§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [11th July], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, 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 again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), in his speech of yesterday, addressed very pointedly to the Irish Members who sat below the Gangway a question to the following effect—he asked us whether we were prepared to say that in the present condition of this Bill we would reject it with contempt? Sir, although I do not undertake to answer for the whole of my Friends, so far as I go personally, I have not the slightest difficulty in replying to that question. I say that, with the exception of the 1st clause, that I most unquestionably would reject the 526 Bill with contempt as a measure of relief, and I believe that in making that statement I am expressing the view not alone of that portion of the farming population of Ireland who sympathize with us politically, but that I am also expressing the view of the body of farmers in the North of Ireland who do not at present sympathize with our political views.
§ MR. DILLON
The hon. Member for South Tyrone can express himself on the matter shortly; but I shall take the opportunity of visiting his constituency, and taking their opinion on it. I accept, Mr. Speaker, the 1st clause; but even with regard to that portion of the Bill, although undeniably and admittedly in its present shape it would confer upon a large and important class of tenants in Ireland very great benefits, it is so marred and mutilated by restrictions and drawbacks that even in the case of the 1st clause the grace of the concession is almost entirely destroyed. Now, Sir, I am aware that there are in this measure two or three clauses which would appear to grant some benefit to the tenantry of Ireland. The 2nd clause and the 6th clause are of that character; but looking at the Bill as a whole, and accepting the supposition which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham asked us in his question, I have not the slightest hesitation in repeating the reply that I gave to him last night, and saying that apart from the 1st clause I do reject that measure with contempt, as inadequate and utterly worthless to the tenantry of Ireland, and I think I shall be able to prove, notwithstanding the contradiction of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, that I am supported in this view of this Bill, not by the Nationalist Party alone, but by the body by whose votes certain Gentlemen have been enabled to sit in this House, and profess themselves to be Representatives of the tenants, when in reality they represent the interests of the landlords. I have here an extract from an article written upon this Bill by The Londonderry Standard, a journal which more than any other paper in Ireland represents the independent opinion of the Presbyterian farmers of the North of Ireland; and what does that paper say, writing 527 upon the 6th of July, in reference to the present measure? It says, after recounting the misfortunes and grievances of the tenantry of Ireland—This new Land Bill in its present shape will accentuate these evils, and should it pass into law, the last state of the tenant farmers will be considerably worse than the first.This is the view of The Londonderry Standard, and I challenge the hon. Member for South Tyrone, when he proceeds to enlighten the House to-day, to deny the fact that the readers of The Londonderry Standard are the Liberal Presbyterian farmers of Ulster whom, to my regret, we have not succeeded in converting to our views in political matters. But The Londonderry Standard goes on to say—It will not pass into law. The Liberals and Liberal Unionists will not run the danger of having such odium cast upon them by not opposing it with all their power and throwing it like an unclean thing out of the House.These are not the words of Nationalists—they are the deliberate and written opinions of a journal which is entitled, as I have already stated, to speak more authoritatively on behalf of the Northern farmers of Ireland than any other newspaper in Ireland. Towards the close of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham asked me this question. He said—What measure has ever been introduced by English statesmen professing to offer amelioration to the condition of the people of Ireland which has not been met by the Representatives of Ireland with contempt?Sir, I reply to that question by pointing to the 8th of April of last year, when, for the first time, an English statesman really understood the Irish Question, and really offered a full measure of amelioration to the Irish people; and was that measure met with contempt by the Representatives of Ireland? But, suppose that I lay aside the case of the 8th of April of last year, I utterly deny that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has made out his case. Was the Bill of 1870 met by the Representatives of Ireland, miserably inadequate as it proved to be, with contempt? It was not. It was met with criticism, in which the Irish Members were proved to be right and the English Ministers wrong. Was the Land Bill of 1881 met with contempt? It was met with adverse criticism; and I ask every in- 528 telligent Member on both sides of this House whether time has not justified us in the criticisms we made on that Bill then. What were the points on which we found fault with the Bill of 1881? We complained of the exclusion of leaseholders, and the fixing of rents on the tenants' improvements. We complained of charging the judicial rents from the date of the hearing of the case, instead of from the date of the application. We complained of the exclusion of town parks. And, finally, we stated that the measure could not, in our opinion, be a final settlement of the Irish Land Question; and that we considered no measure could be looked upon with any degree of hope as a final settlement of that question which did not provide some machinery by which the occupier could become the owner of his farm. Let the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, or any other hon. Member of the House, stand up and point to a single one of the criticisms which we made from these Benches —I had not the opportunity myself of making any, for I was in another place —and let him say that time has not justified us in every one of those criticisms; and here we have this House wasting their time year after year in attempting, often too late, to bring relief to the suffering people of Ireland by successive Bills, dragged out of the Government inch by inch, to enact the very list of things which we asked them to do in 1881, and which they did not do from insufficiency of knowledge, and from the fatal habit which has been abandoned by the Liberal Party, but is still strong in the present Government and their supporters—namely, that they will take suggestions and advice from every quarter except from the Representatives of the people of Ireland. I deny the statement that we have met in the past the attempts of English statesmen with contempt. We have met them with criticism, and, as I have pointed out already, our criticisms have always, on every point, been fully and amply justified. We stated that the Bill of 1881 could not be regarded as a final settlement of the Irish Land Question. What is the commonplace language of the Government to-day? Did we not listen here last night to the statement made on behalf of the Government that they regarded this, the fourth Bill within 529 six years, as merely a temporary expedient to tide them over a few months until they introduce a Bill which will be the final and ultimate settlement, but which I say will be the ultimate settlement on one condition, and one condition alone—namely, that it carries out the policy we recommended in the year 1881. Now, Sir, I come to the general character of the speech which was delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. As I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, urging his Amendments to the Bill upon the attention of the Government, I was reminded of a story which I heard in my nursery days of men named Brown, Jones, and Robinson, who in their travels abroad were brought to see a certain famous horse, supposed to be the horse of William Tell; but when they proceeded to examine it they found that the legs, head, and a portion of the body had been put on, all the rest of the horse being genuine. This would be very much the position of the Government Bill after the Amendments of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. Now, what I want to ask is this—it would be for the advantage of the House, and it is necessary to continue the debate with any degree of usefulness—that some prominent Member of the Government should now stand up and inform us whether we are from this hour to debate the second reading of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, because the two Bills are absolutely different and absolutely inconsistent Bills, and I find myself in this difficulty—that while I am prepared to reject with scorn and contempt the Bill of the Government, and while I am confident that my constituents, aye, and the constituents of the hon. Member for South Tyrone—notwithstanding his continued denials— would support me in any such course, still, if the Amendments which were suggested by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham would be accepted by the Government, I should find myself face to face with a totally different Bill, and should be obliged to reconsider my position. I do not think I am making an unfair demand when I ask that before this debate proceeds any further the Government should toll us frankly and straightforwardly which Bill we are 530 debating the second reading of. When they have made that statement "we shall be in a position to know what attitude to adopt towards the Bill, and the discussion can then go on with some degree of usefulness. What were the alterations suggested by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham? One was, as I understood him, an extension of the leaseholders' clause to such an extent as would make it certainly much more acceptable to the tenants of Ireland, and, as far as I could follow him, would make it entirely satisfactory. Then he proposed to abandon the very kernel and essence of the Bill, and throw it away altogether, and to substitute for it some measure which, as far as I could understand his speech, was to be on lines which we have always endeavoured to lay down. How can we proceed to debate the Bill, which professes to be a measure for preventing harsh evictions, when, with regard to the provisions which are pointed to deal with the prevention of evictions, we are utterly in the dark as to what those provisions will ultimately be? Sir, if the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and his Friends are sincere and honest when they say they will press upon the Government certain alterations in the character of this Bill, we know perfectly well that the Government are powerless to resist them. Was that speech to be followed up by action, or was it not? Did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham mean that he would compel the Government to introduce these Amendments and changes, as he can, or did he mean the speech for the country, and not for the House? If he chooses to follow up his speech by action, his action would be irresistible, because he can dictate terms to the Government, which only exists by the toleration of his Party. I want to know whether the right hon. Member for West Birmingham means to alter this Bill, or does not mean to alter it, and whether his speech was in earnest or merely for the country? I must confess the impression conveyed to my mind— and I regret it for the sake of the Irish tenants—was of the latter character, because my experience of Parliamentary tactics leads me to this conclusion—that when you want to amend the measure you ought not to begin by informing the Government that in 531 its present shape it is a large and generous one, and when I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham emphatically state that even if no change was introduced he would do nothing to embarrass the Government, and that he considered the measure in its present state large and generous, I must confess it appeared to me a direct invitation to the Government to resist change and maintain the Bill as it stood. Surely the right hon. Member for West Birmingham is far too old a bird in Parliament to believe that a Government can be got to alter a Bill merely by argument. We are entitled to ask whether the four Leaders of the Unionist Party intend to amend this Bill or not—they are the dictators, and they ought to speak out. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham found fault with the late Chief Secretary for not being impartial; but the right hon. Gentleman was himself on many points grossly partial. The right hon. Gentleman, in asking what was the grievance of Ireland in that matter, stated a fallacy; and this fallacy has been so frequently stated, and comprises such a monstrous misstatement, that I think it desirable and necessary that it should never be allowed to pass uncontradicted. He is a man of vast ability, and no doubt he is much my master on the subject of the manufacturing industries; but on agricultural matters he displays an extraordinary amount of ignorance. The right hon. Gentleman said that the grievance of Ireland amounted to this— that upon the evidence of the Cowper Commission there had been a fall of prices of such a character as justified a fall of 18 per cent in rents. A more monstrous misstatement of the case could hardly be conceived. There had been a fall of agricultural prices of close upon, if not fully, 20 per cent all round; and anybody at all acquainted with agriculture must know that a fall of less than 20 per cent in prices in innumerable instances meant the wiping out of all profits whatever. A fall of that extent in the gross value of produce not only obliterated rent, but made the whole business of the farmer a losing one. Dividing the loss caused by the fall of prices between the landlord and tenant, the lowest estimate that I have heard put upon it by practical farmers is that it is equal to a reduction of 40 532 per cent in the rent. That condition of things has been going on for two years, and Irish tenants are being reduced to beggary. I have referred to the terrible evictions on the Bodyke estate. The notoriousl and agent, Captain Hamilton, has proceeded against unfortunate tenants not only by way of ejectment, but, to use the figurative language of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, he has entered both by the front door and the back door at the same time; because he has resorted both to process of ejectment and also of fieri facias. The right hon. Gentleman, however, declared that the whole question at issue was one of 18 per cent. The question really at issue in Ireland is this and nothing less, and hon. Members ought to remember it in dealing with this Bill, under which probably over half the entire population of the country are to be dragged down, in spite of their utmost efforts and industry, into a condition of pauperism, and are to find relief in the Bankruptcy Clauses. Anybody who knows anything about farming knows that no greater misfortune can be inflicted