§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. SHAW
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he was sure the House would excuse him if he expressed his deep regret that this duty should have now fallen upon him. The death of his esteemed Colleague, Mr. M'Carthy Downing, and, more recently, of his much-respected Friend and political associate for many years, Mr. Butt, had thrown this very onerous duty upon him. He need hardly say that the death of those Gentlemen had been a great loss to the House; but it had been a much greater loss to the 330 cause of reform and progress in Ireland. They were both men of great experience. No man was better acquainted with the various questions connected with Land Reform than Mr. Downing; and the practical experience of Mr. Butt, combined with all the higher qualities of statesmanship, enabled him to deal successfully with subjects involving the nice and delicate points connected with property. He felt that, having accepted the duty of introducing this Bill, he should look over the debates that had arisen in recent years upon the subject. Although he had enjoyed a seat in that House for 10 years, and had aided in passing the Land Bill, he had never taken part in any of the great debates upon the question. He had heard every speech that was delivered upon it in the House for some years past; but, still, he considered it his duty to go over all those speeches again, especially those in opposition to the measure, to see what really were the objections to the Bill. The perusal considerably staggered him, for it seemed the English language hardly contained words strong enough to denote the opinions held by Gentlemen opposite. The Bill was, in their opinion, "confiscation"—it was the "destruction of the rights of property," and so on. It was, therefore, not without some trepidation that he re-examined his Bill, bringing to the study a deep sense of duty; and he said, without hesitation, that if it contained any such principles it would not have his name upon it. The Bill was a moderate one, and would tend to strengthen and confirm the stability of the institution of property in Ireland. Those who supported it were taunted with bringing forward a confiscatory Bill—and he thought he remembered hearing from the opposite side the suggestion that they advocated, but did not practise, these principles in favour of the tenants in dealing with their own property in Ireland. That was hardly a fair line of argument; because there might be personal matters, such, for instance, as family settlements—which prevented Gentlemen dealing individually as they might desire, and who, if they were authorized by law, might act in a different manner. But was it a fact that those who advocated the measure disregarded its principles? Mr. Downing offered to his tenants a tenure exactly 331 upon the lines of the Bill. Mr. D'Arcy, who occupied a seat in the House in the last Parliament, gave to his tenants a tenure upon the same lines. He did not like to speak of himself; but he had held land by purchase in Ireland for the last 25 years, and, he supposed, when he got the ownership he was wanting in some of the grand instincts of landlordism; but one of the first things he did was to tell his tenants that as long as he was their landlord they might hold the land on the same lines as those of the Bill—that was, that they should not be disturbed as long as they paid their rents; that their rents should be fair; and that if they wished to sell they could do so without undue interference on his part. Within six months two parties sold out, one of whom got more than the fee-simple for an expiring lease; and by reason of his adopting the lines of the Bill there was no property in Ireland upon which more money was laid out by the tenants. One of the great problems they had to solve in Ireland was that of improving the tenure of land. There had not been for centuries any man of capacity who looked at this subject, or at the social condition of Ireland generally, who had hesitated for a moment to pronounce the insecurity of the tenure of the land to be at the bottom of all the evils that afflicted that country. This was a question not merely of politics, but one affecting the life and prosperity of the country, and its prompt settlement was worthy of the highest statesmanship. From the time of James I., when the law of tanistry was abolished, from the time in which Sir John Davies had presented his Report, in which he declared that insecurity of tenure was at the root of the Irish difficulty, to that of Sir Robert Peel, who said a short time before his death that if the tenure of land in Ireland were improved, he did not see why it should not become very prosperous, and thence to the more recent utterances of the right hon. Members for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) and Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), every man of political capacity who had looked at the subject came to the same conclusion. There was no other country in Europe in which such a system of land tenure existed as prevailed in Ireland. What was really the state of the case? Three-fourths of the people of Ireland 332 lived by the land—their exclusive business, he might fairly say, being to till the land—and yet their tenure was so uncertain and precarious that they held their means of subsistence absolutely at the will of their landlord. That was a condition of the law which must be inimical to the welfare of the country. It had a most injurious effect alike upon individuals and upon the nation. It accounted, in a great measure, for the people being called unstable and unthrifty. In fact, it was impossible for any individual or any nation to be thrifty when their entire means of living were uncertain and precarious. To be stable a people must have something stable in their surrounding institutions. The contrary was the case, and the unstable character of the holding of land had insinuated itself into the very character of the people. Much of the want of steadiness in high aims and great plans and purposes which had been ascribed to the people of Ireland was due to this cause, and could not be traced to race, religion, climate, or any of those influences to whoso account it was sometimes credited. What had been done to remedy this condition of things? A Land Act was passed in 1870—and he, for one, agreed with the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) that it was a great and honest measure; but that right hon. Gentleman also said it was imperfect and incomplete. No doubt, it was. It introduced great and important principles; but it did not carry them out to their legitimate end. It partook of the character of all our social legislation in this respect—that a long time was required to mature and carry out any change. When the Bill of 1870 was laid before the country, the effort of the landlords was directed to narrow and confuse its operation; and the consequence was that many of its most beneficent provisions had become inoperative. One very important part of the measure related to the purchase by tenants of their own holdings; but what had come of that? What came of another part applying most vitally to three-fourths of the country? Why, the very moment the clause was adopted, declaring that the tenants had a right to compensation for disturbance, a sliding scale of compensation was adopted that made the clause almost perfectly useless. There was hardly a landlord in Ireland 333 whom it would not pay to dispossess his tenants upon that scale; and, for himself, he was bound to say that if he took advantage of it he would make a large amount of money. Now, he desired, by means of his Bill, to meet these drawbacks. He was in hopes up till then that it would obtain a second reading, because no one had put down a Notice of opposition to it till then. He was surprised to find that the opposition came from a Gentleman sitting on the Liberal side of the House; and he could not imagine why he should come forward as the advocate of extreme landlordism in Ireland; because, if the Opposition came into power, they would be bound to deal with the question substantially on the lines of the Bill now before the House. The object of the promoters of the Bill was to do justice to the tenants and landlords; and if there was any appearance of injustice, there was no reason why it could not be removed in Committee. But the principle, he urged, ought to be affirmed. He would not trouble the House by dwelling upon the first two parts of the Bill, because, last year, very little was said against them. In fact, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Law), who made an exhaustive speech on the subject, expressing what might be taken as the view of official Liberalism, stated that the first two parts contained little that was objectionable, and it was against the third part that he directed his heavy artillery. To the third part he should, therefore, now briefly direct attention. This part gave the tenants of Ireland the power of getting security of tenure. He did not use the word "fixity," because it might give rise to misunderstanding; and, in fact, they could not fix the tenantry of a particular district therein and secure that they should remain there permanently. The only thing that could be done was to secure to them a reasonable amount of security, as far as that could be done consistently with natural laws that must work in the case of the Irish tenant as well as with regard to every other class of the community. He proposed to give to the tenantry of Ireland, without excluding any class, the power of securing themselves in the occupation of their holdings without being subject to having their property confiscated by an unreasonable advance of rent, and to 334 give them the power, in case of good fortune, of raising them above their position, or, in case of evil fortune, casting them beneath it, to get the full value of their holdings from an incoming tenant. It struck him that no more reasonable principles than these could be placed before reasonable men. There was nothing in them unjust, unfair, or against the rights of property. In fact, it would be in favour of the rights of property, if these principles were carried out. What the Bill proposed was the adoption, as far as possible, of the original tenant right of Ulster, and its application to the whole of Ireland. He was quite aware that the tenant right of Ulster had been modified, and that in some cases efforts had been made to efface it; but history and their own experience left no doubt as to what that principle and rule realty were. The Ulster custom was really the key by which the problem of the land in Ireland could be solved; and they had this advantage—that in using it they were not disturbing the feelings and habits of the people, because—he said it without doubt or hesitation, and he had a knowledge of the South and West of Ireland—he found throughout the country the feeling on the part of the tenant that he had a right to the value of his holdings. What was more natural? The practice was not understood in England, though the history of the English laws disclosed it, showing that in England the same practice existed as in the North of Ireland. When the Romans left England, they did not efface from the customs of the people the influence of Roman law, and the Roman law gave the right of inheritable tenancy. Continuous tenancy, and copyhold, and other forms of tenancy throughout England, were the remains of this law. No doubt, an immense effort was made to get rid of this in times of high prices, and land in England was let just as a house would be furnished and let, or a ship equipped and sent out to sea. But in Ireland the people did not get their fences and drains provided. In the times of James I. the people got their land on the condition that they would reclaim it, and continuous tenancy was one of the fundamental conditions of their holding. Insensibly, and as a matter of course, the same principle spread through the whole of Ireland. 335 Upon two large estates bounding his own he found this principle in force, and the tenants were hardly ever evicted except for some gross non-payment of rent; while they either received compensation, or were allowed to sell their holdings. A man in Ireland had no real and substantial interest for improving the soil. The terror was kept over him that some day or other, by a change in the law or in the family of the owners of the land, or from some other circumstances, the land on which he and his fathers had lived, and around which every feeling of home centred, might be rendered so uncomfortable to him as to compel him to seek a home elsewhere. Was that a sound principle on which to found the prosperity of a country? It was, in fact, treating the country unjustly and landlordism unjustly. Landlordism ought to be above the littleness of dreading every movement in legislation as something which might swallow up and destroy it. "Was the position of the owners of the land so weak that they dreaded to give a man a real hold upon his own property, lest the property of the landlord in the soil should be destroyed? He believed that if the prayer of this Bill were granted, it would do more to strengthen the hold of property and increase the feeling of respect and goodwill between landlords and tenants than any other measure that could possibly be devised. In the discussion the other night about the Law of Distress, the Attorney General for Ireland pointed out that there was no such clause in this Bill; and the reason that much stress was not laid in Ireland upon the Law of Distress was, that there was no landlord who did not feel that there was between himself and the loss of his rent a great deal of property to fall back upon. He knew a case where four years' rent was due, and the landlord, instead of distraining, referred the question of the right of parties to two persons, who decided that he ought to give the family of the tenant as much as would take them to America. That was done, and the landlord had not had possession of the land for a week before he was offered for it a sum equal to 5 per cent advance on the rent and outlay. The principles of this Bill were such that no man of common sense, dealing with his own tenants, would ever question their justice, and no Legislature could do more 336 for the pacification of Ireland than by passing this Bill. If something was not done, the difficulty would arise of getting tenants to take the land. Why should people, when rich land was waiting for them in other parts of the world, remain in Ireland in a state of serfdom? If hon. Members valued the stability and prosperity of the country, and wished to settle a great question which was ripe for settlement, and which could now be settled rationally and effectively, let them pass the second reading of this Bill, and make in Committee such Amendments as were considered necessary.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Shaw.)
