§ Order for Second Reading read.
*(12.50.) DR. COMMITS (Roscommon, S.)
I bag to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The tenure of land in Ireland is after all the great question of the day in that country, as it has been for a very long period of years; we therefore take the earliest opportunity of bringing before the House certain Amendments of the recent Tenure of Land Act for Ireland, in order to give full effect to the provisions of the Act and in order to prevent the injurious results with which one or two of them have boon working in the past. The first matter to which I wish to call attention is this. It is practically admitted by everybody that the improvements which have bean made on farms in Ireland have been made entirely by the tenants. It was admitted in so many words in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary the night before last, and as it is a proposition which no one is inclined to controvert, we assume that it is so. As the Bill of 1881 left this HOUSJ it contained a provision that was intended to debar the imposition of rent upon improvements effected by the tenant. The Bill came back to this House with a very invidious provision inserted in it, that the tenant was only to be freed from the imposition of rent for his own improvements where he had 619 not been paid or "otherwise compensated" for such improvements. I pointed out at the time what the effect would be from a lawyer's point of view, and I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) said on that occasion that such an understanding as I then indicated, was impossible. He added that the intention of the House was unmistakable, and with the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who was then Attorney General, sitting beside him, he said that the intention of the House was clear that no rent was to be imposed for the improvements of the tenants. Nevertheless I was not satisfied, and I stated that when the matter came into Court it might be held conventionally that enjoyment of the improvements would be regarded as a compensation. My contention was pooh-poohed at the time, but soon after the passing of the Act the question was directly raised in Court, and the decision was as I had indicated, namely, that the enjoyment of the tenant for some indefinite time was sufficient to compensate him for the improvements he had himself made and had alone called into existence, and without which the land would be worth nothing at all. This decision has created a great revulsion of feeling, and has been a bitter disappointment to the tenants. I regard it as an outrageous decision, and one which violates common sense. I should like to know what other description of property was ever created by possession or under the provisions of an Act of Parliament, the mere enjoyment of which has been considered sufficient to extinguish a right to its full value. As a rule, the length of possession is recognised as giving a prescriptive right, but in this case, when an Irish tenant has been in the enjoyment of his own improvements for 20 years or more it is held that that fact alone is sufficient to compensate him for such improvements, and to justify the imposition upon him of a rack-rent. This Bill proposes to bring back the Act of 1881 to the position in which it left this House. That is the first provision of the Bill. The next thing I propose is, that in order to give effect to the beneficial intention of the Act of 1881, future tenancies after the passing of that Act must b3 brought down to the position of the tenancies which existed at the time of the passing of the Act. A "present 620 tenancy" was declared by the Act to be a tenancy at the time of the passing of the Bill—an ordinary tenancy from year to year. That was the only tenancy for which the Act provided, and it was then suppose that in the course of a few months, or perhaps a year, the rent of all "present tenancies" would be fixed in Ireland. How far short of that proposal the reality has been, I will explain later on. The next provision we introduce with a view of improving the action of the Act of 1881, is one that will reduce the statutory term therein established. It was found that that term was so long that the fluctuation of prices and of seasons, good times succeeding bad, and bad times succeeding good, came in far more rapid rotation than the 15 years provided for in that Act, and showed that the fixing of a term of 15 years was much too long. We propose, therefore, to reduce that term to seven years, which we consider to be quite sufficient for all necessary purposes. Next come what we regard as the most important provisions of the Bill. As hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember, the question which has given rise to the greatest difficulty in legislating upon this subject, is the question of arrears, the law with regard to which was left unsettled and unfixed. In the Act of 1881 there was no provision dealing with the Arrears Question. That Act for the first time practically admitted that the tenant was joint owner with the landlord of the farm he had improved and the value he had created in the land on which he had spent his life and labour; and that, therefore, he was entitled to an equitable interest in the property. But this provision was never enforced, although under that Act for the first time the tenant obtained the legal interests in the soil, to which he was attached both materially and morally. In giving him that legal right it as intended that his own improvements should not be taxed, and that rent, either rack-rent or otherwise, should not be charged against him on the property he had created, and a still further advance was made by giving to the Court the power of fixing what was a fair rent to be paid by the occupying tenant. It was then argued, and has since been demonstrated with an absolute clearness which no one can deny, that the rents which are being charged are 621 rack-rents in every sense of the word; and by rack-rents I mean a rent not the result of a fair and open agreement, but an imposition and a tax which the man who pays it has no power to refuse or resist, being as much subject to it as the taxpayers of this country are subject to the payment of any tax the Government, with the support of Parliament, may impose. Such are the rack-rents which prevail in Ireland. But rack-renting is not only the custom of the country; it is a system that has grown up under the economical conditions which prevail, and are to some extent the law of the land, the landlords being in many cases compelled to exact it. But those rack-rents which are not calculated on the returns from the land or the profits of capital, or the wages of labour, nor upon any other economical condition, are always put down in the minds of the people as unjust and unfair, while the fact that they are also impossible rents is patent from the arrear. There have for many years been circumstance that the whole country is in what are called, first the running gale, and next the hanging gale. The running gale is the last rent payable, the hanging gale being the one going back six months or more, antecedently, so that there is generally speaking an arrear of some 12 months upon the rents due from the Irish tenants. Taking them all round it has become simply impossible to pay these rents. I am very far from denying that there are not many good landlords in Ire-land who deal honourably and justly with their tenants, as should always be the ease between good landlords and neighbours; but unfortunately the majority of the landlords are men who either insist upon rack-rents or are obliged to do so, and in very many eases allow the arrears to accumulate for two, three, four, or five years, and believe in some instances for as many as 10 years. Well, the moment 12 months' rent is due the landlord has the power of evicting for nonpayment, so that practically you have evictions hinging like the sword of Damocles over the heads of the tenants, while the arrears are allowed to accumulate with, malice prepense in some cases, although in others it may have been owing to the good nature of the landlord. When the Act of 1881 was passed there was a good deal more than year's rent, for which alone the landlord 622 could distrain, owing from the different tenants, and a large proportion of these were precluded from taking advantage of that Act. Where more than the year's rent was due the landlord issued a writ, and was able to confiscate the tenant's title to his share in the soil and turn the tenant out, or prevent him from applying to the Court at all, or, if he did apply, to stop him midway in the process and prevent his getting the benefit of his application. But this is not all. That Act was avowedly passed for the purpose of checking cruel and unjust evictions, as well as unjust rack-renting, and the result has been that it has rather acted as a stimulus to evictions than otherwise. At the time the Act was introduced the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian said eviction notices were falling like snow flakes all over the country, and he also said eviction notices were oftentimes sentences of death. The figure of speech then used by the right hon. Gentleman was not one whit too strong, and was certainly more justified by the facts than figures of speech usually are. What, Sir, is the case at the present moment? Owing to the fact that the arrears question still remains unsettled, there has been a war going on ever since the period referred to, totally untouched by the Amendment Acts that have been passed since 1881— a war between the landlords on the one side and the tenants on the other. The landlords utilise this weapon of arrears for the purpose of restricting the effects of the Statute, and debarring the tenants from the benefits it would otherwise confer in the event of their desiring to go into Court, and at this moment eviction notices are falling like snow flakes through the country, inflicting—not, perhaps, in all cases, though there are some in which it can be alleged—physical death upon the victims; but at any rate what may be termed economical and industrial death. We know, of course, what happens to the tenant under these circumstances. He is turned into a caretaker, and loses all the benefit he would otherwise have obtained from the Act of 1881, being again placed absolutely at the mercy of the landlord, who may rack-rent him ad infinitum. Well, Sir, I propose by Sections 5 and 6 of this Bill to deal with this strangely-overlooked question of arrears. Perhaps I should be wrong 623 in saying it is altogether overlooked; it was not altogether overlooked in the tenant clauses of the Act of 1887, which I have cited, because they carefully kept the arrears alive for the purpose of neutralising the Act of 1881. I think it high time that this House should interfere, and put a stop to the inequitable law relating to those arrears. The Land Courts have shown that rack-renting exists in Ireland to an extent greater than was previously understood by this House, greater even than has been found by the Devon Commission. I refer the House to a Return which has been laid upon the Table within the last few days, and which shows that in that happy district which constitutes the North of Ireland you have the Courts reducing the rents of the tenants to an average extent of some 30 per cent, or 40 per cent, every day. Well, Sir, what has been shown to be the case in the North also exists in the South. Unjust rack-rents, which never ought to have been imposed, and which have the effect of preventing all improvements and tend largely to fetter the industry of the tenants, are constantly imposed. And I say that those rack-rents ought to be swept away altogether. What we want, therefore, is power to do this. There is such a power given to the Court under the Scottish Crofters' Act, and under Section 5 of this Bill we propose to give a power which, we think, would be just and equitable to every person coming under the operation of the Bill. It is simply that if the tenant is evicted for non-payment of rent, and that tenant has in his holding a property recognised by the law—a property which the law says he has in conjunction with the landlord—before his co-partner in that farm shall be allowed to turn him out an account must be taken between them, and the value of the tenant's interest shall be set against the inequitable arrears of rent to which I have referred, and, unless there is a balance in the landlord's favour enabling him to support a process of ejectment that process shall not be allowed. In other words, it is proposed to apply the principle of ordinary partnership to the relations which exist between landlord and tenant. The tenant has a justly and honestly acquired property in the soil, and the Bill 624 provides that that property shall be protected against the enforcement of unjust arrears in respect of an impossible, cruel, and extortionate rent, whereby the tenant's share in the soil is at present liable to be cancelled, and the landlord is practically enabled to inflict not only a forfeiture of his interest in the property but what amounts to the tenant's extinction, industrially and economically. Instances of this might be adduced by thousands; they are put before us in the newspapers day by day, and are well known to every one acquainted with the operation of the Land Law in Ireland. I will, however, mention one case. Only a fortnight ago a farmer who had expended£600 in erecting farm buildings on the land he occupied, but who owed a single year's rent, amounting to £100, was evicted for the non-payment of that rent, the landlord thereby confiscating the property to the value of £600, which really belonged to the tenant. I think the House will see that such a state of things is grossly unfair, and by Clause 5 of this Bill I have tried to provide a remedy, by enacting that until the landlord's arrears have cancelled the tenant's interest in the soil, the landlord shall not be allowed to evict. Section 6 goes a little farther. We know there have been cruel cases like