on a country than to fasten on the soil men who are unable to cultivate the soil. If you are to give relief to the farming population it must come before their capital is all gone, and before they are reduced to such a condition as to be almost a curse instead of a blessing to their country. What is the history of this Bill? It is based on the Report of a Commission. We heard from the right hon. Member for Birmingham an eloquent passage in his speech in which he repudiated the idea that England was to be governed by Commissions. Quite so—I do not want her to be; but what we are entitled to ask is that when a Commission consisting of Lords and landlords has inquired into the condition of the Irish farmer, any departure you think right to make from the recommendations of that Commission should be in the direction of benefit to the farmers who are suffering. Is it to be expected that the farmers will be satisfied with a measure which makes a marked departure from the recommendations of the Commission in the direction of further benefiting not tenant, but the landlord? But another feature of the Bill which renders it suspicious is its place of origin. No sane man could ever have expected a Bill for 533 the benefit of the Irish tenant to originate in the House of Lords; it certainly would have been welcomed in Ireland as one of the most extraordinary phenomena in modern politics if a measure originating in the House of Lords conferred any substantial benefit upon the tenants. He had seen an admirable résumé of the provisions of the Bill and its relation to the Report of the Commission. It is there said that the Government seem to have been struck with the hardship of evictions and the impression they had made on the public, and they felt the necessity of doing something. It was asked whether it would not be better to make the rents just, and to leave the power of getting them alone, than to adopt the other plan of leaving the rents too high. It was also alleged that, without the Bankruptcy Clauses, the Bill did simply nothing so far as the tenants are concerned; but it is added by the speaker that he did not wish to see the Bill opposed, although it certainly did not carry out the recommendations of the Commission. The speaker of the words which I have quoted is Earl Cowper. But what is the history of the inception and hatching of this Bill? I have read some remarks of Lord Salisbury apologizing for the Bill, and stating that the Government have "invited comments on the measure, advice, and Amendments." But where does he invite them from? The noble Lord says from all quarters. Yes; from all quarters except from Irishmen. He had to deal with a Bill to apply to Irishmen alone, and everyone was welcome to make suggestions, to propose Amendments, and to give opinions, except those who had the interest of the Irish tenants most at heart. We are in a position to state that no advice, no Amendment, no opinion, and no information was sought amongst our ranks; and, certainly, I think it is hardly a wise proceeding on the part of the Government, who are departing from the recommendations of a great Commission like the Cowper Commission, and who are introducing a Bill in a very suspicious way, in a very hostile way, purporting to remedy the grievances of the Irish tenants, to carefully abstain seeking any advice or suggestion from the men who represent the interests of the Irish. I shall now refer to the clauses of the 534 Bill. The 1st clause is good as far as it goes, except that, while giving something to one class of Irish tenants, so strong is the greed of the landlords, they cannot resist the temptation to put their hands into the pockets of another class of tenants, robbing them and compelling them to break leases, so that they might plunder the tenants of their possessions. I do not know whether the one class of tenants will accept this Bill on these terms, or whether they will wait a little while for a more complete measure. As to Clause 2, I think there is little to say against it. It makes a concession which ought to have been, made seven years ago. It is now all too late, and it is a little ambiguous; but otherwise it is the most unobjectionable clause in the Bill. I now come to Clause 4, and of which I can only say that it is an infamous and atrocious attempt to take away from the tenants of Ireland their last few remaining protections—protections which have caused this Bill to be introduced by drawing public attention to the matter. The Government propose to deal with tenants under the Coercion Act, and this clause is a clause to make eviction easy and to enable iniquity to be done in the dark, and it is characteristic of the Tory Party. To that clause we must give the most determined and resolute opposition, Clause 6, dealing with town parks, would relieve a few farmers; but the great mass of the grievance which is suffered by those excluded by the excepting clause of the Act of 1881 is left untouched—in fact, the provision is little better than a sham and a delusion. Clause 21 is most dishonest, and the Irish Members will have to resist it to the very utmost of their ability. What does it amount to? It amounts to a premium upon eviction. The man who is a rack-renter and public enemy will be allowed to shift from his shoulders his portion of the public burden, and share it among his neighbours who had acted the part of honest and decent men. It has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary—but it is not in the Bill—that it is intended to confine this to cases under £4. That will lessen the evil, but it does not affect the principle, which is an iniquity. I shall await with astonishment to hear by what arguments the Government are going to support this clause. I pass on to Clauses 535 19 and 20, which, provide for the alteration of the Courts of Appeal. Clauses 19 and 20 must receive from these Benches the most determined opposition. They are clauses which would destroy such confidence as is felt in Ireland in the administration of the Land Court. With the present Government in power, and with the sample we have of the use they make of the power of appointment, I have no hesitation in saying that if they persist in introducing Clauses 19 and 20 they will create something like a rebellion against the Land Court in Ireland, and all confidence in it will be lost. I come to the proposal of the Chief Secretary for Ireland for the relief of glebe tenants. We might have hoped that the case of the glebe tenants, which was being supported by all sections in this House, would have received at the hands of the Government a more kindly and generous consideration. We know that they purchased their holdings at fully double what they were worth— we know that they paid for them a rack-price; we know that they paid that price under the terrible threat that if they did not buy their holdings at the price laid down by the valuator, who swore before a Committee of this House that his instructions were to value high if he could; we know that they purchased under the terrible threat that if they did not buy their holdings at the valuation of the Commissioners their land would be sold over their heads to the worst class of Irish landlords—namely, the land-jobbers, who buy in order to raise the rent. What is the condition of these men at present? They are men who, it has been admitted by everybody, are the very models of industry, self-sacrifice, and honest payment; and the small extent of arrears due by these men was admitted in this House as an astonishing fact, in view of all the circumstances of the cases. Now they have broken down under their terrible load, and the wonder is that they have managed to keep so long in their farms. I had a letter from Ulster the other night, which describes how men lately fled to America in the night in despair, from the overwhelming burden of their debt—men who had fought and struggled against hope to meet their liabilities, and who were obliged to fly in that humiliating way in order to escape their difficulties. I got a letter a few days 536 ago from a Protestant in Ulster, who described a scene that he saw at a hiring fair the other day, which really ought to excite the compassion of every man in this House. He saw a friend of his, a Rathfriland farmer, who had 15 acres of land and 11 children—the two eldest boys were in England, and sending home their wages—he saw him standing in the hiring fair with his two daughters, the younger being nine years old, trying to hire them to some man in order to meet his instalment, and he told my friend that he had borrowed £100, his share of the purchase money, at 5 per cent interest, from a money-lender on his note of hand, without any other security, and that note was renewed last year, proving the confidence of the money-lender that he would pay if he could. All I want to say with regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary's proposal for the relief of these men is this—that it would be far better to leave them alone than to make such proposals as were made last night. You cannot do a more foolish thing than bring half relief to a farmer—you waste your money, and he becomes worse than he was before. Better let him go into the workhouse, and let some other person take his land. What you should do is either to make up your mind to give him such relief as will enable him to carry on and make him solvent or to let him alone. Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to consider the resolutions and statements which will reach him in a few days, and to see whether he cannot alter his proposals. We have it on the authority of Lord Cowper that this Bill does absolutely nothing for the tenant, except what it does by the Bankruptcy Clause. The difficulty again arises, are we dealing with the Bankruptcy Clauses or are we not? Is it waste of time to be talking about the Bankruptcy Clauses? Does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham mean to kill the Bankruptcy Clauses or does he not? I think that is a question which we should have considered before we proceed further with this debate. The effects of the Bankruptcy Clauses were correctly summed up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), when he said that the tenant would go into the 537 bankruptcy proceedings an insolvent and come out a beggar. Anybody who studied this Act and understood farming would see clearly that no man could hope to escape from the clutches of the Bankruptcy Clauses of this Act and be possessed of a single shilling. They are a new and a most irrepressible and tremendous engine for evicting the people and putting the landlords in possession of their land. They are so framed that no man can escape them; and after 18 months of misery are over the Bankruptcy Court comes and puts the landlord into possession of the tenant's land by means which are denied to him by the law at present. It was a very curious and instructive fact that the very first resource which the Irish landlords fell back upon when they were confronted with the combination which is now known as the Plan of Campaign was the Bankruptcy Court; but they found that they were stopped at the door of the Bankruptcy Court. The Law of Bankruptcy did not apply to farmers in Ireland; and now we have a Relief Bill for the Irish tenants to furnish the landlords with the very weapon by which they thought they could suppress the Plan of Campaign with, but which, to their disappointment, they found that the law did not furnish them with. The Bankruptcy Clauses are only really a new method of evicting Irish tenants. Before I explain the effect of this part of the Bill, I invite the particular attention of the House to page 17, lines 23 to 35, as a magnificent specimen of the moral tone of the framers of the Bill. I ask you to remember that this provision was introduced into the Bill in the Upper House on the Motion of a noble Lord—The rent of a holding held by a debtor, due at the time of the adjudication, not exceeding the amount of one year's rent, shall be a first charge upon the assets of such debtor, and the landlord or other person to whom the rent is due may prove in the bankruptcy or composition for the surplus due over and above such year's rent as aforesaid. In proceedings in bankruptcy under this Act, the Official Assignee attached to each Court shall for all purposes be the assignee of the estate and effects of every person adjudicated bankrupt by the Court, and there shall be no creditor's assignee.Did anybody ever hear of such a proposition? The very men who supplied the tenant with meat and clothing to cover his nakedness were to be barred out from all remedy. The banks that 538 had advanced the money to pay the landlord when the tenant was threatened with eviction were to be swindled—they were to have no representation at the adjudication—For the purpose of accepting an offer of composition after bankruptcy, the Official Assignee may do all things which may be done by the statutory majority in number and value of the creditors.Was there ever such a proposition laid before a deliberative Assembly? The only relief which can be hoped for by the tenant under this Bankruptcy Clause is that if he and his landlord be so base as to go by a collusive proceeding into Court, the Official Assignee can accept, if he likes, 7s. in the pound, just in order to make up the year's rent. Then in walks the landlord, and takes the year's rent, and all the rest of the creditors are left without a shilling, without the right of being represented. I heard a noted expression from the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) last night. The noble Lord said it was necessary that the tenants should be freed, not only from their debts due to the landlord, but from their other debts also; but they had taken particular good care that they will not be clear of their other debts. The landlord was first to have his year's rent, and then to start again as a rent-exacting machine. I say that this is a scandalous dishonesty, which was inserted on the Motion of a noble Lord in the Upper House, and it is a good example of the high moral tone and honesty of character possessed by the men who are never tired of denouncing us as robbers. More than half the debts of the tenants were due to the fact that they had continued on the ruinous course of borrowing as long as credit existed in order to meet the excessive demands of landlords instead of making a struggle for liberty. I reject with contempt on behalf of the Irish tenants this delusive Bill, the Bankruptcy Clauses of which, according to Lord Cowper himself, are dishonest in their inception, and calculated to ruin the credit of the people of Ireland. This is the policy of the clause—a policy which, I say, if it is attempted to be honestly administered, means a fresh engine of oppression and extermination for the people of Ireland—if it be dishonestly administered, if the tenant gets any 539 benefit out of the clause, it can only be by entering into a dishonest compact with his landlord to swindle and defraud every other creditor. That being the case, I have not the slightest fear, so far as my constituency goes, or as regards that portion of the tenantry of Ulster who are now wavering in the balance—I have not the slightest fear in taking up this attitude on the Bill; and I at once invite the hon. Member for South Tyrone to give the House the benefit of his opinion.