§ SIR SYDNEY WATERLOW
, in rising to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, the hon. Member for the County of Cork had expressed his surprise at opposition to the Bill coming from that (the Liberal) side of the House. He wished to explain that he had put his Motion for its rejection upon the Paper as the representative of the Irish Society and speaking for a large number of the Companies of the City of London interested in land in Ulster, who considered that the Bill materially interfered with their rights. The hon. Member had treated the question as if the provisions of the Land Bill had not passed, and were not in operation; as if the tenants of Ireland had not now the right to obtain compensation for their improvements and for disturbance in their holdings. He (Sir Sydney Water-low) was not there to object to these provisions. The Land Bill had been of the greatest advantage, not only to the Province of Ulster, but to the whole of Ireland; and what he said was that they should not make any further change in the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland- till they had further experience of the working of the Irish Land Act. No one could say that the Land Courts of Ireland had not fairly and fully considered the claims that had come before them for improvements to the land in the shape of buildings, drainage, &c. He should be glad to see the Ulster custom extended to the South and West 337 of Ireland, subject to the same kind of restrictions as existed in Ulster. But Clause 18 was in every respect unjust. It provided that no tenant should be disentitled to obtain compensation under the 3rd clause of the Land Act on the ground that he was evicted by the landlord on account of the persistent exercise of any right from which he was debarred by express or implied agreement with his landlord. What was that but a premium to the tenant to break the stipulations made with his landlord? There was a provision in the Bill that under-tenants should be entitled to compensation for disturbance, and to that he saw no objection. But the Bill did not stop at such provisions. It repealed the provisions of the Land Act by which tenants and their landlords, in cases of tenancies over £50 a-year, could contract themselves out of the provisions of the Land Act; and, in so doing, it directly assailed the liberty of contract. It might be to the interest of the tenant to get his land at a low rent and upon a long lease, giving up as a consideration certain claims, and the House would pause before it said such things should not be done. The hon. Member had spoken of the future prosperity of Ireland under this Bill should it be passed into law; but he (Sir Sydney Waterlow) believed it would create much disturbance between landlords and tenants, and would not tend to increase amity and concord or promote those good feelings which were so desirable in that country. The position of Irish tenants was superior to that of English or Scotch tenants. If they wanted thrift in the tenants of Ireland, they must look for its encouragement in another quarter than in any further alteration in the tenure of land. As to the "Ulster custom, which was now sought to be extended, when the tenants in Ulster first took the land they had to take it bare, owing to the peculiar circumstances under which it was confiscated and handed over to the Livery Companies in consideration for money advanced. The tenants had to do the work of reclamation, and thus acquired the right to compensation for their expenditure. In conclusion, he would say let the question alone for a time, and until they knew more of the working of the Act of 1870. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ 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 Sydney Water-low.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he had seldom heard a speech which went so short a way as that of the last speaker to justify an Amendment for the rejection of a Bill.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he had not understood the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maidstone to move his Amendment.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
regretted that the hon. Gentleman had not taken advantage of the locus penitentiœ he had carved out for himself, and that he had not abstained from moving the Amendment. Such a course would not only have obviated the necessity for his (Sir Joseph M'Kenna's) remarks, but would have conduced more to the respect they all desired to entertain for the Companies which the hon. Gentleman represented on that occasion. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) denied that the tenant right custom of Ulster had arisen from the action of the London Companies who hold land in Ulster, but attributed it-to the exigencies of the condition in which those Companies found themselves when they received the gift of land from the Crown. Then it was that the tenant right custom arose in Ulster; and why it was continued in Ulster alone had been sufficiently stated, 25 years ago, by an orator who gave as the reason of the custom that the tenants were Protestants, with arms in their hands. The hon. Member, although he had referred to two clauses, had taken exception only to the manner in which one of them would affect the Companies. He represented that the Companies would be most injuriously affected by Clause 18 of this Bill, although he admitted the Land Act of 18?0 had done them no harm, but much good. The system of tenant right had not been established by, but was submitted to by, the Ulster Companies. It was rather commencing at the wrong end to have allowed these London Companies to retain the fee-simple of land in Ireland, while the Church lands were 339 sold out. It was not such a long step to apply the principle of mortmain to those Companies, and to disestablish them. Such a measure would not in the slightest degree do violence to anyone's feelings, for there was no sacred halo about them, such as there was about an ecclesiastical institution. The hon. Member's apprehensions as to the effect of Clause 18 of this Bill were not justified. The Land Act of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich constituted the Chairman of a county a Judge in the Local Land Court, and gave him the power of taking all the circumstances of an eviction into consideration, and making his assessment. Now, Clause 18 of this Bill, which the hon. Gentleman had specifially objected to, simply declared that no tenant should be disentitled to obtain compensation under Section 3 of the Land Act, on the ground that he had been evicted by the landlord on account of the persistent exercise of any right from which he was debarred by private agreement with his landlord. The principle of that part of the clause was strictly in accordance with the principle of the Land Act, because there were tenancies recognized in the Land Act with respect to which the tenant could not contract himself out of the benefit of the Act. There was no intention to interfere with the right of private contracts, except under equitable circumstances; and there was a Proviso to the effect that nothing therein contained should prevent the Chairman, when assessing the compensation, from taking into consideration the conduct of the tenant, and all the circumstances attending the agreement. If, therefore, there was anything in the circumstances under which the tenant was made to contract himself out of the benefit of the Act, those circumstances should be taken into account, and full compensation, where equitable, should be allowed to the landlord on that account. He had expected that the Bill would have been allowed to be read a second time. He did not pretend that there were not clauses—though he did not think there were many—to which reasonable exception might not be taken in Committee; but the very last quarter from which he should have expected opposition was the London Companies. He considered their position as Irish 340 landlords was an anachronism; he should like to see such anomalies got rid of by the sale of the land of those Companies to the highest bidders. If that were done, the Companies would get a full return for their so-called investment, and Ireland would get rid of the joint-stock landlordism which certainly did not recommend itself to his mind. If the City Companies chose to be represented in that House as opponents of legislation for Ireland, which Irish Members considered advisable, it was probable that they would shortly have to defend their own interests in another fashion.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
took note of the admission of the Mover of the Amendment that the Companies did not object to the extension of the Ulster tenant right to the rest of Ireland, and declared that the advocates of the Bill sought nothing more than that. That Ulster custom was admitted to contain certain principles. In the first place, the tenant had a right to continue in the occupation of his holding so long as he paid a fair rent for it, and if the landlord chose to disturb him, he must pay the full market value of such holding to his tenant; and that, in most parts of Ulster where the tenant right had not been taken away, meant something like 25 years' purchase. In the second place, the Ulster custom conferred on the tenant the privilege of holding at the fair customary rent of the neighbourhood—a rent, no doubt, which was subject to being raised by an increase in the price of corn, or by other circumstances, independent of improvements made by the tenant or his predecessors in the farm. The tenants of Ulster had the right of continuous occupation at fair rents and of a fair right of sale; and there was abundant evidence to show that the condition of the tenantry of Ulster was far superior to that of the tenantry of any other part of Ireland. He knew that one objection had been raised, which might be repeated again, to the effect that, while tenant right was all very well for Ulster, the people of Ulster were different in race and religion from the people of the rest of Ireland; but in Donegal, in part of the County Down, and in other portions of the Province, four-fifths of the occupying tenants were Celtic and Catholic, so that that objec- 341 tion did not hold good. The rents in Ulster were confessedly better paid than in any other part of Ireland; arrears were unknown, and, according to evidence of great weight, the rents were often higher, or as high, as in any other portion of the country. It was also said that if they granted perpetuity of tenure to the tenants, they would deprive the landlord of any real interest in his property, and cause him to be non-resident, and to care nothing about the welfare of the tenants. But he would appeal to any hon. Member who was acquainted with the facts, whether the landlords of Ulster were less solicitous about their property or their tenants than other landlords? The Ulster landlords took a deep interest in their property and in their tenants, and there were less non-residents in Ulster than in any part of the country. He should not have troubled the House, but for the fact that that he happened to represent one of the largest constituencies in Ireland—a constituency composed almost exclusively of tenant farmers—and in speaking as he had done he not only gave expression to the views of those whom he represented, but gave utterance to the opinions which he held conscientiously himself. He felt he could not bettor conclude than with the words of the late Lord Chief Justice Whiteside, who, travelling in Italy, and observing the prosperity that was caused by the existence of a peasant proprietary in the North of Italy, and seeing the same effects produced by the same cause in Ulster—because he (Colonel Colthurst) maintained that the Ulster tenant right virtually gave the tenantry the proprietorship of the land—said—If these principles are productive of so much benefit to Ulster, they should be fearlessly extended to the rest of Ireland.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, that, after the admission of the Mover of the Amendment that he would gladly see the Ulster custom extended to the rest of Ireland, the supporters of the Bill might logically claim that hon. Gentleman's vote. He ventured to say that if the House would accept a measure embodying the main features of the custom, his hon. Friend the Member for Cork would waive all the subsidiary provisions of his Bill. The opposition given by the Government was of a different character. 