HC Deb 23 April 1879 vol 245 cc946-59

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the Bill had already been before the House on two occasions; and Bills similar in principle, but going farther than this one, had been before the House since 1874. One of those Bills was brought in by the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland), and on another occasion the late hon. Member for County Down (Mr. Sharman Crawford), introduced a measure which contained clauses similar to the clauses of the present Bill. The Bill introduced by the noble Lord the Member for County Down (Lord Arthur Hill-Trevor) was passed last year; but in "another place" it met the untimely fate which the hon. and gallant Member for Galway seemed to fear would befall the Bill which he (Mr. Macartney) now asked the House to read a second time. The custom called Ulster tenant-right had been so often handled in the House, and its rise and progress traced by other speakers, that he would not waste time by dwelling upon it. The 1st clause of the Bill sought to establish for the usage of Ulster the same principle which had been established for the benefit of the tenants in England—namely, that they were supposed to have made the improvements unless the landlord could prove the contrary, the presumption being in favour of the weaker party. Owing to the wording of the Landlord and Tenant Act (1870), which spoke of the "usages of Ulster," instead of the "Ulster tenant-right custom," it was held by the Judges that it could only be applied to a holding on a particular estate after it had been proved that the custom existed on that particular estate, and that it was not sufficient to prove that the custom existed in the district, barony, or province. The result was this extraordinary anomaly—that a man might have three or four estates in one county, all managed in the same way and by the same agent, and that it would be necessary to prove the existence of tenant-right on each estate before the tenant on that particular estate could sell his tenant-right to another person. That was considered a great hardship. Formerly the great majority of landlords in this matter held themselves bound by public opinion; but a few took another course, and, refusing to allow tenant-right, caused an agitation to spring up which led to the passing of the Irish Land Act. If the 1st clause of this Bill were passed, the custom would be taken to exist in all estates in the North of Ireland situated in districts where tenant-right prevailed. He believed it could do no injury to any landlord in Ulster, and it would be a source of satisfaction to tenants to have a certainty in their own case. The Bill would prevent much litigation and bad feeling between landlord and tenant. The 2nd clause related to a particular rule existing upon some estates called an "estate office rule." Some rules, which were very general, allowed a tenant to sell his interest, the incoming tenant to be approved by the landlord; and the price was such a fair one as the outgoing tenant, according to the rate of purchase money usually prevailing in the district, could get. It had been said that he wished to do away with estate rules. He wanted to do no such thing. The only rule that the 2nd clause would apply to was one which existed on a few estates of fixing an arbitrary price per acre, or a certain number of years' pur- chase to be paid by the incoming tenant to the outgoing tenant for his tenant-right. Such a rule had not been in existence more than 40 or 50 years in any part of Ulster, and formed no part of the time-honoured custom of Ulster. It had caused very great heart-burnings and very great injustice. He therefore proposed by the 2nd clause that on any estate where a rule had been introduced fixing an arbitrary price per acre, or a certain number of years' purchase of a holding, the existence of such a rule should not prevent the outgoing tenant from receiving the full amount which his tenant-right was worth. The 3rd clause met another anomaly. Before the passing of the Act of 1870, it was the custom on most properties in the North of Ireland when a lease dropped that the tenant should continue on his farm subject to a re-adjustment of rent, or that if he gave it up he was entitled to get the full value of his tenant-right from his successor in the holding. The Chairmen of some of the counties had held that under the Land Act tenant-right continued after the expiration of the lease; whereas others held that the terms of the lease should be strictly adhered to, and that, where there was a covenant to surrender on the fall of the lease, there was no longer any right to sell. In all such cases the present Bill would presume the existence of the tenant right at the close of a lease, just as was the case with ordinary tenants holding from year to year. In conclusion, he said his object was to submit an equitable measure. He himself was a proprietor and the possessor of land; it was the only means of living of most of his relatives and friends; so that for every reason he would be slow to do injustice to his own class. At the same time, however, he was equally anxious that no injustice that the House could remedy should be done the tenants.