Mr. T. W. RUSSELLand Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
rose together, but Mr. SPEAKER called on.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL,
who said, that he could not say that he regretted that an interjection, properly and legitimately made by him, had brought down upon his head the wrath of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) when he promised to visit South Tyrone. But about 12 months ago half the Irish Parliamentary Party were in South Tyrone, with the result that he was there in that House in spite of all their efforts to prevent it. The more the hon. Member and his Friends visited that spot the more would he like it; but he must say that South Tyrone of late was one of those places which they most religiously objected to visit. They had been told that the Ulster tenants were opposed to the Land Bill of the Government, and The Londonderry Standard was quoted in support of that view. He remembered that when the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) introduced his Tenants' Relief Bill last year he made a great deal out of the demands of the Ulster Tenants' Defence Association. Well, a committee of that body met a few days ago in the town of Belfast. That meeting was attended by representative farmers of Ulster, and they passed a resolution calling upon himself and the hon. Member for South Derry (Mr. Lea) to oppose the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), and to do what they could to amend the Bill; and they passed that resolution on the ground that, although they could not approve of the Bill as a whole, there was so much good contained in it that they could not take the responsibility of rejecting it. He (Mr. T. W. Russell) congratulated the House that 540 they had got rid of the Crimes Bill, and that now they were able, in consequence, to get alongside the Land Question, which had a passionate interest for all classes of the Irish people. He had no hesitation in saying that the proceedings of the House on that Bill would be the touchstone by which the Irish people would judge, not only their individual Representatives, but the competency of that House to legislate for Ireland. But that was not to be wondered at when it was remembered that agriculture was almost, except in Ulster, the one great industry of the country. He, however, occupied a difficult position with regard to the Bill; and the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) had charged him last night with the misfortune of being a Scotchman.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, he could tell the hon. Member this—that he had lived more years in Ireland than he (Mr. T. M. Healy) had lived altogether; and until the hon. and learned Member and his Friends sot up their despotism in Dublin, Scotchman as he was, he should continue to represent those who had sent him to that House, regardless of what the hon. and learned Member might think. But, coming to the Government Bill, which they had to consider on that occasion, he thought that the Government were between the devil of landlordism on the one hand and the deep sea of agrarian socialism on the other. He, for one, did not wish to discredit the Government. ["Hear, hear!"] He made no secret of that, because, if that were done, it might complicate the solution of the Irish Question. He had received two sets of instructions from his constituents. He was sent to the House of Commons to oppose the Separatist proposals of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), and at the same time to do the best he could for the Irish tenant farmer. He, therefore, did not wish to discredit the Government in what he considered they were trying to do—make a fair, an honest, and a resolute attempt to settle the Land Question. He had been 541 accused by the hon. Member for East Mayo of holding a brief for the landlords; but nothing could be farther removed from the fact.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, that in that case there must be 3,500 of them about the place. If he held a brief at all, it was for the Protestant tenant farmers of South Tyrone, and for the large number of Presbyterian farmers who had made Ulster what it was. These men believed in the Union; but it must be a Union for the benefit of the whole Irish people, and not for the benefit of a handful of unreasonable landlords. They were quite willing to pay a fair rent; but it must be a rent accruing from the produce of the soil, and not a rent designed to meet the necessities of cases in which, owing to the extravagance of their ancestors, the present landlords were so involved that they were not masters of their own actions, and had not the power to do what, in happier circumstances, they might be willing to do. He did not look on this Bill as being a final settlement of the Land Question in Ireland—in the same way, in fact, as the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian once looked on the Land Act of 1881. If he did he should know what to do with it. But his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) expressly said that this Bill was only a Bill to amend the Land Act of 1881. Now, that Act did, in the main, three things. It gave the Irish tenants fixity of tenure; it gave them a tribunal to fix a fair rent, and legalized, though it did not create, the tenant's interest in the soil, and made it saleable in the market. But hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, by walking out of the House on the second reading of that Bill, imperilled those three great provisions, because they did not come up to what they thought right. In the first place, the present measure dealt with the case of the leaseholders, upon 150,000 of whom the Act of 1881 had closed the door. During the debate on that Bill the leaseholder was almost as important a person as was the compound householder during the debates on the Reform Bill. But the Act deliberately closed the door on the leaseholders, although passionate appeals were made 542 on their behalf. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian steeled his heart against them, on the ground that there was a peculiar sanction to a contract under seal for a specified number of years, as contrasted with an ordinary contract from year to year. Ever since the Act passed, however, the exclusion of the leaseholders from its provisions had been a cause of disturbance and friction in Ireland. This Bill professed to open the door to these men. Did it do what it professed to do? He regretted that in framing this part of the Bill the Government, in an evil hour, turned their eyes upon and had followed the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork, which that hon. Member introduced last Session; and whatever could be said against the present proposals could equally, and with the same force, have been said against the proposals of the hon. Member. The least, however, which he (Mr. T. W, Russell) desired to say about its provisions on this head was, that he did not think the House should compel any leaseholder to become a present tenant, instead of merely giving him the option of going into Court and becoming such. He ought not to be compelled to resort to the Court against his will. Many a leaseholder, having regard to the advantages which their leases conferred on them, might not wish to sacrifice them even for the sake of obtaining a reduction of rent. Then he thought that the Bill was defective both in principle and in structure, inasmuch as it shut out both perpetuity leases and leases for a longer period than for 60 years after the passing of the Land Act of 1881. Between 1860 and 1876 there were years of great prosperity in Ulster, during which the landlords raised the rents; and to prevent such recurrent rent additions the tenants obtained perpetuity leases, paying, in many cases, heavy fines for the privilege. The result was that now they were most heavily weighted. But the operation of this Bill was limited to leases which would expire in 60 years. Why, he should like to know, were tenants who had leases for a longer period to be denied the benefits of the measure? There was also a most insidious and objectionable clause, which insisted that a leaseholder, to take advantage of the Bill, must be in bonâ fide occupation of his holding, while, by recent decisions, this might 543 be questioned if he had let part of his holding as an allotment or a garden. He objected, moreover, that the worst part of the clause to which he was referring was the Proviso directing the Court to disallow an application for a judicial rent, if there were improvements on the holding which had been made by the landlord, and the value of which amounted to four times the yearly rent of the holding. That was an absurd provision, and one for which there was not the least ground or justification, having regard to the fact that, in many cases, the landlord had borrowed the money with which to make the improvements at 3½ per cent from the Board of Works, and would have charged the tenants a much larger percentage on the money so borrowed—in some cases as much as 10 per cent. The clause ought not to be modified by such conditions. If the House was ready to extend benefits to the leaseholders, let not the gift be accompanied by any ungracious limitations. With regard to town parks, the argument of the tenant was this. Admitting that the value of land in the neighbourhood of a town was enhanced, he asked—"Why should not the Land Court fix a fair rent, keeping in view the fact of the increased value?" Provision, therefore, ought to be made in the Bill for enabling the tenants of town parks to go into the Land Court to have fair rents fixed. So far he had, he thought, gone very much, with hon. Members below the Gangway; but he feared he must part company with them when he came to Clause 4, enabling a notice to be served on the tenant and constituting him a caretaker, instead of actual eviction. The part of the Bill which dealt with this subject had been described by the hon. Member for East Mayo as being eviction made easy. Now, he would be willing to do almost anything to stop unjust or harsh evictions, and that very feeling induced him to support this 4th clause. They had heard a good deal about evictions, and he had taken the trouble to analyze the Eviction Returns for the first six months of the year 1886. There were 2,007 cases in that period, and as to 1,233 of these he had obtained the facts. No doubt, every man in that House thought at the time that in every one of these 1,233 cases a family was turned out of home upon the roadside. Nothing 544 could be further from the truth. He found that 191 of them were were not agricultural evictions at all, but evictions from houses in towns or villages; 21 were evictions from town parks, on which there were no buildings; 141 were evictions where the tenant did not reside on the land: and out of the remainder, 878 in number, the tenants in 250 cases were reinstated as tenants, and in 371 were put back as caretakers, with power to redeem within six months. Now, as matters stood, it was necessary that these latter families should be actually turned out by the Sheriff before they could be re-admitted as caretakers. Under the Bill that would not be the case. The clause would prevent all these needless evictions, for, by the serving of a legal notice on a tenant who was in arrear with his rent, he would become a caretaker. The clause would, no doubt, put an end to certain political theatricals; but it would keep people in their holdings. It would, he believed, prevent one-fourth of the actual evictions that now took place, and confine the extreme remedy of eviction to the worst and most hopeless cases, He, therefore, had come to the conclusion that the clause ought to be supported, and he should accordingly support it. No one found serious fault with the Purchase Clauses of the Bill; but it was said that enough was not done for the purchasers of glebe lands, with whom he had the warmest sympathy, and who were originally not allowed to come under Lord Ashbourne's Act unless they paid their arrears, which some were unable to do. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had explained that it was intended they should by the Bill come in Lord Ashbourne's Act on paying half their arrears. [Mr. DILLON: They cannot pay half.] Although the hon. Member for East Mayo desired that those who were in arrear should be placed in the same position as those who were not in arrear at all, there were many objections to such a proposal, and he could not think that it would be right to take a course which would positively hold out a premium upon falling into arrears. The question, however, was surrounded by difficulties, and he was prepared to make allowances; but he was not prepared to repudiate the clause. The same might be said of the Bright purchasers under the Act of 1870. Would hon. Members vote against 545 the second reading of a Bill with all these generous proposals in it? He should judge them by their action on the second reading. Probably there would be a solemn march out, but that theatrical display would not be very effective. The question of appeals next demanded attention. With regard to this point, he quite agreed with the hon. Member for East Mayo, and he would remind the Government that the delay in hearing appeals was very serious to the tenant. What was going to be the policy of the Government in regard to the constitution of the second Court of Appeal? Would the Government name the new Commissioners in the Bill? It was not to be denied that recent appointments in connection with the Land Courts had filled the tenants with fear and dread. If the Government were going to set up a new Court, then he implored them to take the appointments into their own hands, not leaving them to the underlings of Dublin Castle, who were fit to wreck the best Government in the world. Anew Court should have for its head a man of experience, and to preserve continuity no better head could be had than Mr. Litton. He hoped that these appointments would be dealt with by the Cabinet, and that the names of the Commissioners would be inserted in the Bill. He separated Clause 22 entirely from the Bankruptcy Clauses, and regarded it as very admirable so far as it went. It provided that when a tenant was in arrear, and an ejectment process was served on him, he might go into the County Court, and if he could convince the County Court Judge that he had got into difficulties through no fault of his own, then the Judge was given power to do one of three things—give him time, arrange the instalments to be paid, or, with the consent of the landlord, effect a composition. This clause in itself was quite sufficient to prevent unjust evictions. But the Bill did not provide against what was almost as great an evil; for while it closed the front door, it left open the back door, and here it was that the harsh and unjust landlord would find an entrance. He appreciated the difficulties the Government found. They proposed that where a Judge considered that a tenant was unduly weighted, the landlord should not have his usual right of eviction. But a landlord need not proceed by way of eviction, 546 if the debt were £20; he could get an ordinary decree for debt from a County Court Judge; and remove that by certiorari to a Superior Court, and then proceed by writ of fieri facias. The Sheriff would go down, would seize and sell everything on the farm, and leave the tenant ruined and helpless, though still in his holding, and without the means of cultivating it. If the debt was so unjust that the right of the landlord was to be fettered, so that he could not evict in certain cases where the tenant was in difficulties through no fault of his own, why should he be allowed in those same cases to proceed by writ of fi. fa. to sell up his tenant's goods? He hoped something would be done to prevent this. The County Court should have the same power to arrest a writ of fieri facias as the Bill would give them to arrest an eviction. To the Bankruptcy Clauses he had the greatest possible objection, and nothing would persuade him to vote for them. In view of the demoralized condition of Ireland, they were most dangerous in principle, and might be used as a legal "Plan of Campaign." His great objection to that part of the Bill was, that while it did good to the man who was brought to the wall, it did absolutely nothing for the solvent tenant; and those whom he represented were not insolvent, though they were over-rented, for the Report of the Royal Commission proved that they were in that condition. Was it an answer to the solvent tenant, to say that though he was over-rented, that he had made a contract for 15 years and must abide by it? It was the State that had blundered in making the term so long. Nor could the case of these men be settled by the promise of a Land Purchase Bill of which they at present knew nothing. They could not live on promises. Was it an answer to admit the injustice, and promise a remedy by a scheme of purchase? The shrewd Ulster tenants take this as they take the advice—"Live horse, and you will get grass." Nor was it an answer to say that the case of these tenants would be met by reductions from the landlords. It was an answer, he thought, in the South and West of Ireland, where the landlords had given abatements, and where intimidation had done its work; and he thought it was a scandal that this should be the case. Ulster was precisely the Province where those deductions had not 547 been made. Many of the landlords could make reductions, though many of them, no doubt, were not really the owners of their properties. Ulster would get no benefit from the Bill, because it was solvent. He thought that neither the Government, nor the House, had the right to say to them—"You have a just case; go on till you are ruined, then we will relieve you; and when you have been made a bankrupt, you will go on again on the old round like a horse in the bark mill." He could be no party to that. This brought him to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), regarding which the Ulster Tenants' Defence Committee had written to him. That Resolution would do nothing for them; but it would wreck the Bill, which, would do something. At the worst, what would the Bill do? It would admit a certain number of leaseholders. It changed the rules of procedure, by which the judicial rent was payable from the day judgment was given, to the gale day next to the service of the originating notice. It gave some concessions as regards town parks. It improved Lord Ashbourne's Purchase Act, and it did a good deal for the Bright purchasers and the glebe land purchasers; and, in his opinion, it erected a barrier against unjust evictions. With these things in it, he, as representing South Tyrone, could not and would not take the responsibility of not voting for the second reading. The main question with him was this—was the Government open to reasonable Amendments? If so, the Bill could be made a great boon to the tenant farmers of Ireland, and he could not throw away all this for any empty Resolution. With regard to the position in Ulster, the Government had had no more unflinching supporter of the Crimes Bill than he had been. It was the least that the Government could do to restore the sovereignty of law. The Government had now got their power to deal with the combinations to which the Cowper Commission had referred, and to enforce the law. It was their absolute duty to see that the law was scrupulously just. He wished to point out that this Land Question was at the root of the whole Irish trouble. The history of Ireland showed that no mere political movement had ever prospered in Ireland. That was to be seen 548 in the cases of O'Connell, of the Young Ireland Party, the Fenian movement, and that headed by Mr. Butt, and even the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) had not ventured to hoist the National flag until he had founded the Land League. A Bill such as this was no settlement of the Land Question; it did not pretend to be a settlement of it. He Mr. T. W. Russell) believed that there was no solution of it save in the abolition of the dual ownership, which many people thought the Act of 1881 had created, but which, in fact, it had only legalized. He was a strong supporter of the Union, and he could conceive no greater calamity to Ireland than that the Union should be dissolved or impaired; but he was the true Unionist who pointed out the dangers ahead. The Government and the Party which took up and radically settled this great Irish Land Question might laugh to scorn all the efforts of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who talked about maintaining the Union by a process of dissolving it. They might as well talk about strengthening the marriage tie by a decree of judicial separation. The Ulster tenants were a patient race, but patience did not last for ever. In Ireland the land was the life. Let them not drive the Ulster tenants to despair. If they did, they might depend upon it that there were plenty of men ready to go to Ulster as well as the hon. Member for East Mayo, and, like Job's wife, to whisper into the ears of the Ulster tenants, not "curse God and die," but curse England and live.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON) (Liverpool, Walton)
