§ (Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Forster, Mr. Bright, Mr. Attorney General for Ireland, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland.)
§ SECOND READING. ADJOURNED DEBATE.
§ [SIXTH NIGHT.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [25th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while willing to consider any just measure, founded upon sound principles, that will benefit tenants of land in Ireland, is of opinion that the leading provisions of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill are in the main economically unsound, unjust, and impolitic,"—(Lord Elcho,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. SHAW
said, that he should make his remarks as brief as possible, for the Bill had now been debated for seven nights; and, so far as he could judge, very little impression had been made upon its principle. Many of the speeches that had been made were directed rather to the details of the Bill, and might have been more appropriately made in Committee. When the Bill was intro- 289 duced, he took the liberty of expressing a general approval of it, and as soon as he possibly could he most carefully read it; in fact, he read it twice, and he was almost ashamed to tell the House that he understood it—at least, he thought he did. But when he heard the speech of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson), he must say that his mind was quite upset on the question. However, he got right again in about five minutes, and when he came to look at the Bill again he did not feel at all disturbed. To his mind that Bill, dealing with a great and most complicated subject, affecting interests so varied and so important, was a great Bill, and he believed as easily understood as any Bill that had ever been introduced on a great subject. He should occupy the House as briefly as possible in suggesting a few points in which he thought the Bill might be improved. Of course, in proposing Amendments, he recognized the necessity of keeping strictly to the principle of the Bill, for it would be most unreasonable to seek to alter its entire structure or change its principle. Therefore, any suggestion he might make to amend or improve the Bill would, he believed, be entirely within its principle, and would tend to the simplification and better working of the measure. The first part of the Bill contained the rules for regulating the relationship between the landlord and tenant; and as the most important question in that part of the Bill was the question of rent, he should first of all refer to that. His right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) was very much puzzled indeed, as he said, as to this part; but he (Mr. Shaw) happened one evening to go to Belfast, and he met there a conference of hard-headed Northerners, and underwent two hours' cross-examination on the clauses of the Bill; and he thought he was able to understand those clauses dealing with a fair rent. He thought also that the tenant farmers of the North understood them too, though he did not say they entirely approved of them. He did not forget that it was one of the most intricate and difficult parts of the subject; and, in his mind, it would be quite impossible to arrive at any scientific way of adjusting rent between landlord and tenant in Ireland. In that opinion Judge Longfield, one of the most experienced men in 290 Ireland on this question, and other eminent men concurred. Indeed, the former expressed his opinion, before the Commission, that there was no use in laying down rules for the regulation of rent between landlord and tenant; and the only way in which it could be properly done was by getting competent valuators, and letting them go to the holdings and exercise their own common sense on the subject. The clause dealing with fair rents was one which he thought was easily enough understood. It was explained very fully by his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Law). The valuator should go to the holding and take the holding as it stood. Of course, if they adopted an economic mode of fixing rent, they must consider several circumstances; they must consider the average of the prices, say, for seven years, of the crops principally grown on the holding; they must consider the position and circumstances of the holding; and they must consider the cost of production. But there was another element which it was absolutely necessary to consider in fixing a fair rent, and that was the natural quality of the soil. He maintained that it would absolutely be impossible for a valuator going to 99 holdings out of 100 to see what was the natural quality of the soil. It would, therefore, be very hard for any valuator to fix the rent by the economic method, or to arrive at a fair rent by any other mode than that suggested. He must have regard to the holding, and give expression to the interest that the tenant had in Ulster and in other parts of Ireland under the Act of 1870. He would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin, would he suggest that a valuator going on his land was not to regard the interest of the tenant? Was he not bound, as the very first thing, and as a matter of duty, to find out what was the interest the tenant had in his holding? Of course, he was not to calculate that in such a way as to absorb the interest of the landlord, or the rent of the landlord. No valuator that ever went, or was ever likely to go on land in Ireland, would adopt such a course. In fact, if such a course as that were adopted, in many parts of Ireland it would make the rent nothing at all. Any Judge that went on a holding, and commenced to 291 fix rent in that way, the very next thing that ought to be done with that man would be to bring him into a lunatic asylum. He believed that that was not the meaning of the clause, or the intention of the Government in introducing the clause, that the tenant's interest should be calculated in that way; but he believed it would be possible to amend the wording of the clause so as to remove all possibility of misunderstanding. The Government had only one object in dealing with the subject, and that was to do right between class and class, and to do right between man and man. It would not be very good policy for any Government or any Party in that House to act on the principle of what they considered would benefit their own class. If they did that, they would find that it would injure their own class in the long run. It was very curious that before he left Cork for Belfast he had a long conference on this clause with a landlord, and that landlord said if this clause were allowed to stand in the Bill, it would destroy the rent of the landlord; and when he went to Belfast, some of the tenants said if this clause were allowed to stand in the Bill it would destroy their tenant right; but the tenants of the North of Ireland especially did not like to have any revaluation. They had made the entire improvement on their farms, and they did not like the idea of a valuator going among them every 15 years and putting on a value on the improvements they had made themselves. Therefore, the tenants in the North of Ireland did not wish that the clause should stand as it was, but that there should be some words introduced expressing the meaning of the Bill that their improvements, their work done, or their outlay made on the land, should in no way be valued against them in fixing the rent. He believed such words could be introduced into the Bill. There was another question which had cropped up, and which he was quite sure had frightened the landlords very much, and that was as to whether this clause would tend to reduction of rent generally in Ireland. He must say that on a great many well-managed estates in Ireland there was nothing like exorbitant rents; but he believed that unreasonable rises of rent were not confined to the smaller estates. 292 Owners that were largely encumbered, whether purchasers in the Landed Estates Court or hereditary owners, had a wonderful tendency to increase their rents, especially in the West and South of Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen might say that rent was but a small matter. It was anything but a small matter. He knew himself, and they had statements before the Commission of this kind—that within 30 years the rent on an estate had been raised from £500 a-year to £1,500 a-year. The meaning of that was that every man on that estate, who, at the beginning, 30 years ago, paid £2, was paying £6 now. Was not that a serious thing for a poor man? Did it not mean the deprivation of the comforts, and, in some cases, of the very necessaries of life? Not long ago he had met a man whose position was slightly worse than it was 30 years ago. The man accounted for the fact by saying that on his father's death his rent was increased by £10 a-year. This addition had prevented him from ever knowing prosperity. There was another question he wished to refer to in passing, and that was the question of arrears. It was a very important question, and one that had not been dealt with in the Bill. He confessed, at once, that it was a most difficult question, and most important not only for the tenants, but also for the landlords; because they could not hide from themselves that, in the greater part of Ireland, arrears to a very large extent existed. The people in those districts were poor, and the question arose, What was to be done with them? In the question of arrears, he eliminated altogether the numerous cases where people having the means had not paid their rents, but, taking advantage of the times, had kept their money in their pockets. He would also eliminate those who were not so very knowing, but who were influenced by a sentiment—and, he believed, a very natural sentiment—of loyalty to their class, and who said to themselves that they were fighting a very great fight—that they could not break the rules, but that they must work loyally with their class; and, at the end, he would take away the cases of poor people that no amount of indulgence or help that that House could give them could possibly enable them to keep their holdings, so burdened were they with 293 debts and arrears; but there were within that circle a very large number of cases—such cases came before the Commission and himself privately—in the South and West of Ireland. There, during bad years, poor people who had been compelled gradually to lessen their stock and to retrench their expenses of living, who had endeavoured to pay their way honestly, and who now were as honestly in debt to their landlords as any people were, he believed those were the class that ought to be relieved out of their difficulty. Many of them had been paying exorbitant rents, and would have struggled to pay their rents, but for the bad times. He thought the House ought to pass a Resolution asking the Government to instruct the County Court Judges in every case of that kind to postpone ejectments until such a time as the Court about to be constituted under the Bill could look into the case and afford some relief. He did not know whether the House would give such instructions to the County Court Judges; but he knew that it was not an unusual thing for County Court Judges to postpone payment of ordinary debts. It might be said that it was against the laws of political economy to allow County Court Judges, or any Court, to interfere with debt due; but they did it every day. If an exorbitant rate of interest was charged by a private money lender, or butter merchant, nothing was more common than for a County Court Judge to say it was quite unreasonable, and that he would not allow it. There was, therefore, no difficulty in their way in saying that they would not allow payment of the rent that was exorbitant or excessive. There were one or two other points in the Bill which he thought might be judiciously amended. He knew that there had not been, in the entire evidence taken by the Commission, any difference of opinion almost as to the incompetency of a County Court Judge, sitting alone, to decide on questions of this kind. A suggestion had been made which he thought might well be followed. It was that two Assistant Commissioners should be associated with the County Court Judges as members of the Court when questions under the Act were to be decided. He was not at all in favour of abolishing the Court as a Court of Record. He would retain as Chairman 294 the Judge who was accustomed to hear and weigh evidence; but he thought it would be essential that questions of valuation should not be left entirely to a lawyer, who had no experience whatever of it. There was another question that was of very great importance, which was the question of leaseholders. It had been recommended by the Commission that leases made since 1870, where there was any proof of their having been forced on the tenant, should be re-opened, and with that suggestion he entirely concurred. There was this difference, of course, that if they opened leases in one direction they must open them in the other—if they allowed the tenant to come in and say he claimed the leases should be opened, he did not see how they could deny the landlord the same right. So the question arose, whether on the whole it would not be worse, rather than better, for the tenant if they opened leases. He thought himself there were very few cases where leases containing unreasonable conditions had been forced on tenants since 1870; but he knew there were quite enough to make it worthy the consideration of the House. If they looked into it, they would find it would not be any such great disruption of the question of leases as most people imagined. Therefore, when there was this grievance pressing on the people, he thought it would not be reasonable to ask that it should have some consideration. There was another question of leases. So far as he understood the proposals contained in the Bill, the present leaseholders would not, as a matter of course, become present tenants at the expiration of their leases. He supposed that to mean that the lease must run out, and that the tenant at the end of the lease must become a "future tenant." Now, he thought that, in many cases, that would not be unreasonable—that was, on large estates, where the tenants held the position very much of English and Scotch tenants, where they had taken their holdings with all the machinery of the farm ready for them—where they had taken their holdings, being mostly intelligent men, on conditions which they understood and agreed to. In their cases he did not see why at the end of their term they should not surrender their holdings, as was usual in England, if the landlord required them to do so. A lease in Ireland meant 295 almost nothing, in 99 cases out of 100, but a fixing of the rent for 31 years; and no landlord expected, and no tenant ever thought, that the condition in the lease providing that at the end of the lease the holding should be given up to the landlord would ever be enforced. The holding was as much a perpetual holding as any other with a perpetual right of renewal. Now, his impression was that it would be a very unjust thing to tenants on many estates, where they had taken leases as a matter of form, that they should be excluded from the very best part of this Bill, because they were accommodating enough to take a lease, probably because that lease put £4 or £5 in the pocket of an attorney or agent, or because they took a lease to oblige the landlord; while their neighbours on the same estate, who had refused to take leases—and he had known cases of this kind—were to come in for all the advantages of the Bill. He thought this was a point which was well worthy the attention of the Government. There were many other points of a minor character in the sub-clauses of the Bill; but he did not think it would be at all his part to occupy the time of the House with them now. They would come up more naturally in Committee, when the Bill had reached that stage. Now, as to the purchase clauses. They were by many looked on as the most important part of the Bill; and he looked on them himself as clauses of exceeding importance, and all the more necessary to be simple and easily worked. The Commissioners that were about to be appointed would have immense power—that was, if they were allowed really to work the Bill. They all knew that Bills and Acts of Parliament were very good things, provided they were carried out properly; and he believed this Act, if the Commissioners had not discretion and power to carry out its provisions, would be just as ineffectual as many other Acts of Parliament were in Ireland. Some landlords, he believed, thought they ought to have the option of selling their estates, in case they did not come under the tenancy clauses of the Bill. He did not at all agree with that. He believed that would put the landlords in a position they had no right to be in, and put the Government in a position they ought not to consent to be placed in. What 296 would be the effect of it? They would have at once a rush of all the landlords of Ireland on the Government. The Government would be bound to buy, independently of whether the tenants were willing to buy or not, and this would be the consequence—that over, perhaps, half of Ireland they would have for the next 30, 40, or 50 years the Government of the country in the position of landlord to all the tenants in the country. He did not think they could have a more objectionable state of things. Now, in the Bill as it stood there was no difficulty, he thought, for any landlord who wished to effect a sale, either to communicate with the tenant, or to negotiate through the Commissioners; for he presumed that the landlords would be authorized through the Commissioners or the sub-Commissioners to negotiate with the tenants or leaseholders. It would be essential that the Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners should not be men merely sitting in Dublin, but men knowing the country, and men in whom the landlords as well as the tenants would have some confidence. Then, when the landlord was willing to sell, they would be able to negotiate between the parties as to the terms of sale. In that way he believed that every landlord in Ireland. who wished to sell, if he was willing to sell at a fair price, would be able to sell under the Bill; but there was this defect that he thought the Government would do well to look at—the Commissioners would have power to purchase and power to sell, but no power to reclaim any land on the estate. They might, perhaps, in Munster or Connaught buy a large estate, where half or two-thirds of the tenants were anxious to purchase, and there might be left in their hands an immense tract of land, with tenants scattered over it, on which an outlay of £2,000 or £3,000 would be of immense benefit to the tenants; in fact, by making some outlay upon it, they brought it into a position when tenants would be most anxious to get it; whereas, if they loft it where it was, in a half reclaimed state, they would find it very hard indeed to get tenants to purchase. He thought they ought to give the Commissioners some powers in estates of this kind to lay out money on improvements and reclamation. In fact, the clauses referring to reclamation were 297 to his mind very defective. He did not believe in Companies being empowered to carry out these reclamations. They were very backward in Ireland in the way of commercial enterprize. They were very slow in forming Companies; and if this was carried out at all, they would have Companies consisting of English or Scotch jobbers going over to work out some scheme of their own. At all events, there would be a great deal of public money put into it in one way or another, and very little ever got out of it. He believed the reclamation of waste lands should be intrusted to the Commissioners as part of their duty, and he believed it would be best carried out if it was carried out by the tenants themselves. He had seen in the South, as well as in the North of Ireland, wonderful reclamations which had been carried out by tenants in the last 20 or 30 years—tracts of land—mountain tracts, bogs that you could not walk over—and on that land crops of wheat and barley were growing now, and this was all done by the tenants themselves. There would be nothing easier. He did not for a moment deny that there might be estates in Ireland where it might be possible to effect large reclamations, and upon which this measure might be made useful for laying down a large scheme of reclamations; but he believed the best reclamation would be that which the tenant would be able to effect, where he was working on a spot he could make his own by the employment of his own energy. The clauses affecting emigration he did not mean to enlarge upon in detail; but he did wish to say he did not see the slightest harm in their passing in the Bill, if the proposal was to be confined to grants which should enable whole families, and not individual members of them, to emigrate and recommence life in a new world. He happened to be a member of a Committee for the relief of the distress in Ireland, and they set apart a small sum to be distributed by the members of the Committee in helping emigration. They did not, as a rule, give a single 6d. of that money to boys or girls. They did, he believed, in every case, and at least in every one that went through his hands, give help to families to go out altogether to America. He had known some most interesting cases, where a poor woman and her children were left at home with 298 relations, while the father went—and sometimes the father and mother went—across the Atlantic and left their children in Ireland; their hearts in Ireland and their energies and work in America. He believed no Government, even if they meant it—which he did not think any Government ever would—could use these clauses in a way which would be detrimental to the people of Ireland. ["Oh, oh!"] There was the parish priest, whom the man would consult, as a matter of course, before he took a single step in the matter. There was public opinion, there was the Press, and there was that House; and did any man in his senses think that any extensive system of emigration could be carried on in Ireland against the interests of the people? ["Yes!" and "Oh, oh!"] At all events, he was not afraid to say what he thought on the subject; and ho spoke, not from knowledge gathered on platforms, but from the knowledge he had gathered from the people themselves in Castlebar, Roscommon, Sligo, and all around the coast. He not only met hundreds of the people in the rooms when the Committee examined them, but he spent every hour he could spare in going among the people. He did not wish them to emigrate. He believed every man in Ireland, and a great many more, would have work very soon in Ireland. He did not believe the clauses would be very much used, no matter how they were framed; but he believed this—there would be many people in Ireland who would be glad to go out of the country, if they saw their way to go in comfort, and settle down in America. How was it the Scotchman was everywhere? The Scotchman did not bind himself down on a rock or a bog; he never was happy except when he got away from his own country. Was he the less a Scotchman? Not a bit of it. There were fine examples of emigration from Ireland and of very successful emigration, at that present time, sitting in that House. But he believed there was plenty of land in Ireland, and that migrating the people, reclaiming the land, and, as he hoped most sincerely, stirring up industries in the country, would give employment, and ample employment, to everyone in the country. But if families wished to emigrate, he would much rather that, instead of spending their 299 own few pounds on taking money from the poor rates, they should take from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the manner proposed in this Bill. As far as the money clauses of the Bill were concerned, ho hoped the Government would either propose or accept Amendments which would have the effect of making them more elastic. The other night the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) suggested a plan, which, of course, he (Mr. Shaw) could not object to, as ho happened to suggest it himself when acting as Royal Commissioner, and that was that the money necessary for assisting the tenant to buy his holding should be raised as a separate fund upon debentures, the Church Surplus, or some other fund, being taken as a basis, as security. He, however, very much preferred the plan proposed by the Bill; because it must be borne in mind they could not get any separate Commissioners to raise money by debenture, and get it in the open market within 1 per cent of the rate at which the Government could borrow. However good the security they offered might be, the Commissioners could not borrow a sufficient amount in Ireland to enable them to carry into operation with effect the great work proposed to be effected by the purchasing clauses of the Bill. As a matter of fact, they had barely enough money to carry on the business of the country, and if the business grew very much without the wealth increasing proportionately, they would have to get money elsewhere. They would have to come to England for money, and no man in his senses would suppose that any Dublin Commissioners could borrow money in the London market on such security as they could offer, except at a high rate of interest—that was to say, under 4 per cent, unless they could give Government security. But it was in the interest of the poor man that the money should be got as cheaply as possible; and, therefore, Government security should be given for the money borrowed. Of course, if they adopted the plan in the Bill, and if they found this fund at any time to be increasing to an enormous extent, so as to derange the monetary affairs of the country, it would always be open to any Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce a Bill to sepa- 300 rate this fund from the general funds of the nation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster had laid great stress upon the danger to which future Governments would be exposed if the fund were to be mixed up with those of the nation. The right hon. Gentleman said that a Chancellor of the Exchequer would find himself in a position of great difficulty if the Irish Members were to come to him and say—"If you do not do so and so, we will not support you; but if you do so and so, we will support you." The right hon. Gentleman seemed to speak from experience. He (Mr. Shaw) knew this—that when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Treasury, he happened to go there concerning some reduction in interest; and he never met a man who could say "No" with better grace than the right hon. Gentleman. Some people said "No," and it was very much like a slap in the face; but the right hon. Gentleman bowed them out, and wished ho could relieve them, but he really could not. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to say there were any Irish Members who, when he was at the Treasury, offered any corrupt compromise with him? [Mr. W. H. SMITH: No, no!] No; nothing of the kind ever occurred. The right hon. Gentleman would be the first man to spurn such overtures; and if such audacious proposals were made to him he would lose much of his sweetness of manner and return a very stern answer to the suggestion. The thing was perfectly absurd. He (Mr. Shaw) believed that payments required for any source made under the Bill would be made by the poor people of Ireland as honestly as payments were made now when they owed money. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, as honestly; for he could say, from his own experience, there were no people in the world honester than the Irish peasantry. There were no people as thrifty and cheerful; and when they owed a debt as anxious to discharge it. Of course, at the present time they were agitated, and they were told that certain things were not debts; but let them really believe they owed a debt, and they were most anxious to meet it. He did not see they could improve the Bill very much in that way. They would be glad to have all the money the Exchequer could give them, and he thought 301 it was very likely it would be used with great advantage. Now, how was the Bill met? They had two Amendments on the Paper. The first one—the Amendment by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho)—was one of a stock character. It could be put down against any Bill ever brought in; for it declared that the House was anxious to do the best it could, but the Bill was economically unsound, unjust, and impolitic. There was nothing original, nothing that touched the Bill specially, nothing but what induced him to believe that, subject to a slight verbal alteration, the Amendment could not as well have been set down against the Bankruptcy Bill as against this Bill. Then, again, last week he read an essay by a Nobleman who had made some sacrifices for his opinions, and who therefore deserved respect. The Nobleman in question, the Duke of Argyll, had said that the bright spots and comfortable homesteads of Ireland had been brought about by the landlords of the country. He (Mr. Shaw) could well understand anyone, after reading the essay, saying—"Oh, the gentleman who wrote these words knows nothing of the subject. He knows it theoretically, and he frames a scheme of Land Reform for Ireland, just as an engineer in Westminster would plan a railway from Cork to Bantry, without even taking a measurement, or going over the land." No one who could write these sentences could really know anything about the matter. Who had made the bright spots of which the Duke of Argyll wrote? Who had turned the country from North to South and East to West into a smiling garden in many places? Not the owner, but the tenant farmer. He (Mr. Shaw) would take them to the estates of Lord Downshire, the Duke of Abercorn, Lord Portsmouth, and the Duke of Devonshire, and ask them whether the outlay of the tenants on those estates did not amount to the value of the landlord's interest in the land. In fact, if they came to some bright spot, to some comfortable homestead, they found that in all cases, except those of landlords whom they could count on their finger ends, the spot had been made bright, and the homestead had been made comfortable, by the tenant farmers of Ireland. The landlords themselves had the opinion at one time that they had done an im- 302 mense deal in Ireland. At all events, a Committee of landlords came before the Commission in Dublin, and they gave them a tabulated statement of the outlay made during the last 40 years. That outlay amounted to something like £3,500,000—a great deal of money; but he (Mr. Shaw) asked them—"How much of that was borrowed from the Government, and for which the tenants paid interest?" One of the gentlemen very honestly said—"The greater part." It struck him (Mr. Shaw) that the money was laid out, not by the landlords, but by the tenants; but, after all, what did it amount to? Something like £90,000 a-year for 40 years. Even if it were all landlords' money, it would be a mere nothing compared with the sums that English and Scotch landlords spend in connection with their land. An attempt had been made to frighten the House by saying the Bill laid down principles which must come into use in England and Scotland. The moment the land in England and Scotland was reduced to the same condition as that of Ireland, the sound and just provisions of the Bill would come to the people of England and Scotland as they had come—late enough—to Ireland; but what had been the position of English and Scotch landlords? He believed that if they took the rental of England, it would be found that about half of that rental represented the outlay of the landlord on the land itself, for which he got a very small return indeed in interest. They had heard a good deal of the unfortunate Irish tenant, because of his land hunger; but there was never such land hunger in Ireland as was shown by the rich men in England. The moment men in England got hold of money, hunger for land took possession of them as a disease, and even for 1 or 2 per cent they put their money in land. The Irish tenant put his money in land; but in his case he got a foundation in the earth; he got a home for himself and family. The English capitalist had invested in land for the sake of influence. If the land in Ireland was managed on the same system as that of England by the landlords, instead of this miserable sum of £3,500,000, £200,000,000 would have been expended on the land. If the landlords were to come to the tenants of Ireland and ask to settle 303 their claims, he believed the interest of the tenants—he did not mean any sentimental interest—would be estimated at £120,000,000. He did not speak without having looked into this matter carefully, and the amount would not be less than £120,000,000. It was said—"You are in this Bill transferring the property of one man to another." They were not doing anything of the kind. For generations and centuries they had allowed the property to grow up in Ireland in the manner it had, and they had allowed the poor man to put his energy and money into the property; and the result of that labour they had allowed the landlord by the law, but against all principle of equity, to appropriate to his own benefit. The consequence was that they must now lay down principles which must define the relation of the labourer to the land, for the Bill would merely give the tenant what was justly his own. He did not know how the Bill would be dealt with in Committee; but he supposed and hoped it would be improved, and that, after undergoing that process, it would proceed to "another place," to be amended there. But there were adverse Amendments; and it might also come down, after having passed through that "other place," in a form which this House could not accept at the end of the Session. He wished to ask the Irish Members who sat in that House what they thought they would do if the Bill, through the action of Party, or through a desire to show off a now Leadership, or to damage the present Government, or to annoy the Prime Minister, or for any other reason, forgetting the interests of the country, the Bill was so damaged that the Irish Members could not accept it? Why should not the Conservatives try and make that a good and workable Bill? The landlords were involved in the question, and there was no desire to hurt or injure them; and when the Bill went into Committee he was sure the majority of the Irish Members would be found voting on the side of justice. Sonic landlords thought they would be hurt by the Bill. He did not think they would be. He had spoken on the subject of the Bill to a landlord who was at that moment sitting under the Gallery. That landlord had a large estate which he derived from his ancestors. He asked him whe- 304 they he thought the Bill would hurt him? The answer was "No." He asked whether he was going to leave the country when the Bill passed. In reply, the landlord said he was not going to do so, but would make improvements on his property. The Whig landlords of Ireland had more fear of the Bill than the Conservative landlords; and he (Mr. Shaw) had heard more absurd nonsense talked about the Bill by Whig landlords than by Conservatives. The Whigs knew just enough of political economy to confuse them; whilst the Conservatives would not be troubled with such nonsense as political economy; and he thought they would give less opposition to the Bill than those whom he termed the Whig landlords would. Many of the Conservative landlords lived in Ireland, and were good landlords; and when the present agitation subsided they would be as good friends to the tenants as they were before. But if the Bill did not come down to the House of Commons from the House of Lords, the country would have to respond to the challenge made to them by the hereditary sense-carriers. Would the House of Commons be content to let another 12 months pass without settling the question? Would the result of all this be that the Irish Members would be sent back to Ireland to take the matter into their own hands to settle. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not mean in the sense that some people had been settling it. He thought that if the landlords and tenants came together and compared notes, in nine-tenths of Ireland there would be no question at all. But they had not come together. The system of land agency in Ireland was altogether different from that in England, for the agents of property in Ireland were men who got so much per cent on the rent paid by the tenants; and, as a result of that system, landlords of Ireland know very little about their tenants, or the state of their farm or house. With regard to the question of a collision between the two Houses of Parliament on this subject, his opinion was that it would not be for the interest of the country, or of any reform of this kind, that it should be wrung from any particular class by force. But it would be a miserable thing to have it go forth to the community that that class had no considerations but of selfishness and self-interest. If any 305 powerful class placed its foundation on such motives so surely was the doom of that class near. He hoped the matter would not be looked at from a Party point of view, but from the point of view of a great and serious desire to settle this urgent Irish question. They needed a great deal in Ireland; they needed industries for the people; and they needed that their powers and energies should not be dissipated in anything but the work of the country, and in the progress of the country. He believed it would not be the fault of any Irish Members of that House if that was not the result; and he hoped Party consideration would be laid on one side, and that this reform would not be shelved through Parties striking blows not for justice, but for self-interest.
§ MR. MACNAGHTEN
Sir, I envy and admire the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw). I envy his power of understanding this Bill. I admire the complacency with which he regards it. I am not so fortunate—I cannot say I understand the Bill, and I do not altogether like it; and then I do not like the Amendments at all. I am unable to vote either for the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), or for the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners). The two Amendments differ in tone and in language. In substance and in reality they are much the same. They both mean, if they mean anything, that the Bill is to be shelved or put by for a time. They will be so understood in Ireland throughout the length and breadth of the land. Sir, the question cannot be dealt with hi that manner. It will be nothing less than a national calamity if the House does not put aside all Party feeling and do its best to settle the question as speedily as possible. I cannot, therefore, support the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire, or any Amendment that may tend, or even have the appearance of tending, to delay the settlement of the question. But, I am sorry to say, that does not entirely relieve me from difficulty—for I am not much enamoured of the Bill, regarding it in relation to its probable effect on that part of Ireland with which I am connected. Into the wider and more general question as to its effect 306 on the rest of Ireland and the United Kingdom I do not propose to enter. There are many Members in the House, and on both sides of the House, who are much more competent to deal with that question than I am. If the House will bear with me for a short time, I shall have quite enough to do in dealing with Ulster, speaking mainly from my own personal knowledge of the county of Antrim and the relations which exist there between landlord and tenant. Sir, as I said, I am disappointed with this Bill. I had hoped for a measure plain, simple, and intelligible. I find a Bill complex and complicated, intricate and perplexing beyond all precedent—beyond the precedent of 1870—confused and involved in its arrangement, ambiguous and obscure in its language, silent where it ought to have spoken, speaking not infrequently where silence would have been better and wiser—in some places unfair to the tenant, in others unjust to the landlord. I had hoped for a tribunal that would have been cheap, expeditious, and accessible to all, and one that would have commanded universal respect. I find a tribunal which, in my humble judgment, will be utterly unable to grapple with the multifarious business and diverse interests that will come under its ken—that will have to appoint deputies and substitutes, and journeymen liable to be dismissed at a moment's notice, with no fixity of tenure for themselves, and no security in their occupation; and, above all, a tribunal that leaves untouched, as the Court of First Instance, a Court which has been discredited throughout Ireland, a Court that has not conciliated the good-will or secured the esteem of the people at large, or of any class or party in Ireland. But, for all that, I am constrained to vote for the second reading of the Bill. I know that there is a pressing necessity, and I believe that this Bill, with all its imperfections, is an honest attempt to deal with that necessity. And, above all, I rely on the assurance of the Prime Minister that the Government will welcome any Amendment, from whatever quarter, that may tend to improve the Bill. I quite admit that, in dealing with this question, the Government have had great difficulties to encounter. At the same time, it must be remembered that they have some advantages. They have this advantage, 307 that everybody agrees that things cannot remain as they are. They have also the advantage that there is a very general feeling, at least in the North of Ireland, that any measure, to be satisfactory and acceptable, must be based on the lines of what is popularly called the "three F's." Sir, I am not afraid of the "three F's." Fair rents everybody desires, or professes to desire. Free sale, sale absolutely free and unrestricted, has long been the rule in Antrim. And as to fixity of tenure, we all desire that the utmost security should be enjoyed by the occupying tenants that may be consistent with leaving the landlords some interest in their property and some possibility and power of improving it, and that does not reduce them to the level of mere rent-chargers—an idle burden of the ground. Now, Sir, with the permission of the House, I will state shortly what are the demands of the tenants in my part of Ireland—demands which are admitted by the landlords to be fair and reasonable, and which have been conceded without legislation, but which both parties desire to have secured by legislation. A year ago, the demands of the tenants were these. First, they demanded the abolition of all office rules. The House knows what office rules are. They are rules of particular estates limiting the price of the tenant right to so much per acre or so many years' purchase. The next demand was that tenant right at the end of a lease should be recognized. That is dealt with by this Bill rather clumsily, and not very generously; but yet, I think, it is sufficiently secured. In the third place, as the House knows, at present it rests with the tenant to prove the existence of the Ulster Custom. In some cases, that has led to inconvenience and great expense, and it was thought that the burden of proof should be shifted, and that, considering the almost universality of the custom, it should rest with the landlord, if he chose to dispute its existence, to prove that it did not exist, but that primâ facie it should be taken to exist throughout Ulster. A year ago, these were, I believe, all the demands which the tenants in my part of Ireland made. A year ago, there was great diversity of opinion as to the expediency of appointing a tribunal to regulate rents. As a rule, the landlords were more in favour of the proposal than the tenants. The 308 tenants, living, for the most part, on fairly-rented estates, seemed to think that if such a tribunal were appointed, some part of the odium or unpopularity which results from an increase of rents would be shifted from the shoulders of the landlord to the shoulders of the Government or the Government tribunal. However, in the last year, opinions have advanced. Some few cases of hardship, mostly of old date, have been published and re-published, and repeated until a general feeling of uneasiness has been created. Now, everybody is agreed that there ought to be a tribunal to regulate rents, and everybody is agreed that that tribunal ought not to be the Civil Bill Court. I will now consider how far the present Bill satisfies the demands of the Ulster tenants. I am not going into minute details. I will only deal with the questions of free sale, fair rents, and the constitution of the proposed tribunal, and the question whether the landlord ought to be allowed to set the tribunal in motion. The question as to the burden of proof is not touched by the Bill. In pursuing this inquiry I am at some disadvantage, for I certainly am not in the position of my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Shaw), who thoroughly understands the Bill. I frankly confess that there is much in the Bill, especially in relation to the position of the Ulster tenant, which I do not understand at all. We have done our best, on this side of the House, to understand the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) sought to engage Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench in a sort of competitive examination. Three or four of those Gentlemen have responded. But I put it to the House whether any one of them has passed even a qualifying examination? The Prime Minister told us the other evening that the purely legal aspects of the measure would be explained by one of his Law Officers. By a fortunate accident or divine chance, he did not name the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Law) as the person who would give that explanation. Still, when my right hon. and learned Friend rose to explain the Bill, I thought some of the fog and mystery would be cleared away, and that we would learn something; but to my dismay and consternation, and, I think, also to the dismay 309 and consternation of the House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said he must decline to let himself be entrapped into any discussion in regard to the particular expressions in the Bill. Why, the particular expressions in the Bill are the very things that we want to have explained. How can we understand the Bill unless we understand the particular expressions in it? I am thoroughly puzzled by the Bill. I would gladly resort to any expedient—I would go to any quarter to obtain information. The House knows that in one of those weekly publications which elevate the tone of society, a series of prize puzzles appears, which, I think, are called "Hard Cases." A gentleman, usually designated by the first letter in the alphabet, is supposed to be in a position of some difficulty, as either landlord or tenant may be under this Bill, and he is supposed to have three or four courses open to him, as the landlord and the tenant under this Bill may have. And the question proposed for solution is, what should "A" do? Now, I should like to see the knotty points of the Bill broken up into hard cases. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) would afford. any facilities to the Government. If the competition were limited to Members of this House it would be very interesting; and the Government, who seem to be at a great loss for answers, might adopt the answers that pleased the generality of the House. Of course, they would bar obvious answers. No one would be allowed to tell the landlord that he must grin and bear it, or to tell the tenant that he must consult his attorney. That would occur to everybody; and I am bound to say that in some of the positions which I have considered there appears to be no other answer. But, seriously, can nothing be done to make the Bill simple? Perhaps the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw), who thoroughly understands the Bill, will assist the Government. I am pleading for the Ulster tenants. Before the Act of 1870 their position was perfectly clear. The rules which governed Ulster tenant right were well known to everybody. Then came the Act of 1870, which confused everything. That is not my opinion only. I will appeal to a work which ought to have some authority with hon. Gentlemen opposite. I refer to the book 310 of Professor Richey, of which the Prime Minister has spoken in terms highly complimentary, though somewhat singularly qualified. The right hon. Gentleman said the book was "a very able, although a concise work." [Laughter.] As if conspicuous ability must needs be exuberant and diffuse. What Professor Richey said was—The few and simple rules in which the Ulster Custom may be expressed contrast favourably with the bewildering sections, subsections, provisions, and exceptions in which the Act of the 33rd and 34th of Vic. chap. 46, is hopelessly entangled.Why, you might have thought Professor Richey was speaking of the present Bill. What will he say when he comes to discuss this measure as bearing on the position of the Ulster tenant? There are many reasons why the Bill should be plain and simple. In the first place, it is to be the charter of the tenants. Surely they ought to understand their own charter. Again, it must be borne in mind that it will be utterly impossible to obtain a binding legal decision on any clause of the Bill. If, a year hence, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland should be asked his opinion on any clause, no doubt he will give it with great courage; but if he retains the caution which compelled him to decline to be entrapped, he will add that it must be borne in mind that, after all, the Act means what the Land Commission, or any one or two of its members may happen to think for the time being. That Commission is to have extraordinary power—power as absolute as that of the ruler of Olympus, and a power which Jupiter himself did not claim—that of reversing its own decrees over and over again. I find from the Bill that the Land Commissioners may review, rescind, or vary any order or decision previously made by them, or any of them. The proceedings before them are not to be restrained by injunction or removed by certiorari. No doubt, the Commissioners may refer any matter to the Land Judges of the Chancery Division of the High Court; but they are not bound to adopt or follow the decision of the Chancery Judges. I do not, in the least degree, blame the draftsman of this Bill. That gentleman, no doubt, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland has said, may be a very skilful draftsman; but he 311 must have lost all interest in his work long before he came to the 23rd edition. How could he possibly divine that that edition would have more vitality than those which went before it, and which fell still-born or perished among the discussions—I do not say the dissensions—of the Cabinet? Passing on to the consideration of free sale, and promising that I do not altogether understand that part of the Bill, I wish to ask how far the Bill carries out those points which it seems to me it ought to have secured in the interest of the Ulster tenant? Why, the Bill does not provide for the abolition of office rules at all. It merely provides an alternative mode of sale, which will not, I think, be largely adopted in Ulster; and then it goes on to say that a tenant shall not sell partly under the custom and partly under the Act. That, I suppose, means that the vendor must make his election, and sell either under the custom or under the Act. This provision seems designed to put an Ulster tenant in a position very like that of the ignoble animal between two bundles of hay. Now, it seems to me that a very nice question arises on the part of the Bill. The House knows that the right of sale is of the very essence of the Ulster Custom. I wish to be informed whether, if an Ulster tenant renounces the Ulster Custom, and sells under the Act, the holding will afterwards be subject to the custom or not? That is a most important question, and it ought to be put beyond all possibility of doubt. Then I come to the question of fair rents. That has been very much discussed; but I must say, for one, that I do not understand the provisions of the Bill in reference to fair rents. I was in hopes that the hon. Member for Cork County, who understands the Bill so thoroughly, would have thrown some light upon the subject; but the hon. Gentleman has left us entirely in the dark. There are certain rules laid down for guidance which different Members of the Government who have spoken have interpreted in very different ways. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, for instance, stated that all the clause meant was the competition rent minus the interest arising from the tenant's improvements.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRWLAND (Mr. LAW)
I said—"The yearly value of the tenant's interest in 312 his holding." It was correctly reported in The Daily News, but not in the other papers.