342 The Irish tenants were to be congratulated on the fluent candour with which the Government had hitherto met the demand for reform of the law of landlord and tenant. They had been told, over and over again, that not only would fixity of tenure be refused, but that the Land Act had gone too far, and that it should not be extended beyond its present scope. That was an honest answer to a plain question on which the fate of the Irish nation depended. They knew from the mouth of Ministers that as long as they were in power nothing would be done to alter the relations of landlord and tenant. It had come very opportunely with a General Election not remote, and some very interesting contests going on. The Tories tolerated among them one Irish Member, the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman), of whom he wished to speak with great respect, who gave an annual vote in favour of the Irish Land Bill; but he was tolerated, because it was felt that his vote was a perfectly harmless vote, and that as long as he and a dozen other Irish Conservative Tenant Eight Members, if there were so many, gave what was called an independent support to the Tory Government, by which was really meant a general support, independent of, and reckless of, the conduct of the Government on the Land Question, the Irish tenant had as little chance of obtaining any improvement in the condition of his tenancy from the present Government as he had of obtaining the fee-simple of his farm. The Bill would, no doubt, be rejected in the old way without the faintest hope that any amendment of the law would be considered. They knew what to expect. The bare idea of an inquiry into the working of the Land Act was summarily rejected by the Government last year. It was not merely that the Government refused to deal with the case. It steadily shut its eyes and refused to open them, and would not look at the case. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had on a late occasion, speaking in his official capacity, given his reasons. The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had taxed him with speaking contemptuously of the Land Act. "No," said the Chief Secretary, in his blandest tones, "I did not speak contemptuously of it. I say it is a bad Act." It was 343 dislike, and not contempt, that he felt to the tendency of the Land Act. Of course, he would endeavour to prevent the extension of the principles of that Statute. All that he could bring himself to say was that he would not wish vested interests that had grown up to be interfered with—whatever that ingenious sentiment meant, if it meant anything, and it did not. The Conservatives were capable of holding out expectations on Irish questions. They could allow false hopes to be created about the question of Irish University Education, and then, at the right moment, solemnly disclaim all connection with negotiations on that delicate topic. They could allow an Irish Registration Bill to reach a second reading—one of those cheap second readings which cost the Government so little that they might well be called penny readings. When the graceful comedy of a second reading was concluded, the right hon. and gallant Member for Dublin (Colonel Taylor)—that profound statesman who thought so much and spoke so little—or some Irish Conservative, would go about and find some congenial spirit to put down a Notice of opposition, and stay the further progress of the measure, and then the right hon. and gallant Member would feel his patriotic soul satisfied, and repose peacefully on the Treasury Bench. But on this question of the relation of landlord and tenant in Ireland the answer of Her Majesty's Government, and the furtherance of every Irish Member who gave them general support, was a genuine cry of "No surrender." And what was this measure that caused so much opposition? It merely endeavoured to extend to the rest of Ireland the principles of the custom under which the tenantry of Ulster had become a prosperous, contented, and industrious people. That proposal involved nothing novel or revolutionary. The custom had existed for ages without the form of law. The Land Act had turned that into law, giving an unsupported usage, unrecognized in the Courts, the validity of a legal usage, and consecrating it by statutory authority. There, indeed, was a novelty; but if it was a novelty it was a precedent also, and a wise one. The custom entitled the tenant to remain in possession as long as he paid a reasonable rent, and to assign to a good solvent tenant. 344 These rights given to the rest of Ireland would solve the question. They would not diminish the landlord's security for his rent, or his right to increase it within reasonable limits. They would not take away his power of insisting that his land should be well cultivated and kept in solvent and respectable hands. They would only prevent bad landlords from doing the very thing for which all good landlords condemned them. Good landlords would continue in their present wise and honourable course, and he fully admitted that they were the majority of landlords. It was said that various plans for the valuation of rent, suggested by advocates of tenant right, were unfair. He ventured to think that if the right to continuous occupation were made law, questions of valuation of rent would not often arise. But if they did, he thought his hon. Friend the Member for Cork was not wedded to any particular form of valuation tribunal, and he need not feel himself so wedded. Any fairly-constituted tribunal would be accepted, provided it did not make competition the exclusive criterion of a fair rent. It was perfectly well known that undue competition had raised land far above its agricultural value in Ireland. Competition for land in Ireland was an unhealthy competition. It was mainly caused by this fact—the Irish tenant was afraid, on account of the insecurity of his tenure, to put money into land for its perfect cultivation; but having no use for his money in that direction, he invested it extravagantly in obtaining the possession of land whereon to live. Thus cultivation suffered. A good landlord never regarded competition as the real test in the choice of a tenant. He knew that a competition rent would not leave a proper margin for the support of the tenant, the due cultivation of a farm, and the remuneration of the tenant's expenditure and labour. Therefore, the landlord protested against competition being looked on as an exclusive test of the value of land in Ireland. With regard to sub-letting and sub-division, which he admitted led to evils, strong clauses in leases and agreements would effectually prevent them, as they did under the existing law, according to the experience of Irish lawyers. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir Sydney Waterlow) objected to this Bill because it would leave a possibility of contention 345 constantly hanging over the heads of the landlords and tenants. There was a simple way of dealing with the question which would involve no necessity for contention or litigation. Take the main features of the Ulster custom—the right of continuous occupation, the liability to a reasonable rent, and the right of free sale to an approved assignee; enact that these conditions should attach generally to all farm tenancies, and then give the landlord every security against the dishonest tenant. If this seemed too revolutionary at this moment, let them take up the Land Act and inquire by the light of these past nine years how far its objects, even if fully attained, fell short of the necessities of the country, he did not expect any hopeful answer from Her Majesty's Government; and oven if a hopeful answer were given, experience had taught them not to expect any practical reason of improvement in consequence of it. As for the Members of the Opposition, they should remember that experience had taught them that it was only by the Irish vote they could hope to achieve or retain power; and that vote they could not get unless they dealt fairly or wisely with the Land Question, which was not very important to the Irish tenant, but was the principal key to the gaining of Home Rule; because it was only when the English Parliament had disposed of the pretensions of Irish landlords that the latter would be induced to withdraw their opposition to an Irish Parliament, which they knew would soon dispose of those pretensions, and it might be that, like other great questions, it could only be solved by successive alterations of the law; but those alterations must be substantial and progressive. They must remove the insecurity of the tenant. He would not speak in the spirit of a menace, because it was not by menace, nor the ingenious manipulation of the English Party, but by the justice and moderation of their claim that the Irish tenant would succeed. They felt grateful for the attempt latterly made to create a peasant proprietary; but the creation of a peasant proprietary on the occasion of a few sales in the Landed Estates Court was no solution of the Land Question. The overwhelming majority of the tenants had no hope, and no possibility, of becoming proprietors. What they wanted was to be allowed to cultivate the land of their 346 birth which they held as tenants, and could only hold as tenants in security. Let the right hon. Members for Greenwich and Birmingham address their minds to the great problem, and finish the work they had begun. When they returned to it, they would find their efforts sustained and seconded not by an Irish Whig contingent, as in former days, now gone for ever, but by an independent Irish Party.
§ MR. ALDERMAN COTTON
opposed the second reading of the Bill, contending that it was an exceedingly dangerous course to pursue, and one contrary to all the principles of political economy, that the landlords should be compelled by Acts of Parliament, by insidious degrees, to increase the powers of the tenant over the landlord. A landlord was surely as important as a trader; and what would the traders say if Parliament stopped in and said they were making too much profit, and must hand a portion of their profits over to somebody else? He was quite sure that hon. Members opposite would most indignantly oppose such a measure as that. He doubted the wisdom of at all times holding up the tenant as an injured individual; and he could not see why, in this matter, there had been one law for Ireland and another for England, the right of tenancy being the same in both countries. He believed that the consequence of passing such a Bill as this would be that the landlords would be afraid to let their land to anybody. It would be much better, in that case, for the landlord to work the land himself, because he could then do as he liked by it; whereas, if he passed it to a tenant, there would always be the risk that the tenant, availing himself of his novel rights, might take away the land from the landlord, and thus deprive him of his own freehold. The agitation on which they had embarked was a very serious matter, for it was calculated to interfere very materially with the prospects of their country and to raise false hopes. He hoped the House would not assent to the Bill. The Land Act of 1870 had been productive of great advantage to the tenants of Ireland, and the Irish Party might well be content to leave that Act to work for some 14 or 21 years before they disturbed it; and when further legislation was found necessary, then it should be proposed in a well- 347 digested measure on the responsibility of a Government.
§ LORD FRANCIS CONYNGHAM
said, he felt great difficulty in speaking on this subject to-day, because last year his name was upon the back of a Bill which was almost identically the same as the measure which was now before the House. Since last year he had lost—and the Home Rule Party had lost—one of their best friends and most kind advisers by the death of Mr. Butt. During the existence of the present Parliament death had been very heavy on the little Home Rule Party; for since this Parliament had been returned, the Home Rule Party had lost more men than any other Party. He should not have said anything at all to-day, had it not been for the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Cotton); and he must say that it appeared to him that a great many hon. Members sitting on the opposite side of the House, and also a great many hon. Gentlemen sitting above the Gangway upon that side of the House, knew very little about Irish affairs with regard to the Land Question. His own opinion on the question remained unchanged; and in the full belief that his Party did represent, some portion of the territorial land in Ireland, he could assure those hon. Members whose speeches gave evidence of their want of knowledge on the subject of Irish land, that he was not afraid of any good Bill to increase the facilities for purchase by tenants in cases where estates were brought into the Landed Estates Court, or of anything in the direction of security of tenure. He knew very well what would be the result of this Bill. It was then nearly half-past 2 o'clock, and in the course of two hours there would be a tremendous number of hon. Members who would come down and, to use a vulgar expression, sit upon the Irish Members, and would then go home perfectly satisfied with having done so. They had lost one of their ablest men lately, and he was amused to see it stated in the newspapers that the Irish Party were fast breaking up; but he could assure the House that they need not be in the least afraid of that event. There was still an Irish Party who were determined that the Irish Land Question should be settled, and who would settle it.
