1870, of which I think more highly now than I did when it was being passed, has at all events this supreme merit, that it admitted the principle I here state; for on what other ground does it entitle a tenant to compensation for disturbance if not for invasion of his occupancy right? It is this which underlies all the unhappy struggle which has made the land question so terrible an episode in our history. It is simply a case of a strong nation seeking to force on a weaker a system of land tenure utterly repugnant to its own—utterly subversive of the rights of the people. Your English ideas of tenure, such as they are, have never been accepted by the Irish people. You are every day more and more drifting into a system of pure contract, or mere casual hire of the land surface. Accidental or fortuitous circumstances enable that system to suit you, or at least enables it to prevail without the evils it would bring elsewhere. But that is not our case; that is not our Irish conception of tenure as it has come down to us in record and history. The hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Plunket) contended that this claim of the occupiers would not only invade the property of modern purchasers, but would confiscate the ancient rights of I even the representatives of Irish Chieftains—the hon. Members for Roscommon and Tralee (the O'Conor Don, and the O'Donoghue). I must, with all possible respect for the learning of my hon. and learned Friend, refer him to his most elementary class book on Irish history for more correct information as to the relations of Irish Chieftains towards the septs. The Irish Chieftains had no such power, no such right, as he imagines. They could evict no clansman tenant. They could distrain him for rent; as to that the law was clear; but they could not evict him from his holding. The Government are spending some hun- dreds, perhaps I might say thousands, of pounds, voted by this House, in the translation of the remarkable and venerable code of laws known as the Brehon Code. In that marvellous collection of laws 2,000 years old—that code which was actually and legally administered in Ireland down to the 17th century—it is a singular fact that whereas we find the most minute details and forms as to distress for the Chieftain's rent, nowhere is eviction recognized. I correct myself. There is one exception; and it is one both interesting and instructive; for one cause, and one cause only, could a tenant be evicted—namely, in the words of the code, "for a crime against humanity; for shutting his door against the hungry, the wounded or the dying." That law ran in Ireland down to a recent period. Its spirit survives to the present day. In fact, at the period of the Anglo-Norman invasion the Irish took with fatal, too fatal, ease the first appearance of the invaders, until they found them introducing the Anglo-Norman ideas of land tenure, whereby the tenantry or clansmen were robbed of their right of occupancy, and placed utterly at the mercy of the lord. In that hour began the land war which has come down to the present day. Four hundred years later, in the reign of the eighth Henry, a number of the Irish Princes were induced to accept English titles or patents, making them "landlords" according to the English system; but this was a robbery of what was not theirs to take or the King's to give—namely, the title of the tenantry to occupy their lands subject only to payment of fair rent. Accordingly, the moment this perfidy of the Chiefs was heard of they were deposed, others were duly and legally elected in their stead, and we had what were called "the King's O'Reilly," and "the Irish O'Reilly," "the King's O'Conor," and "the Irish O'Conor." In a word, the land code was not to be thus overthrown. Even when the clan system fell, in the reign of James I., we find Royal Proclamations promising to recognize the right of the people to undisturbed occupancy of the land. That idea, that tradition, it is that clings desperately in the Irish peasant's mind; the idea of a right, a legal right, an equitable, ancient, historical, indefeasible right to his humble homestead, subject only to a fair and reasonable landlord's rent. Go visit in the condemned cell the wretch whose hand has been imbrued in the blood of his evicting landlord; go question the Ribbon conspirator who plots against an agent's life; and you will find this idea rooted in their mind—that they are not criminals, but men avenging an outrage on lawful right and justice; defending their title to occupancy of the soil. Nowhere, I assert, will you find any trace of the idea that the landlord is not entitled to his rent. That right is universally, cheerfully recognized. But by Irish tenure law the landlord's right to rent and the tenant's right to occupancy are equally strong; neither can override the other. That, to be sure, is not statute law; but so much the worse for the peace, happiness, and prosperity of Ireland. That is not your system of tenure; and you are trying by statutes to force your feudal system on Irish tenants. To end this conflict of centuries is the aim of the Bill now before you. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), with angry emphasis, tells us it never will pass this House. With equal vehemence I now answer back and tell him that until it passes there shall be, and there can be, no respite from combat. The Irish land-tenants are alive to all that is involved. They have set their hearts upon this question, and never, never will they desist until it is carried. It is not a starving or famished people who most resolutely fight for their rights. The Irish farmers, just because they have somewhat improved in comfort, are grown more tenacious of their rights, more determined in their course of action. Security of tenure they have vowed to obtain, and they will never desist till it has been recognized by statute. As for the need of such a right, I could cite cases even from my own county, where good landlords are not few, to show the wrong and the cruelty and the plunder that are wrought by the present system; but I feel bound to consider the limited time we have at command, and to remember that others well worthy of a hearing on this question have yet to speak. So far, indeed, the debate has been in creditable contrast to that of last year, and no one can complain of the general spirit in which our case has been contested. I hope the same may be said at the close. Let us not be encountered to-day with taunts I have heard, and been sorry to hear, before. Let no one think to silence us by the story that we have no tenants of our own. [Ironical cheers.] That is true of some of us, as it is true of some of our opponents; but if it were a necessary qualification, there are men around me who take their stand upon this Bill who can measure acre for acre with those who ironically cheered just now. But I repel such a test. I, thank God, do not own as much land as would sod a lark; I am neither a landlord nor a tenant, and must naturally be all the more impartial and independent. But is this, indeed, an incapacity? When the noble Ashley strove from year to year for the white slaves of the factory, did some Lancashire Cotton Lord, arrogant as ignorant, seek to abash him by the announcement that he did not own a single spindle? When Wilberforce pleaded for the West Indian slaves, did some Jamaica planter seek to silence him by the assertion that he did not own a single pound of human flesh on which to lay a "master's" thong? If so, we too may bear taunts of a like kind here to-day. We are the men who have a real stake in this question; a real stake in the country; a stake dearer and deeper than any held by those who wring thousands to be squandered in profligacy from field and lea, from valley and hillside, where their face is never seen. We have the stake of men whose lot is cast with their own people, their own country; men whose happiness or fortune must be affected for good or ill by the general weal—by the comfort or the misery, the turbulence or the tranquillity, around them. With such a stake at issue we fling ourselves into this cause, having devoted ourselves to the endeavour to end this sanguinary agrarian war, and to close for ever a page in our social history all stained with blood, all blotted by tears.


said, that he had thought it his duty to oppose the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend last year, but though he represented an agricultural constituency, not one word of complaint had he heard in regard to the vote he had given. They respected the motives that influenced his conduct, and they found no fault with the course he took, although they did not agree with him. Considerable changes from the Bill of last year had been made in the present measure, and the position of those who had opposed the measure of last year was changed in a corresponding degree. The changes to which he alluded had to some extent met his objections. The Land Act of 1870 was passed, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, to counteract insecurity of tenure in the case of the smaller tenants by imposing damages for evictions. It had, however, been shown that those damages failed to secure their object, and that some further legislation was required. The Act, failed in the first place, in consequence of the provisions for the continuity of title. It also failed to prevent that slow, gradual raising of rents which eventually became crushing. The tenant found his rent raised again and again until the rent became excessive. He hoped to tide the difficulty over, but matters became worse and worse, and he only realized his position when he was ruined. His rent being then in arrear, he forfeited the advantages of the Irish Land Act and could get no compensation. It might be said, why did not the tenant resist? In the first place, the class of poor tenants were not calculated to offer resistance; and besides that the poor tenant, like the camel, could not tell what was the last straw to break his back. As the right hon. Member for Greenwich said, in reference to the Land Act, and speaking of the small tenants, they interfered with freedom of contract in this case because this class of tenantry was not free. A great many of the arguments used that day had been addressed to the Bill of last Session, and it appeared that sufficient Notice had not been given of the alterations introduced into the present Bill. The present Bill did extend legislative indulgence to a class who required it, and extended the benefits of the Land Act to those who were unable to avail themselves of the Act. In the Bill of last Session perpetuity of tenure was given to all the tenants in Ireland, provided that the rent should be fixed by valuation; but the present Bill would leave at least two-thirds of the farmers all the freedom of contract. He