§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: As the House is aware, this Bill, though it is only a short one, and is also a temporary one, yet excites much interest, not to say opposition—in fact, I do not know that I ever had anything to do with a Bill to which I found so much opposition — arising, I believe, from very great misapprehension. I find, for the first time in my life, that I am looked upon as a very extravagant and revolutionary person. The Bill also has been termed revolutionary—it has been described as a measure to encourage the non-payment of rent, to confiscate the property of landlords, and to destroy all rights of property. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen cheer the statement— but, possibly, they will cheer still more the description of the Bill given by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), who, doubtless, considered that he combined almost every epithet of opprobrium, when he said that it "embodied all the worst and most noxious features of the Land Act of 1870."I am sure, however, the House will give me a fair hearing while I explain what I understand to be the object, meaning, and probable effect of this Bill. And, in doing so, I must trouble the House with some explanation of what I believe to be the intention of some of the clauses of the Land Act of 1870—because there is great misapprehension with regard to them as well as with regard to this Bill. Before I sit down I hope to show that this Bill is expedient and just—that it is brought in to carry out the spirit of the Land Act, and that it is required as a temporary modification of that Act, under the special circumstances of the case. Now, let me explain its principles. There is in it a limitation of time, and there is also a limitation of area—it is limited to the end of next year and to the area of those districts which are scheduled as dis- 845 tressed. We introduce these limitations, first, because we do not think the House is ready—and, in fact, we ourselves are not ready—for the introduction of any permanent Bill with regard to the Land Question; and next, because in the special circumstances of this year, and in the special circumstances of these districts, we think that a Bill with regard to evictions—why, I shall explain hereafter —is especially urgent, and, in fact, to our minds, necessary. Now, what are these districts? They have not been defined by me, or by the present Government, or by the present Parliament —they are those districts which were declared to be specially distressed by the late Government and by the late Parliament. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) asked me a Question yesterday with regard to these districts, and I think he was rather surprised to find that none had been scheduled since the 29th February. None could legally have been scheduled since, and there has, of course, been no intention to break the law. They were scheduled by the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (the Duke of Marlborough), in consequence of the belief that the Government had—a belief that has been confirmed by the unanimous vote of this House—that exceptional temporary legislation was required for the exceptional circumstances of these districts. There has been exceptional legislation. Loans of very large sums have been granted in order to meet the distress of these districts on terms, I believe, never offered before. It was because we wanted to fasten this Bill on the attention of the House and the Country, that when we thought it necessary to propose this measure, we first tried to introduce it as an amendment to the Relief of Distress Bill. I mention this in order to explain to the House why we took that course. There was no intention whatever to take the House by surprise—if we had been allowed to keep this clause in the Relief of Distress Bill, we should have had to move an Instruction, and hon. Gentlemen would have had the same opportunity of discussing it, and of rejecting it if they choose, as they will now have on the second reading of this Bill. I should be very sorry if any Member of the House thought I had wanted under any circumstances to take an un- 846 fair advantage. The proposal is limited, as I have said, to the scheduled Unions, generally speaking, to the Western half of Ireland; but there is, practically, another limitation—that is, it is limited to those Unions outside Ulster and outside of the districts where Ulster Tenant-right exists. And for this reason—that I cannot conceive that any tenant in Ulster would seek to make use of this Bill when he has a much stronger and more speedy remedy, and one which gives him a much larger compensation.
Now, what is this temporary proposal? Simply this—that if in the distressed districts, and during this year of distress, it shall appear to the Court—meaning the County Court Judge, the official to whom these questions are referred by the Land Act, who has under that Act much more important cases of compensation to decide than will come under this Bill — if it shall appear to this Court, first, that one of the tenants is unable to pay his rent; secondly, that he is unable to do so on account of the distress arising from the bad harvest of this and the two previous years; thirdly, that he is willing to continue in his tenancy on just and reasonable terms as to rent, and arrears of rent, and otherwise; and, fourthly, if those terms are unreasonably refused by the landlord— then, and then only, can he obtain such compensation as the Court may think just under the 3rd section of the Land Act, 1870. Now, observe that all these conditions must be fulfilled. No compensation will be given unless the tenant cannot pay his rent; unless he is too poor to pay; and unless his poverty arises, not from sickness, unthriftiness, or from his own action, but from the special grounds of these three bad harvests. Then, again, he must be willing to try his utmost to pay a reasonable rent—that is, to submit to pay a rent either reasonably reduced under the circumstances of this year, or with reasonable time given in which to pay, and the landlord must be unwilling to make that reasonable reduction, or to give him that reasonable time. If all these conditions are fulfilled, then the landlord and tenant come under the scope of Section 3 of the Land Act. I hope the House will not think I am wearying them if I remind them what that section is. The reason why I go back to the Land Act is, because, although it was passed only 847 some 10 years ago, it seems to me that its provisions are most wonderfully forgotten—there seems to be a most curious forgetfulness with regard to them. I hear hon. Gentlemen speaking of the Land Act as if it merely enacted two provisions—one, to legalize the Ulster Tenant right, and, secondly, to give compensation to tenants all over Ireland for improvements. But Section 3 of the Land Act did a great deal more. It went so far as to establish the principle that not only in Ulster, but out of Ulster, the tenant had some right to his holding. I will not now enter into a discussion as how that right should be termed—whether property or goodwill, but some interest of the tenant in his holding is very clearly acknowledged by that section; and there was so much interference with the right of the landlord to do what he will with his own, or there was so far a declaration that his land was not absolutely his own, that he was not allowed to do what he could do in England or Scotland—namely, turn out his tenant when the tenancy expired, simply because he wished to do so. Remember that is what the Land Act enacted by Section 3. It clearly enacted that there was to be compensation for what was called "disturbance," by the landlord making the tenant leave his holding. Well, what does "compensation for disturbance," mean? It means that the tenant is to receive a sum of money which was regulated by the number of years' rent—the maximum of compensation being limited to £250—because he was dispossessed of his holding. I suppose that is what the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) calls "the worst and most noxious feature of the Land Act." But, after all, the Land Act was passed almost unanimously in this House, and unanimously in the other House. It is quite true that when this clause was brought forward, many hon. Members thought it a startling one. It was, no doubt, a clause new to the British Statute Book. The objections to it were most powerfully put, for the Motion against it was moved by the present Lord Beaconsfield; but the House declared by a large majority in its favour. I do not know, however, that it is my business, at this time, to defend what was done by Parliament in regard to the Irish Land Question in 1870. I believe this House is not less 848 likely to consider the claims of tenants or more likely to consider the claims of landlords than was the House of 1870; but I will add that, looking back to the history of the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland, we must regard this clause as a "just and wise one. And I will go further, and say that my belief is that without some such clause as that Ireland would have had at this time to be governed by martial law. I remember being present in Ireland, not very long ago, at a meeting of gentlemen who were not, generally speaking, of my own side of politics. A very pleasant evening I spent with them; but though they complained a great deal of the Land Act, they admitted that, at all events, it had had the effect of putting an end to capricious evictions—and we know that, though Irish landlords will, as I believe, compare favourably with any others as regards justice and kindness, yet still capricious evictions did occur. But, in taking away this power from Irish landlords of capricious eviction—that is, of getting rid of his tenant simply because he did not wish to keep him as his tenant—we acknowledged and declared this principle to the tenants of Ireland— especially to the smaller tenants of Ireland—that they have by the very fact of their tenancy some right and some interest in their holdings different to what is possessed by the tenant either in England or Scotland. I am perfectly well aware that there is an exception to this clause, and it is one which I hope may give the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire some comfort, and may lead him to acknowledge that the Land Act was, after all, not altogether so bad as he supposes. Section 9 of the Act declares that except on some specific limitation—which I will allude to afterwards—the power of discretion given to the Court to compensate evicted tenants shall not be exercised in the case of tenants who are evicted for non-payment of rent. Therefore, the question we have now before us is this—whether or not I am right in saying that, under the special circumstances of this year, and for the relief of these distressed districts, this exception ought not itself to be modified? Remember, Section 3 was not only framed with the intention of putting a stop to capricious evictions, inasmuch as it made the landlord pay heavily for them, but it also gave the Court power to give the 849 tenant such compensation as it might think just, where the rent was raised without the consent of the tenant. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen are aware of the fact that by the law as it now stands, throughout the whole of Ireland, with the exception of Ulster— that is, even where there is no Ulster Tenant-right—if the landlord chooses to raise the rent of the holding, he can only do it at the expiration of the tenancy; and if the tenant does not consent to pay the increased rent, he has to give notice to quit, and that notice will bring the tenant within the operation of this 3rd section, and he will then get the compensation for disturbance which the Court may award him. Bearing this in mind, I ask hon. Gentlemen whether I am not right in saying there is very good ground to suppose that in a good many cases the keeping up in 1880 of the same rent, or anything near the same rent, as was paid in the good years before 1877, is really very much the same thing as if in good or average years the rent had been raised; and whether this temporary Bill is not merely carrying out the spirit of the Land Act, when it proposes that in these cases a tenant may be treated as though his rent had been raised? I have described Section 9 as a limitation of Section 3; but Section 9 has its limitation within itself—and that, again, I suppose, is another "noxious feature." Section 9 declared, as it finally passed, that certain tenants, if the rent be "exorbitant," could apply to the Court for compensation. This part of the clause has, however, been, in fact, rendered a nullity by the use of the word "exorbitant," which has a special legal meaning. The word "exorbitant" was inserted in the clause in place of the word "excessive" by the House of Lords, and thereby the operation of the section was defeated; but the principle of this Bill is there—for the principle was affirmed that where the rent is "exorbitant," a tenant may be entitled to compensation even when he is evicted for non-payment of rent. This is what the clause affirmed, as it finally passed; but how was it passed in this House? It left the House of Commons with words in it which provided that ejectment for non-payment of rent should not be deemed disturbance of the tenant by the act of the landlord, unless the Court so decided, on "special 850 grounds," in the case of persons claiming for compensation at the termination of the tenancy existing at the time of the passing of the Act. That is how the Act left the House of Commons, and if it had been passed in that, it would have been a greater interference with landlords and a greater protection to tenants than the Bill which I am now submitting to the House. But "special grounds" is a very wide and grave description. Who can doubt that if the Court have power to take into consideration "special grounds," it would deem the harvests of the last two or three years such "special grounds" as would authorize it to afford greater protection to the tenant? I may be told, what has that to do with the question— what does it matter what passed in the House of Commons? We must take the Act as it passed both Houses of Parliament. But I am dealing with the House of Commons, and I repeat, I do not think the House of Commons of 1880 will be less disposed to consider the claims of the tenant than the House of Commons of 1870 was; more especially, seeing that the change in the Bill was only effected after two or three conferences between the two Houses, and was only reluctantly assented to on the part of this House for the purpose of saving the Bill. I shall be told that this limitation only referred to tenancies then existing. True; but who doubts that the circumstances which demanded special protection for some tenants then, are similar to the circumstances which demand it for some tenants now? And who can suppose that, if it had been thus passed, its operation could have been limited by date of tenancy among tenants similarly circumstanced? Very probably words will be quoted from speeches of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone), separating the fact from the fiction. It is not for me to defend him; but it may be that he and most of us in the Government of that day had more hope and faith in the absolute settlement of the Land Question by the Land Act than has been justified. I believe it has done great good, and I believe without it we should have had incalculable evil. Nevertheless, it may be true that, at the time it was passed, the tremendous strain of the last three years was not foreseen.
