§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CRILLY,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would ask the indulgence of the House for a very brief period, while he tried to explain, as well as he could, the provisions and principles of the very simple measure, the second reading of which he asked the House to pass. It was a measure that affected the well-being and the prosperity of a large section of the community of Ireland. There was no doubt existing in the minds of those who had followed the development of events in Ireland that there had grown up, and was growing up still in that country, a firm belief that the law affecting and regulating the tenure of houses in towns required alterations of a radical and sweeping character. A few years ago the demand was put forward with not very much strength, nor in a very earnest manner; but that day the demand for reform in the law relating to house property in towns in Ireland was made by a very large number of the people of Ireland, and by a very large number of powerful organizations in many of the chief towns of that country. This was not, however, exclusively an Irish question, or an Irish grievance, as was proved by the fact that, almost in every Session during the last four or five years, a Bill, dealing in one way or another with the question of house tenure, in so far as it affected England, had been introduced into the House either by the hon. Gentleman who was at present Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Broadhurst), or by the noble Lord who, a short time ago, 1118 was rather favourably known as Secretary of State for India, but who was now less favourably known as the Chief Apostle of Light and Leading to the ditch-liners of Ulster (Lord Randolph Churchill). The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department being now a Member of the Government, they might trust that the interests of the urban population in England would be adequately looked after and served. Therefore, the Irish Party need only turn their attention to Ireland. This question included several matters in connection with the subject which a very great many people in Ireland would like to see grappled with. They only asked the House, however, to affirm the principle that tenants of houses in towns should, like tenants in agricultural holdings in Ireland, be entitled to compensation for any improvement that they might make. If they desired to go outside the question affected by the measure before the House, they might deal with very great and pressing questions relating to the tenancy and rentals in towns; because it was quite clear to those who were familiar with the social life of the Irish people that the same causes which had been operating in Ireland amongst the agricultural classes to make them complain of the burden put upon them in the shape of excessive rents had also been operating, to a large extent, amongst the urban population. The depression of trade, the absence of employment, want of capital, and the insistance of large landlords in obtaining excessive and oppressive rents in many parts of the country had induced in Ireland a strong feeling that, on this question, a very radical change should be effected. The Party to which he had the honour to belong did not desire, in dealing with this question of house tenure, to prevent a legitimate return for honest outlay. If a man thought well of sinking his capital in house property they had certainly no objection to his getting a return, in the shape of fair interest, on his invested capital; but what they maintained was this—that calculating and heartless speculators in house property in Ireland should be compelled to seek for their coveted profits and excessive gains in directions other than in the tills of struggling shopkeepers, or the pockets of hard-pressed artizans. In deal- 1119 ing with this question; they might also refer to the question of leaseholders, and it seemed to them, to be a monster injustice that in many of the towns in Ireland, as in many of the towns in England, a man might own plots of land in certain localities, and by letting them for terms of 50, or, perhaps, 90 years, should be entitled, after the lapse of that term, to absolute possession of the property which had been erected on those plots of land by the industry and labour of another man, and that he should thus acquire an interest in a property to the making of which he had contributed nothing at all himself. They might also deal with the question of taxation of vacant houses; but they did not in that Bill desire to touch on these large reforms. They did not seek to deal with these important phases of that very important question; but he asked them to accept this small and trifling measure, which, however small and trifling, had as its bases right and justice. They were convinced, in introducing the measure and in supporting it, that until the duties of those landlords were defined by some legislative means or another—because they believed that household property, as well as landed property, had its duties as well as its rights—that they could not deal satisfactorily or finally with the great problem of the housing of the poor, or of the providing of better accommodation for the labouring and artizan classes. Therefore, he submitted this measure, the second reading of which he now asked the House to pass, with the hope that the Government would see their way to accept it from his hands. As he had said, it was only a small measure. They simply asked that they might assure the tenants in towns in Ireland who had made improvements that they should be entitled, at the expiration of their tenancies, to compensation for their improvements. The House had already affirmed the principle of the Bill over and over again; and they now only asked to have extended to houses in towns in Ireland the same principle and the same rule which had already been recognized by the Irish Land Act of 1870. There was no reason why the breathing of a rural atmosphere should confer privileges not enjoyed by an urban population. They asked to solve the question by the simple method of 1120 extending to the houses in towns in Ireland the Compensation Clauses of the Land Act of 1870, and of every Act amending or affecting it that had been passed since 1870. The feeling in Ireland was very strong upon the matter. They all knew of the hundreds and thousands of dilapidated dwellings in towns that were to be seen by anyone who took sufficient interest in the subject to investigate their condition. They also knew that that state of things was due, in a great measure, to the fact that the landlords of these houses and of these towns—who were very frequently absentee landlords—would not effect any improvements in these residences of the tenants; and, on the other hand, they knew very well that the tenants themselves would not—nay, dare not—effect any improvements, for the simple and wise reason that if they effected any improvement in their houses, the landlords, with the rapacity for which Irish landlords were notorious—["No, no!"]—to those who said "No!" the records of the Land Commission amply proved the accuracy of his statement—the landlords, with that rapacity for which they were notorious, would at once step in and confiscate those improvements which had been made by the tenants. The Land Act of 1870 provided compensation for disturbance as well as improvements; but that Bill only sought compensation for improvements. He thought that was a moderate and fair proposal—some might think too moderate. In the unreformed Parliament, the Bill, when in the charge of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan), was defeated by only eight votes, and a Motion for a Committee of Inquiry into the subject was lost last year by only one vote. He trusted that reformed House would recognize the fact that all that was sought for by the shopkeepers and artizans and labourers in towns in Ireland, who laboured that day under so many disadvantages, was a simple act of justice, and that it would not go forth to Ireland that this measure of justice was refused. It was an historical fact that when the Land Question was first introduced, many years ago, the only principle affirmed in that introductory measure was that of compensation for disturbance. The measure was, like other beneficial measures for Ireland, rejected in the Upper House; and they had to wait until the ring- 1121 ing of the chapel bell compelled them to pass the Act of 1881, and thereby give a measure of justice to the long-suffering tenant farmers of Ireland. Therefore, he trusted he would not, in submitting this measure to the House, meet with a refusal. He submitted it to the House with confidence that the principles of justice it contained would commend themselves to hon. Gentlemen opposite; and he trusted that it would be told in the records of that House that when the second reading of this just measure was moved it was accepted willingly by the Government, and passed by a majority of the House. He would conclude by moving the second reading.
