§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Lord Richard Grosvenor.)
§ MR. GIBSON
Sir, the Prime Minister, in introducing this measure, described it as the most difficult and complex that he had ever had to submit to his Colleagues or to Parliament. I can well understand why he used those terms. The task of the Government is, indeed, one of the utmost gravity and of extreme responsibility. It is impossible to overrate or overstate the importance of a measure which proposes to deal with 600,000 holdings, and to do that at a time not particularly happy in its circumstances, and when the country has not recovered from the disturbance of last year and the distress of previous years. The question is one which must have taxed the ability of the ablest draughtsman that ever sat down to draw a Bill, and the ability of the most accomplished Minister that ever unfolded a statement to the House. We were prepared, from the statement of the Prime Minister, to read the Bill with attention, with earnestness, and with a certain amount of curiosity, for we were told that the Bill had been re-printed and re-edited 22 times, and that it had led the Colleagues of the Prime Minister to such an honest difference of opinion that the Duke of Argyll, who was an old Friend and Colleague of the right hon. Gentleman, was unable to remain longer responsible for the measure. Independently of what may be the merits of the proposals contained in the Bill, and what may be the judgment passed upon its important legislative proposals, I must say, at the outset, that a more confusing and confused Bill never was presented to the British Parliament. It is obscure, involved, vague, uncertain, and often unintelligible. Read for the first time, even by the light of the speech which illuminated its introduction, it is very hard to realize its mean- 1086 ing; but, on more frequent perusal, some kind of a glimmer of meaning commences to dawn upon the earnest student, and he becomes aware that there are numerous and important rights clearly conferred upon the tenant, and that conclusion deepens by further perusals, and he finds that those rights are more numerous and more clear. But on the other side, at the outset, one sees that the landlord's rights left—there are none conferred—are few and obscure, and a closer and deeper study shows that they are more few and more obscure still. Part V. stands out in comparative relief, for it is, at all events, comparatively simple and intelligible. It proposes to encourage the growth of a peasant proprietary; and I venture to think that in this House, as in Ireland, there will be little difference of opinion as to the desirability of giving every fair, reasonable, and legitimate encouragement to the growth of a peasant proprietary, always bearing in mind that we only stimulate and do not force the growth. The subject of the reclamation of waste lands deserves, and will, I am sure, receive favourable consideration, provided that the Legislature is satisfied, not only that there are numerous waste lands which may be reclaimed, but that the process will be attended with utility, and not entirely divested of profit. There is a difference of opinion expressed on the great question of emigration; but I believe that in the hearts of men there is unanimity upon it. I believe that emigration, applied with proper safeguards, not only for the physical, but for the moral and religious well-being of those who voluntarily offered to leave Ireland, may be a process accompanied with great advantage as well to themselves as to their country. I will leave the financial proposals of the Bill to those whose abilities and habits of mind qualify them to deal with such subjects, and will discuss and invite the earliest possible explanation upon the parts which deal with the occupation and tenure of land in Ireland. These are the parts of the Bill as to which the confusion became appalling. This is a strong and drastic measure. It is the strongest ever submitted to Parliament on this subject. It is far stronger than the Land Act of 1870, and in some of its proposals it goes beyond those made by the late Mr. Butt. The Prime Minister proclaimed and dis- 1087 claimed certain reasons for bringing forward the measure. It is conceded that the Irish Land Laws are more favourable to the tenants than are the Land Laws of the United Kingdom; but this avails not, for some defects have been noticed in the Irish Land Act of 1870, which I may say, in passing, did not confer, and was not intended to confer, any proprietary right, joint or otherwise, on the tenant. What is the second class of reasons with which we have to deal in reference to this Bill? There are schemes of public plunder afloat in Ireland which, it is said, are so gross that no responsible Minister will have any act or part in them; but it is urged that the land hunger must be satisfied, and that, therefore, we must pass this Bill. And what is the third class of reasons we are asked to consider? It is not contended that there is general misconduct on the part of the constantly maligned Irish landlords, or that it is their habit as a class to exact unfair and exorbitant rents, or that it is their practice to exact the fair commercial rents. Indeed, it has been shown with pride by the Prime Minister that the average annual number of evictions has diminished by one-half since 1870, and the number of evictions as compared with the number of holdings during the last 10 years, other than for non-payment of rent, was only one in 5,000. But, notwithstanding the limited number of Irish landlords who have acted differently from the predominating number of their great class, it is contended that the whole body of them must, to use the words of the Prime Minister himself, be subjected to "searching and comprehensive legislation"—in other words, that the Irish landlords must go through the furnace of legislation and litigation. It might have been thought from the speech of the Prime Minister, in introducing this Bill, that his observations were the prelude to the introduction of a limited and moderate Land Bill. I thought, however, at the time that the illustrations used by the Prime Minister, who, nevertheless, innocently protested all the time that he did not mean that any undue inference should be drawn from them, were very ominous. It was certainly strange that the only illustrations which occurred to a man so rich, so affluent in the power of illustration as the Prime Minister of 1088 the position of the Irish landlord, were those of the Jamaica slaveholder, who required to be restrained from a return to vicious habits, and of the stalwart ruffian who would, as a rule, commit an outrage upon an infirm man if the latter were not protected by the police. I think that those illustrations were very unfortunate and very unhappy, and that they were illustrations which should not have been used in reference to this question, seeing how difficult it is at the present time for Irish landlords, not only to get any kind of rent, but to save themselves from outrage. But the arguments of the Prime Minister in favour of this Bill did not stop there. He contended that this measure must not be read by the ordinary light of political economy, or the science of observation and experience. Poor Mr. Bonamy Price, and almost all the able writers of the Cobden Club, must wander off if they know the way to those interesting places, Saturn and Jupiter, which have been described by the Prime Minister. But not only is political economy put aside by this measure, but also the whole tendency, spirit, and progress of English law, which is ever striving towards freedom, and which even this Session has expressed its desire, with the assent of the Government, to free itself from the shackle of copyholds; but these are to be no guides, but beacons to be avoided, in the retrograde course of Irish legislation. Neither are the rules of logic to be relied upon in a criticism of the Bill, because when a man suggests any well-worn theories about logic and reason, he is told that he was discussing a grave, political problem on entirely abstract grounds. This proposed legislation, resting as it does upon exceptional and shifting political reasons, naturally gives rise to much curiosity and criticism on the part of the earnest and honest student. It must be remembered that this Bill is opposed to some of the most deliberate judgments pronounced by Parliament in 1870, and to some of the most weighty and conclusive reasons ever addressed to this house by the Prime Minister. The Bill, therefore, comes before us unsupported by principle, unaccredited by political economy and law, and opposed to the last legislative proposals on the subject, and to the former reasoning of the Government. But let us look 1089 at this strange and peculiar piece of proposed legislation from the standpoint of the Government themselves. I have ever striven in public life not to be unfair or unreasonable in criticizing the proposals of my political opponents, and I have no desire to misrepresent them on the present occasion. I understand that the way in which the Government ask us to look at this measure is this—that we are to regard it as a great practical proposal, consistent with expediency and not inconsistent with justice. I will, therefore, endeavour to look at the Bill from the standpoint of the Government, and, having regard for common sense, I shall look upon this measure as a practical endeavour to deal with what I admit is a most grave, difficult, and important social and political problem. I will endeavour, therefore, to see whether this Bill is consistent with the dictates of common sense and ordinary prudence, and whether it is consistent with justice. As the Bill at present stands it concedes to the tenant what are called fair or valued rents, free sale, and fixity of tenure, while it gives no compensation to the landlords for what has been taken from them, and no security for what is left, though it does offer them a guarantee for universal litigation renewable for ever. I venture to think that, notwithstanding the remarkable and powerful statement of the Prime Minister in introducing this Bill, that the measure is at present understood by very few indeed. Having the respect I have for the Members of the present Cabinet, I hardly like to say what is passing in my mind; but I do venture to say, with hesitation, that I have a suspicion that some right hon. Gentlemen in the Cabinet have a very hazy idea indeed of what is the real meaning and effect of this Bill. And I may at once frankly admit that, notwithstanding the closest study of this measure on my own part, with the most earnest desire to ascertain the effect of this proposal, my mind still fluctuates as to what the meaning of some parts of the Bill really is. I need scarcely say that I have always the most profound sympathy with the Law Officers of the Crown; and I am bound to say that when the Prime Minister, coming in the course of his statements to the thin ice of his Bill, turned round blandly to my two hon. and learned Friends opposite, and undertook on their behalf that they would explain the legal bearing of the 1090 measure, I felt for them the most acute sympathy. I never saw in my life two men looking more intensely wretched than did the hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite on that occasion. It is not my intention at this stage of the Bill to criticize its details. With the indulgence of the House, however, I propose to draw attention to a few of its more important principles, and then to ask Her Majesty's Government to give us some explanation with regard to them. I trust that the Government may find it consistent with their duty to give as early as possible clear and definite answers to the questions I shall venture to submit to them. The first topic I shall touch upon—I do not say that it is the most important topic in the Bill, although it is certainly one of vast importance—is that which relates to the question of fair rent. The rent is the most serious impost upon the tenant, and it frequently constitutes the greater portion of the income of the landlord. Every reasonable and proper man is in favour of fair rents, and every reasonable and proper man is strongly opposed to extreme or rack rents. How, then, does the Government propose to deal with the question of fair rents? They propose to apply to rents a standard from which is removed permanently the application of the test of the ordinary commercial law of demand and supply. The Court, in fixing what is to be the fair rent, is not bound to confer upon the landlord what he could get in the open market by legitimate competition. On this point, Judge Longfield, whose authority on the subject is fully recognized by the Cobden Club, has stated his opinion that any tenant right measure dealing with rents must have the effect of reducing the rents one-half. But if it is not the intention of the Government that rents should be reduced in Ireland to such an extent, what rules have the Government laid down in this measure for the guidance of the Court in fixing the amount of the fair rent? A fair rent is defined by the Bill to be such a rent as a solvent tenant would be willing to pay. I do not criticize that definition, and up to the present it has not been criticized adversely, as far as I know. But the difficulty that strikes my mind, as it has obviously struck public opinion, is to be found in tile remarkable proviso which 1091 follows. Before I read that proviso, I have to ask the House to bear in mind the difference that exists in the customs relating to the land which prevail in Ulster, as compared with the other three Provinces of the Island. Now, the position of Ulster in reference to this question is clear, and I think it is logical. Ulster is proud of its tenant right; it is jealous of its tenant right. The tenants of Ulster desire that their right should not be partially destroyed by frequent and unjust raisings of the rent, and that their right of sale should not be hampered by office rules, no matter how worthy the motives of their authors. They do not demand, they repudiate the assertion that they desire that landlords should be deprived of legitimate rents. Well, that being the position of Ulster, what is meant in reference to the proviso which is put down for the guidance of the Court in reference to Ulster? That Court has to consider first what a solvent tenant could fairly pay. It has then to consider it in reference to his Ulster tenant right. Now, the tenant right of Ulster often sells for 20 years', for 30 years', it has been known to be sold for as high as 40 years' purchase, whilst the fee simple of the landlord seldom realizes more than from 25 to 30 years' purchase. I will take a moderate case to test the phraseology of this sub-section. Take a 20-acre farm at £1 per acre; £20 would be a year's rent. The tenant applies to the Court to fix a fair rent, and the County Court Judge, after consideration, arrives at the conclusion that £24 is a fair rent on the whole, and the first element to be considered in his judgment would be that £24 would be a fair rent that under ordinary circumstances, without considering anything else in the Bill, would be paid. Then comes in the second element, that he is to have regard to the tenant right. Now, the tenant right I put at a moderate figure—at 20 times the rent. That would bring £400. Allowing moderate interest on that, and less than £18 could not, I think, be paid, and then having regard to the rent which a solvent tenant would pay, he deducts the interest from the fair rent—that is to say, £18 from £24—which would leave to the landlord £6 rent. In other words, two-thirds of the rent which has been paid for years without a grumble are taken away from the 1092 landlord. Now, whatever may be the intention of the Government, I assert, as a matter of law, and I do not think it will be questioned, that it would be competent for the tribunal which is to be created for the purpose of working this Bill to give a decision exactly as I have stated. But, again, what is the guidance of this section with regard to the rest of Ireland? In the rest of Ireland there is, speaking broadly, really no tenant right. There the Court is to have regard to the scale for disturbance in fixing a fair rent—a scale fixed, as stated from the Ministerial Bench, not with the view of creating tenant right, but solely as a penalty to check disturbance. Now, applying this guidance to a case similar to the one just stated—namely, a farm at a rental of £20 per annum, the tenant may, on disturbance, be entitled at once to seven times his rent—£140; so that here, where there is no tenant right, or similarity to tenant right, the Court can tax one-third off the fairest rent. Why, the late Mr. Butt, in his numerous Bills, which were always opposed by the Members of the present Government, never submitted to the House, speaking with all the weight of the Home Rule Party, a proposal so absurd as that. I, like other persons, have read a good deal of correspondence upon this question; and in that correspondence, and also in conversation, I have learnt that another construction is suggested—that the section is an intimation to the Court, not that it is at once to subtract the maximum for disturbance, but that it is to fix the rent so as to leave to the tenant the interest, which he could sell in the market at a rate equal to the scale for disturbance. I do not know whether that is the intention of the Government—possibly they have not made up their minds—but, assuming that that is the argument for the Bill, I at once test it. What is the difference between deducting from the fair rent the value of the disturbance scale, and fixing the rent so much below the fair rent as to enable the tenant at once to go into the market and sell the farm at the rate of the scale? Is not that exactly the same thing? In either case you carve out of the landlord's property, and millions are taken from the landlords without any compensation. Where does the property come from? It does not come from the tenant, because the presump- 1093 tion is that there is no tenant right or the similarity of tenant right. If it was not taken from the landlord, nothing comes from nothing. Where are the millions to come from? Like manna, from Heaven? What is your construction of this clause? But that is not all; for if, even at his own election, the tenant is, after a couple or three years, evicted, the landlord will still have to pay him the scale for disturbance. In other words, the candle of the unfortunate landlord is to be burned at both ends. What is your construction of this clause? Government intentions will not avail. We call to mind that the Prime Minister now relies upon a state of facts alleged to exist, but the intention to create which was disclaimed in 1870. The Prime Minister took great credit to himself for excluding from this Bill what he called English tenancies—tenancies where the improvements had been made by the landlord. I do not criticize that now. I am glad to hear of the intention to remove from litigation a very substantial number of tenancies. But why should landlords, who for 20 years have not raised the rent, be left to be worried by most litigious tenants for the purpose of fixing the rent? I do not think that is wise on the part of the framers of this Bill, but certainly it is not just. If what I say now were done, they would exclude from litigation 4,700,000 acres, because upon that amount of acreage in Ireland the rent has not been raised during the last 20 years. How would all this fixing of a fair rent work? Fair rents are all very well to talk about and as a phrase; but under the very same Bill as it stands you provide machinery to kill fair rents under free sale. Rent is not all composed of the rent that is payable to the landlords. Rent is to be measured by what the tenant has to pay for possession of the holding, whether in rent to the landlord or in interest on the money paid to the outgoing tenant. You provide that the landlord, the owner, shall have no power to raise the rent, but you absolutely leave free the other item of the account; so that you may have the tenant who comes in under a fair rent absolutely swamped by his obligation, not to the landlord, but for interest on the purchase money, either to the outgoing tenant or to the usurer who lends the 1094 money. The Prime Minister saw the force of this, and, in his statement, he said—In vain do you cut down the landlord's judicial rent…. if…. you still leave it open to anyone to pay an extravagant sum for tenant right….. We have framed the Bill on that principle that to recognize duly the power of the landlord or of the Court to raise the rent is the due and just means of preventing the tenant right, which we think to be the just right of the tenant, from passing into extravagance, and from trespassing upon what is the just right of others.No one could have presented the case with greater clearness than the right hon. Gentleman; but, when I turn from his statement to the Bill which he was supposed to be expounding, I find nothing whatever to carry out that object. The words "raising the rent" are used again and again; but if you read the clauses, you will find that the position of the landlord is penalyzed—that he cannot appear in the Court which is to be created in this Bill except when he is brought in by the tenant with a rope round his neck in the invidious position of a defendant. I have a right to demand a reply to this question—Why, if your Court is to be a court of justice, is its portal to be shut to the landlord? The Prime Minister said he did not mean one-sided justice to be administered in this Court; but he took care, in the drafting of his Bill, that the door was only open to one willing litigant. I ask, not only in the name of British law, but in the name of impartial justice, how can you defend the shutting of the door of your Court which is to be a court of justice, to an Irish landlord who desires to enter? What is the machinery for raising rents left to the landlord in this Bill? I take one or two of the clauses which refer to permitting the landlord to raise the rent, and you will