Well, I have tried to tell the House what the Bill is, and how it amends the 851 Land Act. Perhaps the House will allow me to refer to a statement I saw to-day, because it really shows how, even among gentlemen connected with Ireland, there are great misapprehensions. There is a letter in the papers to-day from a noble Lord who, I believe, is a gentleman of great Irish experience (Lord Annesley), in which he says—Were it to become law, a creditor who asked his debtor to pay him what he owed him would in some parts of Ireland he fined seven times the amount of the debt; in other parts, where Tenant right prevails, from 20 to 40 times that amount. If a tenant refuses to pay his rent, the only means of enforcing payment is by an ejectment.Really, this is a remarkable statement. The writer seems to forget that if the Ulster tenant is ejected at this moment for non-payment of rent, and under circumstances discreditable to himself—if he cannot pay from want of thrift—still he does not lose the value of his tenant-right; and if the landlord chooses to take his farm into his own hands, he has to pay him that value, whatever it is. If hon. Gentlemen would only test what they hear by the facts, they would find that much that is said is not altogether justified. But, now, what is the actual position of affairs? Practically, this Bill will mainly affect small tenants. The scale of possible compensation is seven years' rent for tenants under £10, five years' under £30, one year above £100, and the highest sum that can be awarded, whatever the size of the holding may be, is £250—that is the utmost a County Court Judge can give. Against this sum have to be set the arrears of rent, which, I suspect, will, in many cases, sweep off all the compensation. Now, I want to ask the House to consider who are these small tenants with whom we have to deal. First, they are men unable to pay the rent, or else the Court would not consider the claim; secondly, it is the circumstances of the time—the distress of the year and the failure of the harvest — that have made them thus unable; thirdly, they are willing to pay the rent if the landlord would give them reasonable terms in reduction or time; and, lastly, the landlord will not give them these reasonable terms. It is only under all these conditions that the tenants can get compensation from the Court. They are—or a very large majority of them are—attached to their holdings—it may be by what we call a 852 sentimental attachment. Considering the misery that they and their families have lived in for centuries, it is only surprising that they should be so attached; but there are sentiments with which we cannot reason, and this is a sentiment much akin to patriotism, without which very few countries would be what they are. Remember, too, that these are men whose interest in their holdings has been acknowledged by the Land Act —whether by what is called its "noxious features" I do not know, but by this Act—passed by an enormous majority in this House, and, I believe, unanimously in the House of Lords. Remember, also, in the vast majority of cases these small tenants have no other means of living than their holdings. I will read a letter I have received to-day from a friend who worked with me in the Famine of 1847 (Mr. Tuke), who went to Donegal to see the state of things now as compared with what it then was. He does not find the destitution now equal to the famine in those days; but he does find great distress due to the two or three bad crops that have deprived the people of their sustenance. He says—It is extremely difficult to an Englishman to realize the intensity of feeling which exists on the Land Question in Ireland; and, in looking for some of the causes which have led to this, we shall find that it is due to a large extent to the overwhelming proportion of the population which is engaged in agriculture. To nine-tenths of the population of Connaught the possession of a bit of land is the sole means of existence. Of manufacture there is none, and, the majority of the farms being too small to need hired labour, of agricultural labour there is scarcely any. Take away from the tenant his little holding, and nothing is left to him but the workhouse. Except in some of the towns, there is not even an unoccupied house which a man could hire if he obtained work apart from his holding. Hence the tenacity with which the holding is retained and defended. They are like shipwrecked sailors on a plank in the ocean; deprive them of the few inches by which they 'hold on,' and you deprive them of life. Deprive an Irishman of the few feet of land by which he 'holds on,' and you deprive him of all that makes life possible. For the workhouse, distasteful enough to an English labourer, is simply unendurable to an Irish peasant. That this is no mere sentiment is often impressed upon the visitor who enters the cabins of the people, where it is so common to find some infirm or aged person dependent on the kindness of the family for the miserable subsistence he obtains, and who in England would without doubt have been sent to the workhouse long before. Who would wish to lessen this kindly feeling, or break down the almost insurmountable repugnance to the workhouse;853 Well, I have said that no Ulster landlord need regard with fear the operations of this Bill. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Hervey Bruce) asked me a question about it, and, knowing he was an Ulster landlord, I could understand his interest; but I hope his sympathy with the landlord out of Ulster will induce him to consider whether the better position of the Ulster landlord may not be, in some measure, owing to the better position of the Ulster tenant. Now, what is the position of the Ulster tenant? What did this Land Act do in Ulster? First, it legalized the Ulster Tenant-right—that is, it made the goodwill of the farm or the property in the tenancy a legal property. Next, it made the County Court Judge the judge of the value of the property; and, thirdly, it acknowledged the right of the owner of the property—that is, of the tenant—to obtain compensation in every case—in case of ejectment for non-payment of rent as well as in others. I refer to this fact partly for this reason. We have many champions of political economy in these matters; I do not know that they are exactly the same Gentlemen who advocate political economy in other matters. However, I ask them to consider whether, seeing that after long debates such provisions as I have described, to be applied in Ulster and out of Ulster, were passed by Parliament in 1870, there must, after all, be some circumstances in Ireland affecting landlords and tenants which prove that the rules of political economy as between buyer and seller do not absolutely apply? But, however this may be, I want the House to compare the position of the Ulster tenant with the position of the non-Ulster tenant, because I have had to compare them, and I have had to make the comparison because tenants out of Ulster make it themselves. Do not imagine that they do not know what this Act has done in legalizing the position of the tenants in Ulster. Take an estate, part of which is in Ulster and part out of it. Suppose there be small tenancies in each case; suppose distress arising from failure of crops has had the same effect in one place as another; the tenant on the Ulster side of the border gets his compensation for disturbance—upon having to leave his farm, he gets something that he can go to America with. The tenant outside Ulster, unless there be special 854 kindness on the part of the landlord, is driven out helpless and hopeless. I am not one of those who would discourage emigration by these small tenants—I believe that some of them are in such a difficult position on account of the numbers existing on very poor land that no law that we could pass would give them a comfortable life—and, instead of discouraging them, I would encourage them to emigrate; but there is all the difference between a man emigrating with the means of re-starting in life, and a man emigrating without a farthing and finding himself helpless and hopeless in the slums of New York, suffering greater misery than he did in Ireland. I do not want the emigrant to go away with a feeling of hardship and injustice. I am not making any charge against the landlords as a class; it would be most unjust and untrue to do it. But there are exceptions; there are landlords who are hard by nature; there are others who are hard through circumstances, because they are in the power of others, or because they are too far away from their property and do not know the facts. I shall not allude further to these exceptions, because I want the House to feel what I feel—that if the landlords have the letter of the law behind them, we must enforce their rights. Remember this, if the landlords carry out the letter of the law, the Irish Government must enforce the landlords' legal rights. We must do this, because, whatever may be the hardship to the tenant, that does not equal the evil of allowing the law to be disregarded and disobeyed.
Now, you may say, with these facts before you, why did you not bring in this Bill at the beginning of this Session? You knew the distress—you knew the meaning of the Land Act—you knew the relative positions of the Ulster tenant and the non-Ulster tenant. Well, we did not do so because we hoped that we might put off legislation until we had all the facts before us, and knew how the Land Act was working, and then we might bring it before the House, and inquire how far it required amendment. Then, it may be said, "If you did not bring it in then, why have you brought it in now?" Well, for this reason—that we found we could wait no longer. Pacts are accumulating upon us. Evictions have increased and are increasing—I have here the figures as to the evictions the Consta- 855 bulary have had to conduct—they are not all that have been effected, only those in which the aid of the Constabulary has been required—and I deduct from them all the cases where the evicted tenant has been re-admitted—this list, moreover, has nothing to do with process-serving. The average evictions for the five years ending in 1877 was 503 for each year; in 1878 the number of evictions was 743; in 1879 it was 1,098; and up to the 20th of June in the present year it has been 1,073.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I cannot say exactly, but I know that a very large portion of them have been for non-payment of rent. Well, with this exceptional increase of evictions has come the necessity of using an exceptional amount of force to carry out the law. Now, I take merely the West Riding of Galway. Since the 1st of January in this year, the number employed in protecting process-servers has been 107 officers of Constabulary and 3,300 men, and 16 officers and 626 men in carrying out actual evictions; there have been from 40 to 50 cases of process-serving, and 12 of actual evictions. I have read these figures, because I want the House to sympathize with the Government in this matter. I want them to see how we find it to be serious. Three or four Sundays ago I was informed that 87 processes would have to be served upon a village in the wildest part of Galway, where there was a very poor tenantry and very few roads, and in which village there had been an effectual resistance in the spring of this year. I was told that 150 men were told off for the duty, and that the probability was that they would be resisted and would have to fire their way through the mob. Of course, I did what any man in my position would do. I gave directions at once that the process-server must be protected in the discharge of his duties, but that every possible care must be taken to avoid collision between the people and the Constabulary, and that, therefore, a force must be sent out which would make resistance hopeless; and if the Constabulary was considered insufficient, the aid of the military must be called in. The result was that a large force of Constabulary—a force of 200 men well led— 856 were sent down, and proceedings were conducted with the greatest success. If there had not been enough of men there might have been something approaching a battle. What happened, however, on that same day in another village in Galway not far off? A force of 50 men went with another process-server—I was not previously informed—but the force was not strong enough to prevent resistance, and the consequence was that the Constabulary had to charge through the mob with their swords drawn. I am glad to hear that no one was killed, though several were wounded; but I trust none of the wounds were serious. Two days before that, 100 men were engaged at no great distance in seeing an ejectment carried out. I am not going to condemn the landlords upon any one of these occasions, and I am perfectly aware that the law must be enforced; but what I want the House to consider is, whether, with facts such as these before them, they will not make such modification in the present law as will carry out the spirit of the Land Act, so that we may be enabled to carry out the law with a clear conscience?