MR. JOHN GEORGE MACCARTHY
said, the Irish Members had to thank the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Cotton) for having broken the long silence of the Governmental Benches. It illustrated one of the difficulties of Irish Members, who believed in the justice of their cause, and in the ultimate triumph of justice in that House, that speeches so able and so convincing as those of both the hon. Members for Cork County should have been addressed to almost empty Benches. In theory, a legislator was supposed to be one who calmly considered opposing pleadings, and recorded his vote, or delivered his speech, as the result of such consideration. But the fact sadly differed from the theory. Every new proposal had to be pleaded for to an almost vacant House, and was decided on by hon. Gentlemen who did not even hear what had been said about it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London had at least given the advocates for the Irish tenant a fair hearing, and had frankly and courteously expressed his own views respecting their proposal. The hon. Member had also conferred on them the favour of illustrating in his own person the extreme difficulty under which English Members laboured in dealing with the internal affairs of a country on whose soil, perhaps, they had never stood. The hon. Member was a poet, and had enriched their literature with some imaginative productions. Let him be assured that in the boldest flights of his muse he never more completely left the solid ground of fact than in his conception of the mutual relations of Irish landlords and tenants. He said that they were substantially identical with such relations as they existed in England; and he pictured the happy Irish tenant whose peace was disturbed only by those who injudiciously desired to benefit his condition. But, in reality, no human position could be less like another than that of the sturdy English tenant entering into an equal bargain with his landlord, and the Irish agriculturist who, in the vast majority of cases, must accept whatever terms his landlord offered. As a rule, Irish tenants were not voluntary contractors. The terms they accepted and the tenure that prevailed had been well described as a collection of terms imposed by the strong upon the weak. Those terms were 349 sometimes just and sometimes unjust; they were sometimes harshly enforced; but they were far more generally allowed to he unused. They were all open to this fatal objection'—that they rendered the man who tilled the soil uncertain as to whether or not he should enjoy the results of his labours. The hon. Member for the City of London considered that it would be a violation of the principles of political economy to give the tenant security of tenure. But perhaps the hon. Member knew more of poetry than of political economy. He (Mr. MacCarthy) ventured to ask what principle of political economy sanctioned the practice of compelling nearly the whole agriculture of the country to be conducted by men who were absolutely insecure as to the duration and the terms of their occupancy? On the contrary, if there were one doctrine of political economy more clearly established than another it was that, unless in the purely special and exceptional case of farms fully equipped and requiring no outlay, such insecurity of tenure was a wrong to the tenant, an injury to the landlord, a fatal hindrance to agriculture, a fearful peril to the State. Indeed, the first principle of political economy was the right of the producer to the product, the certainty that he who sowed should reap. But, as a general rule, that principle could only be carried out by providing some reasonable duration of occupancy on fair terms. The reason why no one improved in barbarous countries was that no one was certain of the duration of his tenure. In insisting on precariousness of tenure, they defended barbarism, and sought to revert to barbaric precedents. Of all arts, agriculture most required time. The agriculture that thought only of next year was the agriculture of the savage. Real agriculture sacrificed the present to the future—the immediate petty gain to the large ultimate advantage. It was the product not of the land but of the farm, and the farm was created only by labour that looked years ahead for its reward. To ripen the sower's richest harvest, it was not only one summer that was required, but many summers, A proper succession of crops and a higher state of cultivation were becoming every day more and more necessary to the successful prosecution of agriculture. Hence, to deprive the agriculturist of a reason- 350 able certainty of continuous occupancy was either to paralyze his industry or to submit its results to confiscation—in either case, to violate the fundamental principles of public policy. Edmund Burke said—Confine a tenant to temporary possession, and you cut off that laudable avarice which every wise State cherishes as a first principle of its greatness.Those views had had the sanction of Parliament itself. The Land Act was passed to obtain for the Irish tenant some fair chance of continuous occupancy, and some reasonable security for the results of his labours. Their complaint that day was that the object of the Legislature had not been attained, and that throe-fourths of the tenants of Ireland were still in a barbarous state of uncertainty as to the duration of their tenure, and as to the security for the results of their industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, in introducing the Land Act, spoke in his own eloquent way of notices to quit falling like snow-flakes over the land. Those cold and bitter snowflakes still, too often, chilled the peasants' hearts and ruined the peasants' homes. In the three years before the Land Act the number of ejectments brought on notice to quit in Ireland was 4,253. In the three years subsequent to the Land Act the number of ejectments was 5,641, thus showing an increase of 1,388. In the three subsequent years 8,439 such notices were served. There were no more recent Returns; but, taking the average, 20,000 such ejectments had taken place since the right hon. Member for Greenwich made his great effort to stay them. Every holding might be supposed to represent a home, and every home an average of five persons. Thus, if that calculation be approximately correct, a population as largo as that of the City of Cork—men, women, and children—must have been capriciously evicted from their homes under the operation of the Land Act of 1870. Other demonstrations of insecurity abounded. Everyone familiar with the agricultural affairs of the country knew that any experienced landlord going properly about it could still evict his tenants at will, and, instead of losing, make money by the transaction. That they did not do so was due to their own sense of justice, It was not due to any 351 protection afforded to the tenant by the laws of the country. Now, he (Mr. MacCarthy) asked how could agriculture thrive under such circumstances? How could land be otherwise than depreciated in value? How could the country be otherwise than impoverished? It should be borne in mind, also, that Irish agriculturists had to contend with American agriculturists to an extent hitherto unknown. An able writer in a recent number of Macmillan's Magazine had shown that the importation of foreign breadstuffs into the United Kingdom had risen from 58,000,000 in 1857, to 160,000,000 in 1877. A still more able writer, in a more recent number—Mr. A. J. Wilson—whose statesmanlike papers had obtained such well-deserved attention, had shown that while it cost 48s. to produce a quarter of wheat in these Islands, an equal quantity of American wheat could be delivered in Liverpool for 37s. Surely, in the face of such facts, the Legislature ought to give the Irish farmer a chance for his life. It could not really serve the landlord; it could not really serve the State—to compel the Irish farmer to meet such competition on terms obviously unfair. Of course, those pleadings would fail that day; but the principles they advocated would some clay be accepted. It was characteristic of that House to resist improvements at first, then to repent the unwise resistance, and then to carry triumphantly the very measures that had been resisted. The hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy), whose accession to that House gave so much pleasure to Members of all sections, in his valuable and brilliant history of our own times, had given some curious instances of that. Thus he told how the great philosophical historian, Mr. Grote, brought forward, year after year, his Motion for the Ballot; and how, year after year, the Motion was scornfully rejected by vast majorities, and confuted by brilliant speeches. But, as now appeared, the vast majorities were all wrong, and the brilliant speeches were all moonshine. The same historian told how, when the Motion for penny postage was introduced here, it was denounced by the then Postmaster General as being of "all wild and extravagant schemes the wildest and most extravagant." They would hear by-and-bye their proposals denounced in 352 language not less strong, and with no greater reason. Parliament was incessantly making such mistakes, and incessantly appearing on the stool of repentance for having made them. This was a subject too serious to render mistakes innocent; it concerned the homes of the people; it concerned the only really great industry of the country—its agriculture; it concerned every man in the country, for every class was more or less dependent on the agricultural class. It concerned the interests and the honour of the Empire; for surely it would be neither conducive to the honour or the interests of the Empire to insist on managing-Irish affairs, and then to mismanage them so signally as to render the homes of the people insecure, to retard its agriculture, to hinder its improvement, to depreciate the value of its landed property, and to leave the condition of the Irish agriculturist a reproach to the civilization of the world.
§ COLONEL TOTTENHAM
, as an owner of land, ventured to make a few observations on the Bill. The first and second parts of it were of minor importance, and he had no serious objection to them; but on the third part of the Bill he found himself at issue with the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the measure. He believed that in the interests alike of landlord and tenant that which was called fixity of tenure in Ireland would be, to a great extent, prejudicial. It would not only strain the relations of landlord and tenant to a very considerable degree, but it would deprive the landlord and the estate generally of the control which was of the greatest possible benefit to the tenant. He did not wish to enter on the merits or demerits of the Land Act. He believed it had given to the tenants a valuable interest in the land which they had not possessed before; and it had given them a security which he did not grudge them, and which must tend to their benefit. But if there was any disadvantage in the Land Act, it was the withdrawal of some of the control which the landlord formerly exercised in the choice of his tenants, and in the management of his estate. He knew, from his own experience, that if he had assented to all the applications made to him by his tenants to be allowed to dispose of their holdings it would not have been for their benefit. A case of the kind had occurred recently. 353 He did not know whether he was called a bad landlord or a good one; but during the seven or eight years he had been connected with the management of his estate he had never had occasion to change a tenant, and his object had been always to retain them. Well, an old tenant, nearly 80 years of ago, came to him, saying he was worn out, and wanted to sell his interest in the holding to a successor, whereby he could get £40 or £50 ready money. He, however, made inquiries, and found that the old man's son had for years been earning and paying the rent of the farm, and that the old man, having quarrelled with him, wished to disinherit him by getting the ready money, and, when that was spent, going into the workhouse. Was that the sort of tenant right they were anxious to encourage? Another case of a very similar kind had recently occurred; but in both instances he refused his consent, which, he could not have done if the provisions of this Bill had been in force, and then the parties would have been ruined. He should, therefore, oppose the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, he did not intend to go into the general question, or into the principles involved in this debate. All that had been admirably done by some of his hon. Friends; but there were one or two points in the debate to which he wished briefly to refer. The hon. and gallant Member for New Boss (Colonel Tottenham) had pointed out cases in which the exercise of proprietary right might be perverted by malign or worthless persons, so as to inflict injury; but it would be impossible to furnish any system or law which would prevent a bad father from being bad, or put a stop to evils of various kinds being brought about by ungrateful or unworthy men. As an abstract statement, he was quite willing to admit that it might occasionally be for people's benefit if they were prevented from exercising they full legal rights; but that was not an argument for refusing to recognize men's common rights altogether. He must express his surprise and regret that the opposition to the Bill should have come directly from a Member of the Liberal Party, to which he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) had long had the honour of belonging. It appeared to him a strange fatality that it should so often 354 happen that the work of hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial Benches should be performed for them by hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side of the House, and that some Member of the Liberal Party was so often willing to relieve hon. Gentlemen opposite of responsibility, and perform an obnoxious task for them. Everyone who knew the hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir Sydney Waterlow) knew perfectly well that he had none but high and proper motives for what he did. Still, there seemed a certain simplicity in the explanation the hon. Baronet gave of the course he was about to take. He explained