§ MR. PETER M'DONALD,
in seconding the Motion, said, that the Bill was a short and simple one, and dealt with only one of the items which it might embody—namely, that the tenant and leaseholder should be entitled to compensation for any improvements effected by him; but he, for one, wished it had been made fuller and more comprehensive. The condition of town leaseholders in Ireland was one that called for redress. It was a question second only to the great agrarian question. Ho had a pretty extensive knowledge of Ireland, and had been in almost every town in that country. Consequently, he spoke with full knowledge and authority of the condition of all these towns. He could, to begin, speak with a special knowledge as to Kingstown, the place where he resided, which was known to some people as the Brighton of Ireland. It was originally but an unimportant fishing village. Few speculative gentlemen thought it would be a good place to build upon with a view of profit. Subsequently, the lords of the soil, when the importance of the place developed, exacted exorbitant ground rents, and enforced hard terms from those who built on the plots. As the leases fell in the property and capital of the builders which had been invested would be confiscated by the lords of the soil—Lord De Vesci and Lord Longford. He hoped Lord De Vesci would send another communication to the Prime Minister, setting out the state of things on his own property in Kingstown. He had reason to believe that Lord De Vesci and Lord Longford were not likely to deal very liberally with matters that appertained to themselves. He knew 1122 one case in which a professional man, a solicitor, living close to himself in Clarinda Park, who spent £1,000 on a house, and who had, 15 years before the expiry of his lease, applied for a renewal, and was told, in reply, that he would get his renewal, but on very different terms from those under which he then held—that he would have to pay an increased rent for the remaining 15 years, and at the expiration of the lease would have to pay a further increase of rent, so that a premium was put upon the man's expenditure by the landlord. He could say something about Queenstown as well as Kingstown; but he would leave that town to be dealt with by his hon. Friend (Mr. Fox), who was intimately acquainted with it. He would refer, however, to some other cases. Take Killarney, for instance. Killarney was famed all the world over for its magnificent, its unequalled scenery; but what appearance did the town itself present—the centre of this fairyland? It presented an appearance of dilapidation, squalor, and misery. Why was that? Simply because the lord of the soil would not give renewals of leases to the present holders except on such terms as Lord De Vesci exacted; and the holders, therefore, were not foolish enough to expend money on improvements which might afterwards be confiscated by the landlord. They, therefore, abstained from expending money in the improvement of the premises, or in keeping them in a tolerable state of repair, through fear of being evicted. The proprietor of the town was Lord Kenmare, who held a position in Her Majesty's Government—a model of what an Irish landlord was. He (Mr. M'Donald) had no hesitation in saying that the state of things in Killarney was a discredit and a disgrace to Irish landlordism, and it was only typical of the state of things in Ireland all over. When a member of the Local Board in Kingstown, he initiated a movement for the purpose of gathering information in reference to this question of town leases. A series of printed questions were sent to the Town Clerks, the Clerks of Unions, and the Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, and such men as would be likely to give correct information, and several hundred replies were received. He did not think that this question would come on so soon, and, therefore, 1123 he did not prepare an analysis of these replies; but he applied to the Town Clerk of Kingstown for that information, and this morning he received a reply from him. He would now read that reply to the House, and some of the extracts from his analysis. He would take first a case in which there was perfect security for house tenants, and show the effect of that security upon the town. Take the case of Lisburn. The reply was—DEAR Mr. M'DONALD—I send you a few extracts which I have selected at random from the replies sent me some time ago by different Town Clerks and Clerks of Unions regarding the tenure of property in towns. You will be able to perceive that, in the very few cases in which the tenants are sure of being allowed to enjoy the fruits of their outlay, the towns are in a flourishing condition, as, for instance, the town of Lurgan. On the other hand, those towns in which the tenants have no such security are in almost all cases in a state of dilapidation. In the town of Lisburn the usual tenure of building leases is fee-farm grants. Renewals are granted on reasonable terms. The consequence is that the town is in a prosperous condition.Now, he desired to say that the town of Lisburn was solely owned by Sir Richard Wallace; and he should say that where honesty and justice, as between landlord and tenant, had come under his notice it was mainly confined to the North of Ireland. He was only too happy to bear testimony to that fact. Now, take another instance—the case of Wicklow. The reply was—In the town of Wicklow the leases vary from 31 to 99 years. Renewals of leases are not granted; the property being brought into the market and given to the highest bidder on the expiry of the original lease. The result is that the tenants abstain from making any improvements except such as are absolutely indispensable to their present requirements, the property is deteriorated, and the town in a state of ruin and decay; or, at least, all progress is effectually prevented, the natural effect of which is a stagnation of business.He would take now a Western town; and, considering the state of that town, he was not surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for the Division (Colonel Nolan) in which it was situated took such an interest in this subject. The reply was—In the town of Tuam no leases are granted, and consequently no renewals. The result is dilapidated houses, lack of trade, want of comfort, the rain coming down in some shops owing to the neglect of the landlords to keep the roof in repair. Persons having no leases are, of 1124 course, afraid to improve their houses lest their rent should be raised.The reply from Dalkey was—In the town of Dalkey the leases are for 99 years. Renewals are granted on the following conditions:—The landlord (Earl Carysfort) sends his own valuator, who values the premises. He deducts one-third of the valuation, and the remaining two-thirds are then settled as head rent, to be paid by the tenant for 99 years.He would now take the town of Ballymena; and he was sorry to say that Ballymena was not in as good a condition as the other Northern town to which he referred. The reply was—In the town of Ballymena—Lord "Waveney, landlord—the leases are for 91 years, and renewals for 61 years. The landlord when making renewals makes the terms, having no fixed rule, but decides each case, with the assistance of the agent, to his own advantage. The tenant is always obliged to surrender his right and title. The result is that in a great number of cases the tenants are allowing the houses to wear their leases out by mouldering into ruin; and some of the best business thoroughfares are disgraced by old thatched ruins of houses running out of leases, which would have been rebuilt long since if the tenants had not considered the landlord's demands exorbitant.He would only trouble the House with one or two further illustrations. Another reply was—In the towns of Ballyconnell, Bawnboy, and Ballinmore, in the Bawnboy Union, the leases are from 60 to 99 years. In the town of New-towngore, in the same Union, there are none but yearly tenancies. No renewals are granted; and the result is most injurious to the interests of the tenants.He could bear personal testimony to the facts regarding the Southern town, in which he was born, that no leases were granted, and that in consequence suitable houses were not built, as the tenants could only hold them from year to year. Such a state of things, he maintained, was a disgrace to civilization, and a disgrace to Irish landlordism. Take another Northern town, the reply from which was—In the town of Belturbet, in the county of Cavan, the leases are generally 21 years. Renewals are granted in very few cases, the result being that, in many cases, the property goes to ruin, the tenant leaves, and the business interests of the town are damaged.Another reply was—In the town of Mallow the leases are from 20 to 100 years. No renewals of leases are granted. The result is that the tenant loses all that he and his predecessors in title have spent on the premises, and that for several 1125 years before the expiration of the lease the tenant allows the premises to fall into decay, expending only so much on them as will keep them together. The town wears, in consequence, a ruinous appearance, caused by the tenements not being repaired. Tradesmen are not employed.Take, now, the case of Lurgan, and ho was happy again to bear testimony to the justice done in this matter in the North of Ireland. The reply was—In the town of Lurgan the usual tenure of building leases is 999 years—instances of renewal are, of course, rare, simply because they are not wanted. Instead of any cases of hardship the town has increased at the following-rate:—1841, population, 6,000; valuation, £8,700; in 1881, population, 11,000; valuation, £20,000.They would find no such state of things existing anywhere else in Ireland; and ho was pleased to say that walking through Lurgan he saw with pleasure that it presented the appearance of the best-kept and best-managed English towns, and that was because there was a landlord there who desired to do justice as between man and man. Considering all these circumstances, he would follow the example of the hon. Member for North Mayo (Mr. Crilly), and appeal, in conclusion, to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who had sympathy with the people who expended, in many instances, their all in the erection of these buildings, to assist the Irish Member in redressing the wrongs which the present system imposed upon the leaseholders in Ireland, and from which they now grievously suffered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Crilly.)
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. JOHN MORLEY)
said, that everyone must have expected that that subject would be brought before the newly-reformed Parliament almost at the earliest possible moment after its meeting; because in the last Parliament, as the hon. Member for North Mayo (Mr. Crilly) had reminded them, there were 32 out of 34 Irish Members who voted for the inquiry moved for by the hon. and gallant Member for Gal-way (Colonel Nolan). It was, therefore, not at all surprising that in a House which, as they all said, was still more democratic, the subject should again be brought forward. But he thought the hon. Member was scarcely justified in 1126 describing this as a very simple, or a very small and trifling measure. Whatever else they might think of it, it was a measure which involved an appeal to very important principles, and contained a great many intricate details. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. M'Donald) had made an extremely interesting and instructive speech. He (Mr. John Morley) thought, however, that a part of the hon. Gentleman's argument was not entirely good; because the melancholy state of things which he described, and of which he (Mr. John Morley) himself had been a witness in some of the smaller towns of Ireland, was not, and could not be, wholly due to the state of the tenure of house property. Where they had, as they unfortunately had in Ireland, a declining population, it was inevitable that some towns, at all events, should present the dilapidated appearance that had been described by the hon. Gentleman. When they had a population that had declined, as bad that of Ireland, from 8,000,000 in 1841 to 5,000,000 in 1881, it was inevitable that there should be many places, urban as well as rural, exhibiting squalor and decay. Referring to the speech of the hon. Mover, he was not at all inclined to trespass on the time of the House by an appeal to political economy, because political economy, as they knew, was now banished to anothersphere. But, though political economy might be in exile, temporary or permanent, common sense still survived; and he must remind hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on both sides of the House, in dealing with that Bill, that houses were not like land, because no limit was fixed by nature for houses. The extent of house accommodation was, to use the bated, words of political economy, simply a matter of supply and demand. Another thing was that houses were not like land in this respect—that under no circumstances could it be said, in relation to house property, that the occupier or tenant had created the subject-matter in the sense in which all admitted that the Irish tenant, in a great portion of Ireland, at any rate, had created the subject-matter of his holding. When the tenant took a piece of bog, and reclaimed it, and got his potatoes or other produce out of it, he practically created the subject-matter of 1127 the holding; and that analogy did not apply to house property. He was not, however, going to press that point. The hon. Member had spoken of the Bill as resting on the analogy between urban and rural holdings, and as springing from the legislation of 1870. Now, the manifest reason why contracts not to claim for improvements were declared void under the Act of 1870 was because the tenant was supposed, and justly supposed, to have no real freedom. Although that was true of agricultural holdings, it was only true, if true at all, in a very modified degree in the case of a house in a town; because if a man was turned out of a house in a town he would still have a fair chance of getting some other house. ["No, no!"] That was a question of fact. He was told that in Dublin, for example, there were only too many houses. He was not himself a Member of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor, but he had read the Blue Book pretty carefully, and he