that to which I have just referred, where many times the value of the arrears have been left behind by the evicted tenant, and where the restitution of his property ought to be allowed if the tenant is prepared to bring himself within the provision set out in Section 5. By Section 6 it is provided that where a tenant comes into Court within six months of his eviction and pays 6 months' rent down, he may then apply to have a common account taken as between himself and the landlord, and if the account is shown to be in the tenant's favour the Court shall have the power of restoring him to his position as occupying tenant. These are the most important clauses of the Bill. The next clause, 7, applies to leaseholds. The Act of 1887 extended the benefits of the Act of 1881 very considerably, by admitting leaseholders to the advantages of the Act, but it stopped short by admitting only leaseholders whose leases do not extend beyond 99 years from the commencement of the Act. This necessarily left a very consider 625 able section of the leaseholders outside the provision of the Act, and probably the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) will be able to confirm what I am about to state. Ulster, as everybody knows, is a great industrial centre, in which there is a considerable demand for land, and at the end of last century a great proportion of the population, both Presbyterian and Catholic, not being permitted to obtain freeholds in the land, were obliged to take it on lease; whereby they were subjected to rack-rental. Many of them got leases of 999 years, and the rack-rental to which they were subjected has come down to the present day. Those leaseholders are debarred from enjoying the benefits of the Land Law Ireland Act of 1881 as extended by the Act of 1887. This, I say, is a great injustice, which I now propose to remedy. If they are not occupying tenants, and have sub-let their land, the yare probably placed in oven a worse position still. Of course, occupiers in Ulster are entitled to the Ulster Tenant Right; and they often are the owners of a larger interest than their landlords, and he is bound to pay his landlord, no matter what he can get out of the tenant to whom he sublets, and the result is that between the upper and the nether millstone the actual tenant of these long leaseholds is pretty nearly ground to death. Both these tenants, I think, are entitled to the relief which is given to everyone else in the Acts of 1881 and 1887. Clauses 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 have relation to the rights of turbary. A stranger to what is going on in Ireland looking to those clauses might fancy they were occupying a large amount of space in dealing with an apparently trivial matter, but those who are aware of the actual state of things in Ireland and the general condition of the Irish peasant know that the turbary question is in reality no trifling matter. Unlike England, Ireland, unfortunately, is not rich in coal mines; on the contrary, I am sorry to say, she is very poor in that respect, and the small quantity of coal she does possess, being of the kind known as Anthracite, is of an inferior quality, and ill adapted to farm purposes. It does not flame like other coal and is difficult to kindle. Something like three-fourths of Ireland are practically shut out from the use of coal, and are entirely dependent for their fuel on the turf bogs 626 which nature has rather liberally provided in that country. Turf is practically a necessity of life to the Irish peasant, he must have it, and to deprive him of it would be almost the same as if you were to deprive him of water or the moans of breathing the fresh air. He cannot live without it. The Acts of '81 and '87 contain no provisions with regard to this important matter, and the result is that landlords who are hit hard in the Land Courts try to recoup themselves by depriving the tenants of their turbary rights, and in this way bringing to bear a tremendous influence, with a view of preventing their resort to the Land Court. In this way tenants are debarred from the bog rights which their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers have fully enjoyed before them, and, in order to preserve their right to cut the turf, they are compelled to pay extortionate rents for it. As far as continued usage and undisputed custom go these turf rights were the legal rights of the tenants, but now they are completely taken away, and what is proposed by this Bill is to set up the same kind of system that exists in England, where, on an English manor, turf rights exist. The Bill proposes that wherever a tenant applies for rights of turbary the Court shall have power to grant the application. We have all heard of the recurring periods of distress which have afflicted Ireland, and we know that among the large seaside population to be found on the Western Coast the people are in the habit of gathering seaweed on the shore or as it floats on the surface of the ocean, and of depending upon that supply as one of their regular means of support. At one time there was a considerable industry, the manufacture of iodine from seaweed, but this has long since decayed. But the great use of seaweed is as a fertiliser. Within a few miles of the sea coast on the Southern and Western shores of Ireland the fertility of the adjacent soil is entirely owing to the distribution of gathered seaweed, collected by the poorest of the population and sold by them to the farmers, who also collect it for themselves. Three miles from the shore in Donegal and Sligo and other counties I have seen the weed so used. In this country I believe the right to gather seaweed is common to anyone and everyone. The foreshore 627 between high and low water marks belongs to the Crown, and, except in a very few isolated instances, there has been no grant of foreshore rights to individuals in England. In Ireland I do not believe there have been any such grants. The foreshore is public property, anyone can go upon it, enter the water from it, and collect anything there except wreckage. But many landlords in Ireland whose property is near the coast have developed an idea of proprietorship in the foreshore, and demand a shilling a load from the poor creatures who go naked into the surf on the Donegal Coast to collect seaweed, a monstrous exaction, for which there is not a shred of justification at law. The 13th Section of this Bill merely declares the common law of the land, that anybody has a right to go on the foreshore and collect seaweed there, and that facilities for this purpose shall be accorded to all residents within a mile of the shore. Section 14 raises a new question entirely. We know that in England the mining industry, the companies, and corporations who work coal, iron, tin, and copper mines have long been crying out against the unscientific and onerous condition of the law relating to mining royalties. We know that in England and in England alone are royalties for mines in the hands of private individuals, that is to say, payments made to the owner of the surface for access to minerals under the earth by means of shafts and tunnels. These onerous leases, royalties, dead rents, and way-leaves greatly check the mining industry in England, and we have taken advantage of this opportunity to introduce a provision which will prevent the like happening in Ireland. Unfortunately, our mineral wealth in Ireland is not great, but if we should ever be capable of developing it we should find ourselves checked at the outset by these exactions of royalties, way-leaves, and dead rents. What we propose is that where the land is sold to the occupier under the Ashbourne Act of 1887, that there these mining rights shall be made public property, just as they are in Prance, in Belgium, in Spain, I believe in Russia, and certainly in almost every country in Europe, England being a notable exception. England is, I think, the only country where private rights in mines or royalties are granted to the 628 owners of the surface. In Belgium the royalty charged goes to the State, at the rate of a half per cent, on the profits, and if there are no profits there are no royalties, so that the mining industry is free from those onerous leases, and the incubus of dead rents and royalties, such as in Lancashire, for instance, often amount to 2s. 6d. in the £1 on the output, which is enough to crush any mining undertaking except those of the richest kind. From such obstructions mining in Belgium is quite free, and I do not see why we should not take steps to give equal freedom to the industry, should we ever be capable of developing it in Ireland. It may be said, if a tenant purchases his land, why should we take away his chance of acquiring future wealth from the mineral discoveries under the land? To this I say that the purchase is made under the Ashbourne Act by agricultural tenants for purposes of cultivation, and not as a speculation. At a very low rate of interest we advance the purchase money, and possible revenue from mining rights never enters into the calculation. For the present generation there is no expectation of any such revenue, and nobody is injured by a provision which hereafter may become a useful source of income in the hands of the Government, while it will free the mining industry should it ever arise from future trammels. The next question is one of great importance. I have already said that when the Act of 1881 was passed there seems to have been an idea that the whole of the agricultural tenancies of Ireland would have had fair rents fixed in a few months. It was the opinion of some that a couple of years would be required. Nobody anticipated a longer period, and the general opinion was that a few months would suffice for fixing fair rents on the 500,000 agricultural tenancies in Ireland. The realisation of that expectation has been very much postponed. The Act has been in operation for nearly nine years, and we have at this moment cases in Court waiting for hearing to the number of 46,000, and some of these have been before the Court for three years. We, who represent tenant constituencies, are constantly receiving letters from tenants in all parts of Ireland. I receive in my own case, I may say, hundreds of letters, saying—Two years ago we filed originating notices, I our cases have been on the list all this time, but 629 we hear nothing about Commissioners being sent down.It will be quite understood how, under this state of things, there will be big arrears. I need not trouble the House with figures; enough that I refer to the fact that with 46,000 cases awaiting decision, the Commissioners say, "We cannot deal with your cases yet, it is impossible." This great arrear of business would not have arisen had the Land Act contained a provision for arbitration such as we now propose. With this block arises all the evil I have referred to from arrears and evictions, and a considerable amount of this could be removed by the provision here introduced in Section 15. Arbitration, as every lawyer knows, is an expensive method of deciding disputes, and, therefore, I think it is well that the power of arbitration should not be availed of unless at least five tenants of the same landlord concur in seeking this mode of settlement. I know, myself, of instances where some hundred tenants would concur in an application for arbitration if the law allowed them to do so. I want to provide them with means of settlement, and the clause follows the usual arbitration clauses in several Acts of Parliament. If this wore adopted there would be a, way out of the impasse into which matters have drifted. Then I come to a very important matter indeed. There are arrears of 46,000 cases in Court waiting to be heard. Taking the average rate of progress from experience of the operations of the past it will be two or three years before these arrears are disposed of, and originating notices now being served will have to wait that time for decision. We have 7,000 appeals, and at the rate the Court is going on it will take seven years to dispose of these appeals. At the present rate of progress by the Commission, Sub-Commissions, and County Courts, it will be 10 years before all the agricultural rents in Ireland are fixed. In round figures there are 500,000 agricultural tenancies in Ireland, only 340,000 have been decided in one way or other, in or out of Court; 160,000 remain, and besides these 46,000 are now in Court. Now, is this state of things to continue, with all the consequences that flow out of it? Is the war between landlords and tenants to go on for another 10 years? Let the House realise 630 this state of things, and I ask them to do something towards having rents fixed within a reasonable time and introducing a settled state of things, which cannot be while this simmering and seething continues, as the result of the delay in settling cases. Under the Act of 1881 the Land Commissioners have power to appoint any number of Sub-Commissioners and decide cases, but they have exercised that power very sparingly. The number of Sub-Commissioners is only 72, and they have been eight and a half years deciding about 170,000 cases. About 160,000 remain, and eight and a half years or more will pass before these are decided, and then the judicial term of 15 years provided by the Act of 1881 will have expired, and the Commissioners may have to recommence their work. Why not create a sufficient number of Sub-commissioners? They are not difficult to find; I believe I have heard of grocers, ironmongers, and others, who know about as much about land as a cockney sportsman, being appointed to fix fair rents; but, after all, this is better than doing nothing at all. But it would not cost more money if 150 Sub-Commissioners disposed of the work in three years, instead of 70 spending 10 years over it. Therefore, it is that in Section 16 we have a provision that wherever there are cases listed for hearing, to the number of a hundred, then a Sub-Commission shall be appointed to hear these cases. This would make short work of the cases. If there should not be Sub-Commissioners