HC Deb 03 June 1881 vol 262 cc7-14

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If he can inform the House how many of the tenants on the estate of Lord Kenmare have been threatened with proceedings for nonpayment of rent? He must admit that there was something unusual in the character of the Question. He should not have asked the Question, but for the statement made the day before by the Prime Minister with reference to the estate of Lord Kenmare. That statement had a tendency to mislead the House and the country.["Oh!"]


The hon. Member must confine himself to the Question.


said, that he would put himself in Order by concluding with a Motion. He was far from ascribing to the right hon. Gentleman any intention of misleading the House or the country. It was, however, clear that impressions inconsistent with fact had been made upon the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, and that he was, perhaps, naturally anxious to reproduce those impressions on the mind of the House. It was true that recently there had not been many evictions on the estate of Lord Kenmare; but that was owing to the revolt which was going on in Ireland against eviction, for which Her Majesty's Government was mainly responsible. The origin of this revolt could be traced to the speeches delivered last year by the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant during the discussions on the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, and it had reached a culminating point since the speech of the-Attorney General for Ireland on the second reading of the Land Bill, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with a can dour that did him infinite credit, admitted—


The hon. Member is not entitled to refer to debates in this House which have taken place during the present Session.


said, that it was absolutely necessary for his purpose that he should refer to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in order to answer the statement made by the Prime Minister on Thursday.


The hon. Member is not at liberty to refer to the speech which he mentions.


, continuing, said, that the tenantry on the estate of Lord Kenmare were in a most depressed and discontented state in consequence of their being harassed by his Lordship's agent, under agents, and bailiffs. There were no tenants on any property in Ireland standing more in need of the protection of the Land Bill. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(The O'Donoghue.)


Sir, I cannot answer any Question in the nature of a speech made at this time on a Motion for the adjournment of the House without systematically recording my protest against the licence that prevails upon this subject. From these constant Motions a mass of evidence is being accumulated, which cannot fail to lead the House to adopt some very stringent Resolutions. In reply to the statement and Question of the hon. Member, I am bound to say that I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, from anything I have seen or known of him in this House, would, willingly commit injustice to any individual; but he must see that it is not just that attacks of this kind should be made without the smallest opportunity being given to the persons concerned to provide for their defence. He objects to my statement yesterday; but that statement was strictly, and in every word of it, drawn forth by the previous statement of an hon. Gentleman in putting a Question to me on that side of the House; and I do not think it was unnatural that a person holding the Office of a Member of the Queen's Government should feel that it was not fit to allow himself to stand in a doubtful position in the view of the House. The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the necessity on Lord Ken-mare's estate of the intervention of the Court to secure moderate rents. I do not pretend to be in possession of all the facts relating to the estate; but this I will say, that within a generation—within the last 20 years or so—Lord Kenmare has laid out £70,000 on that estate without making any addition to the rents in respect of such outlay. As regards the immediate matter of the Question, all I have to say is that I am not informed how many tenants have been threatened with proceedings for non-payment of rent; but if, in a large number of tenantry, when there is a great state of excitement, and when most immoral doctrines are preached on the subject, I find that the number of evictions has been very small, and has been strictly confined to those who could pay and did not, I think the natural conclusion is, that if any of them have been threatened with eviction they have been threatened with a very good cause.


would remind the Prime Minister that, in replying on Thursday to one of his own supporters—the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard)—he did not commence by threatening future penalties upon the hon. Gentleman for moving the adjournment of the House at Question time. The patient demeanour of the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion was, perhaps, due to the fact that the hon. Member who moved the adjournment was one of his supporters. He would also remind the right hon. Gentleman that he did not deprecate an attack made the other day on an absent individual, by one of his own supporters. The right hon. Gentleman accused some persons in Ireland of preaching an immoral doctrine in the advice which they gave to tenants not to pay unjust rents, even if they were in a position to pay them. It was true that that doctrine had been preached in Ireland, and he held that it was a most moral one. The doctrine was based upon this—that the stronger should protect the weaker, and that when the Government of a country failed in its duty of protecting the property of either the majority or minority of a community, combination was allowable among individuals for the purpose of protecting themselves by lawful means. Tenants in Ireland had undoubtedly refused to pay unjust rents, many of those who had so refused being perfectly able to pay. But those who could pay had other resources than the land from which they derived emolument. They had recently heard of a case in point—he referred to the case of Mr. Butterley, who had refused to pay the rent of his farm, near Dublin, though in a position to do so out of the profits derived from his business as a shopkeeper. Mr. Butterley, who had joined the combination for the protection of the weaker tenants, had acted in a patriotic and manly, and not in an immoral way, and would have allowed his stock to be sold at considerable sacrifice if it had been necessary. The people of Ireland were perfectly guiltless whether able to pay or not. The Government had been called upon time after time to protect the tenants who were unable to pay unjust rents; but the appeal had always been in vain. The Chief Secretary, too, had violated his solemn engagement, entered into last Session, which was that if he should find it necessary to apply to Parliament for exceptional powers of repression against the Irish people, and if he should find the landlords using their rights unjustly, he would accompany any request for special powers with a Bill designed to release the Government from being obliged to support injustice. But before the Coercion Act left the House of Commons, the landlords were already using their powers extensively, and forcing the Government to inflict injustice on tenants who could not pay their rents; and yet the right hon. Gentleman failed to keep his promise, and refrained from asking the House to give him power to prevent unjust evictions. The Government thereupon lost their opportunity of ruling Ireland, and of making coercion effectual, which might have been effectual if with it justice had been simultaneously dispensed. The Government had thrown in their whole weight with the landowning class, and were now meeting with the reward which they deserved. Three weeks ago he had asked the Government to put a stop to ejectments in Ireland, undertaking that if they would do so he would ask all the tenants who could pay their rents to pay them, whether unjust or not. The Government, however, did not accept his invitation, and now matters had proceeded so far that the only course left to them was to allow the contending parties to fight the question out. He believed that the victory, as in every case where a people had struggled against landlord tyranny, would be on the side of the majority, protected though the minority might be by the rifles and bayonets of the military and the police.