wished to say one word in appeal to the class to which he belonged. Landlords, as a class, he believed, might claim any just judgment, and he was sure that it would not tend to their discredit. He knew that a large class of small tenantry in Ireland were, to a considerable extent, subject to what was practically unlimited power on the part of landlords, and he believed they (the landlords) could say that generally the power was used for the best. It was a maxim among them all never to subject a tenant to eviction so long as he paid the rent. He appealed to landlords to support this Bill, which proposed to apply to those few among their own class who now refused to be bound by the maxim. The hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) opposed the Bill. He had a large number of tenants, and he (Mr. O'Reilly) believed had never turned one away, and no question for compensation had arisen. He appealed to the hon. Member for his support in endeavouring to make those advantages general, and extend them to those small tenants not so favourably situated as his own. He wished to impress upon the House that he did not speak on behalf of the farmer who had a large number of acres; they were as capable of taking care of themselves as were the tenants of England:— with capital in their hands, they met the landlords upon an equal footing—he pleaded for the class of small tenants who, notwithstanding the benefits of the Land Act, trembled at the word of the landlord.


said, he should vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill; and as it was notorious that the principles underlying the measure were not understood, and did not command sympathy on this side of St. George's Channel, he wished to explain briefly his reason for the vote which he intended to give. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had spoken of the Bill as a measure of Home Rule. He (Mr. Courtney), on the contrary, was of opinion that the more attention the proposal received in that House the greater would be the injury inflicted upon the agitation for Home Rule—an agitation which, if successful, would, in his view, bring an immense amount of misery and wretchedness upon Ireland. He supported the Bill as the best way of avoiding Home Rule. It would show on the part of Parliament a desire to meet requirements and remove objections with regard to the tenure of land in Ireland in accordance with the feelings of the people. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire had enunciated a principle laid down by Adam Smith, that Parliament should be more careful in dealing with land than with any other description of property. He (Mr. Courtney) admitted that proposition. Nothing more closely touched the happiness of the people than the laws dealing with the land that produced their food. The true principle of Adam Smith was carried out by the Bill. It did not mean that we should be careful to abstain from legislation, but that we should be careful in our legislation. One of the first things in the development of the laws in reference to land was attention to the feelings of the people for whom the legislation was made, and therefore the supporters of the Bill desired to let it be known that their wish was to understand the feelings and wants of the Irish people and to redress their legitimate grievances, as far as was possible, in reference to the existing system of land tenure. The historical conception of the property in land as entertained by the Irish people, had been accurately described by the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), who stated it as being that an occupier of land should be allowed to continue his occupation as long as he fulfilled his obligation to his landlord for the payment of a rent agreed upon between them. He saw nothing in this conception—although it differed from the view commonly accepted in England—so false in principle or so likely to produce pernicious results that it should not be embodied in a Bill referring to Ireland, where, as history showed, the conception had long existed. The principle to which he referred led to the establishment of what was known as the Ulster Custom—which had been developed out of community of feeling between the landlord and tenant—and he saw no reason why that custom should not be extended to other parts of Ireland. In Ulster it had grown up withoutlaw, but there was no reason why it should not be extended by legislation to the South and West. The cardinal feature of the Bill, in his view, was to be found it its third part, which provided that tenants should be secured in possession of their holdings for periods of 21 years on regular payment of their rents, and that in case of arbitrary eviction within such periods they should have a claim to compensation. It had been stated that this would amount to practical confiscation of property, but he saw no ground for any such suggestion in that the amount of rent to be paid was to be fixed by agreement, or, in case an agreement was not arrived at, then by arbitrators appointed by the contracting parties, and that at the end of each term of 21 years there would be a re-valuation of the properties. The only power proposed to be interfered with was that of arbitrary evictions by landlords, a power which ought not to exist; and, as the measure would cause a feeling of contentment among the Irish tenantry, he saw no reason why it should not pass.