§ MR. MACNAGHTEN
I was quoting from The Times. I accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's correction; but even now I do not understand him. Being of opinion that the rules are unnecessary, as well as confusing, and that it would be better simply to use the term "fair rent," I hope to see the clause re-constructed. There really is no difficulty about the valuation of rents in Ulster. The principle in well understood. It is only where the principle has been departed from that trouble has arisen. The thing is perfectly simple and clear, and will continue to be so, unless this Bill intervenes and throws everything into confusion. What Professor Richey says about the valuation of rents in Ulster is in perfect accord with my own personal knowledge. He says—The essential point in the Ulster tenant right was, undoubtedly, the mode in which the fair rent to be paid by the tenant was ascertained. It was fixed, not by open competition, but by valuation. The re-valuation for the purpose of fixing the rent at the determination of the lease, or at any time during a tenancy from year to year, was always made by a professional valuator, or, at lease, one in whom both parties had confidence, who valued the farm, having reference to the fair value of the ground, exclusive of buildings and tenants' improvements.According to my experience, that is always done. The valuator first excludes the buildings, then he gives credit for the tenant's improvements; and, lastly, he puts a fair value on the land. Why cannot the Bill deal with the question in this simple manner, instead of making the addition wrong, and the substraction wrong, and then hoping to arrive at a right result? No one, I venture to think, has condemned the rules for guidance under the Bill so forcibly as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, when he said—"We do not mean the words to be absolute guides." Now, I put it to the House whether there is anything to treacherous and misleading as guides which are not to be absolute guides? I earnestly trust, therefore, that the Government will re-consider the wording of this clause, so as to bring it into harmony with what has long been and is the custom of Ulster. I believe that nothing more is required that to direct 313 the Court to determine what is a fair rent under all the circumstances of the case. If the Court cannot find out what a fair rent is in any particular case, the Judges certainly will not be worth their salary; they will only be fit for the lunatic asylum with which the hon. Member for Cork County threatened Judges who fail to understand this Bill. I should like to ask the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Biddell), who, I believe, has had great experience on the subject, whether he or any other competent person directed to value land for the purpose of fixing the rent was over tied down by such absurd rules as are contained in the Bill? As for laying down rules of this sort for the guidance of the Court, I venture to say it will prove absolute nonsense. In connection with this subject there is also the important question whether the landlord shall be able to put the Court in motion. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland observed that a landlord does not want the power, because he can raise the rent of his own motion. I do not think that that in itself is a satisfactory answer to the objection, for if the tribunal is to be a fair one as between both parties, it is difficult to see why it should not be open to the landlord as well as to the tenant. To the objection that the tenants would rush to the Courts, the right hon. Gentleman replied that they would have a wise reluctance to do so, because they would fear lest their rents should be raised. In my opinion, the tenants are far too shrewd to entertain any such fear as that. A tenant may go before the Court in order to feel his way, and, being dominus litis, he may withdraw his application at the last moment. There would be something in the answer of the right hon. Gentleman if the Bill provided that a tenant applying to the Court should not withdraw his application without the landlord's consent, and that the landlord might carry on the proceedings. But there is no provision of that sort in the Bill. The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers), whose knowledge is as infinite as his contempt for our acquirements, and who always speaks with that mild wisdom which is peculiarly grateful to our feelings, said the other night that, according to his experience, lawyers knew very 314 little of law or history either. And then the hon. Member proceeded to show his appreciation of both, of the uses of history and the principles of law, by citing as evidence against Irish landlords of the present day a passage written by Dean Swift 150 years ago. I think the House will hardly accept that as evidence. But possibly someone casting about to find a parallel for the probable position of Irish landlords after the passing of this Bill may turn to one of the more popular and trustworthy writings of Dean Swift. Some may think that on the morrow after this Bill passes Irish landlords will be in the situation of Lemuel Gulliver, who, awaking on the green slopes of Lilliput, found himself fast bound with chains and cords, so that he could turn neither right nor left; and while he lay in that plight, smaller men came with bows and arrows and shot at him, withdrawing and returning to the charge "from time to time," as the Bill has it, till at last he had to submit to be carried, bag and baggage, to the Metropolis from the country. That may, perhaps, be thought an apt parallel; but, as I do not wish it to hold good, I will venture to suggest one or two Amendments. The position of a landlord in reference to the Court is not, satisfactory; but there are reasons which, perhaps, make it inexpedient to permit a landlord to initiate litigation. If that power were conceded, and the new tribunal proves expensive, as it probably will, some landlords might put pressure on their tenants by threatening an application to the Court. My proposal, by which, I believe, equal justice will be done to both parties, is that a landlord should be allowed, in a fair and reasonable manner, to go to the Court, and say—"Here is my rent roll; here is a list of my tenantry. There are the rents, and there is a schedule of their holdings. I do not want to raise my rents; but I want you to look at the roll, and if on inquiry you come to the conclusion that the rents are fair and reasonable and not in excess of what is right and proper, give me a certificate to that effect, and I will undertake not to raise my rents for a certain number of years." If, on the other hand, the Court thought the rents excessive, the landlord might re-adjust them, or, if he declined to act on the suggestion of the Court, the case would fall to be dealt with under the 315 Act in the ordinary way. Of course, I would give the Court power to make suggestions, and the landlord power to adopt them; but I would not give the Court power to treat the case as contentious business. By permitting applications of that kind on the part of the landlord, the Bill would, to some extent, anticipate and prevent the operations of agitators, and would encourage arrangements fair to both sides. Again, the provision I have suggested would be of great value to a landlord wishing to sell. The certificate of the Court would make it clear to the purchaser that in buying the estate he was not also buying indefinitely numerous lawsuits. There is a prejudice in this country against buying a lawsuit; but who would buy the germs of 150 lawsuits? There is another point to which I wish to allude. I have long thought that it would, be a great advantage if there was a law passed that, after a sale, the purchaser should not be allowed to raise the rent for a certain number of years. Rents are frequently raised by a new purchaser. The purchaser who is wise in his generation knows that if he raises the rent 30 per cent when he buys and the next year reduces the rent 10 per cent, he will probably get a great deal more credit than a fair landlord who declines to make any reduction. I cannot see that there would be the slightest injustice to anybody in passing a law to the effect that after a sale the rents should not be raised for a certain number of years. As things are, the changes made by a new owner are often scandalously unjust to the tenants and unfairly profitable to the landlord. Before the Richmond Commission, one of the witnesses, who was a man of large experience and of high reputation, told this story of himself. He bought a property in the Encumbered Estates Court for £12,000. The rents amounted to £530, or about 4½, per cent—not a bad return for his money as things went. The tenants he described as being situated all higgledy-piggledy. He did nothing for them, and almost immediately he raised the rent from £530 to £790. One of the Commissioners, the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), was curious enough to ask the reason why he raised the rent. He said, in the first place, he wanted interest for his outlay. By his outlay, he 316 meant his purchase money; secondly, he said the bad times were over, he thought. Those two reasons may, perhaps, commend themselves to the judgment of some hon. Members. Then he gave a third reason—and I am afraid hon. Members on both sides of the House will think this an Irish reason. He said that he did not consider the tenants were entitled to much consideration, as they had only been there a short time. Again, the hon. Member for Galway was curious. He asked—"How long?" The answer was, "Between 30 and 40 years." One would have thought a gentleman who had raised his rents in the belief that the bad times were over would have kept the property in his own hands that he might make a remission if the bad times returned. But no. He determined to turn the estate into money. The man who was the most desirable purchaser from his point of view was a man of ill-omened name, so much disliked and feared that the tenants went in a body to petition that he would not "sell them" to this particular man. The words are printed in italics in the Report, so he knew the full import of their prayer. And he sold them; and the new purchaser, intending, I suppose, to walk in the footsteps of his predecessor, immediately issued notices to the tenants; then came an outrage or two, and then, I believe, a murder. This is one of the cases that brings Irish landlordism into disrepute, and Irish landlords into disgrace; and I dare say hon. Members think justly. I do not. That man was not an Irishman—he was an Englishman, one of yourselves—and when he had sold the property he returned to this country with the fruits of his enterprize. I will not mention his name, as I believe he is a thoroughly respectable man—[Laughter.]—according to English notions. According to my notion as an Irishman, it was absolutely shocking, and I think the law ought to step in and prevent such a thing being done. I appeal to the Prime Minister to give his favourable consideration to the point I have urged. There is another matter I wish to mention. Before the Act of 1870 no Probate or Legacy Duty was payable in respect of tenant right—now it is subject to both. This is thought a great hardship. It is strange that almost the only practical result of the Act 317 of 1870 is to tax tenants in respect of their tenant right. I am sure that is not what the right hon. Gentleman intended, and I trust he will be able and willing to remove this grievance. Then comes the question of the constitution of the Land Court, which is really the pivot upon which the Bill hangs. What is wanted is a Court that should possess the characteristics once attributed by a great poet to a great Chancellor—though those qualities have not invariably distinguished the holders of the Great Seal—a Court which should beSwift of despatch, and easy of access.As for this tribunal, when it is wanted in Antrim, it will be found in the wilds of Connemara, or lost in the Bog of Allen, or wandering over the Purple Mountains of Kerry. We want a tribunal that we can readily have access to. I believe that if we had two Commissioners for each Province that would be found to be quite sufficient, and you would be able to do away with the Court of First Instance altogether. I believe that two men—a first rate judicial officer and a practical man associated with him—would be able to deal with the whole Province; and I think two a much better number than three. The Commissioners could make Reports to Parliament, and Parliament would then know how things were going on. As it is, the tribunal proposed is anything but satisfactory, and it is not unlikely to wreck the Bill. I am extremely obliged to the House for the patience with which it has listened to me. I have now done with criticisms and suggestions, and I have only to ask the House to look forward for a few months when the Bill will have passed into law. What will it accomplish? What will be its effect? Who will dare to predict? Sir, the result of Liberal legislation for Ireland for the last 40 years should make the boldest prophet hesitate before venturing upon another prophecy. The Act of 1848—the Encumbered Estates Act—was to have inaugurated a new era of commercial prosperity for Ireland, on the strictest economical principles. And now people will tell you—and to my thinking they are not far wrong—that that Act was one of the greatest curses ever inflicted on Ireland. Certain I am that no Act ever produced, ever invited so many cases of oppres- 318 sion, cruelty, and wrong. Anything that savours of feudalism stinks in the nostrils of hon. Members opposite. The Act of 1860 abolished all feudal tenures, and now it is a byeword and a reproach with the occupants of those Benches. Then came the Act of 1870, which was to be a panacea for all the woes of Ireland; and that Act is the very greatest of all modern legislative failures. All parties admit its failure, though they attribute it to different causes. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) thinks the insertion of certain words in "another place," was the "little rift within the lute" which spoilt the music. Another reason he gave was the very curious one, that the Act had not been properly accepted by the people of Ireland. That the Prime Minister himself confesses the Act of 1870 to be a failure is proved by the introduction of the present Bill. Yet we all remember the songs of triumph which heralded the Act of 1870. Who that heard those songs, who that worshipped at its cradle, ever expected to see it pushed from its place by a lustier heir with so little family resemblance in its features? Sir, these things should teach us moderation. They should teach us, if I may repeat words I shall not lightly forget, to be a little more modest and a little less arrogant. I do not believe that anyone will welcome this measure with the same confidence, the same arrogance of prediction that greeted the advent of its predecessors. We can do little more than hope and trust that it may be more fortunate than its predecessors were. Something more we may do. We can resolve that during its passage through this House no clause, no line, shall be the subject of Party controversy. And when it has passed it may be that the great Parties in the State may cease to make Ireland their battlefield. If they would only do that, if they would only cease to bid against each other for the support of this or that political faction in Ireland, I should not despair of my country. I have seen many agitations in Ireland in turn discredited, and many agitators whose names were, for awhile, on everyone's lips, as the saviours of their country, pass away forgotten and unheeded; and all the time Ireland has increased in material prosperity, though there have been periods of gloom and depression. 319 And now, at this, the darkest hour that, perhaps, I ever remember, I will still venture to hope that the gathering gloom may herald approaching day; and I will still dare to trust in the abilities, and the virtues, and, for all that has passed, I will add, the good sense of my countrymen.