thought it did appear from the evidence that although the condition of house property in many of the towns of Ireland was appalling and disgraceful, and called for immediate legislative remedy, yet, in arguing that Bill, the analogy between urban and rural holdings could not be said to apply. Surely a man had a freedom and a means in the case of a town house, which he had not in the case of a rural holding, of supplying himself with what he wanted elsewhere. He should like to come to one or two details in which he considered the scheme of the Bill was not well conceived. It advanced a number of provisions framed for the case of agricultural land, and extended them in bulk to the towns. Such cases, for example, as were covered by ordinary building leases were cases which he submitted were not within the equity which dictated the improvements section of the Act of 1870. There was another particular as to which he thought the Bill was not well considered. Where it departed from the law as enacted in the Land Act of 1870 it went wrong. The Bill said in the 3rd clause that—The time during which any tenant might have enjoyed the advantage of his improvements or the rent at which any holding had been held should not he taken into consideration upon any claim for a revision of the rent in respect of such improvement,1128 But he asked hon. Members to consider the case of an ordinary building lease. In a building lease a long term and a low rent were the very considerations which made the terms of the lease what they were, and without which a lease would not have been granted. These were details; but they were details of great importance, which would be well worthy of the attention of the House and of hon. Members, perhaps, when they were re-framing that Bill, as he hoped they would do. He would now give the obvious reason why it was impossible for the Government to assent to the second reading of the Bill. A well-considered Bill, dealing with fixtures in buildings and with reasonable improvements made in buildings during the tenancy, might deserve, and he thought would deserve, their approbation and support. But the hon. Member who moved the second reading made a remark as to the interests of the urban population of England being confidently expected to receive the attention of the new Parliament, and especially as long as the present Government were in Office. Now, he (Mr. John Morley) wanted to point out that it was impossible for them, with that question in front of them, to assent to the partial treatment of it in relation to Ireland only. They could only deal with what was really one of the most important subjects for that Parliament—they could only deal with it on general principles, which, in spite of the economic and social differences which existed between England and Ireland, must be identical for England and Ireland. He thought the hon. Member was the subject of some mental confusion in supposing that the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department was identical with his own. It was, no doubt, identical in spirit and aim. Whether as to this Bill, or the Bill formerly brought forward by his hon. Friend, he believed the Government were second to no section in that House in. desiring to see the question approached in a businesslike spirit, and dealt with fully and fairly. But they could not assent to that Bill—first, because they demurred to the analogy on which the Bill rested; second, because they could not assent to a partial treatment of a question which was sure to 1129 come up for general consideration; and, thirdly, because, from the wording of the Bill, although neither of the hon. Members referred to the subject, it applied not merely, as the title said, to houses in towns, but to all holdings in Ireland. It, therefore, raised the question, for instance—and a very fair question it was to raise—of town parks. But these subsidiary points which were raised by the Bill would naturally come within the purview of the legislation to which the Premier had referred on more than one occasion—namely, that the Government were considering whether the Land Question as a whole might not be now conveniently revised, and measures in accordance with the result of the revision brought before the House. He was extremely sorry to have to appear not to sympathize with the objects of this Bill. It was, however, only an appearance, because no man in the House felt more strongly than he did that nothing was more urgently needed for the happiness of the great majority of the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland than that they should have an opportunity of having what they used to have in the old days—a home. To that proposition he did not believe there was any dissent in any quarter of the House. Therefore, while Her Majesty's Government were unable to give consent to the second reading of the Bill, and while they could not, he might say in advance, hold out much hope as to a Select Committee for inquiring into it, for reasons which might be more conveniently stated another day, they would have the subject, both as regarded Ireland and as re-garded England and Scotland, under their most full and careful examination.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, although the debate had only proceeded a short way it was, from one point of view, extremely instructive. They had heard in the speeches of his hon. Friends—the Mover and Seconder of the Bill—in the instructive facts that were cited in the course of the speeches, that Lords Longford, De Vesci, and Carysfort, the Apostles of the "Loyal and Patriotic Union," and Gentlemen well known in Ireland as the opponents of every reform, were precisely the persons whose relations with their tenants in towns proved them to be most unreasonable. Those Noblemen, who acted as kinds of figureheads for that organization, were personally re- 1130 sponsible for much of the dilapidation which existed in the broken-down tenements in Ireland. He would also acknowledge that he had been both pleased and greatly interested by the admission of his lion. Friend (Mr. M'Donald) that the towns in the North of Ireland would come least under the operation of such a Bill as this. The towns of Lurgan and Lisbon had been particularly praised; and he had been glad to hear the compliment paid to one Gentleman (Sir Richard Wallace) for the spirit which actuated him in one of these towns, and which formed such a contrast to the manner in which the tenants in towns in other parts of Ireland were treated. He was not surprised that the attitude of the Ulster landlords was more reasonable than in other parts of Ireland, as the social life between the two classes there had been historically pervaded with a somewhat different spirit to that elsewhere manifested. The relations existing between the landlords and the tenants in Ulster had been most remarkable for a spirit of sympathy and oneness that was conspicuous by its absence in other parts of Ireland. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant as to the dilapidated condition of the houses in many of the towns and villages in Ireland, and that it could not be altogether accounted for by the nature of the tenure. There could be no doubt depopulation had a very close bearing upon this dilapidation in villages and towns. In a country where, in 40 years, the population had fallen from 8,000,000 to 5,000,000, it was obvious that the result must be a reduction to one-half of the customers of shopkeepers and artizans, a lowering of wages, and the consequent dilapidation of the houses. It was, indeed, the fact that the districts from which most emigration had taken place were most remarkable for retrogression and its visible signs. He had known districts where he had been informed that flourishing villages existed 40 years ago, where, at present, nothing was to be seen but the remains of a few crumbling walls. But, allowing for all those extenuating circumstances, such cases as these showed the evil and paralyzing operation of the existing laws of tenure upon the whole community. In dealing with the question of dwelling-houses in towns, he would 1131 refer to the condition of the leaseholder in the town, and the condition of the tenant from year to year. In many cases the whole district around the town was owned by one man, and sometimes a number of men combined together and formed a syndicate to arrange all matters connected with it. In such cases the condition of the leaseholder was bad enough; because, no matter how extensive was his improvement to his premises or holding, it was liable to confiscation by the landlord, beside which the tenant must actually prepare himself to pay an increased rent proportioned to the amount of value generally of the improvements which he himself had made. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he did not see the germ of an equitable way of dealing with such a state of things, after the manner adopted with regard to rural holdings in Ireland? If the tenant did not comply with the hard terms imposed upon him, he was remorselessly put out without a penny compensation. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman for falling into error as to the want of analogy between certain holdings in Irish towns and those in rural districts. He (Mr. Sexton) thought there was a complete analogy in the case of town houses and country holdings; because, as one landlord or a syndicate of landlords owned the whole of the town and the district about, it would be impossible for the tenant to secure another house. There was not free action. There might be no limit in this case defining the two classes by nature; but there was a limit fixed by art as unalterable, as inflexible, and as supreme as any ever imposed by nature. They had heard of the town of Killarney, the whole of which was owned by Lord Kenmare; and he could point out numerous other towns owned by single landlords or syndicates, where the tenants were treated with great injustice. In the case of a farm, the holder was protected by law from having his improvements confiscated; but if he was the owner of a dwelling-house or shop, and executed improvements, he would ask was not the analogy between the two classes perfect? If there was no necessity in the first case for interference, why was the Land Act passed at all? If there was a necessity in the first case, why was there no necessity in the second? If a 1132 man was turned out of his farm, it was said that his means of living were gone, as he could not get another. In the towns he maintained that the same thing applied; for whether the tenant held a dwelling-house or a shop in a town he could not get another, and neither was there any building ground available. If he was a shopkeeper, he would not have the least prospect of establishing another business in the town where he was known to his customers, for the landlord of the town or the syndicate controlled everything. That was particularly the case where the landlord was a territorial magnate, who not only owned the land on which the house stood, but also that all around it. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman was not entitled to demur to the analogy. There was a perfect analogy between the shopkeeper and the tenant in the country. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had raised objections to the wording of the Bill; but he thought they were such as might, perhaps, be very properly urged in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman thought that the wording of certain clauses would have the effect of extending the operation of the Bill to all holdings of houses and to town parks. But the object of the Bill might be understood from its title, which was the tenure of town houses, and there would be no difficulty in dealing with these matters on the Committee stage of the Bill. Then they were told that this would be a partial treatment of the question. But if there was any maxim which Government admitted, it was that questions ought to be treated according to their urgency; and though grievances in relation to the question might exist in England and Scotland, he took leave to doubt whether cases existed in England and Scotland in which single persons owned towns in so striking a way as they did in Ireland. But if that was the case, then the urgency of the question was all the greater, and he would be glad to see the provisions of such a Bill extended to England and Scotland, where he had no doubt such a measure was urgently needed. In England, however, he would point out that they had a social power in public opinion, which usually moderated the action of the landlord; but such a power did not exist in Ireland. A landlord in that country generally proved his patriotism as an 1133 Irishman by the degree of scorn and contempt which he threw upon the public opinion of his own country. His income might be derived from Ireland; but his soul was in Great Britain. It was by the public opinion of Great Britain that he regulated his conduct; and if the public opinion of England seldom troubled itself about Ireland—[Opposition cries of "Oh, oh!"]—well, not systematically then; but he knew it did by spasms. The Irish landlord, therefore, mostly did what he pleased, and this constituted a vital difference between the condition of the two countries. In conclusion, he did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was long enough in Office to entitle him (Mr. Sexton) to establish a difference between what the right hon. Gentleman conceived and what he expressed. But, although he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman did not see his way to support the second reading, he was glad that he approved of the spirit and aim of the Bill; and he was very hopeful that he would approach this subject with that keen perception, courage, and moral elevation of character which distinguished him. He hoped he would be able, on a very early day, to announce that the Government saw their way to introduce a measure on the subject; and ho would be glad if it should include England and Scotland. He thought, however, that his hon. Friends were entitled to go into the Lobby in support of the second reading. It was a question of great importance to the throe countries; and the Irish Party, who had always been prepared to aid the working classes of Great Britain in everything that would improve their condition, would afford them every help in obtaining the benefits they sought for themselves.