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


in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, it was no doubt a small measure; but in cases of robbery it was the small man who was first introduced, and, just as a man of larger dimensions followed, so would they find large measures following this one. He regarded the Bill as designed materially to destroy the rights of property in Ulster. He opposed it upon these grounds—First, because, from his personal knowledge of Ulster, having resided there lately for six months, he did not believe that there existed amongst the tenants, all of whom had paid for their tenant-right, the feelings described by the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney), or any desire for a measure of this kind; secondly, he opposed it because it was directly aimed at the usages of Ulster, which were favourably considered and respected by the legislators who brought to a conclusion the Land Act of 1870. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) then said it was not intended to disturb the happy relations existing between the landlord and the occupiers which had induced the landlord to view favourably the growth of such usages. It was desired to find a remedy for insecurity of tenure without shaking the stability of property. Now, he (Sir John Leslie) contended that in the 2nd clause of this Bill the stability of property was directly attacked. Though it professed to be in the interest of the tenants, it was not in the interest of the tenants that the Bill was brought forward. The 3rd clause was provided for by another Bill in "another place," and was therefore unnecessary. It was the 2nd clause which contained the essence of the Bill. It claimed for the tenant the right to sell, not only what was his own, but also that which was the property of another. To prove that, he must examine what it was that the tenant purchased. According to the rules of the estate the tenant purchased the security of his occupation, the privilege of holding his farm at a rent below the market value, and a security that he should not be disturbed except for non-payment of rent. He (Sir John Leslie) contended that the amount between the actual rent and the rent the landlord had consented for 50 or 100 years to take was 5s. or 7s. an acre less. His tenants had profited thereby; but that 5s. or 7s. remained as the landlord's own property and part of his capital. Now, this clause would make it legal for a tenant to sell that which was another's; and, therefore, it was a clause which proposed to legalize theft. It proposed to reverse the eighth Commandment, and, therefore, should not meet with any respect in that House. Besides, the Bill would not operate as it professed to do in the interest of the tenant, because the effect of it would be this—that if the tenant sold the farm to the highest bidder the landlord would raise the rent. The landlord could not be expected to keep the rent at the same pitch. It would naturally rise to the marketable value. Therefore, it would not only disturb the existing arrangements, wherewith the tenants were perfectly satisfied and contented, but it would positively prove a punishment to them. He expected the Bill, if it became law, would provide that most useful branch of the Legal Profession, the solicitors, with constant employment; and he believed the origin and purpose of the Bill related to attorneys rather than to the tenants themselves.


I beg leave to say in explanation that I am not an attorney.


said, he did not for one moment suggest that; but probably the hon. Member would not be so prompt to deny that there were names of members of that distinguished Profession on the back of the Bill, and no others. Believing the measure was not calculated to benefit the tenant, and was contrary to equity and justice, he moved that the second reading be postponed for six months.

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

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


said, he was sorry that the hon. Baronet who had just spoken should have referred to this Bill in connection with the Land Bill of 1870, and said that it would afford employment for the solicitors. Although in framing this Bill they would have the very valuable assistance of one hon. Member who was a solicitor on the Bright clauses, which were considered by a Select Committee last year, he did not wish to have the whole of the Members for Ireland solicitors, any more than he wished to have them all members of any other Profession. He was very glad that this Bill had been brought forward, although it did not affect the South of Ireland. Still there were a great many tenants in the South of Ireland who considered that an extension of the Ulster tenant-right would be very valuable in the South and West of Ireland. He said that the Western Members were most anxious to support the Ulster Members; and he only wished he could get the Ulster Members to return the compliment when the Southern Members brought in their Land Bill. As a general rule, the Southern and Western Members of Ireland were willing to vote for what was desired by the Northern farmers; but the Members returned by the Northern farmers of Ireland did not in a similar manner support the proposition brought forward by the Representatives of the Southern and Western farmers. Some time since, at a meeting of the farmers in the South and West, it was proposed not to support the Northern farmers till they supported the farmers in the South and West in their Land Bills. Such a policy as that, however, he should be sorry to support. Owing to the custom called "Ulster tenant-right" having been only established in the Province of Ulster, he admitted there might be some difficulty in extending this Bill to the South and West; but he thought that difficulty might be very easily got over. He had heard it rumoured through the House that this Bill was to be talked out by its opponents; but when they bore in mind that they had two hours and a-half to discuss the Bill, and that the subject was so well known, he hoped that hon. Members would curtail their remarks and allow a Division to be taken.