§ MR. LITTON
said, he was pleased to see the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Macnaghten), the Conservative Representative of a Northern county, come forward and speak to the House in the tone which he had done. It was the first time, he believed, that a Conservative Member had come forward as the advocate of the Ulster Custom and the tenant farmer of Ireland. He thought that fact in itself might be taken to be a good omen; and he trusted that all hon. Members, whether English, Irish, or Scotch, would consider this measure free from Party views or a desire for mere Party triumph. The Bill was just and reasonable, and necessary for the welfare of the country. Its object was to do justice to that class of tenants who needed protection, and were placed in a position where they could not protect themselves. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir John Holker) had stated he did not address his observations to this side of the House, as Members were not open to conviction, and that the matter was a foregone conclusion. He (Mr. Litton), on the contrary, ventured to hope hon. Members were open to conviction, and with that hope he addressed the House. The Bill was complicated, no doubt; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson) did not do justice either to the Bill or himself when he spoke of it as being "confusing and confused; and it was unbecoming of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir John Holker) to say that it was "designedly obscure." In saying that, the hon. and learned Gentleman had not done justice to himself. He (Mr. Litton) supported the Bill because he recognized that it embodied in a practical form the principle of the "three F's"—fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale—and if he did not recognize in it these principles lie should feel called upon to oppose the second reading; but, finding that it did carry out these principles, he accepted the Bill as it stood as an honest effort on the part 320 of the Prime Minister to settle that difficult question, and he heartily trusted that the right hon. Gentleman might have the satisfaction of seeing it pass into law before many months had elapsed. The tenants of Ireland had a right in justice and fair play to ask for the "three F's." He believed they ought not to be satisfied with less, and they had no right to ask for more. The idea of expropriating the landlords he, for one, looked upon as unreasonable and unjust; and he repudiated it just as strongly as he repudiated the idea of the right of the landlord to expropriate his tenant. The remarkable progress the opinion had made among all classes could only be accounted for by its being just and necessary. The claim of the tenant farmers of Ireland was shortly this. They contend that they and their forefathers had dwelt on the land; that the improvements which had been made on it had been effected by their labour and capital; and they said, in justice and equity, they should be allowed to continue undisturbed so long as they paid a fair rent. But the landlord might, if he pleased, exercise the power which the law gave him, and increase the rent under pain of eviction. When he called this "contract," it was not surprising that such a proceeding should be designated by the tenant as "extortion;" and the tenants said—"We have no power to resist; give us a tribunal to determine between us." A great deal had been said about the necessity of preserving freedom of contract; but the Reports of more than one of the Commissions showed that, notwithstanding the views held by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) on the subject, freedom of contract was a thing unknown in Ireland. In connection with the point, he would like to call attention to what was said in the Minority Report of the Richmond Commission—We are convinced that in ordinary times freedom of contract cannot be said in any real sense to exist between the majority of Irish occupying tenants and their landlords.The Bessborough Commission also reported to the same effect—Not to come to terms with his landlord means for him to leave his home, to leave his employ, to forfeit the inheritance of his fathers, and, to some extent, the investment of his toil. The fanner bargains with his landlord under 321 sentence of losing his living if the bargain goes off. 'You take my life when you do take the means by which I live.'The evidence taken amply supported the conclusions. He would only refer to one witness—the evidence of an Irish gentleman, Mr. Thomas Saunders—who was a magistrate and a landowner in the counties of Limerick and Cork, which was, in effect, that in any dispute as to the rent of a holding, he ended by having his own way, which was what he called freedom of contract. As matters now stood, the improvements made by a tenant on a holding on which his family had resided for generations might be confiscated owing to the imposition of an increased rent; and it was from such a state of things that the tenant asked to be relieved. As to the right of sale, it already existed, for by the English law a tenancy from year to year was as much assignable as any other estate. The right of sale was an incident of property, and all that was desired was that the landlord should be restrained from rendering that right nugatory. There was nothing startling or unreasonable, he contended, in the proposal as to free sale. The policy of the law might be illustrated by reference to the legislation of 30 years ago in relation to a form of tenure which was very prevalent in Ireland—leases for lives, renewable for ever; for the Courts held that clauses against alienation were inconsistent with the tenure, and should be omitted from the grant, although contracted for by the lease itself. The Land Act of 1870 plainly recognized that there was a property which the tenant could dispose of, when it provided that compensation should be given for disturbance. Prior to that Act there was no recognized right; because, as the law then stood, no matter at what expense an improvement might have been made, it was deemed the property of the landlord. The question of fixity of tenure ought not to alarm anyone; permission to enjoy the fruits of one's labour was the right of every man, and to deprive anyone of that right against his will, even with compensation, was to put upon him an injustice. Corporations and Railway Companies might, for special reasons, have the right of compulsory purchase; but it was unreasonable that landlords should have a right to disturb their tenants and force them 322 to part with their property. It would just be as reasonable to give the tenants the right of compulsory sale over the property of the landlords. Sir Harcourt Johnstone, formerly a Member of that House, said, on the 30th of June last, in the debate upon the Fixity of Tenure Bill he (Mr. Litton) brought before the House—In the part of the country with which he was connected in England, there was practically fixity of tenure and fair rents, and the system was eminently successful. What was a success in one country surely would be so in the other."—[3 Hansard, ccliii. 1205.]Mr. Montgomery, who was well known to people connected with the North of Ireland as a landed proprietor, said—The more he considered this (the Land) Bill, the more he was inclined to think that, under the circumstances that were to be dealt with, it would hardly be possible to draw a better one.The condition of Ireland seemed to him (Mr. Litton) to be due, in a great extent, to three causes, which had not been prominently brought forward. First, the extravagant ideas landlords in Ireland had of the rights of property, and probably also in England. They forgot that the law of England knew no such principle as the purchase of land in an absolute sense. It acknowledged the sale or purchase of an estate in land for life or in fee simple; and land must be taken subject to all its conditions. Another cause was the legal fiction by which all the expenditure was supposed to belong to the landlord; and, thirdly, another cause, probably the most immediate one, was the remorseless application of these legal rights. The landlords had the land on their side, but they had not the equity. If they forced the law, could they complain that the tenants pressed forward the equity? At present the law was enforced, while equity blushed at the wrong, but blushed in vain. These rights were applied until the landlords crushed all opposition to their will; they were at the root of much of the evil, and against them the Bill was directed; and if they took away those evils they would cut away the ground from the present agitation, and it would collapse. The Land Act was supposed to be sufficient to remedy the defects which notoriously existed; but, however well-intentioned, it was easy to show how that Act had failed, for it was proved by a Return that in 1879 the number of claims were 323 409, against 557 in 1878; while the amount of compensation awarded for the whole of Ireland in regard to the claims of tenants was only £12,654 in 1879, and in 1878 it was only £17,063. That was all that was paid in those years to tenants who were disturbed for the improvements they had made. How stood the number of evictions about the same time? In 1877 there were 1,060 decrees executed for non-payment of rent, and 420 on the title; and in 1880 they rose to 2,888, or nearly double. The hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham) had referred to the remarkable fact that there were more evictions in Ulster, comparatively, than in other parts of Ireland in recent years. The explanation was very simple. The Land League had not had such power in the North as it had in the South. Who could doubt that, if it had not been for the Land League, the evictions in the South would have increased as they had increased in Ulster? The hon. Member had spoken of the best manure for the land being to salt it with rent; but that idea was not confined to him, because he (Mr. Litton) found that the Drapers' Company, so long ago as 1817, declared that the rent of the landlord and the enjoyment of the occupier arose from the same cause—If the rent is raised the occupier is obliged to exert himself—thus greater exertions yields also the means of greater enjoyment to himself.That certainly was a comfortable theory for the occupier. With regard to the Bill before the House, he was not altogether in love with many of its clauses, still, as he read it, it would secure the objects in view. Its main object was to deal with the large class of tenants who were unprotected in Ireland. The Bill did not seek to disarrange the relations between landlords and tenants as they existed, unless the tenants were forced by the landlords' conduct to seek the protection of the Court. The object of the Bill was not to interfere with these relations when it could be avoided and fair contracts were subsisting. That was shown by the exemption of leases from the Act. When there was harmony between owners and tenants, and the relationship worked easily, the Bill would have no operation at all. Therefore, hon. Members who complained of the amount of litigation 324 which was likely to accrue from the Bill should bear in mind that there need be no litigation except in those cases specially alluded to by the hon. and learned Member for Antrim (Mr. Macnaghten), where the relations between landlords and tenants were strained. Once the landlords adopted and carried out the principle of the "three F's" the Bill was not required. Therefore, in dealing with this matter, a just and fair landlord had nothing to fear, and in that case things would go on just as if the Bill had never passed. The Bill provided for fair rents and for fixity of tenure, and in all cases the right of sale. He would attempt to deal with the principal objections made to the Bill. First, there was the political economy argument. It was said that the Bill was a violation of the laws of political economy. He would not go into that argument, as it had been the subject of so much discussion. He noticed, however, as a curious circumstance, that many hon. Members whose views in regard to political economy were entitled to much respect, while quoting the same authority, Stuart Mill, in support of their arguments, had disagreed in its application to the subject before the House. But practical politics did not admit of the universal application of any abstract doctrines of political economy, and there could be no doubt that the rigid application of general rules must be regulated by the particular conditions of the case. He should not attach much importance to the divergency of views expressed by the hon. Members for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold), Cork County (Mr. Shaw), and Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers), except to say that when they came to deal with a case like this he would not take the view of any political philosopher who had elaborated his views in his study. They had here to deal with matters appealing to their common sense. Even Mr. Bonamy Price, notwithstanding the strong language which he used with regard to this question, had, he (Mr. Litton) thought, given up the contest, when he admitted that the landlords themselves had pressed their position too far, when they took advantage of it to enforce unjust demands upon the tenants. Thus his arguments were not applicable to the state of Ireland. It was said that free sale destroyed fair rent; but he 325 thought that was a great exaggeration. He might say that Judge Longfield, one of the highest authorities on this subject, had declared this assertion to be an abuse of language. It occurred to him (Mr. Litton) that the way to look at the matter was this. A tenant, suppose, who had his rent revised, sold his holding, receiving from the incoming tenant £100. In one sense, that added £5 a-year to the rent the incoming tenant would have to pay; but the outgoing tenant had himself expended a like amount, by reason of which the rent had been reduced. The value due to his expenditure was that which he sold—he was equally out of his capital, as the purchaser would be out of his; consequently, incoming tenants did not pay more in the shape of rent than outgoing tenants. Another objection was that the Bill was a concession to Irish agitation. But he contended that it was a concession to justice, and he was sure the tenant farmers of Ulster would repudiate the notion that it tended to interfere with the just claims of the landlord. He (Mr. Litton) thought there was a general desire on the part of tenants to recognize the landlords' right to a fair rent, provided the landlords showed a disposition to treat them fairly as to their just claims. As regarded the fair rent clause, he thought he spoke the mind of a considerable number of the tenants of Ulster on the subject—that there was no objection to the clause so far as it dealt with holdings subject to the custom. He objected, however, to the introduction of the word "estimated," which was too strong, too precise, and too mathematical a word. The word sought to indicate that the full amount of the value ought to be given, and he thought that word ought to be struck out. No tenant in Ulster desired to see the landlords' rent cut down to zero; and he, therefore, objected to the word "estimated." There would be more difficulty in dealing with cases outside Ulster, because, in addition to what might have been paid for the acquisition of the holding, the element of the tenant's right or interest was two-fold—namely, the improvement which he had effected, and also the increased value to which the soil had been raised by the continued process of good tillage. He did not think either that the disturbance scale should be applied in fixing the rents. The scale of compensation was 326 certainly an element of value when a man was about to sell, but it was not applicable to the case of a tenant who continued in his holding; it was to be given as compensation on account of his being turned out of his holding, and if applied as a test of a fair rent, it might happen that a tenant would receive the amount during the currency of his tenancy in the shape of reduction of rent, and receive it over again when the tenancy was put an end to by the landlord. In the Act of 1870 the scale of compensation was regulated by the rateable value; whereas, in the Bill before the House, compensation was calculated according to the rent. That made a most important difference, and operated against the considerate landlord and in favour of the rack-renting landlord. He believed that the amount of litigation arising from the Bill would be as large as was expected. In 1879 the number of cases was 409 all over the country, and in 1878, 557. They had in the Bill the valuable provision of an arbitration clause which lie had no doubt would be largely availed of, as it gave the landlord and tenant an opportunity of settling their differences without appealing to the Court, and he saw no reason why the landlord and tenant should fall out. He objected, however, to the Bill not dealing with existing leases. There had been cases notoriously in the North of Ireland, and equally in the South, in which pressure had been put on the tenant to sign leases under threat of eviction, with a view to enable the landlord to get out of the liability of the Act of 1870. He contended it would be right and just on the part of the Government to afford relief to tenants placed in that position, who should satisfy the Court that they had been forced, either by the landlord or by the agent, to agree to these terms. Tenants of that class ought to be relieved and have the benefit of the fixing of a fair rent. But there was a class outside the ordinary lessee—a class still more important, for whom some provision ought to be made, and those were the tenants who held under leases as yearly tenants. It might surprise hon. Members to know that such things existed; but to convince the House that such was the case he produced a lease of this character. The object of this was to evade legislation in the interest of the tenant. There 327 was also another matter which ought to have been dealt with in the Bill, and that was the property of the London Companies and other Corporations. The Government ought to have called attention to this matter; but it would be his duty, and that of his Friends, to introduce Amendments to compel those Companies to sell their properties in case the Land Commission called on them to do so; and, further, to provide that in the event of their sale the right of pre-emption should be given to every tenant on the estate. He also thought the Court of First Instance, as proposed to be constituted under the Bill, would not be acceptable to the country, and was not competent to ascertain what was a fair rent. In fact, he believed the County Court Judges in Ireland did not think themselves qualified to decide on the question of a fair rent. That being so, he would prefer to have associated with the Judge two practical persons, selected for their superior knowledge of the land, who should visit the holdings and determine with the Judge all matters of fact, but not of law. He would not have them permanent officials, but selected by the Land Commission from a panel appointed and removed at discretion, as they were required in any particular locality. He had no doubt the House would pass the second reading of the Bill; and he would put it to hon. Gentlemen coming from Ireland—especially the Home Rule Members—whether it would not be for the benefit of their country, and conducive to the success of the measure, not only here, but in "another place," that they should recognize in it such an attempt to deal with the question as would justify them in giving their hearty support to the second reading. The question now was, would the House accept the second reading? He (Mr. Litton) heartily hoped it would, and, in conclusion, would quote the words of Edmund Burke—The question is, not whether you have a right to render your people miserable, but whether it is not your interest to make them happy. It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tells me I ought to do.
§ MR. REDMOND
said, it appeared to him that it was the duty of every Member of the House, but more especially of every Irish Member, to approach the discussion of that measure in a spirit of 328 fairness and liberality. However much many of them might disapprove of portions of the Bill—however much many of them might believe that, viewed as a whole, it was an inadequate measure to settle the Irish Land Question, still none of them could shut their eyes to the fact that its introduction marked an enormous stride of public opinion upon this subject. Great principles which, in 1876, were denounced from almost every quarter of the House wore now recognized as just; and although they believed that those principles were not effectively carried out by the clauses of the Bill, still it seemed to him that it would ill become them to approach its discussion in a spirit of carping criticism, or to withhold from it a full and fair and even generous consideration. But just as, in 1870, a few Irish Members boldly protested that the measure which was then introduced was an inadequate one—just as a few Irish Members then ran the risk of being misunderstood, and of having their motives misrepresented by assuming a seemingly hostile attitude, so, to-day, there were Irish Members upon those Benches who were determined at all hazards to do what they conceived to be their duty to their constituents by protesting that this measure, as it stood at present, could not afford a settlement of the Irish Land Question, and that, if carried into law in its present shape, it would prove absolutely injurious to a largo number of the small and poorer tenants in the country. Although the portion of the Bill which dealt with the relations between landlord and tenant was absolutely essential to provide immediate relief, still it could only be regarded at best as a temporary arrangement. In his opinion, no regulation of the relations between landlord and tenant could settle the Irish Land Question. The most that could be claimed for it was that it might render the present system tolerable, while that system was being slowly, but surely, abolished by the other portions of the Bill. The Bill proposed, with certain modifications, and conditions, and restrictions, to establish the principles of fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale; but the carrying out of all these principles, and, in fact, the whole working of the Bill, was made to depend upon the Court. No more important function, no more difficult duty ever devolved upon any tribunal than 329 that of fixing a fair rent. In his opinion, it was a duty which it was utterly impossible for any tribunal adequately to fulfil. But, at least, they had a right to expect that the tribunal which was to be invested with this novel and extraordinary power should be one which would command the respect and confidence of the people. What was the tribunal established by this Bill? No new one at all, but an old and dishonoured institution. The Civil Bill Court was tried, and had failed to work the Act of 1870. There was a clause in that Act providing that compensation might be given to tenants evicted for non-payment of rent, if the rent was proved to be exorbitant. During the whole of the operation of the Act there were only three cases in all Ireland in which such compensation had been awarded. It was idle to say this arose from rarety of exorbitant rents. It did not; it arose from the fact that the Court did not receive, and, as ho believed, did not deserve to receive, the confidence of the people. He had three objections to the tribunal. In the first place, it seemed to him that the Civil Bill Court had already work enough to do. It had not the time at its disposal to deal with these cases—the thousands of cases which, notwithstanding what was stated by the hon. and learned Member for Tyrone (Mr. Litton) must come before it in every part of Ireland, if the bulk of the tenants were to be benefited by this Act. Then, its processes were so expensive as to forbid poor men who required to be benefited from applying to it. The Court was also constituted in such a way that it was regarded, whether rightly or wrongly, with almost universal suspicion and mistrust in Ireland. What was wanted, in his (Mr. Redmond's) opinion, was a separate, distinct tribunal, which would be able to give all its time and attention to the cases arising out of the Bill, and which should also be cheap in its procedure and expeditious in its working. It should be constituted, not as to-day, by men drawn from one class of the community, who had been chosen for preferment, either in consequence of the social influence of landlords, or of political services rendered to some English Party, but composed of men drawn impartially from all classes of the com- 330 munity, men chosen solely in consequence of their fitness for the work, and who would command the respect and confidence of the people. That was his first general objection to the Bill as it now stood. His second objection was, that, if he read it right, the immediate result of its passing into law in its present shape would be that hundreds of thousands of small tenants throughout Ireland would be evicted from their homes. That seemed strange in a Bill which some of its supporters stated gave fixity of tenure; but the explanation was that there were 300,000 tenants in Ireland who were rented at less than £8 a-year, and the vast majority of these, in the South and West of Ireland, were at that moment hopelessly in arrears. Their rent had accumulated in disastrous seasons in consequence of the iniquitous rack rents which were exacted. These arrears it was impossible the tenants in question could pay. How would those men be treated by the Bill? Why, they would be compelled by the landlords to sell their tenant right. They would be forced on a depressed market, and the price offered for the tenant right, whether it was large or small, would go, every penny of it, in arrears duo to the landlord. In such cases, the concession of freedom of sale was nothing but a mockery. If that took place, eviction with all its harshness remained; and he asked, in all fairness, would it be any consolation to those men, when they and their families were thrown out penniless and hopeless from their homes, to be told that, by a beneficent measure passed in that Parliament of England, the inestimable boon of freedom of sale had been conferred upon them? The Court was to decide what was to be a fair rent for the present, and for the future for 15 years. Assuredly, it would be equally well qualified to go back six years, and say what would have been a fair rent during that time. If that was done, those claims for arrears would be reduced to their just proportions; and then it would be the duty of the State to step in and compensate the landlords for their just losses. That might appear a startling proposal; but would it not be better for the State to spend some millions to enable the tenant farmers to reap the benefit of the Act, and to have a fair start, than to spend the money in 331 keeping an army of 40,000 men in Ireland to enforce an unjust law and to assist in evicting the people from their homes? He knew not on what principle of justice leaseholders were to be exempted from the Bill. In many parts of Ireland leases had been forced upon the tenants to cheat them out of the benefits of the Act of 1870. The notorious "Leinster lease" robbed the tenants of the Duke of Leinster of the benefits of the Act of 1870; was it to be allowed to rob them of the benefits of the Act of 1881? He objected also to that part of the Bill which afforded increased facilities for emigration. If there was any reason for the proposal, it was that emigration had been too slow. His answer was that within the last 28 years over 2,500,000 men and women left the shores of Ireland; last year almost 100,000 emigrated, and of these 75 per cent were between the ages of 15 and 35. What nation on earth could stand such a drain as that? But why should they leave? While there were in Ireland thousands of fertile acres without a homestead, and thousands of acres of reclaimable land, it was cruel mockery to the Irish people to talk of increased facilities for emigration. He had said that the Bill recognized great principles. The greatest principle that it recognized was that landlordism in Ireland was an evil. True, compulsory expropriation was not to be found within the four corners of the Bill; but so desirable, nay, essential, did it appear to the Government to get rid of Irish landlords, that extraordinary facilities were to be afforded to induce them to sell. He welcomed with pleasure that portion of the Bill by which facilities were to be afforded for the creation of a peasant proprietary, though it appeared to him some of the provisions for that purpose were very inadequate and absurd. As far as he knew, there was no reason to suppose that it would be unsafe for the Government to advance the whole of the purchase money; and he could not understand with what object the Bill imposed restrictions that would be absolutely fatal to the proper working of the clauses. Three-fourths in number and value of the tenants would have to say that they were willing to buy their holdings before the Land Commission would be empowered to buy an estate from a landlord who desired to sell. That con- 332 dition would, he feared, be seldom fulfilled; and it was, from every point of view, unnecessary. Still, notwithstanding these defects, he viewed this portion of the Bill with some hope. In a speech addressed to his constituents, the junior Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) said that the Government would resist all Amendments emanating from the Land League Members. He very much regretted that determination; but the letter of the Prime Minister to the Irish. Bishops, and the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland at Bradford, had convinced him that such was the intention of the Government. The hon. Member for Leeds also stated that the era of conciliation for Ireland had begun. He was fain to believe it; but what could Irishmen think when the Irish Executive put forth its powers against men of high and unimpeachable character, and the Forces of the Crown were employed to maintain unjust and iniquitous laws? Had the Prime Minister been present, he would have asked him to listen to the suggestions that would emanate from the Irish Representatives; and if he took that course he would, in truth, inaugurate an era of conciliation, and there would be some chance that the Land Law (Ireland) Bill would be formed into a wise, lasting, and beneficial measure of reform. But if the right hon. Gentleman allowed himself to be bound by the evil traditions of English Governments in the past, if he resisted and refused all concessions to Irish opinion, and, at the same time, insisted, under the malign influence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in forcing on the Irish people a hateful reign of terror, then not only would the Bill inevitably fail, but a great opportunity would be lost, never to be regained by him, of doing justice to Ireland from that House, and putting an end to a record of misery and bloodshed which was a disgrace to the history of England, and was unparalleled in the history of the world.