I cannot sit down without saying a word or two with reference to the objections that either have been or may be raised to this Bill. It has been said that, in introducing this measure, we are making a concession to what is called the Anti-Rent agitation. I must here remark that there are very few agitations for which there is absolutely no ground. There are very few cases of great smoke where there is absolutely no fire. My belief is that by passing this measure we shall be putting out the fire, and doing very much to destroy the agitation. Do not let hon. Members suppose for a moment that I approve of this agitation—I deeply lament it—I deeply condemn it. If any Gentlemen here have been promoters of that agitation—I beg them to recollect that if they have ever been at meetings, and have used any expressions which would give these poor people, who have got the distress of centuries rankling in their minds, the notion for a moment that they could resist the law, or that they would have the slightest success in such an attempt, they could not by any possibility be doing them a greater harm or be incurring a greater responsibility. I do not know that I can better express my 857 opinion on this subject than by reading the following extract from the Flag of Ireland, which certainly is not written in the interest of the landlords of Ireland.
§ MR. PARNELL
hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would also state that that newspaper did not represent the Irish Land League.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
When the hon. Member hears the extract read, he will see that it is unnecessary to point out that fact. The extract, which appeared on the 19th of this month, is as follows:—A representative of the Land League, at a meeting held last Sunday, said that the League 'had in view a set of objects, and if they enabled them to carry out those objects they would make the property of Irish landlords so worthless that they would leave it with them.' These objects were that they should endeavour to 'keep a grip' of their holdings, and that no one should be allowed to take a farm from which a tenant had been ejected. Their American friends, he said, were going to work in the right way. 'They could not send them arms, but they could send that which created arms—money, and he trusted they would band together and agitate and organize for the total extinction of landlords '—by' constitutional agitation,' of course. We say deliberately that talk such as this is iniquitous. To goad an unharmed and helpless people, by thinly-veiled incitements like this, to deeds for the attainment of objects which are unattainable—which must bring ruin, swift and sudden, upon themselves and their families—is entirely unjustifiable, and the men who do this incur very grave responsibility.I cannot leave this matter without making some allusion to what has happened in the West of Ireland. There have been many bad cases of great cruelty to tenants who have paid rent, or who have taken holdings from which others have been evicted; and, in order to injure their owners, there has been great cruelty to helpless and unoffending animals. A subject I do not like to talk about is the way in which the anger of men has been gratified by maiming and torturing dumb animals; but why do I refer to this? These men are not well taught— they have the teaching of centuries of wrong to guide them, but there are gentlemen going among them who have been well taught, and who know well what to tell these men; and I feel it my duty to say that I have looked in vain— and, because in vain, with deep regret— to the speeches of those gentlemen who have addressed these people for any 858 denunciation of these outrages, and for any word informing their hearers that, however unjust they may think the law to be, yet that there are duties owing to their fellow-men, and even to beasts. I find myself confronted now with what I said on this matter when I was not in Office; but I do not see the slightest reason to charge me with having changed my views or action. I said then what I say now—that the law must be maintained—that individual outrages against law ought to be denounced by the friends of those who suffer from what they consider to be bad laws, not merely because of the highest interests of justice, but because of the interest of those men themselves; but I also said that the House of Commons and Parliament ought to consider with the utmost fairness and impartiality any measure brought forward for a change in the law. Well, the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) has brought forward an amendment of the law, involving a considerable change in the Land Act. It is, to some extent, an improvement, but it goes much further than we think it ought to go, and, to a great extent, it is not an improvement; and we think it our duty to oppose it. I have seen it stated in many places that we ought not to have considered that Bill for one moment, because it was brought forward by the hon. Member and those who act with him. We do not think so. We are not responsible for the hon. Member and his Friends— we should be sorry to be so; but we cannot forget that they are Members of Parliament representing these very districts that are distressed, and we are bound to hear them and give the fullest consideration to what they say. We are bound to take into account the fact that an amendment of the Land Act has been proposed by an hon. Member from one of the districts that are suffering most at the present time. But it is said we ought at once to have declared that we were opposed to the principles of the Bill, instead of waiting for it to be discussed. So we should if, as some suppose, it had been a Bill for simply enacting that there should be compensation in all cases of ejectment for non-payment of rent. But the Bill did not do this; it referred to the Land Act, and thereby brought in incidentally the discretion given to the Judge, and we were, therefore, bound to con- 859 sider how far it brought it in. We have considered the hon. Member for Mayo's Bill, and we oppose it, because it is misleading, and would give tenants the idea that they would get more than they could really obtain; and we also oppose it because we think this is not the time for permanent legislation. We adhere to the opinion which, as the organ of the Government, I expressed earlier in the Session. We do not think this is a year for permanent legislation on the subject of the Land Act. But we accompany this temporary Bill with the declaration that we propose the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the working of the Land Act, and we hope to get a Report from this Commission as speedily as the proper prosecution of their inquiry will make possible. In bringing forward this Bill, I wish the House to understand that it is done to meet what we consider urgent distress in certain districts during the present and, perhaps, the succeeding year. But it will leave the House perfectly free and uncommitted; so that whatever may be the result of these inquiries, and whatever may be the opinions of the House or the Government with regard to them, the House and the Government will be perfectly free to take whatever course they may think fit. It may be that, as the result of this inquiry, the House may return to or rather establish perfect freedom of contract between the buyer and the seller—between the landlord and the tenant. I myself do not expect this; I doubt whether we shall find that both parties are absolutely free. The House may declare that a landlord is able to do what he likes with his land, just as he may do what he likes with his money in the Funds—that is, it may repeal the present Land Act. I do not expect that. Or the House may declare that, putting aside the present exceptional circumstances, it is best not to interfere with the Land Act. Or, lastly, the House may favourably consider the extension of the Ulster Tenant right, or some one of the other changes proposed. But, however that may be, the House is left absolutely uncommitted. Do not let anyone think that he is giving his vote for or against anything except a proposal to meet present circumstances. As to its effects, it will, to my mind, improve the position of the reasonable landlord, insuring, as 860 it does, the carrying out of just terms between landlord and tenant. I do not believe it will even put the unreasonable landlord in a much worse position than he is. Policemen cannot by any means insure that a process shall be served. Whether by the collusion of the process-servers, or from some other cause, it is very difficult, in present circumstances, to get the law carried out. Is it likely, then, that the landlord who has to suffer from difficulties of that kind, will suffer from the operation of the Bill? There is great distress in Donegal, but we have had no difficulty. Donegal is almost entirely under Ulster Tenant right, and in Donegal no necessity exists for sending small armies with the process-servers. Why is this? Because there is some possible compensation; because the Donegal tenant has some hope of his rights receiving due attention. Instead of endangering property, this makes it more safe, and thus the strain of this year is borne. With regard to the discretionary power to be given to the County Court Judges, I am, on the whole, perfectly surprised to find how little complaint there has been made—in a country where complaints are not uncommon— against the action of the County Court Judges. I now ask hon. Members who criticize adversely the provisions of this Bill to put themselves in the position of the Lord Lieutenant and myself. We have to conduct the government of Ireland, and we must take the responsibility. We find distress not only existing, but acknowledged—not only by the previous Government, but by the recent Act of the last Parliament—and claiming most urgently our consideration. We find, at the same time, that with this distress there are many evictions, and that they are increasing. We feel bound to carry out the law, and enforce these evictions with any exercise of force however severely they may press upon this distressed people. So long as I remain where I am, and that law exists, it will be my hard duty to enforce it, because nothing can work so much harm in Ireland as to allow the law to be disobeyed or disregarded. At any exercise of force we must enforce the law. And mark what I am going to say—let the House realize our responsibility, in order that they may realize its own. We must enforce the law, even at the cost of life. On the other hand, we find a feel- 861 ing of injustice; and, looking at the Land Act, we believe, that under the circumstances of this year, its spirit can only be carried out by such a modification in its letter as we are now proposing. We make this proposal, guarded in such a manner that it cannot, as we believe we can prove, work injustice to the reasonable landlord, and will hardly leave the unreasonable landlord in a worse position than he is in if he tries to strain the law; and we make this proposal so that it does not commit the House, but leaves it perfectly free to deal with the subject when it gets before it all the facts, and, we may trust, without the exceptional and painful circumstances of this year. On our part, we are forced to declare that the responsibility of not permitting this temporary and, as we conceive, this necessary modification of the law must rest upon Parliament, and not upon us. For my own part, I feel confident that the House of Commons will not take upon itself that responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. E. Forster.)