enough then the Land Commission would appoint more, and the aggregate cost would not be more, whether more Commissioners did the work in a shorter time or whether, with fewer officials, the work extended over a longer period. Obviously, it would be an advantage to accelerate the decisions. And now I come to the matter of appeals. Nothing can be more unscientific than the provisions in the Acts of 1881 and 1887 in regard to appeals. One can hardly imagine those provisions were drawn by lawyers, such ignorance of the requirements of the case do they display. We have actually Head Commissioners trying applications for the fixing of fair rents in the first instance, and doing this with actually 7,000 appeal cases staring them in the face. It is a ridiculous pro 631 vision; it is taking a razor to cut blocks; it is putting a thoroughbred horse to draw a plough. It is a degradation of the functions of the Head Commissioners. It is equally absurd that they should, when the appeals come before them, proceed to try the cases all over again, a work for which they are unfitted. A case in the first instance is tried by a Sub-Commission or a County Court Judge, with the assistance of valuers and witnesses in the county and on the spot. They go on the land and form their judgment, seeing the position of the land, its character, soil, and surroundings. But the Commissioners in Dublin, when they have to hear an appeal, or rather when they have to rehear a case, for it is not really an appeal, do they go on the land? Nothing of the sort. They cannot do it, and therefore they have to re-hear the case, try it again, upset, alter, or confirm the decision of the Sub-Commissioners or the County Court in the first instance, without having the first elements necessary to put them in possession of the facts and enable them to give an equitable decision. I would keep them to their proper functions as a Court of Appeal in matters of law and procedure. When it comes to a matter of fact, a question of the character of the soil, the situation of a farm for instance, we all know that the difference of position between the north and the south side of a hill may make a difference of 50 per cent, in the value. I would take out of their reach decisions upon such matters of fact as these, which are matters to be decided by experts in agriculture, not experts in law. I would confine the Commissioners to the functions of a Court of Appeal, such as Judges of the High Court exercise. They do not bring the jury before them and go into the whole case tried by the Judge at Assize, but if they find there may have been a failure of justice in law or procedure, they direct a new trial. Why not do the same in these land cases? Why not relieve the Commissioners from these bogus appeals, brought for no other purpose than delay? Three-fourths of them are brought simply to put off the evil day when the rents will be reduced 30 or 40 per cent. Sand the cases back, as cases may be sent back by the Court of Queen's Bench; it will be a speedier and cheaper method of procedure. You may interchange the cases by sending a case 632 from a Sub-Commission for re-trial before the County Court or vice versâ. You would soon dispose of the 7,000 appeals, and, more than that, you would discourage the bringing of vexatious appeals, as most of them now are. Upon the provision for the repeal of the 7th section of the Act of 1887, it is necessary to say a few words. Whatever may have been the object this 7th Section was intended to serve, we know the object for which it is used. I have already pointed out that in the warfare that goes on between landlord and tenant, the tenant goes into Court whenever he can under the Act of 1881, and the landlord tries to keep him out of Court by means of the arrears, or tries to break the tenant's title before he can get a decision at all. The result is that tenants find themselves evicted by notices served under this 7th section, and from a Return I see that 7,525 eviction notices were served last year from the County Court and other Courts. This means that these 7,000 tenants are deprived of the benefits of the Acts of 1881 or 1887, or both. The tenant is put back into the position he would have been in had the Acts of 1881 and 1887 never been passed; he is turned into a future tenant or he becomes not a tenant at all but a caretaker. Now, we want to stop these transactions, these ready evictions. If we want to put an end to the present state of things, and to have the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland settled by equitable adjustment, we must repeal this 7th section of the Act of 1887. I submit this Bill for what it is, an honest, though I fear a poor and weak attempt to effect a solution of some of the difficulties that beset the Government of Ireland and the people of Ireland. I offer the Bill as a solution of the questions I have touched upon, but whether or not it will be accepted in the spirit I offer it, I do not know. One thing is certain, we have had, within the last 30 years, introduced from this side of the House, about as many Land Bills, and "the cry is still they come," that have on their introduction been scouted and voted out. though our remedies have afterwards been adopted. Meet us in a friendly spirit. We have more knowledge than you have on the other side of what will settle difficulties in Ireland. If you adopt this small instalment, with such 633 modifications in Committee as I know a measure of this kind must undergo before it can pass the House of Commons, it will bring about an improvement in a state of things now become intolerable. If hon. Gentlemen opposite reject it, with them will lie the responsibility.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *(2.22.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)
I rise, for the first time in this House, with considerable diffidence to second the proposition, but I need not detain the House long as the hon. Member who preceded me has entered so exhaustively into the propositions of the Bill. The measure will afford the Government an opportunity of carrying out its promise with regard to Irish legislation. This Bill is demanded by the majority of the Irish people, and into it no controversial element enters of such a nature as to preclude, oven according to the theories of those who oppose Home Rule, the Irish Members alone judging of the matter. There is nothing in the Bill affecting the integrity of the Empire, or raising any question as between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. The representatives by whom the Bill is brought forward, whilst they do not arrogate to themselves the title of being the sole friends of the tenant farmers, are at least those representatives who have always given the initiative to land legislation in Ireland, and whose views are finally accepted, and proved to be for the good of the country. I observe that the Healy Clause in the Land Act of 1881, which was devised for the purpose of protecting the tenants' improvements, has been diverted from its beneficent intention, and a clause in the present Bill is framed for the purpose of putting an end to all doubt on the question, and making it clear that the tenant has a right to his improvements. The Bill also provides that the presumption shall be that the tenants made the improvements. The 3rd clause dealing with the postponement of the creation of future tenancies is a very desirable one. I cannot understand why some leaseholders should have been excluded from the benefits of previous land legislation, and the 7th clause provides that they shall no longer be excluded from such benefits. The question of turbary is a 634 most important one. I have heard of cases where the rights of turbary have been taken into consideration in the fixing of the rent, and when the bog was cut away the rent was continued at the same figure although no further benefit was derived from the turbary. The clause which deals with this subject will sot this matter at rest, protect the rights of the tenants, and be fair to all parties. Then, as to the 14th clause it deals with the question of mining rights and royalties, and sets the matter, I consider, on an equitable basis. Whilst on this topic, I wish to express my sympathy, and I am sure that of the Irish people, with the sufferers by the recent deplorable mining accidents in South Wales, and I may add that I am sure any legislation which is brought in with the view of preventing such catastrophes will receive the hearty support of the Irish Representatives. I hold that the various other clauses of the Bill are deserving of support. I cannot bring myself to believe that the Bill will not be passed; but, if it is not, we, at any rate, have the satisfaction of knowing that sooner or later its principles will be accepted.
§ (2.30.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
The light that has been thrown upon the Bill by the hon. Member who has just sat down is quite as vivid as might have been anticipated from his antecedent opportunities of judging of the Land Question. But one thing he has said will be endorsed by Members on both sides, and that is his expressions of sympathy with the sufferers by the late accident in Wales. When I came to the House with the intention of moving the rejection of the Bill, I expected to find the soil prepared in the usual manner for the reception of the seed. I expected to see it ploughed by depreciation of the Land Act, harrowed by scenes from Irish evictions, mostly the creation of the brains of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and crushed and pulverised into a proper seed-bed by denunciation of villainous landlords. And if the result is but a poor crop, hon. Gentlemen opposite will have only themselves to blame. To my great surprise these usual operations were very mildly indulged in. The hon. Member for South Roscommon (Dr. Commins), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, has undoubtedly great opportunities of judging of the Irish Land Question, because he has 635 studied it for 30 years at least from the opposite side of the Channel, and we all know that distance lends enchantment to the view, and upon the Land Question my experience is that Members who propose to deal with it express their confidence in an inverse ratio to their knowledge of the subject. I wish to say just one or two words, before I come to deal with the question of the Bill itself, on the remarks of the hon. Member who introduced it. In the first place, there was a rather curious distinction drawn as to the meaning of the words rack-renting. I could very well understand such a definition coining from very many Members on the opposite Benches; but coming from a lawyer of 30 years' standing the words used are, as I say, rather curious, because the hon. Member's definition of a rack-renting landlord is that he is a landlord who allows his tenants to get 10 years into arrear. That strikes me as a definition which is new, and which probably will be new to many of our English friends. Now, as to the question of improvements, I do not think I shall deal with that under the head of the hon. Member's speech, because I intend to go through the clauses later on. But I think ho has rather misrepresented the decision in "Adams v. Dunseath," because that decision was by no means destructive of the tenant's right to claim exemption for his own improvements from the fixing of a future rent. As to the future tenancies, he urged that the term at which future tenancies should commence ought to be postponed, because the success of the Land Act of 1881, in inducing tenants to take advantage of it and to get their rents thereby fixed for 15 years, was not what was expected by its promoters, and that it had not fulfilled their expectations. But that was not so. It was the Land League and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are its organisers, who were the cause of that failure, for when the League did not hold sway the tenants eagerly availed themselves of those opportunities that were given by the Legislature, but when the League did hold sway they drew back because they were told that they should stand by their own organisation, and all that sort of thing. I think it is rather hard to attribute a fault to legislation when that fault was produced by hon. Gentlemen themselves. We are told that the term of 15 years is too long, and that seven years is to be 636 the term. You have got the term of seven years in England in your tithe rent averages. But no one appears to be satisfied with that. It seems to me that you must either have a fixed term, which will be long enough to cover the average of good and bad seasons, and which will give a fair chance to those interested in both sides of the question, or you must have an annual valuation or rent fixed from the prices of produce. We have heard a great deal about the question of arrears, and I am not altogether clear that some legislation on the subject of arrears would not be desirable. I would not be opposed to seeing other men obliged to do what I am willing to do myself. Accordingly, I think there might be a well-constructed Bill introduced dealing with the question of arrears; but the subject is one which is beset by enormous difficulties, because you have not only to consider the tenant in arrears but the position of the landlord—you have to consider the case of the man's next door neighbour who has honestly and fairly paid his rent. When the landlord finds he has a tenant whose arrears he knows have arisen from drunkenness, or a disinclination to work, or from other causes, he is certainly driven to the conclusion that it is a very hard case that the tenant who has always kept on the right side of the books should be placed in a worse position then his idle and dissolute neighbour. That is the chief difficulty that has confronted many Irish landlords, who have felt themselves debarred from forgiving arrears all round, because they do not see their way to treating the idle and dissolute tenant in the same way as the deserving one. As to the hanging gale, I did not know that that was considered arrears at all. It always was there, no doubt, but no landlord expected to get it in. It has been assumed that arrears prevented tenants from going into the Land Courts, but that was dealt with by the Act of 1882. 