§ SIR JOHN RAMSDEN
I am very glad, Sir, to be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Redmond) in that part of his speech in which he referred to a peasant proprietary; and I rejoiced to see that some of the leading Members of the Government who have taken part in this discussion—especially my right hon. Friend 333 the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright), and my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington) in his speech at Fishmonger's Hall—have put aside, to a secondary position, those complicated provisions which are intended to regulate the future relations of landlords and tenants, and raise, to the first place in importance among the Government proposals, those clauses which will lead to an increase in the number of the owners of land in Ireland. In doing so, the Government are faithfully adhering to the principles which have guided their Party in the great reforms of the last 50 years. We, Sir, have ever looked to the wide extension of rights and franchises among the great body of our fellow-countrymen as the surest bulwark of the Throne and the Constitution; and so, in like manner, if the fortress of property is ever to be attacked, I believe its strongest defence will be found, not in raising the walls or barring the gates, but in extending wide the outworks and strengthening the garrison, so as to enlist on the side of the defence, by the strongest motives of self-interest, the largest possible number of those who, if jealously excluded, might, in some future hour of difficulty or danger, throw the weight of numbers on the side of the attacking force. I shall, therefore, give my hearty support to any well-considered measure which, with a due regard to the rights of the present possessors, is calculated to promote a large increase in the number of the owners of land. So, also, as to emigration. No doubt, Sir, we should all prefer to keep our people at home if we could. Human life and human labour are two of the most precious forms of public wealth; and we cannot part with them, even to our own Colonies, without a pang. But when, as in this case, it has been shown that whole districts of the West of Ireland are so crowded and so poverty-stricken, that if you made the people a present of the fee-simple of their holdings to-morrow they could not subsist on them in comfort, I can conceive no wiser and no worthier form of help than to offer them the means of transport to a country where the ownership of rich and virgin land is to be had for the mere taking possession, and where their own labour and that of their families, which in the overcrowded 334 market round their present homes is a mere drug, would command certain employment and ample reward. It is, therefore, with deep regret that I have seen the reception this proposal of the Government has met with from the Leaders of the Irish people. It is only one more instance of that unhappy spirit of distrust which does so much to frustrate our best-meant efforts in the cause of conciliation and peace. But if the Irish people still entertain any doubts as to the great price we are ready to pay for their good-will, I think this Bill should remove those doubts. I would ask them to consider what it costs to the English Government to propose, and to the English Parliament to entertain, such a measure as this. It has already cost the Prime Minister the sacrifice of one of his oldest and most honoured Colleagues. But before these debates are over I am afraid it will have cost him a great deal more. Do they think it can be pleasant for a statesman of his standing and reputation to sit there to be pelted with his own speeches? And yet I feel sure my right hon. Friend would himself be the first to admit that no fairer weapon—and certainly no more brilliant or effective one—can be used against him by his opponents. For my own part, I am very grateful to my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) for giving us these speeches in so convenient a form. They have been very valuable to me, though perhaps I have used them not exactly for the purpose, or with precisely the result, which my noble Friend intended. I freely confess, Sir, that during the last four or five weeks I have often turned with repugnance from the study of the complicated clauses and questionable principles which this Bill contains; but I have always found the most effectual antidote to that repugnance in reading the speeches made by the Prime Minister in 1870. In those speeches I find he lays down, affirms, argues, and challenges confutation of those principles which I believe to be true, and which this Bill too often infringes. What inference am I to draw from that? Am I to conclude that my right hon. Friend has changed his mind? No, Sir; I would rather believe that he and many of his Colleagues have felt precisely that same repugnance to this Bill which I feel myself, and that they have seen 335 reason to overcome it. The Bill, we are told, violates the doctrine of Free Trade. Undoubtedly it does. Yet who supports it more zealously than the honoured champion of Free Trade, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Bill establishes new and dangerous principles of law. I fear that cannot be denied. Yet who is there in all England whom we on these Benches, and more especially those of us who are not quite so enlightened and advanced as some of our Colleagues, look up to as the safest and most trusted guardian of the law? Is it not the present Lord Chancellor? And yet this Bill has not scared the Lord Chancellor from the Woolsack. The Bill sets political economy at defiance. That certainly is my own opinion. Yet who introduces it? Is the Prime Minister some benevolent enthusiast, who treats the doctrines of Adam Smith and Malthus with contempt? Do we not know that for the lifetime of a whole generation of men, ever since the majority of the Members of the present House of Commons were boys at school, the Prime Minister has been not merely studying the laws of political economy, but applying them with unparalleled success to the most complicated problems of legislation and finance? But we are told all this is admitted. The Government know well enough what they are about; and here lies the gravamen of the charge—they err with their eyes open. Knowing the right course, they deliberately prefer the wrong, and that for Party purposes. I hardly know whether to treat that accusation as seriously intended or not. I believe it is made half in joke and half in anger; and that those who make it hardly expect us to take them at their word. Unjust as I believe it to be, its injustice is not half so flagrant as its absurdity. For what do the Government gain, in a Party sense, by this Bill? Has it conciliated the Representatives of Ireland? Not in the least. Is it, then, their own supporters who are so desperately enamoured of the Bill? I wish we could put that to the test. Allow me, only for a moment, to assume that the Prime Minister were now to get up in his place, and say—"We have discovered a plan for restoring peace and prosperity to Ireland without departing from any of the principles we laid clown in 1870. The Duke of Argyll has re- 336 sumed his place in the Government. I ask leave to withdraw this Bill in order to substitute for it one framed on very different principles." Is it not notorious that if the Prime Minister could make such an announcement as that, it would bring joy to the hearts of many of his steadiest supporters? Should we not go home with a sense of ease and relief to which many of us have been strangers ever since this Bill was introduced? No, Sir; the opponent of the Government must find some more plausible theory to account for this Bill than to say it has been introduced for Party purposes. If I had myself to offer a solution of the problem, it would be a very different one. I should say that the extent of the departure from the principles of 1870 was a measure of the sense the Government entertain of the imperious and paramount requirements of the great emergency with which they have to deal. The nature and extent of that emergency are patent to us all. The reasons which have induced the Government to adopt this particular mode of dealing with it have not yet been fully explained; and I, as a supporter of the Government, feel it my duty to vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill, in order that we may have the opportunity of hearing those reasons more fully explained. As regards those questionable provisions in the Bill with which we shall have to deal when we get into Committee, I shall endeavour to approach them in the spirit of that faith in my Leaders which may avail to remove mountains, though I confess myself quite unable to aspire to that still higher form of faith which seems to enable its possessors to shut their eyes to the fact that there are any mountains at all to be removed. Passing to the Bill itself, I shall be anxious to hear why the Government propose to apply the Bill to future tenancies at all. The Bill is commended to us as a measure of justice, to give legal protection to certain moral and equitable rights of Irish tenants arising from the past history of their tenure. But this can only apply to existing tenancies. Where there is no existing tenancy and no existing tenant, there can be no tenant right. To apply the Bill in those cases would attach a penalty, perhaps amounting to a prohibition, to the letting of any land now in the landlords' occupation. It would deprive the landlord of a 337 valuable right, without conferring any corresponding benefit on anyone else. Indeed, it would injure the whole class of tenants by still further restricting the supply of land available for letting, when the reason for legislative interference arises from the fact that this supply is already far too small to meet the demand. I hope the Government will also explain why they propose to give the right of free sale to every tenant, quite irrespective of whether he has paid for it at his entry or not. The regulation of rents by a public tribunal is, no doubt, false in principle; but there are strong arguments of expediency to recommend it in Ireland; and no other plan has been suggested by which the evils of excessive competition for land can be controlled. But if competition is so dangerous a weapon that we are forced to violate our own principles in order to wrest it from the hands of the landlord, who is bound by the strongest inducements of self-interest to use it with moderation, on what possible ground, either of justice or expediency, can we intrust it to the tenant, who is under no such inducements to moderation at all? I have never yet heard a satisfactory answer to the objection that fair rents cannot co-exist with free sale—that the two are not merely antagonistic, but absolutely and essentially incompatible. And there is a further difficulty attaching to this question of free sale. It has been proved in evidence before us that while some landlords have admitted the right, others have paid large sums to keep it off their estates; and there are, again, others who, under the powers of the Land Act of 1870, have bought up the right and extinguished it at a large expense. How are you going to deal with these conflicting cases? It needs no argument to prove that, if you re-create a right which has just been bought up in reliance on the good faith of Parliament, you must give compensation. But this Bill contains not one word as to compensation; and yet I hold it to be absolutely impossible that the Government can intend to propose to us any measure that will in the slightest degree justify the strong language of my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire. I cannot myself see how you will ever work this Bill without giving rise to just claims to compensation. When this question was 338 raised early in the debate, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland answered with his usual honesty and straightforwardness—"Why should we compensate the landlords when we do them no harm; when, indeed, we confer a benefit on them by the Bill?" When I read that, I thought my right hon. Friend had been profiting by the advice given by the Prime Minister to a candidate at an election during the Easter Recess, and that he was taking the bull by the horns with a vengeance. I have no doubt my right hon. Friend expressed his own sincere opinion; but I am afraid he will find it difficult to make good this point throughout the coming debates. He must remember that from the day this Bill passes, competition for the ownership of land in Ireland, as distinguished from the tenant right, is at an end. After passing this Bill, you cannot reasonably expect that another shilling of English money will in future seek investment in Irish land. There will remain only two purchasers—the occupying tenant and the Land Commission. The Land Commission certainly will not bid against the occupying tenant; and I think we may trust the Land League to take care that he is not embarrassed by any other competitor. This Bill will, therefore, virtually destroy and close the market. I quite admit that the operation of the Bill is so obscure that it would be very difficult to assess the amount of depreciation beforehand with any approach to accuracy; and the attempt to do so would lead to long and perhaps painful controversy, which, I hope, we shall be able to avoid. Fortunately, a proposal has been made which is not open to these objections. The proposal first appeared in the Report of the Bessborough Commission, inserted there by the O'Conor Don; and it has since been endorsed by Lord Lansdowne and Lord Dufferin, and other high authorities. I mean the proposal that this Bill should give to every owner of land in Ireland who considers he will be injured by it the option of making over his estate to the Land Commission at a fair price. The proposal is so reasonable, so moderate, and so obviously demanded by justice, that I hope the Government will see no difficulty in adopting it. And there is another argument which, with the zealous supporters of the Bill, may weigh almost as strongly in its 339 favour as the argument of justice itself. Those of us who had the good fortune to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on Monday night must have been deeply impressed by his earnestness in supporting what he described as "the great object of this Bill." Speaking of the ownership of laud, my right hon. Friend said—I believe now that if it were possible to make so great a change, if it were practicable, it would be of more advantage to Ireland and its population than all other measures that it is possible to conceive of or attempt if we were to transfer three-fourths of all the tenants of Ireland from tenants into actual owners of their land.And, after illustrating his argument by reference to Russia and France, my right hon. Friend proceeded—And I venture to say …. that there is nothing that Parliament can do, and scarcely anything that it can spend, that will not be, amply compensated by a great and wide-spread liberality with regard to this particular part of the Land Question.These, Sir, are very remarkable words indeed. Speaking with all the weight, and under all the responsibility, attaching to his great authority in the counsels of the Government, my right hon. Friend tells the House of Commons that to turn three-fourths of the tenants of Ireland into owners of their own land would be of more advantage than any other measure it is possible to conceive, and that the expense would be amply compensated by the result. This being the opinion of the Government, they must of necessity desire to give effect to it; and they can only do so in one way—by offering to the owners of land in Ireland every fair and reasonable inducement to sell their estates. I sincerely trust the Government will show they have the courage of their opinions, and themselves amend the Bill by inserting clauses giving to every landowner in Ireland whom this Bill affects the option of selling his estate to the Land Commission at a fair price. Justice and sound policy alike concur with the avowed opinions of the Government in recommending that Amendment. I believe it would greatly assist the passage of the Bill, and go far to insure its success when it has become law, because it would enable the Government to give large and immediate effect to that object they have so much at heart—the creation of a peasant proprietary.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he wished to make a few observations as to what the Bill would cost if it were passed. There were three divisions of the measure on which public money would be expended. There was, first—the question of expropriation, or the assisting of tenants to purchase the land of the landlords; then, the question of reclamation; and next, the question of emigration. These three heads of the Bill would appear to require a considerable expenditure of public money; and he would endeavour to indicate to the House what the amount of money was which the Exchequer might be called upon to pay. The other day he asked the Prime Minister a question with reference to the amount of the liability Government would incur under the Bill; but the right hon. Gentleman said he thought it would be better to answer that in Committee. He (Sir John Hay), however, thought it should be considered by the House before it reached that stage, and he trusted the House would agree with him in that opinion. With regard to the reclamation of land, those familiar with some parts of Scotland would know that what was grouse moor 30 years ago now carried corn and turnips; and he had had experience enough of that kind of reclamation to be able to say pretty accurately what it cost. There were 5,200,000 acres of land under tillage in Ireland. Over a very considerable area reclamation could not be undertaken for less than something like £17 an acre, exclusive of houses. The cost of improving the land and placing a habitation on it, if a cottage were to be built on each 20-acre lot—and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork City (Mr. Parnell) had stated that 20-acre holdings were the smallest which could be profitably distributed among peasant proprietary—could not be put at less than £4 or £5 additional per acre; therefore, the reclamation of 3,000,000 acres would cost something like £22 or £23 per acre. The hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) had stated, in his able speech, that 3,000,000 acres was all the land available for profitable reclamation. That being so, the reclamation of 3,000,000 acres would cost at least £66,000,000 of public money. If the whole of the 8,000,000 acres of land which would then be brought under cultivation were to be appropriated, there would be room for 341 400,000 peasant proprietors, or, counting five persons to each family, for 2,000,000 persons. With regard to the question of expropriation of proprietors, the rents of Ireland at that moment amounted to £13,000,000 or something more, and, taking the price at which the land had been sold under the Church Estates Commissioners—namely, 22 years' purchase—the cost would amount to £286,000,000. The Treasury would be liable for, and would guarantee, three-fourths of this sum—namely, £210,000,000. If the 400,000 peasant proprietors, who represented, say, taking five as the number of the family, 2,000,000 persons, were the whole of the Irish people; and if we were likely to get rid of all the Irish difficulties by paying this money, no doubt the Representatives of England and Scotland might feel themselves justified in incurring that liability. But it did not seem to him that the question could be settled in such a manner, because the population of Ireland at the last Census was considerably over 5,000,000 persons. Of these, 68,000 were owners of land, and 6,000 were tenants of over £100 a-year rent. These persons, with their families, at five to a family, represented 350,000 persons. There were in the seven largest towns 650,000 persons not principally dependent on agriculture. If they added the 1,000,000 persons thus indicated to the 2,000,000 persons who represented the peasant proprietary to whom the whole land of Ireland under tillage or to be reclaimed was to be appropriated, there still remained more than 2,000,000 persons unprovided for. He spoke with some knowledge, having, like all Scotchmen, recognized the advantage of emigration. The hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw) said when Scotchmen left their native land they never went back again. But that was not the case, because, having represented an English constituency for 18 years, he (Sir John Hay) now represented a Scotch one. No doubt hon. Members had read the valuable and patriotic communication addressed by the Canadian Government to ours on the subject of emigration. In Manitoba alone there was room for 80,000,000 persons. There the wretched cottier, who passed his time between starvation and sedition, would become the honest and industrious possessor of 320 acres of fertile 342 soil; and priest and people, either in village communities or in separate homesteads, would become an orderly, loyal, and happy community. It would be far better and more sensible to get rid of the surplus population by placing them on farms of considerable size in Canada, where they could live comfortably and be useful to the land of their adoption, as well as to the Empire, than adopting any of the other two courses that had been suggested. There was a small island in the Hebrides—North west—which had a population in 1847 of something like 6,000 persons. The advance of science had the effect of taking away the value of kelp for commercial purposes, and the consequence was that the people of the island lost their means of gaining a livelihood. Lord Macdonald agreed to remove from the island 3,000 persons at his own expense and send them to the Colonies; but, with the exception of about 600, they all desired to remain there. The result was that charitable persons in Scotland provided a considerable sum of money for the reclamation of the land on the island, and the land was reclaimed. But, after the experiment had been tried, it was found that the ground was so unfertile that it could not be profitably cultivated; and in the end the population was reduced to 1,600 or 1,800 persons, the rest being sent off to Canada, at the expense of Lord Macdonald, where they were a most contented and happy community, whilst those who remained were no longer an indigent community. He thought it would be well if the people of Ireland would profit by the experience of this island.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he had always held the opinion that the Irish Land Question was only a branch of the great Land Question of the United Kingdom. The question had become accentuated in Ireland from the peculiar circumstances of that country; but no settlement which was unjust and inequitable in itself could be a safe and permanent settlement. He maintained that the true test of any Land Bill brought before Parliament was whether it was just on the one hand to the tenant, and on the other to the landlord. No one in his sober senses could believe that by any action of the Legislature they could prevent the hiring and the letting 343 of land, any more than they could prevent the hiring and letting of carriages or horses. They might, if they pleased, transfer the virtual ownership of the land from one class of persons to another; but all history taught them that amongst the class that was favoured by the legislation of the moment there would be the thrifty and the idle, and the fortunate and the unfortunate; and it was contrary to human experience to suppose that those persons who entered into the possession of land for the purpose of cultivating it would, when they became rich, not desire to give up their occupations to tenants. He looked upon all the proposals to do away with landlordism simply as attempts to delude the public, and especially the Irish public. Few who had thought out the question would deny that there was no such thing as absolute property in land vested in individuals. Land was invariably held on trust either expressed or implied. The whole land of this country was supposed to be vested in the Crown, and granted by the Crown to individuals for specific purposes. If it were true that the land was held upon trust, there was also something else that followed. In his opinion, the landlord and tenant were in all countries virtually, if not absolutely, co-partners. They might not have actually the same interest in the land; but so long as the relations between landlord and tenant existed they were really and truly partners. They made their own bargains; the landlord was the sleeping partner and the tenant was the working partner. But what followed from this? That the principle of arbitration, as in all partnerships, was the true principle on which to settle disputes between landlord and tenant. It seemed to be forgotten that the principle of arbitration, which he had frequently heard excite in the House the greatest astonishment and reprobation, was the very principle, not, however, extending to the question of rent, that was embodied in all Scotch leases. That was one cause why, in his opinion, the relations between landlord and tenant had been so little disturbed in Scotland. The primary principle of this Bill was to establish a Court of Arbitration, which could determine vexed questions between landlord and tenant. For years the tenants had been asking it in vain, because the relations between them and 344 their landlords had not been the same as in the other parts of the Kingdom. The principal reason of this was the difference in religion. Scotch and English landlords were able to take the greatest interest in the spiritual and moral welfare of their tenants; but in Ireland that was impossible. Much of the land had been given to the landlords with a mission to propagate a religion hateful to the tenantry. A great gulf was thereby fixed between the landlord and tenant in the matter of religion, dating from the time of Elizabeth and Cromwell. No Irish landlord, however, could, in these days, venture to interfere with the religion of his tenant without the certainty of offending the religious feelings of the people. The consequence was that the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland were very different from those which prevailed in England and Scotland. Irish landlords were thus led to consider their tenants as so many machines for the production of rent. He did not deny that the great majority of the landlords in Ireland, grossly and wickedly as they had been calumniated, had performed their duty to their tenants; but the misfortune was that Irish landlords, as a body, had not those intimate social relations with their tenants which were characteristic of the English landlords. The management of Irish estates was committed to agents. They all knew that in an Irish novel the first picture presented was that of the heir of the estate going abroad, spending his money, and sending home to the agent to raise him more rent.
