§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRE-LAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
In proposing the second reading of this measure—the second of those Bills which, in the opinion of the Government, are immediately necessary for the better management of Irish affairs—I confess I am conscious that I am approaching a task which the House will be somewhat reluctant to undertake, not merely on account of the enormous labour which has been thrown on our shoulders this Session, but because the very words "Irish Land Bill" carry with them something ominous and of evil augury. There have been within the memory of every man who hears me, and within the Parliamentary experience of many of us, no less than two Bills brought forward which purported to be a final settlement of the Irish Land Question. Those two Bills were fully discussed, and, though passed by great majorities, the great problem which they were finally to settle remains at this moment more unsettled than at any previous period in the history of Ireland. I do not think there need be much doubt as to the causes which produced the previous failure of land legislation. To most of us on this side of the House it appears that the principles on which the Act of 1881 was based were in themselves fundamentally erroneous; but, without dwelling on that which is more or less a matter of controversy, it is clear that other causes have been at work which would have made even a better Bill than the Land Bill of 1881 rather difficult to carry into successful effect. Unfortunately for the fair discussion of the Irish problem, the Land Question raises two very different political issues. We have at the same time to deal with an economic revolution and a political revolution, and the economic revolution and the political revolution act and re act 373 upon one another. A large number of persons who desire to see the separation of the English and Irish Government think that the best way to obtain that political end is to destroy the Irish landlords, and a large number of persons who see their advantage in destroying the Irish landlords supposed that the best way to obtain that object is to destroy the political connection between England and Ireland. And these two cross-currents have been so acting and re-acting that it is scarcely possible to attempt in a fair and impartial spirit to discuss the question without finding ourselves at once plunged in endless controversy with regard to the merits and the demerits of Irish landlords. The Bill which I propose very shortly to describe to the House does not profess to be a rival to the other two great measures I have mentioned—the Acts of 1870 and 1881. We do not profess by this Bill to attempt to settle the Irish Land Question. This is an amending Bill, not a Bill for altering the whole system with which it deals. We take that system as we find it, amended by the Act of 1870 and again by the Act of 1881, and we fix our attention upon what we conceive to be the grievances, and in some cases the injustices, in the practical working of these measures, and we have set ourselves to the best of our ability to remedy these grievances and put an end to these injustices. It will be convenient if I divide the very short description which I propose to give of the Bill under two or three heads. In the first place, there are a certain number of what I may describe as miscellaneous provisions amending the existing Irish Land Act. The first of these miscellaneous provisions is that which relates to the date from which judicial rents shall run. Under the existing Irish Land Law a tenant may apply in 1886 to have a fair rent fixed, and his application may not be adjudicated upon until 1887, and from the date of that adjudication the rent fixed by the Court runs. We think that an injustice.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
We propose, therefore, that henceforward the fair rent shall run, not from the date of the adjudication, but from the date of the application by landlord or tenant. The second of these miscellaneous provisions 374 refers to the grievances of middlemen. Under the existing law the middleman may find himself in this position—that his sub-tenants may go into Court to have a fair rent fixed, and may have them reduced to such a point that the middleman may find that he has to pay a larger rent to the head landlord than he receives from the sub-tenants. The Cowper Commission proposed that this grievance should be met by allowing the middleman to treat that part of the land sub-let as a separate entity and hand it back to the head landlord. We do not think that this is fair. We have therefore laid it down that in those cases where the rent from the sub-tenants is loss than the rent which he gives to the head landlord he shall have power to surrender his interest, but that he shall only exercise that right in respect of his interest taken as a whole, and not of any part of it arbitrarily selected. We consider that a fair and equitable arrangement for dealing with the grievances of which the middleman complains. The third of these miscellaneous provisions is that which deals with town parks. We do not propose to alter the principle on which the Land Act of 1881 was framed. We recognize, as the Act of 1881 recognizes, that certain allotments near towns ought not to be treated as agricultural holdings but rather as accommodation land. In the practical working of the Act of 1881 there arose a certain number of cases intermediate between agricultural holdings on the one side and the accommodation land on the other. It is difficult to say to which class they ought to belong, and it is alleged that in the Land Court considerable injustice has arisen. This case cannot, in our opinion, be met by mere definition, and we therefore propose to deal with it by giving to the Court greater discretion in deciding whether any particular parcel of land is or is not to be described as a town park. We hope by this means to get rid of the difficulty and avoid a substantial grievance. Then, Sir, the fourth of these miscellaneous clauses deals with the rates paid by the landlords upon holdings under £4 valuation. Both in England and in Ireland the landlord is expected to pay the rates upon holdings of this kind. This was simply on the ground of public convenience. It was simpler to levy the 375 rates on a single individual than to go round to all the small tenants and collect from them separately the small amount of their rates. There could be no possible objection to the system as far as the landlords were concerned so long as the landlord gets the rent on which those rates are to be paid. But when we are dealing with a state of society in which a landlord often finds that he does not got the rents, you evidently commit a very groat injustice in compelling him to pay the rates due in respect of those rents. Therefore, we propose in Clause 51 to remedy this grievance, and to relieve landlords from paying rates in those cases where they have not received their rents.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think so. I do not think in the other cases the landlord has to pay the whole rate. Our object is to deal with the cases under £4. These may be regarded as the minor miscellaneous provisions of the Bill, I now come to the more important ones, with which I shall deal briefly. Clause 1 deals with the question of leaseholders. As the House is probably aware, the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has several times brought in a Bill by which he proposed that the leaseholders should be given the full advantage of the Act of 1881. We have adopted, broadly speaking, the principle which the hon. Member for Cork adopted in his Bill—that is to say, we have given the advantages of the Act of 1881 to those leaseholders who at the expiration of their leases would come under the operation of the Act of 1881. We have said to them, "Your tenancies shall now be treated on exactly the same terms as if your lease had expired when this act was passed." I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), in his speeches, if not in his land legislation, appears to consider that there is one class of contracts specially sacred—namely, those entered into by the leaseholders. But I may point out that he had already broken them in one important point. The essence of a lease is that, during its currency, the land should be let to the tenant on terms specified by it; and that when the lease comes to an end, the land reverts to the 376 landlord free of all charge. The second half of the leases so described were already destroyed by the right hon. Gentleman in his Land Act of 1881; because, under that Act, when the lease finished, the tenant became a tenant from year to year, and he had all the privileges of a tenant under that Act—namely, fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale. When, therefore, we included in the provision of this Act, these leases, we were merely completing the work began by the right hon. Gentleman, and we conceive that, on the whole, it would be for the advantage of all classes in Ireland that that work should be completed as soon as possible. With regard to the number of persons affected by our proposals, I am sorry that we have not got more reliable figures to offer to the House. There can be no doubt that the figures of the Cowper Commission are entirely erroneous. So far as I know, the only trustworthy statements that have been made on this subject are those which were compiled by Sir John Ball Green 12 years ago, and laid on the Table of this House. No doubt, the number of leaseholders have diminished considerably since then; but that only increases the discrepancy which exists between Sir John Ball Green's figures and those given by the Cowper Commission. My recollection of the Cowper Commission is that the number of leaseholders stated in their Report was about 150,000 in all. According to Sir John Ball Green's estimate, made 12 years ago, and subject to large diminution by lapse of time, the number was 113,000, of which the number of terminable leases which, I presume, were practically the same as those which would be covered by Clause 1 of this Bill—were 101,000, leaving, therefore, a little over 12,000 leases only which would not come under the operation of the clause as we propose it, and as was proposed before by the hon. Member for Cork in this House. These figures are important, because they correct a misapprehension which I believe is rather widespread. Then we propose clauses to strengthen the Court of Appeal on the Land Question in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) in the speech which he delivered on Friday night made a violent attack through the House of Lords on the Sub-Commis- 377 sioners and on the decisions they came to I soon after the Land Act was passed. He said that the Sub-Commissioners had been coerced by a Report of the House of Lords into fixing rents too high. On authority not less excellent than that of the right hon. Gentleman I have been informed that rents have been fixed in certain parts of Ireland far too low. I give no opinion on either of these statements, I am not called upon to form an opinion, and if I were I do not think I should be required to state it to the House. But the fact that the right hon. Member for Derby and others are of opinion that the Sub-Commissioners are not to be trusted forms a strong argument for strengthening the Court of Appeal and rendering it as efficient as possible. I now come to the fourth head, which may be described roughly as intended to give relief to purchasers under the Acts already passed to facilitate the purchase of land in Ireland. A certain number of the clauses under this head—Clauses 7 to 18—refer exclusively to what is known as Lord Ashbourne's Act. They are amending clauses of the Act of 1885. To describe them in detail would be unnecessary, but roughly speaking, their chief object is to facilitate the furnishing of that deposit without which a sale under the Act of 1885 cannot take place, and to apportion all charges upon estates so as not to press with undue and inequitable severity upon any farm so purchased. As lawyers in the House are aware it constantly happens when an estate is charged either with mortgage, a Government loan, or a family charge, not only is the whole estate liable, but each portion of the estate is liable, and if the persons in whom such a charge is vested and who are the beneficiaries refuse to come to an equitable arrangement and divide the charge upon the whole estate the operation of purchase is seriously interfered with. Such refusal would be very rare; but under this Bill we have provided against the possibility of its happening. I do not think it will be necessary to go into more detail upon these clauses, which I believe meet with general approval, and which Lord Spencer in the House of Lords said would be likely to meet with no resistance from those in this House who shared his opinions. Then I come to the clauses about which a question was asked to-night. The 378 clauses, I believe, are already drafted; but, at all events, they will be seen by hon. Members as soon as possible. I shall shortly say that we propose to deal with what are known as the purchasers under the Bright Clauses, the Land Act of 1870 and purchasers under the Glebe Land Act of 1869. Both those classes of persons have laid their grievances before us, and though we cannot go the whole length which they ask we can give some substantial relief, and the relief we propose is to place them on an equality with the purchasers under Lord Ashbourne's Act. Purchasers in the Bright Clauses are not precisely in the same position as purchasers under the Glebe Land Act. Purchasers under the Glebe Land Act are already put in the same position as purchasers under Lord Ashbourne's Act provided they pay all their arrears.
§ MR. DILLON
said, that that was not so, because the purchasers under the Glebe Land Act were obliged to borrow a large sum of money.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is so; but with regard to their relations to the Government they are put precisely in the same position, if they pay up their arrears. Purchasers under the Bright Clauses have no such advantage. We propose, in the first place, to put the purchasers under the Bright Clauses in the same position as the purchasers under the Glebe Land Act—that is to say, they are to be put in the same position as the purchasers under Lord Ashbourne's Act, or the Glebe Land Act, if they have paid up their arrears. Having thus put the Glebe Land purchasers and the Bright purchasers on the same footing, we propose to try a further provision to afford relief to those members of both classes who are debarred from taking advantage of the more liberal terms offered by the Treasury through the fact that they are in arrears. To these persons we propose the same relief—provided the tenants have paid up half their arrears the Board of Works may capitalize the debt as if the tenants had bought under Lord Ashbourne's Act. By these clauses we do afford very substantial relief to those who purchased under the Acts to which I have referred. There are certain subsidiary provisions for those who are described as purchasers of residues of glebe lands, which, I think, will be adequate, 379 though they do not give the same thorough amount of relief.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
May I ask whether anything is done for purchasers under the Land Act of 1881?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The clauses hitherto drafted do not propose to do anything; but that is an omission which, I think, we ought to remedy.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Does the right hon. Gentleman know how many purchasers there were under the Bright Clauses?
MR. A. J. BALPOUR
Seven hundred and two tenants purchased under the Act of 1870, and 731 under the Act of 1881. The loans to the latter amount only to some £240,000 and to the former about £700,000. Under the more favourable terms of the Act of 1885, the amount lent by the State and the number of purchasers are far in excess of the figures I have given to the House.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state what charge would be likely to be imposed upon the Treasury in consequence of these provisions?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I believe that in the case of the glebe purchasers the arrears amount to between £4,000 and £5,000. The relief consists substantially in diminishing the rate of interest by increasing the time during which the repayments are to be made. I pass from the head of purchase to the last head, to which I shall have to draw the attention of the House, which is also the most controversial—namely, that which deals with evictions. Clause 4, to begin with, substitutes a written notice for an execution of ejectment. The Cowper Commission, if my memory serves me rightly, recommended that the time of redemption during which a tenant should have power to resume his holding, after eviction had been declared against him, should run from the decision of the Court, and should not run from the time when he was evicted. The effect of that would be to shorten the time during which an arrangement could be come to between landlord and tenant. For that reason we have not accepted the recommendation of the Cowper Commission, The arrangement which we have proposed to the House is one which does not diminish by an hour the length of time 380 during which an arrangement is possible. The House is probably aware, or those who have directed any attention towards Irish land legislation are aware, that after a landlord has got a writ of ejectment against the tenant he proceeds, within a certain time, to serve that writ and to eject the tenant out of his holding, and that very often circumstances arise of a very painful kind which do not reflect very great credit upon the tenants concerned. I think the House will bear me out when I say that if these scenes are, I will not say wholly avoided, but materially diminished, a great thing will be done for the peace and prosperity of Ireland. [Cries of "No !"] There may be hon. Gentlemen who take a different view. Our clause will operate in this way. If a landlord wants to turn a tenant out of his holding at any time during the currency of the six months during which redemption is possible, he has, of course, to evict him under similar circumstances to those which attend evictions in the present state of the law. Some hon. Gentlemen will, therefore ask me—"What do you gain by putting off this period from the day on which the notice is now served to the end of the six months period of redemption?" and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who is to move an Amendment on the Motion which I shall have to make, repeats that question to me in an emphatic form across the Table. What we gain is this. If hon. Gentlemen will look at the Return of evictions now before the House they will see that now more than half the tenants who are evicted are immediately put back as caretakers. From investigations made, not by myself, but by previous Chief Secretaries, the conclusion has been arrived at, that of the total number of persons evicted at the beginning of the six months only about one-fourth are finally driven from their holdings at the end of the six months. Now, that calculation does not rest upon official statistics in the same manner as some of the other figures which I have quoted. But I think it is probably not far from the mark. A fourth is the lowest of two or three estimates, one of which goes so high as a seventh; so that if Clause No. 4 be carried, as I hope it will be, the result will be that only one-fourth of the people would be finally expelled, 381 under the circumstances to which I have briefly alluded, from their holdings, and an immense saving of suffering would thereby result to every single person concerned—landlordsor tenants, sheriffs, or policemen—connected actively or passively with the process of eviction.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in the Return with reference to evictions the number of caretakers who have been evicted is included?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, Sir. The persons referred to are persons who have been reinstated as caretakers or tenants; that is the phrase used. That is to say, these people have been made caretakers or tenants immediately after the evictions. The official Returns take no I notice of the arrangements between landlord and tenant during the currency of the six months, the upshot of which is, as I have said, that only one-fourth of the evicted are finally expelled.
