§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *MR. CRILLY (Mayo, N.)
At the outset of the remarks I intend to offer in explanation of this Bill, the Second Reading of which I now move, I wish to express my regret that I find myself in the position of having to introduce into this House once more one of those never-ending Irish Land Bills which 128 have been troubling hon. Members in. this Chamber ever since they undertook in 1800 the thankless and profitless task of legislating for the Irish people—a task which would have been much better discharged by the Irish people themselves, to the mutual advantage of both England and Ireland. Unfortunately,. Irish Land Bills have been haunting this House, occupying its time and overburdening its records to a far greater extent than any other question that ever came before it, and even if this measure were to pass into law, if we are to accept the statements of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), and if we are to believe other inspired oracles, this is by no means the last Irish Land Bill that is going to be forced upon this House. It is pre-ordained, if these oracles are to be believed, that the final Irish Land Bill which is to trouble this House—the crowning measure of legislation which is to solve for all time this huge agrarian difficulty, is to come from the fertile brain and cunning hand of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. There can be no doubt that one of the most interesting and entertaining works of fiction which will delight and surprise literary circles in the coming time, a work of fiction far surpassing in attractiveness "The Last Days of Pompeii," "The Last of the Barons," "The Last of the Tribunes" or "The Last of the Mohicans," will be "The Last of the Land Bills, by the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain." If, however, Irish Land Bills are continually knocking at your door, it is all your own fault. You have never failed in the past, nor in the present, to pursue your old vicious "dog in the manger" policy. You refuse to deal with the question in a thorough-going and drastic fashion yourselves, and you decline to send us about our business to College Green, where we should speedily be able to settle the difficulty for ourselves. As to the particular Bill which I propose to discuss to-day, I have no doubt we shall be told that it is a large and comprehensive measure, containing unprecedented proposals. My answer in anticipation is, that if this is a large and comprehensive measure it is framed for the purpose of meeting large and comprehensive evils. And as you cannot make war with 129 rose water, so you cannot grapple with and remove gross scandals and colossal evils without taking action at once bold and far-reaching. My contention in this matter is that this is not a large and comprehensive measure in the sense of its being either unprecedented or revolutionary. It is a proposal to do two things—to give in the first place natural and legitimate effect to principles and measures which have already been accepted and endorsed by this House; and, secondly, to put beyond doubt some points on the Statute Book in reference to Irish land legislation—points which the framers and promoters of that legislation never meant should be involved for a single instant in the slightest obscurity. The Bill is, consequently, at one and the same time an extending and an explanatory Bill. It seeks to carry out the spirit of the Land Acts of 1870, 1881, and 1887, in so far as those Acts evinced a desire to do justice to the Irish tenant, and to give him legal protection in the enjoyment of his own property. It seeks, further, to bring within the region of common sense definitions which, as they stand, are so complex and involved that they puzzle and bewilder the highest and most competent tribunals in the country. As to the details of the Bill, I do not disguise that they may be viewed with apprehension by those who are willing to take on themselves to-day in this House the office of champions of the heartless evictions which have taken place in Donegal, Galway, and Kildare, by the organizers of what has been justly described as "the devil's work" in Ireland. The Bill seeks to afford more efficient protection to the tenant's own improvement in his holding; it would bring about a revision of the Statutory term of 15 years; it empowers the Land Court to deal with the question of arrears, it amends the law relating to leaseholders, and it regulates the question of turbary. If the improvements which the Irish tenants have made in their holdings in the past were unreservedly their own, if the accumulations of arrears which have grown up in past years as the inevitable consequence of rack rents were readjusted, as you have readjusted them in Scotland, and if the Irish tenants had free and speedy access to an impartially constituted Land Court—can it be ima- 130 gined for a moment that the world would be shocked at the heartrending scenes which have occurred at evictions at Glenbeigh and Clongorey; would there be found in Donegal a desolation which almost amounts to civil war; and would you have at your doors the shame and disgrace of a Clanricarde's infamies? It is because we are anxious to put some kind of stop to these atrocities and injustices that we come to-day to this House to ask you to pass the Second Reading of this Bill. We put in the forefront of the measure the question of the protection of the tenants' improvements. To re-state the case on behalf of the tenants' improvements in Ireland would be to repeat a story which has been told ad nauseam; but it is a matter of fact and history that no Irish reform was ever carried in this House until it had been dinned into our ears time after time and year after year, and, perhaps, when we have further dinned into our ears the justice and necessity of Home Rule, it will probably be granted, and then, probably, no thanks will be returned, because you. will have been compelled to pass that measure. All the improvements in Irish agricultural holdings have been made by the industry and capital of the tenants themselves, and the landlords, as a rule, have not contributed a single farthing towards them. The Report of the Devon Commission in 1845, the Bessborough Commission in 1881, and the Cowper Commission only a couple of years ago, reported that the improvements and. equipments of the farms were solely the work of the tenants. Lord Cowper, speaking on the 21st of April, 1887, with the special knowledge he had gained as Chairman of the Commission, said:—"Until recently the landlords did not make improvements on the land, and when the tenants made them their rents were immediately raised." A great Englishman, recently deceased—the late Mr. Bright—on one occasion made the famous declaration that if the land of Ireland were denuded of the tenants' improvements, it would simply run to prairie value. Your Royal Commissions, packed and picked by yourselves, guided and influenced by Irish landlords, have all reported that the tenants and not the landlords of Ireland have I made the improvements. Why, then, are the tenants not given that to which they 131 are justly entitled? If these improvements are the tenants' own, why, in the name of justice and common sense, do you not make them their own at once? It is only in a Biblical sense, I suppose, the Conservative Party in this House are prepared to render unto Omar the things that are Cæsar's. But I do not ask you to protect the improvements of the tenants in their holdings in Ireland merely because the Royal Commissioners have reported that they were made by the tenants themselves. I ask the Government to declare, as the Act of 1881 declared, that no rent shall be put upon the tenant on account of the improvements he has made. In that year this House enacted that no rent should be payable on improvements of the tenant or his predecessor in title, unless compensated by the landlord or his predecessor in title; but the jugglery of the Land Courts in Ireland have defeated the intention of the Act of Parliament. The famous judgment in the case of Adams?. Dunseath set at naught the clauses of the Land Act of 1881, which sought to give the tenants protection for the improvements they had made, notwithstanding the fact that Lord Chancellor Law, one of the leading men who framed the Bill of 1881, was against the interpretation put upon the Act by his fellow judges. There is also the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone), who said, on on the 9th of August, 1881—That was not the basis on which they proceeded now; the tenants' improvements were the tenants' own property, and he (Mr. Gladstone) would not admit the principle that the time during which the tenant had enjoyed the improvements was any reason why they should pass away from him.I seek, therefore, by this extending and explanatory Bill, to give effect to the evident intention of the House when it passed the Act of 1881. I further contend, in connection with the question of tenant improvements, that it would be almost an impossibility for such disgraceful and atrocious scenes as the burning of Clongorey and Glenbeigh to have taken place, if the tenants had not been rented on their own improvements. Further, we seek to grapple in this Bill with the great and burning question of arrears; and if our case in favour of the tenants' improvements is a strong case, our case 132 in favour of the appointment of some tribunal such as the Land Court to deal with the question of arrears is simply irresistible. The Bill does not lay down any hard-and-fast line to compel the Court to wipe out arrears. We do not propose absolutely to wipe out or cancel the arrears, but to leave it optional with the Court to decide oh the merits of each case that comes before it; nor do we propose to deal with the matter in any revolutionary spirit. The fact is, that we have simply followed the text of the Crofters Act, and surely, if you deal with the arrears of the Scotch crofters in a fair and generous spirit, there is no reason why you should not deal in the same fair, just, and impartial spirit with the accumulations on the heads of the unfortunate Irish tenants. I would here ask how has the Crofters' Act worked in Scotland? Its working has been such as to show how necessary it was to pass that Act. The Scotch crofters never would have been able to have made headway if their arrears had not been so dealt with. What was the action of the Crofters Commission? I will give the House a sample of how they have dealt with arrears in Scotland. In Caithness, out of a total of £831, they cancelled £625, which amounts to a reduction of 74 per cent. In Orkney the total of £4,094 was reduced to £2,295, which is 55 per cent, while in Ross and Cromarty a total of £13,358 was brought down to £9,337, which is a reduction of 74 per cent. If you take the whole returns of the Scotch Crofters Commission you will find that the total average of arrears cancelled in Scotland during the last 12 months has been 68 per cent. Why, I ask, do you not follow the same equitable course in Ireland? The Irish tenant has had the same difficulties to contend with as the Scotch crofter. He has found in the last 10 years that his industry has not enabled him to get out of the land the rack rents the landlord has demanded, and the result is, that arrears of an extraordinary and extravagant character have accumulated, in consequence of which we now ask you, in the spirit of fairplay and justice, to deal with these arrears as you have dealt with those of the Scotch crofters. What is happening in Ireland at the present time, not merely every week, but every day? The land- 133 lords are just as heartless now as ever they were in the past. It was only the other day—on the 1st of April —that Judge Curran, the County Court Judge at the Killarney Quarter Sessions, asked why he was worried by the Solicitor for Lord Lansdowne because he would not bully the poor tenants who had come into Court to pay the instalments of rent he had fixed for them. These tenants had come into Court, and he had adjudged that they should pay the arrears owing in so many instalments spread over a certain time, and when the tenants came to the Court to pay the instalments to Lord Lansdowne's agent, the solicitor to Lord Lansdowne refused to accept them, because the unfortunate tenants had found it impossible to pay the costs in addition to the rent-costs, which would go into the pocket of the solicitor. My hon. Friend who comes from Cork (Mr. O'Hea) knows that some of these unfortunate creatures had to walk as much as 40, and even 50, miles to bring the paltry instalments of Lord Lansdowne's rent, and yet the solicitor, instead of welcoming this sign on the part of the tenants that they were willing to pay their rent, sent them home again all the miles they had come, because they would not, or could not, pay the law costs. Judge Curran is reported to have said that whenever he made a suggestion he was told he was coercing the landlords, whereas he asserted he was not coercing them but merely asking them to do what was right. Well, Sir, we want the British House of Commons to put power into the hands of some recognized authority — we do not care which tribunal, but we suggest the Land Court—which will enable it not merely to ask, Or request, or even beseech, the landlords of Ireland to do what is right; but which will enable it to coerce the landlords, if necessary, into so doing. The Irish landlords have never yet been known, except in very rare cases, to do justice to their tenants, unless they were compelled; and it would now, perhaps, be well for this House to let the landlords, in addition to the Irish people, have a touch of coercion. Not merely have we had this scene in the County Court of Killarney; but, only the other day, this House was moved by hearing the heart rending story of the attempted 134 eviction of an old man of 86 years of age at Roscaberry. Let me read what then took place, and in doing so I appeal to the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite as well as on this side of the House. I make the quotation as an example of what we wish to put an end to. We want, by the action of the Legislature, to stay the cruel hands of landlords such as the one who is responsible for these proceedings. It is stated that a little after 6 o'clock in the morning the Donovans at Roscaberry