Well, the principle which had been so long demanded of a tribunal to stand between the landlord and tenant to settle the question of rent had at length been adopted by the Government. This object, good as it was, might be carried out so as to interfere unjustly with the landlord in two ways. First, pecuniarily, it might reduce his income in an arbitrary manner. One clause in this very Bill which had not yet been explained might, in the hands of an unjust Judge, confiscate a large portion of the property of the landlord. In the second place, it might injure the landlord in his feudal relations with his tenants. Now, until the passing of the Ballot Act the vote of the tenant was considered as much the absolute property of his landlord as the rent itself. When lie was first re- 345 turned to the House it was never expected that he should canvass a tenant, and the best gift that could be bequeathed to his successor by a previous Representative of a county constituency was the book which told what particular bailiff influenced such and such tenants on an estate. It was, at that time, not the custom for Parliamentary candidates to address the electors at all, except upon the hustings at the time of the elections; and such things as meetings during the Recess for the Member to give an account of his stewardship were never heard of. That was only 12 years ago. What a change had been brought about by recent legislation in the relative position of landlord and tenant! The ballot had absolutely annihilated all illegitimate power on the part of the landlords, and had thus deprived them of the last remains of their feudal privileges. He, therefore, specially valued in this Bill the establishment of a judicial tribunal between the landlord and the tenant, because, from the circumstances just mentioned, such a change would injure no one; but he hoped the Prime Minister, on the question of the tribunal, would adopt the recommendation of those who had observed the working of the Land Courts in Ireland. He was quite convinced that Courts with a County Court Judge as Chairman, being the sole arbitrator between landlord and tenant, would be productive of nothing but disaster. He did not impugn the perfect fairness and honour of County Court Judges. There were 32 of them, some of whom bad the reputation for giving judgments in favour of landlords, and others in favour of tenants; but, however learned and meritorious they might be in reality, it would be most unwise in the State to place them in a position in which it might be supposed they would not be perfectly impartial in their judgments. He thought it would be useful to associate with them an arbitrator to advise and act with them. But the great complaint he made against the Bill, which he regarded, nevertheless, as a noble effort to settle a most intricate question, was that it was a Bill which would settle all questions by litigation, whereas the questions between landlord and tenant ought to be settled by courts of conciliation. If a certain number of perfectly impartial abitrators who had a knowledge of the qualities 346 of land were selected by the Government and associated with the County Court Judges in the investigation of these subjects, we should get a tribunal which would be fair to the landlord and to the tenant, and which would not involve the latter in the cost of litigation that was foreshadowed in this Bill. He should like to see the Land Commission appoint sub-Commissioners to visit the various districts. These sub-Commissioners would be able to settle half the disputes between landlord and tenant, by a simple hearing in an informal way, without expensive records and without any fee. With regard to the Land Commission, it had been rumoured that of the three members of whom it was to be composed one would be the excellent Nobleman who presided over the Irish Church Commission, while another would be a learned Judge who was a member of the same Commission. The Church Commissioners had been most successful in giving effect to the Bright Clauses of the Land Act, for out of 8,000 ecclesiastical holdings with which they had to deal they had sold nearly 6,000 to the tenants; and he believed the same Commissioners would be equally successful in administering the provisions of this Bill, whilst the experience of themselves and their staff would be most valuable as regards waste lands. He was aware the Prime Minister thought the undertaking of State works in the West of Ireland would be against all the principles of political economy. He deeply regretted that fact, which, indeed, was unmistakably written on the pages of this Bill, for his own experience of Ireland had convinced him that if we left that festering sore untouched, or left the execution of works to Joint Stock Companies, we should perpetuate the source of all the evils under which the people were labouring. Unless Parliament grappled with the industrial development of the country and the amelioration of the cottier tenants of the West of Ireland, no real good would be accomplished by any Land Bill.
He must refer to another question, which it was very painful for him to speak upon, but which, in the interests of truth, he ought not to pass by. The organization which lied kept up the agitation on the Land Question during the last 12 months had presented itself in a Protean shape to that House. Hon. 347 Members had heard constant denials of the principles on which that organization was based. It was with feelings of amazement that he heard the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), when charged in that House by the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), deny that he had ever advocated the expropriation of landlords. Why, the fundamental principle of the Land League was not to evict tenants, but to evict landlords. He heard that statement to the First Commissioner of Works with the greatest astonishment, and he thereupon referred to the records of the Land League, and found there a series of resolutions which were passed on the 30th of April last year at a great conference in Dublin, at which the hon. Member for the City of Cork presided. The most important resolution was this—That, for the settlement of the Land Question, a department should be constituted which should be empowered to acquire the ownership of any estate upon tendering to the owner of the estate 20 years' purchase at Griffith's valuation; and, moreover, that any tenant tendering that amount should thereby become entitled to the ownership.Well, was not that expropriation? Then, why did the hon. Member for the City of Cork contradict the right hon. Gentleman?
§ MR. PARNELL
The statement of the First Commissioner of Works was that I bad advocated, and that the Land League had advocated, the compulsory expropriation of all landlords. I had advised, and do still, the expropriation of landlords, but not of all landlords.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
asked whether the hon. Member or anyone else would say that the resolutions did not apply to all landlords? Not content with that, the hon. Member for Cork said, at the close of his address, that lie had long advocated the proposal of fixity of tenure; but, he added, let them disguise it as they might, any compromise with. the system of landlordism simply meant the prolongation of it. He would, therefore, throw overboard fixity of tenure, and he went on to ask those who had supported it how long they had been "fiddling" with it? The Irish people had been taught distinctly 348 by the hon. Member and his allies that the only mode in which the Land Question could be satisfactorily settled was by getting rid of landlords—of all landlords, not merely of some. What assistance, he would ask, had hon. Members given towards the settlement of the Land Question? At a conference in Dublin, only the other day, a learned gentleman used expressions which made his blood turn cold. He said the bankruptcy of the greater part of the Irish landlords was inevitable if tenants would only persevere in withholding their rents, in contesting their claims, and preventing them from getting any money out of the land. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) contended that that was a most immoral and revolting sentiment. He knew at present landlords who were in far greater destitution than their tenants. [A laugh.] An hon. Member laughed; but he was not a landlord. Day after day there were instances of applications by Irish landlords for the means of obtaining a day's bread, in consequence of their rents being withheld by their tenants. A friend of his had told him that he had met a landlord who, after consulting him as a doctor, told him he could not pay him his fee, as he was reduced to want through his rent being unjustly withheld from him. If a landlord who evicted a tenant because he could not pay was guilty of the most heinous crime, he knew no language that was too strong to condemn the conduct of those who had money in their pockets, but refused to pay their just debts. He, for one, would never do anything else than denounce the conduct of hon. Gentlemen opposite who had stimulated tenants in a course of dishonesty. The hon. Member for Limerick County (Mr. Synan) had joined the Party led by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and a short time ago his tenants asked bins to concede what it was said they wanted—Griffith's valuation. He consented at once; but his tenants would not pay; then he issued processes against three large tenants who could pay, but who dishonestly refused to pay by the advice of the Land League. For doing that he was denounced in very strong language by a reverend gentleman. The hon. Member only last week wrote a letter to time accuser, stating that he believed he made the accusation of harsh 349 conduct on his part in profound ignorance of the facts, and explaining that he had laid out large sums of money on the tenants' farms, but could not get payment of his rents. He had never heard of a more temperate letter than that under the circumstances, nor of a letter showing more conclusively what were the real aims and objects of those who were directing that agitation. The case was so typical of what was going on, and so important, that he would trouble the House with reading the letter itself. It was dated last week, and addressed to the Rev. Eugene Sheehy—Rev. and Dear Sir,—I find, in the report of the Kilmallock meeting on Sunday last, 'that you charge me with causing writs to be served thickly on my tenants near Manister, and that the task was not unpleasant to me.' My opinion of you as an able, patriotic, and just clergyman is such that I believe you made this statement under a misapprehension and ignorance of the facts. I therefore feel it my duty, for your sake as well as my own defence, to put the facts before you. Last October, my agent asked whether I would grant the request of the tenants to pay Griffith's valuation, to which I at once consented. After five months the rent was not paid, and my agent had to select three of the principal tenants for proceedings to compel payment of what they themselves proposed. One of these tenants, three years ago, paid to another tenant £950 for the interest in his holding. A second held under a lease at £30 a farm of 60 acres, upon which I expended £700 since the lease was made, and for which I pay £37 10s. a-year drainage interest; so that I am actually a loser of £7 10s. a-year. The third has a farm of 50 acres under a lease, and upon this I have expended over £700 since the lease was made. Are the tenants, who refused to perform their own promise to pay Griffith's valuation, in the wrong? Or is my agent in the wrong for being obliged, unwillingly, after five months to take proceedings to compel them? I have no doubt of your answer, and remain, Rev. and Dear Sir, very faithfully yours,E. J. SYNAN.It would be seen, therefore, that the League sought to induce persons, first of all, to ask for Griffith's valuation; and when that was given to refuse to pay any rent at all. It was the most dishonest, the most demoralizing, and the most un-Christian agitation that he had ever known. He had mentioned these things because he wanted to put the House in possession of the estimate which they ought to place on the abstention of hon. Members opposite from supporting the Bill. They knew very well that it was a just Bill in the main; that it offered to the tenants far more than the tenants 350 had ever dreamt of obtaining; and if it were passed, and if it were amended, as he trusted it would be, it would for ever settle the Land Question. But when the Land Question was settled Othello's occupation would be gone. He had never spoken to an Irish farmer by himself without finding that all he asked was to have a fair rent, and not to be disturbed in his holding as long as he paid that rent. But the Irish farmers had been taught that to obtain that they must combine for ends that were immoral in themselves and demoralizing to the country. ["No"] Did any hon. Gentleman say it was not immoral for the tenants to refuse to pay any rent, even when they could afford it, to landlords who were as virtuous as the tenants, and most of whom had always performed their duties? If a poor tenant could not pay, he said it was immoral for the landlord to turn him out of his holding, and he had last year advocated a measure which would have altogether prevented evictions for a year under a certain amount—£50—until the present Bill had passed. That measure was not accepted by the House, nor adopted by the Government. But the Compensation for Disturbance Bill was introduced by the Government, and thrown out by the House of Lords. What was the course of hon. Members opposite in regard to that Bill? The hon. Member for the City of Cork repeatedly stated that that Bill was not worth the paper on which it was written. [Mr. PARNELL: I never said anything of the sort.] The hon. Member repeatedly said the Bill was perfectly worthless, and he gave it no assistance. Did the hon. Member suppose that people had no memories? When the Bill was rejected by the House of Lords that was made the stalking-horse of that pestilent agitation. It would be the same thing with the present Bill. Some hon. Members opposite were too noble-minded to accept such tactics as that. The hon. Member and his Party, as they had been told, were to walk out of the House on the second reading. What was the object of that but to damage the measure in the House of Lords and get the House of Lords to repeat its action of last year? Hon. Gentlemen who usually acted with the hon. Member could swallow a good deal; but they could not swallow that, and they would vote fur the Bill. If the Bill were thrown out by the machinations of the hon. Member the result 351 would be that everything would be put on the House of Lords and on Parliament, and the country would be still more agitated next year, and life would be more unsafe than it was now. He knew what it was to live among an excited population in Ireland. Until lately his own people had treated him like a brother, and nothing but words of blessing had any member of his family received from them. But now that part of the country was stained by agrarian crime, and had been the scene of some of the foulest deeds. The truth was, the Celtic nature was something like the Hindoo nature. The mild and gentle Hindoo, who took care of children and performed domestic offices for the Europeans in India, when once excited at the time of the Mutiny, was guilty of the most dreadful atrocities. And so it was that the Celtic nature, affectionate, clinging, religious, was yet exceedingly excitable; and thus the more responsibility rested on those who, knowing those qualities, made use of their superior position, and of their education, and of the money which they wrung from the hard earnings of the poor, to excite them to do deeds which were foreign to their nature and dishonouring to the Irish character.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he would not stand more than a short time between the House and the eloquent speech which they would, no doubt, soon hear from the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan). But, under all the circumstances of the case, representing as he did classes in Ireland who had not many to speak for them in that Assembly, hew as sure the House would kindly indulge him for a brief space while he offered some observations in a spirit, he was sorry to say, less complimentary on the whole to the Bill under discussion than previous speeches which had been delivered that evening. The hon. Member for the County Cork (Mr. Shaw), in his conciliatory and discreet address, had invited all Irish Members, of whatever Party, to join with him in facilitating the passing of that measure, which seemed to him calculated to confer a great advantage on their common country, and to effect a final settlement. If he could join with the hen. Member that opinion, he should indeed be pre pared to make great efforts for so high a purpose; but, unfortunately, he could 352 not agree with him. Nor was it easy for one placed as he was to even approach the treatment of this subject with perfect calmness. He could not forget what had happened during the last 12 months. He could not forget that little more than a year ago there was in Ireland comparative tranquillity, although that unhappy country, and the poor people there, were afflicted by severe distress. Twelve months had passed away; and now, in the midst of a good season, there was something, even at this day, approaching civil war in Ireland. Believing, as he did, that however excellent the intentions of the Government, it was to their conduct that must be attributed the excesses which had disgraced Ireland—to their weakness, to the faults of their Administration, that it was their "hit-him-and-hold-him" policy which had exasperated and excited the Irish people—believing all that, he said, when he was called upon calmly to discuss the Bill now offered to them for their acceptance, it was not an invitation easy to accept. Furthermore, he believed that there were within the Bill propositions and principles which wore vicious in themselves, and disastrous in their consequences to those whom he was sent there to represent; and he was convinced that their ultimate results must prove injurious oven to the tenantry themselves. It was presented to them in this guise—"Something must be done; will you accept the responsibility of rejecting this measure?" So that one felt it was almost equally dangerous to support the Bill or oppose it, to accept or reject it. Besides these difficulties, this measure was proposed at a time when whatever was done would confer the least advantages on the people, who were not in a frame of mind and temper to receive the Bill in that spirit in which, no doubt, it was brought forward by the Government. Nevertheless, he admitted the gravity of the crisis, and he should endeavour, as far as in him lay, to approach it in no partizan or factious spirit; it was, therefore, to him a great satisfaction that there was a very considerable portion of the Bill which he, for one, could heartily support. In the first place, as regarded the scheme for the creation of peasant proprietors. He had always been a supporter of that policy. He believed that it would give solidity and steadiness to society in Ireland 353 if there were an increase of yeoman farmers. There were, of course, considerable difficulties in the way. One great advantage which he had always seen in the proposal was that it would come into operation at the time when estates were about to be sold. He did not mean to say that this was an experiment likely to turn out well in every case. It was, however, just at the moment when properties were changing hands that the scheme, which was so honourably connected with the name of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Act of 1870, and which was now introduced somewhat altered into the present Bill, would come into operation; and he thought it was well worth while to run some risk to try such an experiment at such a time as that. He thought that advantages were now offered for doing so which certainly had not arisen before; for when an estate came into the market they might find a great many tenants who were solvent and capable in every way of becoming yeoman farmers, but they would find also a certain number of weaker brethren—tenants too poor to enable them to achieve that position. The latter class could not be and ought not to be converted into peasant proprietors. But under the Bill, as he understood it, the same Commissioners who were to have charge of this business of creating peasant proprietors were also to have under their charge opportunities for carrying out a great scheme of emigration. Now, if they could induce a certain number of families representing these very small holdings to emigrate, they would not only relieve the estate from overcrowding, but they would be able