remarked that the most objectionable part of the Bill was its 2nd clause, by which the rule of the estate was entirely set aside in favour of the tenant. The Bill might be considerably improved in Committee; but he was convinced that the 2nd clause would operate unfairly. He thought the constant efforts of the Irish Members to alter the relations of landlords and tenants were injurious to Ireland. He knew from his own experience that these constant attempts to tamper with the rights of landlords and tenants gave rise to a feeling of insecurity with regard to Irish property which seriously depreciated it in the eyes of English capitalists.


denied that the Bill would give the tenant an unfair advantage, and hoped that the Government would see their way to support it. It only did justice to the Northern farmers. With regard to the onus of proof of the custom of the estate, it would be better for it to rest with the landlord than with the tenant, as the former had more facilities for proving it than the latter.


said, he was glad that there seemed to be no intention of talking out this Bill, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite would allow the Bill to go to a second reading. This was a remarkable Wednesday as to Irish legislation. Already one Bill had been disposed of, and the House was composed entirely of Irish Members, and it would be a very pleasant thing if two Irish Bills could be passed with the approval of both sides. The hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) had said that constant tampering with the law had injured the landed interest of Ireland in the English market. He differed with him altogether about the borrowing and lending of money in Ireland, and would say to the hon. Member that they had no difficulty in borrowing, notwithstanding prejudice, and the prejudice was most contemptible, because the security offered in Ireland was as good as any security offered in England. They wanted to transfer from the North of Ireland to the South this tenant-right which had grown up as a custom. It would increase the value of land. In the North, land was worth nearly 25 years' purchase, and in the South 20 years, and the reason of the difference was the feeling that the tenant in the South was prevented from spending his capital on the land owing to the insecurity of the tenure. They did not in the least degree wish to interfere with the stability of property. That seemed to have alarmed very much the hon. Baronet who had moved the rejection of the Bill. He had talked about the insecurity of the landlord's property; but what did he think of the insecurity of property on the part of the tenant? He believed that, instead of injuring the stability of property in the North of Ireland, the Bill would really increase the value. But that had always been the bugbear thrown in their teeth. By passing this measure in favour of the South, the land would be put in the same position as in the North, and its value would be increased by five years' purchase.


said, that although the hon. Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw) had skilfully used the voice of a charmer, and though they were, as he had said that day, almost an Irish Parliament, where it might be supposed there was nothing to obstruct complete unity, yet he was obliged to differ from the hon. Member. He was sorry for it; and it was in no spirit of acrimony or strong Party feeling that he was obliged to say a very few words against the second reading of the Bill. He did not think the hon. Baronet the Member for Monaghan (Sir John Leslie) intended to cast any imputation on the Legal Profession; but as he understood the observations, it was that litigation would grow out of this Bill. He believed himself that litigation would be very much increased if this Bill became law, and that was one of the reasons why he should vote against the second reading. He took this view of the matter with reluctance, because, certainly, the hon. Gentlemen who had introduced the Bill were those with whom he generally had pleasure in co-operating. This was in principle a matter of fundamental importance, although in practice there might not be very much difference between the law as it was and the law as it would be if this Bill were passed. The tenant-right question, to be understood, depended very much upon the part of the country in which it was. It varied in different places. In Ulster, undoubtedly, some such a system prevailed very generally; but those who were in the habit of seeing an extensive form of that custom put in operation every day in their own locality were quite surprised that those who lived in another part of the same province should take a different view, and resist the introduction of a measure which would, in the latter case, entirely alter the relations of landlord and tenant. He should like to point out that this was the difficulty which lay at the bottom of all discussion on the Ulster tenant-right custom. It was a varying custom, and when it was attempted in 1870 to deal with it as one custom, and not as many customs, it was found impossible to do so. It was found that there were local and distinct usages, and therefore, that they could not be dealt with as one. After debate on the measure then under consideration, the language adopted was not "the tenant-right custom," but "the usages that prevail in the Province of Ulster, and are known as the Ulster tenant-right custom." The usages varied, and there were some parts where there was no tenant-right at all. The question was no doubt a great deal embarrassed by what were called "estate rules." In some parts of the Province of Ulster the estate rules were as old as the custom itself, and it was impossible to distinguish these estate rules from the limitations of the custom. It was illusory language to speak of "custom in Ulster." It was on account of this difference from his hon. Friends—a difference of principle—because, in fact, they were attempting to stereotype this custom as one custom prevailing everywhere, and in that respect departing from, the policy of the Land Act of 1870, mainly that he resisted the Bill; and, as he had already said, he resisted it with great reluctance, because he knew it had become an object desired by many of the loyal and industrious tenantry. He should be glad if a measure was introduced to give a tenant-right at the end of a lease, and he should always give such a proposition his hearty support; but he could not give his assent to the 1st clause of the Bill, which stereotyped one uniform tenant-right for Ulster, and on account of that, and some other provisions, he could not support the Bill. He was glad to think that the agitation which had disturbed the Province of Ulster some time ago was now subsiding. This he attributed to the fact that the Land Act of 1870 had been administered and interpreted by the Judges in no narrow or stingy sense. He believed that the law as it stood was, in the main, sufficient to give a fair and full protection to the tenants; and he also believed that the more experience there was of the operation of the present law the greater satisfaction would be felt. He was not, therefore, prepared now to support legislation which might disturb the settlement of 1870.


