§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [25th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ And which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Chaplin.)1125
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. TOTTENHAM
I rise, Sir, to enter an earnest protest on behalf of the landlords of Ireland, and, indeed, I think I may say of the United Kingdom, against the further measure of confiscation and interference with the rights of property which Her Majesty's Government have thought fit to put before the House and the country. I followed attentively, and I have since read in the public papers, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill (Mr. W. E. Forster), and I failed to find one single syllable which could be called an argument in justification, or even in apology, for the principles of confiscation, injustice, and totally uncalled-for subversion of the rights of property which are contained therein. On the contrary, the facts stated by the right hon. Gentleman go conclusively to show, first, how thoroughly unjustified he was in not renewing the Peace Preservation Act, at least for some of the scheduled districts, where he has on his own showing and figures to keep a large force of police for the preservation of the peace and the enforcement of the law. He also stated, from a list of figures which he could not stand any cross-examination upon, that evictions had increased, and in the year 1879 had reached 1,098, as against 503 two years previously, and in this year 1,073. The right hon. Gentleman, however, forgot to tell the House that there are 600,000 agricultural holdings in Ireland, and that these figures, giving him credit for every one of the total number as being agricultural, and not one relating to a town or village holding, would be a fraction under one eviction in every 600 holdings. Now, Sir, I should like to ask how that figure will bear comparison with the present number of agricultural tenancies on hands in England, where it is not necessary to resort to eviction, and where, if the tenant is unable to pay the rent, he gives up his farm, and there is an end of the matter, and the landlord is not driven to evict him? I venture to say, Sir, that the comparison will be very much in favour of Ireland; and the number of farms now unlet, and on the hands of the landlords, will be very far 1126 under the proportion in England. Well now, Sir, where are the localities in which the great increase of these evictions has taken place? Why, in the very counties where the agitation against payment of rent at all is at its height— namely, Galway, Mayo, and Sligo, where process servers and bailiffs have been beaten in the execution of their duty. Where parties of men, disguised, have entered the houses of tenants, who were supposed to be inclined to pay, at night, and sworn them not to pay; and where notices have been posted on farms and in the district warning no person to have anything to do with evicted farms on pain of death. Where threatening letters have been sown broadcast; and where meetings have been held, attended by hon. Members of this House, where the rankest disloyalty and sedition have been unblushingly preached, and no efforts have been spared to stir up the feelings of the people against the law, against payment of rent, and against their landlords, who are their natural friends and protectors. At the last Winter Assizes for the Province or Circuit of Connaught, I was foreman of the Grand Jury, before whom the Bills of indictment for all the five counties were sent, and I will give the House an abstract of the crimes for which prisoners were actually arraigned, and also of those for which no persons were made answerable. I find, Sir, on referring to the Return of agrarian crimes presented to Parliament for the year ending January 31, 1880, that out of a total of 977 crimes and outrages of this nature committed in Ireland, no less than 480, or nearly half the whole number, occurred in the counties of Mayo, Sligo, and Galway, where this criminal agitation is now being carried on. To give the House a sample of what these crimes are, I will give the details of one county—namely, Sligo, which is the only one I have been able to obtain in time:—Firing at the person, 3; wounding, 2; assault on process server, 1; killing and maiming cattle, 7; malicious injuries to property, 2; assembling armed, or disguised, or unlawfully tendering oaths, 14; seizing arms, 1; sending threatening letters, 20; sedition, 3; total, 53; less cases for trial 5; total not amenable, 48. These will give the House some idea of the state those counties have been brought to by agitation, and the teaching of those whose 1127 education should have taught them respect for the laws of God and man, but which, when used for such a purpose as this, is a curse to themselves and the ignorant dupes they endeavour to mislead. They will show the class of persons the Government legislation proposes to defend at the expense of the landlord, and the criminal agitation it is proposed to foster and encourage. The right hon. Gentleman drew a vivid picture of the horrors which might occur if this Bill were not to become law, and he appealed to the feelings of the House as to the difference between a man emigrating without means, and finding himself helpless when he got to New York, and a man who went out comfortably with the proceeds of the Suspension of Rent Bill in his pocket. What argument is there in this to justify such a measure? He also assumes that at the expiration of 1881 things will quietly return to the present status quo, and that no attempt will be made to renew the demand for this or similar legislation as a continuing measure. He has also totally forgotten to draw any distinction or to inform the House of the difference between the absolutely distressed Unions, where there is an undoubted want of food, and those which were only scheduled for the purposes of the Seeds Act, to enable persons not absolutely distressed to the extent of want of food to buy seed on reasonable and easy terms. He further forgot to tell us of the difference there is between the Ulster custom and the customs elsewhere, which is that the Ulster tenant or his predecessors in title have paid for their interest, and have a right to get it back; but outside the area of the Ulster custom they have paid nothing for it, and why should they now receive for that which they have paid nothing for? I should have thought, Sir, that the experience of the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues was, that the more they concede to Irish demands for exceptional legislation, the more and the greater are the demands which will be made, and that the silence and avowed intention of Irish Members below the Gangway not to oppose this measure might show him that they accept it as an instalment, and a peace offering to the agitation for which they are responsible, and that he is simply playing their game while they are laughing in their sleeves. The hon. 1128 and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. W. M. Johnson), who quoted a considerable number of statistics and figures, quite forgot, however, to add the fact that the rateable valuation of the property which is now proposed to be suspended for a year and a-half is just under £5,000,000 sterling, the exact figures being £4,928,277; and he said that "nobody objected to eviction being used by the landlords for the legitimate purpose of recovering their rent," though he stood up to support a Bill to make eviction penal. He then went on to ask the House to compare it with the Seeds Act, which ran in the same groove, though how an Act to enable the Government to advance money to tenants to purchase seed, potatoes, and corn, and an Act to make eviction penal, can be said to run in the same groove I entirely fail to see, or to appreciate the force of the hon. and learned Gentleman's reasoning. He said this Bill would take from the hand of the agitator his greatest weapon. Does he honestly believe that if this were really so there would be the same silence on this side of the House below the Gangway as now reigns? He knows right well that it would not be so. And he winds up by saying that, at all events, "they would show they were not afraid to be just." If that is the hon. and learned Gentleman's idea of justice—namely, to take £5,000,000 a-year out of the hands of one class by force and put it into those of another class, all I can say is, that if hereafter it should be my bad fortune to bring myself within the reach of the law for an offence in the same category, I hope by that time the hon. and learned Gentleman will have reached the legitimate goal of legal aspirations, and that it may be my good fortune to be tried by him. The hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Charles Russell) says it is "usual to have a running or hanging gale in arrear," and on well-managed estates May rents paid at Christmas. I join issue with the hon. and learned Gentleman there at once, and I say it is not the practice, but the exception, to allow such hanging gale, and that I consider the estate, where such is allowed, is not a well-managed one, but the reverse. I consider it the worst possible form of imaginary kindness to the tenant himself, who perpetually has a millstone 1129 about his neck which increases his burden, his obligations, and his difficulties, should he meet with any unforeseen misfortunes. In my experience, which I dare say is as large on Irish matters of the sort as his, I can assure him he is entirely mistaken on that point. He says that one effect of this Bill will be to bring the law to some extent in harmony all over Ireland. Why, that is the very thing it unquestionably will not do, and in the same county two ejectments may be brought at the same Sessions against two neighbouring tenants; the man on this side of the hedge gets the compensation for disturbance which this Bill proposes; while his next-door neighbour, who has only a hedge between him, gets nothing, because he is not in a Scheduled Union. If this is harmony, my ideas of harmony are singularly inharmonious. The hon. and learned Gentleman says no one could justify the extravagant language which has been used in reference to this Bill. I say, Sir, that no language which could be applied to it, within Parliamentary limits, could be called too strong or denunciatory of such a monstrous proposition — a Bill which was attempted to be foisted upon the House by a side wind, in the shape of a clause to a Bill under the disguise of a measure for the relief of distress, hoping under such conditions to obtain support which it could never otherwise obtain, but which, owing to the bungling of its promoters, had to be withdrawn and appear in its present shape. Even then the right hon. Gentleman seemed afraid to stand sponsor to his production, as it appeared nameless and dateless, like a deserted child. Let me tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that before this debate closes, he will, in all probability, be shocked by far stronger language than that which he has taken exception to, and that no strong language that could be used is, in my opinion, so reprehensible as attempts to put before English Members, who are unacquainted with the state of affairs in Ireland, and the effects of the operation of this Bill, theories which no one knows better than the hon. and learned Gentleman are utterly illusive and contrary to what the practical effect of the Bill will be. Why should he raise a ghost for the purpose of knocking it down; and why talk about landlords having the power to 1130 depopulate whole country sides, when, in the same breath, he says he knows they do not do it? Is that right, generous, or fair on his part, and is he going to join the band of landlord denouncers, to whom I shall presently have to allude? The Irish landlord has been specially marked out for destruction by recent Liberal Administrations, commencing with the Disestablishment of the Irish Church Act of 1869, the practical effect of which was to double the landlord's church rates, inasmuch as it still left him liable to pay the tithe rent-charge to the State, and compelled him voluntarily to tax himself with a further equivalent charge for the support of the Church, which by the Act was deprived of all means of subsistence and existence. This Act was followed up by the Land Act of 1870, by which a large portion of the landlord's interest in his estate was transferred to the tenant, and I believe I am correct in quoting a statement of one of the Judges of the Land Court in Ireland, some time back, to the effect that since the passing of that Act the selling value of property, taking the average over Ireland, has depreciated from two to three years' purchase. But what, Sir, is now the opinion of the Land Court Judges in the present state of affairs? I will read to the House the report of the proceedings last Friday in the Land Court in Dublin, and let it judge for itself whether the impartial opinion of the Judge who was elevated to the Bench by the present Prime Minister s, or is not, a fitting one for their guidance—"Irish Times, June 26, 1880.Land Judges Court—Judge Flanagan.County of Kerry.Estate of Robert Conway Hurley.Lot 4.