were startled by a loud knocking at the door, and young Donovan opened the door. The Shrieval party consisted of the Sheriff's officer, the Sheriff officer's assistant, and a bailiff, protected by 25 policemen. The bailiff made entry by using a crowbar on the door, and then removed the furniture and other effects in the meantime two doctors examined old Donovan, who lay, weak and debilitated, in bed, and they announced that this old man, of over 86 winters, was fit for removal. They then took the poor man out of bed, and, in spite of the entreaties and remonstrances of his family, they proceeded to put on his stockings, shoes, and vest; but when it came to putting on his coat the old man swooned from weakness, to the consternation of all around him. The doctors, who were then in the yard, were apprised of what had occurred. They were quickly on the scene, and exhibited much uneasiness. They applied a galvanic battery to restore animation, and a messenger was sent for stimulants to the landlord's house, which was some distance away. Brandy was procured, but for a time matters looked serious. It was considered that life was ebbing fast; but after a time the old man showed signs of returning animation, and the doctors, after a consultation with the police, retired, leaving old Donovan in his bed, and the landlord in possession. That, Sir, is one of the scenes with which the unfortunate Irish tenants have been familiar for many years past. I have quoted this case from the Daily News, and I suppose the Solicitor General for Ireland, having been prompted and tutored by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim (Mr.. Macartney) will say in reply, "The account you have read from the Daily News is sadly exaggerated." But, I 135 may say that there certainly is a ground for the report, because it appeared in the Cork papers, as well as in those of London. If these proceedings had never occurred the case would not have been reported. and have remained, as it has done, without the slightest contradiction from the Loyal and Patriotic Union. I would ask, why was this shocking scene enacted? Simply because the tenant could not pay his arrears. The tenant had a lease of his farm, the Government valuation of which was £24 15s., and the old rent, which has been reduced to £29 by the Land Commission, was £42. The tenant owed two years' rent, which was £84, and the local Catholic clergyman, Father Hill, tried to effect a settlement on these lines—a year's rent in hand, at the old rent, and the other year's rent to be paid in annual instalments of £10. This offer the Sub-Sheriff considered very fair; but the landlord would not accept it and proceeded to evict. Now, what would have happened in this case, if, at the time you appointed the Crofters Commission, you had also appointed a similar tribunal to deal with arrears in Ireland? If you had gone on the basis of the remissions to certain Scotch crofters the arrears of Donovan's rent would have been brought down to £22, so that the year's rent of £42 which was offered would have covered that amount, with £20 to boot. But, if you take the general average of reductions by the Scotch Crofters Commission on the whole year, which was 68 per cent. Donovan's arrears of £84 would have been brought down to £27, and the year's rent of £42, which the tenant offered and the landlord refused, would have more than covered the reduction by 115. Moreover, if we had had in Ireland the same tribunal as that granted to the Scotch crofters there would have been no attempt at eviction; no scandal and no outrage. It is not merely in Cork, or Munster, or in Leinster, or the unfortunate province of Connaught—one of the divisions of which I represent — that the arrears they cannot pay are the cause of the eviction of tenants, but even in that Utopia—that paradise of tenants, namely Ulster, for which the hon. Member for South Antrim will speak in a little time—the arrears are accumulating in an extraordinary way, and the 136 landlords are trying by impossible means to recover the rents it is impossible for the tenants to pay. I hold in my hand a sample of the Easter gifts that are being sent to the Ulster tenants, and I am sorry the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) is not in his place, to see what a chivalrous body of landlords there are in that part of Ireland. This is a writ from the representatives of the Marquess of Downshire, and my correspondent says that some hundreds of tenants on the Downshire estate have been served with similar ejectment notices. The writer of the letter I have here is a rev. gentleman in County Down, whose name I will give if it be desired, and he it is who makes the statement I have just quoted. And this is what takes place, not in rebellious Munster, Leinster, or Connaught, but in the much vaunted Ulster. In this case, the unfortunate tenant's annual rent is £3 14s., and there lie to his debit five years' arrears, making a total, with costs, of £20 7s. How is that man to get the money to pay such a sum? We say you should afford him the same relief as you have given the Scotch crofters, because, equitably, the Irish tenant is as much entitled to a reduction of his arrears as the Scotch crofter, or any other tenant. I would earnestly appeal to the House to do something in this matter of arrears. If the Government will not listen to me—and I do not suppose they will—they may, probably, listen to a friend of theirs, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), who, I must say, does not, at the present moment, exactly seem to be a prophet honoured in his own country—and, I might add that, if not honoured in his own country, he is certainly not honoured in ours, though, perhaps, he is sufficiently honoured by the Government to induce them to take notice of the words he used in a speech made in this House last year. He then said-There is, undoubtedly, a grievance to be remedied, for the House has decided that the rents have become excessive in amount, and has authorized the Courts to deal with them by way of reduction. It appears to me to follow that arrears resulting from these rack rents should also be considered excessive, and ought to be dealt with by the Courts.Those are the words of the right hon. 137 Gentleman. He believed both the rents and arrears to be excessive, and we, who hold the same belief, ask the House to deal with these arrears in the same way as it has dealt with arrears in Scotland. Sir, I feel strongly that this question of arrears is a vital question in Ireland. It is the heart of the movement in that country, and if this House wants to kill the plan of campaign and wants to try and destroy, as far as possible, the legitimate and healthy influence of my hon. Friends the Members for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and North East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien), it can only effect such a result by at once grappling with this question of arrears. It is clear that the Irish tenants can never pay the arrears now due, and they will consequently remain hopelessly in debt unless you come to their assistance in the same spirit with which you came to the assistance of the Scotch crofters. I have been looking at the report given in Hansard of the debate which took place last year on a subject cognate to this, and I notice that the hon. Member for South Antrim then expressed his fear that if any clause were carried dealing with this question of arrears, the effect would be to demoralize the Irish tenant, and induce him not to pay his rent; hut rather to allow arrears to accumulate so that he might get off easy with his rent. Ah, Sir, it is not Bills passed by the action of Parliament that have demoralized the Irish tenant and made him dishonest, thriftless, and idle—if these charges can be laid against him, which I deny; but if there be any truth in them, and the fault lies at anybody's door, it is to be found at the door of the class in Ireland to which the hon. gentleman belongs; because, in the past, the Irish tenant knew that if he put one hour's industry into his little holding, and spent one penny in improving and beautifying it, the landlord would step in and put a further increase on the rack rent he was then paying. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not get up in this House to-day, and accuse the Irish tenants of a desire to shirk their responsibilities; because the records of the House show that the debts the Irish tenants have incurred to the Government they have made honest and persistent efforts to repay. The Irish tenant of to-day is as honest as the Irish landlord—indeed, he is very much more honest 138 than the landlord. He has tried to pay for years and years an impossible rack-rent, and it is doing him an absolute injustice for any representative of any Irish constituency to come to this House and say he is dishonest and would take an advantage of the landlord in order that he might avoid the responsibility of paying his lawful debts. I have greater faith in the Irish tenant than the hon. Gentleman, for I believe that if he had the opportunity he would discharge his lawful debts more readily than the Irish landlords, as the records of the Bankruptcy Courts will show. In addition to the question of protecting the tenant's farm improvements and the other question of arrears, the present Bill proposes to bring within the scope of its operations the leaseholders of Ireland. Now, how do we stand with regard to this question? Our position on these benches has been always clear on this matter. We do not nibble at little points and go into infinitesimal details like the hon. Gentlemen the Members for South Antrim and South Tyrone. We say that we can only deal with this Irish Land Question in a radical fashion, and not by a piecemeal system of clipping a bit off here and a bit off there. We propose to remove the whole injustice at once, and, with regard to the leaseholders, we would extend the First Section of the Land Act of 1887 to all the leaseholders in Ireland. I remember that when the Second Reading of that Act was moved by the Chief Secretary, an Amendment was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs who sits on the front Opposition Bench. The Amendment he moved was with the view of extending the Bill so as to bring within its scope all the leaseholders of Ireland, and on that occasion the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo spoke strongly in the same sense. These hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were joined in their condemnation of the limitations imposed by the Bill by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone, and, not merely did those three Gentlemen appeal to the Government to extend the scope of the Bill, so as to bring all the Irish leaseholders within its purview, but a noble Lord, who sits immediately behind the Treasury Bench, and about whom there is a considerable 139 amount of talk now going on in the country—I allude to the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill)—made a speech on the Amendment, in the course of which he said—Both the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. Member for South Tyrone object to restriction. I find no difficulty in agreeing with both those Gentlemen in their objections to these restrictions. I hold, on high authority, that if the restrictions on Clause 1 are ratified by Parliament, the effect will be to exclude almost half of the leaseholders of Ireland from the operation of the Bill.Such has been the case, and what we want to do by passing this Bill is to put every leaseholder in Ireland on the same footing as those leaseholders who have been enabled to take advantage of the Act of 1887, by sweeping away the restrictions which, as the noble Lord pointed out, would have the result of keeping half of the leaseholders of Ireland outside the operation of the Bill. We want to sweep away these restrictions on the leaseholders of Ireland. The argument is used that a man with a lease of 999 years practically holds in perpetuity, and is not merely a tenant but owns the land. But if the rents paid under those leases are rack rents, I cannot see the justice of the argument. We do not want the leaseholders of Ireland to be rackrented in perpetuity. I think it may be unreservedly accepted that these men who hold leases for 999 years are rack rented, because of this very remarkable circumstance, namely, that all the rents fixed in the past by the landlords or their agents, whenever and wherever they are touched, crumble to pieces like dead sea fruit. It may, in Ireland, be in the Civil Bills Court, or it may be at the hands of a valuer visited by tenant or landlord; it may be in the Commission Court, or, in Scotland, before the Crofters Commission, where arrears are dealt with; but wherever those rents fixed by landlords in the past are touched, they melt away very considerably. Therefore, we are justified in asking that the long leaseholders who were rack rented should be dealt with in the same way as the tenants under 99 years' leases. The spirit of legislation, even on the part of Members of the Front Opposition Bench, when they were in power, was against the admission of leaseholders to the benefits of the Act of 1881, or subsequent Acts. 140 In the Act of 1887, passed by the present Government, you have practically an acknowledgment that the leaseholders of Ireland were as habitually rack rented as were the struggling tenants from year to year. You would have done an unparalleled act of injustice if you had kept the leaseholders out of the Act of 1887; and you will perpetuate a cruel wrong if you do not extend the operation of this clause of the Act of 1887 to all the leaseholders of Ireland. I have gone carefully through the returns of the Land Commissioners showing the rents on leasehold farms which they have fixed since the Act of 1887 came into operation. Take, for instance, March. The leaseholders' rents, which in the aggregate amounted. to £15,342, were cut down by the Sub-Commission Courts to £10,800. In May, the total rent of £35,822 was cut down to £25,340. These are leaseholders of whom I am speaking. In June the total rent of £32,000 was cut down to £22, 500. In July the total rent of £40,000 was cut down to 28,003. The aggregate of the rents paid by leaseholders-before the passage of the Act of 1887 amounted to the large sum of £285,509, and this aggregate rental