to add the farms of those who went to the holdings of those who remained, and thus enable the latter to become solvent yeoman farmers. He thought that would be a great advantage, and he rejoiced exceedingly to know that the opposition which had been raised against emigration seemed to be fading away. He fully respected the objections entertained by some to emigration under the old system, because if individuals went from Ireland to America they often got lost in the great cities, and it was natural that those charged with their morals at home felt strongly on this point. Also, no doubt, the circumstances under which that emigration was conducted were very painful in the mere process 354 of transferring people from Ireland to America. But under this Bill he hoped it would be very different. They ought to be enabled to take with them into their new homes the habits and practices of their old homes. With respect to emigration, he agreed with what had fallen from his hon. Friend that it was the only means of dealing with that deep-seated evil which had been described by one of the witnesses examined by the Bessborough Commission as the "cancer of disaffection in Ireland." It was in those districts along the seaboard of the Atlantic where the people were crowded together in the most wretched circumstances of poverty and destitution that the agitation was first begun—rather more than a year ago—and there it grew and spread with the greatest vigour. He was sure that House was well acquainted with the descriptions given of the miserable state of the Irish people who were massed along the West, North-West, and South-West of Ireland. But, no matter how vividly those things were described, unless figures were given, Englishmen felt, he was afraid, a certain degree of suspicion with regard to the eloquent statements made by his countrymen, and, therefore, he had been at the pains of putting together a few figures which, he thought, would a little astonish the House. He would take the County Mayo, whose people he knew well. In ordinary times they were a light-hearted, easy-going people, and wonderfully patient considering their hard lot. He wished to compare for a few minutes the state of society in Mayo with the state of things in Armagh. He took these two counties, because in both there was an immense number of small holdings, the percentage in Armagh being even greater than that in Mayo. In the former the percentage was 67.8; in Mayo, 57.4. Yet in one county there was comparative prosperity, in the other great distress. He wished to call attention to this and other special circumstances, because the first idea people had was that if the Land Laws only were altered all would be well. But the House would now see that a mere change in the Land Laws would not have produced the comfort and contentment which were to be found in the one case and not in the other. In Armagh the percentage of waste land was 10.6, and 355 in Mayo 46 of the whole land of the county. In Armagh the average valuation per acre was 26s. 9d.; in Mayo, 4s. 9d.; the percentage of families engaged in agricultural pursuits was, in Armagh, 55; in Mayo, 78. In Armagh the percentage of those who could neither read nor write was 30.4; in Mayo, 57.4. Not only that, but in Mayo there was a large proportion of migratory labourers who were in the habit of going across the Channel to seek work in England, and whose return empty-handed last autumn had added much to the discontent of their districts. If those people emigrated to America, and especially under the scheme of the Bill to Canada, they might exchange their miserable condition for one of happiness and prosperity. With the permission of the House, he would read a passage from a letter from Lord Dufferin, in which the noble Lord spoke of having seen—An immeasurable sea of corn, clothing with its golden expanse what two years before had been a desolate prairie—the home of the lynx and the jackal—simply through the exertions of a small Russian colony that had run up their shanties in that favoured land. In the neighbourhood," his Lordship said, "was an Irish settlement, containing many descendants of the cottier peasantry, who had fled from the Famine of 1846, now converted into happy, loyal, and contented yeomen. Instinctively my mind reverted to the sights it had seen in Mayo, Connemara, and Galway in 1848. Strange to say, the appearance of the horizon was in each case identical. Its verge stood out against the setting sun like the teeth of a saw; but in Ireland this impression was produced by the gable ends of deserted cottages, in Manitoba by the long line of corn-stacks which sheltered every homestead.It would be a wrong and cruel thing to persuade people in such a condition to stay at home instead of emigrating, so as to realize for themselves the prosperity which he had described. Therefore, so far as that part of the proposal was concerned, lie was able to give it his most entire sympathy. As to reclamation, he would be glad to see as much of it as was possible. His only fear was that it would be impossible to carry it out to any great extent with success. No doubt, there was plenty of waste land in the country; but a great deal of it was absolutely incapable of reclamation—large tracts of stony waste was impossible to cultivate as would be the pavement of London. But, as far as it was possible to reclaim those lands by any scheme, by all means let the Govern- 356 ment encourage it. In the parts of the Bill of which he had been speaking, he had very little to find fault with. But, turning from those proposals which the Secretary for India had spoken of as the proposals which wore intended to bring about the permanent amelioration of the country, to those which had been described as intended to bridge over the interval between the old state of the things and the now, he was sorry to say, that giving to those parts of the Bill the best attention he could, he found great difficulty in understanding them; but, as far as he did understand them, he considered that they contained principles which were vicious in their character, and would be fatal in their consequence. With the permission of the House, he would make a few observations upon them. His chief object was to fix the attention of the House upon one single clause—he might say a single line of the Bill. He alluded, of course, to the proposal for fixing fair rents, and what he wanted was to obtain, if possible, a clear statement of the meaning of that proposal. Had such a statement been forthcoming sooner much time would have been saved. Various views of the construction to be put upon the clause had been suggested, and it was impossible that all of them could be right. He hoped, therefore, that the difficulty would be clearly explained away before the end of that Sitting. The construction which he put upon the clause was the same as that propounded by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). His right hon. and learned Colleague had attached a definite meaning to the clause, and challenged contradiction, and no contradiction had been offered. The ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Law) dissented.] He was perfectly aware that the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant had said that the proposal was not a proposal to reduce the existing rents by one-third. But that was not the meaning which his right hon. and learned Friend had attached to it. His right hon. and learned Friend's construction of the clause was that "the tenant would be at once credited as if he had paid a fine to the landlord for a diminution of the fair rent to the extent of one-third." With regard to the question of fair rent, he would like to know 357 how it was to be ascertained? He would pass by the proposed mode of ascertaining the rent on estates where the Ulster Custom, or similar usages, existed; though even in those cases he did not understand how the clause could be enforced without the tenant right, in many instances, eating up the rent altogether. He wished to draw particular attention to that which was provided in the case of estates on which there was no Ulster Custom. The clause said—The tenant's interest is to be estimated with reference to the scale of compensation for disturbance by this Act provided.The scale of compensation for disturbance was provided to compensate the loss sustained by a tenant who had actually been ejected capriciously from his holding. This Bill, however, said that that scale was to be applied for measuring the rent of a tenant who had not been evicted, was not about to be evicted, and who, once this Bill became law, could never be evicted. Surely there was no connection between two such cases. The only explanation that he could give of this position was by following up an illustration which was used by Lord Sherbrooke in the debate on the Land Bill of 1870. The noble Lord, who then sat in the House of Commons, compared this compensation for disturbance to damages in an action for breach of promise of marriage. Let them assume that by Act of Parliament it had been provided that in the case of a breach the damages should be assessed up to a third of the man's property; he then asked the House to imagine that by another Bill it should be proposed that, in the case of no breach being committed, but, on the contrary, at the moment when the marriage was about to be solemnized, the lady would have a right to demand that a third of her husband's property should be settled upon her. He could not anticipate the explanation that would be offered; but he thought he had a right seriously to ask how it was that the compensation for disturbance was taken as the measure of the tenant's right? In introducing the Bill, the Prime Minister said that what the tenant had a right to assign according to the present law was not worth giving or receiving; and then proceeded to recite the scale of compensation for disturbance, observing that under the Act of 1870 the tenant 358 right had become something sensible. He wanted to know whether by the Act of 1870 the tenants acquired any right of which they could dispose by sale? No doubt, a right could be created by an Act of Parliament; but he could not admit that it existed at the present time, nor could it even in theory be supposed to exist unless there was admitted to be a joint property in the land enjoyed by both the landlord, who had bought or inherited the property, and the tenant who held the land by reason of the payment of rent. Surely a scale of compensation for the present landowners must be fixed if the matter was to be settled by Act of Parliament. No one would contend that the right existed before the Act of 1870, nor would anyone hold that the right was not carefully excluded from the clauses of that Bill. He repeated that he could not understand how a man could be enabled to transfer by sale any part of another man's property, that man being his landlord, unless it was done under an Act which gave tenants joint property with their landlords; and he could not take that as being in any way a part of the provisions of the Act of 1870. Mr. Butt, writing in his admirable treatise on this subject, said—These illustrations appear clearly to show that any principle of measurement which would directly or indirectly introduce into the estimate any consideration of the interest which the tenant had in his holding when served with notice to quit, would be opposed to the whole principle on which the Act is framed. This objection is fatal to any suggestion of measuring the compensation by any analogy or reference to the price which, before his eviction, he could have obtained for his tenant right or goodwill.So when Mr. Butt was framing clauses for his tenant right Bill, he said nothing about this supposed tenant right created by the clauses with respect to compensation for disturbance. In the Land Bills introduced in 1877 and 1878, Mr. Butt said a fair rent was—That which a solvent and responsible tenant could afford to pay fairly and without collusion for the premises, after deducting from such rent the addition to the letting value of the premises by any improvements made by the tenant or his predecessors, in respect of which the tenant on quitting his farm would be entitled to compensation for his improvements under the provisions of the Land Act.Another question which he would like to ask was this—Was it not necessary for the Court, if it was to have reference 359 to the scale of compensation for disturbance at all, to have reference to the maximum of the scale? As far as he understood, the Court could regard nothing else. He could not understand on what consideration the Court could fix, so to speak, on any rung of the ladder of compensation but the highest. When an eviction had under the Act of 1870 actually taken place, all the circumstances which made up the loss could be realized by the Court; but this was a case in which there was no eviction. Well, then, was the maximum of the scale to be taken; and, if not, why not? What were to be the considerations for cutting down the maximum of the scale? The hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. Sullivan) had said in his pamphlet explaining the Bill that if a man had been a long time in a holding that would make a difference. That might be a good reason for giving him compensation for disturbance; but the landlord was not going to turn him out; if he went out it would be of his own free will. Suppose, in the illustration he had given before, the lady were to say, "I have so long kept company with this gentleman that my feelings are greatly lacerated, and I claim the highest damages to soothe my anguish." That would be all very well if the gentleman were leaving her; but, according to the plan of this Bill, it was the lady who was leaving him—and leaving the home of their married life all the poorer by taking this compensation away. But the proposal had been defended on a different ground. The Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. W. E. Forster), when speaking to his constituents at Bradford the night before, said that outside Ulster there was a tenant right which, though not acknowledged by law, had been acknowledged by custom, by traditional sentiment, and by good landlords. The impression in the mind of the Chief Secretary derived from the Report of the Bessborough Commission was that in certain parts of the country, and in certain circumstances, there was that traditional sentiment. But surely they were not going to base the settlement of the Land Question in Ireland on traditional sentiment. That would be rather a weak foundation. There was, he believed, in some islands in the Pacific Ocean a traditional sentiment in favour of cannibalism where the flesh hunger was very strong, 360 but that was no reason for giving such a custom the force of law. The right hon. Gentleman said that good landlords allowed the custom. In certain cases, no doubt, landlords in Ireland kept their rents very low; but he by no means admitted that in anything like a majority of cases they admitted tenant right, even if they kept their rents considerably below the highest market price. And now it was proposed to place those men under an obligation to allow the tenant a share in their landlord's property equal to seven years' rent. Why should such an obligation be imposed? In the case of landlords who had always charged a low rent it might be asked why they had never charged more? The answer was that they wanted from their tenants gratitude for favours past, certainly—perhaps, too, for favours to come—because it was only by such means and such influence that the tenants could be induced to do what was best for themselves, as well as the interests of the landlords. Only by such pressure could subdivision and bad farming be prevented. For such and similar reasons they had often wiped off arrears of rent, rather than allow tenant right to grow on their property. And for mere commercial reasons, also, many landlords had kept their rents low, with the idea that after a long period of friendly relations with their tenantry, they might reach a better time when, as the country advanced, it would be possible to ask a full and fair rent for their land just as men did in England. He wanted to know if it was the intention of the Government to take advantage of these feelings of kindness and forbearance on the part of the landlord, in order to turn them into a saleable commodity, subtracting it from the saleable interest of the landlord? He would refer to one point more, and one only. He would ask where the idea of tenant right came from, and where it was germinated? As he understood it, it arose in this way. Many hon. Members would remember that when the Land Act of 1870 was passing through Parliament, many schemes were proposed which had for their object to apply the Ulster tenant right to the rest of Ireland. It was in an Amendment proposed by the late Sir John Gray that a suggestion first appeared which proposed that in parts of Ireland where there was no Ulster or corresponding custom, 361 and where the tenant was not able to pay all the sum for his holding, he might pay a part of it, and add any such considerations as he could show in the way of improvements where executed by him, or which he undertook to execute. But there was at first no reference to any right arising out of the claim for compensation for disturbance under the 3rd clause of the Land Act. That was suggested to the authors of the Longfield scheme by the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. Sullivan), and that was the germ of the idea which was now to be used for the purpose of creating a tenant right over a great part of Ireland where no such custom had hitherto prevailed. He must thank the House for patiently hearing his attempt to place the arguments against the Bill in a popular form; but he believed he had started objections which, if fully and fairly answered, would give more information to the House than they had at present. What was the difficulty which lay in the way of extending to other parts of Ireland the Ulster tenant right when it was attempted to introduce it as a rival plan to that of the Land Act of 1870? It was again and again suggested—indeed, it was on such an alternative scheme, if he remembered rightly, that the division on the second reading of the Land Bill was taken. The late Sir John Gray took a division, he believed, on that very point. But what was the difficulty which lay in the way of extending the Ulster tenant right to the rest of Ireland? Mr. Chichester Fortescue had said—In the next place, the Ulster tenants who possess these claims had actually paid sums of money for the enjoyment of their holdings on entering into possession. What I wish to suggest for consideration is whether it is possible, by the mere words of a statute, and by the fiat of Parliament, to create such a custom as this? For instance, you can give a tenant who has paid a large sum of money upon entering his holding a similar claim upon leaving it, and we do this whenever the case arises all over Ireland. But can you give a tenant who has paid nothing upon entering his holding the same claim as you give to a tenant who has paid a large suns of money?And the Prime Minister spoke to the same effect. The present measure purported to be founded upon the Ulster Custom; but the fact was that, unfortunately, the rest of Ireland was not so wealthy as Ulster, and there were a multitude of tenants who might not be 362 able to give any valuable consideration for that joint share in the future partnership, which was the true character of the custom which the Bill was about to make. They bad nothing to give. The Ulster tenant gave, or had given, money. The tenant in the South might give money, if he had it, or he might make it up by improvements which he had himself put on the land; but if he had neither money nor improvements, the difficulty arose—What was he to sell under the clause for free sale? The Prime Minister, in his opening statement, said that the assumption underlying all his argument was that the tenant should have something to sell. But what was it that the tenant had in all cases to sell? Of course, Parliament, if it liked, might take from the Irish landlords a certain proportion of the property which was theirs, and confer it on the tenants; but if they did that, the landlords must be compensated. That was quite clear. If that was to be the intention and principle of that Bill, let it be acknowledged openly and fairly; let it be done in such a way that the landlords might have an opportunity of submitting to that House and to the people of England their claims for compensation. He thanked the House exceedingly for their attention. He was afraid he had taken longer than he ought; but the Bill deserved, and would no doubt receive, full explanation on the points he had raised. If those points were clearly explained by the Government, he believed it would greatly facilitate the progress of the measure.
