§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ LORD ARTHUR HILL-TREVOR,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it proposed simply to give to tenants in Ulster the benefit of the custom of Ulster with regard to leases. At that late hour of the day (5.10) he would not enter into the details of the measure, the object being simply to rectify the Land Act of 1870; which did not, it was believed by many eminent lawyers and Judges, place the tenants of Ireland in so good a position as they were before the passing of that Act. His Bill would place the leaseholder in the same position as the yearly tenant with regard to tenant-right custom, compensation for improvements, and so on. In the framing of the Land Act of 1870, no specific mention had been made of the leaseholder, and it was with a view to remedy this omission, which had been generally complained of, that he had introduced the present Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Lord Arthur Hill-Trevor.)
§ MR. RICHARD SMYTH
Sir, it is not my intention to offer any opposition to the second reading of this Bill; but I must say it is open to some criticism. I am glad that the noble Lord the Member for Down (Lord Arthur Hill-Trevor) has omitted the Proviso which the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) appended to his Bill in 1876; and which, I believe, that hon. Member himself was not unwilling to abandon in Committee, if the measure had reached that stage. But I do not know why the noble Lord has rejected two provisions which were contained in the Bill I had the honour to introduce last Session, provisions which even the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. D Plunket) gave his adhesion to, and which as I understand, were not opposed by Her Majesty's Government; and these I shall refer ot in a moment or two. As re- 1584 gards the leading principle of the Bill, there is no substantial difference of opinion in Ireland. It is notorious that at the end of a lease, alike on the great and small estates, a farm was never put up for competition, as is the case in Scotland. A lease in Ulster never meant any more than that, for a certain defined period, there should be no change in the rent; but it was not understood to imply that the clause of surrender was to take effect in a change of tenant. No man in Ireland is better enabled to speak with authority on the subject than the noble Lord. It must appear to English and Scotch Members somewhat surprising that the noble Lord should introduce a Bill to set aside the covenants of a lease, as it purports to do; but, with the permission of the House, I shall read what was said on the subject by an eminent Irish Judge, when examined before Lord Lifford's Committee in 1872. [The hon. Member then read at length Chief Justice Monahan's evidence on leasehold tenant-right, connected with the case of Austin and Scott, in the county of Londonderry.] The evidence went to show that the custom as regards tenant-right stood on exactly the same footing in the case of a lease as in that of a tenancy from year to year. The custom is, in fact, beyond all question; but we believe there are customs analogous to that which prevails in Ulster in some other parts of Ireland, and it is well known that the 2nd clause in the Land Act of 1870 makes provision for giving legal effect to customs, no matter where found in Ireland. I do not know why the noble Lord has given the go-by to the rest of Ireland, whilst proposing a good thing for the Province of Ulster. I can hardly think he would do this for the mere purpose of buying off the opposition of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) who last year succeeded in throwing out the Bill which I was responsible for. Ulster did not do so much for the Land Act of 1870 that it ought to be treated now with exceptional favour, especially as the doing of justice to the other three Provinces can in no way compromise the well-being of the Ulster farmers. It may be said that there are no analogous customs in the other three Provinces. Well, if that be so, no harm can be done, for the Bill does not create, but only legalizes, an existing custom; and 1585 if the usage does not exist, the Bill would leave matters where they are. I do not at all like this exceptional legislation, and I shall certainly move in Committee the insertion of words that will meet the case of leasehold customs in all parts of Ireland. Then, again, the noble Lord provides that an express covenant or agreement shall be held to nullify the tenant-right at the end of a lease. There is a good deal of danger in this provision, unless the covenant bear upon the face of it that the surrender of the tenant's claim for compensation has been made for an equivalent, or for a valuable consideration. Very few landlords, I should hope, would bring pressure to bear upon their tenantry to induce them to sign agreements to their own damage; but such things have been done, and they might be done again. If we had only to deal with such landlords as the noble Lord himself, we need not trouble ourselves about Acts of Parliament; but we must take care that sharks be kept away from the nets. Therefore, when the Bill is in Committee, I shall move an Amendment to the effect that no covenant for the surrender of a tenant's claim shall be valid unless it is made on the footing of valuable consideration. With these reservations, I cordially support the second reading of the Bill.
THE MARQUESS OF HAMILTON
said, he was glad to hear the hon. Member opposite (Mr. R. Smyth) say that he did not intend to oppose the Bill, and he hoped that before the end of the Session the measure would be passed into law, as the Bill would, he held, confer a great benefit on a large portion of the tenants of Ulster. The object of the measure was simply to place in a clear manner the position which the leaseholders in Ireland held under the Land Act of 1870. When the Land Act of 1870 was passed, it was never intended that the landholders of the Province of Ulster should be placed in a worse position than the yearly tenants of Ulster were placed in ever since the passing of the Land Ac of 1870. As to the position in which these leaseholders stood, some of the most eminent Irish lawyers and Judges asserted that the leaseholders were not included in the operation of the Act, and he believed he was correct in saying that amongst them was Mr. Baron Fitzgerald who maintained that the right to sur- 1586 render had done away with the tenant-right. For a long time past it had been he custom in Ulster that tenants, at the expiration of their leases, should retain their farms at a yearly rent. But, in some parts of Ireland, since the passing of the Land Act of 1870, some of the landlords had taken advantage of the law, and had asserted that the right of surrender did away with the tenant-right. This Bill had been brought in, in order to do away with that anomaly, and to lay the onus of proof in such cases upon the landlord instead of the tenant. There was also another point which he considered to be very valuable, which would be gained if this measure was passed into law—namely, that it would give an incentive to tenants to take leases. He was extremely glad to find that there appeared to be no opposition to the principle of the Bill, and hoped that before the end of the Session it would be passed into Committee.