—387a. Or. 13p. of the lands of Mullen, producing a yearly rental of £156 9s. 8d. Mr. Thomas Mecredy offered £2,000. There was no other bid, and, after a short delay, Judge Flanagan said it was a perfect farce to be putting up property for sale now. For aught he knew Mr. Mecredy might get it for half £2,000 next year. No mortal man could tell. His bidding, however, was not quite 12 years' purchase, and ho would adjourn the sale.The sale of the estates of Augustus Henkell and wife, in the county of Cavan, William Joseph Fettrell, in the county and town of Wexford, and John Uppington, in the county of Cork, were adjourned for want of competition.This is the effect of the proposed legislation which, in the words of the learned Judge, "makes it a farce to offer pro- 1131 perty for sale." It is now further proposed to make penal any attempt on the part of the landlord to enforce the contract entered into between him and his tenant, inasmuch as the Bill puts it in the power of the Chairman of the County Court to fine the landlord to an amount perhaps 20 times as great as the amount of the rent he seeks to recover, for being so unreasonable as to look for his just rights. I will merely put a case, the figures of which speak for themselves. A tenant owes a year's rent amounting to £10, and, under the Disturbance Clause of the Act of 1870 and the present Bill, the landlord who proceeds to recover this rent may have to pay £70 to begin with, as a compensation for disturbance, and any further amount which the Chairman, in his discretion, may see fit to award, for improvements, manures, drainage, fencing, and all the various items of which these claims are usually made up; and experience of the awards in these cases has shown that in many of them the award, based upon very slight oral evidence, has far exceeded the actual disturbance compensation. Taking the very smallest proportion to which it is likely this claim would be reduced to, and putting it at a further sum of £30, you are thus going to put the landlord in the position of being fined £100, because he seeks to recover £10 which is lawfully due to him. Is that the much-boasted British sense of right and justice? Are hon. Members on that side of the House going to support such a monstrous subversion of all the principles of the rights of property as this? I ask English Members opposite, would they countenance such legislation, if it were proposed to apply it in England; and, if not, why should they look calmly on and see a principle established which will assuredly some day, not far distant, recoil upon their own heads? Sir, I do not believe that the Englishman's love of fair play and freedom of contract will permit many hon. Gentlemen opposite to endorse such a policy as this; but that they will rather adopt the manly and indignant protest of the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Grey), who gave Notice of opposing a Bill of a character precisely similar to this in principle, and which I may call the mother of this Bill, in consequence of the vacillating and uncertain reply given by Her Majesty's Government 1132 when appealed to for an expression of their policy on the principle of the Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill tell us what is the cause of his sudden and extraordinary change of front, and what are the reasons which have changed his opinions, openly expressed one short month ago, that suspension of eviction was almost the same thing as suspension of payment of rent? Sir, I shall be told that these penalties are not to attach to the landlord, except in the cases of the Provisoes in Clause 1, first of which is, that it shall be proved to the Court that the tenant is unable to pay, caused by distress. Now, Sir, does not everyone acquainted with Ireland know that any tenant to whom it may be inconvenient to pay his rent will find no difficulty in swearing, and in accumulating proof after proof, that it is distress and inability, and not unwillingness to pay, causes him to be in arrear. The onus probandi to the contrary will thus devolve upon the landlord; and if a man swears positively that he has not the money, and cannot make it, how is the landlord to prove that he has? I should like to tell the House a little incident which was related to me by an agent living in one of the districts scheduled to this Bill, as having come under his own notice. A tenant came into the office, and begged him, for charity's sake, not to press him for the rent, swearing by every saint in the calendar that he had done his best to make it up, but had only succeeded in making a part of it, and begged him to accept it for the present on account, putting down a roll of notes on the table. The rent was £8, and on the agent opening the roll he saw there were two £5 and two £1 notes. "Why, Pat," said he, "I only want £8, and here are £12."Pat's face immediately fell, and feeling in the pocket, he replied—"Begorra, your honour, I gave you the wrong roll"; and it then turned out that, notwithstanding his protestations of poverty, he had a second roll of four £ 1 notes, which he was trying it on with the agent to get him to accept, and which he probably would have done had not the tenant over-reached himself. I mention this to illustrate the extreme difficulty of disproving any tenant's statement of the state of his finances. Now, Sir, what is the 2nd Proviso?— 1133That the tenant is willing to continue in his holding upon just and reasonable terms as to rent, arrears, and otherwise,that is to say, in other words, that he is willing and anxious to continue without paying the rent then due, and to be allowed to go on accumulating arrears. Are these just and reasonable terms, and could anyone in their senses say that such terms are, in the words of the 3rd Proviso, unreasonably refused by the landlord? I maintain that the title by which it is proposed to call this Act is entirely erroneous and misleading, and that its proper title is "A Bill for the Suspension of Payment of Kent." I say a Bill, as I do not believe the House of Commons will ever permit it to become an Act of Parliament. I hope the House will now permit me to say a few words on the subject of the much-abused class to which I have the misfortune to belong—namely, the Irish landlord, and to record my protest against the spirit in which, both in this House and out of it, Irish Members persistently and invariably speak to their discredit, in a manner calculated to stir up hatred and ill blood between those who should be, and who but for such teaching would be, the best of friends; and I hope the House will grant me a little special indulgence for trespassing on its time when I say that, though there are Members far more entitled than myself to take up its time on the general question, I believe I am the sole Representative on this side of the House of the landed interest in the scheduled districts. A poster, which is a fair specimen of those which are habitually issued and placarded over the country, came to my hands a few days ago, and if the House will allow me, I will read it, to show to those Gentlemen who are not connected with Ireland the vituperation and abuse which is systematically showered upon the Irish landlord. I may also say that the meeting called by this poster is to be held on an estate, the owner of which bears a name pre-eminently high among Irish landlords, as remarkable for kindness, charity, and generosity in all his dealings with those dependent on him, and who has habitually been one of the largest employers of labour, and is now expending large sums in this very district—I mean the present Lord Ardilaun, better known to hon. Members of this House as Sir Arthur Guinness. 1134The Land for the People!A Monster Land Meeting will he held at Cong, on Sunday, the 11th of July, 1880, for the purpose of furthering the interests of the Land Movement; to denounce acts of tyranny and oppression, and, paramount above all, to revive and diffuse among Irishmen the undying spirit of Nationality.The land of Ireland—the land of every country—belongs to the people of that country.—JOHN STUART MILL.'God made the land free for all, and I believe that rent under any circumstances, in prosperous times or bad times, is nothing more nor less than an unjust and immoral tax upon the industry of the people.'—MICHAEL DAVITT.Under what is called the" freest Constitution in the world, "the millions must cease to be the slaves of the few. If law does not accomplish the change, then nature herself must only step in, work up her opportunity, seize it at the proper moment, and repair and compensate for the wrongs of delayed redress by appropriation more extensive than the concessions which were humbly and constitutionally, but vainly, claimed.…Such an event may be distant; but so sure as "Progress" is the motto of civilized mankind, so sure will that event be realized if not averted by legislative justice.—The Irish Landlord since the Revolution, by the Rev. P. LAVELLE, P.P., Cong.Keep a firm grip of your homesteads.'