said, he did not think it would be necessary for him to waste the attention of hon. Members by discussing seriously the Amendment which had been moved on the previous day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling District (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). Not one word had been stated that evening in support of that Amendment by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and, as far as he (Mr. Gibson) could gather from the admission of the right hon. Gentleman on the previous night, it had never been intended to be seriously argued, and the right hon. Gentleman distinctly stated that he submitted no plan. Her Majesty's Government had now to deal with 549 a situation of considerable difficulty in Ireland, and they had devised, with as much care as they could, a measure which would amend imminent difficulties and mischiefs which were obvious in the administration of the Irish Land Act. It was remarkable that in the Bill introduced last autumn by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) there had been no proposition whatever put forward by him —although he had stated that the time was one of a crisis affecting the safety and prosperity of Irish tenants—that there should be any general revision of rents. The hon. Member had felt that it was necessary to deal with the immediate question of evictions, because he had been well aware that a general revision of rents would be idle for the purpose of meeting unfair or unjust evictions. It had been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) that it was a principle in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothan (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) that there should be no general revision of rents when he had introduced his Land Purchase Bill in 1886. Not only had the right hon. Gentleman laid it down as a cardinal principle of the Bill that the normal rate of purchase should be 20 years' purchase on the judicial rent, but he had distinctly provided in the 51st section of his Bill that no action of the Irish Legislature should prejudice or impair the obligations come to under judicial decision. The result of that Bill would have been that no alteration could have been made in the judicial rents once they had been fixed by the Court. That was the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and it had apparently been the fixed policy of the right hon. Gentleman's Government down to the time he had gone out of Office, and if there had been any change this Amendment would have been moved by the right hon. Gentleman who had last been Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley), and who up to last autumn had been in a position to know the condition of the Irish tenants. Now, the question was an immediate and pressing one. What the Government offered was not a reconstruction of the Land Act of 1881, but a means by which admitted and urgent difficulties could be dealt with, and which would be recognized as show- 550 ing an earnest and a sincere intention on the part of the Government to deal fairly and justly with the Irish tenants. He felt much sympathy with the object and language of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone, who had just sat down. However much he might disagree with some of the views which the hon. Gentleman had expressed, it was plain from the language of the hon. Member that he was perfectly alive to the hollowness and insincerity of the Amendment, and was determined not to abandon the generous and reasonable proposals of the Government in order to deprive his constituents of benefits which they most assuredly would reap if this measure passed into law. Now, as to the 1st section of the Bill, which included the leaseholders, the question was what form the admission of the leaseholders to the benefits of the Act should take. Were all the leases in Ireland for the purpose of this Act to come to an end at a given period of time? The Government, looking to the provisions of the Bill brought in last autumn by the hon. Member for Cork, thought his solution was perhaps the best—namely, to accelerate the expiration of the leases coming within the Act of 1881, and at a given time, to which landlord and tenant could both look forward, say that these leases were determined for the purposes of this Act. But it was essential that the House should understand that the determination of a lease was practically only a formal expression, because all the obligations of the lease bound both landlord and tenant after its termination in exactly the same way as before the lease had run out. The position of the yearly tenant after his lease had expired under Section 21 of the right hon. Gentleman's Act was that he was bound by all the provisions of the lease, but he had got rights which he did not have when his lease was in force—the right to perpetuity of tenure, the right to have the rent fixed, and the right of free sale. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) declared that the effect of the drafting of the Bill was such as to leave every tenant who held under a lease at the mercy of his landlord who wanted to raise the rent, but he did not appear to have read the Bill, because it distinctly provided that if consideration had been given for the lease, in such a case it 551 should be impossible for the landlord to break the lease. He could quite understand that it would be a hardship if there was a beneficial lease that that lease should be in the power of the landlord; but the provision of the Bill was a more generous and equitable provision than was to be found in the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork. The hon. Gentleman had made some observations with regard to perpetuity grants. Now, the drafting of the Bill in this regard was an amplification of the Act of the right hon. Gentleman. Where leases were then in existence which would come to an end within 60 years after the passing of the Act, at their expiration the tenant would be entitled to the status of a present tenant, with all the great boons which the right hon. Gentleman conferred. The Government had amplified and extended that principle, but they had not altered the class of tenants to which that legislation extended, and under the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork there was no extension beyond the class that came under the scope of the the Act of 1881. Accordingly, the Government had followed that principle. Now, the first section was the only one which the hon. Member for East Mayo had marked with his approval. But he thought the hon. Member could hardly have been in earnest. Was the House aware that the second clause, which enabled the judicial rent to be dated not from the gale day following the decision of the Court, but from the gale day following the application, was one which was included in a Bill of the hon. Member for Cork, although then rejected by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian? That was a great boon worth many thousands of pounds to the Irish tenants, and one that would be appreciated in the North as well as in the South. He was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) did not name one single provision of the Bill which met with his approval, and made no reference whatever to Section 2, which he must have known was a boon, and though the right hon. Gentleman announced that he would only make a fair and candid criticism, yet he did not lapse one moment into the forgetfulness of saying the smallest word of the faintest praise. The second clause, as he said, represented a benefit of large mercantile value. At the pre- 552 sent moment there were about 500,000 tenants in Ireland; 100,000 were leaseholders; 200,000 had had judicial rents fixed, leaving 200,000 who had had no judicial rents fixed at all. A large number of these 200,000 tenants would get the benefit of this clause, and that fact that they had not yet come into Court alone ought to supply a strong argument to show that the Irish landlords were not the rapacious and unreasonable body they were sometimes represented to be. The section relating to ejectment had been denounced, not only by the hon. Member for East Mayo, who said it was an infamous and atrocious proposal, but he gathered that the right hon. Member for the Stirling district also joined in the condemnation of it. It was a merciful provision to the tenant and to the landlord. It gave each an opportunity during the six months of redemption of coming to terms, and prevented it being necessary for the Sheriff to resort to the last dire extremity. What was the law on this subject in Ireland? When an ejectment was brought for nonpayment of rent the tenancy was not forfeited until the judgment was actually executed by process of law, and the period of equitable redemption in the tenancy did not begin to run until that execution. The result was that landlords had to resort to two evictions, the first for the purpose of causing the expiration of the tenancy and making the period of redemption begin to run; and the second eviction, when the caretaker was put out. Statistics had been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) which showed that of these preliminary evictions not more than a fourth or a fifth were consummated by ultimate eviction in the long run. It was the intention of the Government by this measure to save the tenants from the hardships and risks to which they were exposed, from the danger of quarrel and of settlement being impossible, by this preliminary eviction, and to enable the landlord to serve his notice on the premises to determine the tenancy. He called attention to the circumstance that the Government in this provision had mercifully enlarged the recommendations of the Cowper Commission. The next provision was that dealing with town parks. He thought the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Rus- 553 sell) could not have given sufficient attention to the provisions of this section. What was the existing law? It was that a holding which was held by a person living in a town for acccommodation purposes should not be the subject of fixed rent under Act of Parliament. The Government, however, were aware that in many cases those town-park holdings were really in their essence and character not accommodation lands of the ordinary town-park character, but in the nature of agricultural holdings. Without laying down a hard and fast line, therefore, the Government had proposed that where the holding was in its ordinary character an agricultural one it should become subject to the provisions of the Land Act of 1881 and constitute a present tenancy. Then, as to the Purchase Clauses of the Bill. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) stated that no one opposed those clauses. He, however, distinctly caught the right hon. Member for Stirling District saying that he was always opposed to Purchase Clauses, and would oppose these.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)
No, no. I raised no objection to the Purchase Clauses at all. I referred to any further extension of Lord Ashbourne's Act.
§ MR. GIBSON
asked whether he was to understand that the right hon. Gentleman had not considered the Purchases Clauses of the Bill, or whether he had not formed an opinion as to supporting them or not? The right hon. Gentleman appeared to decline to express an opinion in one way or another at present. But he called attention to the fact that in "another place" a suggestion was made as to not continuing those clauses in the Bill, and a representation was made by a noble Lord to the effect that those with whom he acted would probably offer no opposition to those clauses. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have had some communication with that noble Lord.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I do not wish to alarm the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but I must mention that the noble Lord to whom he refers said that he could only speak for himself, and as to his own expectations, and was not able to bind any one else.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, the expectation of the noble Lord was of great efficacy, speaking, as he did, from his high position. The next provision was that of appeal. The Government recognized the great importance of having a strong and efficient Court of Appeal. The matter, however, would no doubt be fully discussed in Committee. The hon. Member for East Mayo referred to the provisions dealing with the remission of local rates. He was unable to understand what the hon. Member meant when he said that it was a premium on evictions. He could not understand how a provision which limited the landlord's right to a case where the land could not be let in consequence of intimidation was assumed to be a case in which the landlord was in possession of the holding from which the tenant had been unjustly and harshly evicted. The next provision was that of equitable jurisdiction. There could be no doubt that, broadly speaking, there were two classes of tenants in the community—the class of tenants who were solvent, but who might have grievances, and who occupied a hard position, and tenants who were wholly unable to pay not only the landlord but their other creditors. The view of the Government was that, in an individual case of hardship it should be competent for the Court to intervene between the solvent tenant and the landlord, who had, perhaps, harshly enforced his legal rights, so as to give a stay of execution to the tenant. That was a very large concession, which he was not aware had previously been found in any Government measure, and there was no doubt that the views of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and of the hon. Member for South Tyrone were perfectly well founded when they said that such a provision was a complete answer to the possibility of capricious eviction on the part of any landlord. But it had been said that this was only the front door, and the back door remained open—that a landlord, if he chose, might get a writ of fieri facias. That was no doubt a possibility, but he would call attention to one or two circumstances in order to show that wise landlords rarely resorted to this particular expedient. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] He knew that it had been resorted to in some cases, but, as a rule, it was not resorted to by any landlord 555 who had a wise counsellor. A wise landlord would not usually resort to this method of execution, because if a tenancy had been mortgaged, settled, or had outstanding interests attached, no execution against the man who was paying the rent would be effective in enabling the landlord to acquire that interest; and, as he had seen again and again, ejectments which had been brought failed because the interests could not be legally seized under a writ of fieri facias. The method of recovery in Ireland was the statutory remedy. But there were difficulties in the landlord's way. If a landlord brought an action for rent in a superior court against the small tenant under £20, he must pay the attorney and all law costs himself, the result being that the landlords did not care to go to this luxury at their own expense. These and other circumstances made the enforcement of this remedy rare. Still, he admitted that it was legally possible for the thing to occur, and the House had to consider and suggest an expedient by which such a difficulty could be avoided. He had heard a most thoughtful speech in the other House from the late Lord Chancellor, but that noble and learned Lord offered no solution of the difficulty. It was hard to see where they were to draw the line. Was the landlord to look on while an execution creditor swooped down and carried off everything from the farm? If the writ of fieri facias on the part of the landlord was suspended, what was the landlord to do? The tenant might be making away with his crops; he might give them away to favoured creditors.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