that he opposed the Bill in the interests of the Irish Society. Now, that Society, however well it might have managed its affairs in recent generations, only began to occupy Irish lands by virtue of conquest and of confiscation; and if the hon. Baronet had thought less of the Irish Society and more of the Irish people, he would have seen there was good reason for withholding his opposition to this measure. But the hon. Baronet objected to the Bill, on the ground that it put a stop to the power of landlord and tenant to contract themselves out of the clauses of the existing Act; and he asked why that power should be taken away from them? Now, if there was any course more dangerous than another, or more calculated to produce evil results, it was, first of all, for the general convenience of the people to lay down general rules restricting the power to do certain things, and then to give permission to individuals to contract themselves out of such legislation. Such an arrangement had, undoubtedly, acted so as to mar the good effect which existing legislation on the subject of Irish land tenure might otherwise produce. What would happen if, in regard to our factory legislation, and our legislation relating to shipping and merchant seamen, we were so to enforce the rights of individuals as to allow any two persons, employer, and employed, to contract themselves out of the Acts of Parliament? The hon. Member opposite had carried them back to the earliest days of this controversy by raising the broad, general question as to the right to limit in any way, by Parliamentary legislation, the rights of employers and landlords. Existing legislation, however, had completely disposed of that view 355 of the matter; and it would seem like a superfluous travelling back to the dark ages of the controversy, if they were to begin again to demonstrate that the public interests, when occasion required, must be held superior to individual rights. They had been asked if the trading or manufacturing class would endure any Parliamentary limitation of the profits of their trade? But the greater part of our factory legislation had actually had the effect of interfering with the full exaction of profits of trade. The existing legislation in regard to Irish land, and even this Bill itself, did not go so far in that direction as the measures affecting factories and trades. The Bill before the House only acknowledged the general principle of the laws of this country—namely, that the interests of the State were superior to any real or supposed private rights. The supposed sanctity of private territorial rights had gone with the days of feudalism, and all the other vanished institutions and customs which were once believed to be immutable and eternal.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, it had been stated there was something widely different between the position of an English landlord and tenant and an Irish landlord and tenant, and the only ground on which that statement was based was that in England they generally spoke of landlords as a rich body of men, the tenants also being extremely well off; whereas in Ireland the landlords were well-to-do, but the tenants were supposed to be in a much worse condition than the English tenants. Without stopping at this moment to inquire how far this statement would bear investigation, surely that could not be a ground for alleging there ought to be any difference between the general relations of the two, whether it was on this side of the Channel or the other. Any such idea would be entirely at variance not merely with the views upon the matter in England, but with every sound principle of possessory rights anywhere. He did not know upon what grounds the statement was based, that the English people knew nothing of the feeling of Irishmen with regard to their territorial rights. Allegations of that kind were most easily made—wliolesale statements, if he might so call them. Without wishing to impute wrong to anyone, it was perfectly easy to make such assertions, either in 356 this House or elsewhere; but he ventured to think, with all due respect to those who made them, there was no ground for such allegations. For years they had had their own tenants in England exactly in the same position as the Irish tenant, with this exception—that the tenant in Ireland, even before the Irish Land Act was passed, had better terms compulsorily given to him by the law than had ever been given to the English tenant in England. There were certain things—call it Ulster custom if they pleased, or by any other name; but there were in Ireland certain rules and regulations to which they in England had never yet come, and he had no reason to expect, or hope, they ever should arrive at them; and, further, he was not sure it was desirable they should carry out those rules. They were told that one of the greatest doctrines of political economy was the security for holdings. He quite admitted that, within reasonable limits, that view was perfectly correct; but security, even as a question of political economy, must be within reasonable limits; and he said it was not political economy that there should be such a security as was sought to be laid down under the lines of the Bill he held in his hand. It was more—it was taking, or seeking to take, from the proprietor the actual rights that belonged to him, and giving them in perpetuity to the tenant. That was not permitted in English legislation; and he trusted it would never be permitted in Irish legislation, so far to forget the differences between the landlord and tenant as to make the landlord subject to the tenant, and putting the former in such a position as that. That was not security—it was confiscation. It amounted to nothing less than that, and it was necessary they should know it. Let them look at what they had when they talked about such security. He knew that was not a time when they should go through the details of the measure now before the House; but, in order to show what the foundation of it really was, he would take the language of the 18th section of the Bill, that no tenant should be disentitled to obtain compensation under the 3rd section of the Land Act on the ground that heIs evicted by the landlord on account of the persistent exercise of any right from which he is debarred by express or implied agreement with his landlord.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, he would do so later on; but at present he was only dealing with the first part of the question. He had both parts of the section in his mind, and had had them in his mind for some time; and he could assure the hon. Gentleman he would not, on the one hand, forget to read the whole clause, nor, on the other, was he likely to be put off his argument, because any attempt was made to mix up two totally different subjects. He took the language of the 18th section as it stood; and he would ask anyone who knew anything about the subject, if that was not a section which had the effect of allowing the landlord to be at the mercy of the tenant, and permitting the tenant to do precisely that which he liked with every acre of the land he occupied? As he was asked, he would come to the second part of the section, which he had certainly intended to do without any such request; and he must say the subsequent part of the section was even stronger than the first, and declared more emphatically what the principles of the Bill were. It proposed the repeal of the 14th section of the Land Act, and this, he apprehended, was one of those clauses that was inserted for the purpose of guarding Irish property from one of the inroads which it was now sought to bring to bear upon it. If the 14th section was desirable in 1870, it was desirable now, as a safeguard against the propositions of the Bill. Was it to be supposed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, who was mainly instrumental in passing the Land Act, did not know how far he could go, and how far he dared go? But let them take the last portion of the Bill, which provided that nothing contained in the Act should permit the Chairman, in awarding compensation, from taking into consideration the conduct of the tenant in the manner provided by the 18th section of the Land Act. He wanted to know what that meant but the purest—if it could be said to be pure at all—most complete Communism in the world? It was nothing but Communism in its most undisguised similitude thus to say that the tenant should do what he liked with the land. The tenant was to have the power to say he would persist in setting 358 at defiance the rules and regulations—it might be the payment of rent, for aught he know, even set everything at defiance—and still the landlord should have no practical remedy, and the tenant could force the landlord to go to the Chairman of some local sessions, or land tribunal, whose interests, for all he knew, would be antagonistic to one or the other, and have a question of so-called compensation settled. It was unreasonable to imagine that the landlord ought to be wiped out practically in that way. Were they to be told there was something different in Ireland—that the state of things was so exceptional, that they should reverse all the rights existing between the landlord and the tenant throughout that country? When they were considering such a question, let them take care that what they were seeking to carry out would be well; and do not let them, under the name of fixity of tenure, really give every man in Ireland a proprietary right—and that in perpetuity, moreover—which in no way whatever belonged to him. The idea of carrying out a contract was altogether ignored, and any tenant could force a landlord to go before a tribunal to have the contract practically set aside. There was nothing in Ireland to justify the reversal of the landlord's rights—nothing to justify, under the name of fixity of tenure, the giving a right to every tenant at the expense of the owner of the property. It would be an evil day for the country when that House so far forgot the rights of the landlords as to pass this Bill. If a tenant was a good tenant and paid his rent, conforming to all the regulations, performing the covenants, of the estate, doing his duty by the land, then any landlord, no matter on which side of St. George's Channel, would be glad to keep him. It was not the fault of laws or of Government that there was such a poor class of tenant farmers in Ireland. He regretted that such should be the case; but legislation such as that attempted here would never alter or amend that state of things; and he trusted the House would not be led into thinking that any remedy was to be found in disregarding the rights of contract, and of putting on the tenant those rights a landlord had always had handed down with his inheritance.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, the Irish Land Question had been before 359 the House on several occasions, and he would not now detain the House at any great length. It would appear that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Wheelhouse) was under the impression he was in some law debating society, giving an address to persons knowing very little of legal matters on the subject of the Law of Contract. But to create a contract and to make it available, the parties ought to be in a position to enter into the contract. The hon. and learned Member, and other English Members who were not acquainted with the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland, had dealt with the question from an abstract point of view, and had totally disregarded what every man who considered the question ought to regard—namely, the social and political relations of the Irish people, and the position of landlord and tenant in Ireland. Speaking from a landlord's own point of view, landlords should regard the 20 or 30 years' experience they had had of the consideration of this question. It was the old story of the Sybilline books. He remembered the time when Sir Joseph Napier, when he held high law office under the late Lord Derby, was put forward to make the statement of the great Conservative Party in England on the position which the landlord and tenant question occupied at that day, and he made statements which seemed to horrify many of the hon. Gentlemen who sat beside him. But what had been the course of events? Why, to a considerable degree, the opinions which were then put forward had been carried out by legislative enactments. Now they were considering, not in the words of the hon. and learned Member who had just addressed them, whether they were to suppress the position of landlord or not, but whether this was not the time for them to set their house in order, and without giving undue advantage to any class of society, to carry out a fair arrangement between them, rather than to wait till circumstances might induce a settlement of the question, which no one who now took part in these proceedings would regard as a fair one. In olden days, landlords in Ireland did not very much consider, in the administration of their property, what were the social results of a particular course of conduct. They seemed to think that the placing of one class 360 of men upon the Government Bench was the summum bonum for an Irish landlord. They seemed to think that because a man once in a way contributed to obtaining for a friend the apron of a Bishop or the wig of a Judge, they were performing their duty to themselves and their families. But landlords had now arrived at this position—that they had to fight in that House for matters which 20 or 30 years ago would have been regarded as unassailable. What was the result of a man being a territorial magnate in Ireland in olden days? There was no ballot, and he could make any number of 40s. freeholders he chose in his particular district, not to conduce to the good cultivation of the land, not to raise a large quantity of beef and butter to export to England, but to get a pen of Irish voters together, when there was a consideration of whether a certain right hon. Gentleman was to be Chief Secretary for Ireland or not, or whether some right hon. Member was to be made a Chief Justice; and it was said that the landlord had performed his social functions when he had driven those men like sheep to the poll, and had done his duty at once to himself, to his family, and to the country. They had got over that state