HC Deb 27 June 1879 vol 247 cc906-17

, in rising to call attention to the valuable encouragement given, during the last five years, to small farmers in certain districts in Ireland, by the system of rewards for improved cultivation, known as the " Spencer system; " and to move- That, as it appears that great benefit has arisen in certain parts of Ireland by the working of the Spencer system,' under which small farmers have been encouraged and stimulated to improved Cultivation by a distribution of small money prizes for competition, it is therefore expedient that this system should be encouraged by Her Majesty's Government undertaking to provide official inspection in all Cases where individuals, or public or Corporate bodies, are willing to provide funds for the carrying out of the system of rewards, more especially as the funds now available from the closing of Certain model farms will be more than sufficient to enable this to be done; said, that according to Returns which were made a few years ago, half the holdings in Ireland were under an £8 valuation. He did not ask the Government to give any money themselves, but simply to provide a system of official inspection, which should aid those landlords who desired to provide rewards for their small tenants who cultivated their farms with success. The Spencer system had been inaugurated by Earl Spencer during his tenure of office as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with the object of encouraging the cultivation of small farms, consisting mainly of bog and heather land in Ireland, and it had been very successful in its operation. The general prosperity of Ireland had not as yet reached the small farmers, who were in want of some encouragement. There was at present a great waste in small farms in that country, both in the matter of cultivation and of gathering in the crops. He had himself visited one of the districts in which the Spencer system had been in practical operation, and he had been most agreeably surprised at the beneficial effects which it had produced. He saw land reclaimed from barren heath, and decent houses standing where miserable cabins formerly existed, with every sign of comfort and contentment among the small farmers and their families; and he had returned from his visit determined to do all he could to promote the extension of the system of small rewards judiciously applied, which had achieved such extraordinary results. As the knowledge of the benefits attending the system was spread among the gentry of Ireland, he believed that many of' them would be ready to subscribe the money requisite for applying it to the different districts of that country. He only asked the Government to help in that work by sending down accredited independent men from Dublin to act as official Inspectors in all cases where individuals, or public or corporate bodies, were willing to provide these small prizes and rewards. The funds now available from the clos- ing of certain model farms would be more than sufficient to enable that to be done. All he asked was that the Government should do something to help them in this matter. There was hardly any object in the promotion of which public money could be more advantageously expended than in furthering the education of the small farmers of Ireland under the Spencer system. No class of men in that country were more in need of help than the poor farmers. A little knowledge would enable them to become prosperous and rising citizens, instead of being a class of men who were despondent and rapidly becoming dangerous. The hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


begged to second the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member. As he resided in one of the districts to which his hon. and gallant Friend had alluded, and was one of the proprietors who had joined in keeping up the Spencer system after the funds originally provided had been exhausted, lie thought it was his duty to say a few words in support of this Motion. Ho thoroughly agreed with all that had been said by his hon. and gallant Friend as to the advantages to be derived from the adoption of that system. He did not think it necessary to add one word to what had been said, and well said, by his hon. and gallant Friend upon that point; and ho wished only to speak upon the particular proposal that he had made with regard to inspection. It was his opinion that this system could not be carried out unless they had some such inspection as had been conducted by Professor Baldwin. He could testify to the advantages that had been derived in his district from that gentleman's instruction, and from the more than official zeal which he had displayed in carrying out that inspection. The success which had attended this experiment was due in a great measure to the exertions of Professor Baldwin; and in the particular district in which he lived it would result in a great loss, and, perhaps, a complete stoppage of the whole system, if the inspection of Professor Baldwin was withdrawn. His hon. and gallant Friend had said that they could not expect the duties of inspection always to be carried on gratuitously by public officials. It was necessary, if this inspection was to be of any use at all, that it should be provided from a source free from all suspicion—in fact, the inspection to command confidence must be a public one. The amount of money which such inspection would cost was a mere trifle, if defrayed from the fund which his hon. and gallant Friend had alluded to. For these reasons, he had great pleasure in seconding the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That " to the end of the Question, in order to add the words " as it appears that great benefit has arisen in certain parts of Ireland by the working of the Spencer system,' under which small farmers have been encouraged and stimulated to improved Cultivation by a distribution of small money prizes for competition, it is therefore expedient that this system should be encouraged by Her Majesty's Government undertaking to provide official inspection in all cases where individuals, or public or Corporate bodies, are willing to provide funds for the carrying out of the system of rewards, more especially as the funds now available from the closing of certain model farms will be more than sufficient to enable this to be done,"—(Colonel King-Harman,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed," That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