see how he is handicapped and made to walk in irons every step that he takes. He may not have raised his rent for years. He may, on consideration, arrive at the conclusion that the time has come when, having regard to the interest of the tenant and to every ground of justice, he may make a moderate rise. He cannot appeal to the Court to help him, he must sit down to consider the question as best he can; and when he has come to his conclusion, suppose he fixes on a rise so moderate and so fair, that if he were permitted by the Bill to enter the portals of what you 1095 call a court of justice, any man who was ever called a Judge would say it was fair, the tenant is not, by your Bill, compelled to pay that fair rent. If he disputes it he is not compelled to bring the landlord into Court, but he can entirely refuse to pay that fair and reasonable rise, and then he can compel his landlord to serve a notice to quit, which service of a notice to quit exposes the landlord to payment of the increased scale for disturbance; and all this although the rise is fair and the conduct of the landlord is throughout absolutely moderate and reasonable. And yet we are told by the Primo Minister that this is a due recognition of the just right of the landlord to raise the rent. What is the other clause in which this right of the landlord is recognized? The landlord considers with himself what would be a fair rise to put on a farm which is let too low. He makes a mistake in his calculation. He is not allowed in this tribunal to correct the mistake. He has put the rent a few pounds above what is decided by the Court to be a fair rent. What is the position of the tenant in that case? The tenant can compel the landlord to pay at once a penalty of ten times the amount of his mistake; he can sell at the full rate in the open market; and I ask what is then the position of the purchaser in the open market? The landlord, under your Bill, has not advanced an inch towards a rise of rent, the greater part of which was fair, and for which, to the extent to which it was a mistake, he has already paid a penalty ten times the amount. The purchaser is not bound by the demand to raise the rent; he is as free as air; he can proceed exactly as the original tenant can proceed. The landlord must again make the demand; and under the Bill there is no machinery by which he may effect the rise of rent. He may demand; it will be like "summoning spirits from the vasty deep," but with this difference, that by the act of making summons the unfortunate landlord is treated as if he were a criminal to be punished by a fine. Again, as to the question of free sale, without going into it, I ask the House to remember the great difference between Ulster and the rest of Ireland; and I ask the House to confine its attention here to the case where there is no tenant right. There is no restriction on the price; every tenant 1096 may, if he likes, give the pretium affectionis, and there is nothing to prevent him if he has a good landlord from putting up the amenity of a good landlord to auction at the village fair. He may put up to auction the easiness of the landlord under non-payment of rent, the fact that he pays the taxes regularly, or any other circumstance which is likely to enhance the value of the tenant's interest. There is, again, no distinction made in the Bill between the worst tenant and the best. Every tenant in Ireland the morning after the Bill passes, whether he be good, bad, or indifferent, whether he be improving or the reverse, whether he bought the tenant right or not, can put up his tenancy to auction and can get the best price which the market will yield. What, I ask, is the effect of a sale pending a notice to quit? That is a plain question, about which there ought not to be left the shadow of a doubt. Now, either the sale is absolutely illusory to the purchaser, or else the notice to quit is a farce to the landlord. What do you sell when you allow a sale to take place pending an eviction? Is the purchaser only to hold until the eviction, and then bring his action against the landlord? Or does it on the sale create a new tenancy? You say that the tenant, at any time before he is evicted for non-payment of rent, or on service of notice to quit, may sell his tenancy. If these words stand alone, without qualification or expansion, all he can sell, in law, would be the occupation until he is evicted, for that is all that is legally in him. In that case, the purchaser would make an illusory and worthless purchase. If, on the other hand, you mean that by the act of purchase he acquires a right to stay in possession after the eviction, then the notice to quit and the eviction are illusory to the landlord. Then you put in a clause about the right of preemption; but you give the landlord this right in a mocking manner, as if its exercise were a thing to be discouraged and made penal. You hamper his power to make a new letting, or a free letting. There is one question I wish to put here. If a tenant sells, disregarding the provision of section 1—that is, if a tenant sells, giving no notice to the landlord that he is about to sell—if the landlord is given no opportunity of recovering for improvements or arrears of rent or to 1097 object, what is the position of the purchaser then? Is he in possession under the ordinary law as a legal assignee, and can he laugh at the landlord? And is it intended to annul an assignment not made with statutory formalities? Are the safeguards which are so elaborately provided for the landlords against the abuse of the right of free sale really worthless and unavailing? I think my questions are so plain that I might be given an answer affirmative or dissentient. Is it intended that the tenant may, notwithstanding and against your Bill, come in under the provisions of the ordinary law? Now, your own provision on the subject is this—that the landlord need not accept a tenant. But surely a tenant need not care whether he is accepted by the landlord or not. The only question is whether the landlord will accept the rent or not. The Bill does not create the power to sell. It creates only a special power to sell in respect of the property which it transfers from the landlord; but it does not purport to annul a sale not made in conformity with the prescribed regulations. Now, I do not like to ask too many questions; but there is one clause which stands out, I may say, in noble relief. It is very hard to give any section priority for obscurity and unintelligibility in this Bill; but, after much heart-searching, I am inclined to think that almost the queerest section in the Bill is the 45th; and I would suggest to persons of an ingenious mind to apply themselves to this clause, not in the slightest hope that they will ever find out the meaning of it, but as an intellectual exercise. I do not propose to go through the section, and I dismiss it with this question—if a tenancy is determined when it is sold, what does the purchaser get? I am sure I do not know, but that is the first proposition in the section; and my strong suspicion is that when the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant comes to speak, if he speaks before the Law Officers, he will leave that matter as a legacy to the Law Officers. Now, I come to make a few observations upon fixity of tenure, because it is idle to suggest that fixity of tenure is not given here. We have the words of the Prime Minister, and we know that valuation of rents is perpetuity of tenure in disguise. The valuation of rents is here, and, taken in connection with the rest of the Bill, there 1098 cannot be a shadow of doubt that fixity of tenure is also here. But I may be told that fixity of tenure never can exist—it can never be where the power is left to the landlord of serving ejectments and notices to quit. Then ejectments and notices to quit can all be arrested by the tenant if he pleases to exercise the option of sale—that is, unless the sale is intended to be illusory. There is nothing here to prevent the full and free operation of fixity of tenure. [Government cheers.] Yes; but if fixity of tenure is to be given, would it not be fair and frank to have done it in three lines, and not disguised it under a mask, as the authors of this Bill have done? There is one question I would put on this point, and I think it will serve to bring into strong relief some of the startling consequences of this Bill. A tenant in Ireland may have entered into the clearest and most binding contract—it may have been for a low rent or a high rent; the tenancy may be, as is common in certain cases in Ireland, for "a year certain." It is not like a tenancy from year to year, which suggests duration. Under this Bill the tenancy for a year certain may, the morning after this Bill passes, be turned into 15 years certain, and the rent which was measured with certainty may be reduced to what the Court would call a fair rent. I do not propose to discuss that, but it does not strike one as ostentatiously just. The way this matter has been put by Lord Dufferin shows the injustice of applying what exists in one part of Ireland to all parts of Ireland. Lord Dufferin says—Is a 50-acre farmer in Down, who took up the land five years ago, to be credited with an historical claim to fixity of tenure because the grandfather of a cottier in Galway turned 10 acres of bog into a potato garden at the beginning of the century?I have referred to, but not discussed, the statutory conditions. Under the Bill the landlord's right, very much valued by some, of game would be absolutely destroyed in every tenancy from year to year. If that is intended, it is a very serious element. That was never contemplated at the inception of the tenancy from year to year, and it is opposed to the entire usage of Irish country life. The practice of Irish country life is for the landlord to have the sporting over tenancies from year to 1099 year. It is not a right of strict law; we know that. Well, but the tenancy was made of short duration, easily capable of termination, and, therefore, the tenant who chose to be disagreeable and disobliging, without doing anything for himself, had a certain check, a certain control. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] We know that since the right hon. Gentleman passed the Hares and Rabbits Bill, he is one of the greatest authorities as to game. But this Bill is remarkable, not only for the statutory conditions which it contains, but for the statutory conditions which it omits. It would be permissible for a tenant without notice to destroy the offices, level the fences upon the place and on the farm, use the mines and minerals that it contained, mid he would not come under this Bill. There is nothing in it that would prevent him doing any of the things I have mentioned; and there is nothing which would condemn him as a bad or unfair tenant. What power do you give the landlord—do you leave him—to enforce statutory conditions? You leave him the power of serving notices to quit—a power which would expose him to pay on the maximum scale for trying to save his farm from ruin. Is that reasonable? Can any defence be given of that? There is no limit. Why should there be no limit? It is suggested that much that is now proposed was in the Land Bill of 1870, and "another place" is blamed severely in connection with this matter. But what is the history of the limit? It was proposed from the Liberal side of the House, and the Prime Minister said he accepted it willingly and un-grudgingly, because he thought it a decided improvement; and yet now limit is dropped out of the Bill without question or explanation. The position of a head lord towards a sub-tenant, whose immediate middleman landlord has been evicted, is startling. If a piece of land is let for 10 years, and the tenant is evicted for non-payment of rent, the tenant may let a portion of it to a sublessee for 100 years, at a very small rent, in consideration of a large fine; and under this Bill you provide that on the eviction of the middleman the landlord is not entitled to get possession—that the landlord, in fact, is bound to the under tenant, who holds at a merely nominal rent. I do not dwell on the moral effect 1100 of the legislation you are proposing. The Prime Minister said that any concession of the "three F's" would amount to a moral and political revolution. If this Bill passes, will it be for the real good of the Irish people? Are the landlords now, as a rule, not the centres of enlightenment, civilization, and charity? If you pass this Bill you will render them mere rent-chargers—bailiffs for the recovery of rent, and nothing more. What motives will the best Irish landlords have to continue to act as they have acted? What motive will there be for the resident rather than the absentee to carry on a career of improvement, good management, prudent control, and philanthropy? He will be really powerless to do good. Under this Bill the Land Commission is made a great universal land agency business for the management and control of all landed property in Ireland, owners only being left the invidious privilege of collecting rents in the best way they can. The Prime Minister recognized the demoralizing effects of this legislation in 1870, when he said—If I could conceive a plan more calculated than anything else…. for…. carrying widespread demoralization throughout the whole mass of the Irish people…. it is this plan and this demand, that we should embody in our Bill as a part of permanent legislation a provision by which men shall be told that there shall be an authority always existing ready to release them from the contracts they have deliberately entered into."—[3 Hansard, cxcix. 1845.]In the past, in Ireland, there have been several confiscations; but never before has there been in that country a confiscation directly levelled at the loyal, against those who support law and order, and who are the firmest friends of that country's connection with England. You cannot be surprised if it is widely thought and if it is openly said from one end of Ireland to the other that the genius of this legislation has been the Land League. The legislation in this Bill is all for one class—the labourers are ignored. The slender right given to the landlord of resuming possession at his own expense of part of his holding for the benefit of the labourers is postponed for 15 years. Future tenants and their claims are forgotten or postponed; the landlords, of course, are not to be thought of. I ask where, in this legislation, is your guarantee for present 1101 contentment, and where is your guarantee for future peace? The Prime Minister, in introducing the Bill, said that the Court was the core of the measure; it was its salient point, its cardinal principle. This Court will have a stupendous work to do. It will have to consider the most numerous transactions between man and man in Ireland. Every little circumstance connected with the assignment and tenure or the rent of 600,000 holdings in Ireland may all come at once under its purview, and all this is to be done by 21 County Court Judges and three appellate individuals. With a quick-witted, sharp, and litigious people like the Irish, is not this just the condition of things to develope litigation? Will there not be an immediate rush for reduced rents? Will not a man who may be in debt be compelled by his creditors to make a rush for a fixed term which can be immediately laid hold of as security? The litigation under this Bill will be incessant, universal, angry. Calculations have been made by statisticians of the extent, duration, and cost of this litigation. I believe that the most moderate estimate of the duration of this litigation is 100 years. The most moderate figure put down for the cost is between £4,000,000 and £6,000,000. I do not guarantee these figures, for I have no particular taste for statistics. Under this Bill you have no guarantee for uniformity of decision; the decisions under it may vary as rapidly as the sands of the sea move. As to the County Court Judges, I know a number of them; they are able and honourable gentlemen. I believe, if they were consulted on this question, not one of them would desire the labour the Bill proposes to impose upon them. But suppose the County Courts are made tribunals under the Bill, it is obvious the number of Judges must be increased; and it is plain, unless the Judges are to be treated as the landlords are, their salaries must be increased. I am of opinion that any kind of Judge with judicial training and independent tenure of office is better than casual functionaries, it may be, with no training and no guarantee of independence; and therefore I am disposed to think that it will be difficult to get better tribunals than County Court Judges, with a firm tenure, which makes the Judges independent of both the Government and 1102 the populace. The Land Commission is put at the head of the County Court Judges, and is supposed to give them guidance, advice, correction, and strength. I never in my life read of a queerer tribunal than this Land Commission is to be. I do not know who A B, C D, E F, are to be; but they need to be angels from Heaven to fulfil with satisfaction the extraordinary functions given them. There may be a quorum of one, and that quorum of one is free to appoint an unknown delegate with arbitrary powers of giving decisions and doing everything else suggested in the Bill. The delegate of a month may order Judges of the Landed Estates Court about like lackeys; he may hear the appeals of an entire county; he may revise the rents of an entire province; and all this without having one particle of independence, and while being the mere creature of whatever people may appoint him. You have in this tribunal conflict and confusion of jurisdiction. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland has the control of a vast amount of landed property in Ireland in his judicial capacity of guardian of the lunatics of that country. This case may arise. Some of the properties under his control may be let at low rents, as they generally are; he may direct a moderate increase of rent; and this direction of the Lord Chancellor is not to bind the chairman, or the quorum, or the delegate; and the casual itinerant Solon may overrule the Lord Chancellor of Ireland upon this question. A Judge of the High Court, having the control of receivers who are holding property for creditors, may, in the exercise of his judicial discretion, direct rents to be raised; and these unnamed gentlemen, it may be without legal training, and certainly without any fixed status, may overrule him without giving any reasons. The poor County Court Judges are liable to be confused by three sets of rules made by three independent authorities; while their decisions may be taken by way of appeal, partly to the Assizes, and partly to the Land Commission. Is this Commission to be represented in Parliament in any way? Or is it intended that its operations are to be submitted at any time, and, if so, in what way, to public criticism and review? One word upon compensation. If the Bill is open to any of the criticisms I have suggested, 1103 I ask, Have not the Irish landlords a right to either of two things—either a fair compensation for the legislation the State thinks necessary, or else that they should be given the option of selling their properties to the State on fair and reasonable but not exorbitant terms? Can any man conscientiously or fairly say that the property of the Irish landlord is not damaged in the market to the extent of thousands and millions by this legislation? With certainty of reduction of rent, with a penalty for raising it, with the practical certainty of never resuming possession, I ask is there not a clear mutilation of property—is there not a distinct expropriation? What did the Prime Minister say in 1870, when dealing with a proposition which was somewhat like some of those contained in this Bill? He said—I own that I do not myself see any advantage in our rejecting the plan of Mr. Mill, which told out plainly and distinctly and at once the whole of its purposes and results, and amounted, in so many words, to an expropriation of the proprietors, with full compensation. I do not see any advantage in our rejecting that plan, if we are to adopt some other, which, although couched in other language, and, perhaps, contemplating certain stages in the process with something like an agony of procrastination, is, notwithstanding, certainly and inevitably to end in the same conclusion.—[3 Hansard, cxcix. 1849.]Now, I venture to think that the landlords are entitled to one or other of the alternatives I have suggested, and I would put this to the Government. If landlordism is to be done away with, why should not the transaction be done openly and in the light of day? Do not filch their property without confession, or mutilate it without acknowledgment. Let the transaction be English and aboveboard. What you take, take openly, and pay for what you take. If no compensation is to be given, I ask what thinker, what statesman, what man of common honesty, can approve of some of the proposals in this Bill which I have indicated? Would it not be better at once to drop all disguise and recognize plainly the naked features of avowed confiscation? If an Act of Attainder, if a Bill of Pains and Penalties against Irish landlords is intended, it would be better for all parties—for the landlords, for the tenants, for the whole community—to drop the farce of pretending that this is an honest Bill. Let the tenants know in plain English what they get; tell the 1104 landlords in equally plain English what they lose. Do not involve all parties in a sea of angry litigation, in which the landlords must swim for their lives, and in which all parties must lose all memories of past kindliness and all hopes of future amity. To put the matter plainly, it would be better, it would be franker, it would be more considerate, to enact boldly and at once what you intend the Courts to decide. As it stands, unexplained and unamended, the Government Bill is neither direct nor intelligible. It has, to my mind, neither the frankness of fearless justice nor the candour of open confiscation.
