§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. LITTON,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he thought the question of land tenure in Ireland was of even more importance than that of distress, for the distress, though urgent, was temporary, while the former might be said to be a permanent evil, and concerned, to some extent, the causes of the very distress which was now prevailing. The question of land tenure was important also from the point of view of emigration, for the bone and sinew, which were the wealth of Ireland, were leaving it in consequence of the present state of the law. It was not alone the labouring class, who had no means, but the emigrants were the most independent and enterprizing of the people—those who had sufficient means left to carry them to another land—in short, the emigrants were the very persons who should, if possible, be retained in Ireland. The unsettled condition of the Land Question tended to separate more widely, from day to day, the relations between landlord and tenant. It was to be regretted that the ties which ought to bind the occupier and the landlord together were becoming weaker and weaker; and he must confess that he was not altogether disposed to acquit from blame the hon. Gentlemen, many of whom he could respect and regard, who sat below the Gangway on the opposite side of the House, for, undoubtedly, the speeches of some of them had had a tendency to create distrust and alarm on the part of the landlords of Ireland, who naturally were driven to stand up for their rights, and were jealous of the position which they occupied; but who, if a different course had been adopted, would have been, he ventured to think, the first to come forward to endeavour 1182 to find out some true and just measure of reform which might secure to the tenants the legitimate object of their aspirations. It might be said that the position taken up by the landlords rendered it impossible that this happy result could be attained; but he did not believe that—he believed the majority of the Irish landlords were anxious to see the Land Question finally settled, and they recognized that it was to their advantage that it should be settled, and that agitation on the subject should cease. To a certain extent they were willing to recognize, he believed, the rights of the tenant to a property in the land as regarded his labour and expenditure. The question was a difficult one, and it must be treated in a bold and, at the same time, in a just manner. No mere dealing with the fringe of the question would be satisfactory. Every failure to settle the question prolonged the agitation which was the misfortune of Ireland. All would agree with him in desiring that by bold, liberal, and honest legislation that agitation should terminate. It was the desire of every Irishman—and he included every man of what was termed the "Third Party" in that House—to see the relations of landlord and tenant work harmoniously. He was not one of those who thought there ought to be any confiscation of a landlord's property or right. In his election canvass he never met with a single tenant farmer who asked for more than a right to occupy and to hold, at a fair rent, that property which he had acquired by his labour, and there was no desire to deprive the landlord of his right in the land. All that was asked was security of tenure and recognition of the right as regarded land which was acknowledged in regard to every other species of property—namely, that a man who converted raw material into a manufactured product had a property in the result of his industry. The tenant took the land as a raw material, and converted it into the manufactured article, represented by the soil, which produced the crops. The Bill now before the House was drawn with a view to boldness and justice. It was necessary, in explanation of the Bill, that he should call attention to the relations in which landlords and tenants stood before the passing of the Land Act of 1870. Before the passing of that Act, the landlords had power to turn 1183 their tenants out at any time on a simple notice to quit, and without recognition of the labour or capital expended on the holding; but to their credit it might be said that, as a rule, that power was rarely-exercised. It existed, however, down to 1870; and it formerly had been the habit of landlords, on receiving their rent, to deliver a notice to the tenant to quit, and the tenant had thus constantly hanging over him a notice under which his occupancy might be suddenly closed, and he might be turned out without any regard whatever to the fruits of his labour. But what was the right of the tenant? Why, he had no right; it was simply his duty to go. That being the relative legal position of parties, it seemed to him strange that the law should have existed so long in the country as it did. It could only be accounted for by the fact that the landlords were better than the laws. Any landlord acting in the way he had described simply appropriated the property of the tenant. In Ulster the position prior to the Act of 1870 was, according to the law, the same as it was in every other part of Ireland, though, no doubt, in most parts of Ulster, and especially on large estates, there was a recognition of a just equity between the landlord and tenant, which was the foundation of what was now called the Ulster tenant right. But that had only for its sanction the generosity of feeling entertained by the landlord. Under these circumstances, the Land Act of 1870 was brought before the House by the right hon. Gentleman who was now at the head of the Government; and it was not saying very much, because it had been already said over and over again, to assert that that was an Act of Parliament with which the name of the right hon. Gentleman would be for ever connected in the most honourable manner. That Act was complained of as having infringed the right of free contract; but he would ask the House to bear in mind that when hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, and especially the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), spoke of interference with the freedom of contract, and applied that trite and commonplace observation to the relation of landlord and tenant as it still existed in Ireland, they wholly misapprehended the position of the case. There was, in substance, no such thing as freedom of contract as 1184 between landlord and tenant. There could be no reality in the objection of the hon. Member until he first established as between the contracting parties an independent position and equal rights. Talk about freedom of contract in such a case! Let the House fancy the miserable tenant of some 20 acres, who, by industry and frugality, had improved the letting value of his holding, and who, under notice to quit, went to his landlord or agent and asked why he was to be disturbed in his holding, and was told that he must go out on the roadside or to the poor house, if necessary, unless he conceded the demand of the landlord to allow an increase of rent, which increase was regulated by the improvement that had been affected in the holding by the labour and capital of the tenant. To say that that man, with the prospect before him of the charity of the workhouse, where he was separated from his wife and children, was in a position to enter into free contract with his landlord was an abuse of terms. The Land Act had advanced the question of land reform in a consiterable degree. The Chief Secretary stated he other day that if that Act had not been passed Ireland would now have to be governed by martial law. He feared that unless another Land Act was passed far in advance of that of 1870 a like necessity might be found to exist in 1890; and he, therefore, asked the House to adopt generously, and in no grudging spirit, a principle which, he ventured to think, was a just principle—namely, that which would place the occupier of an agricultural holding in Ireland in that position in which it would be his interest to maintain, not merely law and order, but those good feelings which, to some extent, existed between landlord and tenant in the North, and which ought to exist and be fostered throughout the entire of Ireland. The House must be fully aware that in moving the second reading of this Bill his object was to elicit the acceptance of a principle. He could not, nor could any private Member expect to carry a Bill of this importance through the House. It should be a Government measure; but it was right that the anxiety which existed in Ireland to know what the House was about to do in regard to this Land Question should receive some greater recognition than the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the 1185 operation of the Land Act. They had had 10 years experience of that Act, and the result had been to show that it had not placed the relation between landlord and tenant upon that satisfactory footing which at the time of its passing it was hoped it might. He believed that the Chief Secretary had admitted as much the other day. The reason was that there had not been a recognition of the true principle which ought to guide the House in dealing with this question—namely, recognition to the full, legitimate, and logical extent of property on the part of the tenant in the fruits of his labour. After the Land Act was passed it was supposed that matters would improve. With respect to the Ulster custom the only thing which the Act did was to legalize that which already existed by custom; and, no doubt, it was a great matter to confer upon the tenant the legal right of demanding that which before depended upon the generosity of his landlord. But it was perhaps unknown to English Members that this legalizing of the Ulster tenant right worked in a very unequal degree throughout Ulster. There were many estates in Ulster; he alluded to the smaller estates, on which it might be said that the Ulster tenant right did not exist at all. On the larger estates, such, for instance, as the Down-shire and Abercorn estates, the tenant right existed in its full extent; but throughout the great portion of Ulster the custom was unsatisfactory in regard to what were called "office rules," which limited the right of the tenant as regarded the compensation that he could receive. The two things which the tenant class in Ireland wanted were a fixity in their tenure—that was to say, a right that they should not be disturbed, without their consent, in their holdings as long as they paid a fair rent; and a right of sale free from the restrictions imposed by office rules, which limited the compensation they had the