§ MR. E. R. RUSSELL
said, he would like to state, in a few words, the reasons why he intended to vote against the Government. There was a strong opinion in the country, and in that part of the House below the Gangway, that they were entitled to extend the analogy that had been referred to—he meant the analogy of the Irish Land Acts—and that they were entitled to extend these in two directions; that they wore entitled to extend them from agriculture to other industries, and that they were entitled to extend them from Ireland 1134 to other parts of the United Kingdom. There were great sufferings in England also from the tenure on which houses were hold in towns. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would excuse him for saying that they all sympathized with him in his somewhat difficult position. Indeed, probably there never had been such an outgoing of feeling and expression of sympathy with a Minister entering on a new and important Office under circumstances of great difficulty. At the same time, he regretted very much that in stating the purely official reasons, which should have been adequate enough for the course the Government were taking, his right hon. Friend had thought it necessary to go into a little argument on the principle of the Bill. That argument, he thought, was hardly sufficient to warrant resistance to the measure. The right hon. Gentleman said there was a great difference between the freedom of an occupier of town property and the freedom of an occupier of agricultural property. He (Mr. Russell) apprehended that there were few circumstances where there was less freedom of contract, in which the lack of freedom of contract was so acute in its results, as where a man having occupied town property, and having gradually worked up a business in it, and in so doing had made valuable additions to the property, found that he had to pay an extravagant fine for the privilege of continuing his business, or to accept the alternative of handing the premises over to his landlord, who had done literally nothing to assist him in his endeavours to create the industry from which he was to derive his future proceeds. That showed that when the difficulty arose it took a very acute form; and until it did arise there was no force in the argument that there was a want of analogy between town property and rural property. Even in its chronic state, as had been observed on the other side, the evil was nearly as bad; for, in the chronic state, the results were that the tenant was paralyzed and prevented from increasing his business, deprived not only of all incentive to increase it, but deprived also of all hope that he would be allowed to reap the fruits of his exertions in consequence of this system. The effect of such a state of things must necessarily be the engrafting in certain characters among 1135 the people of habits of hopelessness, indifference, and idleness; and then we turned round on the very classes whom our institutions had degraded and accused those very people of being idle and unthrifty. If a man had attained by his industry a good position, he was entitled to hope that he would be allowed to enjoy it. On these grounds, the hope of many of them below the Gangway on the Ministerial side of the House was that they might, by inserting the thin end of the wedge on this occasion, do something towards extending the sound and just principles of the Irish Land Act from agricultural holdings to urban property, and also towards extending them from Ireland, which they admitted had a grievance, to the whole of Great Britain, where the existing system likewise worked injuriously.
§ MR. HOLMES
said, that although the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had said that political economy had been banished to another sphere, he (Mr. Holmes) was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman was still to some extent controlled by the principles of political economy, and still more glad that he had acknowledged the necessity of being guided by common sense. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the House ought not to accept the Bill, and fully concurred with him in the grounds on which he based the refusal of the Government to assent to the measure. His (Mr. Holmes's) objection was not to any change in the tenure of the houses in towns in Ireland, but to the form of the particular measure before the House. Indeed, he specially wished to guard himself against the supposition that he was entirely satisfied with the tenure of house property at the present time. He felt, as strongly as anyone could do, that many beneficial changes might be introduced into house tenure, both in England and Ireland; but here they had to deal with a particular Bill which had been circulated for the first time that morning, and of which he supposed a good many hon. Members below the Gangway were hardly able to understand the full significance. The principle underlying the Bill was to transfer the compensation for improvements provisions, incorporated in the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881 in regard to agricultural and pastoral holdings, to every building in Ireland— 1136 not merely in the smaller towns and villages, but to all the large towns like Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Londonderry. Not only would the Bill apply to dwelling-houses, but to every factory, warehouse, theatre, or other place of amusement; and, in point of fact, to every building throughout the country. When the Acts of 1870 and 1881 were passed, great care was taken, in the enactment of the Compensation Clauses, to restrict them to the subject-matter to which they applied—namely, to agricultural and pastoral holdings. The main principle of those clauses was one on which there was little divergence of opinion. It was that when land was let it was to the interest both of landlord and tenant that it should be improved; and it appeared to be a fair and reasonable principle that if the tenant expended his capital on improvements, some compensation should be given him for the outlay. But in the case of house property, if the tenant expended money so as to increase the letting value, it did not equally follow that he should be entitled to compensation. He certainly would not be so in all cases, and this Bill extended to all houses. Take the ordinary case of a man with £1,000. He built a house and let it to a tenant for £60 or £70 a-year. For his own purposes and requirements the tenant might add two more stories, costing, perhaps, another £1,000. The whole character of the house was altered; no doubt, its rental value might be improved. After years the tenant chose to leave; was the landlord to pay him the £1,000 he had spent, when the landlord had spent his whole capital? He used the word "landlord," but it was hardly applicable. The man simply put his money into an ordinary commercial undertaking. In Ireland they had large manufacturing towns, and the case he had put was by no means an improbable one. The provisions affecting agricultural holdings would not equitably apply to the bulk of the house property in Ireland. The hon. Member, whom they had always heard with so much pleasure in that House—he believed that he was still the Member for Sligo—(Mr. Sexton) had referred to cases in which single landlords had practical control of whole villages. He (Mr. Holmes) would, however, point out that those cases were exceptional; and 1137 it should be remembered that this Bill, if passed, would apply to large manufacturing towns like Belfast and Londonderry, which were not all similarly situated, and would be applicable to all houses, warehouses, and factories alike. On these grounds he thought the House ought not to assent to the Bill. As to the analogy that had been put forward as between town and rural holdings, although he did not admit that such an analogy had been established, he maintained that there was a perfect analogy between town houses in Ireland and Great Britain. When the Acts of 1870 and 1881 were passed they were told they could not deal with agricultural tenancies in Ireland on the same principle as with similar tenancies in England and Scotland, the strong argument for those Acts being the exceptional circumstances of Ireland. But if there were this difference as to agricultural holdings, no one could say the same or any difference existed between house properties in the different parts of the Kingdom. In his opinion, therefore, it would certainly be an anomalous thing, at the commencement of a new Parliament like the present, that only one portion, and that a small one, of a large question which really affected the Three Kingdoms should be dealt with, and dealt with in a manner that was anything but satisfactory, in a Bill of this nature. He by no means desired to oppose real practical reforms; but he believed that they would require strong additional arguments to induce the House to adopt such a Bill as that now before them.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Sir, I do not propose to argue this matter for one moment from the point of view of the rights of property, or from the point of view of the principles of political economy, to which my right lion. Friend the Chief Secretary alluded. From both points of view a great deal might be said on the present occasion; but it is not with a view of urging any argument derived from these principles that I wish to submit a very few observations to the House. I have been led to intervene for a moment in this debate by the arguments that have fallen from one or two hon. Gentlemen—namely, the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) and the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. E. R. Russell)—in regard to what seems to be 1138 in the main the object of the Bill—namely, to give not only security for improvements which the tenant may have effected, but indirectly to prevent altogether the ejectment of the tenant from the house which he occupies. I do not know whether I have made myself clear; but the House will remember that the argument has been raised to a great extent upon the injustice to tenants occupying houses, of being turned away from these houses, or having their rents raised upon them, when they have built up laboriously their business, and may find themselves ruined by being deprived of their residence in the house. Therefore, one of the main arguments upon which I see that hon. Members are likely to vote in favour of the Bill is the wish to take a step in the direction of what I think we may call security of tenure. Now, what I wish to point out is that, even if this Bill were passed, I do not know that a real step would have been taken towards the object which hon. Members have at heart in this matter. Because it appears to me that, unless you at the same time introduce enactments with regard to fair rents