has been cut down by the Land Commission Courts in Ireland to £204,096—or a reduction since 1887, of £80,000. This simply means that the landlords of Ireland, who in many cases forced their tenants to take unjust and iniquitous leases, have been robbing these unfortunate people to the tune of £80,000 a-year for many years past. Therefore when we see such a beneficial effect as that accruing to the tenants under 99 years' leases, we ask you to show fairplay and justice to the other leaseholders of Ireland, by bringing them within the operation of this Act, and by reducing their rents in the. same proportion as that observed in the case of the 99 years leaseholders. We, simply say that "Section 1 of the Land Act of 1887 shall, notwithstanding anything therein contained, apply to leases expiring within 999 years after the-passing of the Land Law Ireland Act, 1881, and the second Section shall be. read and considered as if the words 'nine hundred and ninety-nine' were substituted for the words 'ninety-nine' years in the second Section." I appeal to the Solicitor General for Ireland to in. some way or other come to the assist- 141 ance of these unfortunate leaseholders. I am not exaggerating when I say that within the last week I have had scores of letters from prominent men in Ireland who do not agree with me in my political opinions asking me to appeal to Her Majesty's Government to assist these leaseholders in some way or other, for it is simply absurd that one class of leaseholders should be excluded and the other admitted. Now, Sir, the clause also deals with the revision of the statutory term of 15 years in the Act of 1881. That is a long term; prices are uncertain and fluctuate, and it is unfair that the tenant should be kept under one rent for fifteen years. We say judicial term of seven years is long enough, and in support of this contention I may point out that you have seven years fixed in the Crofters Act. The Cowper Commission favoured the term of seven years rather than fifteen years. As to another section of the clause, we further say that the rents fixed in 1882–5, and since the Act passed, were fixed in days when prices were terribly high; and you have acknowledged by the passing of an Act in this House, by which you re-adjusted the rentals on the basis of prices, that these rents, fixed in those years, are too high. The clause also deals with the question of turbary, which is a burning subject in Ireland, or at all events a very important question, though it may not appear so to hon. Gentlemen opposite. We also propose to deal with what we call the evictionmade-easy clause of the Act of 1887. We propose to repeal that clause altogether. We find that since the Act passed, in 1887, 14,104 tenants have been converted from tenants into caretakers. That number of tenancies has been determined under Section 7 of the Act of 1877—namely, they had received ejectment notices, and had been converted simply into caretakers. Now, Sir, this is the Bill that I would submit to the House for its acceptance. I may not have as clearly, and as fully, and as exhaustively explained it as might have been done, but at all events I hope I have said enough to show hon. Gentlemen opposite, and my hon. Friends on this side, what is the scope and the intention of the Bill. I can assure you that this is no false light hung out by a Birmingham wrecker to lure the Irish 142 tenants into difficulties. It is a Bill framed by men who honestly believe that they know the position of the Irish tenant and what he wants. Therefore, I submit this Bill to the House with an absolute conviction. in my mind that it is upon lines such as are found in this proposal that you must frame a measure which is calculated to bring to the Irish tenant-farmer peace,. prosperity, and comfort.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *MR. FLYNN (North Cork)
I do no think my hon. Friend need have closed his remarks by suggesting that the Bill might have been explained more fully, and I congratulate him upon the clear and distinct manner in which he has brought the measure before the House. The Bill is intended not only to extend but remedy the acknowledged defects of the Act of 1881 which have been discovered since it was brought into practical operation. It is also a Bill for giving explicit meaning and extension to certain provisions of that Act which are at the present time used to the detriment of the tenant's property and the tenant's interest. With regard to the second section of this Bill, we know that the tenant's rent is now made payable upon the tenant's improvements. That, I think, has long since passed the stage of controversy. Notwithstanding the celebrated case of "Adams against Dunsneath," which interfered so very seriously and gravely with the intentions of the Act of 1881, perhaps it may be no harm to recall to the recollection of this House the history of this particular clause. The clause dealing with the fact that no rents should be payable on tenants' improvements, or his predecessor's in title, is that clause which in. Ireland is familiarly called "the Healy Clause." It was introduced and explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Longford, and it was a clause the equity and justice of which was recognized in this House at the time. But when the Bill went to another place words were added which entirely eliminated that clause from the Act. The words added were—"Unless that he is otherwise compensated by the landlord." And I remember a very important decision in which it was held that the mere 143 fact of occupation for a certain length of time, the mere fact of having used and enjoyed his own improvements for a certain length of time was compensation by the landlord. Was ever a more monstrous or more absurd proposition put forward? I can well recollect that the decision in "Adams against Dunsneath" carried dismay to the hearts of tens of thousands of farmers in Ireland. It prevented a large number of them seeking relief in the Land Court at all. And that is one explanation of why, after the seven years' operation of the Act of 1881, such a small percentage of the tenants have sought the benefit of the Land legislation which this House is supposed to have placed at their disposal. There cannot be a doubt that the Land Commissioners all over the country have borne that decision in mind, and the inadequacy of the reductions they have made has been recognized by this House, for they have not been commensurate with the value of the tenants' improvements. Take the example of an estate in my own division—the small estate of Sir James Mackay, and which is now under the Plan of Campaign. Thirty years ago the valuation of the estate was £199; the rental at the time was £205. It was raised in 1855 and again in 1870, to £500. In 1887 a certain number of tenants sought the benefit of the Land Act, and the £500 was reduced to £446, so that the rental has been raised from £205 to £446. It was within the knowledge of everybody in the locality that the increased value of the land was due to the tenant, for it was originally mountain, marsh, and moor till the improvements were made by the tenants; yet, when these tenants seek relief in the Land Court, their rents are reduced by such small proportions that it was evident the Commissioners, in fixing the rents, fixed them upon the tenants' own improvements. Out of that small estate I take the case of two or three particular tenants, in order to illustrate the working of the Clause. Mr. Ring's holding was valued at £24 30 years ago; rent £31; raised to £38 in 1870; and the judicial rent was fixed at £49—approaching an increase of nearly 100 per cent. Then, in the case of Mr. O'Leary the holding was valued at £10 30 years ago; rent £12; raised by stages to £26; reduced by the Court to £20. Mr. Mahoney; valu- 144 ation £13 10s.; rent only £12; raised to £35; and allowed to remain at that amount by the Commission. The people have since found themselves unable to pay these judicial rents on account of the fall of prices, and the landlord not having offered them a reduction; and they have been obliged to adopt the Plan of Campaign, upon which the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone pours the vials of his wratch. Take the case of the Kenmare estate; and take two townland in the parish of Rathmore, which originally yielded £40 yearly, and which was eventually raised by the agent, Mr. S. M. Hussey, to £132. The land, which was a stretch of bog, had been improved in the meantime by the tenants. In the case of another townland he raised the rent from £30 to £48 and £68. Mr. Hussey was a man described as the quintessence of benevolence before one of the Judges of the Commission, yet when the lease fell in, in 1870, he raised the rent from £68 to £190, thus confiscating, for the benefit of the Earl of Kenmare, the whole of the tenants' improvements, in the most wanton and unjust manner. These figures are taken from Plan of Campaign estates, and they will explain to the House and to the country, perhaps, the reason why they have been forced to adopt that form of combination in order to secure themselves against this sort of conspiracy. It is the same on the Ponsonby Estate. I could read to the House scores of names, and show the repeated increases of rents upon the tenants' improvements. The clause of the Act of 1881 which purposed to deal with that state of things has been inoperative and ineffective, and has not stopped the injustice of which the tenants of Ireland complain. Another part of this Act which is of very great importance indeed, is Section 3—presumption in respect of improvements. I think the House is convinced by the statement of my hon. Friend, if it requires to be convinced, that the Court is entitled to presume that the improvements made upon a holding have been made by the tenants. I think one of the clearest proofs of that is the clause named after a Member of the Liberal Disunionist Party, or the "Heneage Clause," by which English-managed estates were, under certain 145 circumstances, excluded from the benefits of the Acts of 1831. How many cases of that kind have arisen? I would like some information on this point from the Solicitor General for Ireland. There have been very few cases, showing that the presumption that the improvements have been made by the tenants is not a presumption alone founded on our arguments and assertions, but borne out by the operation of the Act during the last nine years. Earl Cowper's opinion has been referred to by my right hon. Friend. The noble Lord's statement was that the average rent of arable land in Ireland was about 11s. 6d. per acre, and that 6.¼d of that 11 s. 6d. represented the landlords' expenditure. I should like to know how the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who will probably speak in the course of this Debate, will get over the statement of Earl Cowper, whom you could hardly accuse of undue sympathy with the tenants of Ireland. Earl Cowper has been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; he has acquired a large and wide knowledge of the land question, and his statement is one that must be founded on the best possible information, and therefore we are entitled to receive it as a final statement on the point. This presumption as to improvements made by the tenants has received remarkable confirmation on an estate in the county of Cork, in the Division which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) at the present moment represents in durance vile. On the Kingstown Estate, before the Sub-Commissioners—two of whom at least had been unfairly chosen by the Land Commission—Mr. Webber, the proprietor, acknowledged, in cross-examination by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy), that it had not been the practice for 40 years back on that estate to contribute one penny towards the improvement of the tenants' holdings, although it had been the custom to do so formerly. Under the able management of the case by my hon. Friend, it was proved that a large amount of improvements had been made; and yet when the decisions of the Land Commissioners came to be published we found that they had fixed the rents upon the improvements which had been proved to be the property of 146 the tenants. There cannot be a doubt that in that case the rents fixed were unfair and unjust, and therefore I say that Clause 3 of this Bill is absolutely necessary in order to carry into effect the intention of the Legislature in 1881. Clause 10 enacts that a stay of proceedings in connection with arrears shall be made by the Court. I think that is one of the most important provisions of this Bill. It is a clause to which we ask the particular attention of the Government, as it is one which in my opinion will test the genuineness and bona fides of the statements of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I regret, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) should have thought it right to turn his back upon the discussion of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House and on public platforms has said that the evictions in Ireland have been utilized by the Nationalist Party as stage tricks. Clause 10 of this Bill, if it passes, will do away entirely with any chance of making capital out of these unfortunate and harrowing scenes. Ninety-nine-hundredths of these evictions taking place in Ireland at the present time are due, unfortunately, to this question of the accumulation of arrears. Only two days ago I saw in a certain paper a report of a case in which there was a process against a Mr. John Driscoll for one half-year's rent, which was only just due. The valuation of the holding was £53 and the rent £80. Mr. Driscoll had served an originating notice a year and a-half previously, but had been unable to get his case heard before the landlord took out the process against him. If he is unable to pay he will, of course, be ejected in due course, notwithstanding the fact that he has taken measures to get a fair rent fixed. In my own constituency there is a case of still greater hardship. The landlord's name is Clancy and the tenant's name Sullivan. The farm is near Kanturk. The rent is £160 and the valuation less than half that amount. Sullivan served an originating notice a year and a-half ago. He owed one year's rent a few months ago, and though he offered a large portion of it to the landlord, the latter was