—CHARLES STEWART PARNELL, Esq., M.P.Yes, stick to your homesteads. Men of Mayo and Galway, assemble in your thousands at Cong, on the 11th July, and avow your resolve to prosecute the Land War, until you achieve the abolition of the Usurper of your God-given inheritance.Several Members of Parliament are expected to attend, including Messrs. Charles S. Parnell, O'Connor Power, Rev. I. Nelson, J. G. Biggar, &c, &c.The Irish National Land League will be represented by Messrs. T. Brennan, O'Sullivan, Boyton, and Kettle. Several other eminent public speakers will attend. Down with Tyranny and Oppression! Away with that hated institution called Landlordism.God save Ireland and the people!Anyone not acquainted with Ireland might well believe that the Irish landlord, as a rule, is a thing to be abhorred and turned from in disgust, as incapable of any sympathy with distress and suffering, and a mere machine for squeezing the last possible shilling out of his tenantry and turning every opportunity to his own account and profit. Sir, it is only those who live in the country and among the people, and who have some connection—not a connection born yesterday—with them and their interests, who know the sacrifices that have been made and the sums that have been expended by Irish landlords in the relief of distress; and I say that the 1135 way in which their efforts are sneered at, their sacrifices made light of, and their acts and intentions wilfully perverted, distorted, and misrepresented is enough to dry up the milk of human kindness in any breast, and divert the stream of self-denying expenditure to any other land, rather than one where, no matter what is done, or however good the object, a sinister motive is found and applied, without the slightest grounds or the slightest compunction, and where facts are wilfully perverted, and the grossest misrepresentations are of daily and hourly occurrence. In what position is it now proposed to put the landlord? Why, in the position of everything to pay, and nothing to pay it with, as the Government proposes to suspend the payment of rent. I put a Question to the Chief Secretary for Ireland the other night, and several other hon. Members put similar Questions, with a view of ascertaining whether the Government proposed to insert any concurrent proposal of relief for the class they propose to ruin; but, being an inconvenient view of the matter, the right hon. Gentleman declined to give us any answer, and challenged us to bring forward those arguments when the Bill was being discussed by the House. Well, Sir, I now ask Her Majesty's Government, whether, as they propose to take away from us the means of paying our debts and just demands, whether they are prepared to forego the payment by us of all the charges and taxes now payable by us to the Crown—namely, Income Tax, tithe rent-charge, quit, and Crown rents, succession duties, and all other items of Imperial taxation incidental to the ownership of property? Whether they are prepared to provide for the payment of poor's rates and county rates now payable by us, and the latter of which has latterly been largely increased by the Relief of Distress Act, which imposes half the repayment of the borrowed moneys upon the landlord? And I further ask them whether, as they are going to make it penal for the landlord to attempt to recover his rent, they will in common justice extend the principle to holders of charges of various kinds incidental to landed property, and make it equally penal on such persons if they require to be paid either interest or principal, annuity or rent-charge, during the continuance of this monstrous propo- 1136 sition? Can anyone say that this is not simple common sense and justice, and that English legislation is not bound to protect by even-handed justice the interests of all classes with whom the proposed measure is to deal? Now, Sir, while protesting in the strongest manner against the principles of the Bill which is before the House, do not let me for a moment be supposed to sympathize with any landlord who, in a time of distress and suffering, should harshly make use of the powers now vested in him by law, where he knew that the rents were not paid from real distress, or from causes beyond the tenants' control. I believe the men who would so act are very few indeed, and would certainly be no friends of mine; and it is a well-known fact that an ejectment for nonpayment of rent is, in a large majority of cases, simply the instrument for compelling the unwilling, rather than those unable to pay. It is also well known that for one ejectment decree which is executed, 10 are either settled before execution or redeemed during the six months allowed for redemption. Lest anyone may retort—"Does this man practice what he preaches?" I will merely say for the information of the House that on my own estate there are upwards of 400 tenancies, and in the last 10 years I have had two ejectments for nonpayment of rent, and two from other causes. The power of ejecting for nonpayment of rent is the only handle a landlord has over a refractory and unwilling tenant, and if you take away that power by this penal legislation, I have no hesitation in saying that you will convert the whole area of the scheduled districts into one of self-declared paupers; so self-declared for the purpose of bringing themselves within the provisions of the Bill, and avoiding the payment of rent. I have lived all my life in close and intimate relations with the people, and I warn Her Majesty's Government that if they persist in this hastily considered and ill-advised interference with the rights of property they are simply pandering to that agitation which is the curse of that unfortunate country; they are letting in the thin end of the agitator's wedge; they will dangerously increase the tension of the relations, which unfortunately exists in some districts, between landlord and tenant; they will embitter the feelings 1137 which already exist; they will raise a frightful crop of litigation and discontent; they will render it impossible to collect rents justly due; and they will stop the flow of private expenditure on the part of the landlords, who will no longer have resources to draw upon, and on many of these who are now heavily burdened they will bring ruin. Sir, the strongest argument I can use against the Bill are the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself, at the earlier period of the Session, when he stated that he considered suspension of eviction as almost the same thing as suspension of payment of rent, and I will conclude by appealing to the House not to permit the landlords of Ireland again to be made the scapegoats of Liberal legislation, and the victims of renewed and gross injustice without cause or reason.
§ MR. ROUNDELL
said, that any claim which he might have for asking the indulgence of the House whilst he addressed it upon that grave and difficult subject must be derived from the fact that for some months during the eventful Session of the disestablishment of the Irish Church he filled the post of Private Secretary to the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; that in that capacity he was privy to every act of the Irish Government; and that since that time he had conceived an interest in the affairs of the Irish people that he should never lose. He did not presume to address himself to hon. Members from Ireland, who were so much better informed than himself upon all the details of this question. What he ventured to do as an English Member, and as one closely allied with the landowning interest, was to address himself to English and Scotch Members, and to put before them arguments which should remove the grave misapprehensions which existed as to the character and tendency of the Bill. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), who moved the rejection of the Bill, spoke of it as assailing the rights of property, not only in Ireland, but indirectly also in England, and as departing from every principle of legislation in civilized society. Compensation for improvements he could understand, but compensation for disturbance was quite another thing; and so he ventured to say that the circumstances of the Irish tenant 1138 were one thing, and the circumstances of the English tenant were quite another. The hon. Member for Lei trim (Mr. Tottenham) had just now quoted words recently uttered by the Judge of the Landed Estates Court, whom he (Mr. Roundell) held in great respect; and, as he understood him, he mentioned as an instance of the mischief which the Bill would do in the case of certain land which was put up for sale, that no more than 12 years' purchase was bid for it. Of course, it was impossible for them to judge of the relevancy of that statement of the learned Judge without being informed—first, whether the rent was excessive; and, secondly, as he shrewedly suspected, whether the land in question was in a distressed district. The objections which struck the English mind in particular with regard to this Bill were two—first, that the measure was novel in principle; and, secondly, that it was subversive in its tendency of the rights of property. He should attempt to show that neither of these contentions held good. He took his stand upon the Land Act. It appeared to him that the principle of the Bill was contained in the Land Act of the year 1870, and that being so, the proposal before the House was certainly not novel. He was in no way concerned to defend the Act of 1870, which stood upon the Statute Book; but wished only for his present purpose to show that the Bill under discussion was an extension of the principles of the Act, not a departure from them. The scope of that Act might be briefly described as two-fold—first, in Ulster, it gave legal effect to the existing tenant right; and outside Ulster its object was to furnish the Irish tenants, and especially the small Irish farmer, with a safeguard analogous to the Ulster tenant right in the shape of compensation for damages in case of eviction. There was a fundamental difference between the English and Irish tenant, and it was this—that the small Irish farmer had secured to him by law a property in his occupancy, a kind of vested right to compensation in case of disturbance from his holding. That was the main feature of the Act, although it did exclude, as a general rule, the principle of giving compensation for eviction in consequence of nonpayment of rent. He would now endeavour to prove that the principle of recognizing ejectment for non-payment of 1139 rent as disturbance by the landlord was to be found both explicitly and implicitly in the existing Land Act. If he succeeded in that contention, he should have refuted the objection that the principle of this Bill was a novel one, and quite unknown to existing legislation; and it would, to a certain extent, make good the further contention that the Bill was not subversive of the rights of property. He thought, however, that he should be able to show, to the satisfaction of the House, that this principle was to be found in the existing Act. Now, he would ask the House to consider one or two main features of the 9th and 18th sections of the Land Act. It was stated, no doubt, that ejectment for non-payment of rent should not be deemed disturbance of the tenant. But several speakers, and among them the hon. Member for Leitrim, had lost sight of the important fact that further on, in the same section, it was stated that if in regard to holdings let at an annual rent not exceeding £15 the Court should certify that the non-payment of rent causing the eviction had arisen from the rent being exorbitant, then that might be treated as a disturbance by the landlord. But the case did not stop there. It would be in the recollection of the House that, in the form in which this section was sent up in the first instance to the House of Lords, it did not limit the Court to the consideration of the exorbitancy of the rent; but it empowered the Court on special grounds to consider whether such ejectment were a disturbance or not. fie might fairly argue from that that, so far from the principle of the Bill being novel, it was one which a majority of that House had sanctioned in 1870, and long before the anti-rent agitation, the influence to which that Bill was attributed. Therefore, as the Land Bill originally went up to the other House it had even a wider scope than the Bill before the House. He must ask the House for a moment to consider the terms of the 18th section, commonly known as the Equities Section, which regulated the whole machinery of the Act. The Court was empowered, in case of any claim between landlord and tenant, to take into consideration any unreasonable conduct of either party, and at the end of the section the House would find words precisely similar to those in this Bill— 1140If the tenant was willing to continue in the occupation of his holding upon just and reasonable terms.By the 9th section, the Court was empowered to consider exorbitant rent as one of those special cases under which ejectment for non-payment of rent was a disturbance. That section gave the Court a certain discretion, within narrow limits, which the present Bill extended, but not so far as a majority of the House proposed to carry it, as the Land Bill went up to the House of Lords; for, if the Bill, as originally sanctioned by that House, had become law, under the terms "special grounds," any other reason could have been assigned as good cause for treating ejectment for non-payment of rent as disturbance. But this latitude was avoided by the limited character of the Government Bill, for it would be remarked that the Government Bill was strictly limited both in time, locality, and object. The Act empowered, the Court to treat exorbitant rent as a cause of disturbance by the landlord, and entitling the tenant to compensation; but what the Bill did was to treat severe distress, which, to use the expressive language of the lawyers, was the act of God, as entitling the tenant to compensation in case of ejectment, and thus preventing a landlord from taking advantage of the Act so as to deprive his tenant of the right of compensation, which, under the Act, he ought to receive. So far, he had dealt with the statement that the Bill was novel in principle; now he would refer to the objection, so much dwelt upon, that the Bill dealt unfairly with the Irish landlord. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Tottenham) had said under the Bill the landlord had everything to pay, and nothing to pay it. Another expression he had used was, that a tenant might emigrate with the plunder of the landlord in his pocket; and he also spoke of the Bill as an act of confiscation, and totally subversive of the rights of property. He (Mr. Roundell) must venture to make some remarks on those observations, because it appeared to him that they were not borne out by the facts of the case. It was not the fact that the landlord was compelled to pay compensation to the tenant. He understood the object of the Bill was to make the hard and unconscientious landlord conform to the practice of the good one. That was the principle of the Land Act, and that 1141 he understood to be the principle of the Bill. How could it be said that the tenant might emigrate with the plunder of the landlord in his pocket, when he must pay out of the compensation money the arrears of rent to the landlord, and only retain what he had paid for improvements of his own? There was a cardinal distinction between the state of things in England and Ireland. English Members would be surprised when he mentioned the fact that there was an Irish landlord with an income of from £15,000 to £20,000, made up of a rental averaging £5 per annum. The estimated number of small farms was nearly 400,000. When he remembered what fell from the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) as to the difference between compensation for disturbance and compensation for improvements, he could not help thinking of what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland on Friday last, about the number of evictions, and of the way in which the officers had to be protected by almost a small army. A well-known authority on the subject—Mr. Baldwin of Glasnevin—had stated as a rule that a farmer who derived all his income from land could not support himself and his family on a rental below £8 a-year, while the greater number of them below that figure eked out a miserable existence. Then, it might be asked, why did these poor people cling to their land with such limpet-like tenacity? That question was answered by the statement appearing in the evidence before the Devon Commission, that the possession of land, however small, was becoming the only security for the supply of food, and that to lose this security was to risk the very existence of the family from which it was taken. It followed that it was by no means untrue to say that eviction, in the eyes of many of the peasantry, was tantamount to a sentence of death. He would ask the House to connect the subject of the small farmers, with which the Bill was mainly to deal, with the further fact, which was admitted by all who knew Ireland, that the agrarian outrages of which so much had been heard in the distressed district, mainly occurred in connection with the small farmers. When he was in Ireland, it was his fortune to be there at a time when evictions were frequent and agrarian outrages were rife. 1142 It wag an incident of agrarian outrage that it went undiscovered, and the impunity which attended outrage had the effect of producing it. At the time to which he referred they occurred to such an extent as to amount in time almost to a state of civil war; and it was necessary, for the vindication of law and the cause of order, to pass the Westmeath Act, which was scarcely to be distinguished from a proclamation of martial law. It was because he remembered those things, in common with his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster), that he shrank from a repetition of such proceedings, and he supported the Bill before the House. The Bill was strictly limited in time, locality, and in object, and was promoted on the lines and in the spirit of the Land Act. He regretted the necessity for its introduction, and he admitted the grave difficulty of the subject; but in politics it was not a question of difficulty, but of choosing between the greater and the less difficulty; and he believed that by passing the Bill the greater difficulty would be avoided. After all, while admitting the difficulty, he was content to rest his defence of the measure on the plea put forward by the late Government in defence of their policy for the relief of distress, that it was one of exceptional legislation to meet exceptional circumstances, and, as an exceptional measure of relief, not subject to the criticisms which its provisions would excite if it were based on ordinary financial grounds.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, he did not think it necessary or even material to consider the question which had just been raised, whether the Bill was or was not in accordance with the spirit of the Land Act. He would much rather have heard the last speaker (Mr. Roundell) address himself to the facts brought forward by the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham), and attempt to rebut the assertions made on the authority of the best landlords of Ireland. His (Mr. Brodrick's) objection was that the supporters of the Bill took too much for granted, and adduced too little of fact and argument to support the case. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. W. M. Johnson) had appealed to the House not to treat the question as one between class and class, and he (Mr. Brodrick) shared the desire not to do so; but the Chief Secretary had leagued 1143 himself with hon. Members from Ireland who did treat the question as one between landlords and tenants, and while he (Mr. Brodrick) was sorry it had been so treated, he could not ignore the fact that the Chief Secretary appeared unable to divest himself of their sentiments and to use simple and relevant arguments. Many arguments had been brought forward; but had they been supported by facts? The hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. C. Russell) insinuated the other night that the landlords of Ireland had, since the passing of the Land Act, been gradually putting up the rents until they were only just outside the word "exorbitant;" but he had cast such statements broadcast throughout the country without any facts or figures to prove them. The hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), when he rose in his place, late at night, to bring in his Bill, the principle of which had been accepted by the Government, complained bitterly of the action of the landlords of Ireland in regard to their tenants; but not a single fact had been brought forward in support of that suggestion. No one had shown that the suggestion had the slightest foundation. Not a single case of unrighteous and wrongful eviction had been adduced; but such a revolutionary measure ought surely to be supported by facts which would show that there was a real and genuine evil to be redressed. In reply to a question from the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) about the distress of 1847, it had been said that the Government of the day did not contemplate unusual measures to meet it; but it was added that the Land Act had not then been passed. Was it to be inferred from this that now, 10 years after the passing of the Land Act, there was less security than there was before? If landlords generally had not been exercising their rights wrongfully, why did not the right hon. Gentleman show that he was not legislating for all landlords, but only for the exceptions? It was equally untrue to say that since the passing of the Land Act the bone and sinew necessary for the improvement of the land had been supplied by the tenants. It must be patent to everybody that the essence of the legislation of 1870 was that it forced the landlord to spend money on his estate out of his own pocket, wherever loans 1144 were made to him or to the tenant, with power to the tenant to claim compensation if he were evicted. In any case the money came out of the pocket of the landlord. If this Bill were exceptional—and it was admitted that it was brought in in an exceptional time—there was all the more reason to take care that this experimental and exceptional Bill did not deal with cases other than those for which it was intended. The right hon. Gentleman told them he did not impeach landlords generally, and proposed to legislate only for exceptions; and yet by this Bill he proposed to deal with a far larger class than that which could be included under this head. To punish all landlords was not the desire of the right hon. Gentleman; but it was the desire of the hon. Members from Ireland below the Gangway on the Opposition side. They did not regard the Bill in the light of a final settlement of their claims. It was a Bill stating a principle which they desired to see carried further in the future. The hon. Member for Mayo would be found as tenacious of his object as Shylock was of his bond, though, at present, he would not claim the whole at once, but was prepared to accept a part if helped to it by the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench. The object of these hon. Members was rather to keep the question alive by this Bill than to arrive at any final settlement; but he (Mr. Brodrick) trusted that the House would not sanction legislation which would have that effect, and stamp it with the approval of Government and Parliament. What he wished to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland was, whether he thought in keeping the question alive in that way by bringing in a ten minutes Bill he was really acting in a way that would strengthen the hands of the law in Ireland, and promote order and good government? By the Bill landlords who had spent large sums on their estates for improvements would be placed in the same category with those who had not expended a farthing. He deprecated forcing the good landlord into the same category with the bad one, against whom it might be right to provide by law. There were three classes of estates affected by the Bill. One of these consisted of land reclaimed from the bog by the tenants. There were, undoubtedly, large tracts of country which were worth nothing to the land- 1145 lord a short time ago, and their value now was due to the application of the capital and industry of the tenants and not that of the landlords. He admitted that legislation might be rightly turned in the direction of these cases. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Roundell) said it was only in the ease of small farmers that evictions took place. Why, then, was not the operation of the Bill confined to that class? He knew a gentleman who held an estate of £16,000 a-year in the county of Cork, on which had been spent during the last 35 years a sum of £150,000 in absolute improvements. Within the last few years he had reduced his rents, and had succeeded in getting along without ejecting more than one tenant; and yet such a landlord as that would be placed by the Bill in the same category as one who had never expended a farthing on improving his estate. This they were, in fact, asked to do, in the face of the experience of 1847, which showed them that many good landlords were able to get rid of a certain number of tenants, whose case they themselves were convinced was hopeless, by giving them sums of money to go to America or elsewhere. It was a serious thing, too, to interfere by legislation between parties to a contract by postponing the fulfilment of one portion of the contract for an almost indefinite period of time. In a commercial transaction such a thing would be simply ruinous; and if it were allowed in the case of landlord and tenant he saw nothing but ruin to a great many good Irish landlords. This Bill, in depriving them of their rents, would also deprive good landlords of the reward which they had a right to expect for sacrificing a part of their present income for the future benefit of their property. Then there was the case of estates which bordered on the distressed districts; and on this point he would endeavour to refute the Chief Secretary by his own arguments. The tenants on one side of the line would have privileges which the tenants on the other side would not possess, and thus a sense of wrong and hardship would be created, as was found to be the case on estates on one portion of which the Ulster tenant right existed and on another part of which no such custom was recognized. But then it was said that the terms of the compensation to be 1146 awarded were to be reasonable. What were reasonable terms? What was to be the standard? Was it to be Griffith's valuation? He knew that many tenants would wish to return to that valuation, because it was made at a time when the prices of many things were not half what they now were, and when great ignorance as to the capabilities of the soil prevailed. They were asked to set up a tribunal which would have power to award two to seven years' rent by way of compensation, and the right hon. Gentleman said there would be the rent to set off against the compensation. What possible advantage could it be to a landlord to know that the rent he ought to receive was to be set off against the compensation which he ought never to have been called upon to pay? He hoped the House would not sanction legislation which would set class against class, and revive many feelings in Ireland which had perished with the expiration of the penal laws—legislation by which a power would be given to a Court of revising the rents of every landlord in Ireland, and to a Court over which a barrister would preside who had no training in land valuation, and no previous knowledge of the estates with which he would have to deal. It should also be borne in mind that Ireland contained no class like the valuers of this country, who could be brought in to act as umpires between landlord and tenant. Such legislation would establish a principle negativing the wholesome rule of honesty, that what a man contracted to do he should be held bound to do; and he besought the House to guard against a proposal which, under the specious plea of charity, would relieve the distress of one class by transferring to it the property of another.
§ MR. O'SHEA
said, he rose with much hesitation, as a new Member, for the purpose of pointing out to hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House that the Bill was not likely to cause social revolution in Ireland, and that it was not expedient to oppose the measure even on behalf of the landlords themselves. Hon. Members seemed to fancy that the Bill was a great infringement of the rights of property. Now it seemed to him that the phrase had the vice of generalizations; it covered too much, it embraced arbitrary as well as essential rights. The right hon. Members contended for could be at best but 1147 the former, for, however, they might object, it was still the fact that the Bill followed in the lines of the Act of 1870, that its principle was laid down by that Act—namely, that the tenant was given an interest, a right of property, a tenant right, or whatever it might be called, from the time of the passing of that Act. He, for one, had never heard any valid reason given for that, except that of expediency, and he argued that was now on the other side, for why should a tenant be deprived of that right, because he owed a year's rent to the landlord, rather than because he owed a year's bill to the shopkeeper? After the lucid explanation on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, it seemed strange that there should be so many men of intelligence in London unable to grasp the fact that the County Court Judge would not in every case be obliged to give the maximum rates of compensation laid down in the Schedule. The safeguard of the landlord lay in the character of the Court, which would have to distinguish between fault and misfortune, to reduce exaggerated claims and reject fictitious ones. Generally speaking, the decision of the County Court Judges were satisfactory at present—that was his opinion as a landlord. If this measure was to be permanent, it might then be fairly objected that some other tribunal of greater force should have been immediately established. But it was only a temporary measure, and already there were sufficient guarantees from the tribunals of the County Court to warrant the House giving to them an amount of confidence and trust which, he believed, would not be misplaced. He was glad to hear the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Brodrick) speak so kindly of the tenants who had reclaimed bogs; there was no class which deserved more consideration. He (Mr. O'Shea) entered into calculations, based upon the interest paid for borrowed money and the value of the labour expended, to show that it would take a very long time to exhaust the value of these improvements. A large landowner, who did not share the alarm of hon. Members opposite, had written to him (Mr. O'Shea) the other day, saying that he preferred the Government Bill as a more tentative measure, although he had little objection even to the hon. Member for Mayo's (Mr. O'Connor Power's) Bill, small as was his confidence in its 1148 author. He (Mr. O'Shea) did not think either of them would materially affect good landlords. He must confess that there were many friends of his who had a great objection to the Bill, and who thought there would be very great difficulty in getting in rents in future in Ireland, but so thought many in 1870; and, on the other hand, he was one of those who, perhaps, being equally good judges, thought differently. Now, with regard to the agitation. Some sacrifice ought to be made to allay it. As the proverbial tree escaped injury by bending to the storm, so landlords would do well to make some sacrifice now. No doubt the present generation of Irishmen were less patient than those who had gone before it. They were in constant communication with the Irelands beyond the sea, by correspondence with emigrant friends and relations, and by means of a cheap, exciting Press largely conducted by the sons of those who, by exile, escaped from the great Famine, and had brought up their children in the traditions of it. Like the Roman, the Irishman did not change his heart when he changed his sky. Irishmen in America were always vaguely looking forward to great days for Ireland, and what was more, they were willing to subscribe towards them. Under these circumstances it would be well to see if a compromise could not be arrived at which he believed might turn out to the advantage of all concerned. The Bill was a very small and temporary one; but they looked forward to the Government bringing in a much larger measure next Session. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought not to laugh too soon; because it was evident that Ireland must have another Land Bill passed, and that being so, it would be better to have a large and comprehensive measure, one which would benefit all classes, and renew the good feeling between landlord and tenant. No hon. Gentleman had read with greater pain than he had the record of agrarian crime in Ireland which had been lately presented to Parliament; but, at the time, hon. Gentlemen who carefully examined the Returns would see that they were largely made up of letters and notices, which, however reprehensible in themselves, really conveyed no menace to human existence; and merely glancing at the broad figures would create a false impression as to the 1149 state of the country. Besides, they had seen a great many agitations in this country; but they all passed peacefully away with a moderate measure of the reform which they demanded. When a cornet of Hussars, he (Mr. O'Shea) had himself heard the trumpets sound "boot and saddle" in Manchester barracks, because a noted demagogue was going to address the inhabitants of a neighbouring town; but half-a-dozen years later that demagogue was a Cabinet Minister. [Cries of "Name!"] The right hon. Gentleman he alluded to had often said many hard things about dukes, and all things appertaining to dukes; but he was sitting there to-day calm and contented, the Chancellor of the Duchy. There was not an old woman of Constitutional principles in London who did not quake in her shoes on the 23rd of July, 1866; but had any hon. Gentlemen hearts so cold as never to remember, when passing the railings of Hyde Park, that Mr. Beales was a benefactor of London? So he (Mr. Shea) hoped this agitation in Ireland would pass away; and he prayed that the curse might, after all, turn into a blessing by causing them to look more carefully into the state of Ireland. He trusted that theorists and political economists would not stand in the way, but would suspend their doctrines for a while, as they were always so ready to do in the cases of Protectionist democracies abroad.