right to receive. The compensation which they ought to receive could alone be tested fairly and honestly by a right of sale—by taking it to the market and asking the public to come forward and buy that which was proposed to be sold. The "office rules," so far as they were worth anything to the landlord, were inconsistent with the true recognition of tenants' right; and, therefore, the first 1186 thing to which the House ought to devote its attention was to consider how far it was fair and reasonable to allow these rules, even under the sanction of this custom, to interfere with the property which the tenant had in his holding, recognized as it was, to a limited but not to the full extent, and which the tenant had a right to claim. Out of Ulster the Land Act provided what was supposed to be an equivalent to the Ulster custom—namely, compensation in case of disturbance. He was not going to touch upon the disputed question as to whether ejectment for non-payment of rent should be deemed a disturbance. Under ordinary circumstances and ordinary conditions of society, it ought not to be a disturbance, and he did not find amongst those with whom he had been brought into contact in the North of Ireland that there was any disposition to dispute the fact that when a tenant was unable or declined to pay his rent he should be liable to eviction from his holding. He would ask what were the faults of this Land Act? Mr. J. McDonnell, who was a competent authority in Ireland on the question of the Ulster tenant right, read a paper before the Statistical Society in January 1879, in which he said that the Land Act had legalized the Ulster custom, but it had not defined that custom, and had, therefore, in reality, done nothing to settle the question. The uncertainty, the feeling of distrust on both sides was as strong as ever. In some respects, indeed, stronger; for landlords were now more disposed to look for their extreme rights than before. Now, as before, a grasping landlord would gradually eat away the tenant's interest, and a pushing tenant would often sell as his part of the estate of a good-natured landlord. It would be a fatal mistake to construct an Irish Land Bill on the lines of the Ulster custom, which it was impossible to define, and which did not give fixity of tenure, but merely imposed a fine upon the landlord for exercising his legal right as against the property of the tenant. It should not be a ease of fine, but of prohibition. The landlord had no more right to sell the property of the tenant, unless the latter was willing to have it sold, than the tenant would have a right to insist upon buying out his landlord. Mr. Robertson, residing in the county of Kildare, had urged before the Royal 1187 Commission at Dublin that it was necessary for the agricultural interests of Ireland that the tenants should have fixity of tenure at valued rents, and that the right of free sale should be conceded to them. The broad principle upon which the Bill was framed, and which he asked the House to accept as that upon which future legislation must be based, was a recognition of the existence of a property in the tenant in regard to the occupation of his holding, so long as he paid a fair rent, and the right of dealing with that property by free sale, unrestricted by any rules sought to be imposed upon him by his landlord—in Ulster or elsewhere. In seeking to give effect to these two leading principles, the Bill dealt with notices to quit, which constituted that form of legal machinery which from year's end to year's end kept the tenant in hot water. It prohibited the serving of notices to quit except in certain cases—namely, the case of a tenant who had failed to pay his fair rent, or who persisted in deteriorating his holding, or who sub-divided it. It would be manifestly unjust to deprive the landlord of his right to evict in these cases; but there was a provision in the Bill enabling tenants who were prevented by their landlords unreasonably from making a sub-division of their holdings to apply to the Court, which should have it in its power to permit a sub-division if it thought proper, subject to reasonable conditions. Some observations had been made on County Court Judges in Ireland, who were supposed by hon. Members to be—as the Attorney General for Ireland had denied—fools; but having a knowledge of most of those learned gentlemen, he was able to say that they were men of large experience, and high attainments, and were fully competent to carry out in a reasonable manner the provisions of any Bill that might be intrusted to their administration. The difficulty that had always existed on this subject was how to ascertain what was a fair rent, and that was a question upon which a good deal of difference of opinion existed. It had been suggested that the amount of fair rent should be decided by a jury. But the jury would manifestly either consist of landlords or tenants, which would be unsatisfactory. Then the alternative was proposed by taking six of one and half-a-dozen of the other; but such a 1188 course would only result in no agreement being arrived at all. There was also an objection to arbitration, which would probably prove a cause for litigation. If the arbitrators did not agree, the question would be referred to an umpire, and from him it would ultimately reach the Courts of Law. It would be much better, therefore, that the case should go before the Court at once without any delay. It had been suggested the difficulty should be met by a new valuation of Ireland; but such a proceeding would occupy a considerable amount of time, and if the Bill was delayed by such a result the delay would be inconvenient. It therefore appeared to him, and to the hon. Members whose names were upon the Bill, that the proposal, with regard to ascertaining a fair rent, as set forth in the Bill, was possibly the best as a choice of difficulties that could be adopted. He pointed out the course of procedure, in the early sections of the Bill, by which the tenant could in a summary way apply to Court to have his rent reduced, and in the same way he allowed the landlord to issue a claim to have his rent increased to a fair rent. He then proposed that the rent thus agreed upon should continue for seven years at the least, or whatever longer period the House might think proper to fix, leaving it open to either the landlord or tenant to again claim to have the rent adjusted. This was no novel proposal, for on the adjustment of the tithe rent-charge the same system was adopted. The parties having come before the Court, he then proposed a method of procedure, which he thought would commend itself to hon. Members, for ascertaining, or rather helping the Judge to ascertain, what a fair rent was. He provided for the attendance of a valuator from the Valuation Office in Dublin, who should go down, examine the premises, and then give evidence on oath as to what, in his opinion, the value of the premises was. This evidence was to guide, not bind the Chairman. He further provided that the rent, to be deemed a fair rent, should be that which a solvent and responsible tenant could at the time of inquiry afford to pay fairly, and without collusion, for the premises after deducting from such rent—first, the addition to the letting value of the premises referable to any unexhausted and suitable improvements 1189 made by the tenant or his predecessors in title; secondly, any increase of letting value referable to the expenditure of labour or capital of tenant, whether the same be capable of being specified in detail or not, and the Judge should further take into consideration any variation in the average price of agricultural produce or stock, if evidence of the same should be offered. The rent so ascertained was to be the fair rent. The second part of the Bill contained provisions for securing the right of free sales, without regard to office rules, which had eaten away the Ulster tenant right. It had been urged on the other side of the House that such a principle would amount to confiscation of the landlords' rights; but he contended that if there existed confiscation it was the confiscation of the tenant's property in the soil. If the present confiscation of tenants' rights were prevented, the proper position of landlords and tenants would be established for the benefit of all classes of people in Ireland. The Bill, if passed into law, would make the provisions of the Land Act to work satisfactorily, inasmuch as the great need required beyond that provided by the Land Act was to enable the tenant to retain possession so long as he paid a fair rent. By the Land Act the tenant would obtain payment for improvements, and by this Bill he would obtain a fair and reasonable hold over his property, and freedom from disturbance. The principle, indeed, was, in a measure, recognized by the Land Act, and should, therefore, be supported by hon. Members opposite. There were certain alterations which would probably be made in Committee. He did not think it would be reasonable not to have some provision by which parties, if they thought fit, might contract themselves out of the Act; and, therefore, it allowed tenants occupying holdings of the value of £100 and upwards to contract themselves out of it. A man in possession of a holding of that value would probably be in a position of life in which he could stand upon his rights as against his landlord. He would also except from his Bill all leases over 99 years, and give power to limited owners to make leases for that period when they thought it advisable to exclude the provisions of the Act. He was sorry the Irish Conservative Members were not in their places on the oc- 1190 casion, because he believed they were open to conviction, and because he wished to show them that this was a fair Bill, recognizing the principle of equity and justice between man and man. There were very few landlords in Ireland who, if they had their land thrown on their hands, would be competent to manage and develop it. The object of the landlord should, therefore, be to get a fair rent, and retain tenants who would be willing to continue their holdings on equitable terms rather than to endeavour to extort an unfair rental. One advantage of passing this measure would be that it would tend to diminish the loud and inflated talk—the"tall talk," as the Americans termed it—which was indulged in by the Land League. The agitation which had existed during the last 18 months had, in his opinion, done positive mischief by chilling the hearts of Irish landlords, and prompting many of them to shut their purses against distress that might otherwise, have secured their