had been very much struck by the very practical speech which had been delivered by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman), and perhaps one word from an English Member on a matter of this kind would not be out of place. The hon. and gallant Member had made a proposal, which he considered was a thoroughly practical and good one. They all were very much more convinced by example than by precept; and, from his experience, he could say that that applied with even greater force than usual to the small Irish peasantry. A man might talk to the small Irish farmers until black in the face without any effect; but the example of one of their class would have a very great effect upon them. He might mention that the late Lord Palmerston sent over to Ireland, to the property on which he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) now resided, an agriculturist simply with the object of instructing the peasants, and inducing them to introduce improvements. But, as everyone was informed, Lord Palmerston's efforts ,were of small avail, and the peasantry went on in very much the same state as they had before; but when these men saw their neighbours' farms properly cultivated and reaped, and observed the advantages which were derived from an improved cultivation, they would be induced to put their farms in a similar condition. All that was now asked for was that the Government should send down an Inspector to judge between these farms—. for the hon. and gallant Member had, with great propriety, disclaimed any intention of making demands upon the public pocket. He could endorse most emphatically, speaking from three years' experience, what the hon. and gallant Gentleman had said as to the little benefit which would result from a system of prizes conducted by an agent, or one connected with an agent, for the Irish peasantry, ever prone to believe in favouritism, would never think the judgment impartial or above suspicion; whereas the decision of a man coming down from Dublin would be regarded in quite a different manner, and would add importance to the distinction obtained. He would only add that the small peasant proprietors were not men to be pitied. He believed that the holders of 8, 10, or 11 acres were well able to live on their land, so long as their rents were not unduly high, and that they were able, and, as a matter of fact, generally did, lay by something. They were, however, very much accustomed to keep in old lines, as the hon. and gallant Member had said, and it was absolutely essential that they should be induced to adopt the improvements of modern agriculture. If they saw a neighbour receive a prize awarded by a Government official for the management of his farm, they would make every effort to do as well, and all the boys and girls would be employed in pulling up the weeds about the place. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland would not treat this real Irish demand with disdain, but would think that by a little discretion, and by the adoption of the very practical proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo, it could be satisfied.


would not have wished to have added one word to the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo, but for a remark which had been made as to the want of utility in the Irish Agricultural Department. It was his opinion that very good lessons had been derived in practical farming from the Department at Glasnevin under the charge of Professor Baldwin. Those lessons had been given to the class which were most in need of them, and to the people at large. In addition to the teaching establishment, there was a farm of five acres, worked on a model system, which had produced very surprising results indeed. He would venture to say that one great reason why Professor Baldwin had been so successful in his exertions to encourage a better system was that he was enabled to show to all corners that he was able to produce such results on the model farm as he wished the country people to strive for. Having said this, he would only express his hearty concurrence with all the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo. Of what had taken place in his own immediate district in the County Waterford he knew something, and he could say that the system in question had produced most favourable results. He was entirely in favour of the Motion.


said, that the system of prizes for well-managed farms was in theory a very excellent one; but the best prize that could be given to the Irish tenant farmer was to make him feel that, however much he might improve his position, his rent would not be raised. That was the simple truth, and was the reason why the peasantry did not improve their holdings in the way they ought, for it was the tenant's feeling that his rent would he raised exactly in the same ratio in which he improved his house or his farm. He would go further, and say that within the last 20 years the rent of the greater number of small tenant farmers in Ireland had been raised two or three times. That was the reason why the tenant farmer did not improve his holding in the way he should do. Irish tenant farmers were, without exception, the most industrious people on the face of the earth; but it was true their labour was not always well-directed. They did not like to make any improvements upon their farms or upon their houses, because they were afraid of the landlord or his agent, when he came to look how they were getting on, seeing that there was some improvement, and raising their rent. They accumulated money, but they did not lay it out upon their farms or upon their houses—they put it in a stocking up the chimney, or sometimes in banks. It was his opinion that until they gave Irish farmers something to hold by, and a conviction was produced in the minds of the people that so soon as they had made improvements their rents would not be raised, no great improvement would be effected. He was persuaded that any system of prize farms was a mere nibble at the question, and would do nothing to gratify the aims and aspirations of those who desired to improve the condition of the peasantry in Ireland.