129,000 holdings were dealt with under that Act, and a large amount of public money was stolen from the ecclesiastical objects to which it was originally dedicated, and not applied to other ecclesiastical objects—for if it had been so I could have well understood the sympathy hon. Gentlemen opposite would have taken in the movement. There was converted to purely secular purposes £706,019 3s. 11d. That sum was 637 abstracted from its original purpose and applied to the mitigation of the debts of the tenants. And what was the remark made in the Report of Mr. Richard Burke, the Commissioner appointed to deal with that question? He said that a very large number of extremely poor tenants had been relieved from an accumulation of rent which would otherwise probably have led to the loss of their holdings. It cannot, therefore, be said that the question of arrears has not been dealt with, and I think it cannot be fairly or rightly said that the existence of arrears has to any large extent prevented the tenants from taking advantage of the Land Act of 1881. We know that in some cases tenants have been sold out for debts owing to local bankers, and the tenancies renewed by those ingenious gentlemen by a process which is not available to the Irish landlord, and in a way that puts the tenant out of the protection of the Land Act. When I see an honest desire shown to deal with such a violation of existing legislation as that I shall believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite are just and honest, in their wish to improve the position of Irish tenants. But until then I shall continue to hold my present opinions. It is proposed to relieve the congestion in the Land Courts by opening those Courts to everyone who his not got his rent settled; but how that is to remove the block is a mystery to me. I think the point made that landlords indulge in appeals in order to put off the evil day on which the reduced rent commences falls to the ground, because the hon. Member for Roscommon knows, as a lawyer, that the reduced rent commences from the date of the service of the application. I want now to give a few reasons why, in my judgment, the Bill should not be read a second time. Those bad times, which we are happily beginning to see coming to a close, have not affected the Irish farmers in one-tenth degree as they have affected the English farmer. The produce of England, as a whole, is largely cereal, while the produce of Ireland is largely cattle. It is perfectly manifest that the Almighty intended Ireland for a cattle-raising country, and up to the Napoleonic wars it was a cattle-raising country. But the Irish landlord has never interfered with his tenant putting what crops he liked into his land; and 638 statistics show the proportion the questions of cereal and cattle-raising bear to each other in this discussion. In England the average of the corn crops to the total cultivation is 25.2; in Scotland 27.1; while in Ireland it is 10.1 of all cereal crops. The falling off in the growth of wheat has been the greatest; next comes barley, while the decline in the growth of oats is comparatively unimportant. In England the percentage of wheat is 9.4; barley 7.1; oats 6.5; but in Ireland the percentage of wheat is 0.6; barley 0.2; and oats, 8.8; so that the growth of wheat in Ireland is a little over ½ per cent, of the total cereals. As to cattle the change is the other way. In Ireland the value of two-year-old cattle in 1850 is put down as £9, whereas the value of the same cattle in 1875 was £12, and in 1885 instead of finding a fall, such as we had in cereals, of cent, per cent, we find the value of the same cattle had actually risen to £13. The value of cattle at the present day is equal to what it has ever been at any time. I do not think there was ever an occasion when cattle paid better from the Irish point of view. We are rearing the young cattle, and we are making John Bull pay through the nose for it. He has got to turn it into beef, and he does not find that quite so profitable a transaction. What does the English farmer say about it? He grumbles and complains, but he is going on with the greatest possible patience. Ho does not come whining and howling to this House for legislative assistance. He puts his own shoulder to the wheel, and, to a very large extent, in this year of grace 1890, he has got his waggon out of the mud. I do not like to go into personal questions, but I will give you shortly the result of my own experience. I am farming at present 468 statute acres, and last year's clear profit, after payment of all expenses and of interest on the capital employed, was £1,258 9s. 11d. The details are entirely at the service of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ COLONEL WARING
I am just coming to that. I ask the hon. Member, who has experience in that, what he thinks is a fair rent for good pasture land in Ulster?
§ COLONEL WARING
That is a misfortune. I do not find any land in my 639 neighbourhood is valued at more than £1 or 21s. a statute acre.
§ MR. MAHONY
I thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman said pasture land, and I remarked I had never seen any good pasture land in Ulster.
§ COLONEL WARING
I am glad of the interruption, because it very much strengthens my argument. 1s 21s. an acre a fair rent to charge on average Ulster land? [An hon. MEMBER: Too much.] Then I am charging myself with that. Twenty-one shillings an acre comes to £481 8s., so that the profit amounts to£777 Is. lid. That is not a bad return for a capital of £2,000 or £3,000. I should like to know the business in which the same money can be made, and I will go into it to-morrow. Now, we have had a great deal of talk about ancient history, but an ancestor of mine in the year 1669 valued a sheep at 5s., and that same ancestor let 41 acres of land to one John Dawson for 999 years at a rent of £10 5s.; consequently the value of an acre of land in that portion of the County Down was equal to that of a sheep. In the year 1890 he would be glad to say to his tenants, "Give me my sheep and you shall have your acre." A lease of land was taken for the Marquess of Donegall— or Earl of Donegall I think the title then was. Five or six shillings an acre would be about the price of Irish land, and if that was at one time represented by a sheep, 35s. an acre will now be represented by a good fat sheep. I do not want to weary the House by going into the question of tenant-right, which has been so frequently dealt with before. We are all aware—I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will deny—that the tenant right in many parts of Ireland frequently exceeds the value that remains to the landlord. I will give one or two instances in which I am able to vouch for the accuracy of the figures. The tenant-right in one of my own farms, the rent of which was £6 10s. a year, was sold for £315, or 48½ years' purchase. Does that look as if Irish farming has become unprofitable? The average value of tenant-right estates about me has been £12 per statute acre, having been settled by arbitration over and over again. Only the other day there was a sale in the immediate neighbourhood, and the price realised, instead of being £12 10s., was £33 an acre. Yet recently rents 640 have been reduced on my own property —not by the Land Commission, because when I am about to surfer a painful operation I like the operation to be performed by a friendly hand, and when there is rent to be taken off I take it off myself. I have reduced it on one of my own farms from £20 5s. to £15. In an adjoining county a certain farm was let at £120 a year; the Commissioners reduced the rent to £75; the tenant, though only paying a rent of £75, found the temptation to realise too great, and making up his mind to settle in another country, he sold. The landlord succeeded in getting somebody to purchase for him, and he bought the land rented at £75 for £1,000. He did not hold it very long-, and as a matter of fact it is now let to a solvent tenant for £170, returning him 5 per cent, on his £1,000, and his old unreduced rent. I leave the House to judge whether in this case the tenant who sold had not been treated fairly, and whether the landlord had rack-rented him. There is another case coming from the same neighbourhood. A landowner let a farm to his land steward at £93 a year. The land steward failed, and the owner had to take the property into his own hands. He cultivated it until his death, when it went into Chancery. The Court ordered tenders to be advertised for, which was done. In the meantime the Land Commissioners had been at work in. the neighbourhood, and had made reductions which, on a proportionate scale, would have reduced the rent on this land—which had previously been £93—to £65. Well, in answer to the advertisements, tenders were received ranging from the original £93 to £107. The Court did not accept the highest offer, but took one which was moderate, namely, £95. The land is now held by a "future tenant" who cannot go into the Land Court—at least at present—and who cannot have his rent reduced unless the landlord in the first instance sees fit to raise it. There is another thing which proves the value of land, and that is sub-letting—a system which is largely practised, as all landlords know, and as hon. Gentlemen opposite know, if they thought it prudent to confess it. I have a farm of 22 acres, the rent of which is £23 a year. [An hon. MEMBER: Too much.] "Too much" says an hon. Member. Let him listen to this: My 641 tenant is an excellent one, and I have no complaint to offer as to his doing the best he can with the land. He has sublet five acres of the 22 to a neighbour—for what? Why for £14 a year, or nearly three times the rent he is paying me. You may say "But there are buildings and improvements on the land." Nothing of the kind. There is not a stick nor a stone on it. My tenant has sub-let a large portion of the worst part of his farm, and the sub-tenant had to drain it before ho could make use of it. [An hon. MEMBER: Give us the name of the tenant.] Certainly; his name is Mackenzie, and Kelly is the sub-tenant. Much has been heard of the fall in prices, but not of the rise in prices. Between 1850 and 1875 the rise was 85 per cent.; between 1875 and 1887 the fall was 41 per cent. Any one who tells me that the rents are rack rents, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian did the other day, simply because the Sub-Commissioners have thought it right to reduce rents in view of the fall in prices between the middle and the latter period I have mentioned is, I think, very much misrepresenting and distorting the real bearing of the question. Now, Sir, as I have already taken up a large amount of time, I will hurry through the clauses of the Bill. The 1st clause deals with improvements, and asks us to hand over to the tenant the whole benefit of the increased letting value of his holding. This claim seems plausible, and may commend itself to farmers in England who have not looked the question in the face, but it must be borne in mind that a tenant, by a very small expenditure—by patting up a few yards of rail at a cost of £5—might increase the value of G or 8 acres of land to such an extent as to increase the letting value £5 a year. It is madness to say, because a tenant, by the merest accident, gets hold of a piece of land capable of such improvement, that he is entitled to the whole of the increased letting value. He is entitled to the £5 he has expended, and no honest landlord would refuse it to him. I do not think that even what hon. Gentlemen call the "felonious laud-lord" would refuse to allow his tenant this £5 compensation, but I think it would be quite fair for him to rebel against paying £200 for 642 this £5 improvement, which would be the capitalised value of the improvement. How about the other side of the question? Suppose the tenant allows the land to deteriorate, is he to compensate the landlord for the deterioration? You may say "Yes," but where is the landlord to get his compensation from? When a tenant goes out of a farm which has deteriorated it is a matter of "get your compensation if you can!" With regard to express contracts, you have drawn a very arbitrary line between ancient and modern history. The presumption in respect of improvements executed within a period of 50 years prior to the passing of the Act is placed so far back as to make it unlikely that any record of succession will be forthcoming. On a matter of this kind I am not satisfied to rely upon the recollection of the Irish tenant, and even landlords cannot be trusted to recollect certain circumstances affecting their property over a period of 50 years. They were not in the habit 50 years ago of keeping the records they do now. Then as to the postponement of the creation of future tenancies, I would submit that this provision in the Bill really amounts to what may be described as increasing a sentence on appeal. That is a thing said to be unknown to English Law. It is as though a sentence of 15years' penalservitude were appealed against and a life sentence pronounced in lieu of it. I would ask any hon. Member opposite of actuarial knowledge whether this clause would be a fair alteration of the Land Act. The 4th clause deals with the shortening of the period for which judicial leases are to run. I can understand that clause. It is one in the interest neither of the landlord nor tenant, but one very largely in the interest of hon. Members opposite. It is a clause very largely indeed in the interest of local solicitors, and very largely in the interest of the local banker, who advances money for costs. It is very largely in the interest of those unfortunate gentlemen who are misfits, and who, having been unable hitherto to find profitable employment, hope to be made Sub-Commissioners in the future. It will plunge the whole country into fresh