of society now, and had not to consider the political relations of landlords and tenants in Ireland. It was not now in the strict sense a political question, but a social question. He spoke to hon. Members opposite, who owned more land than he did, although his subsistence, too, was derived from land, and he spoke as a landlord. He had seen the folly that had actuated those men in the olden times; and he asked hon. Members if they were going to pursue that insane folly at present? They might have their own opinions as to the manner in which the Government of the country was to be conducted, and they might express their opinions like men, and according to their influence they might give effect to those opinions; but the day was gone by when they could imagine that, by any system of force or compulsion, they could drive those men who held land from them any more than they could drive the shopkeepers of the towns to express the opinions of their landlords, except by air persuasion. Now, what was proposed by this Bill? Hon. Members had said that it was proposed 361 to take the rights of the landlords away. What rights? They could not use a fussy supervision over the tenants, and tell them what they were to do. But they could say to a tenant—"You hold your land from me; you owe a certain amount of rent, and if you do not pay it I have the law on my side;" and the Bill did not propose to interfere with such a law. "I can remove you from the holding in which you have proved yourself an unworthy servant." No hon. Member on that side of the House wished to pursue the question further than that. He thought few hon. Members opposite would deny that, admitting the great advantages of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, it had been proved by experience that there were instances in which that Bill had failed to do what the right hon. Gentleman stated it was his intention it should do when he brought it in—namely, to give a certainty of tenure to a hard working man. He did not think the House could do a better act than to give a second reading to the Bill, which professed to give that certainty of tenure which late legislation had not afforded. If the statements made were exaggerated, and if the claims put forward could not be well sustained, the matter could be well considered in Committee. It had been often stated that hon. Members who came to the House from Ireland cared little about anything except their own particular position in the House; but it would be seen, from the list of Members furnished by Irish constituencies, that the large majority of them were connected with the landed interest of the country; and it was not to be supposed that for the casual position to be obtained by being in the House of Commons for four or five years, men would give up their interests, as well as their opinions, to promote what had been called a system of confiscation. Certainly, if the Bill were worthy of such a term, he should not be there to advocate it. Whatever the opinion of the Government might be of the Bill, there was one thing he would wish to impress upon them. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had lived too short a time in Ireland to learn; and if he had done so, the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) could give him the informa- 362 tion that a strong impression prevailed throughout all classes of Ireland that, while admitting the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich to have conferred great and inestimable benefits on the Irish people, there had boon instances of its working in a very unjust direction—instances which had been exhibited in every County Court in Ireland, and which warranted everyone who cared for the interest of the country in giving the Bill his earnest and thorough support. It was said that there were clauses in the Bill which could never pass the House of Commons. But his impression was that, commencing in small degrees, great questions had arisen, and had been carried out in a way that no one could have dreamed of in the first inception; and this might be the case with the Irish Land Bill when it came before Committee. At all events, he would remind hon. Members opposite that ucalegon proximus ardet applied to this question. Looking at the present position of agriculture in England—and he was not in error in stating that there was not a county in which farms had not been given up or were about to be given up—he would ask English landlords whether it would not be well for them to take time by the forelock, and to abate that high notion of individual prerogative which they possessed, from having been brought up in the idea that they were the lords of the soil and of all that appertained to it? He was glad that several English Members had joined in the debate, because the way to prevent a big revolution in this country was to put our house in order in time. The position in England now was very much what it was in Ireland before the Famine precipitated affairs; and this Bill would show hon. Members what they would shortly have to do with reference to the landed proprietors of England. He said, when he rose, that he only intended to make a few observations upon this question. It was, unfortunately, a question which had distracted his country for the last 50 years. The Irish people had really been unable to give expression to their opinions either in that House or elsewhere; and it was not to be met by the quiet chaff of those Gentlemen who had searched Chitty upon Contracts with the view of giving character to their speeches. At present they had to con- 363 sider, not merely a Law of Contract such as bad been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheel-house), but the state, position, and the internal and social arrangements of the nation. What he had said about Ireland would be equally true of England; and he would urge hon. Members representing English constituencies to allow the Bill to go into Committee, when the statements which had been made would be carefully considered, and when their judgments would not be disturbed by declamatory speeches.
§ SIR JOHN LESLIE
regarded the introduction of the Bill at the present time as singularly inopportune. The period which had elapsed since it was last introduced, and since the House pronounced a judgment upon it, was so limited that he thought it was unwise to re-open the subject. In the next place, it was impossible to turn to the back of the Bill without discovering that there were peculiar circumstances connected with it; and, as a matter of feeling, he thought it would have been only respect due to the organizer of the measure (Mr. Butt), and to Mr. Downing, who was a strong supporter of it, that the Order of the Day should have been treated with mournful and respectful silence. There was another reason which he would advance why this measure came inopportunely at the present time, which was that it anticipated legislation which was expected in reference to the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act. The two measures could not run together; and it was obvious that no tenant farmer could be expected to advance any portion of the purchase-money for his holding if he were told by the Representatives of Ireland—as he was told by this Bill—that he need not put himself to any inconvenience to supply this purchase-money at all, because if this measure passed he would become a freeholder of his farm without any outlay. This Bill, with its wild generalities about fixity of tenure, free sale, and fair rents, must make way for legislation on the subject to which both sides of the House looked as a real advantage for peasant proprietors, if conducted upon prudent principles. He had watched, with great interest, all that had been said by speakers upon this question during the Recess, and he read, with interest, the speech of the hon. 364 and learned Member (Mr. O'Shaughnessy), delivered last year at Limerick. That hon. and learned Member called upon his hearers to affirm that every living soul, every artizan in the towns, and every man in the community had an interest in the proper cultivation of the land. In that remark he fully concurred. They were all interested and concerned in producing the greatest amount possible from the cultivation of the land; but the hon. and learned Member for Limerick then went on to say that the remedy was fixity of tenure—a conclusion which he entirely disagreed with. The crying evil, the besetting sin of Ireland, was the indifferent cultivation of the soil. It was the want of improvement in that respect, not the want of improvement in the laws, which prevented the tenant farmers of the country from rising to the standard to which they aspired. Fixity of tenure would only perpetuate the evils which they had already suffered from, and would establish what they really ought to get rid of—namely, a slothful, thriftless, ignorant system of cultivation which would lead those who were fixed in their possessions to neglect their duties, and, in the end, find themselves in the poor-house. A true friend of the tenant farmer should show him how he enjoyed advantages above his class in other parts of the Kingdom, how, in addition to the advantages given to others, he had compensation for disturbance as a sole privilege; and, therefore, instead of looking for a remedy to alteration in the laws, they should look to their own energy and knowledge of the elementary principles of agriculture. Never did hon. Members opposite, in their addresses, get out of the political aspect of the question. By no chance did they allude to what was the real root of the evil—bad cultivation. He trusted, so far as this Bill was concerned, that the House would not consent to the second reading. An hon. Member (Mr. Shaw) had said that it was a very moderate measure; but he considered it went far beyond what was contemplated, and was an extreme measure, and for that reason he hoped they would hear no more of it, and that a modified Bill would hereafter be introduced capable of working in concert with the measure relating to the establishment of a peasant proprietary.
§ Mr. BLENNERHASSETT
said, he had no intention of detaining the House; but there were one or two observations which he felt bound to reply to. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Leslie) had expressed regret at the loss of two distinguished Members, and had said that this was, therefore, an inopportune time to proceed with this Bill. But he (Mr. Blennerhassett) considered that the best tribute they could pay to the memory of those who had departed was to press on quietly, but, at the same time, determinedly, the principles which they so sincerely advocated. The hon. Baronet had expressed a fear that the present measure would interfere with the proposed legislation on the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act. No one could believe more strongly than he did in the beneficial nature of those clauses; but he must point out that their operation had not been so extensive as was anticipated. The hon. Baronet shared the views which he entertained with reference to the "Bright Clauses." Their object was to create and retain a large number of tenant farmers in Ireland with security of tenure. The whole point was simple, and land in a nutshell. If they could deal with the land in Ireland, and the relations between landlord and tenant upon purely commercial principles, the present system might work well; but it was because those relations did not exist that the tenant was deprived of every incentive to industry and perseverance. The hon. Baronet had said that they should improve the cultivation of the land rather than make a political question out of it; but it appeared to him that the two things were united, and they could not look at one point without having regard to the other. When Lord Spencer was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he tried to improve the cultivation of the land by a system of prizes, and other efforts had been made in that direction which he hoped would have a good result; but Professor Baldwin, in a pamphlet which he had lately issued, showed how difficult it was to produce any result, because, he said, the tenants feared that by improving their holdings and making the farms tidy they would be called upon to pay an increased rent, and the landlords would thus swallow up the extra capital or labour which they might expend. He did not wish to make any complaint 366 against landlords; but it could not be denied that this idea prevailed greatly throughout Ireland. Judge Flanagan, in his evidence before the Committee on the "Bright Clauses," insisted strongly upon the expediency of providing for the sale of the residue of estates, after the majority of the tenants had purchased their holdings. The smaller lots of land put up for sale generally fell into the hands of small purchasers, who proved the most avaricious landlords, and by their exactions paralyzed and spread fear throughout the tenants of a whole district. If the land was held by just and honourable men nothing would be heard of the subject; but they were bound to deal with the matter as they found it, and to prevent unscrupulous landlords from trading in what really belonged to the tenant. This debate would, he was sure, throw a good deal of light upon the subject, and it would show the different ways in which the English and Irish Members approached the subject; but nothing was so calculated to mislead the House as to compare the way in which the land in England was held with that of Ireland. Therefore, if they wished to deal justly, it must be considered as an Irish question simply, and legislation must be applied to the peculiar circumstances of that country.