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, in the closing sentences of his speech, appealed to the House for sympathy in the position in which he finds the Government is placed. I think the Government indeed require, if they do not deserve, that sympathy; and on every personal ground I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he has mine with great sincerity. But, politically speaking, and with regard to the course which the Government has pursued, there is, I regret to tell him, absolutely none. I think that the course pursued from first to last by the Government, with regard to this measure, is, perhaps, the chief and the greatest blunder of a Session which consists, I am afraid, of little else than blunders. The right hon. Gentleman tells us of the distress in Ireland. I will not yield to him for one moment in my sympathy for the distressed people in that country. There is something, I always think, in the qualities, the history, and the race of the people of that country which appeals to the imagination and which touches the hearts of their fellow-countrymen 862 in England. But the duty of the Government is clear. It is no kindness that you do them, but the most cruel injury, when, by propositions of this kind, you fire their quick and sensitive imaginations, and excite in their minds feelings, hopes, and delusive expectations which the Government know, as well as I know, it is impossible can ever be fulfilled. The duty of the Government at this time is clear. They have to relieve distress in Ireland. Let them do it with a liberal and, if necessary, with a lavish hand. Let them come, if necessary, to Parliament again and again, and Parliament, I know, will give ungrudgingly whatever is needed for the wants of the people of that country. Let them also do that which is the first duty of every Government in the world—let them enforce law and order in a manner which cannot be mistaken, and let them give security for life, for peace, and for property in Ireland. Is there that security to-day? It is for the Government to make answer to that question; and if there is not, then I tell them that great is the responsibility which rests upon them at this moment. Both sides of the House will acknowledge the importance of the statement which has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman. It is a statement in reference to a measure of which I shall say this—and my views are not shaken in the least by the sanguine anticipations or assurances of the right hon. Gentleman—that it touches, and, indeed, assails, the rights of property in Ireland directly, and indirectly the rights of property throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. It is one which departs entirely from every principle of legislation which has hitherto been sanctioned and admitted in civilized society in the country and in the age in which we live.[Murmurs.] If hon. Members opposite do not agree with my opinion they will have an oportunity of answering me afterwards; but I hope I may be allowed to conclude my observations. Under these circumstances, I confess it would have been more satisfactory to the House, and certainly to myself, if, following the more usual and ordinary practice in regard to questions of this great and vital importance, this statement had been made on the first introduction of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman has given us no reason for departing from that course, and, con- 863 sequently, there is no other course open to us to-day except to bow to that decision with the protest which I make. The House will recollect that the introduction of this measure is a new and a complete departure from the views announced by the Government earlier in the Session. The right hon. Gentleman not only told us he did not intend to introduce an Irish Land Bill or to deal with the Irish Land Question during the present Session; but he gave us most admirable and convincing reasons in support of that wise decision on the part of the Government. He told us that the Land Question was one with which it is exceedingly difficult to deal in a comprehensive manner, and that, therefore, it would be impossible to deal with it in the remainder of the Session. The right hon. Gentleman said that to introduce a Ten Minutes' Bill would be, in his opinion, an unwise course to adopt, though it seems to be that that is almost exactly what he has now done. He said that if such a Bill as the ad interim Bill proposed by an hon. Member from Ireland had been introduced by the Government, that every branch of the questions connected with Irish Land would have to be thoroughly discussed. The right hon. Gentleman further said that the Irish Land Question was just one of those questions with which it was impossible to deal without a general knowledge of principles and a full knowledge of details, and that if any mistake were made as to the actual condition of the country, the whole matter might be thrown into a state of confusion that would probably do infinitely more harm than good; and he showed conclusively to the House that the Government did not possess this information, for almost immediately afterwards he intimated to the House the intention of the Government to appoint a Royal Commission for the express purpose of obtaining that information in which he acknowledged that the Government were deficient. Under these circumstances, I have listened with the utmost interest to the right hon. Gentleman to-day, in order to learn what are the reasons which have brought about this change of policy on the part of the Government, and which have induced them, almost at a moment's notice, to submit to Parliament a measure of this most extreme and most alarming character. First, the right hon. Gentleman tells us that 864 the Government were mainly induced to introduce the Bill on account of the evictions. I asked at once, across the House, how far have the number of evictions increased since the commencement of the Session? That question the right hon. Gentleman was unable to answer. So it is established to the House that the increasing number of evictions form no reason whatever for this change of policy on their part. They knew at the commencement of the Session, when they decided not to introduce the measure as well as they know now, that exictions were increasing; and they are unable to say now if there has been any further increase since their first intention was announced. With regard, also, to evictions increasing in Ireland, that is one of my chief causes of complaint against this Bill. Why, it is the anticipation of these revolutionary proposals on your part that is driving the landlords of Ireland, in self-defence, to make these evictions, and to rescue their property from what they believe will be complete annihilation. If the evictions have influenced you at all, they are, in considerable measure, owing to yourselves. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say he had no intention of surprising us, and of springing upon us anything in the nature of a surprise. I entirely acquit the right hon. Gentleman of that intention. Then, he said, unless I misunderstood him, that this measure was necessary, because, otherwise, he was convinced that Ireland must be governed by martial law. Why, what a commentary this is on the policy which was pursued 10 years ago. Next, the right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of Clause 9, and he endeavoured to show to the House that the principle contained in this Bill was contained in Clause 9 of the Land Act of 1870. It is all very well to say that; but, unless I am entirely mistaken, the right hon. Gentleman himself is very considerably in error. Clause 9 of the Land Act referred exclusively to tenancies in the past. When that clause was being discussed, the present Prime Minister said —"Nothing would induce them to apply anything of the kind to the future." And Lord Carlingford (then Mr. Chichester Fortescue) remarked—The clause had no reference whatever to tenancies created after the passing of the Act, It was entirely confined to the past.865 Therefore, this argument of the right hon. Gentleman fell to the ground. Then the right hon. Gentleman pointed to the Ulster custom, by which the tenant gets his compensation, and, no doubt, he does get compensation. But there is an important distinction between tenants under the custom in Ulster and in other parts of Ireland. Under the Ulster custom, he buys his right when he comes in, and is paid for it when he goes out; while in other parts of the country, he would, under the Land Act, have a claim for compensation for disturbance, whether he had purchased the goodwill on entry or not. This is the distinction between the two cases; and the argument with regard to the Ulster custom, therefore, falls to the ground. Again, though I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman with great attention, I can find nothing in his speech to account for the sudden change of policy on the part of the Government, or to remove in the least the objection I have to the nature and character of this measure. What is the effect of the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman has told the House this afternoon that I hold, and have always held, that the principle of compensation for disturbance was the worst and most vicious feature in the Irish Land Act. I acknowledge and entirely adhere to that opinion. The right hon. Gentleman has given us his version of the meaning of compensation for disturbance. Now, there must be many hon. Members in the House who do not remember the discussions on that principle when the Bill of 1870 was being passed; and as some of them, probably, do not realize the true purport and meaning of the principle, perhaps I may be permitted to give my version of it also. I am not speaking now of compensation for improvements, of what would be called tenant right in England, in the direction of which few men would probably be disposed to go further than myself. Compensation for improvements is one thing, compensation for disturbance is another. The improvements which a tenant makes on a farm are provided for elsewhere, in the 4th clause of the Land Act, largely and liberally, as they ought to be, and especially in the case of Ireland, where, owing to the immense competition for land, the tenant is in a worse position to make a fair bargain with his landlord 866 than in England. But over and above his compensation for improvements, and after he has been repaid for everything which he has spent upon his farm, the tenant is entitled in Ireland, under the 3rd clause, to a further claim besides, to what is called "compensation for disturbance," a principle by which the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Land Act of 1870 apparently desired to give to the tenant a proprietary interest in the soil, and did, in fact, entitle him to levy on the landlord a fine, amounting in some cases to seven years' rent, or one-third of the value of the fee simple of the land. It is to that principle, to which I objected from the first that it was indefensible and inexpedient, that I renew my objections more strongly than before, after 10 years' experience of its actual operation. Let me point out to the House a few of the extravagances to which some of the principles of the Bill may lead. I need not remind hon. Gentlemen that the position of the occupier of the soil in Ireland is one very eagerly sought after, and that the privilege of holding a farm is very highly prized. But we must remember that it is the landlord who first confers this privilege upon the tenant; and it seems to me absolutely monstrous to make a landlord compensate a tenant for the loss or rather the non-continuance of a privilege which in the first instance emanated from himself. You might as well—or, perhaps, even with more justice—compensate a man for the refusal of a farm in the first instance, and with this additional good reason—that while in the first case he has enjoyed the profits of the farm for years, in the latter he would have no chance of making any profits at all. This is the first absurdity to which we are logically driven by the principle of compensation for disturbance. I may venture to quote the opinion of a very high authority on the subject. Judge Long field says with reference to this measure—The landlord under the Bill may be called upon to pay seven years' purchase for taking hack from the tenant a possession -which he had delivered to the same tenant without receiving anything.Then he goes on to say—He is liable to he called on to pay £70, the whole rent that he had received; and the tenant, who need not have laid out a penny on the land, will have had the enjoyment of it for seven years rent free.867 Again, take the case of a tenant holding a farm at £10 a-year for three years, at the end of which time, after he has paid £30, he is evicted. On eviction he immediately claims £70—that is to say, he holds his farm for three years for nothing, and finally receives a bonus of £40 for doing so. What I have stated justifies in some degree my hostility to the principle of compensation for disturbance. I must, however, admit that the Land Act of 1870 had one redeeming feature, that the principle of compensation for disturbance was not extended to cover the case of tenants who were evicted for non-payment of rent. That exception is now to be swept away by a dangerous and alarming piece of legislation. I should like to describe in a few words the chief effects of the measure on property in Ireland by reading a statement sent to me this morning:—The main result of the Bill, if passed into an Act, will he to foster the notion so sedulously promulgated by agitators in Ireland, that every man who, by any undertaking or promise, has induced another to put him into possession of lands becomes thereupon endowed with a right to retain that possession, though he may violate the promises by which it was procured. It gives public recognition to the principle that there is nothing dishonest, nothing of which a Member of Parliament need be ashamed, in taking from one party to a contract a substantial portion of his property, unles3 he will allow the other to violate