inexorable, and demanded the full rent and costs. This the man could not pay, 147 and all his cattle were seized. £126 was realized by the sale, and will the House believe that for a small balance the tenant's interest in his lease was sold to his landlord for £35? The tenant is in consequence completely broken, his interest in his farm is gone, and his property has passed into the hands of his landlord, and all for one year's rent at more than double the valuation. That case illustrates the necessity for this clause. If the clause had been law, that man when he served the originating notice would have been able to obtain a stay of proceedings. We are told that there is an Arrears Clause in the Act of 1887. So there is, but, like many other Clauses in Acts dealing with Ireland, it has been utterly inoperative. A County Court Judge well known for his impartiality—Judge Waters —[Ministerial cheers]. I suppose no County Court Judge who does not increase sentences on appeal or deliver violent harangues on the condition of the country is supposed to be impartial by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Well, hon. Gentlemen will hardly dispute the legal knowledge of Judge Waters if they deny his impartiality. Speaking at Dungarvan on this matter recently, he said—I do not believe there is any one on earth that understands the 30th Section. There are conflicting decisions upon it, and there was a decision the other day in the Court of Queen's Bench that makes utter rank nonsense of the Section.I have never been able to understand, and I believe it would pass the art of even an occupant of the Front Treasury Bench to explain, why it is that this question of arrears has not been dealt with for the Irish tenants as for the Scotch crofters. This question of arrears is a burning question. It is a question that at the present moment is productive of more disturbance in Ireland than possibly any other cause that could be named. One advantage would be obtained even by landlords from the clause, as it would give them a chance of honestly recovering a portion of the arrears. This House may pass Coercion Acts, but the bulk of the arrears in Ireland is practically as irrecoverable as if it had been thrown into the Atlantic. This fact would be recognized by every man who is not so utterly steeped in stupidity as the average Irish landlords are. 148 This is a matter which, if the House is in earnest in dealing with the Irish Land Question, will at once receive its consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has said somewhere that the Irish tenant is the spoilt child of the Legislature. If so, Sir, he has been handed over to a. cruel step-father at a very early age. What, I ask, is the use of giving benefits to the Irish tenants with one hand if you take them away with the other? If you pass this Bill it will do much to relieve the tenants in Ireland, and it is because we believe that it will do much towards restoring social order and peace in Ireland that we, on these Benches, bring forward this measure in the knowledge that it will not be unjust to the landlords, and that it will give the merest justice to the tenants themselves.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I rise to propose that this "Bill be read a second time on this day six months." I think that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Flynn), before referring to the absence of the Chief Secretary. might have looked at the condition of his own Benches. The mover of the Bill maintained that the measure is of the greatest importance to the tenantry of Ireland, and yet five-sixths of the Party are absent from the House, including the Leader. The hon. Member for South Armagh (Mr. A. Blane) last year moved a precisely similar Bill, and admitted that if it became law it would not satisfy the Party opposite. I now understand the hon. Gentleman who moved this Bill to, say that a measure which upsets the settlement made in 1881, which stirs up the arrangements of the Land Act of that year, with regard to the condition of the tenants, the principle of improvement, and the question of arrears is not a large and comprehensive Bill. That shows how utterly futile it is for this House to enter into the consideration of measures brought forward with regard to land in Ireland by hon. Members opposite, unless they produce a Bill embodying what they really want—namely, the abolition of all rent. They prefer to nibble at it by degrees. Instead of introducing a Bill like the present one, it would be more honest and straightforward of them to propose that rent should at once be abolished. That is their main object and. policy; 149 and if they can get the House to agree to the principles of the present Bill, they will be found next year bringing forward a Bill that will go much further. When the country understands the principle on which these hon. Members are proceeding it will have nothing to do with them, because they are seeking to carry out what is really an attack on all property. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite contend that the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887 have proved to be failures. I assert, on the contrary, that the intention of the Legislature in passing those Acts has been carried out, and that they have been successful in conferring on the tenants the benefits which it was meant they should receive. Nearly one-half of the occupying tenants of Ireland have taken, or are taking, advantage of the provisions of the Act of 1881. And what has been the result? The average general reduction of rent over the whole of Ireland during the past seven years only amounts to 19.7. There are 97,000 cases in which tenants have of their own free will entered into agreements with their landlords without the intervention of the Court, and in those cases the tenants have agreed to pay rents, the reduction upon which is 3 per cent less than that effected by the Commissioners. Moreover, the Reports which have been laid before the House as to the rents fixed from the very commencement up to the present time show that the Commissioners have always dealt effectively with cases of over-renting where they have occurred. The Irish tenants are able to take care of themselves, and they would not consent to reductions of only 16 per cent, unless they were fair and adequate, when large reductions were being given in other cases by the Courts. If the action of the Land Commission had been inadequate in the case of yearly tenants, leaseholders would not have been eager to go before the same tribunal, but, directly certain classes of them get the opportunity, they do so in large numbers. Up to August, 1888, the reported reductions granted to leaseholders averaged 29.6 per cent in the Commission Courts, and 331 per cent in the Civil Bill Courts. At the same time the rents of yearly tenants were reduced by 28.3 per cent in the Commission Courts, and by 27.8 per cent in the Civil Bill Courts. These figures show that the rents reserved in 150 leases are not generally so extortionate as they have been represented to be, although there are cases of over-renting. A Report of 259 cases in the county of Cork shows that the Land Commission have done their duty and have adequately and successfully grappled with the question of over-renting. In 13 cases the reductions were less than 20 per cent; in 113 cases more than 20 per cent; in 91, more than 30 per cent; in 40, more than 40 per cent; the highest reaching 65.7 per cent. The figures show that the Land Commissioners are always ready to deal with over-renting when it is brought to their notice, but that at the same time they recognize it as an exception and not as a general rule. It is also clear that it is the practice of the Commissioners to deal in a thoroughly effective manner with all tenants' improvements. In the amended form of schedule the improvements must be stated in detail, and the detailed statement must be verified by inspection. I have attended Sub-Commission Courts when the alleged tenants' improvements vanished when an attempt was made to inspect them. I have heard a tenant swear that he has spent £30 an acre in improvements, and yet declare that while he had been making them the value of the farm had been deteriorated by 25 per cent. Specific evidence has been given as to drains, and yet nothing could be discovered when the Committees went to the farm but the trap said to be at the end of a drain. In my province the landlords have never been hostile to the tenants getting the full benefit of their improvements; and although a few discontented tenants formed an association and held meetings, they failed to return their candidate to Parliament. That the judicial rents have been satisfactory to the tenants is shown by the prices paid by tenant farmers for tenants' interests. I have from time to time made extracts from the newspapers referring to such cases during the last few months. I do not contend that I have a complete list, but I have since last October been able to collect 37 cases in which tenant farmers have purchased tenants' interest. These 37 cases are taken from 15 fairly representative counties in different parts of Ireland. These counties are—Antrim, Armagh, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Kerry, Limerick, Longford. 151 Monaghan, Queen's County, Tipperary, Tyrone, and Wexford. The aggregate acreage of the 37 cases is 1,142; the aggregate purchase money £13,199, which gives an average of £11 per acre, the prices ranging from £5 up to £32. In one remarkable case in Donegal the tenant's interest sold for twice what it brought in the open market fifteen years ago, when the rental was £3 more. The value of the tenant's interest had risen from £205 to £400. Now, I object to legislation on arrears, not because it will he injurious to landlords, who I do not believe will recover any material portion of existing arrears, but from the point of view of the tenants who have paid their rent—some nine-tenths in the county in which I live. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), who takes a different view on this question to me, knows perfectly well that his action was not at all popular among the tenant-farmers of Tyrone. The proposal really is to relieve tenants who have made no effort to pay their rents from burdens which others have successfully borne. The County Court Judges have ample power to deal with arrears when they are brought before them by notices of ejectment. The results of the last Arrears Act are not such as to encourage Parliament to pass another. The vast majority of men now in arrears are the same men who were relieved of their arrears in 1883 and had never paid any rent since. They have been utterly demoralized by that Act. I have never accused the Irish tenants at large of a desire to evade their liabilities to their landlords, although that accusation has been put into my mouth by hon. Members opposite; but I have said, and I repeat now, that there is a class of tenants in Ireland who desire to evade their liabilities not only to their landlords, but to everybody else. The existing law gives power to the Courts to deal adequately and fully with the question of arrears. There have come before the County Courts since August 1887 and up to 1888, 18,299 objectional decrees. Only 3,000 tenants out of the 18,000 were able to satisfy the Judges that the arrears had not arisen from their own default, or that there was reasonable ground for granting an extension of time for payment. The hon. Member 152 (Mr. Crilly) referred to the case of Donovan, and read an extract from the Daily News. That extract, like most statements relating to Ireland which appear in the Daily News, was inaccurate, and I am not surprised at that, considering that that paper's Irish correspondent is a man on the staff of the Freeman's Journal. Surely the hon. Member could not have been present when his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary informed the House what the real facts of that case were, stating that Donovan was one of the healthiest and strongest men of his age in the county, and was not known to be confined to his bed except on the eve of an eviction.
§ MR. CRILLY
I based my statement on a telegram from Father Hill, who said that on the day of the eviction he had administered to Donovan the sacrament for the dying.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I do not question the bona fides of the hon. Member; but I believe he has been misled. I believe all the statements made by hon. Members opposite with regard to brutality at evictions are as devoid of foundation as that made with regard to the case of Donovan. The hon. Member also referred to the case in Down—and a more unfortunate case he could hardly have brought forward—in which the tenant has not paid any rent for five yens. It is evident that that is one of those cases to which I have referred, of a man relieved of arrears in 1883, and never having paid any rent since. If that man could have satisfied the County Court Judge that his inability to pay rent did not arise from his own fault, he would have got terms as to the payment of the arrears. Then the hon. Member for North Mayo denounced the landlords, and based his denunciation on the evictions which, he said, were going on day by day. There is so much exaggeration on the question of evictions that I think I am entitled to ask the House to go into the exact figures. The number of tenancies determined in the June quarter, 1888, by notice of ejectment was 3,270, and by other processes 338, making a total of 3,608. The ejectment notices would run out in the December quarter, 1888. In that quarter, however, there were only 251 evictions, or about one eviction for every 14 ejectment notices. In nine cases out of ten. the landlords had been forced to serve 153 ejectment notices in order to get payment of rent. The total number of tenancies determined in 1888 was 11,821, while the total number of evictions was 773, or one eviction for every 15 tenancies determined; or, to take it another way, only one eviction in every 650 tenants in the whole of Ireland. No one can, in the face of these figures, contend that the accusations of hon. Members opposite are in the slightest degree accurate.
§ MR. SEXTON
Will the hon. Member give figures showing the number who, after being restored as caretakers, were expelled on summary order of the magistrates?