and fixity of tenure, the landlords, though they have to pay compensation for improvements under this Bill, may, nevertheless, deprive the tenants of the opportunity of continuing in their business. If that is so—and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow will almost admit it, so far as regards his argument—you will have gone a very little way in the direction of the objects he has at heart if you were to pass this Bill. I would, in passing, just make one allusion to the argument in regard to annual tenants. Annual tenants, surely, would scarcely be authorized, if only holding from year to year, to make large improvements of any kind; and in such case, clearly, it would be necessary to give the landlords considerable power in regard to stopping those improvements made by the tenant-at-will. But that is not the part of the subject to which I was addressing myself. I wish to suggest that if this Bill is argued from the point of view of the analogy between lands and houses, that we have arrived, I think, at a very considerable difficulty in dealing with the Land Question, by having strengthened and confirmed a double ownership in the land. We shall have tied together the 1139 landlord and the tenant in such, a way that all difficulties between the two seem to be almost insuperable; and I want to suggest respectfully to the House whether it would be wise to commence that legislation which so many people think is necessary with regard to house property, by taking steps which will begin to create a double ownership practically in house property? The House is aware of the Bills that have been introduced by my lion. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Broadhurst)—Bills which have for their object that tenants should become absolute owners of their holdings—and I am bound to say that, in the legislation which we may have to embark upon with regard to house property, I think it would be far wiser to keep in view, as far as we can, that it is desirable that men should be able to own their own houses, rather than to start upon reforms which will create a double ownership, which afterwards we may find to be extremely inconvenient. Hon. Members opposite will, I trust, see that in this I am not opposing the object which has excited much sympathy in the House generally. I am as convinced as most Members of the House that the more we can induce men to own their own houses the better it will be. I am bound to say that the experience I acquired on the Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes did reveal that there were a certain number of evils, though not so many as were attributed to it, which resulted from the leasehold system. But, at the same time, everyone will admit that the leasehold system would not be introduced into any country on the lines on which it prevails in Great Britain and Ireland unless it had grown up with time. Doubtless the House will set itself to deal with this most difficult and most complicated subject in a spirit of equity, and keeping in view the desire which was expressed by my right hon. Friend—that there should be as large a number of the population as possible able to acquire their own holdings. Holding that view, I think it would not be wise to press partial reforms in the direction of the Bill, which seems to mo to create fresh obligations and fresh entanglements, of which we have had ample examples in the legislation in respect to land. It would be rather a 1140 strange result if, while we are endeavouring to cut the knot between the landlords and tenants as regards land in Ireland, we should begin to go through the same process by giving the tenants of houses partial proprietary rights in their houses. I venture respectfully to submit these considerations as bearing upon the matter, and as having close reference to the Bill, though they go somewhat beyond its scope. I trust the majority will follow the advice of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary in voting against the Bill upon this occasion.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, he did not rise to prolong the debate, as he thought the subject had been almost sufficiently discussed; but he could not allow some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to pass without notice. That right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the prospect of remedial legislation with regard to the tenure of land not only in Ireland, but in England; and he intimated his fear that hon. Members in that quarter of the House might not receive such legislation in the most favourable manner. But, speaking for himself, and, he might say, for those who sat near him, and who represented the North of Ireland, he (Mr. Macartney) desired to say that they would be quite ready to receive cordially, to carefully examine, and to assist in passing any remedial legislation that might be based on sound economic principles. He was not, however, able to agree to certain alleged facts brought before the House, either by the hon. Seconder (Mr. M'Donald), or by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). His own experience of the Province of Ulster did not lead him (Mr. Macartney) to believe that there was any great difficulty in finding facilities for building houses. He did not believe that there existed in that Province any combination amongst the owners of land to prevent the provision of sufficient accommodation for house holders, either in the large towns or in the small villages; and he must, therefore, say that it was with great surprise that he heard the hon. Member for Sligo refer to such a combination. He was the more surprised, because he was not previously aware that either that hon. Member, or any of the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway generally, had any great objection to 1141 combination; and, moreover, looking to the actual progress of the towns in the Province of Ulster, with which lie was himself much better acquainted than he was with the towns in the other Provinces, and taking towns which represented the extreme poles of urban population, such as Belfast, Derry, Lisburn, and Larne, it was, he thought, an undeniable fact that the population of these towns had greatly increased. He believed, for instance, that it would be admitted that the population of the thriving town of Larne had actually doubled itself within the space of the last few years; that building in that town had greatly increased; and that there was no difficulty in the way, either of those who wished to invest capital in building operations, or of those who wished to become householders in this rising place. In the somewhat bitter speech made by the hon. Mover of the second reading (Mr. Crilly)—a speech, the tone of which had not, he was happy to say, been imitated by other Gentlemen who had since spoken from below the Gangway on that side of the House—the great point made was that there was not, at the present time, sufficient protection for the improvements of the tenants of Ireland. But his (Mr. Macartney's) local experience, speaking as he did of the one Province with which he was intimately acquainted, did not agree with the experience of the Gentlemen who had addressed the House that afternoon from below the Gangway. The hon. Gentleman who had seconded the Motion for the second reading of the Bill was indeed, he noticed, obliged to admit that in the Province of Ulster the towns were all of them prosperous, and that in those towns the occupiers had no cause to complain, and did not complain of any hardship entailed upon them by the tenure of their houses. There must, therefore, he thought, be some other reason connected with the condition of the small towns and villages in the other three Provinces of Ireland to account for the dilapidated condition in which they wore now said by hon. Members to be. And he thought that it would not be difficult to say what this was. He recollected that, not many years ago, a Special Commissioner—as it was now the fashion to call such a person—was sent either by The Times, or by some other leading English paper, 1142 to report on the condition not only of the rural, but also of the urban districts of Ireland. Well, according to his letters, the general impression which this Special Commissioner seemed to have formed of the South and West of Ireland was that there was one universal landlord who had impaired the commercial activity of the South and West, and that that landlord was well known to the world under the name of John Jamieson. It seemed to him impossible to deny that, in the towns of the North, there was a condition of commercial activity which did not prevail in the other three Provinces; and it was extremely doubtful whether any alteration, even of the most arbitrary nature, in the tenure of houses would produce such an amelioration in the condition of the tenants in those Provinces as would bring them up to the level of the tenants in the North of Ireland. He entirely agreed with what his right hon. and learned Friend the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) had said in the course of the debate as to the imperfections of the present system of leasehold tenure. A great proportion of the owners of houses in Ulster were not large landowners. They did not belong to the class who had been, almost by universal consent, considered rapacious and animated by the worst principles of human nature. In the small towns the owners of houses were men who had laid by money, either in agricultural operations, or been successful small commercial operators. If the Bill, therefore, wore applied to the tenure of houses in Ireland, it would deal a very severe blow at a large amount of capital invested in houses, and would injuriously affect a large class of people whom it was not the interest of the State to injure—that was, the middle class—who had, to a great extent, invested their savings in the class of property with which this measure would deal. The Government had indicated the course they intended to take—and he (Mr. Macartney) thought it a very wise course—with regard to this Bill, nor did ho wish to detain the House further than to assure the Government that if they proposed to deal with this subject as it should be dealt with, not in the way of exceptional legislation, affecting Ireland alone, but by a general measure embracing both Eng- 1143 land and Scotland—for, after all, it was to a very great extent a question affecting capital equally throughout all the three countries—he and his hon. Friends from the North of Ireland would not look with disfavour upon any such measure as might be introduced to remedy such grievances as the tenants of Ireland had just right to complain of. Indeed, they would be prepared to welcome such a measure; and when it was introduced he earnestly hoped that they might be able to extend to it every possible support.