said, that he had made no statement with regard to the justice or injustice of the, evictions threatened on Lord Kenmare's estate; he had merely called attention to the fact that evictions were being carried on by Lord Kenmare. He thought the right hon. Gentleman ought to have extended his inquiries, for though his statements might be correct with regard to the evictions on the estate of Lord Kenmare, he would have seen that the allegations were true as regarded the estates of the Earl of Arran and others. The Prime Minister's statement had been interpreted as meaning that in nearly every case evictions were just; and he thought that the right hon. Gentleman, if he desired to be just, should have given the particulars of unjust as well as just evictions.


said, he did not object to the Prime Minister's defence of Lord Kenmare, who had the advantage of being a Member of the Government; but he wished to dispel what seemed to be a general assumption, that Irish tenants were not capable of responding to the actions of generous landlords. Within the past two days, the Earl of Portarlington, who was a Member of the Conservative Party, had received a most gratifying expression of esteem and respect from his tenantry, to whom, although his was not one of the most distressed districts, he had accorded Griffith's valuation; and the noble Lord, in replying, said that while landlords had indisputable rights, tenants had indisputable rights also. The case, it would be admitted, was a very gratifying one, and presented a contrast to that of Lord Kenmare, who had certainly not been the subject of grateful enthusiasm on the part of his tenantry.


said, that he had that morning had the pleasure of receiving a letter from Lord Portarlington detailing the circumstances to which the hon. Member alluded; and that he had at once written to the noble Lord expressing his great gratification at the news.


said, the Premier did not, perhaps, understand all that was implied by his statement that in two of the eviction cases Lord Kenmare had obtained for his action the sanction of Dublin juries. What that meant was, that Lord Kenmare had not chosen to obtain his ejectment processes in a local Court, as he might have done, but had subjected his poor tenants to the expense and trouble of going to Dublin, hundreds of miles away. A Bill to prevent such scandals was brought in last year by the hon. Member for Longford, but was thrown out in the House of Lords, no doubt with Lord Kenmare's assistance. The state of Ireland at the present time might be likened to that of a person who was asked to pay £1 and could only pay 10s. What was needed for the country was a sort of Bankruptcy Bill. When merchants in the City became unable to pay their debts they were not threatened and coerced by military and police; but the poor tenants in Ireland, when they found themselves in that position, were at once throttled in the name of the law. Ireland, in fact, lay at the mercy of the foreigners sitting on the Treasury Bench, who had not the smallest sympathy with her wrongs, and who, though they knew that the whole Irish difficulty resolved itself into a question, of the difference between 15s. and £1, allowed the Shylocks who held the land to claim their pound of flesh.


said, though there might be causes of complaint in connection with Lord Kenmare's estate, and particularly with its management, yet, from his knowledge of the circumstances, he believed—and he appealed to the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) to confirm him—that, on the whole, the rents were not only fair, but moderate; and if any persons were ejected, it was only because they were well known to be able to pay, but would not. He might add that in the autumn of 1879, when the land agitation was beginning, a dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church remarked to him—"There are landlords in Kerry who are getting credit for reductions of 20, 30, and 40 per cent, and their rents are higher than Lord Kenmare's, without any reduction."


stated that, of 88 evictions which had been carried out in a certain district in Leitrim since January last, 73 had been ordered by landlords who were justices of the peace. In the face of these facts, how, he would ask, could the people be expected to respect the law, or the Government who administered the law, and who, after admitting the necessity of putting a stop to wholesale evictions, allowed them to go on unchecked?


pointed out that until hon. Members from Ireland could determine how rents could be recovered without evictions, it was unfair for them to characterize the landlords as cruel and unjust. Having regard to the number of landlords in Ireland, and the number of evictions, it would be found that a very small proportion of tenants had been proceeded against in this manner, and then only after repeated attempts had been made by the landlords to recover rents from tenants who could pay if they would. The landlords, it should be remembered, were not all of the exalted rank of Lord Kenmare. There were a great many small landlords who had nothing but their land to live on, and who had either to press for their rents or starve.


said, that, like the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Colthurst), he was unwilling to intervene in this discussion; but as many of the persons who had been mentioned were personal friends of his own he felt bound to say something in their behalf. In the cases of all the gentlemen who had been named, the evictions which had been referred to did not represent 5 per cent of the tenants in arrear on those various estates; and he was sure that none of those gentlemen would have selected any tenant for eviction unless he were perfectly aware that such tenant was able to pay.


, in asking permission to withdraw the Motion, expressed his regret at finding it necessary to make a Motion of that kind. He wished to say one word to this effect. He could not corroborate the statement which had been made by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cork County (Colonel Colthurst). He was aware that the tenants on Lord Kenmare's estate did not regard their rents as moderate, and that in the last few years the rents had been raised 50 or 60 per cent.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.