§ MR. MACARTNEY
The figures I have given cover every case of eviction, and include all persons turned out of their homes. The hon. Member shakes his head, but it is so. Upon these grounds I ask the House to agree with me that they have not had sufficient information to justify them in assenting to the Second Reading of this Bill. Hon. Members opposite have not proved that the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887 have failed in their objects. The only other reasons for passing the Bill would be that there is great agricultural distress; but hon. Members who know the condition of Ireland judiciously leave that on one side. They know the condition of agriculture in Ireland is remarkably prosperous at the present time. The agricultural statistics of Ireland show an increase in the acreage in 1888 as compared with 1887, under wheat, barley, and rye of 43,760 acres, and a diminution on the oat crop of 34,197 acres, showing, therefore, a net increase in the acreage under cereals in 1888 over 1887 of 9,563 acres. But while there is a decrease in the acreage under oats, there is an increase in the yield, which is 2,500,000 cwt., that being above the average of the crop of the last ten years. Then take another crop— potatoes. Though there has been a decrease in the gross produce, that decrease is very, very small as compared with the average over ten years—only 04 per cent. There has been an increase in the yield of turnips, mangold wurtzels, flax, and hay over the average of the last 10 years. There is very considerable evidence of increase in the prosperity of the country. Many hon. Members may 154 not have had the opportunity of observing that the heads of three of the largest trading concerns in Ireland, addressing their shareholders, have admitted the improving signs in trade, and have attributed this to the increase in agricultural crops, among other causes. One of the leading makers of agricultural implements in the North of England, at Gainsboro', has stated that his travellers have returned from Ireland with more orders during the last three months than in his whole Irish business for the previous five years. No hon. Member on the other side, not even the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Pinkerton), who attempts to set up as an authority on agricultural matters, will deny that agriculture is in a much more cheerful, much more promising condition. That cannot possibly be contradicted; it must he admitted by anyone who reads the detailed Reports supplied to Parliament from the Agricultural Department. I admit there is one crop in the Southern part of Ireland—an important crop, but, fortunately, not so important as it was 30 or 40 years ago—in some parts of the West of Ireland, in one county in Leinster, and in one county of Munster the potato crop has been deficient.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
Yes, in parts of Donegal and in parts of Connaught. In some parts the potato crop has been deficient. Hon. Gentlemen who look at the Returns will see that the deficiency is only in some parts of Donegal that those who are responsible for the Reports admit that the crop has been deficient to the extent of 50 per cent. I have rather wearied the House, I am afraid, with these details, but I am sure the House will understand these details were necessary to meet the arguments urged by the hon. Gentleman opposite. I may abstain from dwelling on the vague declamations and accusations against Irish landlords and those who are in any way remotely connected with Irish landlords with which the House is perfectly familiar. I submit no basis has been shown on which to proceed for disturbing the relations that now exist between landlords and tenants in Ireland, and for upsetting well-considered measures dealing with the land which have been acted upon for the last seven or eight years. 155 Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Macartney.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PINKERTON (Galway)
I have no reason to complain of the manner in which the hon. Member has moved the rejection of the Bill. If the mantle of the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh has fallen upon the hon. Member, I must admit he wears it with more dignity, and I congratulate him upon having the good taste to dispense -with the cap and bells. In opening his speech the hon. Member for South Antrim alluded to the absence of Irish Members from these Benches, and I thought the remark came with very bad taste from him, looking at the Benches opposite. where scarcely any of the Orange Party who are fond of posing as the friends of the tenants are to be found in their places. The hon. Member protests strongly against what he calls our attempt to pull the Act of 1881 to pieces, forgetting that his own Party did that by the Legislation of 1887. Why, if they were satisfied with the settlement, did they pull the Act up by the roots to see if it was growing? The hon. Member says that half the tenants of Ireland have taken advantage of the protection of the Act, and that the results have shown that the Land Commissioners have discharged their duty fairly. Now, I do not want to say an offensive word against landlords individually. As a whole they have acted cruelly, but I also know that the men most to be pitied are the landlords who have felt disposed to act fairly to their tenants, disposed to exact fair rents only, but who have been restrained by the influence of other landlords on the other side of the fence. I have always contended that if there is any class other than tenants who should advocate further land reforms, it is these landlords who are disposed to act honestly. As the Land Act is now administered, if a tenant enters the Court with a rack-rent he leaves the Court still rack rented; if he has a moderate rent he receives the same reduction as if it were a rack-rent. Settlements out of Court are forced upon the tenants by landlords, owing to the fact that there 156 are outstanding arrears, and these settlements prove conclusively that the Land Act is wrongly administered. The Sub-Commissioners have been able to strike a balance, but the rack-rented tenant remains rack-rented and the tenant under a moderate rent obtains a small reduction. With regard to another argument that has been brought forward, the hon. Member proved conclusively to his own satisfaction that tenants were bound to regard the settlements out of Court as satisfactory, because in Antrim there had been reductions of 30 per cent and in Down of 38 per cent—
§ MR. PINKERTON
I am prepared to admit 30 per cent was obtained in some cases, but this reduction did not meet the necessities of the case. I am fully prepared to admit that the landlord thought that sufficient for the day was the evil thereof, and that we should have been satisfied with a less amount of reduction, but our objection is to the system by which the Land Act is put in force by men altogether ignorant of agricultural values. In this Return furnished to us we find ex-military officers, ex-land agents, and others appointed as Sub-Commissioners as qualified by their practical knowledge of the value of land; but I assure you that they are simply rack-rent land agents. How can you possibly ask tenant-farmers to place confidence in men of this description who are simply political partisans? Here I find in the list Colonel Magill appointed as having "a practical acquaintance with the value of land!" Mr. M. P. Lynch, "a barrister - at - law, practical farmer and land-agent!" Mr. John Headech "landed proprietor and practical farmer;" Mr. Jerome Guiry, "Justice of the Peace, landed proprietor and practical farmer;" Mr. John Golding, "practical farmer and land agent; "Mr. John Cunningham, "practical farmer and land agent;" Mr. Andrew Conyer, "Justice of the Peace, landed proprietor and practical farmer;" Lieutenant - Colonel Bayly, "Justice of the Peace and land agent;" and further on we have the name of the brother-in-law of the hon. Member for South Tyrone to whom is attributed, "practical acquaintance with the value of 157 land," though it is, I believe, very limited indeed. I suppose he acquired it from the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), who must have a very profound knowledge of agricultural matters indeed. One thing the hon. Member for South Antrim mentioned in regard to tenants' improvements: he said that tenants had in some cases made good their claim for such improvements.
§ MR. PINKERTON
Then I misheard the hon. Member. Three or four years ago, when visiting South Down, I saw land which was originally valued by the Government valuator at 1s. an acre; yet at that moment the landlord was exacting. 30s. I saw how the farms had been carved out of the hill sides, and huge pyramids of stones collected 6 feet in diameter, and a practical farmer estimated that the cost of the labour of reclamation would be represented by £50 an acre. Although the Government valuation was Is. an acre, the landlord had the unblushing effrontery to charge 30s. an acre ! I ask hon. Members to point to any single instance in Ireland where landlords' improvements have any existence, or where 1s. has been expended to every £10 spent by the tenant?
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but it was, and is the custom, on many of the tenant right estates in the North of Ireland, for the landlord to give assistance in building the house, and in some cases it is the invariable custom for the landlord to find the slates.
§ MR. PINKERTON
I am deeply indebted to the hon. Member for reminding me of that fact. I have met with several cases of the kind, and I remember being in Court when a London Company had to meet an application for fixing fair rent. In every case where assistance was rendered, whether by supplying slates for the roof, by erecting a pump, or whatever it was, everything was duly entered in a book, and the tenant was charged with interest on the outlay. I have no doubt the hon. and gallant Member for North 158 Down can show a clear sheet so far as he is concerned; he is one of the good landlords in Ireland, but as an honest man he should assist us in compelling other landlords to act in the same manner as he acts without compulsion. Further, the hon. Member for South Antrim said that in the North of Ireland no landlord refused to give his tenant the full benefit of his improvements.
§ MR. PINKERTON
Well, I have had the honour of holding under one who was reputed a good landlord, but I know that he recouped himself by trebling the rent at the end of the lease. I may regard that as a friendly recognition by the landlord of the value of improvements, but the effect is to stamp out all benefit from the improvement. The hon. Member for South Antrim. twits us with having tenant associations with high sounding names, who meet and pass resolutions in a small room;. but is the hon. Member aware that the Route Tenants' Defence Association met a few days since in the Town Hall of Ballymoney? It was not a meeting in a small upper chamber, called an Orange Hall. where the assembled ragmen and stonemen of the district passed resolutions condemning the Irish Party, and showing the people of Ulster how they were the salt of the earth. I am indebted to the hon. Member for the information he supplied, that the hon. Member for South Tyrone is in bad odour with his constituents.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
No. I may be allowed to explain. I was speaking of arrears of rent. I said my hon. Friend disagreed with me last year on the question; and I was using the result of that disagreement as an argument that his method of dealing with arrears is most unpopular with the tenants who pay their rent. My hon. Friend knows that the view he holds is not popular among the tenant farmers he represents.
§ MR. PINKERTON
The Route Tenants' Defence Association, at a meeting in the Town Hall at Ballymoney, passed a resolution with regard to statements that appeared in a published 159 letter of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. That resolution was as follows:—
§ MR. PINKERTON
Yes, decidedly. The resolution was as follows:—That in view of the circumstances of agriculture within our own experience, and the expression of authoritative opinion throughout Ulster, we deem it incumbent to describe the following passage which appears in a letter to the Times, from Mr. T. W. Russell, M.P., as founded upon inadequate information, likely to mislead the public mind, and to frustrate the claims of the farmers to immediate and complete redress of their hardships.Then follows the passage from the letter—As to agriculture, the admirable Returns of the Registrar General enable us to estimate the situation in this respect with something approaching accuracy. No doubt in some parts of the country —and these, unfortunately, the poorest—the potato crop has been a failure, amounting in some districts to less than half an average. But, taken as a whole, the crops have been more than average, and prices. especially of cattle, have been very good. Both in yield and prices the farmers were better off last year than they have been for many years.
§ MR. PINKERTON
Yes, I know the hon. Member is prepared to stand by anything; but here is the criticism of men of Ulster who are in sympathy with the present Government, but who are not in sympathy with a man who acts as dishonest traveller for the landlord party. The resolution then proceeds—In contravention of the foregoing statement, we affirm that the failure in potatoes has not been confined to the poorest districts of the country; that the crops, as a whole, have not been above, but below the average; that prices for them have not been very good; and that in yield and prices the farmers were not better off last year than in many previous years. In many cases the conditions are worse. It is admitted, however, that an increase has arisen in the price of store and milch cattle; but the increase is in one department only, and does not largely affect the circumstances of the small farming community. Taking into account the position which Mr. Russell occupies as the representative of an agricultural constituency, we trust he will be more careful in future to give a true representation of farming affairs in Ireland. We desire, further, to state that, so far as we have examined the Returns of the Registrar General, they do not confirm the view which Mr. Russell has taken of the agricultural tuation.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
May I ask the hon. Member, are there any facts alleged in support of this statement by the Farmers' Association?
§ MR. PINKERTON
Yes; I will come to that in due time. I hold that the methods of preparing these official returns are misleading. I hold that any hotel proprietor is likely to be misled in agricultural matters, and men who have practical acquaintance with these matters know how erroneous the reports may be. As an example of how official averages are made out, let me mention the method. Men are sent to different market towns, and they note, say, the highest price paid for oats, forgetting that it may be only one sample that has fetched that price, and that there may be a hundred others that only realize the lowest price. Similarly, in the butter markets they quote the highest price for a package of butter, and in the same way lose sight of the great proportion of samples that fetch the lowest price. We know as a fact that there is a considerable quantity of inferior butter sold, and yet the official average is arrived at by taking the highest and the lowest quotations. So men are sent to local markets to ascertain the price of cattle, and the same account holds good. I have watched the men taking the returns; they go from one corner to another; in one they find a yearling reaches £10, in another they find the average £4, and so they return the average as £7, whereas there may be hundreds sold at £5 and only five or 10 at the highest rates. In regard to these Official Returns perhaps the hon. Member for South Antrim is not aware that the Liberal Unionist Association at Coleraine has prepared Resolutions in regard to these Official Returns, which I understand are to be submitted for consideration on Saturday, condemning these Returns in unmeasured terms. Now in reference to the administration of the Act of 1887. We are prepared to prove that the Commissioners have exceeded their authority by increasing rents, and unreasonably, in my opinion. I think Judge O'Hagan has correctly interpreted the Act, and that the increases by the Commissioners have been unjust and unreasonable. The words of the Act are to say what alteration, if any, ought justifiably to be made. I hold it is an unjustifiable thing to in 161 crease a rent because prices happen to be a little higher owing to failure of crops in other districts. As a practical farmer I can assure you that over a considerable portion of Ireland, so far from the potato crop being up to the average, the yield has been a third of that in the previous year.