sympathy. If that agitation continued without abatement, it would simply widen the breach between landlords and tenants, and would place the former in a position of hostility towards the latter. The results no one would be able to foresee. The contest might be compared to the celebrated conflict between the Kilkenny cats. The landlords, on the one hand, would insist on getting their rents, and would throw off all compassion for the tenants, and the kindly feeling that existed before would be blunted. The tenantry, on the other hand, would have to fight their way upon whatever rights they now possessed, and the result would be to divide the country into two hostile camps. If the House would sanction the principle of this Bill he would be satisfied, and go no further at present than the second reading. He hoped that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House who were called the "Third Party" would support the Bill. Indeed, they were bound to support it unless they were biassed by the sentiment that it had not emanated from themselves, and he thought they were too generous to oppose it from such a motive. The measure ought to be regarded not as spoliation of the landlord, but as securing for him a permanent and fixed property without bringing with it the fear of agrarian 1191 outrage. In his own early days a landlord was not afraid to walk about his property in the dark; but, at the present time, there was a decided fear of this kind in some parts of Ireland. Whether hon. Members came from Ireland or not, he would urge them to view the question as one of fair play. The right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, writing to Lord Castlereagh on the 23rd March last, had denied that the Conservative Government were hostile to the Ulster tenant right, and that they were opposed to the basis of the Land Act of 1870. It was true that there had been a General Election pending then; but he did not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman had changed his views in the comparatively short time that had elapsed since his letter. He did not think he was asking too much when he asked the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters for their votes on the present occasion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Litton.)
§ MR. P. J. SMYTH
said, he rose simply to express the hope that the Government would see their way to give full and favourable consideration to this Bill, which embodied the true principles of tenant right. It extended to the whole of Ireland the incidence of the Ulster system. That system worked well in Ulster in the interest of both landlord and tenant. They were justified, therefore, in assuming that it would work well also in the other Provinces. The Bill had, besides, the conspicuous merit that it dealt boldly and comprehensively with a great subject, and in a way calculated to effect a settlement of a burning question. It was not desirable—it was most undesirable — that the Statute Book should be encumbered with a multiplicity of small Land Bills dealing piecemeal with a vast and complicated subject. The question should be dealt with as a whole in a large and generous spirit, and in one comprehensive measure, or, in his opinion, it should not be touched at all.
§ MR. J. N. RICHARDSON
gave the Bill his cordial and hearty support, inasmuch as it dealt with certain grievances which, unfortunately, demanded legislation. During his short sojourn in that House he had found it a general opinion 1192 that though in the Southern part of Ireland things might be in a very bad state, in Ulster everything was just as it should be. As the mouthpiece of Ulster tenant farmers, he was there to say that this was not the case in that Province—that they were not satisfied with the law as it stood. In Ulster there was great diversity of religious belief, and great difference in the class of people who cultivated the land. There were farmers as poor, perhaps, as those of Donegal, or of the West; but, on the other hand, there were hundreds or thousands of middle class farmers — yeomen — who were the backbone of any country; and during an extended canvass throughout the country, during the last Election, he had not heard, in public or in private, a single syllable about non-payment of rent, and he was referring not only to the well-to-do classes, but to the poorest and most wretched. He should be the last person to encourage such a cry; landlords were also Her Majesty's subjects and had their just rights. What the farmers said to him was—"We want to pay our rent; we acknowledge it is a debt we owe; but it ought not to be gradually raised when the increased value is the fruit of our own industry alone. If a town is extended, or a factory built, or a mine is found, the landlord is entitled to raise his rent; but we ask the Legislature to prevent the landlords taxing our own industry as has been done, and we do ask that we shall have the freedom to sell the tenant right or the goodwill independently of the restriction of any office rule."The provisions of the Bill would meet these two cases. English Members might say— certainly English gentlemen outside the House often said—that if an Irish tenant were not satisfied to pay the advanced rent he might pack up his traps and go; and this would be a very proper answer if the tenure was similar in its nature to that of England and Scotland. The difference, however, was sufficiently marked to need no comment. In Ireland, houses, buildings, stables, offices, were in many cases built, and many improvements were made by the tenant, without assistance, and yet if he went away he had to leave all behind him. It was the anomalous double ownership that had grown up which made the Irish Land Question one so difficult to deal with. If this had been the first time the State 1193 interfered with private contract, lie would have been very cautious in supporting the Bill; but in 1833, when the Factory Act was introduced, contracts had been seriously limited, the working hours for women and young people being reduced to 10 per day. In 1874 the Government had further reduced those hours to 9½. At the latter period he had gone to France and Belgium with the view of ascertaining how the factories of the North of Ireland were to be enabled to compete with those of the countries named; and he had come back, having been courteously received by both French and Belgians, and having been allowed to inspect their books, convinced that at the rate of 10 hours a-day the North of Ireland could just compete with foreign manufacturers and no more. He regretted that the hon. Members for Belfast (Mr. Ewart and Mr. Corry) were not present, because he thought they would have corroborated this statement; but he believed that events themselves had amply justified the conclusion at which he had arrived. He did not wish to find fault with the Act passed in 1874; but he wanted to show that the Conservative Government had, to a very considerable extent, interfered with private contract, and that the measure now before the House did not set a precedent in this respect. Landlords in Ireland had got a very bad name at the present time; but he was sure that many of them would be glad to have the odium removed from their shoulders to the Court, which would intervene, by the provisions of this Bill, in cases of disputed rent. With regard to the operation of the Bill against the grievances of restricted sale of tenant right, he would mention just one case of the latter description to the House. In 1867 a man named John Wilson had held a farm of 80 acres on a certain estate. He built the dwelling-house and offices, thoroughly drained the land, and then informed the agent that he proposed to offer his tenancy for sale. The agent said he might do this, but required that he should not take more than £10 an acre. A man named John Robinson wished to purchase, and agreed to give £ 1,400 for the tenant right; but the landlord's agent said that Robinson must sign an agreement binding him to give up the farm, if the landlord wanted it at any time, and not to receive more than 1194 £ 10 an acre. Robinson naturally refused to buy the tenant right on this principle, and the result was that Wilson had to sell his 80 acres of land for £600 less than he otherwise would have received. An hon. Member had spoken about confiscation the other evening. If the House wanted to know what confiscation was, here was confiscation pure and simple. He could conceive nothing more calculated to make an industrious man lazy, or a tenant farmer thriftless and untidy, than to tell him that however he might toil, sweat, or dig, his land should be worth only a certain price and nothing more. There was nothing visionary or wild in the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Litton). The Irish peasant had a love for his home which was very strong; so strong, that it stood in the way of his interest at times, and that of his family. Still, he (Mr. Richardson) could sympathize with that feeling, for he had travelled as far as Russia in the East, and America in the West, and yet found no place for which he would exchange his Irish home; and if he could do anything to aid his brother countrymen by supporting a measure such as this, or a better Government measure, he would be very happy to do so.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
said that the Bill contained a principle on which alone, in his opinion, the Irish Land Question could be settled. It had frequently been asked why, in respect of Irish land, freedom of contract between man and man should be interfered with? The answer was that, in the case of 75 per cent of the poorer class of Irish tenants, such a thing as freedom of contract did not exist, and that was owing to what had been called the land hunger existing in Ireland. The inordinate desire to obtain possession of land led to what would be considered very uncommercial dealings with a view to obtain it. A small farmer wished to rent several farms. On one of these he lived, others he let below their value to dairymen, keeping them in reserve for his family, and thus diminishing the supply and increasing the demand. How was that state of things to be met? It could only be met by some tribunal which would step in between the landlord and tenant and say what was a fair and reasonable rent which should be paid for each holding. The Bill before the House would extend the Ulster 1195 custom of tenant right; and if the Government were willing to adopt the principle of the Bill, perhaps his hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone would do well to withdraw his Bill.