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
said, he was sorry if, just now, he appeared to stand between the House and the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who had contributed to the debate a speech marked by his usual ability and by more than his wonted moderation. He, however, was desirous of offering a few words, chiefly in reply to some observations of the hon. Member for Galway County (Mr. Mitchell Henry), who had now gone to seek that repose which many hon. Members were seeking during the earlier portion of his address. It was only when the hon. Gentleman turned from a really sensible and practical discussion of the Bill to an attack upon his fellow-countrymen that the House waked up; and of four hon. Gentleman who 363 were slumbering on the Bench before him, only one—the hon. and learned Member for Donegal—remained impervious to that portion of the speech. It was very acceptable to many hon. Members to find the debate interrupted and precious time wasted by a swinging attack on the Land League and its Representatives in that House. But he should have expected that the lion. Member for Galway County (Mr. Mitchell Henry) would have remembered two things on that subject—first, that he was addressing an audience who, not from any wilful prejudice or love of injustice, but from very natural and easily-understood proclivities, would cheer to the echo any statement representing in the most damaging light the words and actions of his hon. Friends around him. Neither in this House nor out of it had he (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) ever attempted to justify all that had been said and done in the name of the Irish National Land League. He could not do it, any more than he could set himself to vindicate the action or the language of some men who seemed bereft almost of reason by wrong and outrage and despair. That agitation, which to many hon. Gentlemen representing English counties seemed so wicked and so censurable, he had never looked upon at all as an ordinary political movement. He regarded it rather as an angry, maddened uprising of the people, turning at last, after long years of bitter suffering and grievous wrong. His hon. Friend was too accurate a student of European history to deny this fact—that never in any country had a large population taken a course like that, although it might result in the most beneficent circumstances, without deplorable scenes, language to be reprobated, and actions to be regretted. He advised his hon. Friend to take a larger and a broader view of what was now passing in Ireland, and to hope with him (Mr. Sullivan)——while regarding unfavourably much that had passed in that country, but regarding it more as a matter of misfortune than of accusation against men who had at last taken into their own rude and rough and passionate hands the duty of setting themselves right. He knew his hon. Friend too well not to know that underneath his occasional ebullitions of warm temper there existed a kindly nature and a warm heart; and he 364 would invite his hon. Friend to ask himself this question, Where would that people be to-day but for the Land League—where would the Land Question be in this House but for the action of the knot of men whom his hon. Friend condemned? He had the pleasure of supporting his hon. Friend in 1874, 1875, and 1876, in those debates when his hon. Friend propounded to deaf ears a more moderate proposition than the Bill now before the House; and he would only ask, if calm reason and fair argument could prevail with all this passion in Ireland, why did it not prevail at that period? But inasmuch as the course which they then took availed them nothing, could they wonder that the people of Ireland should at last have risen in the manner they had done, and brought the land agitation to the front of the British nation? However, he hoped that, notwithstanding the very provocative nature of the speech of his hon. Friend, that the debate would be conducted to its close without recriminations. Up to the present, beginning with the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson), the debate had been conducted with a moderation and fairness that never could have been apprehended, considering how combustible a subject they had had to discuss. When he recollected the passions inflamed in his own country, the deep pecuniary interests involved, not only in Ireland but here, and the natural prejudices of classes in this country who were unable to comprehend the question as it should be studied in Ireland, he confessed himself astonished at the spirit, the fair spirit on the whole, in which the debate had been conducted. He reminded the House that no one who had spoken upon this subject, either inside that House or out of it—although the Bill had been severely attacked from the side of the hon. Member for Galway County (Mr. Mitchell Henry), and from the side of the Opposition Bench—had attempted to say that nothing should be clone in this matter. Let hon. Members realize the fact that the question had to do with the actual practical politics of the hour—with the circumstances around them—and that it had become a necessity for Her Majesty's Government to come forward with some proposition for settling the terrible problem that had so long decimated Ireland. There were 365 three ways of solving it. First, there was the plan of freedom of contract, as it was called. Now, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) cheered that observation, and approved of freedom of contract—that was to say, that the landlord and tenant should be left face to face to make the best terms they could one with another, no law intervening. Another proposition was the compulsory expropriation of all landlords—sweeping landlordism away as an institution of the country. That, he said, was the demand of a large portion—of the immense majority—of the people of Ireland that day. Her Majesty's Government seemed to think it possible to find a middle course between these two, and brought forward a Bill which avoided compulsory expropriation, but did not subscribe to the doctrine of freedom of contract between landlord and tenant. As to freedom of contract, he could assure his hon. and learned Friend that his brother Conservatives from Ireland had long since given up all idea of establishing the latter, and that it was all too late for Conservative Gentlemen in that House to start that doctrine. Those hon. Gentlemen came there, microscope in hand, so to speak, and examined the provisions of this Bill from the standpoint of freedom of contract, and upon which theme they were ready to say many witty things. But there was no freedom of contract relating to land recognized by the statutes; and he repeated, they spoke too late, because, so long ago as 1845, Lord Stanley was the first in that House to make a proposition which had led on to the position in which they now stood with regard to the Irish Land Question. He asked those hon. Members who came forward with the freedom of contract proposition now to study what had been done in the Land Question since 1835, and a very few hours' study in the Library would show them that freedom of contract had gone beyond recall. In 1845, which was after the Devon Commission, Lord Stanley proposed for the first time in that House that a public functionary should intervene between the weak and the strong—between the landlord and tenant in Ireland—and his plan was that there should be a State Commissioner to judge of and to authorize improvements effected by the tenant, so that the tenant might 366 be paid for the improvements effected on his farm, if evicted, and on the declaration of the Commissioner that those improvements had been wise and necessary. He asked would hon. Gentlemen accept that proposition now? Why, they all advocated it to-day; but when the proposition of Lord Stanley was made they opposed it in a body, the opposition being led by the Marquess of Clanricarde and Lord Londonderry. A Petition was signed against it as being Communistic and confiscatory by a long list of noble Lords, the Predecessors of those who last year threw out the Compensation for Disturbance Bill. He appealed to his hon. Friend to recollect that if the abolition of landlordism was asked for to-day, the blame lay with that class who resisted in former times every humble effort at reform, cried out "Communism!" when there was no Communism; and who now cried "Wolf, wolf!" when nobody would help them. Again, on the 11th June, 1816, Lord Lincoln, then Chief Secretary for Ireland, brought in an almost similar proposition to that of Lord Stanley. He would remind the occupants of the Front Opposition Bench that he was now quoting the acts of Conservative Statesmen, and that when they talked of objecting to the setting up of a tribunal between the landlord and the tenant, their own Party had given up the question. Lord Lincoln's proposition was that an assistant barrister should take the place of the State functionary. But the Bill was opposed in both Houses of Parliament by the Representatives of the Irish landlords, who were only too successful by means of the cry of Communism and confiscation in carrying with them the vast majority in that House against the demands of simple justice. Coining now to the proposition of the Government, he desired to say that ho had never known a public measure of the same magnitude so completely mis-read and so largely misrepresented by two opposing classes. Anyone reading the letters of noble Lords and listening to the sincere speeches of his hon. Friends from Ireland might exclaim, with Pilate—"What is truth?" The main principle of the Bill—for they were really upon the question of the second reading and not in Committee—was that an equitable tribunal should be established in Ireland to stand between the weak and the strong; to do equity 367 between landlord and tenant. And if the tribunal or tribunals were such as would command the confidence of the people of Ireland, instead of being as they were universally reprobated, he believed, in his soul, that this Bill, with the emendations it was likely to receive in Committee, would, in the hands of such tribunals, change the whole surface of Irish society. The practice with regard to the Government proposition was to treat what was possible under the Bill as actual occurrences. For instance, his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had told the House that because tenant right in Ulster was sometimes bought up to 28 years' purchase, 28 years' purchase would necessarily be allowed in estimating the value of the tenancy under this Bill. On the other hand, some of his hon. Friends opposite said that under it nothing was to be had except by means of a law-suit. Suppose the case of a Bill to confer trial by jury upon any country; would it not be a monstrous argument to urge against it, that a person might be charged by another, compelled to go into Court and stand his trial, and absolutely convicted by 12 men, although innocent of the charge? Any man who sought to have rights conferred upon him by law, must, of course, take his chance of having those legal rights contested. This system of treating possibilities as actualities had been carried to an unwarrantable extent in criticizing the Bill before the House. The junior Mender for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) had reverted to one of the errors furnished by the speech of his Colleague. He had mule a calculation to show that the landlords would be robbed. He (Mr. Sullivan) had seen something of this kind in the public Press; and hon. Members, he believed, had also heard something in that House of the millions of money whielt the Bill was to transfer from the pockets of the landlords to those of the tenants. One might say, with the character in The Vicar of wakefield—"I think I have heard all that before." Ingenious calculations had been put forward to show that £120,000,000 were to be carried from the pockets of the Irish landlords to the pockets of the Irish tenants by the Irish Land Act of 1870. Now, he had asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland at the opening of the debate 368 if he could furnish a Return showing exactly what had been the actual facts, so that the House might contrast with them the calculations of noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen. The right hon. Gentleman was not able to furnish the Return; but, after many days' search, he (Mr. Sullivan) had obtained the figures. The calculation at the time of passing the Act of 1870 was that £120,000,000 would be transferred from the landlords to the tenants—£6,000,000 a-year—or a reduction in the value of landed property to the extent of one-third. Those calculations were made upon the assumption that, at a low average, every one of the 600,000 tenants in Ireland would obtain from the Court £100 for improvements, and £100 for disturbance. He asked if Irish landed property had come down in value after the passing of the Act of 1870? They had a Return for the Years 1871, 1872, 1873, included in a Blue Book, without any totals, from which it was impossible to get any information; but he had obtained the totals for every county in Ireland of the number of cases in which claims had been made for improvements and disturbance, together with the amounts decreed during that period. There were, in all, 1,539 cases brought before the Laud Courts; the total yearly average number was 513, and the average for every county was just 16 cases in the year. Now, the highest number of claims sent in was from the county of Ulster; the lowest from Kilkenny, which sent six; and the total amount which might have been awarded by the Land Court to the tenants was £461,149. According to the calculations of 1870, all that was possible or sure to be awarded. In the present case, also, with the senior Member for the University of Dublin, the maximum of possibility was to him the minimum of actuality. Well, the tenants might have chinned from the Land Courts under the Act of 1870, £461,149; bat how much did they get?—£41,640. The tenants who came into the Land Court, instead of obtaining £200 each, obtained an average of only £27 5s. each. Therefore, he put it to the House, whether, in that respect, the Act had not been a mockery, a delusion, and a snare, because the average sum awarded had not even paid the law costs of the wretched tenants? He knew very well that not one of these cases could have been liti- 369 gated in the Court for £27 5s.—he knew that twice £27 5s. would not pay the wretched tenant's costs. The difference between the costs as taxed and paid must be taken into account in the average, and that £27 5s. sent every tenant out of Court bitterly bewailing the day he had trusted to it. So much for the dreadful calculation of the Front Opposition Bench. But they had treated the House to another—and he had heard it to-night—he referred to the famous conundrum of the Conservatives—"If the property is not to come out of the landlord's pocket, where is it to come from?" Clause 7 had been the chief bone of contention. The right hon. and learned Member who had just sat down (Mr. Plunket) bad been as kind and complimentary to him (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) as he was usually genial and kind to them all, and had done him the honour to quote from a pamphlet he had published, giving what had seemed to him an analyzation of the proposals of the Bill, and to allude to what he had given as an example of the way Clause 7 would work. He would undertake to answer to the best of his ability, clearly, the points which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his much respected Colleague (Mr. Gibson) had put forward on Clause 7. The hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw) said that under Clause 7 rents would be raised in Ireland. Now, whilst sonic rents would be cut down, any rent which was under a fair rent would be raised to a fair rent by Clause 7. Any rent which was a rent on winch a tenant was charged for his own outlay or interest in the farm would be cut down. He would show how that would be done. Let them take the case of a farm let by a fair, kindly-disposed, live-and-let-live landlord for £100 a-year, yet which, by reason of the tenant's interest, would fetch in the public market, to-morrow, £150—and at a fair price, £150. There were numbers of such farmers in Ireland, for, thank God, there were some good landlords there, though they were, alas! too few. On this point he did not wish to be invidious; but he saw a noble Member of the Government on the Treasury Bench at this moment, on the Irish estates of whose father, he thought, he could find hundreds of tenants who held their farms at fair rents. Take such a case as that he was describing. Here was a farm let 370 for £100, which, if bid for in the market to-morrow, would fetch £150—nay, £160. The Land Court, under Clause 7, must first estimate what was the fair letting value of this farm as it stood, adding together the two amounts—the amount of the landlord's fair interest in the farm, and the amount of the tenant's fair interest. The sum of these two amounts added together would be the fair rent of the farm to an outsider or an incoming tenant. From the sum of these two amounts they would simply take what belonged to the tenant and what belonged to the landlord. Ho would give an illustration, though he knew how weary the House would be, especially at this hour of the night (12.45 a.m.), of figures. A farm for which £150 would be given was let at £100. The Land Court would be entitled to say—"Under Clause 7, where there are unexhausted and permanent improvements of the value of £250 on a farm like this, the tenant, by reason of the land having been in the occupation of his ancestors and himself for 100 or 200 years, is entitled to another £250 as good will for the occupancy of the farm." That would make £500, and 5 per cent on that would come to £25, which, being deducted from the £150, would leave £125 as a fair rent for the occupying tenant, whereas £150 would be a fair rent for the incoming tenant, because he would have to pay both the interest of the landlord and the interest of the tenant. In this case the tenant would have his rent raised by £25 a-year under Clause 7, because the land was owned by a live-and-let-live landlord, who only asked a small rent. But then take the case—and there were, unfortunately, ten of them for one of those he had just quoted—where the landlord had screwed up the rent by racking and confiscatory additions, and the farm was let for £160. Everyone on the Front Opposition Bench knew that there were hundreds of such cases in Ireland—cases where the rents were over 60 per cent above Griffith's valuation—nay, was not the story common enough in every county in Ireland, "We are paying two Griffith's valuations?" Well, in the case of this rack-rented farm, the tribunal would say, as it said in the other case—"£150 would be a fair rent for even an incoming tenant to pay for this farm." The tenant had the 371 £25 interest, so they would say—"The rent of this farm shall be £125, in place of £160, to the remaining tenant." Thus it was that an over-rented—a dishonestly rented—farm would have its rental cut down by this equitable system; but every farm in Ireland which was held under what any equitable tribunal would declare to be an honest rent between man and man would be raised in its rental. He said to hon. Friends behind him who differed from him in regard to many parts of the Bill—he would implore them—never let it be said that the Irish tenant asked for a farthing more than justice, nor, not for any compromise, one penny less. A grievous error would be committed on the day when they allowed it to be supposed that the Irish tenant was not satisfied to allow an honest, equitable tribunal to determine whether his claim was fair or not. If hon. Members would not have that, what did they want? Why, they desired that the landlords should be allowed to charge a rent upon the tenants' own sweat, and upon their outlay on their farms. Look at the Blue Books bearing on this question; it was curious, but they would there find it on judicial authority related how this process laid gone on in Ireland, how tenants had been charged rent for their own outlay on their own slavery. What could come of such a system as this but the thriftless, miserable, indolent, half-cultivation of Irish farms which rendered all Irish homesteads a mockery and a delusion to all good farmers? He would tell hon. Members that if they held homes like those of the unhappy Irish farmers, all spring and elasticity of nature would be destroyed in them, all hope of future prosperity, all incentive to future industry, would be taken from them, and they would go over their farms in the listless, broken-hearted, idle way that the humble tenants of Ireland did. And why? Because, as soon as they got their land into good cultivation—as soon as they had reclaimed their wild moor and bog-land—they would see the agent come down to "salt" it with rent, as they had heard the hon. and gallant Member for Leitrim (Major O'Beirne) describe. The soil of Ireland had been sown with "salt" of this description, and they saw in the Ireland of to-day what fruit it had borne. Was it too late—was the Government too late with 372 this, their last chance, of enabling the two classes, the tenants and the landlords, to live together in peace and friendliness? Were they, indeed, to be told that the hour had passed for compromise or reconciliation? He knew the tenants of Ireland said it was, and he indulged largely the feelings which hail driven them to that ultimatum; but he appealed to-night, though with feeble voice, to the landlords of Ireland who had Representatives in the House. They were offered in this Bill one more chance, and he believed, in his soul, it would be the last. They were offered the choice between this measure and compulsory expropriation. A wiser measure was never devised than that which gave a chance of preserving Irish society as it existed at the present moment. He was not afraid to face the most severe measures for settling this matter, if they could be shown to be necessary. The saving of the people was with him supreme; but, until it was shown to be absolutely necessary to adopt severe measures, he would plead to the last hour for giving a chance to the landlords of Ireland to reconcile themselves with the people around them. He could not look forward with any feelings but those of sadness of heart to the pulling down, as ho took it to be, of the social structure in their country which would be involved in the sudden compulsory expropriation of all landlords; but to that it must come, and to that the people were entitled to bring it, if measures of this kind met with unyielding resistance on the floor of the House of Commons from the Representatives of the Irish landlords. He would that anything that such an humble individual as himself could say could enlighten that class and the House generally as to the wealth of kindliness, and affection, and trust, and confidence that they were spurning every day they kept themselves alienated from the people. There lived not on the earth a people more ready than the Irish—except in moments of maddened passion like the present, in which things were said and done that were to be regretted—to repay the kindness and confidence of the class above them, if that class would but be their protectors and their friends. He should watch the course taken by the Representatives of the Irish landlords on Monday night with the greatest anxiety. He did not agree 373 with his hon. Friends who declared it to be their belief—although he did not quarrel with them for entertaining it—that the hour had struck for sweeping the landlord class, in its entirety, away; but if, on Monday night, this class made advances to the Irish people, even after all that had passed, after all these years of misfortune that the people had suffered, he did not see why they could not live in the future in peace and kindliness together. If, however, they met this Bill in the spirit in which similar attempts had been met in the past—in the spirit in which the measure of 1870 was met—and if, the moment legislation took place, they set ingenious laws to work to see how they could filch from the tenantry the protection afforded them, the matter would not be settled, and the last chance of amicable settlement would be gone. For himself, he hoped his hon. Friends, who had been most kind to him in tolerating and taking in good part his difference of opinion with them in this matter, would allow him to say this—that if the measure were met by the Irish landlord class with a frank recognition of its necessity, and with a careful desire to work it in a friendly spirit—in a live-and-let-live spirit—and with an endeavour to import into it Amendments without which he believed in his soul it would be abortive, he knew of no measure in the whole of his experience, or in the whole of the records of the dismal history of their country, that would be more productive of beneficial results. He would not go into minute details, as he objected to make a Committee speech, having condemned it in others; but he would tell the Government, tonight, that unless they could deal with the question of the impending evictions, they would leave untouched a source of deplorable suffering arid disaster. He spoke in no antagonism to the Bill. He was ready to give his heartiest efforts in support of the measure, even at the cost of temporary misunderstanding with his countrymen, if they got an undertaking from the Government that the necessary Amendments would be put into the Bill. The necessity of dealing with the impending evictions meant life or death. It was a question of the actual destruction of the homes of thousands of the peasantry, over whom there was now impending a fearful doom, if no protec- 374 tion was provided in the Bill because of the arrears that occurred during the two years of famine and exorbitant rents. The Bill, as it stood, would only enable the poor tenants to obtain sufficient money to pay the landlords the arrears of rent due, and would not extend protection to them—would not keep them in their humble homes. The only other suggestion he would venture to offer was with regard to the tribunal provided by the Bill. Ho would not say anything personally offensive, or reflecting on the County Court Judges; but he would say this—they were selected originally for such duties as the working of the Land Law, and the result was that the Bill of 1870, in spite of its good intentions, had led to nothing because of the tribunal that had to administer it; and he believed in his soul that if an angel came down from Heaven and drafted a Bill for the purpose of settling this difficult question and put it in the hands of the County Court Judges to administer it, it would become a failure and an abortion—a monument of Ministerial good intention and failure, like the Land Act of 1870. He had spoken in this debate under a deep and, he might sincerely say, a painful sense of the importance of the question. He believed on the Land Question he was the senior Member of the Irish Party in that House since the death of Mr. M'Carthy Downing—unless, indeed, it should be one of the Members for Waterford. He believed he was the only man in the Irish representation who belonged to the Tenant League of 1852, and he spoke of it with feelings of emotion, because he had been in all the struggles, and was acquainted with all the Bills and propositions which had been made on this difficult question. He admitted that sonic advance had been made since 1852. He conceded that, and would ask hon. Friends behind him to allow him to take this view, as one who had put some years of his life and of his effort into the settlement of this question of the protection of the Irish tenantry. He believed that if the Bill was amended in the way he had suggested, it would depend largely on the landed classes of Ireland whether it was a settlement of the question; and upon those classes he threw the responsibility. He believed the measure was destined to make a new Ireland across the Channel. 375 Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland,)—put, and agreed to.
Debate further adjourned till Monday next.