§ MR. CROMPTON
said, he had great sympathy with the Bill and its proposals, as he thought it a Bill of so moderate a character that any Liberal might support it; but he had great difficulty in making up his mind to support the second reading of the Bill after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland; because, from his speech, he understood the right hon. Gentleman agreed with the principle of the Bill, and practically promised that the Government would take up the question. In his (Mr. Crompton's) opinion, the Bill did not, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen) had said, create a double ownership in land, but simply gave justice where justice was needed. It proposed to give to the tenant the property which belonged to him, instead of allowing the landlord to confiscate it. He could not either see any injustice in the proposal that the landlord should compensate the tenant in the circumstances contemplated in the measure, which would not introduce a much greater change than was effected in England by the Agricultural Holdings Act, which vested the right to a building in the tenant who had erected it, and gave him the right to remove it, if the landlord was unwilling to buy it. He was surprised to find how easily the provisions of the Act of 1870 could be adapted to the present case. The only point in which he agreed with the late Attorney General for Ireland was that the present Bill ought not to be applicable to yearly tenancies; and it might be argued with some fairness that the Bill ought not to be applicable to the case of town holdings occupied for less than a certain term, say five years. He was strongly in favour of the principle of the Bill; but he hoped that the Motion for 1144 the second reading would not be pressed; because he thought that the Government ought not to be hampered in the course which they proposed to take with reference to the subject-matter of the measure and cognate questions. Believing, therefore, that the very best measure possible in the direction of the Bill would be carried out by the Government, he felt he could not desert his Party; and therefore he should support the Government.
§ MR. TUITE
said, that in the town of Mullingar, which was owned by one landlord, when the old leases fell in, rents were raised as much as 35 per cent. The process by which rents were extracted was this. When a lease lapsed, the tenant was asked to make an offer to the landlord or his agent. That offer, in the first instance, did not come up to the agent's wishes, and he therefore compelled the tenant to make a further offer, and so it went on until the tenant was by force of necessity obliged to bid up to what the landlord considered the proper amount; in consequence of that the prosperity of the town of Mullingar was much retarded, and though not mentioned in the list of towns by the hon. Member for North Sligo, it was, he could assure the House, one of the worst treated towns in Ireland under the cruel system that at present prevailed. He would give them an illustration. A short time ago the lease of a tenant in Mullingar fell in. The rent was £29 a-year, and. the tenant expended some £400 on the property. Upon the expiration of the lease the tenant was called upon to make an offer, and all offers were refused until they reached £40; and after the new lease was drawn the Poor Law Valuator under the Poor Law Commission visited the town, and the valuation, which was £16, was only raised to £18, which, however, was a strange contrast to the rent put on by the landlord. To show the generosity of the town landlords in Ireland, ho would mention what occurred in his own town a short time ago. The Town Commissioners required a place to hold their meetings, and they applied for the use of the Market House. Consent was given on the understanding that politics would be excluded; and he need hardly inform the House that the Commissioners rejected the offer immediately. Now, while he agreed with the Bill before the House, he considered it fell 1145 far short of what he would like to see, as he would like it to deal with the revision of rents, and to embrace a clause for the appointment of a Commission, similar to the Land Commission, for the purpose of fixing fair rents, and, if possible, to abolish the leases which had been obtained through fraudulent means. He had stated he had hoped that the Chief Secretary would have offered them as an alternative a reference to a Select Committee on the question, or have announced the intention of the Government to bring forward a measure themselves; but now that he had refused to consent to that arrangement he sincerely hoped that those hon. Gentlemen who represented Scotch and English constituencies, which were as badly treated as Ireland, would support the measure of his hon. Friend the Member for West Mayo.
said, the only reason he had for thus presenting himself before the House at this early stage of his Parliamentary history was the great interest felt in the question by the constituency he had the honour of representing. A considerable number of men amongst the class he had the honour to be connected with—namely, the Northumberland miners—had long cherished the laudable desire which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary mentioned—that of becoming owners of their homes. To achieve this end they were strict in their adherence to the principles of sobriety and self-denial. Having saved sufficient money, many of the men whom he had in view had built houses for their own use; but, unfortunately, they had been unable to acquire the freehold of the ground upon which their homes stood, and their leasehold tenure of the ground would expire in some cases in 40 years, and in others in 60 or 65. When the leases of these people terminated they found their rents raised, in consequence of the increased valuation of their holdings, due to their own industry, and to no effort of the landlord.
§ COLONEL BROOKFIELD
asked, as a point of Order, whether the observations of the hon. Member were in Order when they were discussing a measure relative to Ireland?
said, he was fully sensible the Bill was an Irish Bill; and 1146 he was only sorry the provisions of the Bill were so exclusively confined as they were. He should have been glad if its scope could have been made more far-reaching than it was, and that it had embraced England and Scotland as well as Ireland. He could not put from his mind the fact that in dealing with such a measure as this they were only tinkering with a kind of legislation which must shortly come before Parliament in a more comprehensive shape. The whole question of land tenure, owing to the oppression of the people of this country, must shortly come up for the consideration of Parliament. Believing, however, that the foundation of this Bill was to be found in principles of justice and equity, he would be violating pledges given to his constituents if he did not declare his intention to go into the Lobby in support of it, and thereby show by his vote that they desired to accentuate the principles contained in the provisions of the Bill.
§ MR. FOX
said, he would not at this stage of the debate discuss the general principles of the Bill; but would address himself more directly to the necessity there was for some such legislation as was proposed by the Bill. The town of Queenstown was built upon property owned by two landlords. One of these landlords was or had been very prominently before the country as a very energetic member of the so-called Loyal and Patriotic Union; but he had acknowledged that property had its obligations, for he granted a considerable piece of land for a graveyard, so that his tenants might have the questionable consolation that when they had been starved to death they should, at least, lay their bones in their native soil. The other landlord was connected with the Rushbrook family. The leases in the principal business part of the town would expire before very long. He altogether dissented from the opinion of the Chief Secretary when he said that tenants of property in towns could not create or enhance the value of their holdings as did the tenants of the agricultural holdings. In Queenstown it might be urged that as a lease ran out the tenant had no further claim, and that when he took the lease he took it on an undertaking that his interest was to cease with its term; but there was an implied condition that the tenant should have the first claim to 1147 a renewal of the lease. As the leases fell out the tenants had to apply to the Estate Office; and the agent of the estate had invariably put on a considerable increase on the ground rent, varying from 300 to 3,000 per cent, and also saddled certain very ponderous conditions on the tenants. Cases were known where the old ground rents of £2 10s. were increased to £15, and houses that used to be rented at £40, and were in very good condition, good enough to last for 20 years, became the property of the estate; and should the tenant complain or urge a claim, an architect visited the house, and if there was the slightest excuse for it, an order was given that the tenant, should he continue, must undertake a very large outlay, and an exorbitant increase of rent was demanded. The tenant had not even the right to build in accordance with the requirements of his business. A uniform plan was fixed upon by the architect of the estate, and the tenant must follow it blindly. Then the tenant must insure the premises; and the agent of the Insurance Company was the agent of the estate. Should the place be burned down the tenant could not claim the money, for the latter was spent by the estate to rebuild the house, and any deficiency must be made up by the tenant. In all these leases the tenant undertook not to question the title of the landlord to the estate; and that had a significance in this case, for the majority of the tenants knew that the houses to which they had a just claim were built by their fathers and grandfathers at a time when it was never imagined that the name of Rush-brook would be associated with the ownership of property there. When such a state of affairs existed as this, he thought there was urgent necessity for some such legislation as that contemplated by the promoters of the Bill under discussion. Some hon. Members opposed to the Bill might argue that the town had increased in value and wealth, and therefore the ground rents should increase also. In the case of Queenstown it was a notorious fact that the value of property and that of business had depreciated fully 1,000 per cent within the past 20 years. Queenstown depended nearly altogether on the shipping. In the old time there were wooden sailing ships, when long voyages were made, the result being that upon the arrival of 1148 the vessel new clothes had to be purchased by the crew and passengers, and also ship materials. At that time, also, invalids used to frequent Queenstown, and were a source of profit to the town; but the tide of emigration put an end to that. As steam vessels superseded the wooden sailing ships, emigration, he was proud to say, had almost ceased; but the invalids had not gone back to Queenstown, so that on a moderate calculation they could see that the business of the town had depreciated by at least 1,000 per cent; and yet in face of that fact the rents were being increased from 300 to 3,000 per cent. As many leases would expire in a few months he hoped they would pass the Bill, for it was but poor consolation to the leaseholders of Queenstown to have very soothing and unctuous expressions of sympathy, whilst the redress that they needed and demanded was denied them.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