his side of it with impunity. During the period named for the operation of the Act, it is plain that in those parts of Ireland to which the Bill refers no ejectment can be brought for nonpayment of rent, or any other cause, unless at the risk of a heavy loss on the part of the landlord. In Ireland, ejectment is the only remedy in the vast majority of cases for the recovery of land, the rent of which is now deliberately and in concert withheld by many tenants perfectly able to pay. To this combination, notorious and boasted of, it is proposed to give a triumph by Act of Parliament. Nearly all landowners have charges on their property which can only be met out of rents as they are received. Jointures, younger children, mortgagees, must all, under the proposed legislation, be left without their incomes until they shall have succeeded in forcing the depreciated estate of the involuntary defaulting landowner to judicial sale at a sacrifice ruinous to him and perhaps to themselves.That reminds me that the right hon. Gentleman has omitted to answer in his speech a question put to him with regard to the effect of the measure on mortgages, and I hope he will give us some explanations on this point. I know on good authority of a case in which £15,000 was to be raised by mortgage on a certain estate in Ireland, and 868 the solicitor for the mortgagee immediately drew back on the announcement of the Bill, and on finding that the estate in question was within the scheduled districts. In such circumstances as these we are entitled to have some explanation of the course which the Government may intend to pursue in dealing with cases of this kind. Viewing the measure as a whole, I regard it as unwise, impolitic, and unjust. It is not in this way that you will restore peace and prosperity to Ireland. Where, I should like to know, is the distinction between the Bill of the Government and that of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and to which the Government have tardily announced their opposition? The principle of the two Bills is the same; and, except for the limit of time, the schedules of districts, and the discretion of the Courts, there is no difference between them whatever. The hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Grey) who moved the Address in reply to the most gracious Speech from the Throne with an eloquence and ability which commanded, and justly commanded, for him compliments from the Leaders on both sides of the House, and who, I believe, inherits with the name the power and qualities of a statesman by descent, gave public Notice of his intention to ask the House of Commons to reject the measure proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot doubt that I shall have the support and assistance of the hon. Member on this occasion, and I will not, I cannot, believe that he will stand alone upon that side of the House. I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, I would appeal to them to take warning for the future from that which has happened in the past. Let them look at the condition of Ireland to-day, and as they look let them remember that 10 years ago the same man who is Prime Minister at this moment was Prime Minister then, and that he had his way and had his will almost unchecked in Ireland. The results of this fatal and reckless policy were prophesied at that time, prophesied in the words of one whose voice must, and ever will, command the attention and respect of Parliament, and with reading them I will conclude:—There will be an ewgrievance—the payment of rent; and the non-payment of rent will be- 869 come a principle, asserted by the same rural logic, the startling consequences of which have filled the mind of the country with apprehension and horror almost every day. The argument of the Irish tenant—belonging to the very class that you think you are now setting up by this violation of the fundamental law of the country—will be to this effect:—' I have lost my holding because I did not pay my rent; can anything be more flagrantly unjust than that a man should be deprived of his contingent right to a third of the freehold because he does not pay his rent? That is a natural view which may lead to a much more successful agitation than any we have yet heard of. The question is unanswerable; we may think it is abstractedly unreasonable, but it is the necessary result of our legislation. And what will be the consequence? Why, that payment of rent will become a grievance, and you will find yourselves in exactly the same position in which you are now placed. There will be great complaints of the consolidation of farms, great complaints of vexatious and tyrannical evictions, and, on the other, side the most violent means by which the supposed rights of the occupiers to property in the soil may be vindicated will be resorted to. And so far from the improvement of the country, so far from terminating all these misunderstandings and heart burnings, which we seem now so anxious upon both sides of the House to bring to a close,"—[Murmurs.] I have no doubt it is objectionable to Irish Members. ["No !"]—"you will have the same controversies still raging, only with increased acerbity, and under circumstances and conditions which inevitably must lead to increased bitterness and increased perils to society."—[3 Hansard, cc. 1184–5.]This is no prophecy by one who is wise only after the event. These words were spoken, Mr. Speaker, upwards of 10 years ago, by a Member of this House, when the foresight of a statesman told him what must be the inevitable results of the reckless policy of the right hon. Gentleman. His name was Mr. Disraeli. His words, his language are literally fulfilled in the transactions of this hour. Comment upon my part would be utterly superfluous. I ask the House of Commons—I ask hon. Members on both sides to support me when I move, as I do now, the rejection of this most ill-timed, most ill-advised, and most unrighteous measure.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
MR. CHARLES RUSSELL,
in supporting the Bill, said, he hoped when the 870 hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire had made himself more completely master of the circumstances in Ireland which called for that legislation — which had justified that legislation — he would find the Bill more acceptable than he had done that day. He was very glad, however, to find English Members entertained themselves with the consideration of Irish questions, because the more they were entertained the more they would see the justice of the views of the people of Ireland. He had no doubt that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken would be prepared in a spirit of sincere generosity to deal with the funds of the Imperial Exchequer for the relief of Irish distress; but there he seemed to stop. This Bill, however, proposed to do something—although by a temporary measure—to redress the state of things which had led to the present condition of Ireland. The hon. Member had told an interesting story of a mortgage for £15,000, which was very near completion, but which, owing to the introduction of this Bill, fell through, the landlord being unable to effect a loan. If the views of the parties to that commercial transaction were based on the opinions entertained by the hon. Gentleman as to the extravagant character of the present Bill, he could well understand that the transaction should have fallen through. But it would probably be found that the result of this debate, and especially of the speech of the Chief Secretary, would be that the transaction would be carried out. He recognized the perfect consistency of the hon. Gentleman in his opposition to this Bill, seeing that he was an opponent of the legislation of 1870. Those who like the hon. Gentleman, had set themselves against the legislation of 1870, were justified in taking the course which he had taken. But hon. Gentlemen on both sides who were willing to accept the legislation of 1870 would not be led away by the arguments of the hon. Member. This was a Bill which was not only limited in time, but limited in area; it was in harmony with the Bill of 1870, and was justified by the exceptional circumstances of the present time. Its object was to restrain ejectments for non-payment of rent in Ireland in a limited area and for a limited time under certain stringent conditions. And here he would mention what was not gene- 871 rally known, that no such thing as ejectment for non-payment of rent merely was known to the Common Law or to the Statute Law of England. He wished to accentuate that point. But if by the terms of the compact between landlord and tenant there was a clause of re-entry, then upon failure by the tenant to observe the covenants, among others payment of rent, the landlord had the right of ejectment. It followed, therefore, that in every case of letting which did not comprise this clause of re-entry, the landlord's remedy was to terminate the tenancy by notice. Now he wished to point out the peculiar hardship which this power of ejectment entailed in Ireland, and how injuriously it operated. Even on the best managed estates in Ireland it was usual to leave a half-year's rent in arrear, which was called "a running gale." On well-managed estates, where the tenants paid their rents with some punctuality, it was not considered unreasonable that the rent which was due in May should be paid the following Christmas. Now let them mark the operation of the exceptional law in Ireland as to ejectments. Let them suppose that by the 1st of May following the tenant was unable to pay his rent. He would then be a year's rent in arrear, and by the law of Ireland—which was not the law of England—the tenant could be turned out of his holding by the landlord without any notice to quit whatever, and the only means by which he could live could be taken from him without any compensation. In similar cases in England the landlord must give a year's notice to quit ending with the year of tenancy. Was it surprising that a man who was turned out of his farm in Ireland under such circumstances should leave it with a sense of oppression and wrong rankling in his breast? He had lived there, it might be for years; he had spent such means as he had upon it; he had spent the power of his body upon it, and his children had laboured, sweated upon it to improve it, and yet, according to the law, he might be turned out, as he had said, without any notice to quit, and under the law, as it now stood, without one penny of compensation except in one case, to which he should presently refer. He knew it would be said—"Oh, but landlords of honour and character would not do 872 such things." He believed not; but laws were and ought to be made to restrain the doing of that which honourable men would voluntarily abstain from doing. For his part, he desired not to say one word which would seem to savour of an attack upon the landlords of Ireland. He attacked the land system. He had said frequently, looking at the enormous power which the law gave to the owners of the land in Ireland, the wonder was not that that power had been used so much, but that it had been abused so little. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire had said that he did not understand what the 3rd section of the Act of 1870 meant; what it was intended to recognize and give compensation for. He would endeavour to give an answer to that question. First of all he must remind the House that they were dealing, as a general rule, with a relation very unlike the common relation between landlord and tenant in England; but they were dealing in Ireland with a relation in which the landlords supplied nothing but the staple commodity of the industry—namely, the land; and the tenants supplied all else that was necessary to work the land. He did not stop to notice the rather curious language of the hon. Member when he spoke of the origin of this relation as the conferring of the privilege by the landlord upon the tenant. Where was his rent to come from unless it be out of the bone and sinew of the tenant? The landlord also conferred upon the tenant the privilege of paying a full rent! To his mind such language as that which had been used by the hon. Member smacked much too strongly of the old feudal days, when the landlord was the lord of all, and treated the men who dwelt upon the land very little better, in his estimation of property at least, than the cattle which grazed upon the farm. But these days were happily gone, and the result of the state of things to which he had referred was to bring about an exceptional and a complex relation between landlord and tenant in Ireland, which might not be inaptly described as a partnership. From that relation had grown up to be recognized by the moral sense of mankind a right of the tenant in its intrinsic nature —in the first foundation upon which it rested as truly property as the fee simple of the landlord itself. He need not point out that that was an interest which 873 the law had recognized, though tardily. Nor need he detain the House by pointing out a somewhat analogous case in this country, where rights beginning on such slender foundations as these had grown to be the real acquisition of property in land. What was the history of the law of copyhold in England originally? The lord of the manor allowed his men, who were the copyholders and servants, to dwell on the land; they were strictly what the law called tenants at the will of the landlord, whatever their early status had been; but owing to the fact of the moral claim which, in consequence of their occupancy and their labour, these tenants acquired in process of time, and under the healthy and fostering influence of a strong public opinion, which, he regretted to say, was wanting, to a great extent, in Ireland, they came to be recognized until the copyhold right was now little inferior to the fee simple right. Nay, that copyhold tenure supplied another feature which threw some light on the present discussion. The lords of those days said —"Oh, although we must recognize this customary continuance of occupation, we have one means of asserting our rights. When you, the tenants, who are now in possession of my land, die, the person