believed that if an inquiry were made into the amount of rent paid for land in Ireland, it would be found that the Irish landlords were not such extortionate characters as they were represented to be. The amount of rent paid in Ireland would compare very favourably with the rent paid in any part of Europe. Although there were points on which the condition of the Irish tenant might be improved, yet the tenantry of Ireland. would compare most favourably in regard to the conditions of their tenure with the occupiers of land in any part of Europe, and especially in England or Scotland. In Ireland the tenants had advantages which were not possessed in England and Scotland; they had a right to claim compensation for improvements, and in the North of Ireland a right existed which was not claimed in any other country. Therefore, he thought that it was not correct to put forward the case of the Irish peasant as being a very hard one. England, Scotland, and Ireland had been alike suffering from unfavourable seasons during the past three years. But the unfavourable weather was by no means confined to the United Kingdom; it had existed in France, in Austria, in Hungary, and in other European countries. Therefore, when Providence, by the alterations of the seasons, inflicted sufferings, they could not be justly attributed to the proprietors of the land. He thought that the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo was a very good one, and he hoped that it would make a favourable impression upon the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The advantages that had been derived from the inspection of Mr. Baldwin were well known to him, and that gentleman was himself a most excellent and thorough agriculturist; and he trusted that either he, or some other person equally well acquainted with agriculture, would be employed in this inspection of farms for which prizes were to be given. He trusted the Government would consider the proposal that had been made a practical one.


thought that the House ought to be much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo for having brought this subject before it; for, as was well known, he had carried into practice the theories which he advocated. It was well known that his hon. and gallant Friend had done his best with the people amongst whom he lived to carry into effect everything that would induce them to improve their condition and render them better agriculturists. He had done all he could to introduce improvements in agriculture amongst his tenants and neighbours without ostentation and without seeking public aid. And when his hon. and gallant Friend pointed to the results which had been obtained by the Spencer system, and desired that it should be extended, he did not wish the House to put its hand into its pocket for extending the system. He (Mr. Lowther) also was of opinion that excellent as the results of that system were, the State should not be called upon to enter into competition with private enterprize in the matter; but improvements should be allowed to be conducted by those interested. On these points he was sure that the House would be disposed to agree with his hon. and gallant Friend. The question had been raised as to the comparative advantages of large and small farms. That was a point on which he did not wish to enter; he knew that opinions differed very widely on that subject; and whether it was advantageous to erect or to level down banks and hedges was a point which might raise considerable discussion. He thought, however, everyone would agree with his hon. and gallant Friend in deprecating the tendency which, unfortunately, prevailed in Ireland, in common with other parts of the world, to be content with the state of the soil which had always existed, and in no manner to endeavour to improve it. The hon. Member for County Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had taken that occasion to make some remarks as to what, in his opinion, was the cause of the want of improvement of farms in Ireland. The hon. Gentleman said that the lack of improvement was due to the want of security of tenure in Ireland. He confessed that the hon. Member was so far right, when he called attention to the fact that when a tenant put up permanent buildings, or anything of that sort, he was entitled to security, for the erection of such buildings was not properly the work of a tenant. But, at the same time, it must be remembered that tenant-right customs deterred landlords from embarking capital in the soil. He did not understand his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman) to impute, in the terms of his Motion, that improvements in buildings was a matter which should be the subject of rewards to the tenant; but rather that the tenant should be encouraged in the mere cultivation of the soil, which was a very different matter. It had been suggested by his hon. and gallant Friend that the Government should give some assistance in the matter of inspection of farms. There was no doubt that that opened up a question upon which, he thought, most of them would be disposed to agree with his hon. and gallant Friend; and if any reasonable facilities of that kind could be afforded, so far as he was concerned, as he thought it most desirable they should be given, he would do all in his power to provide them. But as to the mode in which the matter could be carried out, it would be necessary to consider the question thoroughly and to take counsel with those who, like his hon. and gallant Friend, had some practical knowledge and experience in such matters before attempting to arrive at any definite conclusion. All he could say was that there was every desire upon the part of the Government to afford every assistance they could to the practical improvement of agriculture in Ireland; for it was to the essential improvement of the agriculture of Ireland that the country must look mainly for any abatement of the evils from which it was suffering.