There was a provision of the kind in the Act of 1881, and you threw it out in the House of Lords.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he did not know to what provision the hon. Member referred. No doubt by the Statute of Anne, where a Sheriff seized in execution and a year's rent was due, he had to make a provision for a year's rent. That was the law of both countries; but he was calling attention to the fact that they would be making a sharp and marked distinction between the landlord and other creditors by adopting the suggestion which had been thrown out. The matter appeared to him to be one of enormous difficulty, and he would have been glad if the right hon. Gentleman 556 opposite had been good enough to indicate what should be the particular mode of obviating the difficulty without flagrant and manifest injustice. By that section as it stood they dealt with the difficulty which existed in some parts of Ireland, and was recognized in previous legislation; and he did not think there was any precedent in the Act of 1870 or in other legislation which altered the position of the landlord as compared with that of other creditors. He next came to the bankruptcy section, as to which the House had heard a good deal of criticism. The right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs seemed to think that the provision of the Bill that a reasonable rent might be fixed by the Bankruptcy Court during the 18 months placed the Government in a dilemma as to the reasonableness or fairness of the judicial rent which had been previously fixed, In constructing his dilemma, however, the right hon. Gentleman did not sufficiently consider that they were dealing with proceedings in the Court of Bankruptcy to which the landlord was a consenting party. The tenant, under the Bill, to get into the Bankruptcy Court must go as a free agent and with the sanction of the landlord, who was subject to a penalty if his refusal was unreasonable. While the tenant was in the Bankruptcy Court, relieved of the claims of the other creditors who were each trying to pull some of his assets from him, it was the intention of the clause that during that period the landlord and all the other creditors should make as it were a common subscription together. The landlord allowed his land to be used for the 18 months by permission of the Court, and the rent which the tenant was to pay was not that which he would pay under ordinary circumstances, but such as he could be fairly expected to pay under the particular circumstances without injustice to the landlord and without undue preference to any other of the creditors. The right hon. Member for Stirling said that the clause "was saturated with the spirit of exclusiveness and reeked with the worst spirit of landlordism." Why did the right hon. Gentleman say that of a clause which was probably more disliked by landlords than any other clause in the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman said there was no provision that the landlord should be made a bankrupt. 557 The suggestion seemed to be that where the tenant could not pay his debts, and became a bankrupt, it was a hardship to him if the landlord did not assume the same mantle and accompany him into the Bankruptcy Court as a kind of twin. The hon. Member for East Mayo had referred to the arrears of rent on the holding being made a first charge to the extent of one year, and said the intention of that was to plunder the creditors for the benefit of the landlord. The existing Law of Bankruptcy was that every landlord was entitled to a distraint to the extent of six months' rent; but inasmuch as the landlord was to be put out from his power of bringing any action of ejectment, and was to be tied up during that period altogether, the Government thought it fair that the landlord, who might have many years of arrears due to him, should receive that small consideration to which the hon. Member objected. When the hon. Member for East Mayo said that creditors were deprived of all remedy, he forgot that all the creditors in bankruptcy were entitled to an equal right of proof, except in so far as a preferential right of proof was given to any particular creditor. In conclusion, that Bill was not put forward by the Government as a re-construction of the Act of 1881; but as a generous attempt to meet a real difficulty which all honest and candid men in that House must admit to exist. Last Session the hon. Member for Cork introduced a Bill proposing a stay of execution against tenants whose rents were judicially fixed before 1884. What they now proposed under that provision was that, in cases where there might be a harsh eviction, whether the rents were judicial rents or not, the Court should have a power to intervene. That would be a great benefit to tenants in difficulties, and he hoped that the House would come to the conclusion that the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the Stirling District was an illusory Amendment, not supported by any real plan or intelligible proposition, and that it would be an unwise and a dangerous thing to throw away the real advantages of that Bill, in order to satisfy the views of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
said, he expected the hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) would have given the House some information 558 as to the intentions of the Government. The importance of the hon. Gentleman's reticence could only be fully realized by a consideration of what the position of the Government really was. It was well known that they were in Office, and that they were not in power. They occupied the Ministerial Benches by the votes of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the opposite side of the House; and, in view of the fact that the Bill had been subjected to the most hostile criticism by two of their supporters on that side of the House, the seriousness of the hon. and learned Gentleman's silence as to the intention of the Government could hardly be over-estimated. In introducing this Bill, he believed the Government were actuated all through as men who were enemies to the principle of the Act which they now proposed to amend. That spirit seemed to him to animate every proposal they made. The great principle of the Act of 1885 could only be defended on the ground that freedom of contract between landlord and tenant in Ireland had never existed. The only reason he could see for admitting leaseholders to the benefits of the Act of 1881 was that they were not free to contract at the time of taking over their leases. They took their leases, in many cases, to avoid the evils which were pressing strongly upon them, and of which subsequent legislation relieved other tenants in Ireland to a certain extent. They were, in many instances, forced into their leases because they held under extra harsh landlords. There was no possible argument to justify them in allowing landlords to break those leases which the tenants did not want to have broken, because there could be no pretence that the landlords had been coerced into granting the leases. The Bankruptcy Clauses, as they stood at present, were a mere sham, and they had been so described in the Upper House by Lord Fitzgerald. The Times newspaper, that eminently fair and judicial journal, in its report of Lord Fitzgerald's speech, had entirely omitted the words "merest sham," which only appeared in The Daily News. But he had Lord Fitzgerald's own authority for saying that he used the word sham. As regards the written notice substituted in the action for ejectment, that was a clause rendering evictions easy and unjust—evictions were always easy enough. The land- 559 lords would serve their notice by post on the day they got the decree, and this would, of course, shorten the time for redemption quite as much as the recommendation of the Commissioners. To argue on the basis that tenants were re-admitted as caretakers was quite erroneous, because they had no record of what happened—those caretakers at the end of the six months' period of redemption. It was conceded all round that the judicial rents were too high, and last night the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) told them that if the Irish landlords would take his advice they would make reductions on the judicial rents. With reference to middlemen, he would ask what was to become of middlemen whose rents to the landlords just equalled the judicial rents of their tenants? They could not make a reduction to their tenants without loss, and yet under this Bill they could not surrender. However, as middlemen were practically landlords, he had no doubt this matter would be carefully attended to by the House. The provisions for the remission of rates to landlords were very peculiar in a Bill which was brought forward with such professions as this Bill, for it was certainly a novel way of relieving over-rented tenants to throw upon them the burden of extra rates. With regard to the jurisdiction of the County Court, it was pretty certain that the County Court Judge would not be unfriendly to the Irish landlords. The hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland, who was the adviser of the Government on this matter, had assured the House that the power of fieri facias was not much used by the landlords now. Would the House believe that the Returns showed that this power in the year 1886 was used in no less than 6,580 cases. The Commission had reported that the price and produce combined had fallen 18 per cent, but in reality they had fallen a great deal more, because, in the first place, they based their calculation, on a rate of produce which existed only in the mind of the Registrar General, and because they took their estimate of prices from the only source available to them—namely, the Irish Farmers' Gazette. This gave the prices of the great towns—Belfast, Cork, and Dublin—and these were different from the prices in 560 the country, and besides it was the best produce which was sent to the great towns. But even taking the fall in prices as 20 per cent, and he believed it to be much more, it was ludicrous to say that a 20 per cent fall could be met by a 20 per cent reduction—as a matter of fact it could not be met by less than a 50 per cent reduction. There was great danger of the whole Bill being strangled by a hostile Court of Appeal. He admitted that the Land Commissioners were giving effect to a certain extent to the fall in prices, even now the rents were not being fixed low enough, and those who rested their hopes upon the present action of the Land Commissioners would find their hope very delusive indeed. The Government ought to adopt the recommendation of their own Commissioners, and reduce the term of years during which the judicial rents should run from 15 to five years. The Commissioners themselves said that the term of 15 years was too long for the poorer class of tenant. If a term of 15 years were fixed the fluctuations in prices would naturally be allowed for; but the Commissioners never allowed for the present depression, though they did make allowance for good years which would enable a tenant to tide over bad years, and they fixed the rents believing that things would improve. Instead of prices rising, they had gone down far below what the Commissioners believed to be the bottom of the fall. When the Act of 1881 was before the House, it was distinctly stated in the House that it was the intention of the Government that no rent should be charged on tenants' improvements. The right hon. Gentleman opposite knew that that had been overridden by the Courts in Ireland, and he wished to ask him if he would introduce some provision into this Bill to secure that to the tenant. Lord Salisbury told them last Session that any scheme of land purchase would be based on the present judicial rents; but now the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary admitted that any scheme of purchase must be based on what were fair rents at the time of the purchase. If the Government were in earnest in their promise to bring in a Bill next Session to carry out a scheme of land purchase based on fair rents at the time, there was no reason why they should not at once set to work to revise 561 the judicial rents which they admitted were unfair. There were many hundred tenants in Ireland suffering under a rent which it was impossible for them to pay, but the Government did not interfere to relieve these people, but only consented to deal with a few questions where the landlords had pushed their rights to such dire extremes that the tenants were reduced to a state of bankruptcy; in fact, the only clauses of the Bill which made any pretence of giving a remedy to the tenant were the equitable jurisdiction and the Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill, which, in their present shape, were a mere sham. The Government might find a sufficient number of men in that House to support their policy; but the recent elections at Spalding and Coventry showed that their action was not approved of by the country.
§ MR. ELTON (Somerset, Wellington)
said, that the ground had now been pretty well cleared for the discussion of the Bill. The House had had speeches of many different kinds, one of which, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Division (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), who proposed the Amendment, he was very glad to hear, for this reason—that if there was nothing more to be said against it, the Bill, he thought, was tolerably secure. Whether it was from his native caution, or from the merits of the case, the right hon. Gentleman took care not to fire very damaging shots against a measure which he wished to wound, but not to kill. From Ministers the House had statements which more clearly revealed the real nature and scope of the Bill than had been done before. Then there was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain), which was full of the most striking suggestions. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was marked by a tone of too general benevolence. He had a reform to suggest for every evil, and his mode of dealing with the subject perhaps too closely resembled that of an Eastern Cadi. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment gave the House a good deal of criticism on every clause of the Bill; but what it all came to was this—that the Government ought to have done something quite different. With regard to frequent revision of rents, to carry out such a 562 policy would be to sanctify the system of dual ownership. It might have been an extremely good thing to legalize the tenant-right interest in 1881; but, of course, the fixing of it for a certain term of years was sure to lead to the difficulties which had come to pass. This must be regarded as a step towards a plan by which dual ownership would pass away, and single ownership would be established by means of a purchase scheme. Dual ownership, he was convinced, was not a good thing as a permanent system. It was a bad thing in itself, except where the rent was very small. It was only tolerable when the rent was in the nature of a ground-rent or small charge. It might be said that we had been accustomed to dual ownership in England for many generations; but, on the other hand, it should be remembered that it had been disliked, and that efforts had been made to abolish it. In his opinion, a continual revision of rents would be most inconvenient and irritable, and even an automatic change must lead to the idea that the rent would be a tribute rather than the result of a contract. The Bill contained a great number of provisions dealing with a large number of subjects, and he thought that it was intended to prepare the way for purchase by defining and ascertaining the state of the tenants, and to make it clear, more than the Act of 1881 did, what were the interests of the owner and the tenant in the land. The Bill should prevent any dispossession of the tenant until the Arrears Bill was brought in. In that case, if what he considered was the principle of Clause 22 was carried out, the Bankruptcy Clauses would not be wanted at all, because all cases would be met except those of undeserving tenants. With regard to Section 4 of the Bill, he thought that those who were engaged in the administration of Ireland were right in attempting to reduce those horrors which had made their blood run cold. The Government, in his opinion, had made an honest and strenuous effort to avert those horrors. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman who had proposed the Amendment had spoken somewhat coldly and cynically of the efforts of the Government to do away with the evils which surrounded evictions. At all events, he conceived that it was the duty of the 563 Government to do all that in them lay to put down the occurrence of the terrible events which had taken place in the wholesale evictions of which they had heard. They had been told that this clause would reduce the number of evictions by one-half, and that was something. All he asked was that this Bill should be received as a contribution which all parties would try to make into something good. He was sure that it would not be received in an irreconcilable way. After all, the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) had not been so very irreconcilable, since he had found that everything in the Bill had been advised at some previous period by himself and his Party. At the same time, whether or not there might be practical details in it which could be altered in Committee, he did not believe that the House, after considering it, would refuse to assent to the proposition that this was an honest attempt to deal with the difficulty, not from any base motives which might have been suggested, but with an anxiety to do justice between all parties, and in a generous spirit to do all in their power to prevent those unfortunate events occurring again. With regard to the question of the charges on estates, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had wished to be abated proportionally, he thought that those family charges and other charges on landlords pressed very hard in Ireland, as they did in England, upon people whose rents were depressed below the margin of subsistence; but were they to put an Incumbered Estates Bill into what was really a Provisional Arrears Bill? Let them think what tremendous principles were involved. Suppose some of a family had alienated their charges on a property. A very large proportion of family charges were assigned to other people for money. Were they going to reduce charges in the hands of solicitors and Insurance Companies? That would be a very large undertaking to put into an Arrears Bill. On the other hand, it would be hard and obviously unfair to reduce them only when they were in the family. Then, again, what was there that was sacred in a charge held by relations as compared with an ordinary mortgagee's charge? Why should not the usurer be cut down too? He thought 564 that these questions were too large to be treated in what was merely an Arrears Bill, which was to act until the Purchase Bill came down. With regard to the surrender of his estate by the middleman, he thought that it was guarded in every way by the provisions of the clause. All Parties were agreed that the leaseholder ought to be admitted to the benefits of the Act of 1881, and ought to obtain the immediate enjoyment of the rights of a statutory tenant, which at present he had only in reversion at the end of his lease. There was no use in saying that this right ought to have been given in 1881, and little advantage in the minute criticism which had been passed upon this part of the Bill. With respect to improvements, there was a disposition on the part of some of the witnesses before the Commission to treat them as though they constituted a sort of separate interest from the land. This seemed to be the point of view of the Proviso to the 1st clause, according to which the Court was to disallow an application by a leaseholder for a judicial rent in cases where the landlord or his predecessors had made improvements, the unexhausted value of which was four times the rent of the holding. In cases of main or arterial drainage, he had sometimes heard this view expressed. But his view was that the general rule should be followed, that the accessory follows the principal, and that, as the leaseholders were to be enfranchised, no condition of this kind should be attached to their enfranchisement.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