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) had introduced the Bill to the House in a speech of singular moderation—not singular to him, because he was always moderate—in the most persuasive and attractive, but, at the same time, an eminently misleading manner. And no one would have recognized, from the way in which he spoke, that he was asking the House to read a second time a Bill of the character which was now before them. In fact, anyone would have imagined from his manner, that it was a moderate, easy-going measure on the land laws of Ireland, and that it was inconceivable that anyone could be found who was so rash as not to accept such a boon. That was the manner in which he had introduced it; and, in fact, he seemed like a modern Moses, trying to lead his chosen people through a wilderness of legislation into a land of promise, from which the older proprietors were to be cast out. There had been debates on this subject for the 367 last five or six years, and in the present discussion not a new fact or new argument had been adduced. The Bill was divided into three parts. The first part was put in, he would not say deliberately to mislead; but it would certainly have the effect of leading a Member who did not read the whole measure to believe that it was a moderate and harmless measure. There was in this part many clauses of a moderate character, and which were well worthy of consideration. If they stood alone many of these clauses might be discussed. The second part of the Bill proposed some amendments in detail, and there might be amongst the clauses of which it consisted some few grains of wheat amongst a mass of chaff; but, although some of these provisions might be worthy of acceptance, he would point out that some of the clauses might be capable of considerable extension. The clauses contained an effort to introduce what was vigorously resisted when the Land Act was passed—that was, the introduction of the jury element into the administration of the land laws before the County Court Judges. When that attempt was first made a very full discussion ensued, and it was pointed out that it would simply hold up the landlords to confiscation to allow County Court Judges to submit disputed questions as to the compensation to be paid by landlords to juries of tenant farmers; and with such obvious good sense was that advanced that the House of Commons at once acceded to that view, and it was decided that the provisions of the Land Act should be judicially administered by the County Court Judge, and the jury element should be carefully excluded. Well, one of the sections of the second part of the Bill now before the House provided that a Chairman should, if he thought fit, refer the question to a jury, who he should call in to assist him in his decision if a single question arose, not only under the Land Act, but under any of the provisions of the Bill. That was about as grave and serious an innovation as could possibly be imagined. It was no use to point out that it was permissive, and that the Judge was not compelled to call in a jury. The minute a popular question arose he would be pressed all round to allow his judgment to be assisted by the jury; and if he was not extremely firm, 368 and if it was a case about which there was any great popular excitement, he might be very glad to get rid of the responsibility of deciding such disputant questions, and refer it to a jury. The only other remark he had to make as to the second part of the Bill was that the effect of its provisions (in seeking to repeal the 12th section of the Land Act) was such as to amount to a legislative enactment that any tenant, no matter what his education or ability or wealth—even if he held thousands of acres of the best land in Meath, and was richer than his landlord—should not have the power to enter into any valid contract with his landlord with respect to altering the compensation under the Land Act. Was not that really rank nonsense? And yet that House was quietly asked to pass a measure which was susceptible—and was intended to be susceptible—of such a monstrous construction as that. But the second part of the Bill was nothing compared to what the third part was, and which contained what he supposed he must call the principle of the Bill. That was a very remarkable portion of the Bill, and required a little attention to find out exactly what the principle was, because it was disguised in 20 or 30 sections, and required to be put into plain English. Without going through the details of the sections, the part was this—that by an Act which was retrospective, and did not look simply to the future, it proposed to enable every tenant in Ireland, no matter under what circumstances he got his farm, or what his position might be—no matter what his wealth, his education, or his intellectual attainments, or the extent of his holding—if he pleased, against the wish of his landlord, by giving a simple notice, to turn his tenure into a perpetuity. But the hon. Member for Cork did not put his proposition in such a naked form as that was—though that was the real principle of the measure, and it was necessary that the House should have the simple plain English words to deal with in deciding such a question. It proposed to enable a tenant, no matter how he got his position, by the service of a notice, to turn his tenure into a perpetuity, and that without giving one farthing of compensation to the landlord—and whether he pleased or not. All he could say was, 369 to use a common expression, that that was rather a strong order—that principle was diluted into 10 or 11 sections, and so its meaning might not be at once perceived by a casual reader; but what it really said was that every person, except the landlord, should have power to regulate and fix the rent. The County Court Judge, in the second part of the Bill, was invited and persuaded to rid himself of his responsibility by handing the disputed question over to a jury; but in all cases of dispute the County Court Judge had absolutely no discretion whatever as to the fixing of the rent. The Judge might arrive at a conclusion that the rent suggested was wrong; and yet he must register the figures handed over to him by two gentlemen, who were obliged to swear a very attractive oath as to the proper rent to be paid in future. He asked was that a reasonable kind of Bill to ask the House to read a second time? He ventured to say that it was not; that the few observations he had made would show that it was a very stringent and strong measure; and if he did not use the word "confiscation" in regard to it, it was because that word had been used so often that he should like to find a new word to mean about the same thing. With regard to the machinery for fixing the rent—each party, the landlord, who was unwilling to be dragged into the matter at all, he was told he must fix an arbitrator; and the tenant, who was the real master of the situation, and who could do what he pleased, and by serving a notice transfer his tenure into a perpetuity, he was to appoint another arbitrator, and then two gentlemen were to proceed to fix the rent. If those men honestly discharged their duty, and rigidly proceeded in the way fixed by the Bill, there would be a substantial rising of rents from the Giant's Causeway to Cape Clear; but he ventured to say that that was not the object of the Bill, and if any Member made such a suggestion as that, he ventured to say he would meet with a somewhat warm reception when he returned to Ireland; and, therefore, he contended that it was intended that the arbitration clause should only work in another way, and that the only variation of the landlords' rents was to be downwards—that the arbitrator might lower the rent, but was not expected to raise them. If that was not intended, why was 370 the County Court Judge given absolutely no discretion to decide in any single particular as to the amount of the rent? The Preamble of the Bill was a masterpiece of apparently studied frankness; and in his original Bill the late Mr. Butt acted on the principle that it was absurd to include in its provisions a number of rich graziers, who, in nine cases out of ten, were better off than their landlords; but the farmers' clubs in Ireland, which were very powerful, were not satisfied with the exclusion; the Bill was altered to suit their views, and now applied to every farm in Ireland, no matter what its extent. Was it not absurd to say that all that could be changed in Committee, when the principle had been deliberately introduced into the Bill? He addressed the same criticism to the Bill before, and yet it was introduced again; and, therefore, it must be taken that it was deliberately intended to make the Bill apply to all farms in Ireland. He also could not help referring to what had been said as to the extension of such a principle to English farms; and it was impossible not to see that if the principle he had referred to was applied in the way proposed in Ireland, it could not possibly rest there, but some attempt would be made to extend it to England. How were arrears of rent dealt with in the Bill? If a man was four or five years in arrears, one would have thought that, as a matter of common sense, if a tenant had the power given him to turn his tenure into perpetuity by saving notice, that at least a landlord would have power to recover his arrears of rent. But one must change all one's preconceived notions in dealing with the Bill before the House; for he found that when a tenant was five years in arrears in his rent and was under notice of ejectment, that notice of ejectment was paralyzed by the tenant being able to servo a notice on his landlord stating his desire to turn his tenancy, for which he was five years' rent in arrear, and for which he was being sought to be ejected, into a perpetuity. What was the discretion of the Judge in such a case? He might, if he pleased, award to the landlord, before the tenant was turned into a perpetuity, a sum which should in no case exceed one year's arrear of rent. One would have thought that the unfortunate landlord, who had only got one year's rent 371 when five were owing, at all events would be able to recover all his costs in such a matter; but, again, the Judge, who had no discretion as to the raising of the rent, and who could only award one year's rent instead of five, had discretion given him not to give the whole costs, but so much of the costs as, under the circumstances, he might think requisite. Was that a fair way to deal with the arrears of rent in Ireland? It might be said that the balance was not confiscated; and certainly the landlord might go into the High Court of Justice, and seek in some of its divisions the balance of the four years' rent, and the costs, if he was fool enough to resort to litigation. Once, in the County Kilkenny, two gentlemen were competing for the suffrages of the tenant farmers, and one of them announced that if returned he would introduce a measure to reduce the rents one-half. He was cheered to the echo, and the friends of the other candidate thought their man was nowhere; but he was equal to the occasion, for, addressing the tenant farmers, he said—"Does the villain expect that you will pay the other half?" The result was that the candidate who moderately proposed only to cut down the rents by half was glad to get out of the place with his life. The way in which the clause about sub-letting and assignment was arranged was very ingenious, for Clause 35 was about as nice and moderate as anyone would well wish for; but it was nibbled away by subsequent clauses until nothing had beo3n left of it. Clause 38 took away a little of it, Clause 39 a great deal of it, and Clause 40 enabled a coach and nine or ten horses to be driven through it. The speeches in support of the measure had been extremely interesting, and some of them had been characterized by a great amount of research, and, as might have been expected for the nation which supplied the bulk of the speakers, by much ability and eloquence. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) made a speech which was of considerable ingenuity and ability; but he could not help thinking it was delivered largely in reference to some elections which were pending. He would not, however, attempt to follow him through the details of his argument; but would confine himself to the subject-matter of 372 the Bill before the consideration of the House. The hon. Member for Cork went on to describe the course he had taken on his own ably-managed property and on the property of others in Ireland. They all knew, taking it on a broad rule, that Irish landlords were very good landlords, and he had no doubt that many in the House who had property in Ireland were good landlords. But the matter became quite different when it was proposed to take the land arrangements out of the scope of the landlords of Ireland. The hon. Member had said that nothing had come of the Land Act. [Mr. SHAW: That it did not carry out all its principles.] That might be so; "all" was a big word; but it had, at any rate, transferred £20,000,000 of the property of the landlords to the tenants. At present, there was really as little of practical hardship or friction in the relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland as was to be found at any time in the history of the country. In former debates there were only three or four specific cases of hardship inflicted by the landlord which used to be alleged. The Bridge evictions were a godsend on two or three occasions. But he had not heard any allegation of that kind in the course of this debate, and not one single case had been quoted which would justify such an extreme measure as the one before the House. It must be borne in mind that no measure—and, even assuming that the present Bill became law to-morrow—could do more than benefit the existing race of tenants. That was a matter which could not be denied by argument. Property would be given without compensation to the existing race of tenants, and they would be enabled to sell to others who had no land that property which they held at as high a price as they pleased. The result would be that future occupiers would stand in the same position as the tenants were at present, and, no doubt, would apply to their Representatives to pass for them a new land law. On the whole, the relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland were satisfactory. As a rule, the tenants in Ireland paid their rents promptly and fairly, and he hoped they would enjoy a very fair measure of prosperity, though they might not have done so of late. He did not think it was the interests of either 373 landlord or tenant that they should be disturbed as they were being disturbed at the present time. The truest and best interests of both would be considered if the Bill were rejected; because, if the second reading were agreed to, it would intimate to the tenant farmers of Ireland and their friends that there was some chance of some clause being passed in their favour, a chance which did not exist.