An hon. MEMBER: There were three crops in 1887.
§ MR. PINKERTON
The past year has to many agricultural tenants been the most disastrous since 1879. The hay crop was almost a complete failure, and so was the yield of oats; the increased quantity of straw was a poor compensation. Yet, in the face of these exceptional circumstances, the Land Commissioners have increased rents—and justify their action by the Act of 1887. I am perfectly well aware that the price of grazing cattle has increased considerably, but the benefit of that is limited. What benefit is it to men compelled to sell cattle to pay their rackrents in June and July? The graziers of Ireland have undoubtedly benefited, but I predict that owing to the present price of store stock they will lose, to a great extent, the benefit they derived last year. In the face of a most disastrous year, and a most inclement season, how the Commissioners can justify their action passes my comprehension. Suppose an epidemic of rinderpest were to break out among the cattle in Ireland and destroy two-thirds of them, would it be fair to base rents upon the increased price that would be put upon the remainder? Would that be an equitable readjustment of rents? The fact is this—it is simply an attempt to play into the hands of the landlords by the Commissioners, out of all sympathy with the tenants. It is not surprising there should be agitation in Ireland, and I may tell you that agitation will not be confined to the South and West. You have done much to help the national sentiment in Ireland by the way in which you have handicapped Judges and administered the Act. There has been a decided attempt to coerce Sub-Commissioners, and they know their tenure of office depends on the way they increase rents. I suppose the hon. Gentleman knows of the visitations passed by a number of Protestant tenants in Down and Tyrone expressing their disgust at the 162 administration of the Act, and suggesting that they might, if an amendment of the Act was not passed, be reluctantly compelled to join the Home Rule party?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I rise to order. This statement has reference to something that took place in my own constituency. Instead of saying this, they absolutely declared—
Order, order. A correction of a statement of fact is not a point of order. It is a very common error hon. Members fall into.
§ MR. PINKERTON
No doubt the wish is father to the thought, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone has no desire that Home Rule principles should spread in the division, but in spite of this desire the tenants are becoming tired of a man who attempts to blow hot and blow cold, who is the tenant's friend in Ulster, and stands by the landlord's side on English platforms, who is an advocate of Temperance principles in Ireland, but the paid apostle of beer in England. As to sales of tenant right, the hon. Member for South Antrim must be aware that all the cases he quoted were exceptional cases, or due to the fact that men, having made money in America, Australia, or elsewhere, had a special object in view.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but in everyone of the cases I quoted the purchase was made by tenants in occupation of adjoining land. I can give full particulars of names.
§ Mr. PINKERTON
My experience of the purchase of tenant right is probably as extensive as that of the hon. Member. I know many cases in which men were willing enough to pay exceptional prices, and often with the assistance of friends. I have no intention of justifying such purchases. With regard to what has been said as to the unfairness in the way of dealing with arrears to tenants who have strained every nerve to pay their rents, and therefore are not on the same footing with those in arrear, I say that power should be given to the County Court Judge to determine whether the arrears of rent were owing to the fact that the tenant had been rackrented in the past and the tenant's energies cramped by the piling up of a load of arrears, numb- 163 ing his arm and weakening his efforts. It is a common thing in the North for landlords to give reductions; but these are well understood to be conditional upon the tenant's obedience to the wishes of the landlord; but if the tenant is foolish enough to assert his independence and take hostile action, then these reductions are added together and brought up against him. ["No, no."] I can give chapter and verse for it. I know of a case in the immediate neighbourhood of Ballymoney where the landlord gave £10 and £20 reductions, on condition that the tenant signed an agreement to take a judicial rent and not go into Court; and I know of a case where, the tenant having refused to do this, a claim of £100 for arrears was made by means of adding up the £10 annual reductions for ten years. The hon. Member may express his satisfaction with settlements out of Court as evidence that landlords are prepared to act fairly to their tenants, but all I can say is that tenants hold a very different opinion. And now, in regard to the number of evictions. I do not know whether the hon. Member is an Antrim landlord, but, at any rate, he is an Antrim Representative. We know that in the North of Ireland there are several ways of turning a tenant out without having recourse to the Court. If a tenant is unable to meet his rack rent as well as the just claims of his creditors, he does not wait until he is evicted: he attempts to sell his interest and such is the strong land-hunger among the people that there are those found to step into his shoes and pay for the privilege of paying a rack-rent. It may be from a desire to consolidate his holdings, to square his farm, the arrangement is made; but in any case the tenant who sells his rights disappears, goes abroad, and his case never appears in the papers; but it may be just as much a case of gross injustice as if he were dispossessed by the strong arm of the law. There are hundreds of cases in which men have been robbed of just claims for improvements, owing to the fact of their means being exhausted by the rack-rents imposed upon them. I could point to hundreds of cases where tenant right has been sold at a nominal rate, owing to the fact that tenants, having been rack-rented, could not bring forward 164 their claims, and they are obliged to take what they can get from men who, having more money than sense, pay an exceptional rent for holdings. The hon. Member was, no doubt, right in giving the number of evictions through the actions of superior Courts; but we have no record of the number of tenants turned out by the action of Superior Courts.
§ MR. PINKERTON
And the hon. Member went on to quote the opinion of three leading firms as to agricultural prospects; he traced the sale of a few more yards of calico by Sir J. Arnott, or the increase of sales by travellers of an English firm to returning Irish prosperity; but I challenge the hon. Member to go to any division in the North of Ireland—to go even to the Orange Hall at Ballymoney, and call a meeting of tenant farmers, and he will not find ten Conservative farmers rise to support the view he has propounded today. He has thrown it in my teeth that I was unsuccessful in my attempt to get returned for County Antrim. I did not succeed, but I certainly made a better fight than did some of his friends in other divisions. I did not occupy a discreditable position, and if my purse had been longer, possibly I might have been returned. Undoubtedly Conservatism in the North of Ireland hankers after the man with the long purse as a Constitution al representative. In conclusion, I would appeal to hon. Members who represent Northern constituencies to examine the circumstances for themselves, to see the state of agriculture,. to see the position of the tenants, and not to be led astray by official Returns and statements put forward in the landlord interest. Go to the North of Ireland, go to the centre of law and order and call an open meeting of the people, and I am prepared to become a Liberal Unionist if you can bring 40 farmers From County Antrim to justify the position the hon. Member has taken up.
§ *THE SOLICITOR GENERAL OF IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
I listened with attention to le speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and I waited with some interest for the time when he would approach the particular pro- 165 visions of the Bill we are now discussing, and show its relation to the topics he was bringing under the notice of the House; but that period did not arrive. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill has, however, stated fully and clearly to the House the reasons for which he asks us to accept the Second Reading of the Bill. At the outset of his remarks he reminded us that a measure such as this had been repeatedly rejected by the House, and he went on to say that it was an explanatory Bill and one which carried out the spirit of the land legislation passed from 1870 to 1881. Well, Sir, I desire to point out to the House that the statement of the hon. Member was absolutely correct. This Bill, or a Bill like it, has been often rejected by this House. And who has it been rejected by most often in this House? Why, by the authors of the legislation of 1870 and 1881, and they have rejected it on the ground that so far from its being a Bill carrying out the objects of that legislation, it was subversive of its main principles; and by no hon. Member was that proposition more forcibly maintained than by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow in 1884 when this subject was under discussion. Well, again, the hon. Member who introduced the Bill recommended it to the House because it would supply a plain definition of "improvements" and "predecessors in title." I believe it would; but we must go beyond that and see what, as a matter of justice and fair play, the practical effect of the very clear and un-mistakeable definition he seeks to import into the land legislation of Ireland would be. It has been said in former debates that the whole question as to tenants' improvements is at this moment involved in very great difficulty and obscurity. Now, I admit that when the Acts of 1870 and 1881 were passed there was some considerable difficulty in ascertaining the exact meaning of the terra tenants' improvements and the relation of the Acts to each other, but I cannot admit that after the decisions given under those Acts up to the present time the same difficulty, and doubt, and obscurity still remain; still less can I admit that, as a matter of fairness and justice, if they do remain they should be removed in the way suggested by the hon. Mem- 166 ber who moved the Second Reading of the Bill and his supporters. Attention has been called in this Debate to the decision in the case of "Adams and Dunseath." I am not going to inflict upon the House a disquisition upon that decision, nor am I going into any legal discussion of the Bill, but I may say that I can quite understand how the hon. Member as a layman approaching that ease found himself in a considerable difficulty from the facts of the case. Yet, I do think that the main principles which have been conclusively established by that decision can be popularly stated, and can be separated from the complicated facts of the case and made perfectly intelligible; and that they are fair and just. What are the main principles of the decision? First of all, what was meant by the term improvements, under the Act of 1870 and the Act of 1881, as interpreted by the decision in the case of "Adams and Dunseath," was not the improved letting value of the land in consequence of the improvement, but the improvement itself. That was a clear and fundamental principle, and that principle is directly assailed by this Bill. One of the main and most important points in the present Bill is to revolutionize and subvert that principle, and to establish that the improvement which is to be the property of the tenant is the improved letting value of the holding. Now, just let us consider that question as a matter of justice and fair play. We have often heard the relation of landlord and tenant compared to a dual ownership. The landlord brings into this partnership, as it were, the land with its capacity for improvement, which varies infinitely in different cases, and the tenant brings—as I will assume for the sake of argument—his money and money's worth to the improvement of the soil. As a matter of fairplay and common sense, to whom, then, should the improved value belong? [An hon. MEMBER: To the tenant.] An hon. Member opposite says to the tenant; I understand that to be his view, but that would be applying to dual ownership or partnership a principle which has never been applied to such a relation. In some exceptional cases, I admit, the improvement should be entirely, or almost entirely, appropriated to the tenant, but in most cases that would be unjust on the partnership principle. The late 167 Mr. Butt, who will, I think, be accepted as an authority by hon. Gentlemen opposite, once gave an illustration on this point. He supposed the case of some rich land with an immense capacity for improvement, but which happened to be covered with water. A. slight expenditure of money would drain the land, and it would then become worth £4 or £5 per acre. Was it to be said that the occupying tenant of that land, with its vast capacity of improvement which was the property of the landlord, was to appropriate the entire improved value? That is an extreme case. The improved value in any given instance might be due mainly or chiefly to the inherent capacity of the soil, or to the expenditure of capital and labour upon it. What the law now does is to remit all these questions to the adjudication of the Court; but the present Bill says that, whether the improved value arises chiefly or mainly from the expenditure, or mainly and chiefly from the capacities of the soil, it shall belong absolutely to the tenant. Another principle in the Bill relates to the definition of the term "predecessor in title." On that subject, what was decided in the case of "Adams and Dunseath" was decided in favour of the tenant; and it was this: Under the Act, of 1870 a technical and narrow construction has been put on the term predecessor in title; and the Court decided that a more liberal construction should be given to the words in favour of the tenant under the Act of 1881. The interpretation given to the term in "Adams and Dunseath" is fair and reasonable—namely, that if the tenant proves a succession in title, even though the title may be not the same, the requirements of the Act are satisfied. But the present Bill provides that "predecessor in title" shall be construed as predecessor in occupancy whenever it appears to the Court that the justice of the case so requires. Could anything be more absurd than to leave a question which ought, first of all, to be decided by the House as a matter of principle to the discretion of the Court in each particular case? The Bill seeks to introduce another principle on the subject of improvements. Before the Act of 1870 the improvements passed to the freehold; but since the passing of that Act the question of presumption has become a vital question, and I submit that the amendment of the law then introduced 168 was a fair and