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he desired to offer a few remarks upon the debate, for although he was not an Irish landlord, and was not connected by property with Ireland, it was to him a matter of the highest importance that those who took an interest in the good government of the country, and those who were charged with a great share of the responsibility in that government, should express their own views strongly and clearly on a very grave occasion like the present. It was grave, because it seemed to him that the principles at stake concerned the vital prosperity not only of Ireland, but of England, and of the country at large. With regard to the sufferings of the people of Ireland, he did not feel less sympathy than that which had been expressed in such touching terms by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. He desired, on his own part, and on the part of those with whom he 1150 was acting, to state that any measure, which in their conscience they felt to be necessary for the safety, happiness, and prosperity of the country, would have their support most cordially and heartily, totally irrespective of Party feelings and principles, and regardless of the side of the House from which it came. They on the Opposition side of the House were anxious to give all the assistance in their power to the Government in dealing with a question which they admitted to be difficult and responsible. On occasions like this, action of a Party character should entirely disappear; but he must say that it was with great regret he was unable to support the Bill, because he thought its tendency was injurious, and its effects would ultimately be far worse than the condition of things it was intended to remedy. They had to consider not only what would be its immediate effect, but also what would certainly be its ultimate effect. They had to consider not only whether what the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland proposed would give relief alone to a certain number of suffering persons in a few cases, it might be who had been treated harshly and unjustly, but whether it would lead others not treated harshly and unjustly, who formed a large proportion of the inhabitants of the country, to entertain hopes, cherish desires, and nourish resolves which were totally and absolutely unattainable, and inconsistent with the safety of the nation. What was it that the right hon. Gentleman proposed—that until the end of the next year tenants occupying land in certain districts in Ireland scheduled under the Act should have, as an answer to the demand for rent, the power to say that they were unable to pay it, and that the demand of the landlord should be met with by the statement that they were not able to pay their rent, and, therefore, entitled to compensation for disturbance. It had been said that that provision was in the spirit of the Land Act; but the Land Act laid down distinctly the principle that compensation should not be given in cases of eviction for nonpayment of rent, unless that rent were exorbitant. It might be fairly argued, from the length of time it had been in operation, that the cases that had occurred under it furnished evidence that the landlords had not sought to exact 1151 exorbitant rents. There were bad and there were good landlords, the former being apparently unconscious of the duty which belonged to property as well as its rights; but still these bad landlords knew that under that Act the tenant was entitled to compensation for disturbance if the rent was exorbitant; and, therefore, it might be fairly argued they had not raised the rents so as to mate them exorbitant. He ventured to think that this was a new proposal with regard to property, and a new principle introduced in that way would not stop short in particular circumstances. Principles applied to land which were embodied in English law, admitted by statesmen, and made the subject of an Act of Parliament, must and would ultimately be applied to every other description of property throughout the United Kingdom. If a tenant were unable to pay his rent he was to be allowed to remain, or if he were disturbed he was to have a maximum of seven years' rent as compensation for such disturbance. The application of that law would take place in a variety of circumstances, and in many cases it would lead the tenant to the conclusion that hitherto in his dealings with him the landlord had abused his right. The contract might contain the provision that in certain cases the tenant was to be turned out of his land; but he would find that under the new law that provision was not in any circumstances to be put in force. That would lead to the most regrettable results in regard to the manner in which legal contracts would be regarded by a large class of persons. He did not for a moment deny the duties of landlords towards their tenants; and one of those duties was, doubtless, in certain cases, to treat the tenants in the most considerate manner. But what were they doing by the Bill in respect of that matter? They were trying, by a piece of paternal class legislation, to undertake to discharge the duties of landlords towards their tenants, and by hard cases to make bad laws. Could anything be conceived that would be more dangerous than a law of this kind, or more injurious to self-reliance, which was one of the elements on which they must rely most for the prosperity of the country? Let them look at the position in which they put both landlord and tenant by this law. A great 1152 deal had been said as to the position of the tenant in relation to the land he occupied. He quite respected the feeling towards the land which had been occupied and cultivated by his fathers, which the Irish tenant entertained; but did that feeling exist now here but in Ireland? During the past few years there had been very serious distress in London and other parts of the country. Now, was the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury prepared to extend this principle to those who had suffered by reason of distress from a falling off in trade—in short, to those who in the struggle of life were compelled to give way and were unable to meet their engagements? Within his own constituency there were families who for generations had occupied the same house or the same shop; and that house or shop was believed to be necessary to their very existence. Were these people, who were unable to pay the high rents they had contracted to pay, to be driven out without compensation? He would say, without fear of contradiction, that if the principle they went upon was to relieve those persons occupying property from their engagements, because of their inability to meet them, and yet leave them undisturbed in possession, they must extend the same principle to other kinds of property. What was it they really required to do for Ireland? He submitted that the first thing was to encourage there the feeling of security in property. Next they wanted to give to the country a sense that the Irish people should depend not on the House or on the Government to secure them against seasons of distress, against failure of crops, or against competition either abroad or at home, but on their own strength and vigour. Irishmen went to America and succeeded there. Why did they succeed? Because they carried their labour and their intelligence to a market in which they were in competition with the rest of the world. They must succeed or perish. God forbid that the Irish should perish in Ireland. It was their duty to see that Irishmen did not perish, if they endeavoured to discharge all their duties as far as they possibly could. Let them give to Ireland security of life and property, and then leave Irish people to work out their own prosperity. When they gave the Irishman legislation instead of telling him, as they were bound 1153 to do, that his own labour and the exercise of his own personal qualities was what he must rely on—when they told him he need not pay for soil which was uncongenial and would not yield him the ordinary means of livelihood, instead of teaching him to rely upon himself, they were doing him harm. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant encouraged the hope that numbers of those who were now endeavouring to drag on a miserable existence on patches of exhausted land would be induced to emigrate to places where they might find the proper means of support. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) agreed in that view; and any scheme of the kind which was sound in principle would receive, both in the House and out of it, a cordial support. Many people would put their hands into their pockets in order to achieve such an object. But the present Bill provided that the aid to be given to these struggling people should be taken out of the pockets of one class, whether they could afford it or not. From the knowledge he had been able to obtain of the landlords of Ireland, he should imagine there was hardly any class so entirely dependent on the particular property they held, and that many of them were not in a position to meet the circumstances in which this law would place them. In England it was a very common thing for men to hold property of different kinds; but he was afraid that in Ireland a landlord usually depended almost exclusively on the land. If this Bill were passed into law he could not imagine that the poorer tenants in the scheduled districts would pay any rent before 1881. ["No, no!"] At all events, there was evidence to show that that would be the case, and that the effect of the Bill would be to prevent the payment of rent till 1881 at least. The landlord would require compensation for the loss it would entail upon him. The right hon. Gentleman led them to understand he hoped there would be many landlords who would find means to enable the poor people to emigrate. But where were the landlords to get the money? It was notorious that they had charged their estates largely in order to promote relief works, and they were now in many cases without rents. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1154 referred to the fact that money had been spent in past prosperous years by the landlords. He feared that if the harvest fortunately proved a good one, a great deal of the money which the tenant realized from it would be gone before the arrears of rent could be paid to the landlord. What would the tenant really understand by the Bill? Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway could supply an answer to that question. For himself, he need not tread upon the ground taken by the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham), who had told the House facts that would necessarily have a very great effect upon hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member knew very well what was the meaning of the Bill, and he knew that the tenant would regard it as something intended to relieve him of his duty of paying rent—as an indication that something would occur between this and the end of 1881 that would have the effect of destroying his obligations in a strange and exceptional way. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) had listened to the speeches of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dundalk (Mr. C. Russell), and of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and it had appeared to him that their arguments were inconsistent, for in one instant the Bill was said to be well within the scope of the Land Act of 1870, and almost in the same breath it was declared to be only a temporary measure intended to meet peculiar circumstances. If it was drawn in the spirit of the Land Act, it certainly would encourage the expectations of the people, and it undoubtedly did encourage them to look forward to changes which could not be granted with safety to property any where. In spite of the ability and moderation of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, it was a very dangerous speech—because it admitted the principle, but yet did not go far enough practically, nor offer to satisfy what were called the just claims of the people of Ireland to fixity of tenure. He did not know whether right hon. Gentlemen opposite were prepared seriously to grant fixity of tenure; but he could imagine nothing that would tend more certainly, within a generation or so, to bring about disasters, and among them the return of the horrors of the Famine of the year 1846–7. It was not such reforms as that which they required. With fixity of tenure, it would 1155 be impossible to prevent overcrowding, and the consequence would be that an overwhelming population, barely existing on impoverished land, would easily fall victims to actual starvation. Nothing was more sad than to see people who had been educated in dependence on the State suffering as they were at present; but it wa3 clear to him that the revolutionary tendency of the Bill would aggravate rather than remedy their unhappy state. No doubt, it was dangerous to property—that would be conceded—but he was not there to maintain the rights of property over the right to good