litigation and fresh turmoil, and it will cause the money of the tax-payers, not of Ireland alone, but of England also, to be expended on an overgrown staff of officials, whose object will be to keep the 643 shop open and customers going to it, by supplying attractive goods, or, in other words, giving large reductions. The 5th clause is a new one, and deals in a sort of tentative way with arrears. I am not adverse to the passage of fair legislation in regard to arrears, with the object of obliging bad landlords to do that which good landlords would willingly do themselves, but I cannot at present see my way out of the difficulties which surround the question, and I cannot think that even if this clause were drafted with the greatest possible skill and care, it would be a sufficient reason for reading the Bill a second time. The 6th clause deals with the question of eviction, or removal of tenants. I do not know exactly what is meant by this clause, and I think that the occurrence of those eviction scenes we hear so much of ought to make us extremely cautious how we think of repealing Section 7 of the Act. With regard to the question of long leases, they are practically purchases, which are practically speculations. If a man buys stocks or shares, and there is a fall in their value he has to suffer for it, and I do not see why a man who speculates in land should be placed in a more favourable position. If compulsion has been used to induce the tenant to take the lease, your remedy already exists, because you can have the lease broken to-morrow. So far as I am able to gather, the Land Courts at present have ample power to deal with turbary. If they have not such power, I have no objection whatever to its being conferred on them. As to the Seaweed Clause, it appears to mo that you will raise a very serious question indeed if you make the seaweed free within a mile of the shore. The Gulf Stream would not wash away the blood that would be shed with bludgeons and pitchforks and all kinds of weapons over this flotsam and jetsam of the sea. I do not know what the views of my constituents are on the subject. It may be that they would prefer to fight for it. If they choose to have the question settled at the point of the pitchfork rather than by the landlord's decision, I am quite ready to vote for the clause. With regard to the proposal to establish a Court of Arbitration, it is one which is, no doubt, likely to catch the votes of the agricultural Members. Arbitration, on the face of it, is a very fair thing. But what are the 644 Irish Land Courts at the present moment? They are Courts of Arbitration, and the proposal, therefore, is to go over the same process again. One party says I demand so much, the other says I am only willing to give so much, and arbitration means splitting the difference. You may go on splitting the difference too often. I object to arbitration, because I say that, however fair it seems, it is really specious humbug. As to the question of appeal, I do not mean to appeal against the decisions of the Land Courts, and I do not know whether many of my friends do either. I think we have had enough of it. Under Section 19 it appears that if it can be proved that the tenant or his predecessor in title has laid down grazing land at his own expense he is not to get his rent fixed. But who is to prove that he did not first break up the land and then proceed to lay it down? The landlord may not remember anything about it, and the tenant will be able to get sufficient witnesses to carry him back to the deluge if he desires. I hold, Sir, that this Bill is an attempt to effect by Constitutional means that which has been attempted by un-Constitutional means by persons acting in the same interest as hon. Members opposite. The object is to banish from Ireland what hon. Members opposite are pleased to call "the English garrison." As a matter of fact, this Bill, if put in force, would do it in about 14 years. Well, Sir, I think the landlords of Ireland will continue to exist for more than another 14 years. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time on this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Colonel Waring.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ (3.39.) MR MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I beg to second the Amendment, and in doing so I wish to compliment the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite on the way in which he introduced this Bill to the attention of the House. We have not been accustomed in previous years to the moderate language in which he enforced his arguments to the House. As far, however, as I could gather from his remarks, he did not himself 645 profess to be an expert in Irish agriculture. He viewed the Bill from a lawyer's point of view, and the principal remark he made about it was that it was an extremely badly drafted Bill. I wish to say one or two words on some of the clauses of the Bill. I quite admit that turbary is a matter of great importance to Irish tenants who have no other means of finding fuel for their support. But I altogether dissent from the opinion expressed by an hon. Member opposite, that under the present system the Courts have no adequate means of dealing with turbary. I do not say there are not instances in which the Commission Courts have experienced difficulty in dealing with cases of turbary; but I believe that the principles which are now generally acted on by the Sub-Commission Courts generally meet all the cases of turbary which come before them. The principle on which the Courts act is this. The landlord either denies the tenant's right to turbary, and proves he is entitled to do so, in which case the question of turbary is not considered in fixing the judicial rent, or the landlord denies the right, but consents to its being enjoyed by the tenant during the judicial tenancy, or the tenant proves his right to have the question considered by the Sub-Commissioners. I cannot sac that, generally speaking, there is any great want of justice or equity in the proceedings before the Court on the question of turbary. I have looked at the clauses of the Bill, and I do not think they are drafted in such a way as to make clear the action of the Court. The principles of the Court are now well ascertained, and the result of this Bill will be to involve the question in still greater confusion than exists at the present moment. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill dwelt at the close of his speech on the question of evictions, and referred to the number of tenants in Ireland who during the last year have had their tenancies determined under the Act of 1887. But it must not be forgotten that the actual evictions in Ireland bear no proportion to the actual number of tenancies determined. Last year the actual numbers of evictions did not amount to more than one for every 450 tenancies in Ireland. When we see the attempts made during the last year to take a 646 course of action which must result in the serving of notices on them, we cannot but think that the number of actual evictions which took place is not a number which ought to alarm this House or the country. As to the Bill as a whole, its introduction does not seem to me to be justified unless hon. Members can prove that the Land Courts do not provide fair rents in Ireland. The number of judicial rents fixed up to the end of last year was 223,607, and there wore 9,000 cases settled out of Court. We find that whereas during the eight years the reductions effected by the Land Courts averaged 20.3 per cent, the reductions agreed upon between the landlords and tenants were only 17.4. Whenever cases are settled out of Court we find that the reductions agreed upon are less than those granted by the Court. The statistics, therefore, prove that the reductions made by the Courts have been substantially and sufficiently fair. That being so, I cannot conceive why year after year the time of the House of Commons should be taken up in the discussion of practically the same Bill as we have had before us for three years past. The clause relating to improvements absolutely sweeps away the provision made by the Act of 1881 construing the Act of 1870. What is the history of that provision? The Bess-borough Commission reported on this question, and they pointed out that, in their opinion, no allowance ought to be given, except for improvements, which were actually doing good to the farm, and being enjoyed by the tenants. I understand that it is the practice of the Land Commission Courts to take that view; and that, in practice, the very highest possible benefit is given to the tenants for improvements, which have not been exhausted. With regard to the statutory term, the Bessborough Commission recommended that it should be 31 years. The Act of 1881 cut down the period to 15 years. Hon. Members opposite will say that the Cowper Commission recommended that the term should be reduced; but on what authority did they do that? The Commissioners gave the names of eight gentlemen. I suppose they picked out the best evidence they could get to support their view, and I have gone through the evidence of the eight gentlemen upon whom the Commissioners 647 relied. I find that only one, and he was not an agricultural expert—he was an Alderman, and the only acquaintance he had with land was that lie had been some sort of a manager of Corporation property in Ireland—only one advocated a seven years' term. The evidence of the other gentlemen was opposed to a seven years' term, and, if anything, in support of an annual revision of rent upon a sliding scale. The Cowper Commission had really no evidence upon which they could base their proposal to upset the 15 years' term; and hon. Members opposite will find great difficulty in finding any export, either landlord, land agent, or tenant farmer, who is prepared to say that, in his judgment, a seven years' term is bettor than a 15 years'. I am perfectly certain of this: that if the House were to consent this year to the period being shortened to seven years, next year a Bill will be brought in to shorten the term to three years; indeed, I cannot conceive that any argument can be adduced in favour of seven years, which could not with equal propriety be adduced in favour of three years. I do not say that 15 years is the most perfect term; but I believe it is as good a term as we could possibly fix. Everybody who has any practical acquaintance with agriculture knows that we cannot fix a definite term of years which will meet all the casualties and all the ups and downs which must affect the agricultural interest. Therefore, I cannot believe hon. Members are serious in proposing to reduce the term from 15 to seven years. I could imagine that, from the point of view of the professional agitator, some one might say, "Oh, let us reduce the term, because it will give us a cry to go to the country with; let us reduce the term to seven years, and try next year to reduce it to three. At all events, we shall create a grievance amongst a certain section of farmers." The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill said that one of the great evils of Ireland is the hanging gale. I agree with the hon. Member, and if it could be abolished I would be delighted. But is any hon. Member opposite prepared to state that the tenants on any single estate are prepared to agree to the abolition of the hanging gale? Do they not know that it is the tenants who have always insisted on the 648 hanging gale as their customary right? To my knowledge any landlord who has proposed to get rid of it has always been looked upon as an unpopular landlord. The hon. and learned Member also made a rather indefinite complaint as to leaseholders in Ireland. He went back to the last century. It is perfectly well known that the leasehold tenants in Ireland are, numerically, far inferior to the yearly tenants, and I ask the hon. and learned Member whether he is able to point to a single case in which a tenant holding under a lease has been deprived of his holding as long as he paid the rent? With regard to the last portion of the Bill—that relating to royalties—I cannot understand why it has been introduced in a Bill to amend the Land Act. The law as to royalties may be bad, but it is the law which applies to England, Scotland, and Wales, as well as Ireland; and if hon. Members are anxious to take the sense of the House upon it as it now stands, they should not attempt to introduce it in a measure like this, which really has a totally different object in view. A great deal of public attention has been drawn to the question, but I doubt whether hon. Members are able to find any case of illegal action by landlords with regard to royalties. Besides, if any landlord on the sea coast invokes rights which he has no power to invoke, it is the simplest thing in the world for a tenant, or the organisation which makes itself the tenants' champion, to proceed against him at small cost by way of injunction. I am quite content to leave the Bill to the judgment of the House, especially after the critical examination it has received at the hands of my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Waring). I venture to assert that hon. Gentlemen opposite will find it impossible to justify the Bill, either on the ground of the inadequacy of the Land Courts to make adjustments of rent in Ireland or upon the particular state of the agricultural interest during the last year and a half, because it is well known to everybody in Ireland that there has not been a better year for agriculture for nearly 20 years than the last. Statistics show that to be the case; and that, though there is a slight diminution in the acreage of crops, yet the produce has increased. Though we may differ as to the action of the Judical Rent Courts and the position the Irish tenants 649 occupy in those Courts and outside, still, I venture to say that no hon. Member who has intimate acquaintance with tenants will deny that last year was a most profitable one. I second my hon. and gallant Friend in the proposal for the rejection of the Bill.