§ MR. P. MARTIN
said, that during the late Parliament his Friend Mr. Isaac Butt had exhaustively explained, and on several occasions submitted to the consideration and judgment of the House, the principles on which, the great body of the Irish Members contended, the Land Question in Ireland could alone be satisfactorily settled. During these discussions the Members of the present Government must have acquired sufficient knowledge to enable them now to give expression to their views and opinions in respect to the present Bill. It certainly, in the present state of Ireland, was most desirable that the Chief Secretary should indicate, at least, in general terms, the principles which he conceived should be adopted in future legislation in the direction in which Her Majesty's Government proposed to amend the Land Act of 1870. He concurred with the hon. Member for Tyrone in the statements he had made as to the failure of the Land Act of 1870 to give effect to the intention of the framers of the measure. So long as this principle of compensation for disturbance was adhered to, and security of tenure, so long as he was willing to pay a fair rent, was denied to the Irish tenant, so long would there be discontent and agitation. He could not say the provisions in the Bill, in respect to the tribunal to ascertain and fix the rent as between landlord and tenant, were quite satisfactory; but they proceeded in the right direction in taking away that uncontrolled power now vested in the County Court Judge. He would ask the House to look at the consequences of the present system in Ireland. A tenant in one county might obtain by the decree of the present tribunal a fair and satisfactory sum as compensation; but in another county the Judge, adhering strictly to the Act of Parliament, might give an award which the tenant would receive with a sense of injustice. The result had been but too frequently to produce grave discontent, arising from the uncertainty of the decisions. There were cases on record in which the compensation had been valued at £700 or £800 by most competent witnesses, whose evidence the Judges in 1196 some counties would have accepted; yet the County Court Judge had awarded only some £70 or £80. This uncertainty checked the execution of improvements by the tenant. He therefore thought it would be wise on the part of Parliament to put an end to a great portion of the litigation of that character by adopting the principle of the present Bill, which left the question alone for the decision of the tribunal a question of rent. The House might look on what had been the practical effect of the Ulster custom in Ulster. The Chief Secretary had shown, in the strongest and most convincing manner, the beneficial effects which security conferred under the Ulster custom, and. had shown what a remarkable contrast the counties where tenant right prevailed presented to the other parts of Ireland. Why not remove the burning grievance? Why not extend the benefits which the Ulster tenant possessed, so that they might be enjoyed over the whole of Ireland? This tenant right question was one of such importance to the whole of Ireland that it ought to be dealt with comprehensively and in one Bill; and he thought his hon. Friend the Member for Tip-perary (Mr. P. J. Smyth) was right in deprecating the introduction of a number of small Bills, and in enunciating the principle that it was the duty of the House to deal with the question once for all, and in a comprehensive fashion.
§ MR. FINDLATER
Sir, this Bill, if passed into law, which I hope it will be, will go far to settle the Land Question. It has, I firmly believe, been carefully prepared so as to avoid any injustice to either landlord or tenant. In Ulster the great benefits conferred by the Land Act of 1870 have been seriously interfered with, if not largely abrogated, by three great grievances. The tenant farmers with one voice complain of the hardships they suffer from want of certainty of tenure, fair rent for their holdings, and the right of free sale. They say, why should we, who have made the land what it is by the sweat of our brows, and by unremitting industry, be obliged to leave our holding at any moment the caprice of our landlord says we should? Why should we be compelled to give up the homes of our forefathers, hallowed by many family associations, if we happen to offend our landlord in any way? It is true we shall 1197 receive compensation if we do; but no money payment would atone to us for the severance of those ties which bind us to the home of our childhood and the place we have made what it is by our OTTO toil. Surely, Sir, there is nothing unnatural, unreasonable, or unfair in this feeling. The tenacity with which the Irish tenant clings to the soil is well known. It may be foolish. It might be wiser, perhaps, if he sought some other occupation, political economists may say; but the fact exists and must be dealt with. Landlords possess the power of evicting their tenants, if they offend them in any way, without assignment or reason. Is that right or fair? The majority of landlords would not, I firmly believe, take advantage of this arbitrary power. There are exceptions, however, and, I regret to say, many exceptions. The tenant should be guarded against those unjust landlords who may come over him at any time. The present landlord may be an excellent, kind, and thoughtful man, who would do nothing unfair or unjust; but his successor may be the reverse. It is to compel the unjust landlord to do what the good one performs of his own free will that we ask you to pass this Bill. In the county I represent, the tenants told me over and over again—and I saw many of them during my canvass from one end of the county to the other—that they wanted nothing unfair or unjust. They only desired fair play as between man and man, and to be protected by the law from being disturbed in their holdings so long as they paid their rent, and performed the incidents of their tenure. They assured me they were no revolutionists, and had no desire to take the land from their landlords by force or without payment; but they hungered for release from the vile state of serfdom in which their present condition of uncertainty of tenure placed them. One and all expressed a strong and earnest desire to acquire the perpetuity of their holdings free of rent by buying out, and not expropriating their landlords, if the State would give them assistance to become the purchasers; but like thoroughly reasonable and sensible men they recognized that that could not be done in a moment. They, however, looked forward hopefully and earnestly to the State's speedy action in the matter. One of the understood incidents of Ulster tenant 1198 right, as admitted by Judge Longfield in The Cobden Club Essays, is given in the following words:—It is expected that as long as the tenant pays his rent the landlord will not use his legal power of putting an end to the tenancy.In moving the Legislature, therefore, to pass this portion of the Bill, we are doing no more than asking them to affirm by written law that which at present exists by the unwritten code of Ulster tenant right. Now, with respect to the second grievance, that of rents arbitrarily increased from time to time, the Ulster tenants say, although they expend their labour and money in improving the land, which constitute their holdings, when they have made them more valuable by more expenditure, it is adopted by the landlord as an excuse for raising the rent. On some estates it appears to be the practice of the office which manages its dealings with the tenants to treat the coming in of a new tenant such as the son of the old one as a sale, and to put an increased rent upon him. The tenants deem this unrighteous and unfair, and cry aloud for redress. Is there aught unreasonable in such an outcry? Well may they say what encouragement is there given to us to exert ourselves and make improvements, when the result of our exertions is only to increase the rents we pay? Surely that is a state of affairs which ought to exist no longer, and cries aloud to Heaven for redress. In common fairness between man and man the honest tenant should be secured against having the fruits of his industry unjustly appropriated by his superior