who has to succeed you must come to me for admission, and I will bar the door against him, and assert my right by imposing a fine for admission." And the lords of the manor imposed those fines. How were they restrained? By the intelligent action of the Courts of the country, backed up by public opinion, which imposed upon the landlords in that case the stipulation that the fine should be a reasonable one. In the case of Ireland the right of the tenant was tardily recognized by the Act of 1870, which he recognized as the great act of a great statesman; because although he was not going to say that that Act was not defective, yet when he recalled the powers which were arrayed against it, and the high assertion of feudal rights which even that day had found utterance in the speech of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire, he said that too much credit could not be given, not merely to the wisdom, but to the resolution of the statesman who successfully carried that legislation. The Act of 1870 recognized the right on the part of the tenant to compensation for im- 874 provements and also for disturbance, that disturbance being the deprivation by the landlord of the tenant right, or goodwill which the man acquired in his holding. But it had two defects. First of all, it did not in any degree meet the case of land which held to-day at its fair value fell in value, and next it suffered no claim for compensation to be considered by the Court, except where rent was exorbitant. Under the operation of the Act as it stood at present the landlord could push up his rent shilling by shilling until it had reached the point just short of this exorbitant limit; and the tenant failing then to pay could be turned out without one penny of compensation. He said that was not just; but he had a still greater objection to make. Section 3 unquestionably recognized the property of the tenant in respect of something for which he was to be compensated if he was disturbed in it, but measured the extent of compensation which he was to get in an extreme case by seven years' rent where the rent did not exceed £10. What he wanted to point out was this—If that right, which lie called the goodwill of the tenant, was legalized and recognized as a right of property in the tenant, why, for one year's non-payment of rent, was he to have confiscated what might be the six or seven years' value of his interest? Under the Ulster tenant right, a tenant in arrear of his rent for one or two years had a right to sell his tenant right interest; and if he sold it for many years' purchase, all that the landlord got was his arrears of his rent, the tenant receiving the balance. Now, one other reason in favour of this Bill, which he thought was a small one, although he gratefully recognized the spirit which had prompted its introduction, was that it would undoubtedly bring the law, to some extent, into harmony as affecting land over the whole of Ireland. The difference between Section 9 of the Act of 1870 and this Bill was the smallest in the world. The former Act provided that the tenant might get compensation if the Court held that he was ejected for non-payment of a rent that was exorbitant; the present Bill allowed compensation if the Court found that he was unable to pay the rent in consequence of the prevailing distress, and that he was willing to remain on just terms, but that those terms were unreason- 875 ably refused. The difference between exorbitant rent and unreasonable terms was not such as to justify the extravagant language which had been used of this Bill. It was designed to meet a state of things which could hardly be realized in England. It was said that the effect of the measure would be to give an additional inducement to tenants in Ireland not to pay their rent. He wholly disbelieved that statement; and, speaking from a somewhat extensive experience, he could say that the cases were few in which tenants really able to pay their rent did not do so. The reason was obvious. They dared not run the risk of subjecting themselves to ejectment, not having any other avenue of industry open to the them. Deprived of their land, they were thrown upon the world. There were not in Ireland, as in this country, those large industries which made the land for agricultural purposes almost a secondary want. He desired to say nothing which would offend any hon. Member, or rake up any bygone memories needlessly, but retrospect was sometimes necessary; and it was not unimportant for the House of Commons to bear in mind that the past legislation of the Imperial Parliament, in stifling and putting down all such industries as were growing up in Ireland, had thrown the people upon the land as their sole means of subsistence, and for the exercise of their industry. Though that legislation no longer existed its effects did. After all, centuries in the life of a nation were but as years in the life of man. If exceptional circumstances were needed, they surely existed to justify this Bill. Famine almost stalking the country, and people still flying in their hundreds and thousands—a fact of great import addressed to a people so peculiarly attached to the place of their birth—or receiving, as they had been told, something like a pauper's dole at the hand of charity. So strong, too, is the feeling of the country as to this Land Question, that the posse comitatus of the Sheriff, a small army, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly termed it, were necessary to execute an ejectment process. Surely this was a state of things which called for the best efforts that Parliament could make for redressing existing grievances. Let the House recollect the responsibility that rested upon this coun- 876 try. The Imperial Parliament had now for many centuries charged itself with the destinies of Ireland. It was its duty to legislate for the just needs of that country; and if it now failed to do so it supplied the motive and reason for "the Third Party" in that House which many hon. Members deplored. Was not the state of things in Ireland a reproach to hon. Members representing English and Scotch constituencies—a state of things which, at one time, was said to be accounted for upon theories, forsooth, of race and of religion. But, happily, these theories had been exploded; and finally they came back to the question that the state of things in Ireland, the result of past legislation and of misrule, called for, in this day, generous and exceptional treatment on this question of the land in Ireland. The philanthropic men alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, who assisted to relieve the distress of 1846, tried to look beneath the surface, and to ascertain the cause of it; and they put it on record, as their deliberate opinion, that the state of the Land Law in Ireland was, in a great measure, accountable. That being recorded in 1846 and 1847, was it not a reproach to Parliament that until the present Prime Minister took the matter in hand in 1870 nothing really effective was done? The state of things which existed cramped industry, because it gave no motive for industry; it prevented that full development of the land which it ought to be the object of all just land legislation to promote; and it prevented improvements in the social life of the lower classes of the country. He knew cases in which men able to pay their rent pretended that it was by the greatest effort they were able to pay it, though they did pay it, that they were in great poverty, wore bad clothes, and had untidy houses. And why? Because they knew that the thrifty and industrious tenant who exhibited the appearance of prosperity and comfort, and improved his house and land, was at the mercy of the unscrupulous landlord. Whilst recognizing the importance of this measure of the Government as indicating an honest desire on their part to do what they could for the Irish tenant, he did not think it touched more than the extremest fringe of the question. He could not believe that in any 877 state of society in our time, certainly not in the condition of things existing in Ireland, it could be right, or just, or conducive to the good of the State, that the landlord should have the power, if he chose to exert it, of depopulating a whole country side. The only restraints upon him were self-interest and public opinion—restraints not always effectual. It was the existence of such a power that shackled the hands and arms of the industrious man, who would otherwise receive the fruits of his industry; and he failed to understand how there could be any injustice in allowing a man to be secure in the possession of the land on which he laboured so long as he did nothing to injure the property of his landlord, did not sub-let it, and so long as he paid a fair and just rent. Until some such state of things as that was brought about, he did not believe there would be any real or permanent settlement of this question. It was not alone the social evils of the system. Let the House consider the moral evils of it. Whilst Ireland was freer than England from other classes of crime, agrarian crime abounded, and a largo part of the population sympathized with it. Surely that was the loudest and most eloquent denunciation of the present state of the law, coming, as it did, from a people not wanting in other matters in high moral qualities. He desired to be understood as speaking as one seriously anxious that there should be real union between England and Ireland, and that Ireland should share the career, the destiny, and the prosperity of the people of this country; and he hoped to see the time when the people of Ireland, prosperous and contended, would lend a willing obedience to laws which fostered their industry and secured its fruits.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he felt sure the House would agree with him when he congratulated the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down on the speech which he had addressed to the House. He would not follow the hon. and learned Member in his large argument and the general treatment of the question, which, it seemed to him, would have been better adapted to some debates in the year 1870, before the Land Act was passed, or which might be raised at a future time when another Land Act was before the House; but 878 which, he thought, went a little wide of the particular subject of discussion. There was very much in what he said as to the existing distress in Ireland in which he concurred and sympathized. Everything spoken on this point by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland in introducing the debate he freely adopted. He had never denied that there was severe distress in certain districts; and though this distress was happily diminished in extent and intensity, some still existed. But, as the Chief Secretary said last night, the greater portion of the danger from famine—the extreme pinch—had been successfully grappled with. With the efforts of those who effectually cheeked the increase of distress he entirely sympathized; and he could bear testimony, from what he had seen in the West of Ireland, to the extraordinary patience and endurance with which many of the tenantry bore their great privations. He would be proud to join in any effort to relieve this distress, and on this account he was glad that the measure before the House did not form part of the Relief of Distress Bill; because, while willing to support the Government in any Bill having that object, he must say at once he looked upon the Bill before them in a wholly different light. It was not a Relief Bill, it was a political proposal; and he should resist it, because he believed that as between landlord and tenant it would do the greatest amount of injury and the least amount of good. It was a direct confiscation of the income of one class in favour of another—of the landlord in favour of the tenant. He was certain, also, that the mere introduction of the measure—for he could never believe that it would pass—had done much, and would do more, to strengthen and confirm that disastrous agitation which for 18 months had raged in Ireland. He was bound to give the Bill, which strengthened the most violent proposals of agitators, his strongest opposition. He had felt somewhat at a loss to know how the Chief Secretary would justify the introduction of such a Bill. What hidden statistics, carefully sifted, while entirely undreamt of by the public, he was going to spring upon the House in asking for this exceptional and extraordinary measure? But what were the facts? Not one figure that could be vouched for as ap- 879 proaching correctness—and he said it with no disrespect—the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to understand his own proposals. He produced a number of ejectments; but he was unable to say what proportion applied to the country and what to the towns; how many for non-payments, and how many for other causes. He adopted an average of five years previous to 1877, and then made the addition from year to year. Was it possible to ask the House to take action on such a statement? So far as he understood the contention of the right hon. Gentleman, it was that some ejectments were for non-payment of rent, and that this number had considerably increased lately. Well, of course, in a time of the prevalence of extraordinary distress, ejectments for non-payment would increase, as in England the same cause threw a large number of farms on the hands of the landlords. They could not expect a normal state of things under such exceptional circumstances. But he did note one thing, and that was that the increase in the number of ejectments for the last 18 months kept pace with and accompanied the unhappy and disastrous land agitation of that time. Was this remarkable when by orators, who had the ears of the people, the latter were told not to pay rent except as the last payment to be made? Every other claim was first to be settled. Could it be surprising, then, that landlords were obliged to take action now to a greater degree than at other times? It would have been more surprising had there not been this increase in the number of ejectments for non-payment. He knew also that simultaneously with this