§ (4.0.) MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has referred to the Bill as one of the hardy annual series; but, for my part, I should have thought that, when it becomes a practice to bring in Bills upon Irish Questions year by year with the consent of the whole Irish Party, and these Bills are continually rejected, that proceeding in itself affords a strong argument for remitting to an Irish Legislature the settlement of questions of this kind. The hon. Gentleman has referred to many matters with which the clauses of this Bill deal, and amongst other things he spoke against the Turbary Clause. This I thought somewhat extraordinary, in as much as he is himself connected with the Party which has introduced a Turbary Bill. I do not know whether he is the parent of the Bill; but, at all events, he has backed it, and now he comes forward and delivers a speech against clauses that carry out the object of his own Bill. There are parts of Ulster in which the hon. Member poses as the friend of the tenants, though I do not know that the tenants have any benefit from that, and in the character of tenants friend the hon. Member supports a Bill for the real or imaginary settlement of this question of turbary; but when we propose clauses in a, Bill for the same object, the hon. Member singles these out for special opposition.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I am not aware that my name is on the back of any Turbary Bill in this or last Session.
§ MR. CLANCY
I did not say in this or last Session. Does the hon. Member deny that he ever had anything to do with a Turbary Bill?
§ MR. MACARTNEY
If I had I do not recollect any clauses of this kind. I do not recollect putting my name on such a Bill.
§ MR. CLANCY
Then are we to understand that the Bill in relation to turbary introduced on the other side has not the hon. Gentleman's support; that he separates himself from the so-called friends of the tenants on the other side, 650 and on this matter poses as a landlord pure and simple?
§ MR. CLANCY
I think I am entitled to draw my own inference from the facts, and this seems to me the only logical inference. The hon. Gentleman has repeated the arguments used last year to the effect that the reductions granted out of Court were smaller than those granted in Court. Now, I should have thought these arguments had been blown to the winds long ago. Amongst others who have dissipated the fallacy there is the Archbishop of Dublin, whose very able article the hon. Gentleman must have seen, because he quoted from it last year here. It is useless to waste time in refuting the statement that in the settlements out of Court landlords and tenants concurred. These are the cases in which the tenant is weak and lacks the means to carry on the contest and is ready to submit to any settlement rather than be turned out of his holding. Even the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who professes to know the truth of these matters, will not deny this. It is also said by the hon. Gentleman that reductions in Court have been fair and reasonable; but may I call attention to the fact that there have been recently, all over Ireland, meetings held at which great dissatisfaction has been expressed at the decisions of Sub-Commissioners, and there have been such meetings among the Down farmers in the constituency the hon. Gentleman represents? If he reads the Belfast newspapers the hon. Gentleman cannot doubt this. The hon. Gentleman said he wanted some fresh arguments in favour of the Bill; those we had advanced, he said, were old. I will supply him with one fresh argument, at least, in relation to one clause—the long leaseholders' clause—and it will be of personal interest to him, inasmuch as it is illustrated by reference to an estate owned by his own father. I understand that the hon. Gentleman's father owns, as middleman, an estate near Belfast; and I invite the attention of the House to the treatment of the tenants on that property, which I think will be conceded by the House to be a good argument in favour of admitting every leaseholder in Ireland to the benefits of the Land Act of 1881. The 651 hon. Member's father in 1866 became possessed, as middleman, of this estate. He paid no fine, and expended no money on improvements, which, in fact, have all been made by the tenants. The relations between the landlord and tenants were excellent up to 1878; the landlord went down once a year to collect his rents, there was a very pleasant audit, and liquids and solids in plenty at Green's Hotel, Randalstown. Things went beautifully, and the tenants considered themselves fortunate. They were somewhat in the position of the lady in Dickens's novel—'Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Bardell, 'is a man of honour; Mr. Pickwick is a man of his word; Mr. Pickwick is no deceiver.'Still the widow was deceived, and her son had to lament the loss of his "alleytors" and "commonys," and those tenants had to forego all these good things and found their position suddenly changed in 1878.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but with the exception of the fact that my father owns this property, holding it on a fee-farm rent of a peppercorn from the Marquess of Donegal, everything else which the hon. Member states is incorrect. The whole case was brought before this House in 1874, and the case made against my father was proved to be incorrect and a most unjustifiable attack upon him. The tenants took out of their own free will fee-farm grants, which gave them full property in minerals, building land, and everything. They took them out at their own desire.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I am sorry to interrupt at an inconvenient moment, but I thought I should save time by doing so; and, besides, I have to leave shortly to catch a train.
§ MR. CLANCY
I respectfully submit that the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to interrupt me in the middle of my speech.
§ MR. CLANCY
But I respectfully submit the time for that is when I have made my statement, not before I have made it. I have not stated a single one of the facts, every one of which I consider has relation to these clauses dealing with leaseholders. I do not think the hon. Member's hurry to catch a 652 train justifies the interruption. The estate to which I was alluding is situated three miles from Belfast, and its position may be estimated from the fact of its being 1,272 feet above sea level; and I mention this to show that the tenants derive no advantage from the contiguity of the estate to Belfast, with which some means of communication are extremely limited. As a matter of fact, the holdings are so poor that the tenants have to make their living mainly out of employment obtained in Belfast. These tenants in 1878 were asked to secure themselves for ever from bad treatment at the hands of any future landlord, the hon. Member's father intimating, I believe— I am not sure of the fact, but so I am informed—that he was about to sell the property, and his successor was unknown.
§ MR. CLANCY
I accept the hon. Member's contradiction; but, of course, I may be permitted to make my own statement, and unless upon a point of order I claim that I am entitled to proceed free from further interruptions. My statement is that this gentleman, having told his tenants that he was about to sell, and that his successor might not be a man like himself, invited them to secure immunity from bad treatment for ever by taking out certain leases. The hon. Gentleman has said that it was of their own free will. [Mr. MACARTNEY: Hear, hear.] But this was before the Land Act of 1881, when it was in the power of any landlord to screw up the rents to any pitch he liked and put the tenants out without compensation. In these circumstances, to pretend that any tenants agreed to the leases of their own free will is humbug.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! When a statement is made affecting the conduct of a near relative of an hon. Member, an explanatory interruption is allowable.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
The hon. Member is again misleading the House. The tenants even at that time had ample compensation; they had the unlimited Ulster right on the estate. No tenant had been removed by the landlord within 653 the memory of man, nor has any tenant been so treated since.
§ MR. CLANCY
This explanation would have come more properly after I had finished, but I do not wish to stand between the House and the hon. Gentleman in the vindication of his father. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be allowed the opportunity of making out whatever case he can for his relative. I can only put the statement as it is furnished to me on what I believe to be of good authority, and I feel bound to go through with it. The tenants were induced to enter into these bargains. I may say they are all loyal tenants, all Protestants.
§ MR. CLANCY
Nearly all Protestants, and a, good many of them Orangemen. They are all too loyal to adopt the Plan of Campaign. All they do is to beat a big drum on the 12th of July; but, somehow, beating a big drum does not pull down rack-rents or enable tenants to keep out of bad leases. The tenants entered into these covenants; and, in the first place, the cost of conveyances was borne entirely by these comparatively poor, and in many cases absolutely poor, tenants. Even the heavy Stamp Duty on fee-farm grants was borne by the tenants. In the next place, I shall have to call attention to some of these covenants. The hon. Gentleman was rich upon covenants in the coarse of his remarks. I have here a copy of a covenant I should like to lay upon the Table. It is one of the covenants in question, and I will give the House some of its items. This is the covenant with William McBride, dated May, 1878, when, as I have said, tenants had no Land Act for their protection, and when even on estates protected by the Ulster custom evictions had taken place for non-payment of unjust rents, and when evictions might take place at any time, and rents might be raised at any time, notwithstanding the Ulster custom. The answer that the Ulster custom prevailed is nonsense. It was the complaint in Ulster that the custom did not afford protection, and the result of the action of the Land Commission has shown that the Land Act was required in Ulster as much as in any other part of Ireland. The custom gave no protection to the tenant until he was leaving. But let mo read some of these covenants.