said, that he would not have troubled the House on that occa- sion at all, but for the vagueness of the Motion which had been brought before it by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sligo. The Motion was one of a very mild character indeed; and if his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sligo had made the suggestion that Professor Baldwin should be placed in a position to give the country the benefit of his services, he should have been content. But as that had not been done, he must say that, in his opinion, no man was more thoroughly competent for the duties of inspection than Professor Baldwin. Ho trusted that the Government would be able to place Mr. Baldwin in some position where his services might be available to the country, and he might be properly compensated for them. In a country like Ireland, where the people were so dependent upon agriculture, there could not be a better head for the Department of Agriculture than Mr. Baldwin. He was afraid that what would happen now would be in accordance with what had occurred before. The Government would spend thousands of pounds in directions in which the money was not required; and these Votes were brought before them in such a manner that they could not effect any alteration, and the next year the same thing went on over again. He did not feel inclined to enter into the question of tenant right; although ho might say that, however good they might be, there was no doubt that mere prizes would not suffice to raise the condition of agriculture in Ireland. In his opinion, a little undiluted Communism would be about the best cure to be applied for raising the position of Ireland. As to the subject introduced by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), it would not be honest to him to allow the House to think that the statement made by the hon. Member as to the raising of rents in Ireland was applied universally. He felt very much disposed, indeed, to ask for some Commission to be sent down into those districts where the agitation had been going on; for he thought that by that course they would arrive at the facts of the case. He believed that for 10 or 15 years past rents in many parts of Ireland had been greatly raised, and that would be sufficient justification for agitation, although it would not justify the language that had been used. Espe- cially in some of the poorest parts of the country would this raising of rents justify the agitation. Speaking of the South of Ireland, and more especially of County Cork, he might say, however, that there had been nothing like a raising of rents; and he believed that most of the tenants had their land at very reasonable terms indeed. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would comply with the request of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo, and would make arrangements for this inspection to take place.


concurred with every word that had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw). He trusted that some inquiry would be made as to the amount of the rents, and as to the conditions of the tenants in Ireland; and he thought that it would be found, in the majority of cases, that the land was let at a reasonable rate. The fact was that the agitation had been got up, owing to the depressed state of agriculture, and was not so much against the old landowners as the new landlords, who had bought land and wanted cent per cent for their money. In his opinion, a Commission should issue to inquire into this matter. He trusted also that the Government would agree with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sligo, and would appoint an Inspector; for unless the inspection were to be made by some thoroughly competent person or Government official the prizes would not be valued.


agreed with a great deal that had been said by his hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw); but he trusted he would not be considered to travel outside the terms of the discussion which arose, if he said he could not agree with him as to his statements in respect to rent-raising. Within his own personal knowledge, in the Midland Counties, when the times were good the landlords had, as a general rule, but too frequently increased their rents. In estimating the rise in good times, landlords had looked only to prices, and not to the allowances which ought fairly to be made for the improvements created by the tenants. Now that prices had fallen, it was but fair and reasonable that rents thus assessed should be lowered. He believed a general increase of rents had been made on tenants in Ireland. They had now had three bad years in succession, and there could be no doubt that a reduction in rents ought to be made generally by landlords in Ireland. In considering the case of the Irish tenant, it should be remembered that all the improvements that had been made had been made by the capital of the tenant. There was much to be said in justification of the strong expression of discontent on the part of Irish tenants; though he disapproved and condemned many of the expressions so recently made use of at the tenant-right meetings referred to by the Chief Secretary.


I must point out to the hon. Member that the matter to which he is referring does not come within the scope of the Question before the House. The Question before the House is the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo.


was sorry that he had gone beyond the limits of the Motion. He merely intended to protest against the observations of the hon. Member for Cork being accepted as to the raising of rents being but partial and infrequent in Ireland, and thought the best apology he could make was to sit down.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, " That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."