§ MR. J. N. RICHARDSON
said, that, although he could not help admiring the splendid speech to which they had just listened, he was not able to agree entirely with the views which his able fellow-countryman had expressed. He certainly could not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was so confused in his apprehensions of this Bill as he professed to be. He had made the discovery that this was a strong and a drastic Bill; and that a British Ministry had at last, after centuries, determined to bring in a measure which was more in the interests of the tenant than of the landlord. There was no doubt that there was a widespread feeling of discontent and insecurity in Ireland, which required a great and drastic remedy. Even in Ulster the state of things was far from satisfactory; free sale there, in spite of what was said to the contrary, being practically non-existent. One point in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech struck him with great satisfaction, and that was the cordiality with which he dealt with the clauses relating to the question of a peasant proprietary. Those clauses he regarded as affording the only final solution of the Irish difficulty, and he could not help being struck by the fact that a few years ago Blackwood's Magazine denounced the scheme which the right hon. and learned Gentleman now approved of in language similar to that which he employed in regard to the Bill at large. Abundant proof of the unsatisfactory condition of things in Ireland was to be found in the evidence taken by the Royal Commissioners. In one case a certain landlord, it was shown, increased his rent at every change of tenant, and ruthlessly evicted those who were unable to pay; and since that evi- 1105 deuce was given, some 20 more families had been evicted on the same man's estate, most of them in a state of the most abject misery. There was also another case in which rents had been very considerably raised over the whole of an estate, the landlord at the same time giving an entertainment at which he announced his intention of doing so, a circumstance which made many persons regard their landlord's hospitality with some degree of suspicion. Thus, in 1878, one of the tenants of this landlord paid £5 2s., but his new rent was £12 5s.; another paid £16, instead of £7 4s.; a third, £11 9s., instead of £6 13s.; and a fourth, £13, instead of £8 14s., and there were many others whose rents had been raised in a similar, if less excessive, proportion. It was only fair to say that the agent of the property stated that during the last 30 years a very large sum of money, about £40,000, had been spent by the landlord in making allowances to the tenants, and that the figures given by some of the tenants, which certainly seemed outrageous, were disputed. However, on the agent's own showing, the new rents were, on an average, 20 per cent higher than the old ones. After that transaction, it was amusing to hear that same agent complain of professional agitators and their effect on the minds of the tenants. Landlords and agents of that kind naturally spread terror among the tenants, especially when their exactions were made not in any remote district Wrest of the Shannon, but, so to speak, in broad daylight and in Ulster. As a further illustration of the sense of insecurity that pervaded the country, it might be mentioned that a very common expression of the people in his own neighbourhood was—"Our souls are not our own;" and that was said, not by ignorant cottiers, but by respectable yeoman farmers in the North, meaning that at election time if they did not vote as their landlords wished it would be the worse for them. Before the Act of 1870 they had to dread eviction; but now what they had to fear was a spiteful rise of their rents. The ballot might be secret in its operation; but it might be possible to order a man not to go to the poll at all. Again, office rules were a fertile cause of ill-feeling and insecurity, and, as one or two instances would show, were often capricious and unreasonable. In one office it was the 1106 rule that "money might not marry off the estate," which meant that a tenant, if he was able to portion his daughter handsomely, should not marry her to a stranger at the risk of displeasing the landlord. On another estate it was the rule that a tenant, if a widower with a family, should not marry again, one family being considered enough for each farm. Such rules might be economically sound; but, at any rate, they interfered greatly with freedom of contract. He trusted that these and other fears of the tenants would be dissipated when they received the fixity of tenure that the Bill would give them. Without unduly entering into detail, he wished to call attention to two important points, one of which was the constitution of the Land Courts. He had personally a high opinion of the County Court Judges; but the Courts, as proposed by the Bill, would hardly command the confidence of the farmers, and he should therefore support any well-considered Amendment that would tend to popularize them. A word might also be said as to the question of titles. If a man bought land under the Commission his title would be guaranteed; but if, as was likely enough, he sold it again, the benefit conferred by the Bill would be very much reduced, as he would have to comply with the existing process of transfer, which, besides being very cumbrous, constantly afforded opportunities of unjust dealing and dishonesty to local attorneys. For instance, he knew of one case in which a widow buying a piece of land for £96, borrowed £40 at 50 per cent from the local attorney, who was also good enough to charge her £20 for making out her title. However economically unsound the Bill might be considered by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he, speaking neither as a tenant nor a landlord, but as one engaged in commercial pursuits, must say that there could not be anything more economically unsound than the state of things now existing in Ireland. Whether this measure would cure the evils of Ireland or not, the thanks of the people of that country would be due to a Government which had taken up their cause. The woes of Ireland might not come to an end in a day; but when the tenant farmer had security of tenure, fair rents, and free sale, that would go far to heal them.
§ After a pause,
§ MR. WARTON
rose, and said, that he fully endorsed the estimate of the Bill which had been given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). Having striven to understand the Bill as well as he could, he must say that, in his judgment, every argument used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman against that most unreasonable Bill was perfectly true and correct. He did not give that opinion merely upon his own judgment; the close attention given to the examination of the subject by the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in itself a strong ground upon which to base opposition to the Bill; but a still stronger and a far better guide was to be found in the countenances and demeanour of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Every time the right hon. and learned Gentleman tried to elicit an opinion from them, they were mute; like the dying Cardinal, they made no sign. They were overwhelmed by the crushing exposition of the right hon. and learned Gentleman; and he (Mr. Warton) very much doubted whether the Law Officers of the Crown could really explain what the measure meant, for they had no answer to make to the strong objections which had been taken to the Bill. There they sat perplexed, not knowing their own minds, and certainly no two of thorn of the same mind. They might be waiting with the hope of being able to snatch a hasty division—which was quite in keeping with the policy they had been pursuing—by bringing on the second reading of the Bill at a time most inconvenient to a large body of the Members of the House, and to which they were prompted by a most unworthy motive. That was worthy of the Ministry. The House had been told by the Prime Minister that the landlords of Ireland had been tried and acquitted. That was the reason, he supposed, why the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. J. N. Richardson), with his splendid eloquence, had given so many instances of harshness on the part of Irish landlords; but then the hon. Gentleman qualified his statement by such words as "lately" and "formerly," and alleged some trivialities in one or two cases. The hon. Gentleman dissented, it appeared, from the Prime Minister. But what was the Prime Minister's own no- 1108 tion of justice? They were told in the Book, which all were believed to revere, until the election of Northampton taught them otherwise, that if a guilty city held 10 righteous men it would be spared. But the Premier's notion of justice was exactly the opposite of the Divine notion. Because, according to the right hon. Gentleman, on account of a few guilty men, a whole class would be punished. If, instead of his present Office, the right hon. Gentleman was in charge of the education of youths, for which his learning so admirably suited him, if some boys misbehaved themselves he would give a flogging all round. But, what was worse, the right hon. Gentleman would not only give the boys a flogging all round, but would pick out the best boys and flog them them the hardest; at least, that was the principle of the Bill, because it appeared that where a landlord had done the best, he was to be punished the most. Where a landlord's rents were low, and he had spent nearly all his income on improving his estate, he was to be deprived of nearly all his property, and all his efforts to do good were to go for nothing. For his own part, he (Mr. Warton) always distrusted those who made extraordinary professions of liberality and were always talking of justice. Ten years ago, in introducing another Land Bill, the Prime Minister said that there was an old Irish notion that some property in the soil remained to the tenant even after the contract between him and his landlord had expired. That notion, which was scouted by the right hon. Gentleman in 1870, was accepted by him now. Last year, when the Compensation for Disturbance Bill was before them, the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), in his usual fussy and flatulent style, said that he rejoiced that the tenant's right of property had been conceded; but that statement was not accepted by Her Majesty's Government. Now, however, they would be told that something had happened, and that the landlord's share in his property was less. The reason why he distrusted and disliked this Bill was that they had no security in the character of the Premier that they should not have another Bill in a few years entirely destroying what little value might yet remain in the landlord's hands of their property. He asserted that that, in fact, was the ultimate aim of the Govern- 1109 ment. This Bill, which consisted of many parts, might have another part tacked on, and that was a confiscation part. In a few years, when the landlord's property was reduced to five or six years' purchase, those five or six years' purchase might be taken away. What was the principle laid down by the Premier? It was this—that a question should be dealt with when it entered the region of practical politics. Constitutional agitation was nothing to the Premier; the expressed opinion of the people, given at the polling booths, was also nothing to the right hon. Gentleman; but the blowing up of a prison, or the shooting of a policeman, that was the Premier's notion of practical politics. He did not scruple to say that the Government, by their guilty silence last year, encouraged Irish discontent and rowdyism in breaking out into open rebellion. They knew very well at that time that it was intended to diminish the value of landlords' property in Ireland. They were diminishing it now. He contended that it would take some 30 or 40 years of litigation to get the Bill into proper working order. If the questions put to the Government were not answered, the Bill would remain wrapped up in endless obscurity. Everything depended upon that, and he hoped the Government would be able to throw some light upon the Bill, and answer the criticisms which had been passed upon its principle and details. Why, he should like to know, had the period of 15 years been fixed for the revision of rents, if not to allow time for the litigation which must inevitably arise in the Courts to expire. The real fact of the case was that the Government had yielded to unworthy clamour and agitation, instead of telling Ireland at once that we intended to govern her, and that we should never consent to her becoming a Republic; that we were determined to hold her—if possible, as a friend; if not, otherwise. But instead of a course of that kind being adopted, the Government, yielding to agitation, asked the House to send a message of peace to Ireland, forgetting that the history of the past proved that any such would only lead to fresh demands and new schemes of plunder and confiscation. He had only, in conclusion, to say, as no one on the Treasury Bench had risen to answer the questions which had been 1110 put to the Government, that he begged to move the adjournment of the debate, in order to give them time to make up their minds.
§ After a pause,
§ MR. SPEAKER
rose, and put the Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time"—["Divide divide!"]—whereupon—
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Warton.)
said, he wished to say a few words on the subject. Members of the Government should be allowed time to collect their thoughts and address themselves upon the subject to the House. He, perhaps, might be allowed to assist the Government in remembering what had taken place. A powerful speech was made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). [Mr. MUNDELLA: Hear, hear!] He saw no reason why he should be interrupted by the sarcastic cheer of the right hon. Gentleman. A powerful speech, he repeated, was made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the absence of the leading Members of the Government, containing certain questions, some of policy and some of mere law, which the right hon. and hon. and learned Gentlemen the Attorney General for Ireland and the Solicitor General, who sat opposite to him when he made his speech, were obviously unable to answer. They, indeed, sat with perfectly wooden faces, making no signs of either assent or dissent to the question propounded. [Mr. GLADSTONE and other right hon. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!] The explanation of such a proceeding was very simple, and was that there were no Members of the Government present who dared to give an explanation in the absence of the Prime Minister. No Member of the Government could, under those circumstances, answer either "Yes" or "No." The present position, therefore, in which the House stood at that moment was that until some answer was given to the questions of the right hon. and learned Member for the Uni- 1111 versity of Dublin, the House was left in ignorance as to the meaning of several important parts of the Bill, and that if the debate went on, hon. Members would not really know what it was they were engaged in discussing. The debate, in the circumstances, ought, he thought, to be adjourned until some answer was given to the important questions of his right hon. and learned Friend.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
thought that the conduct of the Government in the matter was most remarkable; in fact, almost unexampled. The House had been informed by the Prime Minister himself that the Bill was the most important measure of his time in Parliament; but notwithstanding the protest of some hon. Members, and greatly against the desire of a large section of those on the Opposition side of the House, the Government had determined to take the second reading on the first night of the reassembling of the House after the Recess. That was a very inconvenient course to pursue, for no sufficient time had thus been allowed to hon. Members to consider the course which they should take with regard to the Bill, of which from its very nature he believed not a single Member of the House, except the Prime Minister, understood the precise meaning. What had happened? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) made a most able, temperate, and moderate speech, and put to the Government a number of pointed questions, which he asked to have answered, on the ground that until they had been answered it would be impossible to understand many points of the measure. The Treasury Bench, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke was full, and instead of some Member of the Government rising, as always had happened in the course of his (Mr. Chaplin's) experience, there had been a general clearing of the House, and no answer was given, and no notice had been taken of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech by the Government. It was left to an independent Member on the Back Benches opposite to reply to that speech, and he was followed by another independent Member. He (Mr. Chaplin) hoped, in the circumstances, the Government would see the propriety of returning some answer to the questions which had been put to them.
The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) has animadverted on the conduct of some of the Members of the Government in terms which are, I think, scarcely becoming a Member of this House. He says that while the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) was speaking, my right hon. and hon. and learned Friends the Attorney General and the Solicitor General for Ireland sat listening opposite to him with wooden faces. That is not the way in which Members of this House are accustomed to be addressed; and if the hon. and learned Member for Chatham has not been able to learn the proper mode of approaching his Colleagues in this House, which is to be regretted, it is quite time indeed that those who disapprove of his methods of speech should take notice of it. I came into the House after the Motion for the adjournment had been made. I heard of it with very much surprise. I was informed that when the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. J. N. Richardson) sat down, there did not appear to be a disposition on the other side of the House to continue the debate; but now I find that the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) has kindly undertaken to determine for the Government in what order speeches are to be delivered, and when it is necessary, in his judgment, that Members of the Government should rise, or when the House should be punished by having the debate interrupted altogether by a Motion for adjournment. But I must protest against the hon. Gentleman's mode of dealing with the subject. What I believe happened was this—There were a number of questions put categorically to the Government, many of which I heard myself, though, unfortunately, I could not myself be in the House at the early part of the speech, in reference to the construction of the Bill, and which called for an answer. I say it is altogether a new doctrine that on the instant these answers should be given, "Aye" or "No." Yet we are told the Attorney and Solicitor General for Ireland sat with "wooden faces," and would not give an answer. It does not appear to me to require a man to be a lawyer to know—even many laymen might be aware—that there are a great number of questions which may be put which cannot 1113 possibly be answered off-hand by "Aye" or "No"—indeed, I should like to hear whether the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham is prepared to answer "Aye" or "No" any question which a Member of this House might put to him. In abstaining from answering at the moment the questions raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, we thought we were offering the greatest mark of respect the Government could show him if we conversed together on the several points which had been raised, and made ourselves quite certain that when we came to reply we might not in respect to them be misleading the House. ["Hear, hear!"] I am not at all surprised to hear that mark of assent from experienced Gentlemen opposite; but that is precisely the thing that was done. But there is nothing to be ashamed of in saying that my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Forster), intending to address the House to-night, and not being a lawyer, was in conversation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland upon several points raised when this singular episode arose. Now, I want to know whether, in so doing, the Government were not taking the best means for pressing forward the debate in the most convenient manner? As a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend will have to address the House for a considerable time. It has been asserted by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire that he never knew a case of an important speech by a prominent Member of the Opposition that was not instantly followed by an answer from a Member of the Government; but, with great deference to the enormous Parliamentary experience of the hon. Gentleman, I may say that my limited knowledge of the proceedings of this House supplies me with many instances, and I know there are hon. Members of this House who rather make a point of delivering important speeches between 6 and 8 o'clock, in order that they might not be followed immediately by a Member of the Government. The hon. Member is not aware of what takes place in this House, when, with his limited knowledge, he undertakes to lay down what the order of debate shall be. I am anxious that the House should not suppose that there has been any disrespect 1114 shown on the part of the Government to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or to the House itself; for whatever we may think of the moderation or justice of his opinions, he always speaks them out with great force and frankness, and it is just in the case of those speeches where the points are most sharply put that Members on the opposite side of the House should give their answers not less clearly and explicitly. The Government will, by the mouths of its Members, endeavour to answer the various points raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but surely they may exercise their own discretion as to the precise hours of the evening, and as to the precise conjuncture in the debate, when their answers shall be given. I hope the debate will now be allowed to proceed.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I must say that the last words which fell from the Prime Minister have surprised me exceedingly, for the whole argument in his speech appeared to me to be an argument in favour of adjourning this debate in order to give the Government time to consider what answers they should make to the questions that have been put to them by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson). I am far from wishing to impute to the Government any disrespect or want of attention, either to the House or to my right hon. and learned Friend, in their taking time to consider what answers they ought to give to the extremely powerful speech of my right hon. and learned Friend. But the position in which we are placed is this. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) says he hopes the House will be allowed to go on with the debate. Well, we were the last to object to go on with it; but as the House did not seem inclined to go on, and as the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend was unanswered, I found that we were actually going to be called upon to vote upon the second reading of the Bill in entire ignorance whether there was an answer to that argument or not. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government says, and he appeals to us to confirm him, that it is a very common practice for a Minister to defer his answer to an important speech made from the Opposition Bench for some little time, and until there is a reasonably full 1115 House in which to carry on the discussion; and he said very truly that it was often the case that a Member spoke up to 8 o'clock or thereabouts in order that time might be given for the consideration of the answer that should be made to the speech. But my right hon. and learned Friend did not speak till 8 o'clock. He only spoke till a quarter past 6; and it did certainly seem true to me, even if it were not possible to answer off-hand all the questions that were put, that there were many of them which related to points which had been before the public for weeks, which have been under discussion in the Press and elsewhere, and to which the attention of the Government must have been called. Now, I will go so far as to say that if the Government, after all the pains which they must have bestowed on a Bill of such enormous importance, are so little prepared to explain and defend the principles of their own measure, and to reply, not to isolated and bye questions, but to questions which relate to cardinal principles, and which involve the whole machinery of the Bill and the meaning of this not insignificant measure—if they are in that position, they were guilty of a great insult to the House in calling upon us to discuss this question, or to vote upon it without discussion. I can quite understand that the Government may have expected that it would be a convenient arrangement to wait, and anticipated that after the speech made from this Bench other hon. Members from other parts of the House, and representing different sections of it, might have desired to carry on the discussion. Had such a desire been evinced, the Government might have thought that it would be well to answer the separate speeches altogether. But when they saw there was no such desire; when they saw that not one of the Representatives of the Third Party (the Irish Party) rose to say a word; when they saw that none of their own independent supporters, except the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. J. N. Richardson), got up to say anything; and when they found that we on this side of the House were waiting to hear what sort of an answer could be made to any part of the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend, they ought to have attempted to answer as much as they could of that speech, and to have 1116 explained generally their position, and the modifications, perhaps, which they may have thought right to introduce into the Bill after consideration during the Holidays; or they ought frankly to have assented to the proposal that the debate should be adjourned. Nobody can deny that the course which the Government has taken has been very inconvenient indeed to the House. They brought forward this measure the very day before the House rose. It was impossible to criticize it then, and no opportunity was given for putting questions or in any way eliciting information. When the Bill was laid before us we found that we were obliged to come here for the second reading on the first Monday after the Easter Recess, and we were twitted if we showed any kind of reluctance. In spite of all this, however, when we come here and ask for information, not only in a Parliamentary manner, but in a manner in which the country will have expected us to ask it, are we to comment upon questions of this magnitude in the dark—questions which affect, and even revolutionize, the whole social system of Ireland? Are we to be left without an answer, and to be told that it is an insult on our part to ask questions? The Government, I say, have no right to take that position. We are entitled to have an explanation of the points that have been raised; and if the Government are not prepared to give that explanation now, let us take the course that has been proposed and adjourn the debate until such a time as they shall be able to do so.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) is hardly fair. In the first place, he takes upon himself to dictate to us at what time we should speak, and the arrangement we shall make for the debate. Indeed, he even goes so far as to say, because no one rose from this Bench immediately after the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), that we had no explanation to give. Well, I hope that before the evening closes we shall show that that is a mistake. But I have no objection to say that I and my right hon. Friends expected that I should know before I spoke what were the views and feelings of other hon. Gentlemen besides the right hon. and learned Gentleman 1117 the Member for the University of Dublin. I cannot help thinking that this may still be the case. The hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) jumped to the conclusion that, because he was the only Gentleman who rose on that side of the House, no one wanted to go on with the debate. How did he know that half-a-dozen Gentlemen on this side of the House were not willing to continue it? I cannot pry into the motives and feelings of right hon. Members opposite; but they wanted to force an immediate answer to the questions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Well, I do not know that we are bound to obey their behests immediately, and I imagine that there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who are prepared to go on with the debate.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was not in the House when the adjournment of the debate was moved. I admit that his absence was due to a justifiable and praiseworthy cause, and that he and his Colleagues were most properly discussing what answers should be given to the questions that have been put to them.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