government and good laws. The worst result of the Bill was that it would shake all confidence and security, for a necessary element of success was that capital which had been restricted by reason of the conditions which had hitherto existed. If property in Ireland were properly secured, they would have all the capital which was necessary for the development of the resources of the country. He thought sufficient importance had not been attached to the phase of the question which dealt with the position in which the owners of land would be placed by this law when they came to be called upon to pay the charges on their property. He had facts in his possession which proved conclusively that the landlords were greatly alarmed at the course taken by the Government. A letter had been put into his hands to the effect that a mortgage was about to be executed as a first charge on an estate of £2,500 a-year, and that the intended mortgagees withdrew from the transaction, when all the preliminaries had been settled, solely in consequence of the action of the Government. He also knew as a positive fact that solicitors in London who were charged with the interests of their clients were considering whether it was right to allow their money to remain on mortgage in Ireland. The Bill had, in fact, so thoroughly shaken the confidence of those who possessed capital, that solicitors in charge of property were seriously reviewing their position. Again, what was to be the position of men who could not get assistance to discharge their duties as owners of property, or who were called upon to pay money at present on mortgage? He put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be necessary to introduce into the Bill such provisions 1156 as would prevent the destruction of society in Ireland by securing some of the unfortunate landowners against the consequences of foreclosing? That was no light matter, because charges on the estate had to be paid, even though bankruptcy was the result. Then it was to be noticed that the changes would affect only the districts scheduled under the Bill—that was to say, the Bill would ruin so many landlords was confined to those districts in which the landlords had specially exerted themselves to relieve distress. What was to be done with those who were just outside the limits of the Bill? If on one side of a hedge the collection of rents was postponed till the end of 1881, what chance was there that they would be paid just on the other side of the imaginary boundary? The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the large army required to enforce evictions; but would it not be equally necessary just outside the scheduled districts?—unless, indeed, it was proposed to suspend the operation of the law throughout the whole country till the end of 1881. Would they say that the tenant of one estate should be be entitled to compensation for disturbance and deny the tenant of another? He was himself convinced that in dealing with this subject they had lost sight of what was the real cause of distress, or one of the real causes. It was not confined to the influence of the seasons, which, after all, had not been so unfavourable to Ireland as to England, but due, to a very considerable extent, to unobserved economical changes going on in certain part of the country. It was well known that formerly many Irish labourers used to come over to England at harvest time, for whom, owing to various causes, employment could not now be found. Great numbers of labourers now remained at home who used to obtain work and wages in England, and that cause, therefore, of the distress, being permanent—indeed, that employment would, without the fault of anybody, gradually grow less—could not be met by the Bill. Those labourers would simply be kept on small farms on which they could hardly live, and their condition would soon be a problem of the greatest difficulty. Then, in many cases, the land had become exhausted. These questions would have to be met in some 1157 other way than by the suspension of the operation of the law. In Ireland, a temporary suspension of the law meant a great deal more than a temporary suspension, as they would find when they tried to re-enforce it. The present distress had brought to the notice of the House a question as grave as any that had ever been before it; and it was the duty of one like himself, who had held office under the Crown, to state his convictions on this subject. However great his sympathy might be—and it was and ought to be great—with the suffering people of Ireland, he prayed the House to hesitate before they passed the Bill, and to recognize that it contained principles which destroyed security of property, impaired the independence of the people, and would bring disaster to this country.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (MR. LAW)
said, that he entirely agreed with some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. H. Smith), and, like him, wished to see the people of Ireland independent, and the landlords as well as the peasant farmers in the enjoyment of security. But with respect to the observations which had been made as to a sense of insecurity having been caused by the introduction of this Bill, he could not but think that any such feeling of insecurity, if it existed at all, was largely attributable to the exaggerated statements which had been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite and their supporters. One fundamental mistake ran through the whole of their statements. It was assumed that this Bill would stop the payment of rent for two years. Hon. Gentlemen, by a circuitous process, might, perhaps, persuade themselves that such would be the result; but, unquestionably, nothing of that kind was to be found in the Bill. The landlord, if the Bill passed, would have all the remedies which other creditors had for the recovery of their debts, and all the remedies which landlords in England had for the recovery of their rents. Another observation which had been made by hon. Gentlemen, and also by the leading journal, was that the tenants throughout Ireland were absolutely indisposed to pay their rents. He must beg leave to differ entirely from that assertion. He had known instances this very year in some of the most distressed districts 1158 where the rent had been paid by persons steeped in the deepest poverty, without any pressure and without the smallest hesitation. He denied that there was any general indisposition in Ireland to pay rent, although, no doubt, in parts of the country this indisposition to pay rent did exist, and in the distressed districts there was great difficulty in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman, like the hon. Gentleman who had moved, the rejection of the Bill (Mr. Chaplin), treated the principle of this measure intended to meet an emergency which came from the hand of God, as totally unknown in any civilized community. But the doctrine was not so entirely novel. By the Roman civil law, which had been well called "written reason," and formed the basis of great part of the law of all European nations, and even by the law of Scotland, if by reason of some supervening calamity, such as inundation or even extreme inclemency of the weather, a tenant's crop did not repay his labour and his seed, he was not liable for that year's rent. He remembered that in one case, where the tenant's crop had been destroyed by a tremendous fall of hail, the Scotch Courts held that he had a sufficient cause for not paying the rent. That, indeed, was not the law of England or of Ireland; but those who held as a principle that the plea of a supervening calamity was not to be listened to, nay, that it would be morally wrong to listen to it, were carrying their contention further than either reason or authority would justify. And now a word as to the extent of the distress. They were told last February by the right hon Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and truly told, that the loss upon the crops in Ireland in 1879, as compared with 1878, amounted to £10,000,000. But how large apart of that £10,000,000 must be attributed to the distressed districts swept by Atlantic storms and close to the "melancholy ocean." With regard to the potato, which was the important crop for these poor people, figures showed that it was more than one-half less last year than in the year before, being 50,500,000 cwt. in 1878, and only 22,273,000 cwt. in 1879. The loss, too, nearly all belonged to the distressed districts. During the six years ending in 1876 the estimated value of the potato crop was nearly £9,500,000 sterling; in 1877, it was about £5,250,000; in 1878, £7,500,000; 1159 and in 1879, £4,250,000. This made a loss on the three years of about £10,000,000 in potatoes alone, according to the valuation put on them in Thom's Directory. The whole valuation of agricultural land in Ireland was but £11,000,000, of which £5,000,000 was in the distressed districts of the West; so that the loss on potatoes alone in the last three years amounted to nearly the whole valuation of Ireland, and taking the distressed Western half by itself, the loss there must have greatly exceeded its entire valuation. Let hon. Gentlemen try to realize the effect of the very bad harvest of 1879 coming after two exceedingly bad harvests. The accumulated effect on the poor Irish peasant was that all his savings were gone, and that he was unavoidably in debt. It was for that class of people, the small farmers —the vast majority of whom were below £8 valuation—that the late Government proceeded to legislate last spring; and it was, he submitted, hardly open to hon. Gentlemen opposite now to say that the distress was trifling or had passed away, so that this class did not now need any special treatment. This was a Bill limited in point of time, and also in point of space. Eight hon. Gentlemen opposite passed a Bill to enable the poor people of these scheduled districts to buy seed at cost price, and gave them two years to pay the money. They also lent £1,250,000 to the landlords, charging them no interest for two years, and 1 per cent afterwards. Why was all this done. Surely not for the purpose of enabling the landlords to get their rents in full. If tenants were confessedly unable to crop their land how were they to pay the rent? The object of the late Government and Parliament was avowedly to keep the people from starving; and because they thought the best way of keeping them alive was by giving them employment through the landlords, they advanced money to the latter at little or no interest. Was the House now to be told that the distress was very much exaggerated, and that the people were quite able to pay their rents? And were they not only not to interfere with the landlord, but was he to be left armed with the power of evicting the people from the fields sown with the seed Parliament had lent them, in order that he might consolidate holdings and enlarge his farms? He did not think that any land- 1160 lords would venture to say that they were to get £1,250,000 without interest for two years, and that seed was to be advanced to tenants for two years merely to enable tenants the better to pay their rent. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham) say what he (the Attorney General for Ireland) had no doubt was perfectly accurate, that in the management of his own estate, with 400 tenants, he had never found it necessary to evict more than two. That was not only very creditable to the hon. Gentleman, but was an important fact in the consideration of this case, because it showed that the hon. Gentleman had been quite able to get his rents paid without eviction, and that the ordinary process of law was quite sufficient to enforce his rights.