said, that no Bill ever introduced into the House had been mauled as this Bill had been. It had been riddled with shot from stem to stern, and had not received any commendation from any quarter except the Ministerial Bench. Hostile criticism had not been confined to the opponents of the Government. Of the able and exhaustive speeches made against the Bill, two of the most damaging had been made by his right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) and the hon. and learned Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). Though both Gentlemen promised to vote in favour of the Government, both were unsparing in their criticism of the details of the Bill, and 565 there was scarcely a clause of the Bill of which they were able unreservedly to approve. The most damaging speech against the Bill was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, more especially when the House considered his close relations with the Government, and the fact that he had been generally credited with the authorship of one portion of the Bill. Under these circumstances, they might certainly have expected that when the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland rose to speak on behalf of the Government, he would be prepared to announce some concessions to the almost unanimous expression of opinion against the Bill. But in the course of his speech there was no promise of amendment on the part of the Government, and no concession of any kind. He asked the Liberal Unionists what would have been the effect upon the Government if they had promised to vote for the Amendment instead of against it? Would it not have had the effect of bringing the Government to its bearings upon this subject? The answer to the course they had taken was that no concession had been made, and this fact justified his right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) in the Amendment he now placed before the House. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham made a severe and, as he thought, a rather unfair attack upon his right hon. Friend. He told him that his object was to defeat and destroy the Bill, and throw matters in Ireland into greater confusion, and deprive the Irish tenants of any remedy for a year, or two years, or a longer period to come. He was quite sure that that description of the right hon. Gentleman's object was wholly incorrect; there was nothing that hon. Members on his side of the House would not do to alleviate the condition of the Irish tenantry; and if the Government would but consent to amend the measure they would receive cordial assistance in making it a real remedy for the existing state of things. Having had some experience of measures of this kind, it was his conviction that, with the exception of the clauses relating to leaseholders, the other main portions of the Bill were nugatory and inefficacious for their purpose. They would do more harm than good. They were not worth 566 the paper they were written upon. They furnished no real remedy for the evil which existed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, although giving the Government Bill a general support, confirmed in effect the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). They all admitted the value of the clause relating to leaseholders so far as it went. But it was hampered by restrictions which might easily be removed. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham, referring to the clause relating to ejectments, had pointed out that although the Bill provided a remedy in one direction against unjust eviction it left the door open for the landlord in another direction. From the intimations they had received from Ireland, it appeared that a bad class of landlords would take advantage of the alternative process which the Bill permitted and would treat their tenants in the future as they had in the past. The right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) practically admitted the force of the argument. His only answer to it was that landlords in the past had not often availed themselves of these processes, on account of the responsibility they involved. The right hon. and learned Attorney General had asked Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House to find a remedy. It was not for the Opposition to provide remedies for the defects they pointed out, and which were admitted by the Government. But the alternative proposal set forth in the Amendment before the House to a large extent provided a remedy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham also admitted that the Bankruptcy Clauses would not meet the case of the solvent tenant, and that the fall in agricultural prices had rendered the rents judicially fixed unfair and unreasonable. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that where landlords have been unable or unwilling to make remissions the tenants should have the power to apply to the Land Court for temporary remission. That suggestion was rather vague and hazy. He should prefer the adoption of the recommendation of the Cowper Commission upon this point, believing that to allow too frequent application to the Court for temporary remissions would be unwise. The right 567 hon. Member for West Birmingham had argued that much of the existing difficulty was caused by the embarrassments of landlords, who had heavy charges and mortgages upon their property, and who were in consequence unable to grant remissions. This, no doubt, was the explanation of the unwillingness of some landlords to make reductions; but it was no real answer to the complaints of the tenants. The tenants were either entitled to remissions in consequence of their peculiar position as co-proprietors, or they were not. If they were, the embarrassed position of landlords could not affect their right. As to the Bankruptcy Clauses, the Government could not do better than take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman and abandon them. He could not refrain from saying that never before had such foolish— aye, idiotic proposals been laid before Parliament. They would not benefit a single tenant in Ireland, and be of use only to landlords. Any tenant who took advantage of them would emerge from the Bankruptcy Court a beggar. Under the circumstances, therefore, the advice of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham to drop this part of the Bill was good. The Bill, as amended according to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham would be a totally different measure. It would, indeed, be difficult to recognize it, for almost every clause would have undergone a change in accordance with the spirit of the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs. He desired to know whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed to follow up his advice by action? They had also a right to know from the Liberal Unionists whether the Amendments suggested by the right hon. Member represented their views as well as his. Was the right hon. Member prepared to stand by his proposals? Was he prepared to insist upon them; or was he going to do what he had done on previous occasions—namely, speak in one sense and vote in another, for fear of defeating the Government? If the Government elected to stand or fall by their Bills, his right hon. Friend would not be able to insist upon any of his Amendments without the risk of turning out the Government, and this he was not prepared to do. It was to be regretted that the right hon. Gentle- 568 man did not produce these proposals last autumn when the hon. Member for Cork was pressing upon the Government of the day the necessity of finding some remedy for the state of affairs which was likely to arise in Ireland during the winter. It was a pity his right hon. Friend did not, in concert with the Liberal Party, seek to devise a remedy in the direction he now proposed. If he had done so there need have been no evictions, no Plan of Campaign, and he ventured to think there would have been no Coercion Bill this year. It was also remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman should not have made a better bargain with the Government in return for his supporting against his natural instincts their Coercion Bill. But there was a fundamental error running through the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. If he had given free scope to what he could not but think was the instinct of his own mind—namely, against coercion, he would have placed the Government in a position in which they would have been compelled to give him better terms in order to muzzle him. There was another error running through the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that he hoped to settle the Irish Land Question without consultation with the Irish Members. He thought that was an unstatesmanlike and an unwise method of approaching this question; but it was a similar attitude to that taken up by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) in regard to Home Rule. The attempt to legislate on either the Land Question or on that of local government without concert with the Irish Members would only lead to further difficulties. His right hon. Friend twitted the Irish Members with the action they took on the Bill of 1881, and he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) considered at that time that the Irish Members were unnecessarily hostile in their criticism; but now, looking back at this period, with the knowledge that he had subsequently acquired, he had long felt that it was a great mistake on the part of the Government of that day, and of which he was a Member, not to have come to terms at that time with the Irish Members. Their failure to do so was the main defect of the Irish Bill of 1881, and he was free to confess that if the criticisms of the Irish Members 569 had been more respected, many of the mistakes of the Bill would have been avoided. Most of the hostile criticism of the Irish Members had turned out to be correct, with, the result that further legislation was now required. If the Government of the day attempted to settle this question without concert or consultation with the Irish Members, they would fall into the same difficulty. It had been said that this measure was only a stopgap in view of a coming scheme of land purchase. But bearing in mind the storm of opposition raised to the last land purchase scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), he did not think that the prospects of any sweeping scheme for converting the tenants of Ireland into owners were very bright. He was himself opposed to any universal measure of this kind. This Bill could not really be regarded as a stopgap. It was a Bill which provided the tenants with the only remedy they would have for the next three or four years at least. But the great objection that was entertained to this Bill was that it did nothing whatever for the struggling and industrious solvent tenant, who was called upon to pay too high a rent. No explanation of this had been given in this House, but the proceedings in the other House threw some light on the subject. Lord Salisbury never opened his mouth on this subject without showing how greatly he misconceived the meaning of the Land Act of 1881. Lord Salisbury defended the Government for not dealing with the case of the solvent tenants on the ground that these tenants were bound by contract to their landlord, and he went on to denounce the Land Act as establishing dual ownership in land. But since the Land Act of 1881 established dual ownership, it abrogated the old relation of contract between landlord and tenant. The system of judicial rents was not a necessary incident of dual ownership, because dual ownership was created in cases in which tenants did not apply to the Land Court. It was a misnomer now to speak of the two parties as landlord and tenant; they were not such in the English sense of the term, but they were co-owners, each possessing a distinct interest in the land, and they ought to be called co-proprietors. Under the Act of 570 1881 the Land Commissioners had fixed 180,000 judicial rents, making an average reduction of 18 per cent. It was claimed that many of the rents so fixed had ceased to be just owing to the fall in prices, and in the Report of the Cowper Commission there was overwhelming proof that the average values of produce had fallen in the last three years no less than 18 per cent; and, in addition, that there had been a great deterioration in the value of the land of Ireland since 1879, owing to a succession of wet seasons. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham was mistaken in supposing that later reductions were not more than from 10 to 14 per cent. The average reduction of the last three years, as compared with previous years, was no less than 30 per cent; and this was shown by comparing the rents in both cases with Griffith's valuation. In view of that depreciation, was it fair that the whole loss should fall on one of the co-owners—that the tenant should bear the whole of this great depreciation in values? As the condition had completely changed since 1881 it was not only fair and right, but it was in accordance with the principle of the Act of 1881 that judicial rents should be revised. The case might be illustrated in this way—Suppose two tenants—A and B—of adjoining farms of the same size and value, A holding under a rack-renting landlord, and B holding at a fair rent 26 per cent less than A; and suppose that three years ago A went to the Land Court and had his rent reduced to B's level; it was not thus necessary for B to go into the Land Court, for his rent was a moderate one; but now, when prices are gone down and when the Land Court is making much larger reductions, B goes into Court and obtains a reduction of his rent 30 per cent lower than A's judicial rent. How is it possible to defend the difference which now again exists between the rent of A and B. Leaseholders would get reductions of 30 per cent more than those who had their rents fixed more than three years ago; and such inequalities must give rise to the gravest dissatisfaction. Unless such cases were dealt with by a general rule there could not be contentment, and the measure must fail. He, therefore, implored the Government to reconsider this part of their scheme. There was no remedy 571 under the Bill for the inequality until a man was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the equity clauses would not give satisfaction or work justly. Arrears were to be spread over future years, and this would revive the worst practice of the worst landlords in Ireland—namely, that of allowing arrears of rent to accumulate round the necks of tenants until they were reduced to the position of slaves. Instead of reducing rents, landlords would point to these clauses of the Bill as indicating the course they ought to pursue; tenants would be encumbered with arrears until there was no recourse but bankruptcy; and then it would be said the Bill provided a remedy. He hoped that some Member of the Government would be able to get up and say that they were willing to make a concession in the direction pointed out in the Amendment. If the Government were prepared to do so, he did not think his right hon. Friend would proceed further with his Amendment, and all Parties would endeavour to make the best of the Bill. He reminded the Government that they had fallen far short of the recommendations of the Commission. The recommendations urged upon the Government were made by a Commission of their own selection, and no Member of which represented the National Party of Ireland. The Members were warm supporters of the Government, and would scarcely have reported as they had done unless they had reasons to suppose that their recommendations would be acceptable to the Government. He ventured, the suggestion that these recommendations were in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the right hon. Baronet the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) who, while expressing his objections to the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork last year, showed some sympathy with its object, and during the winter used his best efforts to induce landlords to reduce their rents, and had indicated that the Government were prepared with large proposals. He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) regretted the causes of the right hon. Gentleman's resignation, and could not forbear expressing his opinion that perhaps there might have been another cause for his resignation than his unfortunate illness. At all events, it was quite certain that since his resignation a change had come over the policy 572 of the Government. They had never heard from the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary any single recommendation to the landlords to be lenient, and until last night there never escaped from his lips a single word of sympathy with the suffering Irish tenants.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