agitation agrarian outrage had blazed out with fearful intensity. He was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman speaking with some degree of decision, in condemnation of the anti-rent agitation; but the conclusion he drew was rather a strange one. He spoke with warmth and justice of the agitation which had misled the people, and which was likely to mislead them further; but here in the Bill was practically the same principle and the same view put forth in the House as had been pressed in Ireland by the Land League. ["No, no !"] Certainly he understood the Bill lately introduced by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) was put forward by eminent members of the League. There- 880 fore, he said that the Bill practically gave a Government sanction to some, at least, of their strongest demands, for he was right in saying that the principle of the Government Bill and that of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) were the same. The Government sanctioned the strongest immediate demands of the League. He said the immediate demands, for what the ulterior effects might be he could not say. But as to the propriety of intrusting to some third person to settle what was or was not a reasonable rent, as to the propriety of interfering between landlord and tenant, simply on account of the prevailing distress, it did sanction and adopt the principles which had been put forward for months by the Land League. He would undertake now to prove that in principle the proposal was almost identical with that of the hon. Member for Mayo. If the Government had pleased they could have introduced, by way of amendment to the hon. Member's Bill, all the limitations which they had put into their own Bill. Without any departure from principle this might be done; and, as he understood, the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) had intimated his intention of proposing Amendments to this Bill to make the two Bills similar. What was the principle of these two Bills? He quite admitted that in one sense they were framed on a principle the germ of which was found in the Land Act of 1870. As the House was well aware, in that Act very large provisions were made for the protection of the tenants at the expense of the landlords of Ireland. By the 3rd clause protection was given against eviction; by the 4th clause the value of improvements was secured; and by the 7th clause compensation was secured for goodwill paid by the incoming to the outgoing tenant. Not to go through all the clauses, it was alleged by the Prime Minister, on the second reading, that it did confer on the tenantry of Ireland such benefits and protection as were not enjoyed by the occupiers of the soil in England or Scotland, who were amongst the most favoured nations in this respect; but, though large concessions were made at the expense of the landlords, two principles were insisted upon as a kind of setoff against these concessions, and great credit was taken by the Prime Minister for the maintenance of those principles. 881 The first was that, though protection was necessary for the tenant as regards the existing contracts, and, as regards the future, freedom of contract should be complete; and the second principle laid down was that the enjoyment of these concessions to the tenant must be correlative with the strict performance of their duty by the tenant and the landlord. It was in this very 9th section of the Land Act that one of these principles was most carefully set forth, for by that section it was declared that ejectment for non-payment of rent or breach of agreement should not be an act of disturbance—that was to say, for this the tenant should have no claim against the landlord. He quite admitted that in a subsequent part of the clause there was another provision enabling the Chairman or the County Court Judge, in certain cases clearly stated and strictly defined, to treat as disturbances ejectments for non-payment of rent, and there was the vicious admission; but it was admitted not so much as a principle as an exception to these. In fact, he should rather call it the vicious exception, and it was this same exception they were now asked to concede, under certain limitations of time and circumstances, it was true, but to allow as a principle. This only showed how difficult it was to retrace false steps, and how easy it was to get an error of this kind expanded. If such a provision as was contained in the present measure had been in the Land Act of 1870, that Act would never have become law. In fact, it would be impossible, if such provisions were insisted upon, that it could be carried out in the country in the manner in which it should be. The Chief Secretary had pointed out with some good humour, and without being apparently much disturbed by the admission, that several of the most important provisions of the Irish Land Act had proved to be unsuccessful in their effect. He would now ask the House to recollect how solemnly the whole matter was considered at the time; and he would, therefore, quote a few extracts from those proceedings to show how the present Prime Minister expressed himself on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman then said that the Bill ought not to include anything which would interfere with the good faith and fulfilment of contracts. In the present Bill, however, those very principles had 882 been evaded, and the necessary restrictions which were then included had been entirely left out. The Bill now stood before the House untrammelled by any such restrictions as those which were advocated so strongly by the Prime Minister in 1870. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, however, that that Bill was quite a different measure before it was passed, as compared with its condition when it was introduced into the House of Commons. But the fact was that the Act of 1870 was in the nature of an award by Parliament sitting in a great arbitration, and the second reading was carried through the House almost without a division, and passed in "another place" without any division at all. The excuse as to how the Bill of 1870 had emerged from the House of Commons was not, therefore, fairly open to the right hon. Gentleman; and, indeed, it seemed to be a very strong argument when he appealed to the House against the restrictions which, in 1870, had been insisted upon by the House of Lords in the face of the very solemn arrangement which was then arrived at, and owing to which arrangement alone the Bill was carried through both Houses of Parliament. He was bound to remind the right hon. Gentleman of all limitations which were contained in that measure, and that the principle of it was to keep the contract free. This measure before the House, however, was cutting off another great slice from the principle of freedom of contract. It must not be forgotten either that the House only consented to the former measure after due reason had been given and accepted. The House insisted on the Amendment in the 9th clause of the Land Act of 1870, because it would have been an unjust measure without it; and he now submitted to the judgment of the House that it should observe the same wholesome principles which were advocated by the Prime Minister and then adopted. He would refer to the restrictions which had been introduced into the present measure, and which had been represented as depriving the Bill of its most dangerous consequences. Firstly, he contended from that point of view that the Bill was unjust in applying to ejectments which had taken place under certain specified conditions only. The exact principle of the restriction had 883 not been clearly stated; and he would like to know whether there were any restrictions so described as to cause reliance to be placed upon the course of action which should be taken. They certainly affected a considerable part of Ireland, inasmuch as the Bill applied to 13 counties, and to more than one-half of the whole country. Why should that distinction be drawn? The Schedule in which those districts were specified was drawn up for the purposes of the distress, and, no doubt, much distress had existed in some parts; but there were some parts mentioned in the Schedule which had been entirely free from distress, although surrounded by distressed districts; while, on the other hand, there were some parts not included in the Schedule which were as much in distress as those within the bounds of the Schedule. Now, he wished to know why a Schedule of that kind ought to be taken as a guide for a measure of the nature before the House, and should at all interfere with the bargain which had been made between two men by saying that the landlord's rent should not be obtained from a tenant? There was no ground upon which they would be able permanently to base such a capricious restriction. The measure provided that if an owner of land came within the Schedule, he came within the benefit of the Act; whereas those who owned land outside the Schedule did not come within the purposes of the measure. What justice was there in refusing the right to men outside, while they granted it to those inside? [Mr. PARNELL: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Cork thought there was injustice in such a result, and he could well understand such a conviction in his mind. Now, there was another restriction to which he wished to refer. The Bill was confined to two years, or to one year and a-half. But why should any such time be fixed upon? He had heard from some authorities on the other side of the House that the distress had already almost passed away. ["No, no!"] The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had certainly stated the other night that in some parts the distress had been successfully grappled with, and that in other districts, though there was still suffering, there was hope of an abundant harvest, which it was believed would entirely remove it. ["No, no!"] But 884 supposing they had one good year or two good years, followed by another wet autumn and a bad spring, were they going to continue this Bill? And if they were not, how could they rest firmly on such insecure restrictions as these? He had no faith in any limitation of time when once the right principle which should pervade the measure had been departed from. But the most extraordinary part of the Bill was probably that relating to the tenant's ability or inability to pay. If they wished to evade the payment of rent they should do it straightaway by a Bill like the one introduced by the hon. Member for County Mayo; but to throw upon the County Court Judge the onus of deciding in such a matter was an utterly impracticable and absurd proposal. He would have to ask the' tenant—"Are you able to pay?" Well, the answer they would easily guess, for there were very few tenants in Ireland, or even in England at the present time, who did not experience more or less difficulty in meeting their payments. Then, how could the Chairman cross-examine the tenant as to his means, or the landlord contradict the statements which might be made by the tenant? It was important to remember that the Bill only referred to the landlord's debt, while there was nothing about the tradesman and the money-lender. The tenant might simply come forward and say that there had been a very bad year for the crops, that he was in the scheduled district, and that he had found it very difficult to get on; that he had had to take goods on credit and to get money from the money-lender. The law the Government wished to establish would then in principle lay down that the tenant must pay the tradesman and the moneylender, but not the landlord. Such distinctions introduced into the measure some of the worst principles put forward by the anti-rent agitators. The result would be exactly the same, and the discretion given to the Chairman and the County Court Judge would be perfectly useless. The Bill would keep an open door for the dishonest tenant; it would be a terrible temptation to the honest one; it provided that the duties to the landlords would be in quite a different category to the other creditors; it would prove bad teaching to the people of Ireland, and no need would exist for anyone to urge a tenant not to pay his rent. The right 885 hon. Gentleman had expressed a hope that the Bill would be a great advantage to landlords in recovering their debts. In point of fact, however, a landlord would be deprived of the only effectual remedy he had to recover his rent. The honest tenants who hitherto had paid their rents would be tempted to exclaim—"What fools we were!" Even if this Bill should not become law, the mere initiation of it would have done a fearful amount of mischief. For some time past great courage was required on the part of those who opposed the unprincipled agitation in Ireland. ["No!"] He maintained that it was an unprincipled agitation. Ministers of religion and ecclesiastics high in the Church to which the majority of the Irish people belonged had stood forward and warned the people against the agitation. ["No !"] The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, in his Pastoral of November 17, said—Very rev. fathers, while standing forward to support our flocks in this their dark hour of distress, we must not fear to raise our voices to warn them against the results of their faults or mistakes. Our principle must he to give to Caesar what Caesar justly claims, else we cannot give to God what God commands. If just debts, fairly demanded, he not honestly discharged, a principle fatal to the prosperity of our country will he established, and sooner or later it will recoil on the heads of those who to-day may seem to he gainers by its adoption. But let us pray, rev. fathers, that the day may he yet far distant when Irishmen, who in olden times were renowned for their love of impartial justice, should set to the world an example of faith disregarded.The sanction which this Bill seemed, as he had shown, to give to the programme of the agitators must paralyze the efforts of these holy men. He must now say a few words on behalf of the unhappy landlords of Ireland, many of whom were among his own constituents. The sources of their income in many cases would be dried up