landlord. The last great grievance is the want of the right of free sale of their holdings by the tenants of land in the Ulster counties. On many of the estates in Down, Antrim, and Monaghan, there exist what are called official rules. These abominable rules materially affect the right of free sale by the tenant of his interest in his holding, and prevent his getting the full market price for the interest, the value of which is the produce of his own industry. Those rules vary on different estates; but, by their provisions, the price which the tenant can take for his holding is fixed, and the peasant to whom he sells must be approved of by the landlord. The prices fixed on different estates vary from £2 to £10 an acre. 1199 An illustration of the injustice done by this system will better explain to the House its unhappy and unjust effects than any words of mine. In the course of my canvass I was at the town of Car-rickmacross, and one day in the street a tenant farmer addressed me, and after some preliminary remarks told me this story. He said—I have no reason to like my landlord, although he is not a bad man. My little place that I had made with my own hands I desired to sell, and I bargained with a man, a friend of mine, to give it to him for £300. That was a good price, it was £20 an acre. When I went to the office to carry out the sale they told me they could not allow me to take more than £10 an acre, and that I must sell to a man of theirs. As I had to get the money, I was obliged to take £150 for my farm, and the second tenant was charged an additional rent of £7 or £8.It would thus seem the landlord had capitalized and appropriated one half of the tenant's property by the imposition of this additional rent upon the new comer. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have talked a good deal of confiscation lately; but, to my mind, no more glaring instance of the confiscation of one man's property by another need possibly be cited. This is not a single case, bear in mind. In my journeys through the country where I was told this story, other tenant farmers on hearing said—"There is my case." "My case was worse than that." Is it not time to remedy such an injustice as I have told you? Our Bill, if you pass it into law, will do it. To satisfy the House as to what is thought about its provisions, if I may be permitted I will read a letter which I have received from an ex-County Court Judge who has recently retired, and who had a large experience of the working of the Land Act in a Northern county. He has been examined before Committees of this House upon the Land Question, and his administration of the law during his tenure of office gave universal satisfaction. He says—I did not expect you would have got your Land Bill forward so soon. It seems to have met with very general approval in the North, and, if carried in its entirety, it should satisfy all reasonable people. The great difficulty I see is the tribunal for fixing the rent. Too much is left to the discretion of the Chairman and to the Judge of Assize or Appeal. The form is very uncertain, and depends entirely on who the Chairman is. The latter is a very hurried and often a capricious hearing. The appeal should certainly not be left to a single Judge. Many 1200 suggest an arbitration, with the Chairman as umpire and in appeal. Throughout Down and Antrim what are called office rules are spreading. I had great difficulty in keeping them in check. On some estates there is a limit of from £2 to £10 an acre. Some landlords claim an absolute right of objection to a purchaser, without assigning any reason. Some insist on having an adjoining tenant as the purchaser. Another mode of interfering with the tenant right is by informing the purchaser when he offers that as he is able to give so much the land must be too cheap, and he is informed that if he buys the rent will be raised. No doubt the tenant can claim for disturbance, when too much rent is demanded; but I need not tell you no one likes to purchase a law suit. Most of these rules are of modern introduction, and if not abolished the tenant right in the North will be worth nothing in a very short time. The 18th section of the Land Act (the Equity Clause) is a fruitful source of irritation. It places a very formidable power in the hands of a Judge who is not in favour of the Land Acts. If Mr. Gladstone's inquiry into the working of the Land Act is well conducted all those objections will come out, and show the absolute necessity of an extensive amendment.Now, Sir, there is the strong expression of the opinion of an able and competent Judge in favour of the settlement of the Land Question proposed by the Bill now before the House. It will, I am sure, also command the House by the testimony of a competent and independent observer how injurious the office rules sought to be abolished are. There can be no doubt the Land Act was never intended to legalize this. Permit me, upon this point, to read to the House the words of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government, in that splendid speech in which he closed the debate upon the second reading of the Bill which was carried into the Land Act of 1870—The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) says…that our legislation with regard to the Lister custom, legalises the private arrangements on every estate in the North…There cannot be a greater—a more fundamental misconception of the whole matter. The Ulster custom is not a private rule that each chooses at any time to establish. A breach of custom is not a custom. An established custom is a thing well understood as such, and perfectly capable of receiving a legal meaning and interpretation when it is investigated as a matter of fact. Wherever a particular proprietor or an agent chooses to set up a rule which, though it be enforced on the estate, is in derogation of custom, and which has not itself subsisted so far as to acquire the character of a custom, it is condemned as a private and arbitrary practice, and is overridden by the custom the authority of which will be exerted and enforced against it."—[3 Hansard, cxcix. 1839.]1201 Sir, this was the opinion of the great statesman who framed the Act. It shows what his intentions were. The facts I have stated prove that in practice they have been frustrated. Pass this Bill, and the Ulster tenant will get the benefit of the firm, unalloyed, and comprehensive custom to which he is entitled, and not have it frittered away, if not abrogated, as it is at present, by the obnoxious office rules. I conclude by saying on behalf of the sturdy tenants whose cause I have pleaded—"We'll keep our customs. What is law itself but old established custom?All things resolve in custom. We'll keep ours."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
said, that the question before the House was, no doubt, a grave and serious one — one as to which, it was said,the House would like to know the opinion of Her Majesty's Government. The Bill of his hon. Friend was an attempt to solve the Irish Land Question, and that in a very simple form. It embodied the principle which was popularly known as the "Three F's"— namely, free sale, fair rents, and fixity of tenure; and in that form it proposed to extend to the rest of Ireland the Ulster custom. Now, though it might be desirable to extend that custom, he (the Attorney General for Ireland) thought the House could hardly at that moment expect the Government to announce their views as to what should ultimately be the form that the solution of the Irish Land Question should assume. The Government had already stated that it was their intention to immediately issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the working of the Irish Land Act of 1870. The Commission would inquire into the whole question; and, that being so, he thought the House would deem it rather premature and somewhat rash if, before the Commission had inquired, much less reported, the Government were to announce the conclusion at which they were likely to arrive. The proper and wise course was to wait till the Commission had reported, and meantime to decline to express any opinion on the subject. His right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary told the House a few days since that the