§ MR. PATRICK MARTIN
remarked, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his speech had not entered upon the principle of the Bill. He had not even attempted to show the House any reasons why the substantial benefits which the Ulster custom, really observed, gave to the Northern tenant should not be secured to all Ireland by law. To confer these benefits on the entire tenantry of Ireland was the substance and essence of the present measure. Instead of argument, Her Majesty's Attorney General minutely and unfairly, in many instances, criticized the clauses of the Bill. He condemned the arbitration clauses in the Bill. But those clauses were in substance copied from an Act obtained by Trinity College, which had passed this House. Indeed, if his right hon. and learned Friend had given the matter the benefit of his consideration, oven for a short time, he would have seen that these clauses were more clear and distinct than the Trinity College clauses.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, that in the case of the Trinity College Act the sales were regulated by an average price of products for years.
§ MR. PATRICK MARTIN
said, that the clauses in the Bill were more simple and clearer than the Trinity College clauses, and enabled a more accurate conclusion to be arrived at between the arbitrator and the Judge. No doubt, it had been said it was a monstrous novelty that the Judge should, by this measure, have the power of obtaining the assistance of a jury in land cases; but in railway arbitrations, in all other cases of dispute, except between landlord and tenant, it had been already decided by this House a jury was the proper ultimate tribunal. In those cases, either party had the absolute right to demand a jury. In the case of landlord and tenant, under the present Bill, a discretion was left to the Judge. The ob- 374 jection made in respect to grazing farms was an example of the unfair way in which the second reading of this Bill was opposed. In 1877, when the Bill was first introduced by the late Mr. Butt, the then Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) said he saw no reason why grazing farms, as well as others, should not be subject to its provisions. Did not the Ulster tenant right apply to grazing as well as to tillage farms? It was then objected that all or none should have the privileges of the extension of the principles and incidents of the custom. The Bill had been met in a way which he trusted would not commend itself to the House. Let him again remind the House the promoters of the Bill sought only to give practical effect to principles recognized and admitted in the Land Act of 1870. He was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Member for New Ross (Colonel Tottenham) give his testimony in regard to the 1st and 2nd clauses of the Bill, and also to hear him express himself in favour of the Ulster tenant right. If the Ulster tenant right had worked so well in Ulster, why, he wished to know, should it not be applied to the whole of Ireland? Upon that point, he thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have given some more fitting comments on the arguments that had been advanced in favour of the Bill than that of saying there was nothing in them. On the second reading of the Land Act of 1870, the then Chief Secretary for Ireland stated the Government intended to extend the incidents of the Ulster tenant right custom over the entire of Ireland. It was, therefore, rather unreasonable to call this a measure of confiscation, which simply gave effect to the professed intentions of the framers of the Land Act of 1870. If the voice of the hon. and learned Member, so often listened to with pleasure in that House, but now, alas! stilled for ever, could be once more heard, he would have stated—as he had, indeed, left on record—his conviction that the measure involved no interference with any just right of property, that it was justified by the circumstances of Ireland, the general principle of jurisprudence, the purposes for which, of old, Irish estates had been granted, and the conditions under which they were of right held. "But," said the Attorney General, "no instances of hardship have 375 been given." But he forgot in previous debates those cases had been already substantiated. Assuredly, the striking and forcible terms in which Mr. O'Brien, a deputy lieutenant and gentleman of largo property in Limerick, showed that the Land Act of 1870 was powerless to prevent rack renting, had not passed from the Attorney General's memory. Many instances, if time permitted, could be quoted to show that the Land Act of 1870 had not removed the grievances it proposed to redress. The Chairman of Queen's County (Mr. Clarke), who was himself opposed, to tenant right, pointed out that the Land Act of 1870 had been powerless to prevent the consolidation of farms and the sweeping away of the small tenants, and in strong and emphatic words he pointed out the desirability of further legislation being required. Those evils which previously existed had, unfortunately, to some extent, been aggravated by the Act. He said it was a mistake to say, what might be implied from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that the Act had had any such operation as to transfer £20,000,000 from the pockets of the landlords to the pockets of the tenants. It would be correct to say the Act professed to give to the Irish tenants the £20,000,000 of improvements made with their money and out of their capital. But though the Act admitted the moral claim of the Irish tenants to their improvements, anyone who understood the practical working of the provisions of the Act knew that this Act took away by one clause what it in a previous one professed to give; and, in the result, even the most willing Judge could only award the most miserable and inadequate compensation for the bonâ fide expenditure of the tenants. In conclusion, he warned the Government against the danger of their trifling with the Irish people on this most important question. He asked the House not to listen to the arguments so adroitly introduced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which really were discussions upon the clauses and not the principle of the Bill, and he asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland to say when the Government intended to give consideration to the demands indicated by the Bill.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
I should have thought that after the very able and exhaustive statement of my right hon. and 376 learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland, it would have been unnecessary for me to say anything; but as the hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me a plain question, I will give him a plain answer. He asked me whether the Government approved of the proposal contained in the Bill, to extend to the whole of Ireland what is known as the Ulster tenant custom? I say at once that the Ulster tenant custom, like any other vested interest, is deserving a protection where it already exists. Those who have obtained vested interests under the Ulster tenant custom would always receive from Her Majesty's Government that protection which every legitimate vested interest obtains. Well, the hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to go further, and to say that this custom should be extended to districts and estates upon which it does not now prevail. To that I reply, unhesitatingly, that if we begin de novo I cannot conceive any worse system upon which land can be held than that which is known as the Ulster custom. What is that custom? Why, as I said the other day, it is simply a device for locking up the capital, which otherwise ought to be spent upon the soil. The hon. Member for Mallow (Mr. MacCarthy) spoke upon the question of political economy in connection with the matter. In a former debate, I ventured to tender the advice that the political economist had better hold his peace in a discussion of this question from the point of view of the tenant right advocates; because, from the point of view of political economy, what can be worse than withdrawing capital which ought to be employed in the cultivation of the soil, and not merely looking it up—that would be bad enough—but removing it altogether from the land? A man comes into a farm under the Ulster custom. He pays down all the money he has, all he can collect from his family and friends, and all he can borrow from usurers and others, and what becomes of the money? When he leaves the farm the money is, perhaps, taken to the Colonies, or it is invested in business miles away from the land upon which it ought to be spent; and I cannot conceive anybody arguing, from the politico-economical point of view, in favour of the adoption of this Ulster tenant custom where it does not prevail. So much for the first 377 part of the Bill. And when I am asked why the Government do not address themselves to its principles, I say that the principle of this Bill is pure, undiluted, unmitigated Communism. That is my opinion. It is simply a project for taking the property of one man and giving it to another, without compensating the person from whom it is taken; and I do not hesitate to say that that is a principle which neither Her Majesty's Government nor any principal section of this House is likely to support. Well, an hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. O'Shaughnessy), whose speech I was, unfortunately, prevented from hearing, being momentarily called out to other business, appears to have made a great point of the relative claims of the English political parties upon the popular suffrages of Ireland. Now, I do not wish to be drawn into any statement upon that subject, although it might, perhaps, be of some interest, if not to the usual occupants of the front Opposition Bench, whose absence has been noted to-day, at any rate to the outside public. I do not know if the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir George Balfour), who now occupies a prominent place upon that Bench, is authorized to express the views of those who usually sit there; but I think unless the hon. and gallant Gentleman is so delegated, the appearance of those Benches does not show that any very great amount of sympathy or interest is evinced amongst the Leaders of official Liberalism with regard to the supposed wrongs of Ireland upon this subject. Whatever may be the opinion of those right hon. Gentlemen, and whether they claim to hold aloof from expressing an opinion upon the subject or not, I still entertain a conviction that the vast majority of this House, drawn from all sections of the House, will be found recording an opinion against the principle of this Bill. We have heard a great deal about fixity of tenure. Now, I can perfectly understand that if the condition of the Ulster occupier were absolutely perfect, that state of bliss might be urged upon us an argument for the extension of similiar conditions to other parts of Ireland. That would be an argument which would commend itself to those who have the interests of the country at heart. But what do we find is the case? We find that those hon. Gentlemen, who come down 378 to this House and ask us to extend the Ulster system of land tenure in Ireland, speak in the same breath of a downtrodden class of occupiers who are almost destitute of the bare necessaries of life. I ask is it reasonable, is it common sense, to put forward as a remedy for the state of affairs the perpetuation of that very system under which the state of affairs has been called into existence? I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman who will reply to me will admit that I am correct in my assumption as to his argument—namely, that he proposes to stereotype for all time a system which he says has hitherto worked so badly. I hope the House will, upon this occusion, express an opinion without any of those drawbacks which, upon some recent occasion, apparently operated against the expression of the real opinion of the House. We have had many Bills introduced, sometimes from this side of the House, and sometimes from the other, and most of them have been surrounded by ambiguous clauses, which have prevented the real principle of the Bill from being discussed in that candid manner which, as the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Patrick Martin) has just said, is desirable. We have been told that some of these Bills are simply plans for giving effect to certain provisions of the Land Act which have hitherto not been allowed fair scope. In other cases, we have been told these are really only a few clauses for maintaining the Land Act. This Bill, however, has no ambiguity about it. It is, as I said just now, pure, undiluted, unmitigated Communism. It proposes to take away property from those to whom it belongs without any compensation to them; and, therefore, I hope the House will reject it.
§ MR. SHAW
, in reply, said, he could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman should have described their proposals as stereotyping present things, where they wished to change those things. He wished to give security of tenure to the tenant, and they had not got that. Now, the right hon. Gentleman stated that the Bill was a piece of pure, undiluted, unmitigated, Communism; but, in his opinion, it was a piece of pure, undiluted common sense, and strictly in accordance with the principles of political economy. If he had a million of money he would invest it in 379 land in Ireland, and the tenants should keep their holdings under the principles of this Bill. He complained of the Members who simply came down to vote without hearing the debate. The Leaders of the Liberal Party came down to the House when some two penny-halfpenny Irish question was before them to pat the Irish Members on the back; but when such a question as this, of interest to the whole people of Ireland, was under discussion, they were conspicuous by their absence. When, in the course of time, these Liberal Leaders occupied the Government Bench, they would not find their seat so comfortable as they supposed. Irish Members had long memories. When a Liberal Government wanted them, they also would know how to remain away.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 91; Noes 263: Majority 172.—(Div. List, No. 93.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.