§ MR. CLANCY
No matter what the document is, the covenants are the same in fee-farm grant, or lease, and most oppressive. I ask the House to listen to some of them. All trees and timber are reserved out of the grants, with the exception of those trees secured to the tenant by Act of Parliament. Those are the trees tenants may have registered, but we know very well how little trouble tenants in Ire hind have taken in the way of registering improvements; the thing is not done in any part of Ireland. Practically, all trees and timber are taken away. Next are reserved all minerals, quarries, turf, bog, and turbary, save so much as is sufficient for consumption on the premises. Then we find that over and above the unjust rent each tenant is to pay there is a condition that he shall pay an annual rent of 20s. for every acre of land—some with corn—beyond the amount secured by covenant. Now, such a restriction upon agriculture as that would be set aside by any Court in England. It is an iniquitous provision, and in all legislation I trust that careful watch may prevent anything of the kind in future. Then we find that over and above these two rents, the tenant covenants to pay 10s. sterling at or upon the death of the said John Ellison Macartney—that is, the the hon. Member's father—and of every other chief tenant seized or possessed of the rents of the said lands and hereditaments. I believe this covenant is copied from one by a southern landlord who delighted in giving his tenants this sort of lease; and he used to tell them it gave them an interest in the prolongation of their landlord's life, and they would be less likely to make a target of him when a successful shot would be to their disadvantage. Well, but Colonel Macartney was in no danger of being shot, and indeed he never visited the property, or very rarely. The only parallel which I can think of to this arrangement on the Macartney estate in Antrim is that afforded by the circumstances that attend 655 the death of a King in certain parts of Africa. There, on a King's death, there is a holocaust of his subjects, the idea being that a certain number of his friends should accompany his spirit to Hades. There is the usual covenant for distress, and there is further provision that if there i s not sufficient stock to cover the cost, the landlord may, when the rent is 21 days in arrear, enter upon the holding and put an end to the whole contract. In the case of McBride there are several special covenants, and one is in regard to the planting of trees. The tenant is required to plant and preserve oak, ash, and elm trees along ditches and walls, at distances of 20 feet, and to preserve these from cattle, and to plant others when the trees decay or are destroyed. There is a further provision requiring him to pay a shilling a year for every tree not so planted. And, after all, the trees are the property of Colonel Macartney. Sir, I think, with a record like this of an estate in his family, the hon. Member might have said less about the audacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon. Now, let me give some of the figures in reference to the rents on this estate. R. Tate holds 21 acres on the side of this bleak mountain, 1,272 feet above sea level, where any fertility is due to the tenant's industry. The old rent was £23, the valuation £22 10s., and the new rent fixed in 1878, when the tenants were induced to take fee-farm grants was £63 —nearly trebled. R. Clayton holds 20 acres; old rent £15, new rent £25. Daniel Partington holds 14 acres 3 roods. He was a yearly tenant until 1878, when he entered into a covenant, and his old rent was £16. It will be understood the rents on the estate were imposed on the tenants at the time they entered into these bargains, when leases were forced upon them. I have here a list of cases in which in 1878 the rents on this estate were increased. In the first the old rent was £16, the Poor Law valuation £18 10s., and the new rent £25; in the next case the old rent was £36, the Poor Law valuation £25, and the new rent £60; in the third case the rent was increased from £39 to £78; in the fourth the old rent was £36, the Poor Law valuation £38, and the new rent £52; in the next the old rent was £154, the Poor Law valuation £189, and the new rent £250; in the next the old 656 rent was £124, the Poor Law valuation £130, and the new rent £200, although one-third of this holding was liable to flooding during the winter; in another case the old rent was £36 13s., the Poor Law valuation £32, and the new rent £60; in another case the increase was from £52 to £80, and in the last case on his list from £40 to £78. Taking the case of 11 holdings they show a total increase from the old rent of £572 to a new rent of £971, the Poor Law valuation being £609. The rents in these cases were, therefore, nearly doubled. I think I have given the House a fresh argument in support of this Bill in connection with at least one class of tenants, namely, long-leaseholders. If ever the Bill passes with that clause in it, I will take the liberty of calling it the "Macartney Clause," because it is entirely due to the monstrous proceedings of Colonel Macartney on that estate. In pleading the cases of these tenants it cannot be said I am actuated by political motives; in fact, they are nearly all Orangemen, and on the 12th July they go about beating big drums in honour of the man who rewards them by denying them redress he owes them, and refusing to allow them to go into the Land Courts to get these rack-rents reduced. I may further point out that the most vehement and most frequent opposition to all measures of reform proposed for the benefit of the tenants of Ireland comes from hon. Members opposite who represent Down and Antrim; and I hope the farmers of those counties will bear those facts in mind at the next election, and take care that they are not again represented by workers in the landlord interest.
§ (4.35.) MR. MACARTNEY
I should like to make a personal explanation. This is not the first time the facts and figures just read by the hon. Member have been stated to the House. In the Parliament of 1874, when my father was a Member of this House, the same figures were quoted, and my father then made a statement which I believe was considered satisfactory, at least by the great majority of the House. I apologise to the House for having now to repeat the facts. In 1878 a number of old leases on my father property had run out. My father held under a fee-farm grant from the Marquess of Donegall, and he told his 657 tenants whose leases had run out, and those who wished to give up their leases, that they might if they pleased take fee-farm grants. The tenants knew that my father could not give them fee-farm grants except subject to the covenants under which, he himself held, and all the covenants which the hon. Member read out are covenants which existed in the original fee-farm grants, under which my father and his predecessors in title had held the property for 200 years. No single tenant has over been evicted from that property, and until that agreement in 1878 no rent had been raised for 90 years. There is no agent employed on the estate, and no bailiff. The tenants are not poor men; two or three of them hunt in Kildare, and every one of them is well to do. One of the tenants has since 1878 sold his fee-farm holding, and, notwithstanding the rent and covenants which he hold—covenants which the hon. Member dilated upon—his holding was sold for more than 30 years' purchase. The property is situated within a mile of Belfast. I do not contend that the rent is a fair agricultural rent for Land in the wilds of Donegal; but in view of the fact that in the fee-farm grant the whole property, buildings, and everything were transferred at a valuation which was fixed by a valuer agreed upon by the tenants, I do not hesitate to say that the rent is a perfectly fair one. The facts are well-known in the neighbourhood of the estate.
§ *(4.37.). THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
The greater part of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last but one related to matters which have been most effectually disposed of by the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim. The very small portion of the hon. Gentleman's speech which was not so occupied was devoted to a contention that the hon. Member for South Antrim has been guilty of inconsistency in opposing the Bill before the House when he had backed another Bill dealing with the question of turbary. In the first place, there was some doubt as to whether the hon. Gentleman had ever backed a Turbary Bill; but even if he had, and even if the two Bills dealt with the question of turbary in precisely the 658 same manner, I do not see any inconsistency in the conduct of my hon. Friend; because the Bill before the House deals with 16 distinct and important matters, and contains provisions which, I venture to submit, are entirely subversive of the principles of the rights of property, principles recognised by the legislation of recent years. I have carefully examined the Bill now before the House, and I submit that each of the 16 distinct matters it deals with might fairly be made the subject of a separate Bill. Is it to be said, then, that because an hon. Member may be in sympathy with the proposal for dealing with one only of these matters, he is inconsistent in moving the rejection of a Bill containing clauses affecting other subjects which he believes to be of a dangerous and objectionable character? What are the subject-matters dealt with in this Bill? To my mind there is one principle plainly involved in the Bill to which I think the majority of the House will not assent by passing the second reading, namely, the principle of "prairie value." If I make that plain to the House, I think hon. Members who object to that principle will not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, even if they think it contains useful provisions in connection with turbary. There are three provisions of the Bill which, taken together, amounted to the establishment of the principle of "prairie value." First, the "improvements," which are to belong to the tenant, are defined to be, not the work done, but the entire increased letting value of the holding. Secondly, there is to be a presumption, which is practically irrebuttable, that every improvement was done by the tenant, unless that presumption is rebutted by evidence going back 50 years. Thirdly, for the purpose of considering whether the improvements were done by the tenant or not, every person who is the successor in occupation, irrespective of the continuity of tenancy in the land, in other words the successive occupiers of the land, may be represented by the existing tenant. What does taking the improved letting value as the value of the improvements mean? It means this. The effect of the Land Act of 1881 has often been described, I think correctly, as the creation of a kind of partnership between land- 659 lord and tenant. What would anyone think of the application to an ordinary partnership of the principle contained in this Bill? Two parties come into that partnership; the landlord brings the soil with all its capacity [for improvement. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] I think the majority of the House will agree that that is so. The tenant brings into the partnership, assuming he does all the improvements, his labour and money, or money's worth. Then the Bill says the entire improved value is to belong to the tenant. That means that the tenant, one of the partners, shall appropriate the entire benefit accruing to the property brought into the partnership. The true principle is that the profit must be divided according as it is produced by what is brought into the partnership by each partner; but that principle is opposed to, and uprooted by, one of the fundamental principles of the Bill before the House. With regard to the question of successive tenants, it has been decided under the Act of 1870 that "predecessor in title" means "predecessor in legal title;" and under the Act of 1881 it has been decided in the case of "Adams v. Dun-seath" that there must be a substantial continuance of the tenancy, but that legal devolution of title need not be proved. But how do the framers of this Bill deal with the subject? The Bill before the House goes further, and includes successors in occupation. The Bill defines "predecessors in title" to mean—Predecessors in occupancy, where from the nature of the transmission or derivation of such occupancy to or from the successive occupiers, or from any other circumstance, it shall appear to the Court in which any proceedings under the said Acts or any of them shall be pending that the justice of the case so requires.This is a matter of principle, which ought to be decided one way or other by the Legislature? Does it mean successors in occupancy or successors in tenancy? In order to escape from the absurdity of laying down that in every case successive occupation should constitute succession of title, the framers of the Bill have been driven to the other absurdity of leaving that question of principle to be decided by the particular views of the Judge before whom the case comes. I ask the House to say that whatever may be the opinions of individual Members with re- 660 gard to the propriety of dealing with some of the minor questions raised in the Bill, it will not give acceptance to the principle of prairie value, which, in my opinion, is the cardinal principle of the Bill, and that to which its authors attach the greatest importance. The most severe critic of the Bill cannot complain that it is not sufficiently comprehensive. The framers appear to have gone through the land legislation from 1870 to the present day and picked out all the safeguards to the rights of property and either repealed or nullified them. For instance, Section 21 of the Bill repeals Sub-section 6 of Section 13 of the Act of 1881, which deprives of compensation for disturbance tenants evicted for breach of any statutory provision. It is plainly just that if a man is evicted, not through misfortune but through a deliberate breach of statutory conditions, he ought to have no claim for compensation for disturbance. The Bill also proposes to repeal that portion of the Act of 1887 which substitutes the service of an eviction notice for the process of actual dispossession, a process which, in the great majority of cases, is useless, for the tenant is usually restored either as tenant or caretaker. I think the Returns before the House prove that.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
What Returns is the lion, and learned Gentleman referring to? Returns supplying this information have been applied for but not granted.
§ * MR. MADDEN
I refer to the Returns as to evictions which distinguish between actual evictions and evictions not carried out, and the latter form the great majority.