said, he could not permit a division to be taken without stating the reason why he could not support the Bill, which only differed in points of detail from the measure which was brought forward last year by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. If he were now justified in supporting this Bill he would not have been justified last year in opposing a similar measure, and the taunts which were freely thrown out against him that he opposed that Bill, although his objections were objections only to details, would be fully borne out. No Member of the House was more anxious to support a Bill on this subject if he conscientiously thought it was based on sound principles and would effect the attainment of the objects in view; but when he believed that the principles contained in the Bill were mischievous, contrary to justice, and not such as were likely to result in a final settlement of the question involved, he could not give his vote for the second reading. It was true that the details of the Bill had been considerably modified since last year. The hon. and learned Member had abandoned the proposal of referring the settlement of rents to juries; but in place of this reference he had substituted nothing. The Bill was an absolute blank upon this point. It was all very well to say that the blank could be supplied when the Bill got into Committee; but a blank on such an important point ought not to exist in the measure when it was brought before the House. The proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, put briefly, was that tenants should have a right to permanent occupancy of their holdings, the rights of the landlords being limited to the receipts of rents, the amounts of which were to be settled by some tribunal or machinery not stated in the Bill. If a proposal of the kind was to be adopted, compensation ought to be given to those landowners who had bought their property under different conditions. Another objection which he had to the Bill was, that it did not once and for all deal with the grievances under which occupiers of land in Ireland laboured, and then leave them free; but it would, in fact, perpetuate most harassing restrictions upon all dealings in land, whether let in arable or grazing farms. If it were necessary, he said, to have occupiers of land secured in the ownership of the soil, let the question be openly approached and boldly dealt with. Let them face the matter boldly —let them get rid of the landlords altogether, pay them the money value of their rights, and secure the occupiers as owners both really and nominally, and leave them free. That would be the statesmanlike course; but the present Bill, instead of removing existing restrictions, created a number of new ones. His last objection to the Bill was one which would probably induce several Members to support it —namely, that it had no possible chance of passing into law. [Cries of "Name?"] He would leave the names to Gentlemen's own consciences, but to his mind that was a strong reason why he could not vote for the second reading. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick, however, had shown a disposition to meet several of the objections which had been raised to the details of the Bill of last Session; and, under these circumstances, and as a recognition of the conciliatory spirit shown by the hon. and learned Member, he believed he would best discharge his duty by taking no part in the division.