said, he thought that the measure might be easily made workable if certain Amendments were agreed to in Committee. He quite accepted the statement that the efforts to define the Ulster custom in 1870 failed, and he did not see how it could be defined by this Bill. He, however, was in favour of the Bill, because he believed the great grievance was that in the six counties in the Province of Ulster the custom had been cut down from what was intended by the Act of 1870 by arbitrary estate rules. Now, he did not think that it was desirable to declare that there was only one tenant-right for the whole of Ulster, because that was contrary to the fact. But what he thought was desirable was to recognize the tenant-right of each district, and protect that against being cut down by the estate rules. The 1st clause of the Bill could, he believed, be made workable by adding the words "prevailing in any particular district for the trial of land cases;" and, if that were done, it would be done on the lines of the Act of 1870. With regard to the next clause, he perfectly agreed that a particular estate rule should not cut down the custom as to the amount of compensation to be paid to the outgoing tenant, or the amount of the purchase money, for that was a matter to be regulated by the circumstances of each case and the state of the land market. The 3rd clause, which gave tenant-right at the expiration of a lease, was generally admitted to be a good one, and he hoped it would be adopted. It was now so decided in some cases by some of the Land Courts, and the law ought to be declared and fixed by Act of Parliament. The acceptance of the Bill depended upon the Government, and he could assure them that the tenants of the North of Ireland would narrowly watch their conduct.