reasonable protection to the tenant as regards that question while the clause in the present Bill would be grossly unfair to the landlord. The Ad of 1870 gives presumption during a period of 20 years, with certain safeguards as to the improvements of the tenant. What does this Bill seek to effect? It seeks to create a presumptive period extending to 50 years, and a period beyond which it would be impossible in most cases to adduce any positive evidence. A more unfair proposition could not be submitted to the consideration of the House. Taking the propositions of the Bill together, they simply mean, in a naked form, the doctrine of prairie value. There are other provisions in this Bill and I do not wish in the slightest degree to minimize any of them. I certainly do not desire to minimize the importance of subjects which the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill has brought so fully and exhaustively before the House. The next question which was dealt with was the question of arrears. I do not think it can be seriously suggested that this is a Bill, which can be accepted as a settlement of the arrears question, nor do I think this is an occasion on which we should argue or dilate on the arrears question. The House and the country are in possession of the views of the Government on that subject, and I do not think it necessary, therefore, to argue the question now. This Bill is simply a provision in respect of arrears applicable to tenants who make application to have a fair rent fixed. It would have no effect on the question of arrears on existing- Judicial rents. It is not a general Arrears Bill, and it is supported by an analogy which I think is a false one—namely, the analogy of the Crofters Act. What was done in the Crofters Act was this: A large class of tenants were, for the first time, admitted to a Court for the purpose of having a fair rent fixed.. The true analogy is to be found in the. Arrears Act of 1882, which followed the Land Act of 1881. It is urged that the Government may be asked to accept this provision because it is taken from the Crofters Act. But surely hon. Members will recognize the-desirableness, first of all, of considering the circumstances in which that Act was passed, and then the totally different 169 different state of circumstances which prevail in the present instance, in regard to which the Crofters Act cannot be adduced as an authority. I admit the importance of the question of the long leaseholders. I have very great sympathy with them, and I am sure that every consideration will be given to any fair proposition brought forward on their behalf. But then, when a proposition is submitted to the House, we must see whether it is fair, just, and reasonable, and whether the particular proposition submitted is consistent with the general scheme of legislation of which it is offered to us as a part. What has been the course of legislation in regard to leaseholders? The framers of the Act of 1881 thought that the leaseholders might fairly be left to the contracts they had made; and the views of legislators for many years afterwards was in the same direction. The special protection afforded by the Land Court was considered to be due to a different class of tenants: On what principle was the case of the leaseholders dealt with by the Act of 1887? On the basis of admitting leaseholders to the benefits of ordinary agricultural tenants. But, looking at the question broadly, a line must be drawn between two widely different classes of leaseholders. There are the ordinary agricultural tenants who take leases which may fairly be described as agricultural leases; there is another class, who may be described as land speculators, persons who take leases altogether outside the ordinary terms of a lease as a matter of speculation is the ownership of land. But this is a totally different kind of ownership, and the House is aware that when the Legislature admitted the leaseholders to the benefit of the fair rent clauses they treated them in the same way as the ordinary agricultural tenants, the vast majority of whom hold from year to year. This was done in a liberal spirit, and the Act of 1887 adopted a term far in excess of any term which could be fairly represented as that of an ordinary term of an agricultural lease. There is a topic which is always presented in discussing this matter. It is said—" You may have a man with a 99 years' lease, and another with a 98 years' lease, and is it right, on account of a small matter which was not attended to at the time of the drawing of the lease, to make 170 all this difference between the two cases?" It is unfortunate, no doubt, that the distinction has to be made. But unfortunate speculations may be made in land as well as other things, and I will ask the House to go with me to this extent—that we must in some way distinguish between leaseholders who may fairly be admitted to the benefit of the Act and those who may be described as investors, purchasers, or speculators in land. You must draw the line somewhere. The same observation would apply as to the hardship of distinguishing between one case and another, no matter where you draw your line of demarcation. But the question for the House to consider is, has this distinction been fair and reasonably drawn in the Act of 1887, and are there sufficient reasons now submitted by the promoters of this Bill to upset the settlement which the House then arrived at? I submit that no case has been made out for upsetting the settlement of 1887. The Bill next deals with the length of the judicial term; but, as very little argument has been addressed to the House on that point, I will not detain the House long with regard to it. I will merely state this—that the Bill presents this question in a very different form from the recommendation of the Cowper Commission. The Bill, if adopted as it now stands, would again throw into the Land Court a large number of Irish tenancies; indeed, the agrarian question would be largely re opened. Now, I do think, in these circumstances, that the House will ask for a stronger argument than has been adduced before it will involve the whole of Ireland in this turmoil and paralyse the business of the Land Court as a consequence of such legislation. With reference to the question of turbary, which is another important matter, I would remind the House of how the case stands. As I understand it, when an application for the fixing of a fair rent comes before the Sub-Commission the question of turbary is gone into, and if the tenant has rights they are preserved. According to the Bill, a tenant might apply to the Court to grant him a right of turbary where, owing to the customary management of the estate, he has a reasonable expectation of continuing in the enjoyment of any turbary. This cannot be regarded as either fair 171 or reasonable. Where a tenant has a right of turbary there is no necessity for the Court to grant him such right, and where he has no such right he ought not to get it merely because the landlord out of liberality has previously allowed him to enjoy the privilege. If the Bill were to become law it would prejudicially affect the good landlord, by converting into a legal obligation that which he had conceded as a matter of generosity, whilst it would protect the legal rights of the bad landlord who had unreasonably refused the use of turbary to his tenants. The mere statement of the case will, I think, show that the proposal of the Bill is unfair and unjust in the extreme. A great deal has been said with regard to the case of "Adams v. Dunseath," which decided that the enjoyment by the tenant of a holding with its improvements, without an increase of rent, should be an element for consideration in the fixing of a fair rent. Is not that perfectly just? Where the improvable value of land is extremely great, and where, by a small expenditure of labour or money by the tenant, the letting value of the holding is very greatly increased, and where, after such increased letting value has been created, the landlord allows the tenant to continue upon the holding at the old rent, ought not the forbearance of the landlord in not increasing such rent for a number of years to be taken into consideration, and regarded as in the nature of compensation allowed to the tenant for his improvements? If this were not the law the effect would be that the bad landlord, who has immediately increased his rent, would be placed in a much better position than the good landlord who has abstained from raising his rent. This would not be just. I do not see in the Bill anything that can be regarded as a serious attempt to deal with the question of arrears, or anything that can be considered as a successful attempt to deal with the question of long leaseholds. It only purposes to deal with long leaseholds, as I have endeavoured to show the House, on principles which are inconsistent with those which the House has adopted; and in regard to all other matters of detail I would describe the Bill as a review of the Irish Land Legislation of the past 20 years, with an endeavour carefully to 172 eliminate from previous Land Acts every reasonable provision for the protection of the just and fair rights of the landlord; and on behalf of Her Majesty's Government I must, therefore, state that they will feel bound to oppose it.
§ *MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford)
The Bill before the House, as has been very properly stated by the Solicitor General for Ireland, consists of a number of separate and important questions, each distinct from the other, and we cannot say that there is any distinctive line of principle running through the whole of the Bill. The measure, however, is one proposing to amend the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887, and I do not think that either those sitting on this Bench, or still less the Irish Members, can be considered as estopped from raising these questions. We are fully entitled to re-open certain of the matters dealt with in the Land Act of 1881, for the settlement effected by that Act has been altered in most respects on the initiative of Her Majesty's Government by the Act of 1887. Many of the clauses of the Bill I have already voted for, in the shape of Amendments to the Act of 1887, and I shall, therefore, support the Bill, though with reservations as to parts of it. I cannot but think that the mode in which the Act of 1887 was passed through the House was a very unfortunate one. I fully recognize that the Act was a very important one, and has produced very great good to the tenants of Ireland; but if the Irish Members had been consulted by the Government previous to its introduction or during its passing, I believe it might have been made a better measure, and might, possibly, have proved a settlement of the question. Whatever Amendments were made in the Bill were not made in deference to the remonstrances and the demands of the Irish Members, but in answer to the demands made by the Dissentient Liberals, and for the purpose of preventing a defeat of the Government. Now, one of the most important questions with which the present Bill deals is that relating to improvements of their holdings made by tenants. I think that nobody can read the Judgment in "Adams v. Dunseath," and compare it with the speeches made in this House when the Land Bill of 1881 was under discussion, and when the Amendment inserted in the House of Lords came down 173 to this House for consideration, and refuse to admit that the decision in "Adams v. Dunseath" was directly opposed to the intentions of this House. It is a fact which corroborates this statement that Lord Chancellor Law, who had been closely concerned in the passing of the Land Bill of 1881 through the House, dissented from the Judgment of the majority in that case, and was of opinion that the decision would necessitate amending the Act. Some Amendment of the law is clearly required in regard to that important point. I am not prepared, however, to say that the clauses dealing with it in the present Bill may not go somewhat too far, and they certainly will have to be very carefully considered in Committee, if the Bill should reach that stage. There must be compromise between the Government and the persons mainly interested—namely, the Representatives of the Irish tenants in this House, and I cannot but think that if the Government will go into Committee with the idea of coming to a final conclusion on the matter, it will not be difficult for them to come to a satisfactory settlement. I agree with the Solicitor General for Ireland that the Bill as now drawn does not deal conclusively and effectually with the subject of arrears, because it only deals with arrears of judicial rents. That, however, is not a defect in principle, and can be cured in Committee. If the Land Act of 1887 had been passed a year sooner, or if, when passed, it had dealt with arrears, the country would have been spared all those grievous troubles which have sprung up in Ireland since then. Almost every one of the prosecutions and convictions under the Coercion Act can be traced directly or indirectly to disputes between landlord and tenants resulting from evictions for non-payment of arrears. I may illustrate that by referring to the case of the Vandeleur estate, the disputes with regard to which, I have heard with pleasure, are likely to be settled by arbitration. I must congratulate the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton), on having had' the good fortune to induce the landlord to refer the matter to arbitration. The hon. Member has been more fortunate than I was. I had a long correspondence with the agent of the estate nearly a year ago on this subject, and endeavoured in vain to induce him to agree to arbitration. If that course had then 174 been adopted, all the grievous troubles which have occurred in the interval would have been avoided. The main, if not the only, dispute which has arisen in that case is as to the arrears of rent which have grown up during the last three or four years. The Vandeleur case is after all only one of the many instances of disputes of the same kind. I believe I am right in saying there are something like 30 or 40 disputes similar to that on the Vandeleur estate, and what I have to suggest to the Chief Secretary is, whether it would not be wise in the interest of the peace of Ireland, and with a view of bringing all these disputes to a conclusion to take the opportunity afforded by the introduction of this Bill to deal with the question of arrears. I am the more disposed to give the right hon. Gentleman this advice in consequence of the new policy which has been lately devised, and is now being carried out tin Ireland for transplanting Protestant tenants from Ulster to take the place of evicted Catholic tenants in other parts of Ireland, a policy which, I say, is fraught with danger to the peace of Ireland, a policy which is likely to revive religious animosities and ill-feeling which may last in every district where it is tried for many years, and possibly for generations to come. Within the last few days we have been told that Lord Massareene has been able to persuade something like 20 Protestant tenants to come from North Antrim for the purpose of taking farms on his estate in Louth from which Catholic tenants have been evicted. I