by the Bill when it became law; while, on the other hand, their taxes and other outgoings would still have to be met by them. Hundreds and thousands of landlords would practically receive no rent at all until 1882, and would so be ruined. He had endeavoured to show that, in principle, the Bill was really precisely the same as that for which it was brought forward as a substitute, and which made ejectment for non-payment of rent a disturbance. Such a principle was not 886 based upon any sound lines. By adopting it they conferred as little benefit as possible on the honest tenants, and inflicted as much injury as possible upon landlords. It was his firm and strong belief that the measure would be regarded as a surrender to the land agitation. He knew the right hon. Gentleman had spoken generally against the agitation, and that he had pledged himself not to take any further steps in the same direction; but he should remember that his words would be read by only a few of the people to whom they referred, whilst the concessions he had made would be known to all. It was well known that Government had, at first, refused to do anything of the kind during the Session, and that they had refused to accept the Bill of the hon. Member for Mayo; but that Parliamentary pressure had been successfully put upon them by those who favoured the anti-rent agitation, and that the leaders of the movement were induced to withdraw their Bill on the pledge of the Government to introduce the present measure. He knew that the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) was satisfied with the change which had come over the Government in this respect. The hon. Member recently remarked—Within the last few days the general situation has entirely changed, so far as the attitude of the Government upon the Land Question is concerned. Having announced at the beginning of the Session that they would not touch the subject this Session they now introduce a Bill very similar to that of Mr. O'Connor Power, and to effect an object which the draughtsmanship of Dr. Commins in Mr. Power's Bill has taught them how to accomplish. We shall now have an opportunity of introducing a clause for the suspension of ejectments, and also any other amendment of the Land Laws which it may he thought desirable this Session to press for.He thought, therefore, that after that frank declaration on the part of the hon. Member for Cork, who was, at least, the godfather of the hon. Member for Mayo's Bill, it was unnecessary for him further to prove how identical they were in principle, and how likely this Bill, if passed into law, was to countenance the anti-rent agitation by carrying out one of the main articles in their programme by depriving the landlords of their rents.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
said, he thought hon. and right hon. Members 887 of that House, on whichever side they sat, and however they voted, must regret that on all occasions whenever the words "landlord" and "tenant" were introduced in debate in that House they invariably acted as Shibboleths which resolved the House into two hostile camps, instead of being an inducement to the House to do all they could to promote the union, most intimate as it should be, of those who were so closely connected together in interest and relation. Whatever injured the landlord would re-act on the tenant, and whatever was injurious to the tenant would re-act on the landlord. He could not understand why the principle of the Bill had been denounced as inequitable, for it appeared to him to give perfectly equal justice both to landlords and to tenants. The principle of this Bill was the principle which was endeavoured to be introduced into the Land Act of 1870 in the interest of the landlord class. The principle of this Bill was that if a tenant in a limited area, for a limited time, and in exceptional circumstances, was willing to continue in occupation of his holding on just and reasonable terms, and if those terms were unreasonably refused by the landlord, then, and then only, did the scope of the Act come into operation for the protection of the tenant. Now, the 18th section of the Land Act of 1870 gave the Court power to deal with the equities both on the one side and the other, both of the landlord and tenant—If," said the Act of 1870,"it shall appear to the Court in any case in which compensation shall be claimed under Section 3 of this Act, that the landlord has been and is willing to permit the tenant to continue in the occupation of his holding upon just and reasonable terms, and that such terms have been and are unreasonably refused by the tenant, the claim of the tenant to such compensation shall be disallowed.The application of that principle was the governing principle of the Bill before the House. Would not hon. Gentlemen opposite repel with indignation the aspersion that they were not just and reasonable, and were not willing to act justly and reasonably? But then the Bill did not override any right they would desire to exercise. They would not be deprived by this Bill of the means of recovering their rent. The Bill had been denounced by hon. Members opposite, and by the hon. and 888 gallant Member for the County of Leitrim (Major O'Beirne), as a revolutionary measure, introduced to confiscate the property of the landlords. Now, with great respect, he could hardly think, if Gentlemen would look at the matter impartially and fairly, they would think that a fair or adequate description of the principle of the Bill. A great calamity had befallen a large part of Ireland. It might be described as pervading half Ireland—that was to say, if they drew a line down Ireland through Athlone, the districts to the west of that line were distressed. It was the object of the Bill to assist distressed parts of the country; and the principles of this Bill had, in fact, been sanctioned by the last Parliament and by the Conservative Government by the first Act, passed in 1880. That Act originated in a Motion by the hon. and gallant Member for Gal-way County (Major Nolan), who would, he supposed, be classed by his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Plunket) with those to whom he applied such strong language. The question, then, was, whether large tracts of Ireland were to be left uncultivated and waste, or should means be furnished in the interest of the community at large for their cultivation. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway County proposed that present relief should then be given by the distribution of seeds. No voice had then suggested that Parliament thus had confiscated the property of landlords or any property. That Bill was limited to the distressed districts, and was also limited in time. Did anyone ever say that that Act which Parliament thus sanctioned was intended to establish the principle that tenants thereafter were not to provide their own seeds, or rely on their own resources; and that, because assistance was given them when they had been scourged by the visitation of Providence, therefore they were not in future to exert their own powers? In distressed districts assistance had thus been given to the cultivators of the soil; but it yet remained temporarily to arrange satisfactorily the mutual and relative duties of the landlord and the tenant in distressed districts lest large tracts of land subjected to the visitation of Providence, which might have been uncultivated, should yet become waste and untenanted. Notwithstanding the energetic and denunciatory language of the 889 right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), he could hardly think the House would hesitate to agree to this Bill. Let them look at parts of the district to which the Act was intended to apply. He would take a district from Ulster, another from Con-naught, and another from Munster; and he would ask, should not assistance be given to the men to whom this Bill would apply? They were men of small and struggling circumstances; but were they, therefore, to be refused the fair relief which this Bill would give? In the County Donegal, where tenant right prevailed, and where the action of the police, and the assistance of the military, was not required to protect and enforce the process of the law, there were 1,100,000 acres divided into 33,000 holdings. 17,000 of these holdings did not exceed £4 valuation, 8,000 exceeded £4, but did not exceed £8, valuation. Out of 33,000 holdings, therefore, nearly 25,000 did not exceed a valuation of £8. Now let the House come to the aid of those 25,000 holdings, which represented, in most instances, the head of a family with a wife and children. Then as to the County of Mayo. It contained 1,300,000 acres, divided into 36,000 holdings. Of these, 19,000 holdings did not exceed £4 valuation, while 10,400 exceeded £4, but did not exceed £8, valuation. Nearly the same figures would prevail in the County of Galway, where there was an acreage of over 1,000,000 divided into 38,000 holdings, of which 28,000 did not exceed £8 valuation. The facts in the County of Kerry were much the same. With those figures before it, would the House consider that in the present circumstances of exceptional distress the power which the law gave of recovering rent by ejectment was to be used for the indirect purpose of clearing the land of its occupiers? To prevent that, and for that purpose alone, this Bill was introduced. The hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. C. Russell) had sketched with great accuracy the growth of rent ejectment in Ireland, and had shown how in this great and prosperous country this power did not exist in the same degree as in Ireland. No one would object to the law being made use of for the legitimate purpose for which it was originally intended—namely, of recovering rent. It was not until 1850 890 that in the Civil Bill Courts in Ireland landlords were empowered to maintain ejectment for non-payment of rent in respect of yearly tenancies held without writing and merely by oral and verbal arrangement, and it was not until the year 1860 that similar jurisdiction was given to Superior Courts. These constituted the great bulk of yearly tenancies in Ireland. It was thus only for the purpose of enabling the land lord to recover his rent that this power of eviction was given, and it was never contemplated that it was to be used for the purpose of clearing the land of its inhabitants. But, after all, the landlord would retain all the same power to recover his rent. He might also, like any other creditor, bring his action for what was due; he could get a judgment of the Court, and by virtue of that judgment he could realize through a Sheriff's sale the property taken in execution. The interest in the holding, if any, might be sold; and if anything over and above the liabilities was realized the tenant might get it. Amongst other benefits of the Ulster custom, where it. prevailed, the tenant was secured the right to sell his interest, if he did not wish to remain, or if he became unable to pay his rent and was ejected for non-payment of rent. If the House- would compare the Bill with the Land Act, it would see that both were on the same lines. It was not introduced for any political purpose. It was honestly introduced to meet exceptional distress from failure of crops. It run in the same groove as the Seeds Act. Its principle was simply this—that where a tenant was unable to pay, and where his inability was caused by the distress which had arisen from the failure of crops, and he could satisfy the Court—which, be it well remembered, was not to be an arbitrary Court, but one which Parliament had set up for the purpose of the Land Act—that his propositions for the arrangement of his rent and its arrears and otherwise were just and reasonable, and that his landlord unreasonably rejected those fair overtures, then that he should be compensated for the disturbance. Was that a Bill which was a subversion of the rights of property? Hon. Gentlemen who were so generous to their own tenantry were, at this moment, doing what the Bill would force those in whom justice and generosity 891 had no place also to do. Was it to be that the bone and sinew of the country-were to have no consideration after their recent bitter famine experiences? Stung with despair, they might be driven to emigrate to foreign lands. Would the House send them away with a feeling rankling in their hearts that the farms where they were born—where, perhaps, they had closed their parents' eyes in death—were not to be protected, and that they could not obtain the smallest consideration at the hands of the House of Commons of a United Kingdom. Would they not rather take from the hand of the agitator one of his most fatal weapons, and, at all events, show the people that that great Assembly was not afraid to be just?
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Tottenham.)
said, that, considering the importance of the question, and the limited number of hon. Members who had had an opportunity of addressing the House upon it, he would consent to the adjournment of the debate until Tuesday at 2 o'clock.
§ MR. PARNELL
thought it was much more likely to be brought to a close at an Evening Sitting than at a Morning Sitting.
said, the Government had already lost two Mondays, and he must ask them to go into Supply on Monday. It was absolutely necessary.
remarked that Tuesday had been mentioned for the Bradlaugh affair, and it was a matter of Privilege.
replied, that they would see what happened; but they were in hopes that that would not be taken.
§ MR. GIBSON
hoped that before the debate was resumed the Papers which had been quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland would be laid upon the Table, in such a form as to distinguish evictions for non-payment of rent from other causes. He also hoped Returns would be given of ejectments in cities and towns. He trusted that the Chief Secretary would hurry on the printing of the Poor Law Returns which he mentioned the other day.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
was afraid it would be impossible to produce all these Returns within the time mentioned.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Tuesday next, at Two of the clock.