You are entirely in error.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he was very happy to hear that correction, but the right hon. Gentleman had never exhibited the same standard of good feeling towards the Irish tenants as his Predecessor had done. On the other hand, he had thrown himself with great zest into the policy of coercion. The House had now before them the whole policy of the Government with regard to Ireland—on the one hand a Coercion Bill, the most severe and the most stringent ever passed in this country. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, he had studied every one of the Coercion Acts since the Union, and he said, without hesitation, that this Bill was the most stringent of any that had ever been passed in this respect. It was aimed chiefly at combination among tenants, and he did not believe any previous Acts had gone that length. The hon. and learned Attorney General had said that this Bill was directed only against crime, but in the end of the debate on Friday night the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) had let the cat out of the bag, and had told the House that the Bill was directed against combinations. They had now a supplement of that policy in the Bill before the House, which, he ventured to say, was insufficient for its purpose, unworthy in its workings, and would not give satisfaction to the tenants of Ireland. Looking at the policy as a whole, he said it was an unwise policy. It would aggravate the evils it was intended to cure, and it would widen the gulf between landlords and tenants, which it should have been the wise policy of the present Government to bridge over and efface.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Sir JOHN GORST) (Chatham)
said, he trusted the right hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) would allow a humble Member of the Government to thank him for the assistance he had promised to 573 give them, and to express a hope that it would be of a more effective character than he had given by his speech on the second reading. He (Sir John Gorst) did not complain so much of the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman, because he had scarcely said anything which had not been urged already; but he did complain of the joy which the right hon. Gentleman had expressed because, as he said, the Bill had received such a mauling and had been riddled by shot from stem to stern. The Government had a right to complain of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman reviewed the remarks of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), apparently for the purpose of showing that, while he agreed in all that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had said, he disagreed with him in this—that he had made up his mind not to vote for the Amendment, and so wreck the Bill upon the second reading. The Government had also a right to complain that the right hon. Gentleman, after dragging in the Crimes Bill and endeavouring to persuade the House that that Bill and the Bill before the House disclosed the whole policy of the Government, had omitted all reference to the Purchase Bill which had been repeatedly stated by the Government to be the supplement of their other measures. He (Sir John Gorst) thought the Government had some right to the candid and generous support not only of the right hon. Gentleman, but of his late Colleagues, with the single exception of the former Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley), because the Government were engaged in endeavouring to alleviate some of the evil consequences of the land legislation of 1870 and 1881. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out the evils and anomalies inseparable from the fixing of judicial rents for a term of years which had directly arisen from that legislation, and he (Sir John Gorst) thought an attempt to meet some of the evil consequences which we should have to deal with for some years to come, many of which had not been foreseen, deserved, on the part of those who were desirous of the good of their country and not of Party advantage, a candid consideration. But he would like to turn aside from the speech just delivered, which he regarded as merely one of those political Party utterances which officials 574 and ex-officials had to make from time to time in that House, and to consider for a short time two remarkable speeches which those who were present in the earlier part of the evening had the advantage of hearing from two Gentlemen each of whom professed to represent the farmers of Ireland—the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). The speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo was one of those speeches calculated to make every Englishman who was sincerely desirous of redressing the grievances of the Irish tenants despair. He (Sir John Gorst) could not understand, after such a speech, how the right hon. Member for Central Bradford could seriously urge that Her Majesty's Government ought to take the Representatives of Ireland, who sat below the Gangway, into their confidence, and endeavour to pass any measure which would satisfy them. He might be very simple; but he always thought that the hon. Member for East Mayo represented the Irish tenants, with a sincere desire to benefit their condition, and not, like some of his Colleagues, with a desire to make capital out of the difficulties of their condition and to embarrass the Government of the day. [Parnellite cries of "Withdraw!"] He did not withdraw his statement, although, perhaps, his idea might be due to perversity of mind, or to his being too prone to suspicion. The hon. Member, though he stated in the course of his speech that this Bill contained moat of the propositions which in 1881 had been unsuccessfully proposed by those who were now his Colleagues, denounced the Bill root and branch, and stated that he was prepared to take the responsibility of voting with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs, and destroy the measure on the second reading. There was one clause which the hon. Member ventured to except from the universal condemnation, and that was the 1st clause, extending the benefit of the Land Act to leaseholders. He (Sir John Gorst) could not understand how the hon. Member could reconcile to himself the desire to see the benefits of that clause extended to the leaseholders of Ireland, with the vote which he was about to give, which would deprive the leaseholders of the benefit of that clause for 12 months to come. The hon. Mem- 575 ber also forgot to add Clause 2, because it was another of the propositions which the hon. Member and his Colleagues had urged on the House of Commons in 1881, and which, at least, deserved as great an amount of approbation from those who represented the tenants of Ireland as Clause 1. But it was quite evident, from the speech of the hon. Member, that, whatever might have been the motives which animated that speech, be was determined to see no good in any of the suggestions which emanated from the Government. Instead of advocating the second reading of the Bill, and endeavouring to improve it in Committee, by adding those parts which were lacking, it was evident that the hon. Member was determined to oppose the Bill and denounce it in every clause. He (Sir John Gorst) was particularly struck with the hon. Member's observations regarding Clause 4, which substituted a written notice for the execution of an ejectment. That clause certainly did away with a considerable amount of suffering, and he should have thought that a proposal of that kind did not deserve the epithet of "infamous" applied to it by the hon. Member. Then the hon. Member for East Mayo dealt with Clause 6. As far as he could make out from attention to the debates, and from a perusal of the Bill, there was no difference in principle between the hon. Member for East Mayo, the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and the Government on the question of town parks. It was a question of definition and of detail which ought not to be imported into a debate on the second reading. As to Clause 22 giving the County Court power to stay evictions, he thought the hon. Member for East Mayo might at least have apmitted that, as far as the clause went, it was beneficial and was conceived in the interests of the tenant; certainly it did not deserve the general denunciation with which he treated the Bill. The hon. Member also stated that the relief which was given to the glebe tenants was inadequate; but he thought the criticism of that clause by the hon. Member for South Tyrone was, at least, more sensible, and he should hope that the hon. Gentleman represented more truly the feeling of the Irish tenants. He could not help noticing that when the hon. Member for East Mayo spoke of 576 the Bankruptcy Clauses, he gave the House to understand that they were framed in the interests of the landlords. It was rather singular, however, that the same clauses should have been objected to by the hon. Member for South Tyrone on a different ground. The hon. Member for South Tyrone thought that they would prove too strong a temptation for the insolvent tenant; that they were so advantageous to him and so disadvantageous to the community at large, that it was a pity to hold out such a temptation to him But turning from the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo to the speech of the other Representative of the Irish tenants, he did not think it would be said that the hon. Member for South Tyrone indulged in any unreasonable eulogy of the Government Bill. There was this difference in the two speeches to be noted. The hon. Member for South Tyrone made the speech of a man who was desirous of helping the Government to frame a very satisfactory measure. The hon. Member had made a large number of able and most important criticisms on the provisions of the Bill. He (Sir John Gorst), however, did not understand the hon. Member for South Tyrone to have any rooted objection to the principle of the Bill, or any objection to it which would justify him in destroying the measure on the second reading; and, therefore, the answer which could be given to the whole of his observations was that, when the Bill was in Committee, the various points which he had brought forward could be fairly considered, and Amendments carrying out his views could be framed either by the hon. Member himself, or by others, and the House would then be able to decide whether any of those Amendments were so capable of being carried into effect as to deserve insertion in the Bill. [Laughter.] He did not understand the derision of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who was a Member of the Government which began, in 1881, a revolution in the land system of Ireland of which they had not yet seen the end. That measure, he (Sir John Gorst) thought, was passed by the Government of the day, not only without making provision for the consequences of the revolution which they initiated, but even without foreseeing a great many of those consequences. They had changed that single ownership of 577 land, which had been the system of Great Britain and Ireland for many years, into a system of dual ownership; and they never seemed to have considered or provided for all the difficulties and complications which had arisen, and which would arise in future years, from that change. An attempt was to be made by the Government next year to undo the effect of the legislation of 1881 in that direction, by restoring the single ownership of land. [Laughter.] The hon. Member laughed, and he (Sir John Gorst) dared say that such an attempt might not succeed; but, whether it succeeded or not the dual ownership of land would continue in Ireland for very many years to come; for it would not be until a great many yearly instalments of money had been paid, if they ever were paid, that the dual ownership of land would end. What he wanted to point out was, that the existence of that dual ownership of land entailed a considerable number of difficulties and complications which were not provided for, but which would have to be provided for by legislation from year to year. There was nothing impossible in dual ownership of land. Single ownership was what they were accustomed to in this country; but dual ownership prevailed in many other communities and States and was found more advantageous than single ownership. Over a great part of India the ownership of land was dual; and the cultivators of the soil were very much in the same position as the tenants of Ireland were in now. They had rents fixed for considerable periods, and the landlord was the State itself. But in that case, an immense amount of legislation and an infinite number of provisions had to be made in order to enable that system to work equitably. The State fixed the rents, and not only so, but from time to time, when the tenants were unable to pay it, had to make considerable remissions from those rents to enable them to keep themselves on the land; and it was probable that the House, if the dual ownership of land in Ireland continued to prevail, would have to engage in a great deal of agrarian legislation which it had not yet dreamt of, and would have to consider many matters which had hitherto been strange to it. Although the proposal of the Government with reference to what were called the Bank- 578 ruptcy Clauses of that Bill had been received by thoughtless persons with a considerable amount of derision, there was in existence in India and at work for many years past in the Deccan, a system which bore a most singular resemblance to the clauses of that Bill. The condition of the ryots in the Deccan was very similar to that of the Irish tenants at the present moment. They were unable to pay their rents, and had fallen into the hands of the money lenders, and many of them were on the verge of bankruptcy. An Act was passed temporarily, which had been renewed from time to time, which gave the Courts much greater power than was given to the Courts by this Bill. It gave the Courts, among other things, power to call upon all the creditors of the tenants for accounts; it gave power to suspend all process so as to give the tenant time to pay his debts; it gave power to reduce the amount of the tenant's indebtedness by enforcing a composition on all the creditors; and, finally it gave that very power which had been made an object of derision that evening—namely, to put in a trustee to carry on the farm for a time for the benefit of all concerned. And that Act had now been at work for many years and it had saved thousands of tenants from the evictions to which they would otherwise have been subjected. The Government had been taunted with not having stated, on the second reading of this Bill, what modifications they were prepared to assent to; and the hon. Member for East Mayo had challenged them to say whether it was the Bill which had been introduced that was to be read a second time, or the Bill which had been shadowed out by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. There could be but one answer to that question. The House could only read a second time the Bill which the Government had introduced. The forms of the House would not allow of any other course being taken; and it seemed to him quite unreasonable to ask the Government, oven before any definite Amendments had been put upon the Paper, to say whether they were ready to adopt them or not. All that the Government could do was that they would be prepared to consider favourably any Amendments which were suggested to them by Members of the House who were sincere in their support of the Bill. 579 They must, however, be suspicious regarding Amendments suggested by those who had previously announced their intention to destroy the Bill if they possibly could. The principles of the Bill had been very clearly enunciated by the Government. It was a temporary measure, which was intended to afford relief to the class of leaseholders who suffered hardships under the Act of 1881. It was also intended to check harsh and cruel evictions, and it was intended to provide for the interval before the introduction of a measure which, it was hoped, would solve those difficulties which a judicial rent had failed to meet. He put it to hon. Gentlemen opposite who had passed the Act of 1881, whether it was generous to meet such a Bill in a Party spirit like that which had been displayed by the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs and the Member for East Mayo. He was convinced that it would be more in accordance with a calm and philosophical spirit, if they passed this measure and relieved the Irish tenants from suffering.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