We were not so much discussing what answers to give as what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had said.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
Anyhow, the right hon. Gentleman was not in the House when the incident occurred, and, consequently, he a little misunderstood and mis-stated it. What happened was this. Nobody, when my right hon. and learned Friend sat down, got up on the Treasury Bench, nor did anyone get up to speak on the Government side of the House except the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. J. N. Richardson). That hon. Member made a very short speech; and, so far as I could understand it, it was not a speech which could materially assist or explain the principles of the measure. When he sat down, no one rose among the real Leaders of the Government on this occasion—I refer to hon. Members from Ireland below the Gangway—nor did any Gentleman connected with the independent Radicals in this House show any wish to speak. In fact, nobody rose, and Mr. Speaker proceeded to put the Question. Then my hon. and learned 1118 Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) got up and made a speech full of effusions of vivacious humour, concluding by moving the adjournment of the debate. He was seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and after that Mr. Speaker, not hearing the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend, waited until the usual period had elapsed, and then rose and proceeded to put the Question that the Bill be read a second time. What followed? I think hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial Bench—or, if it were not they, at all events, hon. Gentlemen sitting immediately behind them—cried "Divide, divide!" The House, therefore, absolutely with the assent of those Members of the Government who were sitting on the Front Bench, was proceeding to a division on the Main Question, when my hon. and learned Friend called Mr. Speaker's attention to the fact that he had moved the adjournment of the debate. Then, and not till then, did Mr. Speaker put the Question of adjournment. During the putting of that Question the absent Ministers entered the House, and then came the lecture from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister upon the demeanour and upon the propriety of the language of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). I beg to express my opinion that that lecture was quite uncalled for and unnecessary; because, if my hon. and learned Friend had not observed the usual customs and received courtesies of this House, you, Mr. Speaker, would have called his attention to the fact. But as you, Sir, took no notice of the observations which he had made, the hon. and learned Gentleman may rest quite content with the severe censure of the right hon. Gentleman. I think it is right to state the facts as they occurred. It is quite out of the views of hon. Gentlemen who sit near me that this important debate should be concluded in the manner in which the Friends of the Ministry appeared to wish that it should conclude. They are of opinion that the debate should be continued; and I would venture to suggest to those who have the management of affairs in this House, if they wish the debate to be continued, they had better exercise that gentle pressure, which they know so well how to apply to their Friends sitting on the 1119 Back Benches, in order to keep up the debate until Ministers have made up their own minds as to the course they intend to take, and the explanations they propose to offer.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I confess I was extremely interested in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson); but there was one thing about it which a little surprised me. That was, considering the ability of the speech, and the firmness and decision with which it condemned the Bill in almost every part, considering that the right hon. and learned Gentleman ended by saying that it was not an honest Bill, but a Bill proposing confiscation, I was a little surprised, I say, that he, representing the Opposition in this House, did not say whether he was going to vote for the Bill, or propose an Amendment, or vote against the Bill. There are some people, no doubt, who have not made up their minds, though they have given up the Easter Recess to the study of the Bill, as to the course which they are going to take; but the only proper and natural Parliamentary conclusion to such a speech as that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been a Motion for the rejection of the Bill. But, instead of that, what is the position which has been taken up? The Opposition, led by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), who was supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), as I understand, has begun a tactic of judicious adjournments of the debate on this measure. If the matter had stopped there, I should have thought this was one of the humorous freaks to which we are accustomed, and which we enjoy with amusement sometimes, of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport, until some observations which we made ourselves led us to the conclusion that this is what is generally understood as an arranged movement. It was not until we observed the communications which passed with the hon. and learned Member for Bridport before the Motion was made, and when he himself, the light frigate, had opened fire, that then the heavy threedeckers from the Front Opposition Bench came forward to support the Motion to adjourn the debate on the Irish Land Bill, that we understood the position of 1120 affairs. Now, it seems to me that the worst thing we can do is to waste any more time in the discussion of a Motion for adjournment. It is a very fair issue, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson), who has denounced this Bill as a Bill of confiscation, dare not take a direct issue against it. In spite of the language which he has employed to-night, he dare not say that the Opposition will oppose this Bill. And now let us, at least, know whether the majority of the House of Commons are in favour of the policy of obstruction proposed from the Front Opposition Bench.
SIR ASSHETON CROSS
The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) will, I hope, hereafter deplore—I am sure everyone else will deplore—that he should have allowed himself, even for one moment, to have been betrayed into the language which he has just used. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman will some time deeply regret it, for no man has ever set his face so much against obstruction as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). I agree that it is quite time to go on with the debate upon this Bill; but I hope we are not to have the Speaker putting the Question until some answer has been made to the questions which have been put to-night. But let me remind the Government that this debate has arisen from the very unusual course which they themselves have taken. Never in the recollection of any Member of this House, of whatever standing, was it ever known that a Bill of such importance as the present should be placed upon the Table, read a first time, and should then be read a second time without a single opportunity of placing an Amendment upon the Paper being allowed after the Bill has been in the hands of the House. That course I believe to be absolutely without precedent, and I hope it will never be followed again. I hope we shall now go on with the discussion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, that as he understood they were in the same position as before the last Motion, no one having risen to continue the debate, he would move that the House do now adjourn. It was all very well to criticize Members of 1121 the Opposition and charge them with obstruction; but the real obstructors were Her Majesty's Government. He might not be believed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Secretary of State for the Home Department; but he would state that when he came to the House he did not know whether he should support the Bill or not. He was waiting to hear what answer or explanation the Government had to give by way of answer to the speech of his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson). Whether he voted for or against the second reading of the Bill would in some measure depend upon whether the provisions as to rent valuation mentioned in the Bill bore the construction put upon it by his right hon. and learned Friend. If it bore a different construction, he and others might, perhaps, vote for the second reading. But let the House understand the position of affairs. When the Motion recently made was withdrawn, had anyone risen to continue the debate? No; the House was, therefore, left to go to a division without any explanation from the Government of what the Bill really meant. He was not afraid that the country would misunderstand what had occurred. The country certainly would not throw upon the Opposition the charge of obstruction. He was most anxious that the Government should have as much time as they desired to make up their minds as to the answer they would give to the speech of his right hon. and learned Friend. He desired to see the Bill fairly and honestly discussed; but what would the public think of the proceedings of that evening? They would think that the Government, having long considered this Bill, did not themselves know what it meant, and that when the Party which was bound by its history and traditions thoroughly to investigate such a measure as that before the House asked for information as to its meaning, the Government sat quietly by and proposed to leave them in the dark.
§ MR. CHAPLIN,
in seconding the Motion, said, that he had no desire in any way to obstruct the Bill; but he did so because he was ashamed to confess that he honestly did not know whether he rightly understood the measure, and was waiting to hear what answer would be made to the speech of his 1122 right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). He would remind the Government that as no one got up to continue the debate, the Government had no choice but to supply an immediate answer to that speech. He should like to hear what explanation the Government had to offer for refusing to reply to the able and moderate speech of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin; and he had no doubt an equal desire prevailed on the other side of the House to hear the answer of the Government to the questions which had been put. Until the Government had answered the speech of the right hon. and learned Member (Mr. Gibson), he, for one, did not know whether to vote for or against the Bill. There were at that moment eight or nine Members of the Government on the Front Bench, and unless they were prepared to meet the speech of his right hon. and learned Friend, the country and the House could come to only one conclusion—namely, that Her Majesty's Ministers were utterly unable to answer that speech, and did not at present understand their own Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Lewis.)
§ MR. LITTON
said, the tactics of the Opposition were perfectly manifest. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), whose speech partook rather too much of the character of an advocate's speech, sought to draw a statement from the Treasury Bench in regard to many important points of the Bill. He (Mr. Litton) thought, however, that the Government had shown their good sense and prudence in not returning an answer to the questions addressed to them, because the object was to precipitate the debate before it had developed itself, and to extract answers which might be made use of in the progress of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, so as to make an unfavourable impression in the country in the morning papers. If these were the tactics to be pursued at the outset of that debate, there was very little chance that in the future progress of the Bill the subject would be considered with that amount of judicial quietness and spirit 1123 with which its consideration should be approached. He hoped the Motion for adjournment would be withdrawn.
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
said, as an Irish Member, he felt bound to protest against dilatory Motions for adjournment being made on the threshold of the discussion of that momentous question. When hon. Members from Ireland moved such Motions they were charged with obstruction; but when hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House sought to adjourn the debate upon a measure which was of a remedial and not a coercive character they repudiated any idea of obstruction. Now, when they were called upon to discuss that great remedial measure, let them be consistent and not interpose adjournment Motions to delay the progress of so important a measure. He came down to hear what could be said by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Benches in the way of criticism on the Bill; but no one arose, to his (Mr. A. M. Sullivan's) astonishment, except the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) after the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. J. N. Richardson), and he only to move the adjournment. He (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) appealed to both sides of the House to proceed with the debate, for while time was being wasted in Party criticism tenants in Ireland had evictions hanging over them, so that what was sport to them was death to others. Let there be an end to this episode, and when the debate was resumed there would be no lack of speakers.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he thought it should in justice be stated that the points mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson) were the very points on which explanations were required. The House must feel that this was something like the real situation of affairs—the Prime Minister might be said alone to understand this Bill. ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition Benches.] He made that observation with no intention of raising a derisive cheer from the other side. He made it in perfect seriousness. The Bill had to do with the Act of 1870, and was the result of a most prolonged and difficult consideration of the whole Land Question by the Prime Minister. Under ordinary circumstances, the Prime Minister would have been present at the commencement of the debate; 1124 but he was unable to be present, and when the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin was concluded, he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) certainly expected that someone on the Treasury Bench would rise and give the explanations asked for. They ought to approach the discussion of this measure in the fairest and most judicial spirit. One great point was that there should be some tribunal to stand between the landlord and tenant. Another point was the right of free sale. On that the Prime Minister had laid great stress; but there were other points on which hon. Members could not commit themselves without knowing exactly the meaning of the Government. He was not going beyond the duty he owed to the Government; he was anxious to give them the fullest support in their heroic attitude towards this Bill; for he believed the Bill contained within it the elements of a radical settlement of the Land Question for all time; but its provisions must be made perfectly clear and distinct, although the questions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin were, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated and rhetorical. For his own part, he was most anxious that there should be no recriminations about obstruction. He did not believe the conduct of hon. Members opposite had been actuated in the slightest degree by a desire to obstruct the Business of the House; but it was only reasonable that they should desire to obtain information on the points raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. Questions such as those relating to the purchase of tenant right by the landlord, and the disability of the landlord to go into the same Court as the tenant, were very important, and ought to be answered. If they were not answered, the House was likely either to drift into an aimless and profitless discussion of the whole Land Question on general principles, or engender within itself a heat eminently ill-calculated to settle the question. Those points, he might observe, were not raised now for the first time, as they had been discussed at every meeting and in every newspaper in the Three Kingdoms during the Recess.
§ MR. BRODRICK
supported the appeal made to the Prime Minister by the 1125 hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry). The question was whether hon. Members were to go on discussing the measure under what might possibly be a total misconception of the meaning of those points which had been referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). Hon. Members on that side were entitled to protest against the course which was being adopted with regard to the Bill. More than a fortnight ago, before the adjournment, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) prophesied that if such a course were adopted the House would enter into a discussion without having the power to continue it. In the circumstances, he hoped that a protest, not on the ground of obstruction, but merely that they might be allowed to properly understand the Bill, would have due weight with Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
trusted that, if the Motion for adjournment were persisted in, the House would divide upon it, defeat it, and then proceed with the debate. No hon. Gentleman followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) except for the purpose of moving the adjournment of the debate. It was well known that there were hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House who entertained objections to the Bill which were very different from those held by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of it as a lawyer; but there were others who, like the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), regarded it from the country gentleman's point of view. The Prime Minister was now asked to stand up and reply to one Member of the Opposition. This was a course, however, which had never before been pursued; and he thought the Government were entitled to have the full case stated against the Bill from every point of view before they were called upon to reply to objections. If the Conservative Party, instead of stating their objections, would insist upon entering into a conspiracy of silence, and if they thus deprived the Government of the opportunity of hearing all the main objections to the Bill before answering them, he thought the country would 1126 blame the Conservative Party for the course they pursued. He might add that the Irish Representatives were also entitled to know adequately and completely the nature of the objections raised against the Bill by the Conservative Members.
§ MR. PLUNKET
remarked that this was a matter of the most grave importance to the country, and said it was extremely undesirable that the debate should degenerate into an unworthy wrangle on the question of adjournment. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] The right hon. Gentleman said "Hear, hear!" in a very contemptuous manner; but he knew very well that he had endeavoured to fasten a charge of obstruction upon the Conservative Party which even his supporters had protested against. If the Government would undertake that at 10 o'clock, or some other convenient time, a reply should be given by some one on their behalf to the objections raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), he was certain the Motion for adjournment would be at once withdrawn. All that hon. Members on the Opposition side desired was that the debate should be conducted in a manner which was likely to advance the real elucidation of the grave issue which was at stake. The logical conclusion to be drawn from the speeches of hon. Members sitting on the Treasury Bench was that the House ought to have adjourned till 10 o'clock, or to such other time when the First Lord of the Treasury, or the Chief Secretary for Ireland, or whoever else might be selected to answer his right hon. and learned Friend, would be able to speak, and when the House could know what interpretation the Government gave of their own Bill in answer to the questions raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. If the Government would undertake to conduct the debate in the ordinary way, either by one of their own body or one of their ordinary supporters answering the important speech of his right hon. and learned Colleague, he was certain that the Motion before the House would be withdrawn. The course, however, which had been pursued was certainly not fair to hon. Members on that side of the House, whose only and earnest wish was that the question should be fully considered with a view to a satisfactory 1127 conclusion being arrived at. The fact was, however, that by accident—if it was by accident—on the first day of a most important debate of a most important measure the discussion almost fell through. If it had not been that when the question was put an hon. and learned Member interposed there would have been a very grave and serious miscarriage in the collapse of the debate. He sincerely hoped that some satisfactory conclusion of the present incident would be arrived at.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that his right hon. and learned Friend who had just sat down (Mr. Plunket) had spoken with great moderation on the question which had been raised. He (Mr. Forster) quite agreed with him that they ought to proceed with the debate, and he did not think there would be any difficulty in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had mistaken the position when he said that, as a natural consequence of fixing that night for the debate, no Amendment could be put on the Paper. The fact was that three Notices of Amendments already appeared on the Paper, and he confessed that he came down to the House expecting that they would be moved. He was rather surprised, however, to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) rise in his place when the second reading of the Bill had been moved, instead of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Villiers-Stuart), the noble Lord (Lord Elcho), or the third hon. Member who had given Notice of Amendment. The hon. Member for Waterford was now in his place, and he hoped to have the opportunity of hearing the remarks of the hon. Member before he addressed the House. It had been said that there had been a conclave of Ministers to consider the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. Well, that speech was a most interesting one; but it did not require a conclave of Ministers to consider it. What really did happen was the most natural thing in the world. His right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not reach the House until three-fourths of that speech had been delivered, and it was natural he should wish to hear from a Colleague the argu- 1128 ments that had been advanced. Then, again, two or three legal points had been raised, and as to these he desired to consult his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General before addressing the House. He could assure the House that the Government desired to give the fullest opportunity for discussion, and that they were perfectly able to give the explanations that had been asked for, but they would take their own time to do so; and, inasmuch as Amendments had been placed on the Order Book, it was but reasonable that they should hear what was to be said in support of them before they replied.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, they had on that side been charged with obstruction; but he begged to say that it had been made unnecessarily, and that there was no foundation whatever for that charge. Charges had been brought against them most recklessly, and without due consideration on the part of those who advanced them. What the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) had just pointed out was exactly what appeared to them to be the state of the case. The Bill was brought forward and distributed just before the Recess. It was introduced on the last day, and there was really no time, as his right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had stated, for that consultation which was necessary after the Bill was in print; and, therefore, as his right hon. Friend had stated, no opportunity had occurred for considering Amendments. Nevertheless, Amendments were put down, among them one of considerable importance by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Villiers-Stuart). When they came to consider what was likely to be the course of the debate, they had before them the warning of the Prime Minister, that it was not, in his opinion, possible that it could be concluded in one night—that that would, in fact, be only the beginning of the debate. And, looking at the enormous importance and the difficult and intricate character of the measure, everyone must feel that it was due to the country and to the House that there should be a full and satisfactory discussion of the question. Well, it was understood that the first place would be given to the hon. Member for Waterford; but they saw that there were 1129 points on which further information was required, and that it would be difficult to carry on the debate until these points were cleared up. The hon. Member for Waterford did not press his precedence, and questions as to which information was required were put by his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) in a speech, not of great length, but of a full character, and at a time when answers could have at once been given. If, subsequently, other questions were raised by other Members, there would still be plenty of time for their discussion. But what occurred? They found themselves really on the point of a division, and probably on the second reading being carried and affirmed, and that in absolute ignorance of the opinions of the Government on most important points, and without any opportunity being given to any hon. Member who had not been in his place to express his opinion. It might be said that every hon. Member ought to be there. But it was not their fault that the Government had fixed the first clay after the Recess for the commencement of so important a discussion. He hoped the effect of what had been done would be not to stop debate, but to bring it about. If it had not been for the course taken by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) they might not have had a debate at all. He trusted that the debate would now proceed, and that, though the present conversation had been somewhat animated—not more so, however, than was necessary—it would not prejudice the calm and full and adequate consideration of the most important measure before them. He was sure that if the Government desired to have the Bill discussed and weighed by the House, they would use their influence, if such should be necessary, to have the debate continued in the manner in which such discussions were usually carried on. The last speech had been made from that side of the House, and if it were answered the hon. Member for Waterford would have an opportunity of moving his Amendment, to which he trusted full consideration would be given. He thought that no blame could properly attach to hon. Members for the part they had taken in preventing a chance division being snapped upon the most important stage of the most important measure that he 1130 thought he ever remembered being brought before the House; for if they had taken any other course they would have stultified themselves.
§ MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Member that the Question as to the adjournment of the House had not been disposed of.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. VILLIERS-STUART
It is in no unfriendly spirit towards the Land Law Bill that I have given Notice of the Motion that stands in my name. On the contrary, it is in the hope that a grave omission may be supplied, and that it may be brought a step nearer to that which we all long for—a substantial settlement of the Land Question. Such a settlement must involve, if it is to be of any permanent benefit, the redress of grievances of the various classes connected with land, and depending upon agriculture for their subsistence; that cannot be considered a settlement of it which leaves out a class amounting to half the entire agricultural population of Ireland. The labourers, with their families, number not less than 2,000,000 of human beings. The condition in which a large number of these live is a disgrace to any civilized community, and a standing reproach to the Government of England. Nothing strikes a foreigner visiting Ireland with greater astonishment, I may say indignation, than the miserable hovels in which Irish farm labourers reside. Roofs of rotten thatch, floors of mud, with one single room doing duty at night as a dormitory for all ages and both sexes, while, in the daytime, it is shared by the pig and the poultry. Let me read a description from an official Return made last year for the information of the Members of this House. It is the Report of Dr. Nixon, Medical Inspector, relative to Swinford Union. He said—I have the honour to report that I visited on yesterday, with Captain Spaight, the Faheens, a small village three miles from Swinford. It consists of 41 cabins, nearly all of which are single-roomed, accommodating 46 families, and has a population of 188. The condition of the people here is extremely wretched. In most of the cabins cattle and pigs are kept in the room that is occupied by the family. The sewage 1131 matter is partly carried off by open drains which run through the centre of the floor, whilst stagnant pools, containing all sorts of offensive matter, lie in front of the cabins. In this village there is no sewage of any kind, and no road for cars within more than a mile's reach. The food of the people here consists almost exclusively of Indian meal without milk. Nothing could exceed the complete absence of sanitary arrangements in this village. There were fully eight inches of manure in one cabin in the room where seven persons lived, and the woman of the house explained that she could not clear it out, as then she would have no manure. A large pond filled with greenish water, and containing all kinds of sewage matter, was in front of the house, and the sewer in connection with it had its mouth closed by a large stone put against it; yet, although illness existed in three families in this village, for over two months, it was only on the preceding day that the medical officer of the district was sent for.Of course, this must not be taken as a general description of the condition of Irish labourers' cottages; but it is true of only too many of them. What houses to return to after a hard day's work! What materials for discontent, for disaffection, for a fierce sense of wrong and injury, for an outburst of a more desperate agitation and revolt than any that Ireland has yet seen! For it will be by men who have nothing to lose, who cannot be worse off than they are. Do not tell me, then, that there can be a satisfactory settlement while such festering sores are left without the salve of healing measures. You may build a fine house over a putrid cesspool; you may thus bury out of sight the mass of corruption; your edifice may be goodly to view, but it contains within itself the elements of dissolution and death for those that trust in it. So you may rear the edifice of your Land Bill over the festering sore and the grievous wrongs of the Irish labourers, hiding them for the moment out of sight; but you will leave an element of corruption and decay in the very foundations of it which will be fatal to its permanence. What will be the feelings of these men when they see the wrongs of the class immediately above them redressed; when they see benefits, concessions, favours, piled upon them without stint, while they are left to their misery and wretchedness, put off with vague promises of something to be done for them in the future? Anger and disappointment, deep in proportion to the extent of the concessions in which they have neither part nor lot, are sure, sooner or later, to blaze forth 1132 into active disaffection. Yet the Irish labouring classes have earned a just claim to consideration by the touching patience with which they have borne a very hard lot. No class suffered more severely during the recent period of distress than they did; employment almost entirely ceased, and those that did get work had to accept greatly reduced wages. I know cases of men with a wife and five children receiving only 3s. 6d. per week during the distress of last year, and of this 6d. per week went in tobacco "to keep the heart in poor Tim," as one of the women explained; yet these poor fellows have not taken part in the fierce agitation of the last few months; they have suffered patiently and in silence. If they are now passed over, I cannot conceive a greater incentive to agitation than their fate will offer. Those who have agitated are about to achieve the redress of their grievances; while those who have been patient and law-abiding have been neglected, and a deaf ear turned to the friends who would advocate their cause. Last year I suggested that the question of the labourers should be included in the scope of the Bessborough Commission; and if a sub-Committee had been appointed to take evidence on this subject at the same times and places as the Commission we might now have had their Report before us. I regret that this suggestion was rejected, for the evidence so obtained would have been of the greatest use in guiding us to definite remedies for this much-neglected and long-suffering class of the agricultural population. We cannot, of course, raise the rate of wages by Act of Parliament; but we may improve their lot by securing for them better dwellings, a suitable garden allotment, so useful in eking out their scanty means of subsistence. In Committee I shall propose to add some clauses to the Bill, which, I hope, may be found practicable, and which would remedy their lot in two very important respects. I appeal to the distinguished author of this Bill. It is his noblest distinction that he is the friend of the poor, and the champion of the destitute and oppressed. I appeal to him not to allow this blot to remain on a measure which we hope is destined to become a lasting monument of his genius, and of his wonderful influence over the councils of men. I appeal to him not to leave 1133 out of the scope of his Bill that class which is least able to help itself, which is least able to make its voice heard in this House, feeling confident that the cause I plead will have their sympathy and support; and I beg to move the Resolution that stands in my name.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no measure of Land Reform for Ireland, however ably advised, can be considered complete or perfectly satisfactory which does not deal with the condition of the farm labourers of Ireland, with a view to ameliorate it,"—(Mr. Villiers Stuart,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BLAKE
said, that the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Villiers-Stuart) deserved very great credit for having brought the subject under the notice of the House and of Her Majesty's Government; but he (Mr. Blake) was sorry the hon. Member had not stated more specifically what he thought should be done in the matter. It was a question of much difficulty to determine how the position of the Irish farm labourer could be improved; but he would suggest as part of the remedy that tenant farmers having 100 acres of good land should be required to build at least two decent cottages for labourers, and should allot half an acre of land to each dwelling. He was not disposed to give the labourer more than half an acre, lest the old and objectionable system of squatting in Ireland should be revived. By the plan he proposed, the hard-working labouring population of Ireland might be induced to resist the temptation of emigrating to America; and he thought they should do all in their power to induce such men to remain in the country, especially as a vast scheme of reclamation was likely to be opened out under the operation of the Bill. It was his duty for 10 years to administer the Fishery Laws in different parts of Ireland, during which time he had been a close observer of the condition of the labouring classes in several districts; and he was very sorry to say that a great many farmers in Ireland did not show that consideration for the labourers which they ought to do—that the lodgings they gave to the labourers were 1134 often of the worst possible description. Doctors told him that such treatment produced a most injurious effect upon the labourers. No doubt this sometimes arose from not having adequate accommodation in their own houses. A sufficiency of good cottages would obviate this, and save the labourers from many hardships amongst them, having often to walk many miles to and from their work, in consequence of having sometimes to lodge in villages and towns at a distance from their employment. He thought the subject which the hon. Gentleman had brought forward was well worthy of, and deserved the attention of the Government as much as anything contained in the Land Bill, seeing that it was the most important suggestion which had been made since the measure had been brought forward.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) with a conviction, which grew with every sentence he uttered, that he had lent to this measure a powerful but very indirect support. The speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman would carry conviction to-morrow to the minds of everyone in the United Kingdom that this Bill was a strong and drastic measure. No one would doubt the reality of testimony such as that coming from such a quarter. He was pleased to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman affirm in the strongest possible language, and with the authority which belonged to a distinguished lawyer, that there could not be a shadow of a doubt that this Bill contained fixity of tenure for the tenant farmers of Ireland. His first thought was one of regret that the Bill had not been introduced three months ago. Had that been possible the House might have been spared the shame and humiliation of suspending the Constitutional safeguards of the Irish people. He had heard that night of another terrible murder, and he could only say he would have been surprised to find that a complete suspension of crime had taken place as a result of the stringent action of the Coercion Bill. The Bill would secure the property of the largest class in Ireland. But some time must elapse before it could be passed. It was consequently felt to be a case of now or never by bad landlords in Ireland. They were hasten- 1135 ing to get rid of their tenants, whose only protection until this Bill passed lay in the menaces of the Land League. He should have been glad if, without waiting for the Royal Assent to be given to this Bill, the Government had inserted a provision making its action date from the time of its introduction by the Primo Minister. He believed that such a provision would have given his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary a far better means than he at present possessed of maintaining peace and tranquillity in Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman apologized for omitting the consideration of certain parts of the Bill, on the ground that he was not an authority in figures or finance. He (Mr. Arnold) would not follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman with reference to legal technicalities; but he ventured to assert he had a claim at least as high as that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deal with parts of the Bill with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had dealt. He had some claim to rebut the charge that this Bill was a denial of all the laws of political economy. As they were likely to hear a good deal about the laws of political economy, he proposed to say a few words on that subject. Opponents of this Bill sometimes held up their hands in thankfulness that they did not observe the laws of political economy. But it was most important to observe those laws, because they were laws which regulated the promotion and distribution of national wealth. This Bill, so far from deviating in any way from the laws of political economy, was a Bill for the more strict observance of the laws of political economy in Ireland. It substituted for threatening letters and the blunderbuss in the protection of property in Ireland a beneficent law. The opponents of the Bill boasted that they had on their side Mr. Bonamy Price, who, he believed, was an accredited authority on political economy. He asserted that Mr. Bonamy Price had utterly mis-stated the problem that was submitted to his judgment. That Bill was not a Bill for the valuation of rent. It would be more correctly defined as a Bill for the apportionment of rent; and the apportionment of a rent where there were two claimants, as in this case, for that rent was a work strictly within the functions of Parliament. It was a fact that the 1136 rent which a solvent tenant would pay one year with another did not, in Ireland, belong to the landlord. Mr. Bonamy Price thought that the principles of political economy were outraged by the notion of fixity of tenure. Now, as Lord Sherbrooke had said, land was a species of property in which from its very nature the public must have a kind of dormant joint interest with the proprietor. And between the eviction of a single person and the eviction of a whole people there was a line at which it was the duty of the State to intervene and decree fixity of tenure. That was the position at which they had arrived in Ireland. Mr. Bonamy Price said that they could not value rent; but rent was valued every day in this country and in Ireland by a machinery far less efficacious than that proposed to be established by the Government. To justify the tenour of the first four parts of the Bill, it was necessary to establish the fact that, as a rule, Irish tenants had property in their holdings which was at present unprotected. He could not understand how anyone could look through the evidence lately given, or at the evidence given, many years ago, before the Devon Commission, and could deny the existence of that property. The rule in Ireland, in South as well as North, was and had been, as Lord Portsmouth's agent admitted with regard to the estates of that Nobleman, that—All the improvements on the farm are the property of his tenantry, because neither he nor his predecessor ever expended a shilling on it.The fair rent of such landlords was a charge for what Lord Portsmouth's agent very fairly called "the raw material." The just rise in rent which might take place would be a rise due to the increase in value of the raw material. Let them read the admission of injustice committed in expropriation after the Famine of 1847 of tenants given by Mr. Halliday, a land agent and inspector of land improvements under the Irish Board of Works. He said they were turned out because they were unable to pay the rent due; but if their property in buildings and improvements had been reckoned, there would instead have been something payable to them at the time. Let them take the case described by Professor Baldwin, which, it might be said, was one of thousands throughout Ire- 1137 land, in which the tenant effected improvements by removing stones and otherwise improving the land to the value of £30 an acre. Would they hear an eulogy of that law by which the Connemara landlord who Mr. Baldwin told the Commission had not spent a penny, and yet had raised his rental from £62 10s. to £276 14s.? Then, in the same evidence, let them take note of the fact that on Lord Arran's estate an increment of 25 per cent was put on with each change of tenancy, and in that way that charge had been laid on three times in two years. Could any hon. Member doubt that that charge was an undue profit derived from the pocket of the tenants? If Irish agriculture was bad, if it exhibited, as they were told in the evidence it did exhibit, the three "D's"—namely, drink, dirt, and debt—could they wonder? Was not security the basis of success in every occupation? Then they heard that landlords had made much expenditure. He had no doubt they had; and that expenditure must have fair and full consideration. But it was sometimes misrepresented. He read in an article in The Times the other day—That almost the whole of the revenues derived from Lord Ardilaun's 33,298 acres in Galway and Mayo have for 12 years past been spent upon estate works and improvements.But what were those improvements? From the article one would suppose they were agricultural improvements. The Correspondent of The Times told them they were the building of a magnificent mansion, and the inclosing and planting of a park of 200 Irish acres, including the compensation for disturbance of tenants cleared off to make way for that magnificent park. Were they to be told that political economy—that was, that the laws regulating national wealth—demanded that a tenant's purchase or inheritance of improvements should be insecure? Were they to be told that in such cases a fair rent was to be what a solvent tenant would give one year with another? if so, then he had no hesitation in declaring that the laws of political economy would say of such a system that it was the way to national ruin rather than to national wealth. The owners of Irish land had generally elected for themselves, as in Lord Portsmouth's and thousands of other cases, to be the proprietors of the raw material 1138 only. They had not, therefore, full property in the manufactured article; and to allow them, or a few of them who would do so, to assert their claims to that property and to maintain it by law, was obviously to condemn Ireland to anarchy, to the reign of violence, and to bad agriculture. Last year, upon the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, he had quoted the significant words in which, by desire of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Mr. Caird reported to that great body of landlords upon this subject in 1878. Mr. Caird put the matter very plainly. He said that the Irish tenant "had established for himself a claim to co-partnership in the soil itself." There could not be a doubt that the laws of political economy inculcated that to make agriculture good and the country wealthy, there must be absolute security for, and every encouragement of, agricultural improvement. There was a part of that Bill which, he fancied, was framed to meet the case of Lord Dufferin, who did, indeed, as he would show, know the value of security in agriculture, but was disposed to think it should be limited by the length of his leases, in which he excluded the operation of the Ulster Custom. Lord Dufferin had been eloquent upon the ills of insecurity. It was that noble Lord who, 10 years ago, looking to the condition of the vast majority of the tenantry of Ireland, exclaimed, in "another place"—What is a yearly tenancy? Why it is an impossible tenure—a tenure which, if its terms were to be literally interpreted, no Christian man would offer, and none but a madman would accept."