§ MR. PARNELL
May I ask whether any Returns are given of persons who after being evicted have been returned to their holdings as caretakers, and who have subsequently been evicted as caretakers?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, Sir, I cannot give any information upon that point. The official Returns deal only with what occurred on the days of the evictions, with the persons evicted, and with those who afterwards were readmitted as caretakers. I now come to the clauses about which great controversy exists—that is to say, those which relate to equitable jurisdiction. They are Clauses 22, 23, 24, and so on. It is impossible to approach this question of eviction without saying something of the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland. I am sorry that I have got to do so, because the matter has been involved by frequent conflict both in and out of this House in so much Party heat that it is hardly possible to induce any hon. Gentleman to look at it in a perfectly candid and impartial spirit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, for instance, who loves to trample on the weak, and who regards a failing cause or an unpopular class as his natural prey, whenever he is dealing with any stage of the Irish Question, makes a vehement and violent attack upon the whole conduct of Irish landlords, judging them, as far as I can make out, from one 382 or two exceptional cases which can be conclusively proved to be entirely exceptional—such as the O'Callaghans. I am not going to make a defence of Irish landlords; but I do want to call the attention of the House to certain particulars which are too often forgotten when we are considering this class, so easy to abuse. The worst charge ever brought against an Irish landlord is that he exacts to the uttermost the legal obligation which you have sanctioned, and even the very worst landlords whom you have picked out as typically bad landlords have given some reductions on the judicial rents, the payment of which you have authorized. Now, why is it that this complaint which you make with regard to Irish landlords has not been made with regard to English landlords? The reason is this—the English landlord has relations other than those of a pecuniary character with his tenants. He has got other relations of a very different character, and, therefore, he naturally takes into account something more than the letter of his pecuniary bargain. You do not expect mortgagees, out of kindness of heart, to diminish the amount of liability to them, nor do you expect a money-lender to diminish the amount of the debts which are due to him. Ought you, therefore, to be so very harsh in your judgment upon the Irish landlord, when you have done your very best to put him into the position of a mere rent-charger or mortgagee? If you have insisted that he should simply be a mortgagee upon his own land, ought you to be so very severe upon him if he did what, as far as I can make out, he never does—namely, deal with his tenants as a money-lender, who replies to any request made to him that "business is business?" And observe what you have done to these unfortunate men. You have emphasized the difficulty of their position by leaving untouched all the debts which the landlord has to pay to his creditors, while you have cut down and diminished the debts which other people have to pay to the landlord. You make him pay the obligations which you relieve others from paying to him. Under these cirenmstances, I think the Irish landlord deserves some consideration at the hands of his critics, and I ask no more. He does not deserve to be treated as a robber simply 383 because he does that which you allow all the people to whom he owes money to do. No one will suspect me of encouraging Irish landlords to act harshly or unreasonably. Nothing I have ever said is capable of being interpreted in that manner. I have invariably held the language I now hold, that if Irish landlords act not merely according to principles of generosity, but according to their highest interests, they will not exact to the utmost farthing the rights which you have deliberately given them. As far as my observation has gone the very worst landlords who have been attacked in this House have not been unwilling to make abatement in the legal debts owing to them by their tenants. Those abatements may not have been such as would have been given by English landlords: but you have deliberately put the Irish landlord in a different position from the English landlord, and you ought not to be too severe in your criticism if, under temptation, the Irish landlord sometimes acts in a different manner. Our scheme, roughly speaking, is comprised under two different heads—one requires a tenant to go through bankruptcy to obtain the benefit of the Act, and the other does not require him to do so. Any tenant who, from any cause whatever, provided it be not his own act or default, cannot pay his rent, may go before a County Court Judge and obtain a stay of eviction; and, if the Judge thinks fit, he may have his debts to the landlord spread over such a length of time as may seem fitting and equitable to the Judge.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It will stay eviction. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have always expressed horror of eviction. In every case in which the failure of a tenant to pay rent is due to something other than his own act or default, he can obtain a stay of eviction, and have his payment spread over an indefinite period. But we are of opinion that that is not sufficient, and one reason why we think so is that this provision deals only with the debts of the tenant to his landlord, and not with his debts to the money-lender and other creditors. We therefore provide that if the tenant desires that his debts as a whole shall be dealt with, he shall have power to apply to his landlord to 384 go into bankruptcy and practically he shall have his debts liquidated. He may remain in bankruptcy for 18 months and at the end of that period he may be restored to his holding and relieved of the burden of debt which has hung round his neck. Some are of opinion, apparently, that the species of relief by bankruptcy ought to be given without bankruptcy. I do not mean to argue that point now; but I could not advise the House to adopt a course which, so far as I know, has not been adopted with regard to persons unable to fulfill their legal obligations in any country in the world. [An hon. MEMBER: India.] Well, any country in Europe. I have never been anxious to assimilate the Irish tenant to any race existing outside Europe. In no European country, so far as I know, has it ever been possible for a man to go into liquidation without also going into bankruptcy. We have, therefore, applied to Irish tenants a rule that is universal in all civilized countries. In one respect, as far as I know, our clause is far more favourable to the Irish tenants than is any bankruptcy law, because in ordinary bankruptcy all assets of the debtor are thrown into a common fund and treated alike. That is not the case under our Bankruptcy Clauses. The tenant is not only allowed to keep enough stock necessary to work his holding, for which there is an analogy in the Bankruptcy Act passed by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain); but would also preserve his tenant right, that which was put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian as the security of the landlord for punctual payment of rent. While we have followed the universal practice of civilized countries, so far as I know, with regard to bankruptcy before liquidation, we have treated this particular class of bankrupts with a degree of consideration which, as far as I know, is not to be found in the bankruptcy law of any other country.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, we shall be able to deal with that when the hon. Member comes to speak upon the question. I desire to call special attention to the pressure that is to be put upon the landlord to come to an, arrangement 385 with his tenant. If the landlord declines to come to an arrangement and insists upon keeping the rent too high, the tenant may drag him before the County Court Judge. The landlord then, when his debt is wiped out and he refuses to diminish a rent considered too high, will again have to go before the same Judge. The penalty on the landlord for pursuing that course is, in my opinion, so heavy, that when the landlord sees what is the opinion of a competent tribunal he will make haste to come to an arrangement and free himself from all difficulty. If we are to conceive a landlord so unreasonable that he refused to diminish the rent which the tenant pays under the Act of 1881, even then the clause will be entirely adequate to stop unreasonable eviction. These clauses may not come up to the desires of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but they certainly do carry out the object we have in view—namely, to stop harsh evictions. [Cries of "No!" and "Not one!"] Hon. Members will be hard put to it to substantiate so extravagant a denial. Hon. Members put forward as a remedy for the state of things existing in Ireland a rival scheme by which judicial rents would be lowered. That plan was put forward to meet difficulties caused by the fall in prices by the hon. Member for Cork, and it was supported by the whole strength of the Home Rule and Radical Opposition. But if there was no other objection to that scheme it did not cover the ground. The number of persons to be relieved by it was comparatively small, and in my opinion it is wholly unequal to meet the difficulties which have arisen now. The hon. Member for Cork only dealt with rents which had been fixed by the Court. In 1884 these numbered only 180,000 tenants. The total number of tenants is about 500,000, so that only one-third of the tenants would have been dealt with by the scheme, which last year was deemed adequate.
§ MR. PARNELL
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that the words of the Bill covered the leaseholders as well as the tenants. I have not the Bill with me; but I am speaking from memory, and that was my intention. At this distance of time I cannot remember how the intention was carried out.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If you deal only with the judicial rents fixed before 1885, which is the date named by the Cowper Commission as that at which prices so far fell as to make the Act of 1881 difficult to work, then the Bill of the hon. Member would have covered a very small proportion of the tenants of Ireland, and the hon. Gentleman's proposal would only have dealt with cases of inability to pay rent arising from the rent being too high. Our clause covers every instance in which, from any cause whatever other than the fault of the tenant, he is unable to pay his rent. The man who from other causes than the fall of prices was unable to pay his rent and ran the risk of being turned out of his holding and losing his tenant right would have received no relief from the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork; but he has relief under our Bill. We may, therefore, favourably compare our plan with the plan of the hon. Member for Cork, which the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian supported last year. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE: No, no!] Did not the right hon. Gentleman speak in favour of it? I thought he hurried back from Germany to support it. His Colleagues do not deny that they supported the hon. Member for Cork on the ground that it was necessary to deal with difficulties that had arisen owing to the fact that prices had fallen. I think their proposal was totally inadequate, because it did not cover the ground; and our proposal does cover the ground. Eight lion. Gentlemen opposite have accepted the proposal of the Cowper Commission for a quinquennial valuation of rents; but I am puzzled to reconcile that with the contention that the strain has been so great since 1885 that the case must be met without delay. Then, what becomes of your quinquennial system? If you propose that system it must be on the theory that for five years the tenant would be able to bear any variation in prices occurring during that period. Yet at the end of two years you come and say that the fall in prices is so great that there must be a revision. That disposes of the quinquennial system; or, at least, it shows that hon. Gentlemen do not believe in it. They are prepared to recognize that tenants who have only had their rents fixed two or two and a-half years ago are already so hard hit by the fall in prices that Parliament 387 must intervene without amoment's delay. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question of a somewhat personal character. When did he become a convert to the system of revising judicial rents? In. 1883 the hon. Member for Cork brought forward a Bill providing for a revision of judicial rents, which he described at that time as rack-rents, and he was resisted by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian in a speech of considerable eloquence and admirable sense, in which the right hon. Gentleman expressed his fixed determination not to revise those rents.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I confess I referred to the reply of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian rather than the speech of the hon. Gentleman himself.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
As I say, my remarks referred entirely to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and not to that of the hon. Member for Cork. I suspect the hon. Member for Cork had volunteered an attack on the rents fixed by the Sub-Commission, and hinted that he would like to have the rents revised, and that the right hon. Gentleman replied to him.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am not alluding to the hon. Gentleman. 1883 is not the last date with which we have to deal. The question of Irish land has come under the purview of hon. Gentlemen opposite long subsequently to that date. They tried to bring in a Land Bill in the spring of last year. Upon what rents did they base the purchase? They based them, not as I think they ought to have done on a valuation of the land as it stands, but on the judicial rents which had been fixed. They therefore again endorsed, and doubly endorsed, the decision of the Land Commissioners. I should like to know when the right hon. Gentleman opposite came to the conclusion that these contracts made in 1881, endorsed by themselves in 1883, re-endorsed in 1886, ought to be instantly broken without further delay? I have hinted to the House certain objec- 388 tions which we feel strongly to any plan for revising judicial rents. But the strongest ground yet remains to be indicated to the House. If you are now going to tear up the settlement of 1881 by the roots, can you ever again expect to attain any finality in Irish land legislation? I am one of those who hold that the condition of the Irish tenants will shortly again require the attention of Parliament. I have never concealed from the House that this scheme is a mere interim arrangement, and that in the immediate future a measure will be called for of greater finality. If the land purchase scheme be based upon the value of the holdings taken at the time when the scheme comes into operation, it is quite clear that the relief so afforded will be given in a far more adequate manner than by any system of the revision of judicial rents proposed from any quarter of the House; and if it is by that means and in that spirit that we approach the question, I am convinced we shall do more for the interests of the tenants themselves, for the finality and permanence of any scheme we may contrive, than if we were now to leave it to be understood that the fact that a certain proportion, comparatively inconsiderable, being hard hit, as I recognize they are, by the arrangements entered into since 1881, were, by such influences as they can bring to bear in this House, to upset an arrangement entered into with every circumstance of solemnity only six years ago. If that is to be our accepted policy, then I confess I should look forward to the future of the Irish Land Question with absolute despair, for I do not see how any Government, however strong, how any Bill, however ingenious, any scheme, however carefully surrounded by safeguards, will be able to stand the stress of time and those inevitable variations in price which have in so short a time, after the lapse of so few months, so utterly destroyed the Bill of 1881. I have now given in broad outline the plan of the Government. Let me repeat that we offer, and pretend to offer, no solution of the great Irish Land Question. That remains as the crux and difficulty for those who will have the responsibility of governing the country next Session. What we claim for this Bill is something more modest than that final settlement. We say that the evils it cures are real 389 evils, and that the cure it offers is an adequate cure—that it offers substantial relief to the tenants who have come into Court since 1885—and that we have done all this without, so far as I know, doing any injustice to any class of the community. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, I gather from their tone, regard this Bill with considerable contempt. They regard it as a small and inadequate installment to the demands which the Irish tenants make. [An hon. MEMBER: Nothing at all.] Well, Sir, the installment may, in their opinion, be very small—it may be nothing at all. But every man who has followed the course of legislation in this House—every man who cares to make himself acquainted with the laws which affect persons unable to fulfill their obligations in other parts of the United Kingdom—will admit that no larger or more generous offer has ever been made by any Government, and no Government has ever contemplated the possibility of making an offer so large and so generous. It is in the hope that this Bill, if it does nothing more, will enable us to tide over the social and economical difficulties which unfortunately assail Irish society until that larger measure is brought in to which we may look for a complete, or nearly complete, settlement of the agrarian question in Ireland—it is in that hope that I confidently recommend this Bill for a second reading to the favourable consideration of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)