have seen an advertisement in an Antrim paper inviting Protestant tenants, as Protestants, to take the farms. The following are the terms of the advertisement:—There are several vacant farms to be let in the counties of Louth and Meath, in close proximity to the important seaport and market town of Drogheda. None but Protestants need apply. Special advantages are offered to suitable tenants. For particulars, apply to 'Messrs. Dudgeon and Emmerson.There can be no doubt that that advertisement applies to the Massereene property, and in pursuance of that advertisement several tenants from Antrim have been persuaded to offer themselves for the farms. According to the statement made by the hon. Member for South Tyrone in the Times a few days ago, they are to be allowed to enter at rents in many cases much less than the judicial rents, and in cases where 175 judicial rents have not been fixed at something like 25 per cent less than the increased rents. This is not the first time in the history of Ireland that a policy of this kind has been tried. The late Mr. A. M. Sullivan, in his interesting work entitled "Young Ireland," shows that 40 years ago the then Lord Lorton proceeded to clear a part of his estate in county Longford of its Catholic tenants, and to replace them by Protestants. County Longford, previous to that time, had been one of the most quiet and orderly parts of Ireland; but the character of the district was completely changed in consequence of the action of Lord Lorton. It became the scene of most deplorable events, of outrages and murders. I will not fully state what took place lest I should be thought to prophesy what may now result, but I would advise hon. Members to read the account in Mr. Sullivan's work, where the evidence of Lord Lorton himself, in an inquiry in the House of Lords, is reported. I think the Chief Secretary would act wisely if he expressed disapprobation of the new policy which has been announced. The question of arrears has been a great difficulty in the settlement of many of these questions. For my part, I have' never been one of those who have found any fault with Captain Vandeleur in his bonâ fide dispute with his tenants—a dispute in which each party believes himself to be in the right. In such disputes, I hold that the proper mode of settling it is by friendly arbitration, and I rejoice that that course is to be adopted in this case. I cannot but think that if the same course were adopted in all other disputes of a similar character which arise in Ireland, the same good results might follow. In the case of the Vandeleur property, unquestionably the result of arbitration will be peace and content among the tenantry, and the moment the evicted tenants are replaced in their holdings there will be an end to all bickering, and there will be no necessity for coercion, evictions, or persecutions. The same results, I venture to suggest, would follow from a similar policy if it were adopted on the properties of Lord Massareene and Lord Clanricarde. I believe that to be in the case of those two estates, the only remaining difficulty to the question of reinstatement of the evicted tenants; and if Lord Massareene 176 were willing to reinstate those tenants on the same terms as those he is prepared to give to the other tenants, the dispute would quickly be settled. In like manner, if Lord Clanricarde were prepared to reinstate the evicted tenants, and give them the same abatement of rent which he is willing to give to the other tenants, I believe we might easily effect a settlement of the question. Peace and content would be restored to Ireland by friendly arbitration, but if that is not resorted to, I fear we shall have a continuation of the present disputes, to be followed by further evictions, and probably by a renewal of prosecutions and evictions under the Coercion Act. I have myself the strongest conviction that these disputes can only be settled either by friendly arbitration between the two parties, or by some independent authority, under the powers of an Act of Parliament, in the absence of friendly arbitrators. I believe it is absolutely essential for the peace of the district where these disputes occur, that there should be some measure in the direction of dealing with the arrears, and I venture, therefore, to hope the Government will take this opportunity afforded by the Bill now before the House to deal with the question. I believe that the arrears may be very easily and simply dealt with, without involving any risk of introducing dangerous principles for the future. One possible course would be to schedule the disputes which have occurred, and to deal individually with them under the Bill. That would, perhaps, avoid the necessity of dealing with the subject of arrears by some general provision, but of the wisdom and necessity of dealing with this question, in order to bring these disputes to an end, and to restore peace and quiet to districts now unfortunately disturbed in consequence of these troubles, I think very few people can possibly doubt. I trust, therefore, that the Chief Secretary, before this debate closes, will be able to promise that the Government will deal with the subject, and I hope that he will further express an opinion against the policy now being pursued on the Massareene property, of transplanting Protestant tenants from the North of Ireland to the evicted farms in other districts. Everyone who knows anything about Ireland, and who is familiar with its circumstances, will admit that a policy of that kind can only endanger 177 the peace of the country, and is in the interests neither of the landlord nor of the Government.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I quite admit that it is idle at the present time to expect that either the Government or the House would accept an Irish Bill of any kind, but I have no doubt that when this House has become a little older, and when, perhaps, a couple of dozen important bye-elections have resulted adversely to Ministers, they will readily accept a Bill of the character of the one now under discussion, and, perhaps, it may be introduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite. But this Bill and the debate serves at least one or two purposes. It tests the truth of the representations made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite at the election of 1886, when they said that though they could not agree to dismember the Empire, they would heartily support any measure which would give justice and fairplay to the Irish tenants—that in cases where it was proved that grievances existed, some remedy would be applied, and that they would be delighted to accept the co-operation of the Irish Members in the settlement of the remedy. Now, this debate has shown that the Government are by no means inclined to carry out the pledges which they so freely made in 1886. They have postponed, indeed, carrying them out for two years longer in, perhaps, the half-formed belief that when a couple of years have passed away, they may not be in a position to discuss these matters at all. This Bill has been met by two different kinds of opposition. The first opposition—that by the hon. Member representing one of the divisions of Antrim, who usually speaks for the extreme Orange party — was, undoubtedly, frank and plain. The hon. Member went through a long series of statistics in order to prove to the House that the landlords were able to screw out of the tenants an increased proportion of rent last year, and that, as the harvests this year had been somewhat better, there was hope that they would be able to screw even more rent out of the tenants this year, and his case was that it would be unjust to interfere with the landlord in that operation. In his speech he scarcely dealt with the Bill, or with the imperfections in the law which the hon. Member who proposed it so ably pointed out. What he said to this House 178 was practically, "I won't discuss the justice or the injustice of the land tribunals of Ireland; I told the House we were lucky in screwing a little more rent, year after year, out of the tenants, and I beg the House not to interfere with us, but to leave us in a dark corner, and to let us screw out of the tenants whatever we can." But the opposition of Her Majesty's Government was somewhat different; they did not venture in this instance to give notice of opposition to this Bill; they contented themselves with waiting for a friendly lead from an Orange landlord; and, having got that lead, they put up the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin. University, not to discuss the principle of the Bill, but to enter into a highly technical and quibbling discussion as to the precise phraseology of the Bill, a discussion which when the hon. add learned Gentleman is a little better versed in Parliamentary usages, he will know he should have reserved for the Committee. The Bill is an exceedingly modest one, and it does not deserve the attack of the hon. and learned Gentleman, nor his assertion that it has practically dislocated the existing law, because it is not intended to do that. On the contrary, it is calculated to render the law both symmetrical and logical. The hon. and learned Gentleman never made the assertion that the Land Court of Ireland was either logical or symmetrical, and he knows perfectly that it is not. There is no Member of this House who is more thoroughly acquainted with the technicalities and crooked ways of the Acts of 1881 and 1887. He knows that, as the result of the Act of 1887, the leaseholders have been handed over to a tribunal appointed under the Act of 1881,. and that no provision has been made to adjust the discrepancies which must naturally arise as between the cases of the leaseholders and the Irish tenants. Now, Sir, the first object of this Bill is one which I think ought to obtain some sympathy, even from the Orange Tory Conservative Party. That object is the admission of leaseholders to the benefits of the Land Act. Undoubtedly, certain classes of the leaseholders have been admitted to the benefits of that Act, and I quite admit it is impossible to say that it is just to admit a tenant holding under a lease having 98 years to run, and unjust to admit one holding under a lease of 99 years. Naturally, 179 the hon. and learned Member did not take up that position, for which he knows there is no justification. He spoke somewhat inferentially of the case of the tenant taking laud for the purpose of sub-letting; but let me point out that the difference between the two classes of tenants is simply that one tenant holds from year to year, pays a certain rent, and is entitled to give up his holding at the end of the year, while the other tenant pays a yearly rack rent, and is under the additional disadvantage of not being able to shake himself free from the tenancy, as he or his representatives are bound to pay the I rent for the whole term, and there is absolutely no possibility of getting out of a bad bargain, even at the expense of the forfeiture of his improvements and interest in the farm. It would seem, therefore, that a tenant holding under a long lease at a rack rent is in a worse, rather than in a better, position than a tenant holding from year to year. Surely the doctrine of sacredness of contract, which was formerly in such high favour with the House, having been abandoned by the Conservative Party, no case can now be made out for the exclusion of these leaseholders from the benefits of the Act. The second main object of this Bill is to secure for the tenant freedom from being rented on his own improvements. I quite admit that it would be unjust that a tenant, by reason simply of making a drain through a piece of land at the expense of a few pounds, should be held to be entitled to the whole of the increased value of the land. But that is not what we ask. The position we take up is that the industrious tenant should not be, by reason of his own industry and thrift, in a worse position than the idle and extravagant tenant. It is idle to deny that the decision in Adams v. Dunseath places the worthless tenant in a better position than the thrifty and improving tenant. I do not wish to attribute improper motives to the Judges who came to this decision; but it is an unfortunate circumstance that the three Liberal Judges held that the tenant should not berented, while the four Conservative Judges, who formed the majority of the Court, held that he should be rented upon his improvements, and, above all, each of those four Judges differed from each of his colleagues as to the grounds for the decision. Lord Justice May, in his judg- 180 ment, interpreted the Healy Clause of the Land Act, 1881, simply to mean that if a tenant at his own expense increased the annual value of his holding by £30 or £50, he should be rented on the increased value, and should only be exempt from rent on the value of the stones and tiles used in the work, and he afterwards humorously asked what rent could be put on tiles and stones in such a case. The second proposition was this—that under the law as it stands at present a doctrine—more worthily found perhaps in the mouth of the pickpocket or burglar— is set up by the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881 that if a man improves his land and enjoys those improvements for a given number of years, they then become the landlord's property. Surely that is not sound doctrine. I am certain the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that under the law as it at present stands the presumption in the case of the leaseholder is that the improvements belong to the landlord and not to him. Every Royal Commission and Select Committee which has sat on the subject of the Irish land has unanimously reported that in the vast majority of cases the improvements have been made by the tenants, and yet, Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman gets up in this House and gravely asks us to perpetuate the law. The last point with which this Bill deals is the question of fixing the value of the tenancy. I assume that at least some hon. Members in this House are theoretically acquainted with the operation known on the Stock Exchange as purchasing at option. But the Irish tenant, by the law, is in a worse position than the speculator in purchases at option. for the landlord at present is allowed to put a value on the tenancy, and. at the end of ten, twelve, or fourteen years the tenant must redeem at the price, even if values have receded. That surely should be put an end to. I need not discuss the question of arrears, because on that point the Bill is simply a reprint of the provisions of the Scotch Act already passed by Tory Members of this House. j But I would point out in conclusion that, by destroying unjust rents and arrears, you destroy the very foundations of the Plan of Campaign; and that though right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite go about the country praying for the pacification of Ireland, they are not willing to pacify it by simply doing 181 justice to the tenants. They prefer rather to rely on the Crimes Act, the Special Commission, and Gentlemen like Mr. Plunket and Captain Segrave.
The House divided: — Ayes 168; Noes 229.—(Div. List, No. 71.)
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Second Reading put off for six months.