—[3 Hansard, ccii. 68.]The Duke of Argyll evidently supposed that what his Grace had named the commercial principles applicable to the hire of land were infringed by that Bill. With all respect, he joined direct issue with the Duke. He said that the true commercial and economic principles applicable to the hire of land were affirmed and maintained by that Bill. Let them take the known facts of the case. Lord Portsmouth, let them say of his grace and goodness, allowed free sale of the tenant right on his estate, and maintained, he would assume, a fair rent with reference to that tenant's claim. Was it sound commercial principle that that fair dealing should be dependent upon the grace and goodness of any 1139 man; say upon that of the next landowner, who might do nothing of the sort? The facts of Irish husbandry showed one thing clearly enough—that commercial and economic principles had been utterly excluded from the dealings of landlords and tenants. For his own part, he could not understand the apologetic tone adopted by some persons in accepting that Bill. He would accept neither that nor any other Bill which violated economic principles. That was a Bill to assert and maintain economic and commercial principles. Commercial principles were trampled upon when the landlord might confiscate the interest of the manufacturer of food in the soil. Economic laws were outraged, and the promotion of wealth was denied, when the tenant's interest was ignored. The proper light in which to regard that Bill was, it seemed to him, that of an award of arbitration by the only competent arbitrators in the matter of the disputed co-partnery rights and claims which existed over the greater part of the cultivated lands of Ireland. Referring to Part III., and to the matter of "judicial leases," it would seem that they ought to know something of the clauses of a judical lease, which, it appeared, was not only for its duration, but after its expiry, to exclude the tenant from the benefits of the Act. He could not help thinking that this remarkable provision had a closer connection in fact than it had in the Bill with Clause 47, which appeared to have been framed to suit the case of Lord Dufferin and of his leases. Lord Dufferin regarded Ulster tenant right and Ulster free sale as "the illegitimate child of an adulterous connection between landlord and tenant;" and he was bold enough to assert that Ulster would be more prosperous without the system of tenant right. He agreed with Lord Dufferin that Ulster tenant right was at present a very unsatisfactory arrangement. It would, however, be considerably improved and solidified by that Bill. He could not see why a tenant who resumed the status of a yearly tenant at the expiration of a judicial lease, or of any other lease, should not be permitted to resign his tenancy under statutory conditions, just as he could do so at the end of a statutory term of 15 years. When so much was given, and some things that were unnecessary, as, for example, the 1140 too close definition of the reasonable grounds on which a landlord might refuse a tenant as purchaser, would it be too much to ask that the outlines of a judicial lease should be included in a Schedule of the Bill? He did not believe that it would reduce rents on many of the great estates in Ireland. Not less absurd had been the suggestions that it would operate to the disadvantage of the most lenient landlords; because there was an express provision in sub-section 6 for adjusting the position of landlords who had charged less than or more than a fair rent. Part V. of the Bill was undoubtedly that which gave the greatest satisfaction and the highest hope. It had led to a proposition from Lord Lansdowne, Lord Leconfield, and others, that the State should be, upon the requirement of a landowner, compelled to purchase his estate at 22 years' purchase of a fair rent. Lord Lansdowne, it must be confessed, sometimes failed to see both sides of the relations of landlord and tenant. For instance, he evidently supposed that his proposal as to purchase was just to the State and to those who were represented in the State; and he appeared to be convinced that when he borrowed money from the State to be repaid by annual instalments of £3 8s. 6d. per cent it could be just to charge the whole of that to the tenant, and then, when the charge was liquidated, to claim the improvement as belonging to the estate and not to the tenant. When the Land League proposed the compulsory expropriation of landlords at 20 years' purchase of Griffith's valuation, he told his constituents that it was unjust that the buyers should in any transaction fix the terms of compulsory purchase from the sellers. The State could ordain without injustice the compulsory purchase of any lands. He was not an advocate of, or a believer in, State landlordism. But he failed to understand upon what ground of principle he was asked to accept Lord Lansdowne's proposal for compulsory purchase and to reject that of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). In principle there was no difference between compelling the State to purchase and compulsion exercised by the State upon the owner as to sale. To justify one or the other the same and the all-sufficient plea must be put forward—that of the public welfare and 1141 advantage. If Lord Lansdowne would take his advice he would not press his proposal unless he was prepared to consider its correlative, the proposition of the Land League, though he did not think Lord Lansdowne's valuation was by any means unacceptable or other than moderate. Upon that part of the Bill he submitted that the House should be guided by the views of the Executive Government; and if the Government desired to obtain compulsory powers of purchase, to be exercised at the discretion of the Land Commission, and were willing to couple with such power an acceptance of Lord Lansdowne's proposition, he should not hesitate to give them his support. He thought the Government had done wisely in not themselves undertaking the reclamation of land included in the Schedule of the Bill. He had only a few words more to say. He was very glad that the Government had not taken the work of reclamation in hand. As to the proposals in the Bill with regard to emigration, he was sure they were well meant; but he was not quite certain that they were entirely judicious. The population of Ireland was not well distributed. If the Irish people had a wholesome land system—towards which he hoped that Bill was a great contribution—they might be well distributed on Irish soil. There was no doubt Ireland was capable of supporting a much larger population than she now possessed; and he looked forward with hope and expectation to the time when the population of Ireland would by immigration be increased by another 1,000,000 of Irish from the United States and this country. The late Lord Derby, when Ireland had a population of 8,500,000—in 1845—would not say that she was over-populated. If they had free land in this country their population might, beneficially to all, but especially to landlords, be increased by at least 5,000,000; and if any hon. Member wished to know what he meant by "free land," under the present pressure of time he would venture to refer him to the Library of that House. He confessed that he was not zealous to diminish the pressure for an adequate settlement of the Land Question by affording means for reducing a population which, in his sincere opinion, might be advantageously augmented. He had great confidence 1142 in the efficacy of the just provisions of the Bill to operate slowly, perhaps, but surely, in putting an end to the excessive sub-division which prevailed in some parts of Ireland. He should listen with respectful attention to the comments of others upon the proposals for the formation of the Land Court and of the Land Commission. But he should require from the Government very much stronger justification than was now apparent for the exemption from the provisions of the Act of pasture farms of not less than £50 of value. If discontent prevailed in that Kingdom at the present time it had, in his opinion, no justification so valid as that of the vast injury which the economic interests of that country were sustaining through the rapid conversion of arable land into pasture. The evil was alike in both countries, but it was of greater magnitude in Ireland; and if anyone would take the trouble to investigate the causes of that evil transition he would find that primarily it was due to the fact that of the land of the United Kingdom by far the greater portion was settled land. If any hon. Member wanted further information as to the disabilities of settled land, he had only to study the Settled Land Bill of the late Lord Chancellor, which was on the Paper for Wednesday next, in order to learn how very far and by what a maze of intricacies settled land was removed from the operation of economic laws. He should have ill-expressed the views which it was his intention to convey to the House, if his criticisms of certain portions of the measure before the House left any doubt as to his appreciation of its value and importance. It was a good Bill and a great Bill; and when it was grafted on, as he trusted it would be next year, to a general Land Bill dealing with those master evils of our land system—settlement and entail and the system of conveyancing by deed, which operated as a blight and a curse upon the agriculture and the general industry of that country—he was confident that its operation would bear good fruit in the happiness and tranquillity of the Irish people, and that its acceptance would do honour to the Government and the Parliament of that which he desired should be not in name only but in the hearts of the people—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
I should not have ventured to have intruded myself upon the attention or the time of the House during a debate of such great dimensions and of such importance if it was not that, without any merit on my own part, circumstances have enabled me to obtain some practical knowledge of the various points arising out of the Irish Land Question, so that I have been enabled to approach the consideration of this Bill in a spirit different from that either of mere political partizanship or of mere outside opinion. As far as I am able to gather, there are two kinds of objections that are likely to be urged against this Bill. The one appears to me will be urged against that part of the Bill which, relating to changes in the tenure of land, is regarded as an unjust invasion of the rights of the landlord. The other is based, partly on politico-economic, partly on purely economic grounds, which condemn the Land Court, as infringing free contract, and the proposal of the State to lend money upon certain conditions to tenants desirous of purchasing their holdings, or for purposes of the reclamation of waste land, as ruinous to the State and injurious to the individual. I think that, to some extent, these objections are not to be met by positive disregard or by any angry denial. It is true the landlords of Ireland are asked to surrender certain rights—rights which the wise landlords have exercised in a manner which I do not think need fear the arbitrament of any Land Commission or of any Land Court; but the abuse of which by extortionate or by less wise landlords rendered them, as was said by the Prime Minister, both odious and impracticable. On the other hand, I think there is some truth in the remark that the House is asked to support a proposal in the latter part of the Bill rather upon political than upon economic grounds. It would be well, I venture to say, if we could approach the subject in no spirit of carping criticism. It is a question which, above all others, requires generous treatment. I think it will be well and wise if the House will persuade itself, in dealing with a great Irish Question, to assume a point of view which is wiser, wider, and braver than that which looks through the spectacles either of Party or of class interest. I will ask the House to bear with me while I enter into the question of the extent 1144 and manner in which this Bill is presumed to make so terrible an invasion of the rights of the landlord. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) regards the Bill as a measure of confiscation. Well, that is a very serious charge to bring against a Government and a Party; and I venture to say it would be a very serious charge, if Members opposite had not used that word previously in regard to every measure that had been proposed by the Liberal Party for the amelioration of Ireland. If that language had not been used so consistently and so recklessly that it has lost half its significance and almost sunk into the mere language of Party invective, it would be a very serious charge indeed. Sir, speaking as one who is personally interested in Irish property, I fail to see any confiscation, although I do see restriction, in this measure; but in that restriction I do not see evil, but rather a benefit to good landlords. I see no hardship in the State stepping in to prevent a right such as the raising of rent, which may be legitimate and fair in itself, being made the vehicle of great injustice. Nor does it seem to me unjust that the miscreants of a class should be prevented from performing those acts of hardship or injustice which do not only affect those who inflict them, but in the ready, rough, and unfair generalization of public opinion bring discredit and odium upon the whole class of which they are members. We have plenty of evidence in Lord Bessborough's Commission of the demoralizing effect that follows an unjust Act, no less in the loss among the surrounding tenants of that confidence which is the secret of agricultural development in Ireland than in the bitter and mischievous feeling which it engenders. In regard to the question of right, it will be well for the House to bear in mind, in contemplating the interference of a Land Court in the settlement of rent, two special characteristics in regard to the Irish land. In the first place, with the exception of a few great estates conducted on English principles, the tenants make the improvements and put up the buildings. On the other hand, it seems to me that the argument of the "land hunger" is a very serious and real one. There are manufacturing interests in Ireland only in a limited and circumscribed area— 1145 while taking there to be, upon the computation of the O'Conor Don, 500,000 tenants in Ireland, with an average of five individuals for each family, we find 2,500,000 persons, or nearly half the population, directly connected with land as occupiers of the soil. There is not only this unnatural competition, but the class of competitors is largely composed of those who are either too depressed by poverty or ignorance to know of any other means or any other avenues by which they may earn their livelihood. In consequence of the preponderance of the agricultural interest in Ireland, there are others than those who directly compose the agricultural class who are influenced by the prosperity or adversity of that industry. There is a large number of the commercial classes—notably the small shopkeeper and the merchant—who are very largely influenced by the stability of the agricultural interest. If I am asked what is the stability of the agricultural interest, I should say that if there is a point on which it depends it is upon the occupiers of the soil being able to meet their obligations to their landlords, and yet have sufficient left to enable them to do justice to the land. All the Reports agree in remarking upon the importance of a fair rent—that is to say, of allowing the tenant to have a margin between what he pays and the full commercial value of his holding—for the prosperity and peaceful progress of the agricultural interest in Ireland. I maintain that nothing can be more injurious to the cause of agriculture in Ireland, more disturbing to the trade of the country, or more demoralizing to the tenant, than the system which unfortunately in some parts exists, under which agents exact exorbitant rents from the tenants—rents which, under peculiarly favourable circumstances, they can pay; but which, immediately the tide of prosperity turns, leaves the landlord in this position—either to accept only portions of the rent, which is demoralizing to the tenant, or to resort to those acts of eviction which outrages public opinion and disorders the feeling of a whole country side. In the Report of the Commission I find for 31 holdings in the West of Ireland the rent paid is £1,182 17s., and Griffith's valuation is £605, or that the rent is nearly double 1146 the Government valuation. Of course, it would be ridiculous to suppose that land in Ireland, the raw material by the increased value of which the landlord has an unquestioned right to profit, have not increased since a valuation made 30 years ago on a standard of prices exceptionally low, and under circumstances in which it was the interest of both landlord and tenant to keep it as low as possible. On the other hand, one can form a rough and not an unreasonable estimate as to the condition of rent upon agricultural land in comparing the difference between the rent which is now demanded and the Government valuation—and it does appear to me to be unjust that land which has had no adventitious increase, no unearned increment, which is purely agricultural such as is that stated in the districts I have taken, which has been improved in all cases to a considerable extent, in most cases exclusively by the tenant, should be taxed with a rent nearly double that of Griffith's valuation. When I first saw these figures in the Report of the Commission, I am bound to say that I felt some surprise, when I remembered the rents that were received on the property with which I am connected. If it is fair that agricultural land should be let at 100 per cent over Griffith's valuation, I feel that it is preposterously unfair on the part of my father's agent that his tenants should only pay for his agricultural land an average of one-tenth over Griffith's valuation, and that it should be the custom on the expiration of a lease of 30 years to increase the tenant's rental to an extent varying only from a quarter to one-eighth of the Government valuation. These rents, however, have stood the strain of the excitement of last winter, and during the whole of that time they have been punctually and readily paid. The Land League have been declared to be largely responsible for the non-payment of rent, and I have no doubt that these arguments will be urged to explain the statement that I find in the evidence that the arears of rent in the district to which I have alluded amount to over £25,000. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin criticized the Land Court as likely to convert the landlord into a more rentcharger and that it will encourage absenteeism. I fail to appreciate the 1147 reality of these dangers, though I quite admit the value of a resident gentry. No one can deny that the admixture of classes which is thus engendered, the location in several parts of the country of men of means and education, is a contribution—a large contribution—to the political prosperity and loyalty of the country. But what is hidden in this terrible complaint, that the Bill will make the landlord a mere rent-charger? Why, if it gives an effective meaning to that term, many of the landlords will have much to thank the Bill for. Nor can I see that residence in Ireland will be made less comfortable, or less pleasurable, or less calculated to be of service to the State, in allaying class prejudices and harmonizing the differences of race, if the landlord and tenant are enabled to throw the responsibility and odium of settling a disputed rent upon the decision of an impartial tribunal. I confess that the difficulty will be to secure the impartiality of that tribunal. I am not afraid lost it should err on the side of the landlords; but I believe that there is a danger that unless great care is taken to insure that it is composed of persons of strong character and independent circumstances, it may be approached, in times of excitement, by popular influences and neglect the paramount duty of impartiality. This is a matter that needs careful attention in Committee; but I think that the supposed danger that the Land Court may be so constituted as to be too liable to popular influences is one that with careful attention may be met in Committee. I do not think that it constitutes in itself, or that the apprehended evils of litigation are sufficient to outweigh the paramount and absolute importance of fixing the rent, which Mr. Kavanagh has truly described as the gist of the Irish grievance, upon a basis which will secure as much justice as experience and equity combined, and honestly administered can offer, and which will have the inestimable advantage of being final. I do not understand why 15 years has been fixed upon as the period for which a valuation should be made; I should have preferred that a lease should be extended to 30 years, for, on the supposition that the tenant does all the improvements, 15 years are not enough. As to free sale, I think I can speak on that subject 1148 with the authority of practical experience, the principle of free sale having been allowed on my father's property since 1823. There is plenty of evidence in the Report of the Commission to show that it is impossible to prevent free sale. It exists already upon certain properties. Lord Lucan's agent, Mr. Larminie, states in his evidence how it existed on his Lordship's property, where it was not allowed. Again, it occurs on Mr. French's property, where it is forbidden; while it appears in the evidence that on the Fitzwilliam estates, during the lifetime of the late Lord, when free sale was allowed, but the price was fixed by office rules, the parties agreed to the stipulated price inside the office, and the purchaser paid the excess outside the office. It is impossible, even if it were expedient, to prevent or to limit free sale. If restriction were possible, it would be of no benefit to the landlord, it would be unjust to the tenant, and very injurious to agriculture. But how could I more conclusively condemn such restrictions, how could I better prove them to be upon the highest grounds of politics more inexpedient than in reminding hon. Members opposite that they constitute a direct invasion upon economic principles? It appears to me that the opinions of hon. Members opposite possess a convenient elasticity, or their Easter-tide lucubrations upon political economy have been studied upon principles rather of antipathy to the Bill than of sympathy with the rigid ordinances of their subject. They say it is wrong for the Land Court to interfere with the landlord getting as much rent as possible; but, still, they say it is right for a Land Court or landlord to prevent a tenant from making as much as he can of his tenant right. In the one case you advocate, in the other you condemn, freedom of contract. If you were to restrict free sale you must restrict it on some hard-and-fast rule. Nothing can be more unfair and inconvenient than for a tenant not to be able to measure exactly the extent to which the landlord may interfere with his realizing his tenant right in the open market. You can only limit free sale in one of two ways, except by elaborate arrangements which the House will at once admit to be impracticable—you can either limit the price to be paid to a stipulated number of years' purchase, or you must fix the value of 1149 the tenant right at so much per acre. But in both these ways injustice will be done to the improving tenant. Suppose, for instance, the tenant right is valued at £5 an acre, will it be fair to the improving tenant, who may have spent £10 an acre on his farm, that he shall receive no more than the bad tenant, who has left the land exhausted and worn out? To decide the value of tenant right is a more difficult and complex matter than to determine a fair rent. In consequence of the tenants having in most cases done all the improvements, the interest of the landlord is confined to what is described as the unearned increment. I do not envy the Land Court its duty in this respect, for it will be a very difficult matter to determine what is the unearned increment apart from all improvement. But it will be much more difficult for any body of men to decide on the value of the tenant's interest. How can it be done except by appealing to public opinion, and how can that be tested except by free sale? I am not aware that the tenant is any more infallible than the landlord. English Members who are practically acquainted with agriculture could call to mind numerous instances where socalled improvements had best been left alone. In some cases the interest from the money expended in such improvements is entirely sunk; in some it has been considerably diminished; while in other cases the land has been left in a condition inferior to what it was before. A public auction, where the bidders are practical men, many of them