I rise, Sir, to move, as an Amendment, the following Kesolu-tion:—That this House, taking into view the circumstances set forth in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1886 on the Land Acts of 1881 and 1885, and the recommendations of that Commission, is of opinion that no Bill for amending the Laws relating to land in Ireland can he satisfactory which shall not provide, not only for entitling leaseholders to the benefits of the Land Act of 1881, but also for affording such means for the revision of the judicial rents under that Act, as will meet the exigencies created by the heavy fall in agricultural values since the passing of the Act.It cannot fail to be with some feeling of relief that the House finds itself called 390 upon to approach the consideration of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has just explained. Hitherto this Session has been devoted mainly to a measure of which, I hope, it is not too much to say that, while exciting the deepest aversion in those who opposed it as unnecessary, unwise, and in some of its provisions iniquitous, it was, at the same time, regarded with dislike by the great majority even of those who were constrained by what they regarded as their duty to give it their support. The Bill which is now before us has this great advantage over that with which we have just parted—that there is a common agreement in all quarters of the House in approval of its general scope and purpose. May I go a little further, and say that I hope that in another respect there may be, in our discussion of this Bill, an improvement over our recent experience? I hope that there may not be so much opportunity for personal recrimination, and that we may have got for a time out of an atmosphere in which the very poor instrument of a tu quoque—often a tu quoque wholly unfounded and misapplied—may be made by the advocates of the Government measure to stand in the room of argument. It will be our duty to give this Bill a candid and fair consideration. If our criticism is frank and unsparing, it will, at least, be honest and fair; let the Government and their Friends endeavour, by serious defence and justification, to answer it. I have said that we agree generally with the main purpose of the Bill. By that I mean that we are all anxious that something should be done to modify such anomalies or inconsistencies as may be found in the present Irish Land Laws, and to remove any grievances arising from them. But a somewhat narrower and more definite description of the object of the Government has recently been given by the Prime Minister. Answering an allegation that they had shown some degree of vacillation in their conduct of the Bill through the other House of Parliament, Lord Salisbury said that they had been ready to receive criticisms and suggestions on minor points; but he said—We pointed out clearly what was the one object we had in view in the production of the Bill, the object from which we would not tur 391 aside—namely, the preventing of the harsh and unreasonable evictions which, in a certain number of cases, were unhappily taking place,Now, Sir, I am perfectly willing to accept that definition of one, at least, of the principal objects of the Bill; but I regret to say that, after a close examination of the clauses, I can see nothing in them which is likely to secure the accomplishment of that object. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the other night, in a speech which took the form—not unusual with him—of a prolonged catechism, triumphantly asked us whether the remedial measure of the Government would not stop harsh evictions? Unfortunately for the rhetorical effect of the right hon. Gentleman's question, some hon. Members on this side of the House had had time to read the Bill, and they promptly replied "No;" and in that opinion I entirely concur. The truth is, Sir, that, as I greatly fear, Her Majesty's Government have fallen in respect of this matter into an error precisely analogous to that which we allege against the Crimes Bill. Apart from our objections to the principal proposals of that Bill, it is our contention that it is not addressed to the real evil. We declare ourselves to be as strong friends of the cause of law and order as any hon. Member of the House; but we assert that the true course is to restore order by removing the springs of disorder, and to win back the sympathy of the people to the law by a scrupulously impartial administration of the law; and that a resort to forcible repression or to cunning legal devices will merely aggravate the mischief you intend to cure. It appears to me that a precisely similar observation is largely applicable to the present Bill. No doubt the public conscience has been deeply wounded by the spectacle offered in recent evictions. No doubt the scandal has been great when aged men, and sickly women, and starving children have been turned out on the hillside, to see the wretched cabin which was their home committed to the flames; when violence has been used in the attack and defence of houses; and when riot has only been prevented by the presence of brigades of constabulary and soldiers. But, desirable as it is to put a stop to the cruelty, the cost, and the danger to public safety involved in these scenes, I venture to say that it is not a sense of their inhumanity, or of their 392 danger, that has so deeply moved the public mind, as indignation that the law should enable such things to be done for the recovery of unfair, and even impossible, rents. You may avoid or postpone—which is all this Bill will do—the open brutality of a forcible eviction; you may huddle up in legal procedure the act of dispossessing a tenant; you may, in fact, deal with the consequence and not with the cause; with the accident and not with the essence; but if you do not do more, you will not advance one step nearer to a cure of the real cause of disturbance, or to giving satisfaction and relief to the sentiment, not only of Ireland, but of England and Scotland as well. Now, Sir, I shall have much to say, if the patience of the House will permit me, on the mode in which this Bill deals with the landlord's remedy against his tenant; but it will be convenient if, in the first place, I make some comments upon the subsidiary clauses of the Bill. The 1st clause deals with the case of the leaseholders, and the Amendment which I am about to submit to the House lays down as the first condition of any reform in the law that leaseholders should be admitted to the benefits of the Act of 1881. There is now substantial agreement on this question, at least among all practical men, and men with legislative or executive responsibility; although only six years ago Parliament declined to interfere so largely with the sacred right of contract. This shows how rapidly opinion now advances with the revolving years. But, although we are all agreed as to this, I must at once say that the manner in which it is proposed in this Bill to make the change is most unsatisfactory. What we all desire to do is to remove from the leaseholders the restriction which prevents them from being treated as "present tenants" under the Act, and from having the right of application for judicial rents and the other advantages open to a present tenant. What could be easier, therefore, and simpler than to enact, as the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) proposes in his Bill, that a leaseholder, if he shall so elect, shall be deemed to be a tenant of a present tenancy? But what is now proposed is that all such lessees, whether they desire it or not, shall, on this Bill becoming law, be deemed ipso facto to be in the same position as if their leases bad ex- 393 pired. Now, there are many of the existing leases which are most advantageous to the tenant. They constitute a valuable property; they are treated by banks as a sound security, money is lent upon them, and settlements have been made on the faith of them, and the rent payable under them may be less than the average of the judicial rents that have been fixed in the neighbourhood. Yet this Bill, in a clause which, if it has any intention, is meant to benefit the tenant, proposes that the lessee should be stripped of these advantages, and left naked and alone in the face of his landlord and the Court, which may proceed to fasten a higher rent upon him than that which ho now pays. The House will perceive how utterly inequitable this would be, and remonstrances against such a proposal have been urged by some of the stoutest sticklers for the sanctity of contract. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech alluded to the fact that provisions which would have had the same effect were contained in the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), under whose authority he actually shelters himself. I could not have believed it if I had not heard it with my own ears. Is this to be the reward of the Liberal Unionists for all their close and even passionate attachment to the Government? The hon. Member for South Tyroneis a genuine Irish Representative, and he has the advantage enjoyed by few, if any, of the Irish supporters of the Government, of having no connection with the landlord class—[Mr. T. M. HEALY: Or with Ireland; he is a Scotchman.]—At all events he is a genuine Irish Representative, and a firm supporter of the present Government in its present Irish policy. Yet when the hon. Member makes a most intelligible and reasonable proposal it is scouted and set aside, while the Government rush eagerly to copy the Bill and adopt the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork, whom and all his works it has been their principal business for many months to renounce. There is another part of this clause to which the right hon. Gentleman did not allude, but which deserves notice. I refer to the Proviso which excludes the tenant from certain advantages if there is an exhausted improvement on his farm. It runs as follows:—Provided that when, under the provisions of this section (Section 1), an application is made 394 to the Court to fix a judicial rent for a holding held under a lease, the Court shall disallow such application if the Court is satisfied that the landlord or his predecessors in title has or have made permanent improvements on the holding, the unexhausted value of which improvements is at the time of the making of such application not less than four times the yearly rent of the holding.Let the House observe what the effect of that would be. I will take a case in which the landlord some years ago expended a sum of money in building a house in pursuance of a covenant on account of which the tenant pays £30 instead of £20 a year. If at the moment when this Bill becomes law the house is valued at four times the whole rent, he will not get a farthing of abatement in respect of house or land. Is the fact of this additional £10 being payable in respect of the house any reason why the agricultural rent of £20 should not be revised? But what will happen? Not that the tenant will remain under his lease, with such advantages as it might possess; nor, on the other hand, that the Court in fixing a new rent will take into account, as it naturally would, the circumstances of this unexhausted improvement. His lease is to be taken from the tenant, but he must go on with the old rent, because when he comes into Court to have a fair rent fixed the Court "shall disallow" his application. He is placed, as it were, like Mahomet's coffin, between Heaven and earth, and may be said to be in the position of the animal which dies on land and cannot live in water. He is a leaseholder without a lease—a present tenant without a present tenant's rights. Why on earth, then, is he made a present tenant? I cannot believe that this provision can continue, in its present shape, to remain in the Bill, and I point this out not only as a matter important in itself, but also because, as I am informed, this Proviso would exclude a very large number of leaseholders who would otherwise get the benefit, such as it is, of this measure. A large portion of the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, is concerned with the amendment of the procedure under the Purchase Act of 1885. I will not say anything of these proposals; but, speaking for myself, I objected to the Act of 1885 at the time it passed, and I should now be very strongly opposed to any further extension of it, for this reason—that any 395 extension of the purchase system in a partial and sporadic and haphazard fashion could only have the effect of introducing confusion into confusion, heaping anomaly upon anomaly, and laying up future difficulties against the time when the whole question will have to be finally and generally dealt with. I will pass by the clauses relating to the enlargement of the Court of Appeal and the remission of rates, merely remarking that both these clauses will be strongly contested in Committee, and I come to the last of the subsidiary clauses which I shall notice—that, namely, which deals directly with evictions. I have already said that even if we could find some means of avoiding the physical hardships and moral cruelty to which tenants are often subjected in cases of actual physical eviction, we should not have advanced very far towards removing the causes of disorder and discontent in Ireland. But let us examine the proposals of the Government, and see whether they really make any substantial improvement in the law. Let me recount shortly what occurs when a landlord obtains a decree in ejectment for non-payment of rent. Formal possession of the holding is taken by the Sheriff, and then the tenant may terminate the proceedings by paying the rent and costs. If he does not do so, the Sheriff turns out the tenant—and this is what we know as eviction—and gives up the holding to the landlord, who thereupon either retains actual possession or reinstates the tenant as a caretaker. From that moment the tenant, whether he is re-admitted as caretaker or not, has six months to redeem his tenancy by paying the arrears, rent, and costs, and so regain possession of his holding by obtaining from the Court what is called a "writ of restitution." That is the present practice. The Bill proposes that the six months during which an application for restitution may be made shall date, not from the moment of eviction, but from the serving of a certain notice in prescribed form, after which notice the tenant will become ipso facto a caretaker, precisely as if he had been evicted and reinstated. Now, Sir, this change may, at first sight, seem beneficial in the interests of humanity; but if the tenant may thus lose his status and rights as a tenant, and be converted into a caretaker by the mere receipt of a legal notice, instead of by the form of 396 open eviction as at present, what will be the effect? No one can doubt that at present a large number of landlords are deterred from exercising their extreme rights owing to the publicity and odium and scandal which eviction often involves. The quiet delivery of a legal notice is now to have the same effect, and the consequence must inevitably be that thousands of tenants will find themselves converted into caretakers without possibly realizing fully what has happened; and, after all, however desirable it may be, and undoubtedly is, to avoid the cruelty of actual eviction, it will only be postponed, and at the end of six months the same scenes, the same cruelties, the same scandals, as those we now condemn will be enacted. I venture to predict that if this Bill passes into law, so soon as the necessary legal formalities can be gone through, a shower of these notices will fall on the tenants of Ireland. Then there will follow a period of most remarkable and unexampled tranquillity, and I can imagine that some sanguine and unwary supporter of the Government will point to the quiet condition of Ireland as a proof of the success of their legislation and their government of the country. But the six months will elapse, and then it will appear that this quiet was only like the smooth water which precedes the cataract, and there will burst upon Ireland a tumult of simultaneous evictions such as we have never witnessed. I, therefore, say—and I think it can hardly be contradicted—that there is here no remedy for harsh evictions, but merely, at the best, a temporary postponement, and in the long run, I am afraid, an actual increase. But, Sir, the Prime Minister claims, in the words I have quoted, to prevent unreasonable as well as harsh evictions; and this is, I presume, what is attempted in the more important part of the Bill. Hitherto I have been dealing with matters of great importance indeed, but still with matters of detail on which I have made my comments; but now I have arrived at a point at which there arises a broad divergence between the course which my friends and myself should be disposed to recommend to Parliament and that followed by Her Majesty's Government. Our averment, founded not on any mere opinion of our own, but upon recorded fact, upon the Report of the Royal Commission, upon 397 deductions easily drawn from the action of the Land Courts, and from the notorious fact that landlords in many cases have spontaneously and generously given abatements even from official rents—our averment is that there has been, during the last two or three years, such an unexpected fall in the value of agricultural produce that rents which were reasonable a few years ago are no longer reasonable. I did not understand the right hon. Gentleman to dispute that contention. The right hon. Gentleman, in many things that he said, even admitted this fall in prices. I rather expected that it would have been disputed, because I observe that the other day the Prime Minister—who is always courageous—accounted for the present state of circumstances in Ireland by a theory of his own, which I hope was satisfactory to him. He said that there had been a fall in the value of agricultural produce; but he denied that there had been in Ireland anything beyond what could reasonably have been foreseen; and he added that if it were not for the phenomenal fall in the price of wheat and barley in England, which had affected all values, he thought we should have heard very little of the fall in agricultural prices in Ireland. The theory of the Prime Minister appears, therefore, to be that if the tenant in Kerry or Donegal finds that he receives for his stock and produce less than he did two or three years ago he is under a delusion, founded on the fact that the price of wheat and barley had fallen in England. I do not think that the facts before the country deserve to be treated in so light a manner. Our case is that this reduction in prices has occurred; and we assert that if you wish to do justice, if you wish to alleviate the condition of the Irish occupier of land, if you wish to avoid in future scandal and cruelty and disorder, you must adopt some means of revising the scale of rents, even of judicial rents; and that no clever legal manœuvres, no alteration of the machinery by which the payment of rent is exacted by provisions of the kind that are elaborated in this Bill, even if such alteration can be shown to be in itself expedient and desirable, can help you in any degree in this matter. The House, no doubt, remembers what occurred last autumn. It then came to be freely alleged in the House that there existed 398 this depression in price and consequent inability to pay rent. The Government denied, or at least questioned, the allegation; but they appointed a Royal Commission of their own choice to report how far the non-payment of rent was due to combination, and how far to inability due to a fall in prices. I have not the slightest desire to say anything that would seem to impugn the competence or the fairness of the Members of the Royal Commission; but it is important that the House should bear in mind, especially as the Commission reported strongly in favour of the tenants' contention, that there was on that Commission not a single Member in sympathy with the Nationalist Party, who undoubtedly have the confidence of the great majority of the tenants of Ireland, that there was only one Irish agriculturist on the Commission, and that he signed a separate Report, going still further in favour of the tenants than his Colleagues. The two matters indicated to the Commissioners as probably affecting the working of the Act of 1881 were, as I have said, combination and prices. I am not sure that it would be a usual, or a very accurate, criterion of the relative importance of different parts of a Report if we applied to them the gauge of lineal measure—if we measured them by the foot or the inch; but it is a fact not without some significance of the impression, at least, made by the evidence on the Commissioners, that to the question of a fall in prices, and the mode of meeting its effect, they devote no fewer than 16 paragraphs, while to combination they give but four. Probably that was not exactly what the Government expected when they appointed the Commission. The Commissioners recognized to the full extent the fall in prices during the last three years. They estimate the fall, due to this and to subsidiary causes, in the agricultural capital of Irish occupiers at 18½ per cent in two years; while Mr. Knipe, in his separate Report, puts it as high as 23 per cent. They also report that between the end of 1885 and the date of the Report the Sub-Commissioners had been making reductions in the rent on a scale exceeding that upon which they first reduced them by 10 to 14 per cent; but these reductions are greatly exceeded by what is going on now. I find that in the most recent 399 Returns we have received—namely, those for March and April of this year—the difference is something startling between the earlier reductions and those which are made now. In Leinster the Return now in our hands shows a reduction of 25 per cent below the tenement valuation; whereas in the beginning of the operations of the Commissioners their valuation was 15 per cent above, thus showing a difference of actually 40 per cent. In Munster they fixed the average at first 25 per cent above the tenement value; now it is fixed 6 per cent below it, or a difference of 31 per cent. The difference is still more startling when you look over the lists of individual rents. There is always a fallacy in dealing with averages, which may be brought down by some very excellent cases where the rents do not require any reduction whatever, and hence it is always instructive to look to particular cases. Here are some cases of individual rents. In one case the Poor Law valuation was £17 15s., the former rent £22 18s., and the judicial rent is £9; in another case the Poor Law valuation is £20, the former rent £32, and the judicial rent £17 10s.; while in another the valuation is £37, the old rent £62 12s., and the present £29. In another case the rent was reduced from £107 to £50, and in a smaller holding from £2 10s. to £1 1s., the Poor Law valuation being £2. Therefore, the Commissioners are now going even further than they had felt themselves obliged to do when the Royal Commission was sitting. These are the facts. They can hardly be gainsaid, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has not attempted to gainsay them. But, accepting these facts of a fall in prices and the consequent loss of capital which has been proved to have occurred, and that rents are now excessive, the question we have to face is what we have to do. Let me say that among those who agree that, owing to these circumstances, the condition of the Irish occupier demands relief, there may be different grounds for that opinion. There are some who regard it as a matter of compassion, and who think that on the mere ground of pity and to prevent distress relief should be given. I admit that, even on 400 this limited ground, the case is unanswerable; but I confess that for my part I go further, and I found my opinion not on compassion alone, but upon the principle of justice as between the two partners in the ownership of the soil in Ireland. It would, I hold, be nothing short of monstrous that when an unexpected calamity befalls the common property of two men, the whole loss should be borne by one partner, and that he should be the partner to whose labour and exertions the whole productive value of the property is due. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland tried to make out that there was merely some shadowy difference between England and Ireland, and he spoke of the mutual relations of landlord and tenant as having been different in the two countries. But the whole of this legislation is founded upon the fact that the circumstances and the conditions of ownership are absolutely different in the two countries. Well, Sir, the Royal Commission recommend an immediate revision of rents, and that the periodical term of revision should be shortened from 15 years to five. They do not propose that the revision should take place by the re-valuation of each individual case; but that the original rent should remain as the normal rent, and be re-adjusted periodically, according to the fluctuation in the average of prices. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland asked when we were converted to the idea that rents should be revised every five years? It is not we who say that they should be; we say that this is the proposal of your own Commission. We say that there are, no doubt, difficulties in any solution of the question; but this is, at all events, a definite and intelligible proposal on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman said that our action was inconsistent with the Land Bill of last year, because that Bill was based upon judicial rents. So it was; but the right hon. Gentleman perhaps forgot that the Court was given the fullest possible power to take every circumstance into consideration, and that there was thus a power of revision. With, regard to the proposal of the Commission, I am about to make an observation which comes appositely from me as a Scotch Member. I cannot help thinking that the Royal Commission 401 had in their minds, when they made this proposal, what we call in Scotland fiars' prices. Ministers' stipends and some other payments are made in Scotland according to the value of agricultural produce, and every year in each county a committee is set up, composed of farmers and landlords, who strike the average prices of produce in the district. That system gives great satisfaction in Scotland, and I do not see why it should not be applicable in Ireland. But, besides the proposal of the Royal Commission, another suggestion has been made which deserves consideration, and which is that, if it is feared it might have a disturbing effect to alter the amount of rent every five years, power might be given to some authority, upon application made and cause shown, to allow an abatement on account of the temporary circumstances of the day. This would carry out, in a legal and formal manner in Ireland, that which is the ordinary practice in England. At any rate, all we say is, that in some way or another rents ought to be open to revision, and relief thus given to both the present and prospective necessities of the Irish occupier. It is because the Bill contains no provision whatever for mitigating the pressure of excessive rents, because it does not lift a finger to help the honest and struggling tenant, that we regard it, in this main branch of its subject, as wholly inadequate and unacceptable. But, Mr. Speaker, although the Government will do nothing to mitigate the burden of rents which, with impaired means, the Irish occupier is still held bound to pay—although they reject the main recommendation of their own Royal Commission, they are not without a plan. Clause 22 and the subsequent clauses of the Bill are devoted to it, and contain provisions which the Government imagine to be for the relief and benefit of the tenant. I will briefly, and in outline, state their nature. These provisions apply only to the case of a tenant whose holding is, or the aggregate of whose holdings are, rated under £50 a-year. Where proceedings are taken to recover such holding on the ground of non-payment of rent, if the Court is satisfied that the tenant cannot pay the rent and arrears, that such inability is not due to his own fault, and that a reasonable 402 time should be allowed, it can stay execution, and order that the arrears and costs, or such sum as may be agreed upon between the parties, shall be paid by installments. If default is made in paying any one of the installments, the stay of execution is removed and execution follows. Section 23 provides that when the Court is of opinion that the order to stay execution should be made it shall so state; and thereupon the tenant may call upon the landlord to make a joint application to the Court for the purpose of having the tenant adjudicated bankrupt. The tenant, who has now been transformed, even in the language of the Bill, into a "debtor," may then be permitted to remain on his farm, working it under the orders and supervision of the Court, for a period of 18 months. If within that time he fails to obtain a certificate of conformity the Court shall sell his tenancy, and the purchase-money, after satisfying the rent and costs which have accrued while ho has been permitted by the Court to remain on his farm, shall be applied as assets. If the tenancy does not fetch a sufficient amount to satisfy the rent and costs, the Court shall put the landlord into possession of the holding. Those are the main outlines of what is called a remedial measure. I make bold to condemn it upon four separate and distinct grounds. In the first place, it is unjust as between tenant and tenant. In the second place, it is demoralizing, degrading, and insulting to the tenantry of Ireland. Thirdly, it is in its principal details unworkable, and even, I venture to say, ludicrous. And in the fourth place—and perhaps this is the strongest argument of all—if it wore as just and honourable and practicable as I maintain it to be unjust, dishonouring, and impracticable, it would be absolutely ineffectual for the purpose which it is intended to achieve, because it can be easily and at once avoided. I say, in the first place, that these provisions mean injustice in the treatment of one tenant as compared with another, because while the benefits—dismal benefits at the best—are reserved for the impoverished and ruined tenant, there is nothing whatever done for the industrious and frugal tenant, who is struggling under a hard fate to save his little capital from destruction. If 403 rents are unreasonable they are unreasonable for the richer as well as for the poorer tenant; and I should have thought that in the public interest, in the interest of the moral tone of the community as well as of its material prosperity, it was even more necessary to help a struggling tenant who is on his legs than the man who has already fallen. But no mercy is to be shown to him. He is to go on having his pound of flesh extorted from him every half-year; his capital is to dwindle away pound after pound and shilling after shilling, so long as he can pay anything to the landlord in respect of the rent which his holding cannot afford to pay; and at the last, when he is thoroughly exhausted, emptied, and ruined, then it is that the beneficent legislation of the Government will take him up. It seems to me that this one objection is fatal to the very conception of this part of the Bill; and it is so plain, palpable, and intelligible, that I content myself with the mere statement of it to the House. My second objection is that these proposals are demoralizing and degrading to those to whom they are applied. What can be more lowering to the tone of an industrial community, what can be more subversive of their independence and self-respect, than that they should be told on the high authority of Government and Parliament that they cannot enjoy the benefits conferred by legislation unless they pass through insolvency into legal bankruptcy? It is the very road which they should be taught to avoid. Can the Government point to any single instance in which a whole class of the community has been in this way by Statute tempted and coaxed into bankruptcy? Of course, these are only Irish tenants—and they are most of them, I dare say, Nationalists. I can well believe there are persons in Ireland so impecunious, so burdened with debt, so hampered with family settlements, that they are scarcely masters of their actions, and that it would be for their own interests, for the interest of their families, of all who have pecuniary relations with them, of the public generally, and of the cause of social order in Ireland that they should in some way be relieved; that they should be able to shake off, even by means of bankruptcy, the paralyzing trammels which prevent them 404 from fully doing their duty, and that they should be enabled to start with fresh life on a new career. I believe there are such cases; but when I look for them, I find them more among the landlords than among the tenants. Will the Government propose, as a condition precedent of giving any relief to landlords, that they should be made bankrupts? Would that enter into their heads for a moment? When the Encumbered Estates Act was passed, and a whole machinery set up to relieve Irish landlords, was it ever suggested that they should be made individually bankrupt? Of course not, because bankruptcy carries with it a stigma, because it degrades, because it has been held so disreputable as to debar from the service of the Queen. It can never, of course, be applied to landlords; but to tenants well and good, I suppose. Sir, I cannot imagine how the Government can have come to accept, and how they could have yielded to the evil genius which tempted them to embody such a proposal in the Bill. It is a scheme saturated with the spirit of exclusiveness; it reeks of the worst spirit of landlordism; and when I speak of landlordism, I do not mean only the system which sets up one man as owner and another as cultivator, but I mean the system which enables the landlord to exact his extreme rights from the tenant, and which treats the cultivator of the soil as a mere rent-creating instrument. But now let us turn to the particulars, and let us accompany the tenant through the gloomy portals into that città dolente—that city of dolour through which he is to be made to pass—and see how he fares. In the first place, will it be believed, when we see opposite a Party who had no words too strong to condemn the Plan of Campaign, that as the first condition for a man receiving any benefit from this Bill he must refuse to pay his rent? An action of ejectment having been brought, the tenant comes before the Court, and then a clause comes into play which has a very imposing title—the "Equitable Jurisdiction" Clause. I find in it a great deal of jurisdiction, but very little equity. The Court has no power whatever, except as to the amount of the installments and the time when they are to be paid. Nay, more, an Amendment was moved by a noble and learned Lord (Lord Fitzgerald) in "another place," 405 to the effect that the Court should have power to settle a composition—"a sum in satisfaction of the whole amount due." That was moved by a Liberal Unionist Peer, but it was rejected by the Government. On the day, then, that the tenant fails to pay to the very hour his installment the stay upon execution is at once removed. The Bill provides, not that the Court may remove, but that the Court shall remove, the stay, and the landlord is then at full liberty to swoop down upon the tenant. But the tenant, having come into Court, and finding little benefit from this Equitable Jurisdiction Clause, goes further; he applies, with consent of his landlord, to be made bankrupt. Now, here is a strange circumstance to which I wish to refer. There is a provision that "if the landlord refuses unreasonably to join in making such application"—that is, that the tenant should be adjudicated a bankrupt, the Court may order such sum in satisfaction as it thinks fit. In the other House an Amendment was moved upon this giving the Court the power, not only to settle the sum in satisfaction of the outstanding debt, but also to fix a reasonable rent for the remainder of the judicial term. That Amendment was accepted by the Government, and was placed in the Bill in Committee in "another place," but was afterwards struck out. I want to know, not only why it was struck out, but why it was put in, because it is a complete concession of all that we assert. It admits that these rents are unreasonable, and that they ought in many cases to be re-adjusted—it concedes, in fact, the whole question. A little information, therefore, is necessary on that point. The tenant, let us now suppose, has become a bankrupt. Let me say this. Everyone acquainted with Ireland knows that the Irish Bankruptcy Law is as bad, and costly, and cumbrous as it can be; and even if it were good and efficient, its procedure would be designed and adapted to the cases of traders and shopkeepers and others, with a going business, with some tangible assets, with books and accounts, and all the appurtenances of business. But now this cumbrous system is to be applied to all the tenants in this position in Ireland, so that you will have the County Courts in some of the poorer districts adminis- 406 tering the assets of 100 or 1,000 wretched hand-to-mouth men, whose whole assets are a bit of bog land and a few pieces of what by courtesy may be called furniture, perhaps a pig, and two or three hens, and the whole of this complex and cumbrous machinery is to be set up in order to manage such farm. And for this a whole host of official persons are to be appointed. We are told that this is only a provisional measure, to tide over the interval until a great Land Purchase system is applied. Yet a swarm of new Judges, Official Assignees, and other officers are to be appointed, at the public expense. Then let the House picture to itself a little farm. The Court is to permit the tenant "to remain in possession of such of his property"—his pig and his poultry—As may be necessary for the profitable working of the holding so long as may appear likely to result in the realization of money available for the payment of his debts, or of such a proportion thereof, or composition thereon, as shall appear to the Court to be just and equitable; and in every such case the Court may make such orders as may appear just and necessary for fixing the rate and for securing the payment of the accruing rent so long as such permission continues, and for securing the due working of the holding and accounting for the proceeds thereof by the debtor.I leave it there, without adding to the words. A more ridiculous proceeding I never knew going on during 18 months on a holding of small size. Multiply those cases by thousands, and imagine what condition the country will be in. Then, again, the Court is to have the power during those 18 months of fixing the rent which the tenant is to pay during that time. I put to the Government the usual difficulty of a dilemma—Was the tenant's original rent unreasonable, and is this why a reasonable rent is to be fixed? If it is reasonable, why not continue to pay it? You, therefore, admit that the original rent is unreasonable, because you give power to the Court to fix a reasonable rent. The other horn of the dilemma is this—If the original rent was reasonable, and if there is no equitable claim that it should be interfered with, why do you take part of the landlord's rent to furnish assets for the other creditors? If, on the other hand, you reduce the rent because it is unreasonable, then that is a confession that it is owing to the unreasonable rent that the tenant is bankrupt. Well, Sir, 407 the Official Assignee and the tenant—in the intervals between his frequent visits to the county town to consult his attorney—for all this time the legal proceedings are going on and must be watched—continue working the farm for 18 months, in the attempt to make a composition of 10s. in the pound for creditors. The capital and credit of the tenant have gone; the rent is constantly accruing; the costs are running up. The tenant, therefore, appears to have a lively prospect of making 10s. in the pound, and unless he can do so he cannot get his certificate of conformity. But there is an alteration of the law to be noted. The landlord, under the Bill, is to have a preferential claim for a whole year's rent; whereas, according to the existing law, his right is only for half-a-year. This makes the case even worse. Is the tenant to get his certificate or not? If he cannot obtain his certificate what happens? Short work is made of him. The Court sells his tenancy in the holding, and if a sale cannot be effected the Court is to put the landlord in possession of the holding, so that it ends in eviction after all. But let us take the other alternative; supposing the tenant obtains his certificate, what is the condition of affairs? He is left with an impossible rent to pay; the old rent continues; it is admitted to be impossible because the Court has reduced it while he was under its control. He has no capital; his stock is gone, and he has no credit remaining. What prospect, I ask, is before the tenant? The only prospect of relief to a man in that condition is to become bankrupt again, and so on da capo. The Government, seeing the absurdity of that, however, have said that he shall not be bankrupt again within three years; so that now that by the operation of this Bill you have made him in reality as well as in name a bankrupt you deny him further help; and as he cannot obtain any of the relief you provide he must be finally evicted. In any case the landlord is ultimately in possession; the same result is arrived at after all those months of suspense and torture to the tenant. He entered Court a tenant; he became under the auspices of the Bill a debtor; he is turned out at the end, a beggar. The only satisfaction which the Government, in putting this proposal 408 before the House, have to console themselves with is that they have at least filled, or done their best to fulfill, the Scriptural maxim—"From him who hath not shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have." I think the House will have seen that a candid examination of these detailed provisions leads inevitably to the conclusion that they are perfectly unworkable, and one even doubts whether they can have been expected to work at all. They will not prevent evictions. They will do a sore wrong, both morally and materially, to the tenants of Ireland, and bring nothing but confusion, loss, and worry to the landlord. Can we be surprised, then, that that estimate has been formed of the Bill even by the Conservative Press in Ireland? I see the leading Conservative journal in Ireland winds up its opinion in these words—This bankruptcy business seems a sort of bottomless gulf into which all Irish interests are to be rolled pell-mell.I have seen an account of a meeting, held at the end of last week, presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). The noble Lord advised his followers, as I expected he would, to vote against my Amendment; but he said of the bankruptcy provisions, being open to grave objection, they ought to amend them. I wish my noble Friend joy of the task he has set himself to amend these provisions. If he begins to pour the strong wine of his good sense into those curious bottles, the bottles will burst and the wine will be wasted. But I have yet to justify the last of my four objections to these clauses, which is one of the most important of all. My last argument against this plan is that even if all I have said against it were rejected or disproved, it would remain ineffectual for the plain reason that a landlord seeking the exaction of his rent could proceed by another method altogether. It is not necessary for him to use the rights which the law gives him as a landlord. He may treat the rent as a debt and bring a money action, known as a process of fieri facias, without claiming the land; but, the land being an asset of the tenant, it can be seized. When it is seized it is put up for sale and the landlord buys it in. The tenant, thereupon, becomes a mere trespasser on his own 409 farm. He loses all his rights, and again he is evicted with the connivance of this Bill, which is to stop evictions. Here is again an eviction, it may be a harsh and unreasonable eviction, and how much comfort will it be to the evicted tenant that if this fate befel him it was not by ejectment but by fi. fa.! Hon, Members will all remember the story of Sir Isaac Newton, who made a large hole in his door for the cat and a small one for the kitten. The Irish landlord has a small hole through which he may obtain possession of his land and get rid of his tenant—a small hole sacred to himself as a landlord; he has also a larger means of access to the same end, common to himself and all the world. Here is a Bill which laboriously and elaborately nails and boards up against him the small opening, yet leaves him free to go in and out as he pleases by the larger. I have now stated my case against this elaborate scheme for ruin, costs, and confusion, professing to be a scheme of relief. It may be summed up in language, not perhaps very logical, but perfectly intelligible—"You are doing the wrong thing; and you do not do it; and it is of no use when you have done it." There I leave it; and with confidence I set in contrast with it the plain and straightforward proposal of my Amendment. The attempt to extract excessive rents from the soil in Ireland is the cardinal agrarian mischief of the day in that country. Rents which a few years ago were reasonable, or not unreasonable at all events, are now either unreasonable, or even impossible. Rearrange the rent, then, in accordance with the altered circumstances of the day as your own Royal Commission recommends; and if this Bill is not based on the Report of your Commission, on what, in the name of wonder, is it based? One of the commonest of commonplaces at your meetings, and in your speeches, is that the agrarian question is at the bottom of the Irish difficulty. Here you have an opportunity of dealing with the agrarian question. Deal with it directly and manfully; face the question of excessive rents, and abandon once for all the foolish hope that by such idle devices as disfigure this Bill you can win for yourselves or for your cause any part of the gratitude and confidence of the Irish 410 people. I beg, Sir, to move the Resolution which stands in my name.