said, the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) had reminded the House that they had spent a very agreeable afternoon in discussing Irish questions without the intervention of any other than Irish Members in the debate; but he feared that the hon. Member must have been disappointed at the interruption of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), who so clearly pointed out the reasons which induced him to oppose this Bill. The hon. Member for East Sussex had really given the House the very information they desired with reference to this Bill. He hoped that his own appearance on the scene would not diminish the amicable character of the debate, although, unfortunately, he must ask the House to reject the Bill. Nothing could give him greater pleasure than to support any measure introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney), and supported by other Members on the same side of the House; still he thought that in this case measures, not men, should be the guiding principle which should govern their conduct, and that he should, not be justified in supporting a Bill because it was introduced by Members on his own side which he should have opposed had it proceeded from his political opponents. The Bill seemed in reality to consist of several Bills, because each clause embodied distinct principles, which might very fairly have been included in a separate measure. It had been pointed out that no definition clause was attached to the Bill. If there had been such a clause, it might very fairly have contained a definition of the term "district," which occurred in the very first clause. This term was vague and presented considerable difficulty. He did not think the hon. Member could succeed in defining it; but even if he did, he would have still the more formidable difficulty to encounter of defining the Ulster tenant-right custom. Now, when the Land Act of 1870 was before the House, he recollected that there was a great deal of discussion on this point amongst the able lawyers then in the House, many of whom had since gone to the Bench; and he recollected that it was thought imprudent, if not impossible, to attempt to define tenant-right, but that this must be left to the reasonable interpretation of those who had to administer the law in reference to the cases brought before them. In departing from the Land Act in this respect, his hon. Friend would land the House in difficulties, from which it would take some time to escape. Again, not content with ignoring the just rights of the landlords, the hon. Member dealt with an entirely different subject, and he dealt with it in a way which enabled the tenant to purchase his tenant-right in a cheap market, and then by means of this Bill to sell it in a market which would have become a dear one, and thus dispose of it in a way which was contrary to all practice. He (Mr. J. Lowther) objected to the onus of disproving the custom being thrown on the landlords. He could not agree to the provision that the rule of an estate should not be allowed to cut down the custom, if by that it was meant that a man who had under an estate rule purchased land at a certain number of years' purchase should, under the custom, be allowed to sell at a greater number of years' purchase. He did not see how anyone could defend Clause 2. It was a pity that so many subjects—or rather Bills—should be embodied in one measure. As to Clause 3, the Government, as such, would not have opposed it if it had stood by itself, although he (Mr. Lowther), in his individual capacity as a Member of the House of Commons, disapproved of it; and therefore, if it stood alone, he should not oppose it officially. There was one consideration which the House should keep before them in dealing with this Bill. When the Land Act of 1870 was passed, it was always urged that the object was to set the Land Question in Ireland at rest, and put a stop to agitation, if not for all time, at least for a generation; therefore, these constant attempts to reopen this question deserved the very anxious attention of the House. He had always been an opponent of the Land Act, and, therefore, he would not speak of it as one he felt bound to defend; but, at the same time, he should much regret any attempts to disturb the settlement which had been made. Vested interests had sprung up under the provisions of that Act which they were bound to regard. He did not withdraw one syllable of what he had said against the Land Act; but, at the same time, he should regret, as a Conservative, any attempt being made to disturb that settlement. An hon. Member who had addressed the House in the course of the debate said that he objected to any restrictions being placed on the amount of capital which the tenant invested in the land. But the Ulster custom was the means of diminishing the capital employed by the tenant in the cultivation of the land. He believed that if there was one thing more than another to which exception might be taken in the interest of the consumers of food in Ireland it was the Ulster tenant-right custom. But however that might be, and however disinclined he might feel to assist in inaugurating such a system if it were now proposed for the first time, still, as the custom had existed so long, and as vested rights had grown up under it, he should be the last person to oppose the preservation of those vested rights and interests. What he said on this point was merely to show that he thought the promoters of the Bill took a dangerous ground when they affected the political-economy argument, because they failed to prove that the extension of the tenant-right custom would conduce in any way to the effective cultivation of the soil. Neither did he think the Bill would be of any advantage in the interests of order and good government. He had said these few words, because he thought it right that there should be no mistaking the grounds on which Her Majesty's Government opposed the Bill. It was, as he said a short time ago, by no means agreeable to him to have to oppose a Bill which was introduced by an hon. Friend on that side of House. He might also say that he would be the last person unnecessarily to resist anything which would conduce to the advantage of those in whose interest this Bill was ostensibly framed, and for whose benefit it was erroneously, as he thought, supposed to be. He referred to the occupiers in the North of Ireland. They were a class of persons to whom, associated as he was with them by political, religious, and other ties, he should be glad to make any concession if he felt it his duty to do so; but, under the circumstances, he thought this was a Bill which the House would do well to reject, and he certainly should support his hon. Friend the Member for Monaghan (Sir John Leslie) in his Amendment for the rejection of the measure.


in reply, said, he considered that the arguments which had been used, to the effect that the Bill, if passed, would prevent landlords from borrowing money on their property, were fallacious. In his opinion, the Government could not feel the sympathy which they professed to feel for the tenants of Ulster if they opposed the measure. If any opponent of the Bill would show him any part of Ulster in which tenant-right did not exist, where the tenants were better off, the land better cultivated, and the rents more valuable, than in those parts where it prevailed, he would withdraw his measure at once, and never introduce it again. It was not unusual to make such speeches in the House as they heard that night; but it was very desirable that, before making them, hon. Gentlemen should go through the various counties of Ireland and inform themselves of the value of the tenants' holdings and of the landlords' estates. If they did so, they would find that in no part of Ireland were landlords' interests more valuable than they were in the North. The four counties in which tenant-right existed to an extreme degree were Down, Antrim, Armagh, and Derry, and in those counties the largest amount of comfort and prosperity prevailed, which was, to his mind, an unanswerable argument.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 131; Noes 146: Majority 15.—(Div. List, No. 72.)

Words added.

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

Second Reading put off for six months.