acquainted with the farm, will condemn such improvements. But I cannot conceive a better opportunity for an agricultural grievance than where the improvements have been foolishly conceived for the Land Court to step in and put a very disproportionate value upon the improvements to the sum that the tenant has expended upon them, or to the opinion he claims for them, and so afford him the excuse of grumbling at every market ordinary how he might have got twice as much, if he had only been allowed to sell in an open market. On the other hand, there are some improvements that do not necessarily add to the value of land for letting purposes, and free sale offers the only satisfactory way of testing the value of such improvements. If a 1150 man enlarges his house, or betters the position of the farm, there appears to me to be no reason why the Land Court should interfere to prevent him getting a fancy price, any more than there is reason why the Land Court should interfere to prevent a man obtaining the pretium affectionis from the returned emigrant. The just and fair way of looking upon the effect of free sale upon the incoming tenant who has purchased is not to regard it as increasing his rent, but as virtually throwing upon him the payment of interest on a capital sum, which is still his, and which, subject to the chances of all trade, he is able to realize whenever and in whatever manner he may wish. I consider that the whole case against free sale has completely broken down. In the first place, we have evidence that you cannot prevent its existence, in some shape or the other, on estates where it has not been sanctioned. In the second place, where it is possible to limit the price, it can only be done with great injustice, great inconvenience, and at the cost of a great deal of irritation. But, Sir, free sale can stand on its own merits; it needs no apology and no excuse. I believe that if it were practical or politic to confer tenant right with one hand, and with the other deprive the gift of all its grace by depriving it of half its value, free sale is to be desired in the interests of the State, of agriculture, and of the landlord. As regards the case of the landlord, with the permission of the House I will quote from the evidence of Mr. Kirkpatrick. Speaking to Lord Portarlington, who at the time was opposed to tenant right and free sale, and whose agent he is, he says—There is tenant right, whether you heard of it or not. Undoubtedly it has been going on, and it is very greatly for your advantage. A bad tenant, who would be a burden to you, gets something from a good tenant for going. In every case these bad tenants have been replaced by excellent tenants; the outgoing people are no burden to you; everybody is satisfied, and your property is greatly benefited.Let us hear what Mr. Kavanagh says on this point—I entertain no disinclination whatever to extend this right to the majority of holdings on my own property, although I have spent very large sums myself in the improvement of them; and I must confess that, strongly as I was opposed to its general extension before I entered upon this inquiry, the evidence I have heard, 1151 and done my best to sift, has convinced me that extending this right would confer more advantages on the present occupiers than disadvantages on me.Secondly, it will be a source of great comfort to the landlord, because of the manner in which it eliminates the difficult question of compensation for improvements. Thirdly, it limits the value of tenant right to a matter of fact and not of opinion, and thus entirely removes many subjects of petty annoyance and discomfort from the ground commonly occupied by landlord and tenant. Fourthly, it has the advantage of giving to the landlord a security for the repayment of arrears of rent; and, lastly, it possesses this great advantage—that it becomes the interest of the tenant to keep and to leave his farm in good order. It happens too frequently in England that a man taking a farm for a few years puts nothing into it and takes everything out of it, and finally throws it upon his landlord's hands in a condition almost unletable. Against that evil free sale forms a simple and natural security. But free sale is not merely a custom which is agreeable to the landlord and tenant, but it is one which I think goes far to touch that which lies at the bottom of the Irish difficulty. Agitations must have a ground upon which to start; it is only half the truth to say that they create the miseries upon which they thrive; and if I could point to any one thing which has inspired and is the foundation of the present discontent and disaffection in Ireland, I would say that it is the desperate and despondent spirit which is fostered in the mind of the Irish occupier by the sense that in losing his holding he loses everything. It is this despondency, added to the sense of insecurity, which springs from that curse of Ireland, which has sapped the very life and energy of her people—the system of tenancy at will with leasehold conditions. It is this, and not what is described in the ignorant phraseology of the day as the thriftlessness of the Irish race, that has fed the spirit of agitation and crushed that of commercial prosperity. Where do we find that the Land League has its most devoted followers; where has it aroused the strength of its influence; where does the advice of some hon. Members who occupy some of the Opposition Benches below the Gang- 1152 way, to keep a firm grip upon the land, speak with greater force and a deeper meaning than among those miserable cottiers in the West of Ireland, whose passionate clinging to the plot which they cultivate is only natural when we contemplate what the loss of that means? Sir, it robs them of everything that human life can give—of home, of respectability, often of the industry of a lifetime. Life alone is left to them; the life of an outcast in a world which offers no compensation but the workhouse. I have not exaggerated what the loss of his land means to the Irish cottier. Even the language of eloquence would be inadequate to describe it. Sir, free sale will go far to alter this. With free sale, it becomes the object of the tenant, who is doing badly, to realize his tenant right before it is consumed by arrears of rent. The tenant feels that in quitting his holding, so far from losing everything, he is often the gainer by a well-timed and prudent act. Of this important Bill there is nothing which, in my humble opinion, is of greater importance. No part of the Bill has been more objected to than free sale, while really there is none which is less open to objection. Nothing can so naturally relieve the land where the population is congested. Nothing will more materially conduce to its good cultivation; and, lastly, no agency could more effectually, and yet more pleasantly, meet that desperate spirit among the occupiers of land in Ireland to which I have alluded. We cannot expect that this measure or any other can, of itself, secure contentment and prosperity to Ireland. No legislation can take the place of a people's energy or enterprize. Those who support the Bill do not expect this. What they do look for in it, and what they trust it will accomplish, is to revive in the heart of the Irish agriculturist a spirit of security, confidence, and enterprize. The difficulties and anxieties of the task are very real and very great. But, by these—the accompaniments of all great measures—Members who sit on this side of the House are surely not going to be dismayed. But if this were so, we might well take heart and borrow some courage from the example that has been set by that illustrious statesman, whom a long and laborious life of public service has not deterred from a task which, in many senses, will be a 1153 thankless one, which can offer him no personal reward other than the blessings which posterity will award to the author of a great measure of justice, and of that boldness which the political circumstances of the case transfer from an act of rashness into one of statesmanship.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I rise now, Sir, feeling that if I further postpone my remarks, we may be told that we are not prepared to carry on the debate, because we cannot reply satisfactorily to the arguments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson); but I think my noble Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Viscount Lymington) has shown—in a speech of remarkable eloquence and thought, and of remarkable knowledge, arising partly from his hereditary connection with Ireland, and I must say from his sympathy with the Irish people and the Irish tenantry—with what ability the debate can be carried on. That speech may be taken as a sufficient answer to the taunts we heard earlier in the evening. Before entering upon the main subject of the debate, I may say a word with regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Villiers-Stuart), who has brought forward a question of great importance—namely, the condition of the Irish labourers. I do not think he has painted their position in too strong language. The condition of the agricultural labourer is one which excites great sympathy, and it will become the House to consider most carefully how it can be improved. It is better now than it was 25 or 30 years ago, but it is very bad still. But we cannot do two or three things at once. This is a Bill for reforming the land tenure of Ireland as its principle object; but if my hon. Friend, or the hon. Gentleman who followed him (Mr. Blake), who has had great practical experience, can bring in any clauses in Committee at all germane to the Bill, to improve the condition of the agricultural labourers, we shall be glad to consider them. I will now refer to the speech in which the debate was opened, and which I heard with pleasure, and for this reason. The right hon. and learned Gentleman began with an attack upon the Bill and ended with a most fierce denunciation of it, and, as my noble Friend has said, he alluded to what he called its 1154 confiscatory clauses, complaining that we had not the courage, the justice, or the candour of open confiscation. We are not unaccustomed to these attacks on measures which we have thought it our duty to bring forward; but in the present case it was encouraging to find that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who, from his great powers and his knowledge of Ireland, is almost, if not quite, our ablest critic, in spite of his dislike to the Bill, has not formally proposed to oppose it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman began by asking why the Bill was brought forward, and gave two or three reasons for that course, which he presumed were in our minds, but which were not in his. I thought he would have condemned the Bill as being mischievous; but he did not take that view, nor does the Conservative Party in England or in Ireland either wish that it should be thrown out. They are very anxious that there should be a settlement of the question this year, and they are well aware that it will be necessary to base that settlement upon the general lines of this Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to have misconceived several parts of the Bill, which I will endeavour to explain; and while he started some objections to it which will have to be met in the course of this debate, he mentioned others which are fairly matters for Committee. We must not forget that in a complicated measure of this kind there will be many clauses which admit of discussion in Committee, and in respect to which the Government—though they put them before the House as the method in which they think the matter may be best dealt with—is, of course, open to suggestions; but at the stage of the second reading we are considering only the principles of the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he found the Bill very complicated, and confessed that he could not fully understand it; but he gave it a good character in one respect, and said that it was clearly intelligible as regards the interests of the tenants. Undoubtedly, it is a measure of great complication. It is no matter of surprise that a Bill dealing with the land tenure throughout Ireland, and dealing with the evils of the condition of the people of the West of Ireland, and the overcrowded parts of Ireland, and also dealing with the great 1155 social object of increasing the number of the yeomen proprietors of Ireland, should be complicated; and if any hon. Member supposes that a Bill for these objects will pass in a few simple clauses, he must have very little experience of Parliamentary discussion. Now, the three main objects of the Bill are these—first, the reform of the land tenure of Ireland; secondly, the increase of the number of the proprietors of land; and, thirdly, the relief of overcrowded districts. As regards the second and third objects, I imagine that there is in principle no difference of opinion. With regard to the relief of overcrowded districts, the principle is that such relief must be given by State assistance. I am aware that many hon. Members doubt whether that ought to be done by migration, or emigration, or by the employment of the people on public works; but everyone admits that it is almost impossible to leave those districts as they are, without some attempt to provide State action to relieve them. Then as regards the increase in the number of landowners, although the principle is one to which, I think, the House assents, and our object is to effect that increase by lending money to tenants to enable them to purchase their holdings, there will be, no doubt, great differences in regard to the details of our plan. Now we come to our first object, which undoubtedly is the most complicated, the most important, and, as I believe, the most immediately necessary of the three—I mean the reform of the land tenure. Here, again, there are three principles in our scheme, to which principles, if they have not commanded universal concurrence, I do not expect very serious opposition, though there may be great opposition to the details by which we attempt to carry them out. They are—first, a Court or tribunal to fix a fair rent; next, security of tenure at this fair rent; and, lastly, the power of the tenant to sell his interest in his holding. Of these three, the first is, in my opinion, the most important. If there be one principle to which the House will agree, it will be the principle that, in the present relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland, we must have a tribunal in the last resort to fix the rent as between the two parties, and that we cannot leave it to be determined by competition and the laws of 1156 supply and demand. That is the most important proposal we have to make, and the most novel, and also to many political economists, or those who call themselves political economists, the most staggering; but, to almost all who have studied the condition of Ireland, the most necessary. It is most remarkable to notice how the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) passed over the objections from political economy in one phrase. I had expected that both he and the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) would urge them; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman all but ignored them. It is striking, as my right hon. Friend said in bringing the measure forward, that in the two Commissions, this is the one point on which almost everybody agrees. The majority of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon's Commission agree with the minority upon it, and it is the one proposal which all the five Members of Lord Bessborough's Commission agree upon. It is quite true that exception has been taken to it by Mr. Bonamy Price, the Professor of Political Economy at Oxford, who, I must admit, expresses his views very clearly, and strongly opposed a tribunal for fixing rents; but, although I will not weary the House with quotations, I will read what another authority, the late Mr. John Stuart Mill, said on this subject—Peasant rents ought never to be arbitrary, never at the discretion of the landlord, either by custom or law. It is imperatively necessary that they should be fixed, and when no mutually advantageous custom has established itself, reason and experience recommend that they should he fixed by authority.That is a strong argument in favour of what we propose to do; but the objections that are based on political economy have not really been started this evening, and I do not know that I need answer them. It is not very difficult to show the reasons why in this particular matter we must not allow the bargain to be settled by the bargain - makers themselves. The truth is, we must interpose in what is called freedom of contract, because it is not real freedom of contract. The two parties are not free to contract. An analogy has often been asserted to exist between rent and wages. It is said—"Why fix rents, when you cannot fix wages?" But I 1157 think the illustration is in favour of interference, and, as a matter of fact, we are obliged to interfere in the question of wages. If we were to carry out the principle of absolute non-intervention, and leave the capitalists and labourers to deal between themselves, without any sort of intervention by the State, the capitalist would have the advantage of the labourer's hunger for food; but, by the Poor Law, we protect the labourer, and so far we intervene between him and his bargain. Let us look for a moment to the various circumstances in Ireland at this time. If the House will allow me, I will just state how those circumstances vary. We have in Ireland facts for almost every theory. Indeed, I defy any hon. Member to have a theory about Ireland which he would not be able to produce facts in support of. There are many very low-rented estates in Ireland; there are some rack-rented estates; there are estates which are let at exorbitant rents; and there are many low-rented estates of which naturally we hear less than we do of the others. There are many estates where the rents have not changed for more than 20 years, and there are others where the landlord has thought it fit to raise the rents every three or four years. There are some landlords in Ireland who have improved their properties quite as much as the average of the English landlords, and some, I dare say, who have improved them more; but, undoubtedly, the general rule is that improvements are made by the tenants. Then there are many landlords who are doing their utmost for their tenants, who are a blessing to their neighbourhood, and whose departure from it, if we contemplated such a thing, would be a great misfortune. Other landlords never go near their property, but leave the management of it to agents; and, perhaps, in some cases, it is well that they do not go near their estates. After the distress of the late year or two, and the agitation, almost any hon. Member who wishes to make out a case could bring forward facts in support of it. Some tenants are perfectly unable to pay their rents. Many tenants are quite able to pay them and not willing to pay them; and there are some landlords, though not many I am happy to say, demanding payment most unreasonably. There are many landlords who are for- 1158 bearing, and some who are forced to demand their rents, and others who are justified in doing so by both law and justice. Facts for partial and imperfect generalizations may thus be adduced for any theory; but there is one generalization which may be made all over Ireland, and that is that the demand for land does greatly exceed the supply, and has exceeded it for generations—for more years than any of us can recollect. My noble Friend (Viscount Lymington) has stated that the chief reason for this is that there are no other means of living, and that there is no other mode by which the farmers, or the peasants, or the middle class men and small capitalists can obtain a living. Therefore, a tenant clings to the land, and you cannot compensate him for disturbing him out of the land. And here comes the important fact that rather than be evicted he will make almost any promise and almost any contract. Well, therefore, we find that, as an absolute practical necessity, we must protect him against the contracts which he himself is willing to make, and, upon the whole, we shall find it wiser to do that than to rely solely on our power to oblige him to fulfil his contract. I have often asserted in this House—and I have been found great fault with for saying so—that we must enforce the law as it stands. But if we rely solely on our power of enforcing the law, we shall find it so difficult to do it that we shall have a very strong outcry not only in Ireland, but in this country also, that the law must be changed. Therefore, we find a tribunal to ascertain a fair rent to be necessary, and almost all practical politicians have come to consider it to be necessary in the last resort. My right hon. Friend called it an optional tribunal. We do not force the rent on the landlord and tenant upon every farm; but we do make it compulsory, it is true, upon the landlord on the application of the tenant. In doing that, I admit that one of our chief objects ought to be to give every possible inducement to the tenant not to apply to the Court to fix the rent. It is far better that a fair bargain should, if possible, be made between the two parties. If it should be found that there is any provision in our Bill which would prevent this inducement, and if any Amendments to improve the measure in this respect 1159 should be proposed, we should be glad to consider them; but we believe that the key-stone of our measure is the absolute necessity in the present condition of Ireland and of the relations between landlord and tenant that there should be an outside tribunal able to fix a fair rent which the tenant shall pay. If, then, we are driven to have this tribunal, let us come to the question of how this fair rent should be defined. And now I come to the chief point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. I understood him to make an objection similar to that which I have seen in two or three of the daily journals. It is that our definition of fairness will imply that the value of the tenant right is to be carved out of the existing rent. I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman accepts that interpretation; and it is stated how unfair this would be.