§ Amendment proposed,
§ To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, taking into view the circumstances set forth in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1886 on the Land Acts of 1881 and 1885, and the recommendations of that Commission, is of opinion that no Bill for amending the Laws relating to Land in Ireland can be satisfactory which shall not provide, not only for entitling leaseholders to the benefits of the Land Act of 1881, but also for affording such means for the revision of the judicial rents under that Act, as will meet the exigencies created by the heavy fall in agricultural values since the passing of the Act,"—(Mr. Campbell-Bannerman,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)
said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) had put on the colours very thick, and with a very big brush, and the result was one of those flashy pictures which were now so much admired. He had spoken at first of the Bill with general approval; but, instead of condemning it and trying to kill it altogether, surely it was his duty to try to amend it. He took it that the Government had brought forward this Bill as a stopgap. They were pledged as deeply as any Government could be pledged to introduce a large measure dealing with the whole question of land purchase in Ireland. They had, almost more than Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, pledged themselves to endeavour to find a solution of the Irish Question by means of a large measure of land purchase, and he took it for granted that they intended to introduce such a measure next Session. In the meanwhile they offered to the House the present Bill, as being in many respects an amending Bill to the legislation of 1881, as being in many respects founded on the recommendations of Lord Cowper's Commission, and as being in many respects one the end of which would be to stop, for a time at all events, if not altogether, evictions in Ireland. He did not, therefore, understand the principle upon which the right hon. Gentleman opposite practically moved the rejection of the Bill, unless he wished to assume the 411 position of a statesman of whom it was said at the beginning of the century——The Nation knows,My maxim ever is 'Oppose;'For be the measure what it willMy maxim is 'Oppose it' still.The Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, if accepted, would be the most severe condemnation of the Act of 1881 that the House could possibly pass. The right hon. Gentleman was somewhat in the position of a spoiled child who could not get all he wanted, and who, therefore, would not take anything at all. The House might very well accept the second reading of this Bill, and endeavour in its passage through Committee to make reasonable and proper Amendments to the clauses with which hon. Members opposite could not agree. With regard to the admission of leaseholders within the provisions of the Act of 1881, all the Bill did was to hasten the time at which leaseholders were to be admitted. The Purchase Clauses, in the main, carried out the recommendations of the Cowper Commission. The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to offer decided opposition to all the Purchase Clauses. Surely that was a somewhat peculiar attitude for the right hon. Gentleman to take, when his general complaint was that the Bill did not give effect to the recommendations of the Commission. With regard to the equitable jurisdiction, he confessed it seemed to him impossible for any hon. Gentleman opposite to hold that it did not afford a relief of some sort to the tenant. As he understood the Irish Question, what the tenantry were suffering from was a depression in prices, which had arisen mainly during the last two years. When the Land Commission first got to work the rents, as fixed by them, were fair and reasonable; but during the last two years the fall in agricultural value had been so great that the rents then fixed ought now to be somewhat reduced. That was not sufficient ground for revising all the rents over again; but it was sufficient ground for allowing a County Court Judge or some other official to give an abatement which would last over a short period. It rested upon hon. Members opposite to prove that this fall in agricultural produce was likely to be permanent, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling had entirely failed to substantiate a case for a general 412 revision. Why should a period of five years be fixed for a revision? That period was simply suggested at haphazard. Both Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Litton were opposed to a quinquennial revision. The former in his evidence contended that 15 years was short enough, and Mr. Litton said that if there was to be a re-arrangement every five years he did not see where there was to be an end. What would be the work of the Land Commission? They had already fixed 91,000 fair rents, and 90,600 cases had been settled out of Court; so that it might be expected that there would be some 200,000 cases to settle every five years; and, seeing that during the six years they had been at work the Commission had only got through some 271,000 cases, it was simply hopeless to expect that the Court could deal with such a gigantic revision. This Bill was meant by the Government to amend some of the most glaring defects in the Act of 1881. He did not suppose the Government were particularly enamoured of their own measure. They were in the position of an architect called in to prop up a falling building. They were not free either to choose the material, or the style, or the decoration; but they had to build a retaining wall and bring it into harmony with the original building. The Government had always objected to the principles contained in the Act of 1881; but they brought in this Bill with a view, if possible, to stopping evictions under that Act, by amending it in several important particulars. For the reasons he had given he desired to give his hearty support to the second reading of the measure.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, that although he was one of those who saw some objections to the Bill, he did not think it was, in all respects, a bad Bill. It was a Bill which nobody liked, but which nobody wished to reject; and he would therefore be content, after they had threshed it out and made the best of it, that it should be passed in some shape or other. He sympathized with a great deal that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said with regard to Irish landlords. Their case was doubtless a very hard one, and since Parliament had placed them in the position of mere rent-chargers, if not mortgagees, it 413 could not be expected that they would show their tenants the same consideration as English and Scottish landlords. The great motive that induced English and Scottish landlords not to be hard on their tenants was the fear that they would have their farms on their hands; whereas in Ireland the landlords looked with horror and dislike on the Land Act of 1881. He regretted that denunciations of that Act were still heard. But although they recognized the difficult position of the Irish landlords, and the fact that many of them were reduced to great straits, yet justice must be done. He was fully in favour of the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), although he did not wish to support it to the extent of carrying it. Probably the right hon. Gentleman himself only put it forward because he knew he had no chance of carrying it. Although the Bill was far from perfect, it was better than nothing at all, and he hoped that in some form it would be carried. He was free to confess that he looked upon the provisions of the measure with regard to leaseholders with considerable favour. As regarded the Bankruptcy Clauses, to his mind they contained the best part of the Bill—the germ of what he hoped to see introduced into the laws, of this and other countries—a homestead law. In the United States implements of trade were protected, including small farms, and could not be sold for debt, and the Bankruptcy Clauses contained the germ of such a principle. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had remarked that there was no other country where the Law of Bankruptcy was so favourable to the bankrupt. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman that the law of the United States was much more favourable, and that in India they were accustomed to have occasional revisions of settlements. He thoroughly believed in the justice and truth of the Amendment, and he could not understand why the Government did not adopt the course recommended by their own Commission, and create some general power for revising judicial rents in cases where these, from extraordinary change in circumstances, pressed cruelly upon the tenant. It would be better to accept the situation and meet it directly than by the complicated mode which the Govern- 414 ment proposed in this Bill. The fact must be admitted that landlord and tenant in Ireland were not now under contract with each other, but that their relations were the result of judicial arrangements. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had contended that there were no other countries where engagements had been nullified in the manner now proposed. But the same was done in India, and the right hon. Gentleman had narrowed his argument down to declaring that it had not been done in Europe. But the laws of the Aryans were common both to Europe and Asia, and in India, where the system of land revenue was very civilized, precisely the same course had been pursued as in Ireland under the Act of 1881. Changes in the condition of the tenants had been brought about in India, as it had in Ireland, by the act of God, and the Government of India had found it absolutely necessary to take notice of extraordinary changes in the circumstances of the tenants, and to set aside settlements which they had themselves made and to revise the rents; and in the same way the present Government ought to set aside the settlement which had been, made in the case of the Irish land when they found that, owing to the unprecedented fall in prices, the tenants could not pay the judicial rents. He had urged this matter upon the Government of the day in 1881, during the discussions upon the Land Bill of that year, but without success; but he trusted that Her Majesty's present Government would give the subject their most serious attention. In his opinion the fall in prices might be permanent, and due to the change in the value of gold; and, therefore, any revision of Irish rents must be based upon the present value of produce. The Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill contained much that was good; but they did not go far enough and protect the thrifty and honest tenant from a bad landlord. The clauses relating to leaseholders gave them almost all they could reasonably ask; but they went too far in giving a landlord the power of breaking a lease which was favourable to his tenant. It appeared to him that the Bill empowered a landlord to evict his tenant at the end of six months after he had been made caretaker by having a notice served upon him. The result of the clause would be to enable landlords 415 to turn their tenants wholesale into caretakers, and then to get rid of them without the noisy and troublesome process of ejectment. He believed that that clause would more than counterbalance all the other advantages to be derived from the Bill. The Purchase Clauses, so far as they went, were good; but he was glad they did not go further. As a British taxpayer, he looked with alarm to the larger measure which the Government promised for next year, because he believed there was no magic by which they could benefit the Irish tenant by a large purchase scheme without either reducing the claims of the landlord or throwing the burden upon the taxpayers of this country. He was glad to see the purchase money to be advanced to any one borrower was restricted to £5,000. If British credit was to be available it ought to be for the benefit of the small not the large owner; and, therefore, he thought the sum ought to be reduced to £2,000. He admitted that there was something good in the Bill; but he held that there was a great deal bad in it which counterbalanced its advantages.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON) (Middlesex, Ealing)
I think the criticism which we have just heard is a good specimen of the kind of assault to which the Bill is likely to be subjected. The hon. Gentleman speaks with great authority on the question of land tenure. There are few who speak with greater authority on that question; but it is characteristic of the attitude he assumes that, while he believes there is much good in the Bill, he intends to vote for the Amendment, though he does not wish to see it carried. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary for Ireland was exactly that kind of speech which cultured Scotsmen are capable of making. It was remarkable for the numerous quotations, and for the accuracy of those quotations, from Scripture. I have always understood that the accurate knowledge of Scripture is inculcated by the tawse, and is a feature of Scottish education; and I am perfectly convinced, if that weapon had been so handled as to infuse into the right hon. Gentleman an accurate knowledge of the Bill he was studying, many of the observations he has addressed to the House to-night never would have been made. No one knows better than the right hon. Gen- 416 tleman the difficulties of the Irish Land Question; and, therefore, I am somewhat disappointed to find that the whole of his able speech exhausted itself in minute and almost microscopic criticism of the details of the Bill. While the right hon. Gentleman admitted that there was a real evil to be grappled with, he never intimated how that evil was to be successfully overcome. He never formulated any alternative proposals which would in any way meet the difficulties under which he admitted the tenants were labouring. All the right hon. Gentleman did was to bring the whole of the resources of an acute intellect to bear for the purpose of depreciating and heaping ridicule and abuse upon proposals which, I believe, I shall be able to show are more likely to meet the evils under which the tenants labour than any others I have heard made. But, first of all, I should like to say a word or two with reference to some small and subsidiary provisions. The right hon. Gentleman was of opinion that our clause relating to leaseholders is most unsatisfactory. But, so far as we know, we believe we have embodied in the Bill the proposals of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), and for these proposals the right hon. Gentleman voted. Therefore, for the sake of embarrassing the Government last year, the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends voted for proposals which he knew to be unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that under these proposals the rents might t be increased, and that that was unfair. But our object is to do justice between man and man; and if you allow the tenant to go into Court that his rent may be reduced if it is too high, why should you take from the landlord the power of having his rents increased where they are too low? Another part of the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman has a special objection is that in which the landlord has effected improvements. Those improvements are not to be made use of for reducing the rent. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that there is a great distinction between the system of land tenure which exists in England and that which exists in Ireland, because in England the landlord does the great bulk of the improvements, and in Ireland they are done by the tenant. The object of the clause is that where in Ireland 417 any farm may be found held by a leaseholder upon which the landlord has made the improvements, as is customary in England, he should be able to plead in his behalf the sum which he expended, and thus prevent the improvements he made being used in reducing the rent.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that he had no objection to that, so far as the improvements which the landlord had made were unexhausted. What he did object to was that the fact that such unexhausted improvements exist should be a bar to any consideration of a new rent.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Well, it is a small point, and I will not dwell upon it. The right hon. Gentleman attacked very violently Clause 4. Now, the object of that clause is to diminish the number of evictions that may take place. Surely that is an object which all sections of the House ought to combine to secure. The more you can reduce the number of evictions in Ireland, the greater will be the quietude and the security there. Therefore, I arrive at this conclusion—that those who are opposed to all proposals which tend to reduce the number of evictions, take that course because they know that evictions endanger the establishment of security in that country. What my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland pointed out was, that if the proposal of the Bill was accepted, it would diminish by three-fourths the number of evictions that now take place. But the great objection which I take to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is that he did not really grapple with the facts of the case with which we have to deal. What is the position in which the Government finds itself? Undoubtedly there has been a great fall in prices in Ireland, and it has had a very prejudicial effect on the tenants' power to pay the rents which were judicially fixed. The number of agricultural tenants in Ireland is, roughly speaking, about 500,000. Of that number about 100,000 are leaseholders, who are outside the operation of the Land Act of 1881. We propose to bring them in, leaving 400,000 to be accounted for. Of that 400,000, about 200,000 or less have had their rents judicially fixed; therefore, there remains a number almost equivalent to 200,000 which have never yet 418 gone into the Courts to have a judicial rent fixed. It is, I think, very important to have these facts plainly before us, because it is generally assumed that all tenants have gone before the Courts for a reduction of rents. That is not so. The total number of tenants up to the present who have had their rents reduced amounts only to 200,000. Now, the difficulty which we have to deal with is that a large proportion of these tenants who have had their rents fixed are upon the brink of insolvency, not always because the rent is beyond their means, but because they have other debts. No proposal which any Government can make can set up these persons again, unless means are taken, not only to free them from the arrears that may be due to their landlords, but also to free them from the debts that may be due to other individuals. Although the right hon. Gentleman opposite used a great deal of violent language—[Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN: No!]