§ * MR. MADDEN
My point is that the Returns in the possession of the House show that, in the vast majority of cases, the eviction notice has not been followed by actual dispossession. But there is a really remarkable clause, which contains the marginal note "restitution of possession," &c. The proposal of the clause is a modest one. It is that at any time—so I read the clause—so long as the holding remains in the landlord's possession an evicted tenant may, by lodging six months rent, claim to have an account between him and his landlord, and 661 to be re-instated, the Court making such arrangements as it thought fit with respect to arrears and payment by instalments. A proposal more entirely subversive of what has always been considered fair between landlord and tenant has hardly ever been submitted to the House. I would describe this Bill as a review of the legislation of the last 20 years, with a view carefully to cut out of that legislation any fair protection of the rights of landlords in the just enjoyment of their property. I do not think anybody interested in Ireland will fail to admit that the country would again be plunged into a sea of litigation if the statutory period of 15 years were reduced to seven years. There is another clause which I think satisfies the general description which I have given of this Bill as a whole. I refer to the clause which renders it impossible for the Court to have regard, on the question of improvements, to the length of enjoyment of those improvements by the tenants. The way the law stands is this: It has been decided by the Court of Appeal in Ireland that no length of enjoyment by a tenant holding under a lease can be taken as amounting to compensation for his improvements, inasmuch as it was not in the landlord's power to dispossess the tenant. On the other hand, in the case of a yearly tenancy before 1870, the landlord may have refrained from exercising his legal rights under a tacit agreement that the tenant should not have his rent increased until he had enjoyed the value of his improvements. Under the law as it now stands, the Court in considering the question of improvements may have regard to any such arrangement with the tenant, when they find it to exist. This Bill says there must be an express con tract between the two parties—that is to say, the landlord and tenant must come together at a definite time; and at a definite place, and the landlord must say to the tenant—"I will give you a certain number of years." That would hit the good landlords, and would not hit the bad ones, for the good landlords would not be able to rely on any tacit agreements with their tenants. Where there exists a mutual confidence between the landlord and tenant, the good landlord is hit; whereas the bad landlord, who has been exercising his legal rights to the fullest extent, is placed in no worse 662 position than the good landlord. I pass lightly over the clause dealing with arrears. The matter has not been discussed at any length. Further, this Bill cannot be supported as a general Arrears Bill, inasmuch as it deals with that question merely from one particular point of view, namely, the case of application by the tenant to have a judicial rent fixed. The case of the crofters' arrears has been cited; but hon. Members will admit that there is one case which differentiates the case of the Scotch crofters and that of the body of the tenants of Ireland, namely, that the crofters have only recently, and for the first time, been admitted to the privileges of having judicial rents fixed; whereas the great mass of Irish tenants have had the Courts open to them for the last nine years. The question of the leaseholders is also dealt with by this Bill. That, too, is a question of importance; but I do not think that the House ought to be asked to deal with it by this Bill. The House is asked to go back to the legislation of 1887. Under what circumstances is it so asked? It is asked to assent to the Second Reading of this Bill, which contains 10 principles, each of which is of considerable importance, though varying in degree, and commencing, as I have shown, with the principle of prairie value. I respectfully submit to the House that this is not the way in which the question of the leaseholders should be dealt with, nor do I think that, this particular question has been discussed at any considerable length on this Bill. There are other provisions of the Bill; there is that dealing with turbary, I think it is a question which, at the proper time and on the proper occasion, is deserving the attention of the House. And I think it is especially deserving of consideration in connection with the question of land purchase. But I think the remarks which I have made in reference to the clause dealing with leaseholders apply with very great force to that portion of the Bill. Then we come to Clause 13, which has been humorously commented upon by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down (Colonel Waring); that is a clause which, as he described it, would make the seaweed on the sea shore the subject of a free fight. Where the foreshores of Ireland do not belong to the Crown, they have 663 been conveyed by patent, and are the property of the private owner. Without the smallest suggestion of compensation, this clause proposes to deprive the landlords of their rights, which are of extreme value, and often the subject matter of litigation. Hon. and learned Members opposite, who are familiar with the decisions of our Law Courts, know that in many parts of Ireland the question of seaweed is of very great importance. Well, this remarkable clause transfers that valuable property, I will not say to anybody, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend described it, to the strongest who could take it away before his less adventurous or weaker neighbours could get to the sea shore. I do not think that clause will commend itself to the favourable attention of the House. The next question has reference to mining rights and royalties. That question was brought up on the occasion of the Ashbourne Act, 1888. It is a subject which ought to be fairly and fully considered; but I submit that this is not the time for the discussion of it, and that it should be considered in connection with some measure of land purchase. The subject is one deserving of the fullest consideration, and one which no doubt will, when fitting opportunity occurs, receive adequate attention at the hands of the House. As regards the clause relating to sub-letting, I think the House will scarcely join in any attempt to extend the benefits of the Act of 1881 to those who are not substantially in the occupation of their holdings. Occupation was the fundamental principle of the Act of 1881, and, as far as that principle goes, it has been adopted by both sides of the House, and, so far as I am aware, by every person interested in land legislation in Ireland. But this Bill seems to demand an extension of the principle to those who are not in actual occupation. There are cases in which a certain amount of sub-letting does not interfere with the principle of occupation, but such cases have been fully and satisfactorily dealt with by this House by a clause which was introduced into the Act of 1887. Whenever the sub-letting does not interfere with the principle of substantial occupation on the part of the tenant, there is now no grievance; but whenever it does interfere with that principle, and extends 664 the benefits to non-occupying tenants, I submit they are not the persons intended to be benefited by the Act of 1881, which intended to confer the benefit on occupying tenants. Sir, I have endeavoured to go through, I hope not in unnecessary detail, the main provisions of this Bill. It contains a number of other clauses, some of an objectionable character, with which I do not intend to trouble the House; but I do contend that the single consideration that the Bill now before the House embodies the principle of prairie value as the basis of assessment of rents between landlords and tenants, fully justifies the Government in opposing the Second Reading.
§ *(5.15.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
We have heard many times during the last 20 years, I suppose, such speeches as that to which we have just listened, urged from that Bench and at that box. I am going to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, not because I approve of everything in it, but because there are things in it which ought to have been granted long ago. The learned Attorney General has taken care to show all the clauses of the Bill against which any objection can be brought; but he skimmed very lightly indeed over the clauses of the Bill that are really good, and which, he cannot argue against. Take, for example, the question of the long leaseholder, upon which I have risen chiefly to speak. What is the position of the long leaseholder? The Attorney General referred to the question as having been settled in 1887. I should like the House to bear in mind what took place in 1887 regarding these leaseholders. By that Bill, as it came down from the House of Lords, very little was done for the leaseholder at all. The Bill, as it was revised by this House, did a great deal of good to the leaseholders. Still it left out of its provisions every leaseholder whose lease extended beyond a period of 99 years. The Members of the Unionist Party met at Devonshire House, and passed a resolution that every leaseholder should be brought within the Act of 1881. But the House as a compromise left out leases of over 99 years. Public and private appeals have been made to the Government on behalf of the long leaseholders, without the slightest regard being paid to those appeals. I admit that the number of 665 long leaseholders is small—some 4,000 or 5,000. What is the moral difference between a lease of 99 and a lease of 100 years; why should the holder of the first be included in the Act, and the holder of the other excluded? The Attorney General asks me now to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, which contains a proposal to liberate these men. Do we always approve every line of a Bill when we pass its Second Rending? Nothing of the kind; we pass the Second Reading, and strike out objectionable provisions in Committee. In voting for the Second Reading I am not voting for prairie value. I am not sure that the first clause is altogether wrong. I should be very sorry to see it passed as it stands, but, if amended, I think it would make a very valuable addition to the Land Law of Ireland. There is so much good in this Bill which deals with the long leaseholders, who are cruelly treated and cruelly rack-rented, not by landlords like hon. Gentlemen opposite, but by middlemen who get hold of the land, and who extort most unreasonable rents from the tenants, that I feel bound to vote for the Second Reading, notwithstanding that the measure contains objectionable provisions. Take the turbary clauses. What is their justification? When the tenants went into the Land Court under the Act of 1881, their rents were reduced; but very often a new bog rent was put on, which rendered the whole of the benefits of the Act of 1881 nugatory. It is very easy for the Attorney General to make a speech and to chop logic over a Bill like this. It is very easy to show that there is objectionable matter in the Bill, but the Bill offers a chance to my Canonist friends around me to return to the position they took in 1887 in favour of admitting every leaseholder to the benefit of the Act, and I urge upon them to vote for the Second Reading. We are the allies of hon. Gentlemen opposite, we are not their slaves.
§ (5.25.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford)
Sir, I wish to make a few observations on this Bill. The Attorney General has not touched upon one of the chief grievances of the leaseholders, many of whom are excluded by a clause in the lease from the benefits of the Act of 1870, their admission to the Land Court, therefore, being a mere farce. Is it not monstrous that the Government should allow 666 a state of the law by which thousands of tenants are not entitled to one penny of compensation for disturbance? The decision given in a recent case, and confirmed by the Chief Land Commissioner, is an iniquitous decision. It may be a necessary decision following on "Adams v. Dunseath," but on the point of equity it is an utterly ridiculous decision. Reference has been made to Section 7 of the Act of 1887. In the course of the last fortnight, the Court of Queen's Bench at Dublin has come to a decision which absolutely strikes at the root of all protection of the tenants in Ireland. Section 7 of the Act of 1887 says that every person shall be served with a writ or process, who at the time shall be in possession of the land. Bat in the case decided by the Court of Queen's Bench, service upon the nominal tenant in Brisbane, Australia, was held to be good, and they gave the actual tenant a magistrate's notice to vacate the land, although he was proved to have redeemed it. The Judges— landlord Judges every one of them— made a rule which deprived the subtenant of the protection afforded by Section 7—the miserable protection of having an eviction notice served upon him. These Judges had the audacity to make a rule repealing the Act of Parliament, for by their rule the nominal tenant was to be served in Brisbane with a notice sent in a registered letter, whereas the sub-tenant was not entitled to notice at all. My hon. Friend the Member for South Kilkenny reminds me that the original draft of the Act was in accordance with the Judge's ruling; but this House put in an Amendment, and that Amendment has been repealed by the rule to which I have referred. I say it is of no use this House passing legislation if it is to be repealed by the Judges in Ireland.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ (5.35.) The House divided:—Ayes 179; Noes 231.—(Div. List, No. 25.)
§ Words added.667
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.