§ MR. TOTTENHAM
It does not follow that I have my rents because I have held my hand. As a matter of fact, I have not got them.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
was rather disposed to think he had got them. However, it was proverbially difficult to deprive a Highlandman of his nether garments; and if the tenants did not pay this year, it was, he believed, chiefly because they were in distress and had not the means of payment. He knew many landlords in that part of the country who had got in their rents as fairly well as could reasonably be expected in such a year. The question, however, had been asked, was there any necessity for this interference? Was it the case that evictions had increased and were increasing? Turning to the judicial statistics, which were accessible to all, he found these facts. In 1876 the total number of evictions for non-payment of rent in all Ireland was 1,269; in 1877 they rose to 1,323; in 1878 to 1,749; and last year they rose to 2,667. But were they still increasing? Well, he had made inquiries of the Sheriffs of the five distressed counties of Donegal, Kerry, Galway, Limerick, and Mayo, and the result of his inquiries was as follows:—In 1879 the evictions in those counties were 623. This year, from January to June, the numbers were 453, which would make 906 for the year. So that, if there were a similar increase in other counties, the growth of ejectments for all Ireland would be from 1,269 in 1877 to 3,893 1161 in this year. Was not that somewhat startling? It showed, he submitted, that the evictions were still increasing; but, putting the figures of this year aside as in some degree speculative, the statistics up to last year were sufficiently significant. Did it not seem inconsistent that the landlords, to whom the Government had lent £1,250,000 to keep their poor tenants alive, should take advantage of this season of distress and famine to clear farms and consolidate them? He ventured to think that landlords who promoted their interests in that fashion would find no compassion in that House. Proprietors who had by purchase or inheritance acquired properties in what they regarded as an excessively subdivided or over-populated condition, should be content to take the burden with the benefit. They could not ask the House or the country to allow them to take advantage of a year such as the past to effect that improvement on their estates which, in ordinary times, they would have had to pay for. The House would not, he thought, permit them to make that improvement for nothing, and not only for nothing so far as their pockets were concerned, but at a considerable cost to the ratepayers of the country. For, as his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had told them, during the last few months a small army of police, over 3,000 in number, for whom they did not pay, had been employed in Gralway alone to carry out evictions and serve processes, in order that by this help a few grasping landlords might enforce their pound of flesh, get back their land, and add farms to farms so as to get a class of larger tenants, in order to grow sheep instead of men. Proprietors who wanted to effect that operation should, he submitted, take some other time for it than a season like this. When starvation was staring the people in the face, and there were no means of paying rent, was that a time proprietors were to select for clearing their estates of surplus tenants and making larger farms? Now, he desired to point the attention of the House to the contrast presented by a distressed county in Ulster and a similarly distressed county elsewhere. There were no two counties in Ireland where there was more distress than in Donegal and Mayo. In the former, however, the tenant right prevailed, while in the latter it did not. It 1162 was a curious fact, as might be seen from the Report of the Devon Commission, that in Mayo, in 1845, the right to sell the goodwill of a farm was almost universal, whereas now it was a thing unheard of. Still, in other respects the circumstances of the two counties were very much alike—alike in being distressed, in being occupied by small holdings, and in the fact that the small farmers who had been in the habit of working in England or Scotland at hay time and harvest were last year deprived of this source of income. Well, comparing them in point of crime, in Mayo there was an increase in the indictable offences from 125 to 319, while in Donegal the number of indictable offences were this year only 10 more than the previous year. This he thought was chiefly due to the absence of tenant right in the former county and its existence in the latter. They were the same people, the same race. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: No, no.] The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock claimed to know all about them. He (the Attorney General for Ireland) believed the noble Lord went down there once or twice to fish; but he ventured to think that he knew Donegal somewhat better than the noble Lord, and he must take leave to repeat that the Western part of Donegal was in just the same state of destitution as the Western part of Mayo. The people in that part of Donegal spoke Irish just as they did in Mayo, and were, in fact, of the same Celtic stock. But how was it that the land agitation had not taken root there as it had in Mayo? He could not but think that the explanation was mainly this—that the wretched peasant of Mayo, whose ancient usage of selling the goodwill had gone, who had nothing between him and starvation but the workhouse, no tenant right, and, unlike the English peasant, no out-door relief even—knew that to be put out of his holding was almost death to him; whilst the Donegal tenant knew that if he was put out of his holding for non-payment of rent, or any other cause, he was still entitled to compensation for disturbance—he was entitled to the value of his goodwill; he had something to fall back upon, and he was, therefore, not reduced to the same point of desperation as the evicted peasant of Mayo. In Ireland, it should always be recollected, there was practically no poor relief at all for a man 1163 unless he entered the workhouse; and what was now proposed in the present exceptional distress was that the landlord, evicting for non-payment of rent and refusing to make any reasonable arrangement with his tenant, should make him some compensation for thus harshly breaking up the poor man's home. It was a remarkable circumstance as regarded Mayo, that while there were a few large proprietors who were resident, 30 per cent of the area of the county, and 36 per cent of its value belonged to absentees. There seemed to be some confusion on the part of many hon. Members as to the effect of the measure now before the House. It was said by opponents of the Bill, and especially by the late Attorney General and the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), that it would enable a tenant, while he paid the shopkeeper and moneylender, to resist the landlord's claim; but where hon. Gentlemen got that idea he could not imagine. He confessed he could not understand this objection, inasmuch as landlord and all had equally at their disposal the same means of redress—the right of appealing to the Courts of Law for obtaining their money, and the landlord, besides, could avail himself of his right of distraint. For this year of distress, and in distressed districts, it enabled the tenant, if evicted for nonpayment of rent, to bring a claim before the Court, seeking compensation. To succeed in his claim, he had to show his inability to pay and that the landlord had refused all reasonable terms. But the position taken up by hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to assume that the tenant must be a rogue and the Chairman a fool. Taking for granted, however, that the Chairman was a just and reasonable man, with a capable Judge of Assize to correct him on appeal, he could not see any reason for doubting that full justice would be done to every landlord. By the closing words of the 18th section of the Land Act the landlords were enabled to protect themselves by showing that they had offered the tenant to continue in his holding on reasonable terms, and that these had been unreasonably refused by him. Now, this Bill put the converse case; and if the Chairman was competent to determine what was reasonable for the landlord, surely he could 1164 do the same for the tenant. The words "reasonable" and "unreasonable" were terms that had to be interpreted almost daily in regard to special contracts made by Railway Companies. Similar expressions were also to be found in a Bill brought in to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire and the hon. Member for Leicestershire. Hon. Members felt no legislative difficulties when dealing with Railway Companies. But then they urged that the latter were a monopoly. He was afraid that there were many profane people who considered land ownership also as in the nature of a monopoly. The Bill simply gave the tenant some security against a harsh landlord. Supposing the present distress, which had called forth this exceptional legislation, should be intensified by a bad harvest, were they to understand that considerate landlords would enforce their powers of ejectment? It appeared to him that hon. Gentlemen opposite had forgotten the condition that under the Bill not only must the penniless tenant's proposal be reasonable in itself, but there must be unreasonable refusal of it by the landlord, before the Bill could operate against him. The landlord would be in at least no worse position with a new tenant than with the old one, and should rather be glad to put money into the pocket of the latter by letting him sell his goodwill, which would, at the same time, be a fair reason for refusing to let him continue in the holding, and thus prevent any liability under the Bill. The landlord had no right in such a season of distress to make the tenant forfeit his property in the goodwill. It was a principle of our law that penalties were never enforced, in respect of the payment of money, when parties could otherwise be secured their just rights; and a similar protection should, under the present exceptional circumstances, be afforded to the Irish tenant who could not pay his rent. Exemption from forfeiture for non-payment of a mortgage debt on a given day, or of a bond with a penalty, had been enjoyed by the landlords themselves for centuries; and if it had not existed, their mortgagees would be owners of their estates. It was urged that the power of forfeiture was necessary in order to get rent from the 1165 Irish tenant; but he ventured to think that the Irish tenant was not so utterly wanting in all desire to do what was just and right as to refuse to yield what was fairly due unless under the terror of this fearful process. Suppose the Chairman found that a tenant was unable to pay his rent owing to the act of God—namely, through the existing distress—suppose it appeared that he had offered fair and reasonable terms to the landlord as to rent and arrears; suppose he had offered to pay as much as he could at once, and seeure the payment of the rest by instalments, and that these terms had been not only refused, but unreasonably refused? Would any hon. Member in that House say he was anxious to protect the landlord acting thus unfeelingly and unreasonably? He believed, that after learning the facts which had been laid before the House by his right hon. Friend and others, hon. Gentlemen would allow that the measure was one that was needed for the present condition of Ireland; that it could only apply when there was reasonableness on one side, and unreasonableness on the other; and that they would pass it as a measure having for its object an amelioration of a state of things which had created serious discontent in Ireland, and rendered its government difficult in the extreme.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Lord Randolph Churchill.)
I think, Sir, a considerable number of Members are desirous of speaking on the Opposition side of the House, and the consequence is that the Government will be anxious to give up next Monday for the discussion. Thursday is already disposed of; and as on Friday there would be but limited time for the consideration of the question, we think it best to give up Monday. I hope, however, it is understood that the debate will be concluded on that day.
§ MR. CALLAN
Surely the great distress at present existing in Ireland is of far more importance, and requires more instant attention and promptness in pushing forward measures for relief, than the question of admitting Mr. Brad- 1166 laugh to this House. I urge on the Government the necessity of showing their appreciation of the grievous distress in Ireland by resuming this debate on Thursday, and not leaving it over until next Monday. To keep the Bill hanging on is not fulfilling the promise of the Treasury Bench, and I think it might be as well to go over until the end of the Session as to next Monday.
I think the sense which the Government entertain of this question is shown by their giving up the first night they can, and that a Supply night. With regard to what has been stated by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan), he ought to bear in mind that this matter of Affirmation does not depend on us. There is another person concerned, and scenes may occur in the House if there is any postponement of that question which no one would like to see, and which we should all regret.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.
§ It being now five minutes to Seven of the clock the House suspended its Sitting.
§ The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.