said, that because there had been a paucity of English Members in this discussion, and because he represented a constituency in which the evils so generally complained of existed with perhaps greater acuteness than in any other part of the Kingdom, he thought it right to make a few observations upon this Bill, which sought to remedy evils existing in Ireland. He did not desire to go into voluminous details, nor to discuss any deficiencies in the drafting of the Bill, for the Committee stage was the proper time when that should be done. On behalf of his constituents he supported the principle embodied in the Bill, and which was of importance to Cornwall no less than to other parts of England and Scotland. The principle was a plain and simple one, and he did not suppose that anyone would for a moment doubt the justice of that principle. The principle was simply this—that those who spent their money and invested their labour and made improvements on the land in English towns should, at any rate, have the benefit of their labour, investment, and improvements. The justice of the principle had been admitted by the Government. It was not only in the great towns, but in the small towns, such as those comprised in his own particular division of Cornwall, that the operation of such a Bill as this was required. Whilst admitting the principle of the measure, the Chief 1149 Secretary for Ireland had declined to support the second reading. It would greatly relieve him (Mr. Conybeare) and many of his hon. Friends who, like himself, sat below the Gangway, if the Government could see their way to consent to the second reading, with a view to the matter being subsequently referred for consideration by a Select Committee. This was only one branch of a great and important question, and he was happy to think that Members on both sides of the House had expressed themselves confident of dealing in a comprehensive manner with the Land Question as it affected the Three Kingdoms. It was certainly not with pleasure that those who sat in his part of the House found themselves on numerous occasions going into the opposite Lobby from that in which the Government voted; but they could not consistently vote against a principle which, as in the case of the present Bill, they believed to be right and just; and, therefore, if the Government could not see their way to assent to the second reading, he and others would be forced to vote in the other Lobby. The argument of "declining population" had been brought forward by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and it had been urged as a reason for the dilapidated condition of house property in certain towns. He and others complained, however—and they could prove their contention—that in the great cities, where the argument of declining population could have no weight, there were found equal evils arising from the system of leasehold tenures. This was abundantly shown in the evidence of the Commission on the Housing of the Poor. It had also been contended that freedom of contract existed to a much greater extent in towns than in the country, and that, therefore, it was right to interfere with agricultural holdings, whereas it was not fair to interfere with freedom of contract as it existed in towns. He was not sufficiently familiar with the relations of landlords and tenants over the water to speak about them; but, speaking for his own country and for his own constituency, he could point out instances where, owing to absolute ownership claimed—and claimed with the sanction of the laws of this country—it was perfectly preposterous to assert that there was freedom of contract between business men, artizans, and la- 1150 bourers, who were bound to live in the place where they earned their livelihood, on the one hand, and the owners of the soil on the other. There were two principles embodied in our Land Laws which were opposed to the interests of the great majority of the population of the country. The first was that owners had the absolute right to say—"We can do as we like with our own. We deal with our lands as we have a right to do, on commercial principles; and we, therefore, demand that you shall accept our terms as to the tenure on which you shall enjoy the occupation of a bit of our land, and if you do not accept our terms you may emigrate to some foreign clime, or go wherever else you like." That was manifestly unfair. If a man was honest and hard-working, why should he be compelled to emigrate to some foreign country simply because he could not accept preposterous and unjustifiable terms? And why, because his business compelled him to stay in a certain place, should he be forced to comply with those conditions that were required of him? The other principle was worse than that. Whatever money, whatever labour a tenant chose to invest in the soil of another, belonged ipso facto to the owner of the soil, unless that owner chose to give him compensation. True, the Agricultural Holdings Acts introduced certain exceptions; but every farmer he spoke to and askod—"Have you found the Agricultural Holdings Act of any real service?" answered "No." These Agricultural Holdings Acts had been proved to be a delusion and a snare, except in a few limited cases. So far as he (Mr. Conybeare) was aware, there was no legal liability on the part of any owner of land to give one farthing compensation to those who had enormously enhanced and increased the value of his land. He was not now speaking of what was called the unearned increment, but of the deliberate investments of pounds, shillings, and pence—investments which added enormously to the value of the property of the owner. Yet after doing all this the investment became confiscated. He (Mr. Conybeare) did not wish to indulge in hard terms; but he maintained that anyone who said that this principle of confiscation was a just one, and ought to be maintained in the law of our country, was most unreasonable. In his own constituency, in North- 1151 Western Cornwall, the evil was immensely increased. It had been until very recently impossible for poor miners and others who had invested the earnings of a lifetime in building on pieces of land—it had been impossible for them in most cases to obtain a term of years. They could only retain their holdings upon the "three-life lease;" and upon the dropping of these lives—it might be 10 or 15 years—their holdings went away from them. Every penny, every stone that they had put on the land went back to the owner. True, they might retain the property longer by paying an increased rent, or by bidding against somebody else at auction in the open market. Everything otherwise went to the owner of the soil. He ventured to think that this was a principle the law should not countenance for one moment. It went to the root of the whole question, and he could not go into the Lobby to vote against a principle which he believed was opposed to a gross injustice. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen) had told them that it was undesirable to establish a dual ownership of houses when they saw the inconvenience which the dual ownership of land created. At present, however, they had single ownership practically in property belonging to two persons; and if a man built a house on the land of another person, and that other person calmly converted to his own use the house so built, was not that a practice more inconvenient and injurious to all classes in this country than would be a system by which the ownership of the house on the one hand and the ownership of the land on the other should be discriminated and apportioned to two owners respectively? He would only add that, in the interests of every class, and especially in the interests of his own constituents, with whom this was the burning question of the day, he could not oppose the second reading of this Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TERASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE)
I shall confine myself very strictly to the immediate subject of this Bill. It is no -wonder that there should be a tendency to widen the debate, and to make it embrace general principles; but I say that matters of great public interest are not really raised in the question now at issue. This is a Bill relating to the 1152 tenure of houses in towns in Ireland, and is, therefore, geographically restricted. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has stated with truth that it is not possible for us to accept the second reading of this Bill. I will state the reason which particularly weighs with him, and with the Government and myself, for declining to accept the second reading. My right hon. Friend has not done it on the ground that there is no case for consideration; on the contrary, he has admitted expressly that there is a case for consideration. The reason why we cannot accede to this Bill is as follows:—It alleges that there is in Ireland hardship on the part of the tenant in towns which calls for remedy. Our answer to that is, if there is hardship in Ireland on the part of the tenant in towns with respect to improvements he may make on his dwelling, that hardship, so far from being exceptional and peculiar to Ireland, is felt to a much greater extent in England and in Scotland, because the amount of hardship depends, in a great degree, on the strength and the vigour of the principle of growth in towns. It is in growing towns that there is a great tendency to make improvements; and as the principle of growth in towns is far greater and more vigorous both in England and Scotland than it is in Ireland, the grievance, whatever it may be, is far greater in England and Scotland than it is in Ireland. But, so far from asserting that that grievance ought not to be entertained in regard to England and Scotland, I admit it is a most proper subject to be examined into. But what I say is that we ought not to decide a question for England and Scotland upon a Bill that is brought in for Ireland. The House ought not to give its decision unawares. My hon. Friend said he wished to bring in the thin end of the wedge. To bring in the thin end of the wedge might be quite right upon certain occasions; but I think it is a sound principle that you should never bring in the thin end of the wedge unless you are also prepared for the thick end of the wedge. The thick end of the wedge is, in my opinion, the case of England and Scotland; and my sole proposition in objecting to this Bill is this—that we ought to have the case of England and Scotland before us fairly raised on its own merits, and ought 1153 not to decide it unawares and blindfold in dealing with an Irish Bill. That is the objection I have to the second reading of this Bill on the part of the Government. It must be borne in mind that in regard to the Irish Land Act of 1870 the Government always founded themselves on the exceptional circumstances of Ireland, and the exceptional absence from freedom of contract in that country. We admit there is a case for consideration; and a question has been asked whether we are willing to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee on the subject. My right hon. Friend near me has expressed a disinclination to that course, having mainly in view the expectation that might be entertained that the Government would be held responsible for the recommendations of the Select Committee. We are perfectly willing to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee for the examination of this question, subject to two reservations. The first of these reservations is that we should wish to consider carefully whether, if a Select Committee is appointed, it ought not to be appointed for the Three Kingdoms, and should not embrace the stronger parts of the case as well as those which are less strong. I am not willing at the present moment to bind the Government to undertake the conduct of that Select Committee. That is a question which it would be necessary to consider further, because hon. Members well know that it is necessary for us not only to consider the merits of the various questions raised, but also the means which we have in our hands within the limited time at our disposal. Subject to those two reservations, we are willing to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee, either upon the case of the Three Kingdoms, or upon the case of Ireland, if we should be unable to arrange it for the Three Kingdoms. But if we could deal with it in relation to the Three Kingdoms, I think it would be preferable. In my opinion, there is nothing to make it difficult or inconvenient to deal with the question as a whole; and from an inquiry instituted on a sufficiently broad basis, and impartially conducted, I think great advantage would arise to the inhabitants of the three countries. I hope that intimation may possibly remove a subject of difference among us, because our 1154 admission that there is a case proper to be dealt with is as frank and unequivocal as is the objection we feel to the particular manner of approaching that case which would be involved in the second reading of this Bill.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