§ MR. O'NEILL
said, he was glad to think that the second reading of this Bill would not be opposed. It was a most important Bill as regarded the Province of Ulster, for the number of holdings under lease there had been stated, without contradiction, to be 32,000. It was also most important, because doubts had arisen, and conflicting decisions had been given, respecting leasehold tenant-right under the Act of 1870; and the object of this Bill was only to make that Act clear and plain with respect to this point. That Act legalized usages which had existed previously to its passing, and leasehold tenant-right might be almost said to be one of those usages; but, by that Act of 1870, the onus of proving the existence of tenant-right on the termination of a lease was thrown on the tenant, and this was almost impossible to prove, because there were so few instances of the sale of tenant-right immediately on the expiration of a lease. Tenants in Ulster, holding under lease, scarcely ever quitted their holdings at the end of their leases. They remained in their holdings at an increased rent as yearly tenants, and there by came in for all the benefits accruing to yearly tenants under the Land Act, including the right to sell their tenant-right. This, it would be seen, was conceding the point, and the reason—speaking generally—why it was conceded was that yearly tenants were— 1587 and that more especially since the passing of the Land Act—as secure in their holdings as were tenants holding under lease. Chief Justice Monahan, in his evidence, which had just been read by the hon. Member for the County of Derry, said he could not see the least difference between the two cases. It was true that Chief Justice Whiteside took a different view of the law on this point. Hence the doubt, which it was the object of this Bill to clear up. In conclusion, he supported this Bill, because he believed it would be a declaratory Bill rather than one introducing any novelty. Its object was to clear away an obstruction which had arisen in the working of the Land Act. The principle which it contained had been generally acknowledged and acted upon in Ulster, and he believed that its passing would tend to increase the harmony and good feeling which generally existed between landlord and tenant in that Province.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
considered that the Bill was one which the House would do well to read a second time. As had been very properly observed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derry (Mr. R. Smyth), this Bill was not an attempt to renew agrarian agitation, or to what was called amend the Land Act of 1870. As he understood the measure, it was merely an attempt to remove the doubts which had arisen in the minds of many persons—some of them most eminent Irish lawyers and Judges—with regard to the interpretation of certain portions of the Land Act of 1870. He also gave his most cordial approval of the clause in the measure which gave power to make contracts outside the custom of the Province of Ulster.
ventured to express a hope that the Bill would be read a second time, although he felt bound to confess that it did not go so far as he should wish it to go. However, he supposed it would be competent for those who wished to make further provision for the benefit of the Ulster tenants to propose new clauses in Committee; and, therefore, he would not do more on the present occasion than express his sincere hope that the Bill would be passed into law during the present Session.
§ MR. FAY
said, he was extremely glad that the right hon. Gentleman the 1588 Chief Secretary for Ireland had expressed himself satisfied with the Bill, and was also pleased to find that the Conservative Party of Ireland were willing to adopt it. He thought the fact of the Conservative Party of Ireland being in its favour was a great success for the tenant-farmers, and showed a great advance of Liberal opinion on the opposite side of the House. It was an incidence of the growth of popular power in Ulster. The Ulster Conservative Members were in the habit of dragging their constituencies after them. They were beginning to find that they should now obey their constituencies or lose their seats. He regarded the support this Bill had received from the Ulster Conservatives as a proof of the growing strength of Ulster Liberalism.
§ MR. BIGGAR
was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had expressed an opinion in favour of what he considered to be the truly mischievous clause in the Bill. He had not the slightest doubt that the last part of the Bill struck out the principle which was adopted in England. According to the principle of the Land Act of 1870, a tenant could not contract himself out of the tenant-right custom. The Bill, unfortunately, introduced the principle that a tenant might contract himself out of that custom, and that he considered to be a most mischievous provision. The present measure was introduced under most favourable auspices. As the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. R. Smyth) had stated, the noble Lord who introduced the Bill was one of a family with whom there was no fault to find as landlords. But, unfortunately, there were many exceptions to the noble Lord's family in Ireland, and he was sorry to see such a clause in the Bill.
§ MR. GRAY
said, he did not desire to interfere with the progress of the Bill at its present stage; but, after the declaration which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he desired to guard himself by saying that he certainly should oppose the Bill to the utmost extent unless some modifications were made in it when they got into Committee. The Bill, as it stood, gave to the landlord power to insert a provision in a lease which at its expiration 1589 abolished the Ulster custom. No such power, as far as he was aware, existed at present. He regarded this provision as insidious and dangerous, and, therefore, unless it was modified, he certainly would oppose the Bill hereafter.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday, 24th May.