Commission would be issued at once, and that he hoped to pass a temporary measure for the present year, leaving the 1202 House entirely unpledged as to future legislation, adding that it would be quite open to them—if that was the opinion of the majority—to leave things as they now were. It was, in fact, necessary, in order properly to deal with the question, that the Government should have further information; and it would be forestalling the Report of the Commission if they were now to pronounce any opinion as to what the true solution of the Irish Land Question might be. The necessity for inquiry had been admitted by the appointment of a Committee of the House of Lords for the purpose only two years after the passing of the Act of 1870. That Act had since been in operation for eight years more, and an opportunity was thus afforded of obtaining a valuable amount of information which would, he hoped, enable Parliament finally to decide as to the proper mode of dealing with the question. The Government, however, could not at present pledge themselves to any opinion on the matter. He hoped that the hon. Member who had moved the second reading of the Bill would be content with the expression of opinion which his able speech had elicited from many Members of the House. Perhaps, before the debate concluded, they might hear the opinion of some hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Bench, and then he trusted that his hon. Friend would be content to withdraw his Bill for the present, leaving Parliament unpledged and free to deal with the question as it might think best when it had adequate information before it. He could not undertake to support the measure, nor could he give any pledge on the part of the Government that they would deal with the subject in the sense desired by the promoters of the Bill.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he did not think it was at all unreasonable that hon. Members should desire to know what line the Government intended to take with respect to the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General for Ireland) seemed to complain, and with rather an injured air, that he had not got a lead from that side of the House as to the course he should adopt, and he made rather an ad misericordiam, appeal to the hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of the Bill to decide the matter for himself, and thus relieve the Government from a difficulty—to be 1203 satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, with the able speech he had made, and to rest and be thankful upon his laurels. The Government had not approved the Bill; but they had not disapproved it; all that they said was— wait a little longer. The whole tendency of the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was to give this advice—Wait; a Committee of the House of Lords had made inquiry in the past—a Commission was able to make further inquiry in the future; the Government needed information, and having got it they would consider it, and act upon it either by doing something or by doing nothing. They were to have the widest possible discretion to act or not to act. But, having appointed that Commission, they would stultify themselves if they practically took away from the Commission all discretion by now assenting to the second reading of the present Bill, which dealt with pretty much every topic raised in the Land Question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was in error when he stated that a Royal Commission had been appointed in 1872 by the right hon. Gentlemen now on the Opposition Benches; the fact was that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was in power in 1872, and therefore the Opposition did not appoint the Royal Commission of that year.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (ME. LAW)
It was not a Royal Commission, but a Select Committee, appointed by the House of Lords.
§ MR. GIBSON
Very well; but then the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister. The Bill now before the House for second reading was not dealing with the Counties of Tyrone, Armagh, or Monaghan only, nor with the whole of Ulster; but it was intended to refer to the whole of Ireland. He (Mr. Gibson) would not discuss the Bill, as his right hon. and learned Friend had not discussed it; but this he could not refrain from saying—from a lawyer's point of view—that this was a splendid professional Bill, and that if it were passed it would be productive of universal and everlasting litigation. Hereserved to himself perfect liberty of action in dealing with and criticizing whatever proposal might be hereafter made by the Government, if any were made. Meanwhile, he supposed the hon. Gentleman would act on the advice so delicately given to him and withdraw the Bill. 1204 ["No!"] Well, he presumed the hon. Member was of age and could answer for himself. If he did not withdraw the Bill, but went to a division, the House would probably be favoured with a further announcement from the Treasury Bench, and perhaps the Government might be forced to come to a rapid decision.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
thought that the House ought to have received some indication from the Government as to their views with regard to the Land Question raised by this Bill. He did not expect that the Government would have accepted the Bill of the hon. Member for Tyrone, but was entitled to have some opinion from the Government. The question which this Bill treated was one upon which he had pledged himself at the hustings more than once; but it must be remembered that there were in Ireland landlords and landlords. There were men who had not derived their land from confiscation; there were some also, like the O'Conor Don, who obtained their property by hereditary descent, and there were others who had obtained land through their own industry; and it was not by the cry of "landlord and tenant" that that great question was to be decided, if it had to be decided, on the inimitable principles of right and justice. He wondered why the Conservative Party, by the lips of their mouthpiece, had not given some indication of the line they would take in regard to such a Bill as that proposed by his hon. Friend. They would not, however, venture an opinion on the matter, struggling, as everyone knew they were, for a miserable feudal position in the country that any man of intellect would despise. Treating the question, as many would no doubt treat it, as a mere commercial transaction, what landlord would say, if he had a tenant from whom he received the value of the land in the nature of rent, and if that tenant wished to sell his occupation to another, it was not a fair commercial transaction? He had promised his constituents to give such a Bill his support; and though it was a measure which should not be hurried it was right for the hon. Member for Tyrone to take the opportunity presented of obtaining the opinion of the House, and thus to offer material to the Government for their use in the coming 1205 Session on the introduction of a new Land Bill.
§ SIR HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
said, that this Bill was Conservative in the highest degree as compared with the Bill for the Belief of Irish Distress, as to the passing of which through the other House this Session he had much doubt. If no measure of the kind were passed this Session, he feared that much violence would result. In the part of the country with which he was connected in England, there was practically fixity of tenure and fair rents, and the system was eminently successful. What was a success in the one country surely would be so in the other. He could not approve of the conduct of the occupants of the two front Benches, who contented themselves with taunting each other without taking any active steps for the settlement of this question. What were those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen there for if they had not the courage of their convictions? In supporting this Bill, he had no object in view except the thorough pacification of Ireland; and he was convinced that the only way to secure that pacification was to so amend the Land Laws as to bind the landlords and tenants together for their mutual benefit.