Sir, I have a few remarks to address to the House before the division to which we are all anxious to come. In the first place, I heard with surprise the very remarkable doctrine which has been propounded by the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney). I venture to say that neither in the history of legislation, nor in the statements which have been made by the highest authorities in this House, will be found anything to justify such a statement. Further, I cannot consent to deal with a measure nominally affecting Ireland alone, but which must indirectly affect the tenure of land in the whole United Kingdom, simply according to the views of a certain section of the Irish Representatives in Parliament, or to pass it because it contains upon its back the name of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. Now, Sir, the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, for sufficient reasons, was unable himself to explain at any length to the House how this measure differed from that of last year, neither has it been shown why a measure which was rejected last year by an immense majority should this year receive the assent of Parliament. In the first part of the Bill there appears to me to be no material alteration at all. I think this part, dealing as it does with the Ulster Custom, and the second part dealing, as I believe it does, almost entirely with compensation to tenants for improvements, might very properly be discussed when we have more time at our disposal, but need hardly be referred to on the present occasion. They are, in fact, an attempt to amend the Land Act of 1870; and in this respect they occupy to my mind an essentially different position from the third portion of the Bill. If the third part of the Bill were passed there would be no necessity for the first or second portions of the measure; and, therefore, it is to that part that I shall confine the observations which I wish to make to the House. Now, in the first place, the third portion of the Bill can in no sense be looked upon as an amendment of the Land Act of 1870. I might refer to the expressions of opinion on this subject which fell last year from the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County (Mr. Law), and the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, but I do not think there is any necessity to trouble the House with quotations. By the Land Act of 1870 compensation was provided for tenants for their unexhausted improvements, and certain provisions were made to deter landlords from capricious evictions. But that, Sir, is not the purpose of the third portion of this Bill, which, not content with what has been done, proposes to take away altogether from the landlords in Ireland the power of evicting their tenants. Now, in the first place, I think it may fairly be considered on whose behalf is this per- petuity of tenure proposed to be given No legislation, I venture to say, is necessary to secure practical perpetuity of tenure in Ireland to good tenants. But what is the character, as is given to us by those who support this measure, of tenants in Ireland? We are told that they are so ignorant that they are unable to enter into a free contract with their landlords; they are so unenterprizing that if evicted from their farms they could not turn their energies to any other pursuit; and they are so unimproving that even all that has been done for them by the Land Act of 1870—which gives them greater security of tenure than tenants in England or Scotland—does not tempt them to make any improvements on the farms in Ireland equal to those which are made by English or Scotch tenants without any similar statutory protection. That is their position according to the arguments of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Butt). It is on this account that we are I asked specially to legislate on their behalf. But do they comprise all the people? By passing this Bill we should be benefiting the class of existing occupiers, and that class alone. No benefit will accrue to the industrious labourers who might at one time hope to become occupiers, and no benefit will accrue to that large class of persons, tradesmen and others, who, though not tenants of land at present, hope when they have saved up a little money to retire and take farms in their later years. Probably, that is the class who would be most likely to make improvements, for the qualities by which they had obtained their former success in life, and the capital at their command, would lead them to do so. Those persons' interests are more than ignored in this measure. It is proposed to give a valuable boon to the class of existing tenants, at the expense both of the landlord and of future possible occupiers, which the fortunate recipients will naturally take good care to realize in full when they sell their interests to those who come after them. Now it is all very well to say that this Bill differs from the Bill of last year with respect to graziers. I have carefully looked at the provisions of the measure, and it is true that it is provided that graziers shall not benefit by any portion of the Bill; but, on the other hand, graziers will come under the third portion of the Bill if the tenancy is created after the passing of the Bill, and therefore all the objections that have been urged against extending to graziers the provisions of the Bill fairly apply to the Bill as it now stands. I think a great deal may be said against excluding this class of persons, for every real argument against the application of the provisions of the Bill to this class of tenants applies with equal force