—for a Scotchman, he made no alternative proposal. The right hon. Gentleman said—"By some means or other we must revise judicial rents, so as to avert certain evils;" and again—"In some way or other rents must be revised to meet the interests of the tenants." So far as I can see, the right hon. Gentleman's views are in favour of the proposals of Lord Cowper's Commission. I do not know whether I am right in assuming that he has authority to put forward as an alternative proposal the recommendations of that Commission. [Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN: No.] Then practically he has no alternative to put forward; but the whole of his speech was so ingeniously framed that those who did not follow him closely would think that the proposals of the Commission were to be substituted in his plan for the proposals of the Government. Now he does not make any proposals, and why does he not make some alternative proposal? [Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: It is not his business to do so.] I quite admit that it is not for the right hon. Gentleman, who is not in Office, to initiate any proposals; but when proposals are brought forward by the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman takes upon himself to move an Amendment such as that which he now proposes, he is bound to indicate the manner in which he would deal with this question. But we have this satis- 419 factory position, that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have no proposal to make as an alternative to that of the Government. If, therefore, we were to-morrow to withdraw this Bill, the tenants in Ireland would remain exactly as they are now. The proposals of Lord Cowper's Commission are not adopted by the Government, for this simple reason, that they are not practicable. Anybody who reads the Report of the Commission with thought and care will see that in that part of the proposals which relate; to the revision of rents two ideas are associated together which are entirely antagonistic and unworkable. The Commissioners point out in the early part of their Report that there has been a large fall in the value of products; and in paragraph 16 they suggest that the terms for the remission of rent, instead of being 15 years, should be five. That is practically an intelligible proposition; but it will not give that relief to the tenants which they need, because it establishes this principle that the 15 years settled by the Act of 1881 is to be substituted by a more limited period of five years, but it assumes that during that period the landlord is to be as much entitled to his rent as in the period of 15 years, and it is for the purpose of giving landlords greater security, so far as the fixture of rent is concerned for that limited period, that in one sense the proposal is made. In the next paragraph the Commissioners point out that if the present fall in prices continues it will, in their judgment, be necessary to revise rents which have been fixed prior to the beginning of 1886. Now, the Commissioners' Report was written at the commencement of 1887, so that almost in the same breath they associate the proposal of the term of five years with the recommendation that rents that have only been fixed 15 months shall be revised. It is practically clear that the idea uppermost there is not that rents shall be fixed for any given period, but that they are to be regulated by any casual or ephemeral variation which may take place within a less period than five years. If the Government had brought in a Bill to revise rents on the lines of the Commissioners' Report they would have practically only given relief to an infinitesimal portion of Irish tenants. The number of rents fixed up to De-comber, 1882, was only 43,000 out of 420 500,000. Assuming, therefore, that this principle were adopted, and all the tenants whose rents were fixed five years ago were to come to Court, you would have 8 per cent receiving relief, Therefore, the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman opposite constantly alluded to is practically illusory and would not give the relief which we wish to give, and which a considerable portion of the tenants in Ireland I believe deserve to have. Then, again, it would not be possible to revise the rents of 500,000 tenants within five years unless we adopted some automatic process. The Commissioners suggest that in substitution of the present scheme a sliding scale of the value of agricultural produce should be framed. No one who had read the evidence taken by the Commission could seriously entertain the idea of carrying out this suggestion. During 1879 the prices of Irish produce were higher than they were for several years before, or than they had been since. Therefore, to associate a quinquennial revision of rents with a sliding scale which would increase a tenant's rent in a year of famine and reduce it with exuberant plenty was unjust and untenable, and no responsible Government could entertain the suggestion. If this proposal were adopted, there would be no means of dealing with arrears; and one of the great difficulties to be dealt with is that a considerable proportion of the tenants are in arrear. Did the right hon. Gentleman take this difficulty into consideration; and how does he propose to deal with it? If you fix a rent every five years, it must be payable for five years. There is a still further objection. When the Land Act of 1881 was passed, that which had more effect upon the House of Commons than anything else was that the system of valuation by Sub-Commissioners was associated with appeal to the Chief Commissioners. Although in seven years only a limited number of persons have availed themselves of the privilege of appeal, the Commissioners have not yet disposed of all the appeals which have been made. If you largely increase the number of those who are to have their rents fixed under this Act, and limit the period during which they are to be revised, it is perfectly clear that the right of appeal will be rendered absolutely nugatory. If the suggestion had 421 been adopted, we should practically have turned topsy-turvy the Act of 1881, and not for the benefit of the great mass of the tenants, but, so far as the present year is concerned, for the benefit of only 8 per cent of the occupying tenants. Our proposals will compare favourably with any alternative suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman ventured to make. He said our proposals were unjust; but what is meant by justice? Every Irish Bill introduced by a Liberal Government has been brought forward under the plea of justice. Are right hon. Gentlemen opposite prepared to extend the same justice to landlords that they claim for tenants? There is no response to that question. Supposing that prices had risen considerably in Ireland, and suppose it had been moved that landlords should be freed from their contracts because prices had risen, would right hon. Gentlemen have assented to such a proposition? No; for this reason. Tenants are 30 times as numerous as landlords; and that which unfortunately regulates the dealings of Parliament with the Irish Laud Question is the amount of support and popularity to be gained. The right hon. Gentleman said it was demoralizing and insulting to tenants that they could not get free from their contracts except by means of bankruptcy. But every English and Scotch workman has to go through that process if he enters into a contract relating to commodities the prices of which fluctuate, and in consequence is unable to fulfill the obligations into which he has entered. Is the Bankruptcy Law of England and Scotland demoralizing to the English and Scotch people? Then the right hon. Gentleman said we had not interfered with the alternative process of fieri facias by which a creditor can obtain payment of his debt. That is the law under which creditors obtain payment from debtors. You wish only for justice. Landlords are on the same footing as other creditors. Will some hon. Gentleman, on the part of the Irish Party, come forward and propose to repeal the law not only as regards landlords, but also as regards all creditors?
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
We made the proposal in 1881, and you rejected it. It was called the Parnell Clause.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
We shall then be able to see how far the proposition can be supported. There are still more serious objections in principle to the only attempt at suggested alternative. It will be admitted that in many parts of Ireland there is no social or moral influence in favour of maintaining contracts. No doubt the reason is that in purely agricultural districts the great mass of contracts are between tenants and landlords. Therefore, if a tenant repudiates his obligation, even although he is able to fulfill it, he is not regarded as a defaulter, but rather as a hero, because tenants are identified in their interests. There is a tendency in Ireland in all sections of society, from the highest down to the lowest, if they become involved in difficulties, to expect the Government to extricate them, and not to reply upon individual exertions. If that be so, to assent to the principle that in Ireland tenants or other persons are to be relieved of their obligations simply on account of unwillingness, and not from inability to fulfill them, will be to give an impetus and sanction to these unhappy tendencies. It so happens that the Bankruptcy Clauses are those that are most denounced by landlords; and it seems almost impossible for any Government to attempt to maintain an even course between the conflicting interests of landlords and tenants without being attacked by both. I have great sympathy with Irish tenants. They have had the most powerful influences which animate human nature remorselessly brought against them—namely, cupidity and terrorism, and I must say that, on the whole, I think they have well responded to their obligations. The difficulty experienced by every Government dealing with the Irish Land Question is this—that this question, knotty and complicated as it is, is surrounded by a number of political and economical difficulties which make it at times almost insoluble. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), in passing the Land Act of 1881, conscious of these difficulties, banished the principles of political economy to Saturn, and seemed to think that they would remain there. They have returned to assert their authority with greater power than before. 423 The system of large estates, where the landlord does the improvements, is a beneficial system; but in Ireland the holdings are small, and where they are it is impossible for the landlord to carry out permanent improvements. Therefore there is a natural antagonism between the interests of the landlord and those of the tenants, which the controversies of the last 20 years have brought prominently into relief, and the solution of which, I think, can be found only in purchase. The right hon. Gentleman hoped that, in the debates on this Bill, there would be an absence of personal recrimination and of tu quoque. What were the action and opinion of right hon. Gentlemen opposite only a year ago? It is not for the purpose of exciting acrimonious feeling, but only to point out that, so far as Irish Land Questions are concerned, I say you cannot have a more unsafe guide than right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have heard Irish Land Bill after Irish Land Bill introduced by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and in every single instance the main recommendation of these Bills was their finality. Last year the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian introduced two measures, which he admitted were the most important which, in his experience of 50 years, had ever been proposed, by which a separate Government was to be set up, and complicated financial proposals were made for establishing the relations of England and Ireland, and the main basis of the financial proposals was the maintenance of the statutory rents as fixed prior to the last gale of November, 1885. If the House and the country last year had been deluded by the right hon. Gentleman into passing these two measures, where should we now financially have been, when, according to the statements of these right hon. Gentlemen, the whole foundation on which these financial relations rested was absolutely rotten? Therefore, continuous failure in the past is not a good augury for success in the future. If, then, right hon. Gentlemen opposite are vigorous in opposition to our proposals, and have nothing tangible in their place, the country will think that we are best serving its interests if we offer what we think a satisfactory solution of the matter.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
Although, like the 424 noble Lord who has just sat down, I intend to support the second reading of this Bill, I do so for reasons which are not altogether those which he has given, and with certain reservations, which I can hardly expect any Member of the Government, in the present stage of the discussion at all events, will be prepared to accept. Therefore I ask the indulgence of the House for the few observations which I shall make, and, in doing so, I will endeavour to follow the advice given at an earlier period of the evening by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), although, in doing so, I shall, perhaps, be unable to follow his example. I shall endeavour to avoid any unnecessary introduction of the controversial spirit, and anything like personal recrimination. Like my right hon. Friend, I intend to give to this Bill a fair and candid consideration. I can conceive that statement may appear, at first sight, alarming to the promoters of the measure, because my right hon. Friend has interpreted a fair and candid consideration as justifying a diatribe in which he has exhausted every possible epithet of scorn and contumely, and condemned, root and branch, every clause and line of the Bill, and has not a single word of approval for any part of the measure. What is this Bill in which my right hon. Friend finds nothing to approve, and everything to condemn? It is a Bill brought in by the Government in redemption of a pledge which they gave early in the Session that, concurrently with the Crimes Bill, they would endeavour to pass a remedial measure, dealing with the immediate and most urgent exigencies of the situation of the tenants of Ireland. Especially, they pledged themselves to deal justly with the leaseholders, whose case has hitherto received very scanty consideration from successive Governments. In the second place, they pledged themselves to prevent the possibility of the Crimes Bill being used in order to secure harsh and unjust evictions, by the pressure which the landlords might be able to exercise in straining their legal rights. I say, if we were able to consider this question altogether apart from Party interests, I do not believe there is a single intelligent and fair-minded man who would not admit that this Bill is an honest attempt—[Home Rule laughter and ironical 425 cheers.] I said any fair-minded man, and hon. Members below the Gangway need not be so anxious to separate themselves from that category. Any candid and fair-minded man would admit that this is an honest attempt to deal with the most pressing and urgent exigencies of the situation, and that it is something more than that—that it is generous in a degree than no previous measure has been, and that it goes further in the concessions which it makes than any Government has ever gone, whether Tory or Liberal. Hon. Members below the Gangway have been anxious to separate themselves from the category in which I have desired to place them. They do not think the Bill deserves the opinion which I have given to it. All I can say is, that my opinion is confirmed by what has taken place in "another place" with reference to the Bill. I find, for instance, Lord Fitzgerald—[Laughter from Mr. T. M. HEALY.] I should have thought that hon. Members below the Gangway would have recognized Lord Fitzgerald—[Renewed laughter.] I beg to remind the hon. and learned Member for North Longford that insulting interruptions are not arguments. [Loud Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
If I am the hon. and learned Member for North Longford, I should like to remind the right hon. Member for West Birmingham—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I shall certainly Name the hon. and learned Member for North Longford if he continues to interrupt in the manner in which he is doing.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
I should have thought that hon. Members below the Gangway would, at all events, have recognized Lord Fitzgerald as a man with probably a larger experience with reference to this question than any other politician, and as a man of singularly fair and impartial mind. Lord Fitzgerald, in speaking on this Bill, said that although he was strongly opposed to some of its provisions, he yet held the Bill to be a fair, honest, and upright attempt to deal with the most pressing and urgent necessities of the tenants of Ireland. But I do not 426 wish to confine myself to Lord Fitzgerald. I noticed that the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs quoted exclusively from Lord Salisbury. But why did he not quote the opinions of the legitimate Opposition in "another place?" I find, for instance, Lord Granville said there were clauses in the Bill which he cordially approved, other clauses in which he acquiesced, and others which he totally disapproved. I find also that Lord Spencer, Lord Kimberley, and Lord Herschell, while carefully criticizing the Bill in a fair, moderate, and reasonable spirit, at the same time repudiated any hostility to it, which they admitted to contain valuable provisions. I say that, under those circumstances, I am surprised that my right hon. Friend should meet the Bill, at the outset of its career, by a Resolution which he knows perfectly well would, if carried, destroy the Bill altogether, and, would, therefore, prevent the House of Commons, during the present Session or the present year, from doing anything to relieve the tenants of Ireland. My right hon. Friend admits, for instance, that the case of the leaseholders demands immediate attention. But if his Resolution were carried the leaseholders might whistle for another year, and would be prevented from obtaining the redress which now, for the first time, all Parties are ready to concede to them. It appears to me, to put it no higher, an error of tactics on the part of my right hon. Friend. I can quite understand that there are clauses in this Bill which my right hon. Friend may desire to amend. I can understand that there are grievances with which the Bill does not propose to deal, and which my right hon. Friend would like to have dealt with. But the place and time to deal with them is when the Bill is in Committee. It is to the Committee stage of the Bill that his opposition should have been directed. With regard, however, to the revision of rent, my right hon. Friend presents his Amendment to the House as though it were an alternative to the proposals of this Bill. He says—"If you wish to avoid the scandal and disorder"—I understand him to refer especially to the cases of evictions which have caused so much trouble and public indignation—"the scandal and disorder of harsh evictions, you must deal with this matter otherwise than it 427 is dealt with in the Bill—namely, by a revision of rents as is proposed in my Amendment." I venture to tell my right hon. Friend that is not an alternative at all. Even if the House were prepared to accept a general revision of rent as necessary and expedient, that would not make this Bill in the least degree unnecessary. If the Bill, on the other hand, is adopted without amendment, that will not prejudge in any way, nor preclude the consideration of the so-called alternative, or, as I prefer to call it, the addition of my right hon. Friend. The fact is that the Bill and the Amendment deal with two totally different branches of the same great question which ought to be each considered separately, and upon their merits. A decision upon one of them does not in the slightest degree affect the decision upon the other. Take the case of the Bill. It makes two great changes of first-class importance. It provides, in the first place, for the inclusion in the benefits of the Land Act of an unknown number of tenant leaseholders who have hitherto been excluded. The Chief Secretary for Ireland has to-night given us some very interesting statistics upon this subject. According to his latest information, this Bill will provide for the inclusion in the benefits of the Land Act of over 100,000 tenants. Is that a small matter? Is that a trifle? Is that a thing which is to be treated with contempt? Is that a matter which, if it stood alone, is to be rejected on a side-issue on the Amendment of my right hon. Friend? Then the Bill professes to provide for the case of unnecessary, unjust, and harsh evictions. It professes to render impossible, or, at all events, to limit, such evictions as those at Glenbeigh and Bodyke. What would the Amendment of my right hon. Friend have done in that respect? His Amendment does not deal with the question of arrears. It was proved that some of the tenants at Glenbeigh had not paid rent for six years. What I should like to know will a revision of rents do for tenants who have not been able to pay rent for six years? My right hon. Friend proposes as an alternative, as a satisfactory settlement of the Irish Land Question, that the Report of the Cowper Commissioners should in part be adopted, and that some scheme should be agreed upon for a general revision of rents, regard 428 being paid to the fall in prices. I complain that my right hon. Friend was very vague. He refused, when challenged, to commit himself to the Report of the Commissioners; but if he does not accept their Report, why does he blame the Government for not accepting it? If he may criticize the Commissioners, and propose an alternative, why may not the Government do the same? [Mr. CHANCE: It was their own Commission.] Their own Commission! I wonder if the hon. Member who makes that observation has been long in the House? If he has been here long, I will ask him whether, in the course of his experience, he has ever known any Government who have adopted, without alteration, the Report of a Commission they themselves have appointed? I was for some years a Member of a Government who appointed many Commissions; but we never accepted their recommendations. We recognized that the evidence and recommendations contained valuable suggestions worthy of consideration; but we always exercised our own discretion. After all, we have not come to this in this country, that we are to be governed by Commission. I have pointed out that the Amendment of my right hon. Friend is inadequate and insufficient, because