§ MR. SYNAN
ridiculed the idea of the Government having issued a Royal Commission to inquire into the principles involved in this Bill. The duty of a Royal Commission was to inquire into facts and not into principles. He thought the Government ought by this time to have made up its mind whether they were to adhere to the principle of the Act of 1870, and merely give compensation for disturbance, so as to secure the tenant; or whether, for the purpose of settling the question, they ought to adopt the Ulster custom, and extend it to the rest of Ireland. At all events, he supposed they would hear from the Chief Secretary in what direction they would act, and whether the present Bill contained any principle upon which the Government might shape future legislation. In his opinion, the present Bill gave ground upon which the question might be settled. It had been said that the Bill was a professional Bill; but, in his opinion, it was an anti-professional Bill. The landlord would know that if he attempted to raise his rents at all unfairly he would have to go into the County Court; and he believed the apprehension 1206 of that would prevent landlords from raising their rent unjustly. He thought the principle of the Bill, setting forth as it did the three principles upon which the Irish people wished the matter settled—namely, fixity of tenure at fair rents with free sale—was a principle upon which the future amendment of the Act of 1870 must be shaped. That principle was accepted by the Government last Session, and now the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson) had nothing to say on a Bill the principles of which his own Government last year accepted. He apprehended that the Government had an excuse for waiting for the result of the Royal Commission; but, at the same time, he thought they ought to accept the principle of the Bill, leaving the details of the measure to be settled when the Report of the Commission was issued.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
The hon. Member who has just sat down asks me, I think, a rather unreasonable thing. He asks me that we should say now what are the principles of the Land Bills which are to be brought forward next Session. I must really decline to do any such thing. I can hardly think the hon. Member will expect me to do it. He surely cannot think that a person in a Ministry responsible for Irish affairs should suddenly, on a Wednesday afternoon, without the opportunity of consulting his Colleagues, bind the Government to the principle of a measure such as this before the House. The hon. Gentleman, in introducing this measure, had, with great clearness, stated his plan for altering the law; and it is, undoubtedly, a plan which finds much favour among certain classes in Ireland, and the enormous importance of which I do not think can be overrated. The principle of that plan, as I understand it, is that the amount of the rent of land in Ireland is to be fixed, not by the landlords or the tenants, but by arbitrators, and that there is to be fixity of tenure upon payment of the rent so ascertained. This principle has been well discussed this afternoon, and the proposal of the hon. Member has received considerable support, and especially from the hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir Harcourt Johnstone), and that it should be supported by an English landowner in the position of the hon. Gentleman is an argument very much in its favour. But 1207 I maintain that the Government would be doing very wrong in a matter like this to express their decided opinion when they know, and the hon. Member who brings this measure forward knows to a certainty, that the Bill could not possibly be passed into law this year. If that be the case, we certainly ought to be allowed to keep ourselves free to consider the question in all its bearings; and the House ought not to be committed to a measure which, while held up to the people of Ireland as satisfactory, could not be passed into law this year. The position of the Government is plainly this, and we have not in the slightest departed from it. At the beginning of the Session we thought the position of the Land Question in Ireland was one more than anything else in Ireland demanding the closest attention of the Government, to which we were committed, and, indeed, the attention of any Government. We did not pledge ourselves to bring in a measure; but we did pledge ourselves most seriously to consider whether a measure ought not to be brought forward; and we stated that we did not conceive that in this short Session, having only just taken Office ourselves, that we could attempt to make up our minds as to what kind of measure should be brought forward. We should have been very glad to have left the Land Question entirely alone. I do not wish to touch on the debate of yesterday any more than is necessary. We should have preferred to have left the Land Question alone; but we found that, owing to the temporary and exceptional circumstances of the year, the government of Ireland would be, in our opinion, far more difficult if we did not make a temporary modification of the law. That does not in any way change our opinion, which is this—We have pledged ourselves to make the Land Question one of the very principal questions for consideration next Session. We shall take advantage of the Commission to ascertain the facts; and now we are asked this Wednesday afternoon, before we have been able to study the question as we ought to do, and to have an opportunity of consulting amongst ourselves, we are suddenly asked to decide beforehand, not only to say we will bring in a measure next year, but also to state what sort of a measure it will be. My hon. Friend who has just sat down 1208 says one of the reasons why we ought to do that was because something of the kind was brought forward in the Irish Land Act. But I must remind him that while it was brought forward it was defeated by an enormous majority; and that is rather a strange reason for asking the Government to suddenly agree to a principle which they felt it their duty to oppose before, and which the House at that time agreed in rejecting by a large majority. I do not want to be misunderstood in this matter. I am very much struck with the many arguments brought forward from the position of those hon. Gentlemen who have advocated it; but it is decidedly a question upon which we ought to be left free to consider, and it is just one of those subjects that when the House legislates upon it we ought to be prepared to carry the Bill through, and not merely to adopt what is called the principle of the Bill on the second reading when it could not be carried into law. This year, therefore, I must urgently press on the hon. Member who brought the Bill forward to withdraw his Motion, to be content with the hearing he has obtained, not only for the Bill, but for the principles belonging to it. It is impossible for us to assent to the second reading of the measure; and in order that the House may be left entirely free to consider it I will move the Previous Question.
§ Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. William Edward Forster.)
§ MR. CALLAN
did not wish to misunderstand the Chief Secretary for Ireland in the remarks made; but he believed it would be impossible to understand clearly what the Chief Secretary for Ireland meant, except that he should remain unpledged either to principle or expediency. He had hoped that when a Bill was brought forward dealing with Ireland, and having the support of the Irish Liberal Party, there would have been a clear expression of opinion upon the subject; but instead, they found mere professions that the Government would give their earnest attention and best consideration to the policy of introducing a Bill next year. As the Attorney General for Ireland spoke upon the Bill for fixity of tenure, he had hoped he would have availed himself of the 1209 opportunity afforded him of withdrawing or modifying the remarks he had formerly made, which were—My hon. and learned Friend, in the Preamble of his Bill, refers to the existing law as 'a hindrance of agriculture.' Well, Sir, I will not adopt as my own the forcible language of Philocelt, a well-known Irish writer, in reference to 'fixity of tenure,' which, he said, would 'smite Ireland as with a curse;' but I do very much fear that, under the stereotyped, perhaps I might even say paralyzing system, that these proposals would fix upon us, the last state of poor Ireland would, in respect of agriculture, at least, be worst than the first.What did the chief Legal Adviser then say? He said—They—the proposals to give fixity of tenure, fair rents and free sale—were referred to and examined in the luminous speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich when he introduced the Irish Land Bill of 1870. He there showed the injustice and the impolicy of any such virtual transfer of property as must be involved in the compulsory establishment of 'fixity of tenure,' and for himself and the Liberal Party which he led pronounced emphatically against it. Instead of disturbing and unsettling the foundations of property, my right hon. Friend and those who acted with him carried through Parliament the Irish Land Act, the substantial effect of which I have already stated."— [3 Hansard, cxxx. 633–5.]Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman lead the Party now against those demands? The right hon. and learned Gentleman, not having availed himself of the opportunity of disavowing or recanting his former opinions, were they now to understand that the best consideration of the Government was to be given to the advisability of introducing a Bill next year which would not embrace what the right hon. and learned Gentleman had said would "smite Ireland as with a curse?" Why did they not, in a manly and straightforward manner, say what their intention was, and not let them and the people of Ireland be deluded in the coming Session with false and illusory hopes?