I confess I was genuinely alarmed during a portion of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Sir John Gorst), lest you, Mr. Speaker, should call him to Order for travelling into a very interesting description of a Bill which is not before the House, but which, he said, would probably come before us next year. The hon. Gentleman, however, relieved us from that fear, when he suddenly reverted to a defence of the Bill, or, at least, the Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill before us, basing his justification of them on his Indian experience, and especially on certain legislation which is known as the Deccan land legislation. He told us that the particular provision he wished to justify bore a remarkable likeness to some of the provisions of this Deccan land legislation. I think the hon. Gentleman has a little let the cat out of the bag as to the Bankruptcy Clauses of this Bill, which, perhaps, under his advice has been copied from what he describes as the Deccan land legislation. But, Sir, the real difficulty in discussing what the hon. Gentleman has called the principles of this Bill is the very remarkable manner in which the measure has come before Parliament. I do not think that upon any occasion 580 a measure has been proposed to Parliament which has gone through, before its first discussion in this House, the number of changes to which this Bill has been subjected. It was brought in in the House of Lords early in the present Session—in fulfilment of the promise made last year before the appointment of the Royal Commission. The Bill as then introduced in the House of Lords we had an opportunity of seeing, and the country also had an opportunity of seeing, and I think anyone who remembers the outcry at that time will bear me out when I say that from landlord and from, tenant the original Bill met with almost universal opposition. Well, Sir, what happened then? The Bill was read a second time in the House of Lords, and was committed pro formâ, and, after committal the Bill emerged under the authority of Her Majesty's Government totally differing from the first edition. We then had an interesting discussion in the other House on the Bill as altered, and when it came from the final Committee stage in the House of Lords it was again entirely altered. Many of its provisions were either entirely struck out, or changed. As it passed the Committee, the measure was not like the first Bill or the second Bill, but was in many respects an entirely new measure. Finally, on Report, the Bill was materially changed again, and it has come down to this House as a fourth Bill, not in the least like the first, very little like the second, in many respects differing from the third; but it is presented to us as the deliberate view Her Majesty's Government take of the solution of this great problem, with regard to which they had not in the least made up their minds in March, as to which they had adopted several material changes between the month of March and the month of June, and which the House is now told it is to accept as expressing the principles—to use the word of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken—of the Government on this most important subject. Sir, it must have occurred to everybody to ask those who offer a Bill of this kind, dealing with these important interests, and which has been so frequently changed during the last two or three months—it must have occurred to everybody to ask whether it is safe even now to accept what we have to discuss 581 as the final view of Her Majesty's Government. It certainly is not, in many respects, because yesterday we heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland of two more Amendments which it is proposed to introduce into the Bill, greatly altering its construction. Therefore, as I said before, are we to take this Bill as a final and determined proposal of Her Majesty's Government, or is it put on the Table, subject to very great amendment, still open for discussion? And what is, I think, more important, may we expect to have soon the judgment of Her Majesty's Goment on the main questions which have already been discussed for two days in the House, and which I think raise almost throughout the Bill questions of the greatest importance? Now, Sir, will the House allow me to refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) yesterday? That speech, no one could call a speech hostile to the Government. It was a very carefully delivered speech, and following it very closely and studiously, as I did from first to last, I could not help observing the anxiety which was shown on the faces of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the extent of the criticism which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham was offering, and as to the extent to which they would have to yield or not to yield to that criticism. Sir, I may, perhaps, be allowed to point out to the House what were, not the suggestions, for they were far more than that, but what were the criticisms which my right hon. Friend offered on the Bill, and in what respects he invited the House to alter its provisions. Sir, there were no less than six important changes which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham said he should require to be made in the Bill in Committee, and without which alterations, he spoke of the Bill as an altogether imperfect and unsatisfactory measure; and. the question which we are entitled to ask the Government is this—will they state to the House on Thursday, when it is understood that this debate is to come to a close—will they state to the House, before the second reading of the Bill is taken, in what way they have received the criticisms of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birming- 582 ham, and whether we may or may not expect that the changes which he has so strongly urged on the House will be incorporated in the Bill? Now, Sir, I will venture to re-state to the House, in the words of my right hon. Friend, and not in my own words, what it is that he thinks the Bill should contain which it does not contain now, and what should be omitted from the Bill which it does now contain. I will pass by the smaller criticisms of my right hon. Friend, and will apply myself only to the large points as to which he endeavoured last night strongly to impress his opinion upon the House and the Government. I will take the points in the order not of the Bill, but of the statement of my right hon. Friend; and I will again say that it appears to me that the Government are bound—I do not say to-night, but before this debate closes—to state clearly to the House how it is proposed to meet the criticisms of my right hon. Friend—to state whether they will, or will not, make the changes in the Bill which he has urged upon them. In the first place, my right hon. Friend put it very clearly to the House that the relief which it is proposed to give to Irish tenants who are not in a position, owing to the fall of prices, or for other reasons beyond their control, to continue under the obligation s which they have been under as to rent, that the relief which is proposed to be given in the Bill is altogether inadequate, and that a very much larger relief should be given, and that, too, to classes of tenants who are altogether unprovided for in the structure of the Bill. My right hon. Friend impressed on the House—and no one reading the Bill can fail to see that he was right— that nobody can be relieved under the provisions of the Bill as it stands unless he first has failed to pay his rent; and, next, unless proceedings have been taken against him to bring about his eviction from his holding. What my right hon. Friend pointed out was this—that those who have so failed to pay their rents are only a fraction of those who are unable to pay their present rents out of their earnings, and that as much regard, or even more regard, ought to be had to those tenants who have paid their rents, and who have done so perhaps at great sacrifice, who may have been obliged to spend their little capital in the strict ful- 583 filment of their pecuniary obligations, and who, therefore, will practically, perhaps, he unable in the future to carry on their business—that far more regard is due to them than to those who have at once refused to pay their rents, and who have been brought under the operations of actions through the Courts, and for whom the 22nd; 23rd, 24th, and 25th clauses provide. Sir, my right hon. Friend insisted upon that, saying—I quote his exact words—that, in his opinion, relief should be given by way of reduction of rent to solvent tenants who are paying rents which are not now fair, and who are unable to obtain reasonable abatements. These are more deserving of the sympathy of the House than any other class of tenants. They should have the liberty of going, too, into Court, and of having their position reviewed. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) will, I feel certain, confirm what I say, when I state that no relief is offered to solvent tenants under the present Bill—that the only tenants to whom relief is offered are those who are not solvent and who have been brought under the operation of the Law of Ejectment. We have heard to-night from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, and from the hon. Gentleman who last spoke (Sir John Gorst), a good deal about the proposals which have been made during the debate; but I wish to point out to the House that this most crucial and important proposal of my right hon. Friend has not been alluded to by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson), or the hon. Gentleman who last spoke. Therefore, I hold that it is absolutely necessary, in order to the efficient carrying on of this debate, that, considering the important speech of my right hon. Friend, and the care with which this part of it was elaborated—for he repeated these points two or three times in the course of his address—I say it is absolutely necessary that Her Majesty's Government should reply to the speech of my right hon. Friend, and particularly upon this point, before the debate closes. It has been absolutely unnoticed, and, considering the official position of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, I think that it ought to have been noticed by 584 him; but he made no reference to it whatever. Well, now I will take the second proposal of my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend, in the second place, said that, in his opinion, relief should be given to landlords who are suffering from the burden of family charges created under the former land system. Well, to that also not a single word in the shape of reply has been given by either of the Members of the Government who have addressed us. It is a subject which is very much treated of in the Report of the Royal Commission. It is referred to at great length in the evidence, and it is referred to also in the Report itself. It is a subject on which the Government cannot pretend that they do not understand the arguments which have been adduced why such relief should be extended to the landowner. But the Government have treated this proposal of my right hon. Friend with precisely the same silence with which they treated his former proposal. Now I go to his third point. My right hon. Friend, in reference to the 1st clause, said that perpetuity tenants should have the right of going into Court for relief. Well, I cannot say that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland entirely passed by that proposal; but he distinctly negatived it. He gave reasons that were satisfactory, to his mind, why no such relief should be given. He did not argue the matter at any length, but merely passed it by lightly, refraining, however, from submitting to the House any proposal on the subject. My right hon. Friend then took a fourth objection to a very important clause in the Bill. He objected strongly to the Proviso under which tenants under lease can receive no relief if the improvements of the landlord have been unexhausted to the extent of four times the rent. To that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham attached great importance, and he pressed it on the Government as an Amendment that ought to be admitted; but here again we have absolute silence on the part of one Member of the Government, whilst on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland we have it contended that no such concession can be made, but only because leases on this condition had been granted on the English—not on the Irish system. 585 Then the fifth proposal of my right hon. Friend was one of very great importance indeed. It has been referred to by everyone who has spoken; and it is the question of the front door and the back door. I think I shall not be misunderstood when I use these words, as the simile has been used and accepted on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend pressed upon the Government this principle—that the same relief should be given to tenants sued for rent and liable to lose their holdings under fi. fa. as is given where notice of ejectment has been served. Now to this proposal the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland did not offer quite such an absolute negative as he did to the other proposal; but he put this question—"Show us how the thing is to be done?" I think he said— "Formulate, if you can, an Amendment which will carry out that proposal." He could not dispute the justice of the proposal, because it is evident that if the landlord has two ways of ousting his tenant from his holding, and only one way is barred by this Bill, it leaves the other untouched, and if eventually only one way is closed, the harsh landlord, who up to that time has availed himself of that way, will have no hesitation in adopting the other. He may have adopted the former method simply because it was more convenient, and may be content to adopt the less convenient one when he finds that it is absolutely necessary. What is the reply of the hon. and learned Gentleman? "Oh," he said, "what have you to suggest as the method of carrying out what I consider to be virtually an impracticable proposal?" Now, what are the words at the beginning of the 22nd clause? They are—In any proceedings for the recovery of a holding to which this section applies, for the non-payment of rent, if the Court in which the proceedings are pending is satisfied by the evidence before it that the tenant of the holding is unable to satisfy by an immediate payment in full the landlord's claim for arrears of rent for which the proceedings are brought and for costs, and that such inability does not arise from his own conduct, act, or default, and there is reasonable ground for believing that, having regard to the interests of both the landlord and tenant, an extension of time to pay ought to be granted, the Court may put a stay upon the execution of the judgment of the Court for such time as the Court thinks reasonable.I suggest to the Attorney General that 586 the best method of carrying out my right hon. Friend's suggestion would be to leave out in the first line of the section the words "for the recovery of a holding," and to make the necessary consequential Amendments later on. The clause, if these words were left out, would run—"In any proceedings to which this section applies for the nonpayment of rent, &c." You have only to give the same facilities for putting a stay on the proceedings in an action for debt followed by fi. fa., as is proposed for putting a stay on the execution of judgment for eviction. Therefore, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman really and seriously asks us to suggest a manner in which this can be carried out, I would say to him at once omit the words—"For the recovery of a holding." I do not think it would be impracticable to do this, and upon this point I have consulted a lawyer who has great experience in these matters, and who agrees with me that such a provision would be perfectly easy to work. If that is so, it seems to me that the difficulty is solved. If the Government have any difficulty about these words, they will be able to raise it in Committee. That is the fifth proposal of my right hon. Friend. Now I come to the sixth. My right hon. Friend, in spite of his sympathy with the Law of Bankruptcy—a sympathy that is very natural, considering that his was the successful task of remodelling bankruptcy in this country—after well weighing the effect in Ireland of making bankruptcy the only door through which a tenant can pass to obtain relief from the payment of his rent, came to the conclusion that the Bankruptcy Clauses should be omitted altogether. He said if they were so omitted, and if relief were given in the way he suggested, where the tenants were solvent, and had not been subjected to legal proceedings, and had not become insolvent, the problem would be solved. Now, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, whose authority in this matter and whose weight with the Government are very great—because without him just now they would be in a very poor plight—is not the only Member who during this debate has taken exception to these provisions of the Bill. Almost exactly the same provisions have been taken exception to, and almost exactly the 587 same omissions have been suggested by the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), who made a most powerful speech, with some of which I did not agree, but with the greater part of whose criticism of the various points of this Bill I most heartily agree. The hon. Member took five out of the six objections of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham. He omitted one of least importance; but out of the six objections I have just explained to the House the hon. Member for South Tyrone raised five, almost in the same words, and using almost the same language, as my right hon. Friend. Now, neither the hon. Member for South Tyrone nor the right hon. Member for West Birmingham have been acting with us during the present Parliament, and therefore I can quote them with perfect impartiality; but what I want to insist on, and to urge upon the House, is that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to give us promptly, before this debate closes, an answer to these six objections of my right hon. Friend, and these five objections of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. I trust they will do that; they will, if they desire the country to see what are their real proposals. If they leave the matter alone, and if we go into Committee without knowing what the opinion of the Government is, except on small points of detail—and I will not allude to any of these, for though they may be of importance, they are still, relatively speaking, only small points—I say if they do not tell us what is their view upon these large questions, then, Sir, the second reading of the Bill will be a mockery. It will really express nothing. It will say—"Yes; we have changed our minds three or four times; and our strongest Friends have pressed further changes upon us, and we decline altogether to say whether we accept these changes, or whether we decline them." Under those circumstances, I can, therefore, only say that this debate will be altogether inconsequential, and that the country will not be satisfied as to the proposals of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) has brought forward a Motion perfectly sound in itself, but as to which we shall have great difficulty in knowing in what position Her Majesty's Go- 588 vernment is placed, unless they will frankly and simply answer these six questions. I can only say that if they do answer these six questions in a manner satisfactory to the objects of those who have put them, the strongest arguments against the second reading of the Bill will have fallen to the ground. No one, Sir, can accuse me of having put these matters to Her Majesty's Government in a factious or a Party way. I am strictly and literally adopting the arguments, and almost the words, of two important supporters of Her Majesty's Government in pointing out the faults of the Bill; and that being so, I trust I shall not be met by any statement to the effect that I have treated the matter in an unfair spirit to Her Majesty's Government. If the Government decline to meet these simple questions in the spirit which we are entitled to expect from them, I hold that there will have taken place a circumstance of great misfortune—a want of attention to those Parliamentary Rules which are perfectly well understood in Debate—and that the progress of this Bill is not likely to be as satisfactory as either side of the House could wish.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Lord Randolph Churchill,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Thursday.