to every other class. Many of the graziers who occupy large tracts of land may not receive much sympathy, because they are comparatively few in number, and do not command much political influence; but it is due to them to recollect that they have often brought into profitable use large areas of land which, but for them, would have remained waste and uncultivated. If this Bill passes, it does not much matter whether graziers are included in it or not, because I believe that the consequences of passing such a measure as this will be that those who are excluded from its benefits will come again to a future Parliament and claim that a similar measure of confiscation shall be passed for them. But, again, this measure proposes not only to confer upon existing tenants perpetuity of tenure, but to give them the additional advantage of a valued rent. I confess that I was astonished at the interpretation which the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) placed upon the proposals of the Bill under this head. I understood the hon. and learned Member to say that the pecuniary rights of the landlord in Ireland were protected by the provisions of this Bill—provisions which, in my view, would deprive the landlord of that which is one of the essential rights of property—that of asking what rent he may chose for the land he desires to let. I do not care to trouble the House with quotations, but there is a passage in the speech of the right hon. Member for Greenwich in introducing the Irish Land Act of 1870, which bears so directly upon this point that I cannot refrain from reading it. The right hon. Gentleman, in pointing out the immense difference that exists between security and perpetuity of tenure, said— I do not think that anything dishonourable, anything that intends an injury to another, has been projected by those who have set up per- petuity of tenure for the Irish occupier as their favourite scheme, because we have not a doubt that they have seen that inasmuch as perpetuity of tenure on the part of the occupier is virtually expropriation of the landlord, and as a mere readjustment of rent according to the price of produce can by no means dispose of all contingencies the future may produce in his favour, compensation would have to be paid to the landlord for the rights of which he would be deprived. I have no doubt that they have taken this circumstance into their view; but, at the same time, while this proposition is to be indisputable, I hold that the plan is attended with the greatest practical difficulty, even were it on this ground alone. Because the question will be, by whom is that compensation to be paid? It must either be paid by our old familiar friend, the Consolidated Fund—to which it appears to me that the people of England and Scotland would certainly have a word to say—or else it must be paid by an immediate increase of the rents now payable in Ireland, in order to compensate, by a positive augmentation at the moment, the landlords of Ireland for the loss of their chances in the future. Now, I do not know how a measure is to be framed either upon the one basis or on the other."—[3 Hansard, cxcix. 350–351.] It might be said that the compensation would be found in the system by which the rents were to be fixed by valuation from time to time by arbitrators. The hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don) has already dealt effectually with that point; but I may ask whether this measure would be accepted by the tenants in Ireland if they did not suppose that under it, at the worst, they would hold their farms at no greater rent than they pay at present—while, on the other hand, they might obtain a considerable reduction in the amount of their present rents? The effect of a measure of this kind must be either to reduce the rent now paid, in which case the landlord will receive no compensation whatever for the loss he will sustain — or to raise it, in which case the measure will be distasteful to the very persons in whose behalf it is brought forward—or to leave the rents permanently at their present rate, than which nothing can be more unfair to the easy and liberal landlord who now leases his farms at a rent far below their real value, or more disastrous to the tenants of the hard grasping landlord who now exacts the highest possible rent. But how are you to arrive at a fair valuation? It is proposed by the Bill that the rent is to be fixed by arbitrators who are to be appointed—one by the landlord, the other by the tenant; but if such arbitrators are altogether unbiased in fixing the amount of the rent they will be more than human. I admit that it is a better proposal to leave the matter in the hands of arbitrators than of the juries proposed by the hon. and learned Member's Bill of last year; but I confess I cannot see how we are to secure unbiased arbitrators who will be altogether insensible to popular favour, or how the amount of rent is to be fixed when the respective arbitrators cannot agree. So much, then, for the benefits that this measure will confer upon the tenant, and the injustice it will inflict upon the landlord. But the injustice will be inflicted on the tenant as well as the landlord, if in the term tenant you include—and you ought to include—not only the existing tenants, but the population of Ireland generally; and you will unquestionably, as the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) has already shown, also inflict a most serious injury on the country by the different position in which you will place the landlord class. The landlord will become, as has been already shown, a mere rent-charger, with no interest in the welfare or prosperity of his tenantry, with no desire or necessity for spending his money in any improvement of his property, with no temptation to become —as I am sure we all wish more Irish landlords may become—a permanent resident. You will remove from the country a great source of civilization and improvement; and all that, as I venture to say, for no real or permanent good to the people. Then there is another point, and that is the question of subletting. I cannot conceive anything more dangerous to the future prosperity of Ireland than the re-introduction of the system of sub-letting, which in the past history of the country has brought so many miseries upon it. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Butt) spoke of a clause of this Bill which proposes, as I understand it, to cut up, if the occupiers so choose, any farm exceeding 60 acres into smaller holdings of 30 acres a-piece in any way which the occupier himself may elect. I believe that there is a provision that the rent of the holdings so carved out of the original farm shall not be increased on account of the subdivision; but there is no provision whatever, nor can there be any, against the occupier taking a fine or a payment of money down by the persons who might wish to become practically his sub-tenants. I am confident that this provision in the Bill—if carried into effect—would not only destroy the large farms which now exist in Ireland and thus arrest the progress of improvement in agriculture which has already gone so far, but would also in time bring the country back to all those miseries to which I have already alluded. I see the hour is getting late, and I am not anxious to detain the House any further; but I would just ask before I sit down, what support this measure has really received out-of-doors? I can well understand that when persons go about the country holding out in speeches or in writings anticipations to the Irish tenantry that they are practically to obtain by means of this Bill the ownership of the land for nothing, that the tenantry, or a large body of them, are likely to be very favourably disposed towards a measure which proposes to confer such a boon upon them. But there is one very singular fact which ought to be mentioned, and that is that no single Petition in favour of the Bill has been presented to this House. A Land Conference, as it was called, was held in the autumn of last year in Dublin. I do not think it was largely representative either of land owners or land occupiers. Boards of Guardians throughout Ireland, Town Councils and Boards of Town Commissioners throughout the country, were entreated to send representatives to this Land Conference. Hardly any of them responded to the invitation; and why did they not do so? Because, I believe, there is no real foundation for all those stories upon which this Bill professes to be based. We have heard in the course of this debate but one case alleged as one of those terrible acts on the part of the landlords of Ireland which are relied upon by hon. Members as the case for this Bill; and that has already been dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket). But I think the House ought to know this—that there has been no lack of energy on the part of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick and the promoters of this Bill in inquiring all over the country for proofs of the evil which they assert is now in operation; and that wide - spread inquiry has resulted in the citation of the one single case already referred to. If there are other cases, why have they not been brought before this House? But I will bring a fact under the notice of the House, and it will be a very short one. Let me refer the House to a Blue Book accessible to any hon. Member—to the volume that has been issued of Judicial Statistics for Ireland for the year 1875. There they will find the shallow nature of the arguments on which this Bill is based. They will find that in the year 1875, besides ejectments for non-payment of rent, there were only 652 ejectments executed in the whole of Ireland among no less a number of occupiers over one acre each than 502,000. They will find under the provisions of the Land Act no less a sum than £21,000 as having been decreed by the Chairmen in 221 cases as compensation to tenants for eviction or improvements; that those awards were made almost entirely in the case of small holdings; and that so far as any arguments can be derived from it, this fact ought to be added—the average of each award, which in 1874 was only £87, was last year £96, and has been increasing, as against the average of the last four years. I venture to say this shows that the provisions of the Land Act on this question are doing their work, and that there is no real ground for the proposals which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick has thus brought before the House. I will not characterize them as proposals for confiscation, though they might be so characterized; but, at any rate, they amount to this—to a most important change in the law of real property in Ireland, greatly to the disadvantage of the landlord, to the disadvantage, also, I believe, of the labouring population, for whom no tenant right is provided by this Bill, and to the disadvantage of all in Ireland who may in future days seek to become occupiers of land. Therefore, I have to say that, to the measure as it now stands, seeing that the alterations made in it by the hon. and learned Member do not detract from the wrongfulness of its principles, the Government are prepared to give it their unqualified opposition.