§ MR. METGE,
as a Representative of a large Irish county, and a landlord, disagreed, not with the principles of the Bill, but with the Bill itself, because it would not answer the purpose intended, nor would any other Bill like it. The 500,000 small tenants in Ireland were now told that, instead of having some immediate measure of relief, they must wait until the Government had made up their minds what they would do with regard to this subject. What Irishmen wanted was a final settlement of this 1210 question, under which the small tenants would obtain a sufficient quantity of land on which to support themselves and their families, and to become owners of it; or, at all events, to obtain such fixity of tenure at as low as possible a rent as was consistent with the just rights of the landlords. Many of those whom he had come there to represent had been driven into infertile plains, where hardly any man could live. They were now to be told when the famine came that the Government would wait until the next week or two before proceeding with the Distress Bill. What was fixity of tenure to such men? No; the Land Question must be settled permanently; tinkering with a worn-out system would never gain the object wished for—namely, the settlement of the present agitation going on in the country. That agitation, however, was making hon. Members listen to what the people had to say, and was making those listen who would not a few years ago. He did not concur with the sweeping assertions that had been made against the Land League. Neither did he support the League; but he said it had done its work. First of all, as far as the charitable funds were concerned, the League had laid them out in a way that did honour to any Committee, and the objects set before the Committee had been carried out honourably and fairly, as far as distributing funds for the relief of distress went. The League had worked honestly and well. Ireland had passed through a season of trial such as no other country could have borne. Famine, if not actual starvation, had haunted her threshold more than hon. Members had any idea of, and on the top of that they were to have a land system that could heave them out by the force of law. Were they to expect that the whole people of Ireland would go down without a word of complaint, as did the men on the Royal George, in all their strength and vigour? If the agitation was to be allayed it must be by a strong and comprehensive measure, and such a measure as that he would support.
§ MR. LITTON
thought that the reasons given by the Government for declining to express any opinion with regard to this Bill were unsatisfactory. Instead of saying that they had not had time to consider the question fully, the Govern- 1211 ment would be more frank if they were to state that they had not formed any views with regard to it. Fixity of tenure, the free sale of land, and a fair rent ought to be the leading features of any future legislation on this question. He should be wanting in his duty to the tenant farmers of the North of Ireland if he did not take the opinion of the House on this Bill. He, therefore, must divide the House on the subject.
§ MR. PARNELL
Sir, I trust the hon. Member for the County Tyrone (Mr. Litton), who has charge of the Bill, will excuse me if I venture to speak after he has addressed the House; but I wish to say a few words in explanation of my reasons for not being able to vote in favour of a Bill which he has brought forward. I agree that the Government is entitled to some sympathy in the attitude which they have taken up. The Bill pretends to be a final settlement of the Irish Land Question, and it seems to have been brought forward as such by the hon. Member who is in charge of it without a sufficient idea of the exigencies of the moment. It differs in that respect from the Bill for compensation for disturbance of the Government, which, as I take it, does not profess to be even a temporary settlement of the Land Question, but only an alleviation of the tension and pressure in that system. Is there any hon. Gentleman in this House who will say that a Government which has just come into Office is not entitled to time for consideration of a tangled and difficult question, such as the Irish Land Question, before it endorses a principle about which there is great difference of opinion in Ireland, and which has not been unanimously accepted in that country as a final settlement of the Land Question. I have listened with great interest to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Metge), who stated his belief that this measure would only touch the case of large tenants in Ireland. For myself, I think that if the machinery proposed by the Bill was workable, and could be properly put into operation, it would be of advantage to the tenants in the North as well as in the South, and would include those who occupy farms of a large size as well as those of more moderate dimensions. I deny, however, entirely that it would be of the slightest use to the 300,000 small tenants, who have really made the Irish 1212 land what it is, and whose sufferings have placed the Irish Land Question in its position before the British public. I do not wish to throw any obstacle in the way of the final settlement of the Land Question; but I have in times past voted on more than one occasion for the Bill of Mr. Butt—a Bill similar to the one before the House; but I consider that Mr. Butt's Bill was a considerable improvement on this one in many working points, and one of them was that it threw the onus on the landlord to bring the tenant into court. I think, however, that one of the real difficulties, next to insecurity of tenure, in respect of the Irish Land Question, is that the land is badly distributed. What happened after the Irish Famine? During that Famine the landlords took the opportunity of making extensive clearances, especially in the County Meath and other districts in which there were large tracts of land devoted to grazing. The residue of the people went to the hillsides and bogs of Connaught, where their descendants are now living on land consisting of bog and mountain, which they have redeemed. There are in Ireland 250,000 small tenants who can hardly pay any rent at all; and it would be purely mockery to go to these men with this Bill. In order to remedy the state of things in the West of Ireland we require either emigration or migration. There are in Ireland 4,500,000 acres light grazing land occupied by graziers in farms of 1,000 or 2,000 acres. These lands, which were formerly in cultivation, are not suitable to be permanently laid down in pasture. They require to be broken up and cropped; and what I propose is that the tenants on the poor lands in the West of Ireland should be given an opportunity of migrating to those grazing lands. I believe the better settlement of the Land Question lies in giving the tenants of Ireland an opportunity of becoming the owners of the land. I wish to enable this to be done by the issue of debentures at 3½ per cent guaranteed by the State. I believe that after this year many landlords will be willing and anxious to sell their lands on easy terms. The present Bill will be of no use to more than a minority of Irish tenants who have an interest in the soil and are undoubtedly deserving, but who have not made the Land Question in Ireland what it now is. I think that the Government are entitled to have an op- 1213 portunity of considering the question as a whole, and of seeing whether they could not enlarge the Land Act of 1870, so as to enable it to meet the objects of the promoters of this Bill, and also to provide some means by which tenants could purchase their holdings on fair and reasonable terms. I believe that the existing Irish land system cannot possibly continue; and if the House passes this Bill it will only be prolonging a system which has worked, and is still working, incalculable evil to Ireland. In England, tenants are comparatively pros-perous and contented, because, owing to the remembrance of the feudal system, the landlords, while insisting on their rights, do not altogether forget their duties; in Ireland, where the feudal system does not survive, the landlords claim their rights but forget their duties. The Irish system has failed in every European country where it has been tried; and I must add that it has been attended in Ireland with more evil than in any other country in which it has been in operation. I believe that the agitation now going on in Ireland will make the farmers see that the only way of settling the Land Question is by their acquiring the ownership of their holdings. I must again express my opinion that the Government is now entitled to an opportunity of considering the whole subject; and that, under the circumstances, it would be better not to press the second reading of this Bill; and if next Session they do not bring forward satisfactory proposals we shall know how to proceed.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
admitted that, having read the Bill, he could not say that if it became law it would do much good, while it would stand in the way of some reforms which it would be desirable to introduce; but, at the same time, it would meet the wants of some classes of tenants. He thought it would be of little avail taking a division on the Bill, because no legislation on that subject was to take place this Session. Still, if the measure was pressed, he would vote for the hon. Member for Tyrone. There were many classes of tenants who could only be benefited by the establishment of peasant proprietorship. He did not see how the tenants of the West of Ireland could be transferred to the grazing lands; but, at the same time, he was convinced that if fair means and 1214 opportunity were provided, the tenants of Ireland would largely purchase their holdings.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, that taking the statement of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and the speech of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), they might be described as being in a state of some confusion. The Government pleaded that they were not in a position to give a positive opinion on the merits of the present Bill. Some of those on that side of the House were, perhaps, in a somewhat similar position; and they would, therefore, be placed in a position of some difficulty if the hon. Member for Tyrone insisted on going to a division. He regarded the Bill as an improvement on the present system; but, at the same time, he did not think that it would effect a settlement of the question. He would vote for the Bill if it were pressed to a division; but he trusted that such a course would not be adopted, as it would place many of the Irish Members in a position of much difficulty.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 45; Noes 187: Majority 142.—(Div. List, No. 33.)