§ MR. GIBSON
I do not know what the intention of the Government may be. I stated, as a matter of clear law, what might be the construction drawn by the Courts.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I understood that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wished to have an assurance of our own interpretation, and to know whether we take that view or not. Now, I say that that would be very unfair, especially if it was understood that the lower the rent the larger would be the tenant right, and the greater the deduction. Consequently, a generous landlord would suffer for his generosity. But I do not believe, and I cannot understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman supposes, that our clause can bear any such interpretation. In the first place, I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has forgotten—and the mistake is very general—that the meaning of the clause is not that the rent must necessarily be reduced. Its meaning is that the rent must be fixed. In fact, the clause does show in one of its sub-sections that it is possible the rent may be increased. That is one misrepresentation that our critics make. I do not believe that the tenant with a low rent will go into Court. He will have a wise reluctance to do so; he will fear that the rent may be raised if he does. The right hon. and learned Gentleman expected a great rush into Court. I do not 1160 believe, and we have no expectation, that that will be the general effect. The low-rented tenants will think it better to let well alone; and the rack-renting landlords will, I expect, lower the rent of themselves in order to avoid going into Court. And thus one of the great causes of discontent will be removed—the fear of a rise in the rent. The tenant hitherto has been obliged to choose between such a rise and the leaving of his holding. He fears to make improvements lest the improvements may be sacrificed. That is a fear which affects almost every tenant in Ireland. It affects the tenants upon low-rented estates, not so much but as well as the tenants not so favourably circumstanced, because they fear that upon the death of their landlord there may be a change, or that the landlord may choose to sell. But, by the provision we make, we remove, as I believe, that fear from their minds, because they will know that, at any time, they may apply to have the rent fixed. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to me to have made a still greater mistake, and the mistake is a very general one. He seems to forget the first part of the definition of a fair rent, which is—Such a rent as in the opinion of the Court, after hearing the parties and considering all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district, a solvent tenant would undertake to pay one year with another.["Read on!"] I would rather explain this part first. That would mean, taken by itself, in all probability, a very considerable rise of rents upon many estates in Ireland. It would mean that upon the low-rented and a great many of the moderately-rented estates, according to the Irish acceptation of the term, the rent would be raised, for a solvent tenant would be willing and able to pay a higher rent. I do not believe the right hon. and learned Gentlemen himself would have accepted our definition if we had stopped there. He contrasted in his speech fair rent with rack rent, and said that a fair rent was not a rack rent. Rack rent has got a very bad name in Ireland; but what is rack rent but competition rent? Therefore, the right hon. and learned Gentleman allows that he would not interpret a fair rent to be a rack rent or a competition rent. But if we had left the clause there it would be a competition rent. The right hon. and 1161 learned Gentleman himself surely would not wish that the Ulster tenant right should be confiscated. But that right would be confiscated if we said that the Court was to fix the rent without any reference to the Ulster tenant right. It would mean this. Suppose the rent of a particular farm was £1 an acre, and that because the occupier had paid a considerable sum for the tenant right. But a solvent tenant coining in, and not having paid that money, would be perfectly willing to pay a much higher rent, perhaps 35s. or £2 an acre. That would be a definition of a fair rent, unless we had the provision that reference was to be made to the tenant right. These are the words to which objection has been made. In Ulster the tenant right exists, but out of Ulster we refer to improvements and compensation for disturbance. We do not mean that the words are to be absolute guides. Above all, we do not mean that whatever the tenant has paid for the tenant right should be given him, for he may, as my right hon. Friend said, have paid as a pretium affectionis a perfectly unreasonable sum. But what we mean is, that it should be the business of the Court to make a fair allowance for the tenant right. Will the House allow me to read one expression of opinion by a Member of Lord Bessborough's Commission, a Gentleman very unlikely to speak unfairly of the landlords? It is hardly possible to find anywhere a man of greater fairness—I mean The O'Conor Don. He says—A fair rent must be something less—I am bound to express my own opinion—something considerably less than the fair commercial value or the letting value of the land.I believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman would admit that. He would not for a moment admit that the rent should be such as to eat away and confiscate the Ulster tenant right. But then outside the Ulster tenant right we have to deal with improvements. If we were to take what a solvent tenant would pay, that would be to take no note of the improvements, and they would be confiscated. Besides, it is impossible to deny that there is some goodwill out of Ulster, some value attached to the goodwill, partly arising from the fact that the tenant has some property in the holding. He has made the improvements in the holding; they may not 1162 appear to us to be very valuable improvements, but they are often the only improvements on the estate—the clearing away of stones and the erection of the buildings. The fact that the landlord has allowed him to make the improvements is a fact that he cannot forget. The landlord is well aware that that does give the tenant some right, whether it be called property or interest, in the land. There is a goodwill—it exists; there is a right of continuous occupancy by the tenant which in Ulster is acknowledged by law, and which has been attempted to be ignored by law, but which, nevertheless, has been universally acknowledged throughout the country by sentiment and feeling, and was acknowledged in Ulster and out of Ulster; admitted by the practice of very many landlords themselves in the moderate and even low rents they have established, as compared with the commercial value. But it is said this is a punishment for low rents. What we maintain is this—that the Court is first to estimate what a solvent tenant would undertake to pay. The low rent might by this estimate be very considerably raised; and after the Court has determined it with due consideration for the tenant right, it may be left as it was before. We have no expectation that the low-rented tenants would venture to go into Court. They would rather leave well alone. The other provisions seem naturally to follow. Before making any remarks with regard to security of tenure, I may be allowed to answer some other questions that were put by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson). I understood him to say, supposing a fair rent fixed as we propose, on the, landlord, after an interval, demanding an increase of rent, the tenant would get disturbance allowance. But I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman must have forgotten that the tenant could only claim that on eviction. It was only when evicted that he could demand that. Then the question was asked, Why the Court is not open to the landlords? Our view was that the landlord did not need the Court, and for this reason—he can alter the rent without the assistance of the Court, and we know he very often does. The tenant cannot. The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold) asked why, at the expiration of a judicial lease, the occupier will not 1163 obtain the advantages of the Bill? The occupier will obtain the advantages offered to an ordinary or future tenant, though not to a present tenant. My hon. Friend inquired why we had fixed upon the term of 15 years as the duration of a settlement of the rent? And my noble Friend (Viscount Lymington) also expressed surprise at this. Well, that is a matter which will have to be thoroughly discussed in Committee. But when the hon. Member for Salford compared it with the term of the statutory lease, I must remind him that in the 15 years' lease fixed by the Court, the judicial rent is compulsory upon the landlord; whereas the 31 years' is the voluntary acceptance of both parties; so that they are not precisely similar. I have dwelt for some time on the tribunals for fixing fair rents, and it appears to me that the other provisions naturally follow. Let us take security of tenure; the right hon. Gentleman has given us a good character by saying that over a large part of Ireland our Bill will give fixity of tenure. What it does give, as we think, is very good security of tenure, and that follows from fixing a fair rent. What would be the use of giving a man a fair rent, if he is to be turned out next day or next month? May I allude to one objection not yet made in debate, but which is certain to be made—the objection that we have not given at once perpetual fixity of tenure, that we have not fixed the rent and the tenure to go on in perpetuity? Well, there are two objections to that. One is, that it must be a one-sided bargain. It is impossible that it could be anything but a one-sided bargain, as between landlord and tenant, because it would be perfectly good against the landlord, but it would be of no value against the tenant. If prices rise, the landlord would get no benefit from them; and if prices fell, no law we can pass could force a man to go on paying his landlord a rent which he was not able to earn from the soil. Then, secondly, we also believe that this arrangement would have the effect which it is said our Bill will have—but which we say it will not have—of converting landlords into mere rent-chargers, the consequence of which would be that we should lose the advantage of a landlord class, which I believe would be very injurious. As to free sale, that seems to follow fair rents quite as naturally as secu- 1164 rity of tenure does. In giving security of tenure at a fair rent we acknowledge the right of the occupier of the holding. My belief is that it would be impossible to prevent the sale of the tenant's right, and, indeed, although the landlords have set their faces sternly against it, yet the sale has been made; and it is far more to the interest of the landlord that he should admit a fact which gives the tenant the greatest inducement to leave his farm in a good condition. As to arrears, I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Salford thoroughly estimates the effect of the clause to which he alluded. I may, however, state that the 48th clause, combined with the 13th, enables a tenant who is involved in legal proceedings in connection with the owing of rent, whether arrears or not, to apply to the Court for a judicial rent, and thereby obtain the advantages which the Bill is intended to confer. I have seen it stated in many speeches which have been made out-of-doors that no tenant can obtain any of the advantages of the Bill until he pays up his arrears. That, however, is not the case. He may apply to the Court if paying an exorbitant rent, and the Court may, and probably would, fix a lower rent, and he would obtain the power of selling his tenancy. [Mr. PARNELL: But the arrears would not be wiped away as a debt.] That is perfectly true; but it is also true that he would obtain the advantage of the lowering of the rent. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold) went further, and asked why the Bill should not be altered so as to apply to the prevention of all evictions from the time of its introduction.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
What I was contending for was that the protection afforded by the Bill should apply from the date of its being brought in.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I think my hon. Friend will find that the retrospective action of the Bill in respect to the protection it will afford will go further than he seems to suppose. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), I may add, drew attention to the veto which was to be given to the landlord. I find that the limitation veto which we have admitted is very much the veto claimed by those who have the greatest experience of 1165 free sale—the Ulster tenants. I do not think it reasonable that the landlord should have no veto. The argument of the advocates of the cause of the tenant is that there is a sort of joint ownership between him and the landlord. Now, even admitting that to be the case, it would not be fair to give one owner power to sell what he possesses to the injury and destruction of the property of another. The landlord has the power to sell; but we have so guarded the Bill that he cannot sell so as to injure the tenant. If you give no possibility of veto to the landlord, you may make the ownership of no value to him. Without doubt, there are great difficulties in these arrangements between landlord and tenant. Some hon. Members below the Gangway say—"Why not at once acknowledge you cannot make these arrangements between landlord and tenant, and get rid of the landlords altogether?" The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), who take that view, seem to me to agree very much with my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), who says—"Leave the landlords to do what they will with their own, and do not meddle with them." If, however, we were to take that line, very great power would be given to those who attack the institution of landlordism. I do not wish hon. Members to suppose that I think either this House or the country would not insist on making the law respected; but I am quite sure that if landlords are to be left to do exactly as they like with their land, as with Consols, without interfering with them, there will be a very strong feeling that, while the law must be enforced, it will be necessary to amend it. I must say, however, I do not think that anything that could be done for the purpose would have the effect of abolishing landlordism in Ireland or anywhere else. Two laws would have to be passed—one, that every landlord who is not an occupier must sell or transfer his land to an occupier; next, that an occupier should never sell his land, however tired of farming it he might be, to anyone who was not an occupier. It is only necessary to state these facts to show that in the present state of civilization it is impossible to abolish landlordism. You have land- 1166 lords in France, you have them in large numbers in the United States, and you would find them very soon again in Ireland if you got rid of the present landlords. Well, the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin spoke of compensation to the landlords, and I think I am not mistaken in supposing that that was the real meaning of his speech. The real meaning of his attack upon the Bill, combined with his very careful avoidance of making that attack really serious, was that he hoped that terms would be made for the landlords in Ireland by means of a large State compensation. Now, I wish to state the argument for compensation fairly. I imagine the condition of things to be this—that equity gives one thing and the Statute Law enforces another. The Statute Law has not admitted in many parts of Ireland the right of the tenant to continuous occupancy, and even in that part of Ireland where that right is admitted, it is not guarded against being invaded; whereas equity now demands that it should be so guarded. We have had cases very often in which we have had to change the law in order to carry out the principles of equity, and there have been cases sometimes in which large compensation has been given out of State funds. I, therefore, am not surprised to hear a claim made for compensation. But the English law in the matter depends upon whether damage can be proved, and my firm belief is that no damage can be proved; on the other hand, that if the landlord were compensated, you would compensate him for conferring on him a benefit. ["Oh!"] Those who scorn that statement should consider the argument just used by my noble Friend (Viscount Lymington), who will probably be owner of a large estate in Ireland, on the subject. Let me remind those hon. Members of one fact—of the immense difference that there is, not now, not in consequence of the late distress or the agitation, but that there is generally between the selling, value of Irish estates and of English estates. I have a very strong belief that the share that the Irish landlord gets out of his land is as much as that of the English landlords. [Hon. MEMBERS: More.] Well, I do not think it would be easy to prove that it is less. 1167 What I say is this—that the number of years' purchase of an estate in Ireland for a long time past has been much less than it has been in England. I suppose it would be reckoned as between 20 to 25 years' purchase in Ireland, as against 35 or 40 years' purchase in England. Well, what does that arise from? It arises mainly from this, that some landlords in Ireland have used their power in such a way as to very much diminish the surety of letting estates there, and my noble Friend acknowledges that the limits of this Bill will be no real injury to any individual or to any class. Then there is another benefit to be conferred on the landlords—a very considerable one—namely, that a large number of new purchasers will be brought into the market by this Bill. ["Oh"] Does any hon. Member doubt that if we lend a large sum of money to purchase land, it will bring a large number of new purchasers into the market? And does not that increase the value of the property? In the present state of trade I should be very glad if a large sum of money were lent to the purchasers of goods in the manufacture of which I am interested. It is stated that at this time landlords are very willing to sell, and I expect that for a time there will be as many sellers as purchasers. Undoubtedly, the provision of these new purchasers is something for which the landlords need not be compensated, for it is compensation in itself. To that part of the Bill I expect no Irish objections. If it be objected to at all, the objection should come from the English taxpayer. It is a matter which requires, I admit, great care and caution; but I believe the risk is far less than is supposed. You must remember this, that the tenant gets three-fourths of the value of his farm advanced to him by the Government, and it is not at all probable that he will be a defaulter if he can help it. We will bring to bear upon him the strongest possible inducement not to be a defaulter. Every year the value of his property will be increased, and every year what he would lose by being a defaulter will be greatly increased. There is some risk in it; but I think it is a risk which the State, and this country especially, might very gladly run, in the hope of obtaining a quieter state of things in Ireland. I have only a word or two to say upon another part of the Bill. I think there has been rather an unfair 1168 attack upon the Government with regard to the emigration clauses. It has been stated that our object is to sweep the Irish out of Ireland and to force them away. Well, we have no such object whatever. We have been forced to see what is the condition of some parts of Ireland, especially in the West, where, in some districts, there is an over population to an extent, perhaps, that no Bill for the reform of land tenure can altogether meet. Many of those people are highly rented; but if they paid no rent at all, they could not live in decency. We wish to relieve this distress by emigration. Some say—"Do it by the reclamation of waste lands, by migration." That might be useful to some extent; but there will be some who prefer to try their chance in Canada, Australia, or the Far West, and if they were my neighbours I should, in their own interest, strongly recommend them to try it. I very much doubt if hon. Members who so attack this scheme will be supported by the people of Ireland themselves. Several Catholic clergy have already organized an emigration of families to America. We have the Canadian Government anxious for families to emigrate, and the Pacific Railway requiring a large number of labourers. I am quite willing to admit that there have been great evils in Irish emigration—very little care for the material well-being of the emigrants for the first year or two, and disregard of their spiritual wants; so that there is ground for the complaints of the Roman Catholic clergy as to the temptations to which emigrants, particularly the young, are exposed. Our object is to avoid that; and if a scheme can be devised by which the wretched people of Mayo can be transplanted, and be looked after till they can earn their own living, it will be a great advantage. Of course, any emigration will be voluntary. I believe that if the proposal were fairly stated to the people themselves they would appreciate our motives, and would be sorry not to be allowed the chance of benefiting themselves by it. Undoubtedly, any such scheme must be extremely difficult; and I am not sure that if we pass the measure we shall find it possible to bring it into operation. It will require all sorts of safeguards against over expenditure and mismanagement; but if it can be done, it will be of great advantage to those for whom it is intended. I 1169 agree with the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) in looking forward to a time when the population of Ireland will be larger than it is now, though not, perhaps, in certain districts. I know not how we can meet the labourers' question except by emigration. At present the wages are miserably low, because there is an over-supply of labour. Of course, if that can be relieved, wages will in all probability rise. It would be a fair ground of complaint against our emigration clauses if it could be shown that they were a main object of the Bill, and that we had no real and honest intention to reform the land tenure. Hon. Members might then say—"You have given up all hope of doing good in Ireland, and you want to get rid of the people." But, no doubt, we are now calling on the House to engage in a most difficult task. There are great difficulties in the government of Ireland; but I have not lost hope, and I have probably as much reason to feel anxious on this point as any hon. Member. I believe there never was a better opportunity of meeting the difficulties of Ireland than now, if the House is determined resolutely—and I believe it is—to settle this question. In Committee we shall have many discussions, and very likely some alterations of the Bill; but I believe that in its main features it will pass through the ordeal of Committee, and will become law; for I believe there is a feeling in the House and in the country to support us in doing our utmost, by a reform in the land tenure of Ireland on the principles of this measure, to put the relations of landlord and tenant on a better footing, and thereby to remove the feeling of discontent. There is also a feeling that we ought to try to remove that overcrowding which is one of the chief causes of Irish misery, and to give to Ireland the great social benefit of an increase in the number of its landed proprietors.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Lord Elcho.)
said, it was rather early to move the adjournment of the debate at that hour (12 o'clock), and he hoped his noble Friend would be content to allow it to proceed. If, however, his noble Friend persisted with his Motion for adjournment, he would not 1170 oppose it, and the debate would be resumed on Thursday.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.