I cannot refrain from saying a word to express my surprise at the remarks of the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don), because I have a distinct recollection that on former occasions he has expressed himself anxious to see some measure passed which would secure fixity of tenure to the tenants of Ireland, and now he declares himself opposed to the principle of fixity of tenure. I have no right to complain of that; but I think I have a right to complain that the hon. Member almost transgressed the bounds of Parliamentary courtesy by asserting that there are persons who support this Bill because they knew it could not pass. If any such insinuation had proceeded from an hon. Member whom I did not respect as I do the hon. Member for Roscommon, I should say it was the reflection of a conscience ill at ease, and who sees dishonourable motives in others because he is conscious of them in himself. With regard to this Bill—I am attempting in a few minutes to say a great deal, but I could cite abundant evidence to show that its provisions are necessary to give effect to the Land Act and to protect the tenant in the first place against eviction from his holding, and next against the confiscation of his improvements. Has the hon. Member never read the letter of Mr. Edward O'Brien—himself a landed proprietor—in which he said that the silent process of confiscation of tenants' improvements was going on daily? Did he never read the letter of Lord Carlingford—one of the authors of the Land Act—in which, addressing Mr. O'Brien, he admitted that the statements that gentleman made were justified by the facts? Has he forgotten that we are asking nothing that does not exist at the present moment in the prosperous and loyal Province of Ulster? Will any Ulster Member get up and tell me that he raises rents in that Province without a valuation—that perpetuity of tenure is not the law of Ulster, subject to slight alterations—and that Ulster is not the most loyal and prosperous part of Ireland? It is because the same results would follow from the establishment of the same principles in the other parts of Ireland that I introduce this Bill. The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland asks me what kind of tenants this Bill will benefit? I have time to read three lines from a statement I hold in my hand with regard to an occurrence on Mr. Buckley's estate. A farmer tells me that, when he was a boy, he worked with his grandfather upon the farm he now occupies; that they reclaimed the farm, which is nearly 1,200 feet above the level of the sea; and he describes his grandfather, and then his father and himself, as having carried the manure on their backs to reclaim the land, which they found a heap of stones and partly bog. His rent was raised by Mr. Bridge—I will not speak of Mr. Buckley—from £3 to £5 15s. per acre, and he was obliged to send his wife and children to service to get money to pay the rent, while he himself never tasted animal food from one years' end to another, unless when a sheep died from disease, and he says—"I have submitted to this wrong because I have no choice but to bear it." I ask this House is that to be endured? Is that a power that any man ought to have, that the industry of the tenant shall lead to his being charged rent he cannot pay without sending his wife and children to service, and without his excessive labour for nine months of the year? These are the kind of things which we want to prevent, and the kind of tenants we want to protect. I am quite ready to testify with regard to him if the right hon. Baronet will give us a Committee or a Commission of Inquiry into these oppressions which have convulsed the country, and plunged the whole of the neighbourhood, and especially the districts where compensation has been raised for the men who have been attacked, into disaffection and excitement. If he will give us such an inquiry, he will find that these tenants are men who deserve to be protected.


Sir, I do not rise at this hour to discuss the subject of this Bill, but solely to protest against the strong, I may say the savage, manner in which charges have been brought against a gentleman who has lately been a Member of this House, and who, from my intimate personal knowledge of him, I am sure is entirely free from the guilt and the offence imputed to him. I refer specially to what has been said by the hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) when speaking of what has happened upon the estate of Mr. Nathaniel Buckley. I have known Mr. Buckley from his boyhood. I am acquainted with his family, and I say he is a man as kind and just as any hon. Member who sits in this House. Having had intimate relations with Mr. Buckley for many years I speak on this matter with knowledge and authority. That gentleman is not present, and no man is so well acquainted with him as I myself am, and therefore it is that I stand up to contradict the charges which have been brought against him. The hon. Member for Cork County, speaking from the circular of some one whom he greatly praised, stated that he was willing to have his estates valued by an impartial arbitrator. Now, I say, from my knowledge of him, that Mr. Buckley would be quite willing and content to accept the rent for his property as fixed by an impartial arbitrator. It has been said by an old author that a man's presence speaks in his own cause with the force of 20 advocates; but on this occasion, when Mr. Buckley is necessarily absent, it rests upon his friends to declare their opinion that he is incapable of the conduct which has been attributed to him.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 84; Noes 323: Majority 239.—(Div. List, No. 41.) Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.

House adjourned at Six o'clock.