said, the Prime Minister had informed the House that he had no objection to a Select Committee being appointed to consider this question, with two reservations. One might have expected, if that was the course which the Government were prepared to take on this question, that they should have heard it a great deal earlier in the debate, because if the Government had made that statement earlier in the debate the House would probably not have had to spend a good deal of Parliamentary time in the elaborate discussion of particular cases. It seemed to him that the mind of the Government on large and important questions was gradually made up as the debate proceeded. That was to say, when Notice of an important subject was brought forward in that House by any hon. Member, Her Majesty's Government were not to be the Leaders of the House, but were to be led by what they might hear in the course of the debate. That was not the usual course, and certainly it was not advisable that it should become the common course in that House. If an inquiry was to be made into this matter, it was necessary they should understand from the Government upon what principle that inquiry was to be made, and it was most desirable, if a Select Committee was to be appointed, that they should have a distinct intimation from the Government whether it would take charge of the Committee. There could be no doubt that this question was one of great public importance, and it was most undesirable that this matter should be referred to a Select Committee without having a definite and certain idea that the Government of the day proposed to deal with it on the Report of the Committee. He understood from the Chief Secretary that they were there to consider a question of that kind on the footing that political economy had long ago been banished to some distant place. That statement coming from the right hon. Gentleman did not astonish him; but it certainly did astonish him when the right hon. Gentleman went on further to say that, although political eco- 1155 nomy had been banished to some distant place which he did not name, common sense still survived. Were they to understand that political economy had been banished to this distant region that was not named because political economy was inconsistent with common sense, and that common sense would prevail in this country even more than it had prevailed for some time past? If that was not the meaning of the Chief Secretary, he was unable to guess what the meaning of that extraordinary sentence was. The statement was hardly consistent, because, though political economy had been banished, he did not suppose that even the Chief Secretary would contend that political economy was dead. They might banish political economy to Jupiter or Saturn, but political economy would be sure to hold her own. Was the principle on which this Select Committee would conduct its proceedings some new and great principle, or simply a principle of expediency for dealing with a present and troublesome difficulty? It was important to know that before they proceeded to vote upon the question. There was another important matter which he thought had been left out of view in this debate, and it was, that if they were going to have an inquiry, they had better have one to see if they could not learn something from what took place in some parts of the United Kingdom for the purpose of guiding and helping them as to what might be required for the rest. Although some Scottish Members—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, his right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen), and the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. E. R. Russell)—had spoken, it was not to be expected that those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, though representing Scottish constituencies, knew very much about the mode in which land was obtained for the purpose of building in Scotland, and he thought that every Scotchman who knew anything about that matter would repudiate altogether the idea that their mode of taking land for building purposes in Scotland should be set aside by anything that could be invented by this Select Committee, or by the Government, for improving the mode of taking land for building in Ireland and England. He had sometimes been told that he came from a country 1156 whose law was barbarous. Well, it was said jocularly, because they did not understand their legal terms, some of which were very good Latin. In his country there was a very excellent mode of enabling people to take land for the purpose of building. They were very Conservative in Scotland. ["No, no!"] Oh yes; they were Conservative in their proceedings, though not in their politics—and their mode was one derived from ancient times, and was essentially feudal in its nature. It was unquestionably, however—and he thought when he had described it Members would agree with him—the best mode for taking the land for permanent building. It was that when a man desired to get land on which to erect a dwelling-house, with ground attached or not, he took what was called a feu, and became in name only vassal of the person from whom he received his right. He paid for that land so taken what was practically an annual rent; but the land was really a grant in perpetuity, no one being able to wrest it from him. It was obvious that a person giving up his land in perpetuity must be entitled to some security for Ms feu duty, and that security was that the feuar agreed beforehand to erect buildings of a certain value, and that these buildings should be maintained in all time coming. The only right the superior retained was the right, if the buildings were allowed to deteriorate to such an extent as to cease to be a security for the feu-duty, or if the duty were not paid, to enter on possession of the subjects again, and he presumed no one would say that that was anything but an equitable and reasonable arrangement. Not only so, but the vassal had a right at any time to sell his property and call upon the superior to take the purchaser as his feuar. They had thus no difficulty in Scotland, and the Prime Minister and other Gentlemen who had visited Scotland would have observed how, in the villages and small towns, men who had become somewhat prosperous, and were able to put by a little money to enable them to build a house, were always able to find suitable sites and build houses which were models of comfort and convenience. ["No!"] Well, there might be some isolated cases of difficulty, such as occurred in Ireland in the Liberal, but not in the Conservative, parts of the 1157 country. It was so much the interest of the proprietor to give such feus that there was no difficulty about them except in the large towns, where, of course, some difficulty would always be felt. It had been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman that it was desirable to establish in the mind of every head of a family the sentiment of home. That was right if the circumstances were suitable. But in very large towns the population which lived in small houses were necessarily dependent for their subsistence upon the wages they obtained from suitable work, and in immense towns like Glasgow, Liverpool, and London it might be a grievous and intolerable burden for a man to have a house of his own if it was not near his work. It would be better for him to be a tenant and to be able to move his family any time it might suit him. This Bill presented many points suitable for a Select Committee; but ho would again impress on the right hon. Gentleman the fact that two things were essential in order that an inquiry should be held. In the first place, they should have some distinct statement of the principles upon which the Government proposed the matter should be dealt with; and, in the second place, the Government should themselves take the responsibility of the conduct of that Select Committee, without which its deliberations would be of no value. The question was undoubtedly of great public importance, and it would be most un-desirable that it should be gone into by a Select Committee at all without their having a definite idea that the Government proposed to deal with it on the Report of the Committee, and would take the responsibility for the legislation that might be brought in.
§ MR. HALDANE
said, it had not been his intention to trespass on the attention of the House; but he had found himself at one with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Edinburgh on one point, and that was that he would desire some explanation of the scope of the inquiry which might be made by the Select Committee suggested. He rose also on behalf of those who, like himself, were interested in this question, not simply from the point of view of the Bill, but from the point of view of the redress of those general grievances which they held could only be redressed by leasehold 1158 enfranchisement. There were two questions before them—the grievance and its remedy. The grievance was practically admitted; nor had it, he thought, become a Party question. And anyone who had studied the speeches of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) must have observed that he had taken up the whole subject of leasehold enfranchisement, and, with that marvellous power of transformation with which he was gifted, had induced the whole Conservative Party to take it up. But the question of the remedy was quite another matter. It was his intention, when he came into the House, to give a silent vote against the Bill, not because he did not approve its objects, but because he believed the remedy ought to be of a much more sweeping character. The principle of the present Law of Tenure was that the landlord should hand over a piece of ground for a time, and that at the end of that period it should revert to him with all the buildings upon it. He was afraid to talk of "freedom of contract," because that was the shibboleth of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and he was afraid ho might mispronounce it. But he would ask—What freedom of contract was there in the case of a man who came forward and paid for what was a monopoly in the hands of another man, and only got it upon certain terms? The remedy—and he recommended hon. Gentlemen opposite to refer to the utterances of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington on the subject—the remedy for the grievance appeared of a very simple nature. They should abolish leasehold tenure—or at least put it in the power of every person holding under leasehold to convert that tenure, upon just and equitable terms, into a freehold. It was not by tinkering at the ancient Land Laws of the country that they could hope to meet the requirements of the time. It was by reforms of a sweeping nature, which could only take place if those who entered upon the work were prepared to act, not only in a thorough manner, but in accordance with the principles of justice. Therefore, if they were to pass a law on this subject which should enable men to get rid of their leaseholds and become freeholders on terms of proper compensation, he would welcome such a measure; but this Bill proposed nothing of 1159 the sort. It only applied the principle of the Irish Land Act of 1870 to house tenure. But the principles of that Act were only applicable to, and were designed for, agriculture tenure—a class of holding entirely different from the leasehold tenure of towns. He therefore objected to the Bill, not because hon. Gentlemen opposite had not made out their case, but because the remedy they proposed was not a thorough and sufficient remedy. Let them adopt leasehold enfranchisement as a substitute for what was here proposed, or let them refer the whole question to a Select Committee, and if the Prime Minister-was prepared to make the scope of the Committee wide enough to embrace the whole question of leasehold enfranchisement, then he would cordially and cheerfully support it. If not, his only alternative, holding, as he did, that the proposition of the Bill was unsound and legally untenable, was to vote against it.
§ MR. CRILLY
desired to say with reference to the sympathetic statement of the Prime Minister that he admitted the propriety of the two reservations he had put before them—namely, first, that the pressure of work placed upon Government at the present time prevented them from giving attention to the conduct of the Committee; and, secondly, that England and Scotland should be included in the inquiry of the Committee. Their only reason for objecting to it was the fear that the Committee would not get to work quickly enough. They believed, however, that the Committee would soon get to work, seeing that his hon. Friend the Member for North Galway had on the Order Book a Motion referring to this subject on Tuesday next, and he had no doubt the Government would be able to appoint the Committee. He therefore desired, by the indulgence of the House, to withdraw the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.