it does not deal with the question of arrears. But take another point. Suppose we accept his view of the revision of rents. The revision is to be strictly confined to such a reduction as the fall in prices would justify. Well, the fall is 18½ per cent, and the Sub-Commissioners have recently reduced rents by from 10 to 14 per cent below the average judicial rent fixed before 1885. But my right hon. Friend says—"Oh, there have been recently exceptional reductions of 40 per cent." But before 1885, there were exceptional reductions of 40 per cent and more. The average reduction was 18 per cent; but the exceptional reductions were quite as great as those referred to by my right hon. Friend. We have to deal with this assumption and hypothesis, that the judicial rents fixed before 1885 were fair at the time when they were fixed. Is that accepted? [ Cries of "No!"from the Home Rule Members.] Then how can you consistently propose as a remedy that you shall go to people who were unable, from 1880 to 1885, to fix a fair rent, and who, you now assume, will, in 429 reviewing these rents, fix a fair rent? That will not bear examination. You must proceed upon the assumption that the Commissioners dealt fairly with these cases to the hest of their judgment, and that when they fixed fair rent, those rents were fair at the time. All that you have to consider now is, that since the Commissioners fixed the rents, circumstances which they did not anticipate have wrought a change. My right hon. Friend says that there ought to be a reduction, in consequence, of 10, 14, or even 23 per cent if you take the view of Mr. Knipe. What I wish to point out to my right hon. Friend is, that you might have granted reductions of 10, 14, 20, or even 23 per cent to the tenants at Glenbeigh and Bodyke, and that you would not have stopped a single one of the evictions. Yet this is the alternative which my right hon. Friend recommends in preference to the Bill of the Government, which he has described in language of such extraordinary hyperbole. I do not think that my right hon. Friend appreciates the really strong argument in favour of his own contention. He does not appreciate the point in which his Amendment differs from the Bill. I should have thought that the object of his Amendment was to deal with a class of cases which the Bill admittedly leaves entirely out of account—namely, the cases of the solvent tenants, who do not go into the Courts, who are able to pay, although at great sacrifice, and who see their capital dwindling away. For these tenants the Bill affords no relief; and if my right hon. Friend had stated that it was his object to relieve them, I would at once admit that the matter deserves very serious consideration. But this subject lies altogether outside the Bill, and ought not to be used as an instrument for its destruction. The Amendment in that sense may be good or bad; but is it not altogether unreasonable on the part of my right hon. Friend, because he thinks it does not go far enough, that he should refuse the half loaf, which proverbially is a great deal better than no bread. Under these circumstances, my course is perfectly clear, if my right hon. Friend thinks it desirable to proceed to a Division. ["Hear, hear!" from the Home Rule Members.] I am so glad I have made myself clear and intelligible to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. [Laughter.] I shall vote for 430 the second reading of the Bill; but in doing so I want it to be understood also that I do not consider that anyone who votes for the second reading is thereby disposing of, or prejudging the question of a revision of rents. That is a totally different question, which will no doubt come up on the Committee stage of the Bill, and on which I reserve to myself absolute liberty of action. All I am doing is this—by voting for the second reading, I am affirming the necessity of providing for the attainment of the objects aimed at by the Bill, and of endeavouring, by the best means open to the Legislature, to prevent harsh, unjust, and unnecessary evictions. Now, in the further discussion of this question it seems to me there are two main points that we have to keep in view. In the first place, we have to ask ourselves—Has it become necessary to destroy—because that is the effect of the proposal—and absolutely upset the great Settlement of 1881, which was declared at that time, and on many subsequent occasions, to be a final, an almost sacred settlement, and which was not voluntarily accepted, but imposed upon at least one of the parties to the Legislative contract? That is the first question; and then the second question is this—Does this Bill, regarded by itself, quite independently of the question of revision, fairly and fully meet the case it is intended to meet; can it be amended if defective, and does it, therefore, deserve a second reading? Now, as regards the first point of the revision of rents, I have endeavoured to consider the matter impartially, and I do not think there is any Party in the House or any man in the House who is entitled to lay any claim to infallibility in reference to this great question of Irish land. Those of us who were parties to the Settlement of 1881 have to confess, if we are now in favour of a review of that Settlement, that we were unable to anticipate the circumstances which have since arisen, and which have made that Settlement—which we thought and declared to be final, and which we almost promised should be final—unsatisfactory and have caused it to require review. On the other hand, the Members of the great Party opposite who opposed that Settlement cannot pretend that when they opposed it they foresaw or predicted the particular point upon which 431 it would break down; and, at the present time, I would go further, and say that they have since that undertaken a great responsibility of which they cannot relieve themselves by appointing a Commission to inquire into the facts; and, having got the facts, they are bound to deal with them, either by accepting the recommendations of the Commission, or by some alternative and more satisfactory proposal. Now, when the matter was discussed before—I think it was on the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell)—it was possible and even reasonable that doubts should be felt on two very important points. Doubt was expressed, and no doubt honestly felt, first as to the extent and character of the fall in prices which was alleged to have occurred; and, secondly—and this was still more important—doubt was expressed as to the extent to which that fall in prices might have been discounted and calculated upon by the Assistant Commissioners of the Land Courts in estimating the judicial rents. Now, we have the Report of the Commission; and, putting aside altogether the recommendations of the Commission, we have incontrovertible evidence to show that there has been a great and undoubted fall in the value of produce since the rents settled previous to 1885 were fixed; and, secondly, we have the evidence of the Land Commissioners who fixed those rents that they did not take that fact fully into account at the time when they gave their earlier decision. These are, in a certain sense, two new facts which are authentically disclosed by the Report of the Commission and the evidence which covers it. We have, further, the evidence, to which I have already referred, that the Commissioners have settled rent since 1885 on an average level of from 10 to 14 per cent below the level they had previous adopted. I say it follows from these facts that, if the later rents are fair, the earlier rents are unfair to the extent of from 10 to 14 per cent at least. I do not see how we can possibly avoid that conclusion. Now, there are two witnesses on this point to whom I will briefly refer, because they will be recognized as absolutely impartial witnesses, at all events upon a point of this kind. The first witness is Mr. Litton. He was a Member of the Land Court, he is well known to many Mem- 432 bers of the House, he is a very fair-minded man, and has a very large and extraordinary experience in reference to this question; and I should think nobody would doubt his honesty and integrity. Mr. Litton is entirely opposed to anything like a general revision of rents; but he says that the fall in prices since 1885–6 ought to be met by allowances granted by the landlord. That is an admission that the rents fixed previously to that time have become too high, and that they ought to be reduced; and I quote it for that purpose. The other witness is Mr. Townsend Trench, who is a landlord's agent. I believe him to be a perfectly fair-minded man; but, at all events, it is not likely that his evidence will be impugned as being unfavourable to the landlord. Mr. Townsend Trench says that if the fall in prices is permanent, there is no doubt the judicial rents are unfair. If, on the contrary, it was only temporary, it ought to have been met by corresponding abatements. Two witnesses, then, assert that, owing to the extraordinary and exceptional fall in prices, great temporary abatement, at all events, was necessary in the rents fixed previously to 1885. The next question we have to consider is this—if these abatements ought to have been made, if they were due, have they been made? Well, this is a question upon which I suppose there is a good deal of difference of opinion. I have looked very carefully at the evidence given before the Commission and there are from 25 to 30 witnesses who declare that abatements have been made generally by the landlords even upon judicial rents. But it is also certain that there are other witnesses who declare that, in particular cases, landlords have refused abatements. I think that it would be found, if you looked still more closely into the question, that in most of the cases where abatements have been refused—with some remarkable exceptions—they have been refused by landlords who are in a position very little removed from the miserable condition of their own tenants—so burdened by charges on their estates that they have no margin out of which to make the abatements which everybody admits ought to be made. I believe that it would be found that, in the first place, it is only in the minority of cases that abatements have been refused; and, in 433 the second place, that in the majority of this minority abatements have been refused because, under the present circumstances, the landlords are incapable and have not the means of making them. But, still, that leaves the House with a real grievance, one very difficult to deal with, but with which we ought to deal—namely, the case of solvent tenants—be the cases many or few—who, upon the admission of everybody, are called upon to pay rents which have become unfair, owing to the fall in prices, and who are unable to obtain reasonable abatements in their rents. Now, I go on to ask another question. Is this grievance of an extent and character such as to justify the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling district, and to require the absolute upsettal of the sacred Settlement of 1881, and the revision of all judicial rents fixed previous to 1885? Now, upon that point I am going to quote a speech of Sir George Trevelyan in 1884, and I want to point out that that speech was made before this great fall in prices, and therefore I am not going to quote it in order to complain of the inconsistency of their holding that judicial rents should not be revised, and now in 1886 holding that they should be revised? I do not think that there is any inconsistency. The speech was made in circumstances of some solemnity, and after a conference with his Colleagues, and I quote it to show the importance we attached at that time to the permanence of that Settlement and also the danger which we saw might result from a disturbance of that settlement. Speaking on the 5th of March, 1884, Sir George Trevelyan said—The Government preferred, therefore, to state that if ever there was a great Act which in their opinion was carefully and thoroughly considered and which it was not expedient to ask Parliament to amend, it was the Land Act of 1881. It was meant for a land settlement of Ireland, and the character of permanency and immutability so necessary in their opinion to a settlement they intended, as far as in them lay, to give it. He could only repeat the language of the Prime Minister on March 14, 1883, in which he stated—'We have at no time since the passing of the Land Act used any word or done any acts which would justify, in any way, any one in supposing that we were prepared to concur or, so far as we are concerned, to allow any disturbance of its fundamental provisions.' That language he could only respectfully repeat to Gentlemen on both sides of the House who 434 desired to change the organic structure of the Land Act.Later on, the right hon. Gentleman used these words—The earnest wish and desire of the Government was to further, in any way that was not dangerous to the interests of the Treasury or to the safe administration of Ireland, the creation of a peasant proprietary. But one essential and preliminary condition was that the minds of those who alone could buy, or at any rate who the Government were anxious should buy, should be fully informed as to the permanence of the conditions under which they had been living since the Land Act of 1881; and on that point he had thought it necessary to speak in terms which could leave no doubt in the mind of any single Member of that House."—(3 Hansard,  588, 589–90.)I quote this to show that in the mind of the Government of that date that the permanence of the Land Act was a matter of the greatest possible importance, and that it was necessary in their mind, in order that the Government might go on with the scheme, to promote a peasant proprietary to which they looked as an important element in the settlement of the Land Question. What I have to say now is, that although circumstances have changed since then, and though a fall in prices which was not anticipated has taken place, I cannot find it necessary, or even just, to blame the Government, because they say now, in view of such reasons as those to which I have referred, and of the opinion of men so distinguished as authorities upon the question as Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Litton, against any general revision of rents—I cannot find it in my heart to blame the Government because they say now they are not prepared to adopt the recommendation of the Commission and to engage in a general revision of judicial rents throughout Ireland, but, on the contrary, prefer the alternative which was present to the mind of the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1884, and which now, I believe, is present to the mind of everyone who considers the subject—because they prefer to look for a permanent settlement of the question to proposals dealing with the dual ownership of land in Ireland. If the Government had been in a position to-day to do that which they might well have hoped to be in a position to do when they first declared their policy—namely, to lay before the House the alternative policy for settling 435 the Land Question by means of a scheme of land purchase—I think, whatever that scheme may be, they would have been justified in rejecting absolutely any proposal for disturbing the Settlement of 1881; but they are unable to do that. I am not now considering the question of where the blame lies, or why it is that the Session has passed without the remedial measures in the contemplation of the Government at the commencement of the Session having been brought forward. I am not dealing with that question, because they cannot be brought forward now. But we must bear in mind that next Session is the earliest time at which any proposals for settling the Land Question can be brought before the House. We do not know what those proposals will be, or whether they will be acceptable to the House. If they be accepted they cannot come into operation for a year, or possibly two years afterwards, so that there can be no effectual remedy for those grievances, which are undoubted, until two or three years have passed. I ask myself, and I ask the House and the Government to consider, whether it is not possible, as a temporary expedient, to deal with these cases? You are bringing forward a great and generous measure, trying to deal with some of the more pressing exigencies of the case. Here is another grievance. Can you not deal with it at the same time? Is it altogether impossible to devise some proper means without destroying the Settlement of 1881, without involving anything like a general revision of rents, of providing some remedy for those who as well deserve the sympathy of this House as any class of tenants in Ireland—the solvent tenants who are called upon by landlords—exceptional landlords—to pay a rent which is notoriously unfair and unjust? There are two points, it seems to me, to which Her Majesty's Government may be invited to direct their attention—two points on which they should be willing to receive suggestions. They should consider whether, having regard to the fact that it had been stated again and again—I will not stop to inquire whether it is true or not—on behalf of the landlords of Ireland, that the majority of landlords have already voluntarily made fair and reasonable reductions on the judicial rents in consequence of the fall 436 in prices, the Government should, I think, see whether, having regard to that fact, they should not consider whether those tenants who are in this category, and who have not received any just abatements to which they are entitled, should not have the liberty of coming into Court and asking for some revision of their position. Good landlords, we are told—the majority of landlords—have met their tenants fairly, and have given a reduction equivalent to 10, 14, and even 15 per cent on the judicial rents. Why should bad landlords escape scot free? Why should tenants who happen to have landlords who are unable voluntarily to offer these abatements be placed in a worse position than tenants of good landlords? Why should not the Government do something to meet this case, which I believe to be a real case of substantial grievance, and make this Bill, with the help of the House, as complete a temporary settlement as they possibly can? The second point to which I would call the attention of the Government is this—I have said that in the majority of cases in which abatements have been refused by landlords in. Ireland it has been because the landlords themselves are already in such desperate straits. I ask the Government to consider the case of these landlords. I ask the Government to consider whether, having regard to the state of circumstances of the case, the time has not come to review the case of those landlords who are suffering under the burden of family charges which have been established under circumstances quite different to those which now exist. Why is the landlord to be the only person who is not to be relieved? I know the question is full of difficulties. I know it is a knotty problem. But I do not think such a review as I suggest is without precedent. We know that in the case of insolvent companies and insolvent estates, an arrangement is often made and imposed upon the prior and preference creditors, by which they have to share the sacrifices imposed on the ordinary creditors, and I should like to know why there should be one class in Ireland, one class alone connected with the land, which is not to sustain any sacrifices which circumstances have imposed on every other class. It seems to me that if the Government were to make some provision for the relief of 437 landlords who are overburdened by these charges, there would then be less difficulty in providing for a similar abatement being given by those landlords to that which has been given by good landlords throughout Ireland. I have now said all that I have to say with regard to the Amendment of my right hon. Friend. I have pointed out to the House that the Amendment of my right hon. Friend is a matter which I think is well worthy of consideration; but it is clear that it is one that ought to be treated separately, and on account of which the House would not be justified in destroying this Bill, and in parting from the subject for the present Session. The second point to which I desire to direct attention is, whether this Bill as it stands, independently of any addition that may be made to it, is worthy of a second reading. I do not pretend—I do not know whether the Government pretend—that this Bill is absolutely perfect and cannot be amended. I think it is defective in some points and I will refer to three main points which I think demand further consideration. In the first place, the Bill deals with the case of the leaseholders, and I understand and believe that the Government desire to deal largely and generously with the cases of the leaseholders who have hitherto been excluded from consideration, but who are now to be brought in to the benefits of the Land Act of 1881. The Chief Secretary has told us to-night, on the authority of Sir Ball Green, that 12 years ago there were in Ireland 113,000 leaseholders, of which 101,000 held terminable leases. Taking these figures as representing the present number, this would leave 12,000 outside of this Bill. Now, why should they be excluded? I can conceive of no argument for excluding them from the Bill. Perpetuity leases have been represented as being in many cases equivalent to a Scotch feu. In that case, there would be no reason for a reduction of rent, but on the other hand there can be no argument against allowing the possessor of a feu appealing to the Land Court. Certainly there are a number of cases of perpetuity leases which are not feus or anything like fues, and Mr. Tyrrel, Clerk of the Crown for the County Armagh, and also Mr. Richard have given evidence to the effect that there are many perpetuity leases, the rents of which to their know- 438 ledge are higher than the judicial rents. In this case when these perpetuity leases were accepted, the tenants were under precisely the same sort of pressure which has justified the whole land legislation of recent years. Why should not the tenants have an opportunity of going to the Court? We are not asking that reduction of rents should be afforded. We are only asking that an opportunity should be afforded of reviewing them by a judicial tribunal. If the rents are, as is contended, a mere feu rent of insignificant amount, of course the tenants will not think of bringing thorn into Court, and I cannot conceive any argument whatever for excluding them from the possibility of appeal. But there is a much more serious limitation in the Bill for which I cannot conceive the slightest justification; that is altogether outside the 12,000 perpetuity leases. It is the case of tenants whose landlords or their predecessors have made improvements to the extent of four times the amount of the rent. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, but does anyone suppose that the landlords have made those improvements without charging rents for them? I can understand that it may be fair to say that as regards so much rent as represented interests on the improvements, there should be no appeal whatever. It is in the nature of money lent, on which interest and instalments ought to be paid. But why should the fact that money has been lent and interest charged upon it preclude the tenant from appealing in regard to the remainder of the balance of the rent? He is in the same position as any other tenant. Take the case of a tenancy of £100 a-year. Suppose the landlord has spent £400 in improvements, and has charged £20 a-year—a moderate interest—for that £400. Then the rent of the tenant is made up of two items, £80 a-year being the rent of the holding, and £20 a-year being the interest and instalment of the landlord. Why should not the tenant have a right of appeal to the Court whether £80 is a fair rent or not. I venture to suggest that the Government, who, in my opinion, at all events, are settling this question in a generous way, should not spoil a gracious act by any grudging recognition of the claims of this class of tenants. Nothing can be more unwise, in my opinion, when 439 dealing with the great majority of the leasehold tenants of Ireland, to leave behind centres of disaffection and of justifiable complaint which would prevent this Bill from being what it professes to be—a temporary settlement of the difficulties of the case. Then I come to the much more important clauses which deal with equitable jurisdiction. I listened with great interest and attention to the account of those clauses given by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling district. I must say that I think it is impossible for anyone professing to give a fair and candid consideration to this Bill to give a more jaundiced account of those proposals. I only give my own opinion; but I believe that the clauses which are described as the Equitable Jurisdiction Clauses do give, with one exception which I shall shortly mention, an absolute and satisfactory and sufficient relief to tenants who are unable to pay and who are threatened with eviction. What was it the Government pledged themselves to do? It was alleged when the Crimes Bill was introduced that it would be used in order to promote harsh and unjust evictions. The Government pledged themselves to introduce a measure which should interpose the equitable discretion of a judicial tribunal between the tenant and the landlord. I think they have done so. I contend, then, that under these clauses, before a tenant can be evicted, he can go to the Court, and if he can show that his inability to pay rent is due to no culpable act of his own—it is not a mere question of whether the rent is unfair—it may be a question of misfortune—but if he can show, independently of the fairness of the rent, that his position is one due to misfortune and not to culpable neglect, he can get from the Court a stay of process, and that stay may be indeterminate in time and extent. He may get an order from the Court to pay by instalments, which may be of any amount, and spread over any length of time. I say that I think it is impossible to provide more fully than this clause does for the discretion of the Court, in a case in which the Court thinks that an eviction ought not to take place. Suppose this Bill had been passed, as it ought to have been passed, before the evictions took place the other day at Bodyke. If the account given to us of 440 the circumstances attending those evictions be true—of which I know nothing—but if those evictions were the harsh and disgraceful proceedings which we were told they were, all that would have been proved before a Court which would have intervened and protected those tenants, and they would now be in possession of their holdinge. So far as it goes, therefore, the clause is an absolute protection to the tenant, and fully carries out the pledge which the Government gave. But the exception to which I referred has been mentioned by my right hon. Friend. There is another process open to the landlord, the process of fieri facias. The landlord has two courses open. He may bring an action for ejectment, and in that case the Government Bill intervenes and secures the intervention and discretion of the Court. But if he prefers he may go for the recovery of rent. That action may be removed by certiorari, and then upon that a fieri facias may issue, and there may be a sale of the holding. This second proceeding which is open to the landlord has, I believe, been very seldom resorted to in the past. ["Oh, oh!"] The ordinary course of the landlord has been to proceed by way of ejectment.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
No doubt the hon. and learned Member is a much better witness than I am. In any case, however, that does not affect my argument. What I was going to say is this—I understand that it was argued on behalf of the Government that this second proceeding by fieri facias was not a usual proceeding, and was open to considerable objections, as it involved expense and was not so easy and ready a method as that of ejectment; therefore, it was not adopted by the landlord, and it was not necessary to provide for it. I am bound to say that I entirely differ from that view. You want to keep a man out of your house. In ordinary circumstances, he enters by the front door; but if you block up the front door, he will come in by the back door, if you leave it open. It may be that this proceeding is less advantageous to the landlord than proceeding by ejectment; but if you block proceedings by ejectment it seems absolutely certain that every bad landlord will resort to, the alternative by 441 fieri facias. Therefore, I do urge on the Government, as strongly as I can, that they, at all events, shall make their equitable jurisdiction clause effective, and take some step to block the back door while closing the front door. The noble Lord who preceded me (Lord George Hamilton) said that this proceeding by fieri facias is the usual proceeding adopted by all creditors. And if you stop the landlord from adopting it, you should stop the other creditors too. I understand that hon. Members below the Gangway accept that view, therefore there would be no difficulty about the assent both of hon. Members below the Gangway and of hon. Members on this side of the House, to any proposal on the part of the Government which will deal with both the case of the ordinary creditors and with the case of the landlord. And let me remind the House of this point. It is not proposed to destroy the power of recovery by fieri facias any more than it is proposed by the clause as it stands to destroy the power of eviction. "What you want to do is to prevent unjust eviction, and the unjust recovery of the debt. What you want to do, if you make exceptions, is to secure that in these cases there shall always be an equitable intervention of the Court. If the recovery is just, it will proceed by fieri facias as it would by the other course. No doubt, in the case of an ordinary creditor, in nine cases out of ten the tenant does not pretend that the debt is unjust. The position on the part of the landlord is that the tenant pretends that the landlord claims an unjust rent, and that altogether alters the situation. All I want is not to decide the question in this House, but to allow the intervention of the Court in each case to decide whether the demand of the creditor for the recovery of the debt, or of the landlord for the recovery of the rent, is just. Let process issue; and if the demand is not just, give the same power in every case for the stay of execution. The third point with which only I propose to deal to-night is the question of the Bankruptcy Clauses. These clauses have been very unpopular in this House and I think in the country too. I am sorry to say that I have never heard anybody who would say a good word for them. I am supposed to be particularly interested in this part of the subject. ["Hear, hear!"] I think that hon. Members do 442 me too much honour, and if they knew the facts they would not give me so much credit for these clauses as they seem prepared to do. I would only say that when they become aware that I am not responsible for these clauses, they may give them a more fair and candid consideration than they would otherwise be inclined to do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) has referred to my supposed connection with these clauses, and he said, I think, that I had been successful in passing an English Bankruptcy Act through the House of Commons, and that since then I had got bankruptcy on the brain, and that I recommended bankruptcy as a universal panacea for all the evils to which mankind are subject. I do not complain in the least at that rather humorous exaggeration of my right hon. Friend; but I venture to tell him that he is under a total misconception as to the nature of bankruptcy whether in England or in Ireland, and as to the effect which these clauses would have. In the first place, I do not admit the justice of the description of the right hon. Member for the Stirling District, who waxed eloquent, indignant, and even pathetic, at the idea of subjecting the people to what he called the stigma of bankruptcy, which he declared to be demoralizing, degrading, and insulting to the people of Ireland. Well, I hope that the people of Ireland will not feel more insulted than the people of England, Scotland, and Wales, who all have a Bankruptcy Act, and who are accustomed to regard it, not as a stigma and humiliation, but as a measure of relief. Insolvency may be a subject of humiliation. It may involve a stigma on the people who are insolvent if it has been brought about by their fault. But bankruptcy is the process by which the Legislature has endeavoured to relieve innocent insolvents from the pressure of circumstances. When a man cannot pay his rent, and cannot pay anything, he is insolvent. No power on earth can relieve him from that "stigma and humiliation." All that the Legislature can do is by a process of bankruptcy to relieve him from his legal obligations to his creditors. I hope the House will bear with me while I deal with some details on this matter. These Bankruptcy Clauses are an extension of the other relief clauses under the Bill. They may 443 be considered quite separately and as standing by themselves, and quite independently of the clause as to equitable jurisdiction, to which I think little objection can be taken. When they were first introduced into" another place" they contained a provision, which I admit was open to serious objection and criticism. As they were first introduced, the landlord could make the tenant bankrupt; and upon that it was alleged that they were clauses for enabling landlords to make all their tenants bankrupts. Well, that objection has been entirely removed, and that at the instance of an Irish land-land and an Irish Peer—at the instance of a Member of that much-abused class—so that, at that present time, this is an option of relief which is made to the tenant, which he need not accept unless he likes. If the tenant thinks it a stigma and a humiliation—I forget the exact expressions which my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling District used in reference to it, but he went into the Italian classics for his description of the state of things in which the unfortunate tenant would find himself involved—if the tenant takes that view he need not touch this clause at all. And what hon. Members below the Gangway and my right hon. Friend seem to wish to do in relation to this clause is this—they are preventing the tenants of Ireland from having the option of a mode of relief which, after all, if we came to consider it quietly, we might greatly prefer to the other. Well, now, Sir, it has been said that I am deeply interested in these clauses; and, therefore, I venture to suggest to the Government that these clauses are not for the benefit of the landlord. I do not believe you will find a single landlord in Ireland who likes them. I believe that the landlords hate them. I believe that one of the great difficulties in passing the other clauses of this Bill through the other House has been the objection which the landlords have taken not altogether without reason to those bankruptcy proposals which, in my judgment, are most generous, and have a very far-reaching consequence. Well, now we are told by those whom we must admit are authorized to speak on behalf of the tenants, that they reject these clauses with contempt. [Home Rule cheers.] That is so. Then I advise the Government to take note of that. I advise the Government to drop these 444 clauses. I do not see why, at this period of the Session, we should be kept here for I do not know how many days discussing a proposal which I firmly believe is a proposal of very great advantage to the tenants, but which those who claim to speak on the part of the tenants declare to be no advantage at all, and reject with contempt and contumely. Sir, what I venture to suggest is that this Bill should be relieved by the omission of these clauses. If the Government choose to proceed with them, I am prepared to support them, because I believe they would be found to work in the interests of the tenants; but, at the same time, I sincerely hope the Government will not proceed with them. I hope the Government will drop those clauses, and relieve the Bill and. relieve the House of all discussion which would otherwise take place upon them. And then all that would be necessary would be that they would allow some extension of the provisions on the preceding clause for equitable jurisdiction to enable the Court, in case the landlord and tenant do not come to a reasonable agreement with regard to the arrears, to make a composition which to them the justice of the case admits. There are a great many other matters of detail which will, no doubt, be discussed in Committee; but, so far as I am concerned, I have dealt with what appear to me to be the principal points of the Bill, and I hope the Members of the Government will consider favourably any suggestions which may be made, from whatever quarter of the House it may come, for the amendment and improvement of this Bill, and that they will endeavour, with the assistance of the whole House, to make this as complete a measure of temporary relief as it is possible to make it. I say for myself that, even as the Bill stands, subject, perhaps, to the alteration with regard to the question of fieri facias to which I have referred—subject to that, even as the Bill stands, and without Amendments, which I hope will be introduced, I believe that this Bill is a substantial, and even a generous measure of relief, and that it ought to be accepted in the interests of the tenants of Ireland, even though it be impossible to secure additions and Amendments to it. I gathered from something that was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secre- 445 tary that the Irish Representatives below the Gangway are prepared to treat this Bill with contempt.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
Well, that is a very serious and unsatisfactory state of things; but I ask the House to consider whether in recent times those who now claim to be the Representatives of the National Party in Ireland have ever received any effort of any statesman to deal with the grievances of their constituents otherwise than with contempt? [Cries of"Gladstone !" and "Last April."] I am speaking of Land Bills.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
They received the Bill brought in by the late Government in 1880 for compensation for disturbance with contempt. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes; that was a measure of relief. I do not think they voted against it. I am not certain; but I think they voted against the third reading. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: No, no!] Then they did not vote at all. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: We did.] I am speaking from memory; and I will not, therefore, pledge myself to a particular statement; but I make this general statement, that they gave us no assistance in carrying that Bill, and I am certain that, at some stage or other of the Bill, they opposed it.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
Bad Amendments are Amendments which do not carry out the views of hon. Members.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
I have known very many occasions when they have proposed Amendments absolutely impracticable when they have not dared in any other way to oppose the principle of the Bill. I say that was their conduct with regard to the Bill of 1880. What was their conduct with regard to the Bill of 1881? Did they give to that Bill a generous and an unhesitating support? [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Certainly not.] No, certainly not; yet that is the Bill upon which they now 446 rest. Although in one particular it has broken down, although in circumstances which no one could have foreseen, owing to the fall of prices, it has become unsatisfactory, it is now the sheet anchor of the Irish Members; and they never did a more unpopular thing, and they know it, than when, during the progress of the Bill, they offered on many occasions opposition which I confess I cannot admit was altogether patriotic. But I say that experience does not justify us, I am sorry to say, in accepting the support of the Irish Members—in assuming, I would rather say, the support of Irish Members—for any proposal of remedial legislation. At the same time, our duty remains unchanged by their attitude. I believe that the Bill carries out the pledge which the Government gave to do their best to prevent harsh, unjust, and unnecessary evictions. I believe that if this Bill is passed, these evictions will be absolutely impossible without the intervention of the Court; and I believe that no Court will allow such evictions as those which have shocked the public mind within recent times. It is on this account that I am prepared to give a hearty assent to the second reading of the Bill, although I hope that the Government will be willing to consider favourably any reasonable and just Amendments which may be proposed in extension of their proposal. I can say for myself that, in the observations I have made to the House, I have tried, as far as I can, to deal with the matter fairly, and without Party spirit. I know there are branches of this thorny and difficult Irish Question from which it is almost impossible to exclude personal and partizan feelings; but I still venture to hope that, as this is the last occasion we shall have this Session of dealing with the practical and material grievances of the Irish tenants, that all Parties may unite in one common endeavour to secure the largest and most complete measure of relief that can, with justice, be applied to them under the existing difficulties.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Dillon,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.