§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [1st June], "That the Clause (Advances to Tenants,)— (Mr. Lea,)—which was offered to be added on Consideration of the Bill, as amended," be read a second time.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ (4.0.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
Since the adjournment last night, I have had an opportunity of looking into the amount that may be affected if the clause is passed. I find the amount so much larger than hon. Members anticipate that I fear it is not possible for the Government to go forward with the clause. The amount sold is £9,794,000, and cash has been received to the amount of £3,362,000. Now, the bulk of the money is, no doubt, borrowed, and there are no means of ascertaining what amount of the money borrowed has since been paid off; but it is estimated by the authorities that there may be an amount outstanding, certainly of £1,500,000, and possibly of £2,000,000. Hon. Members will see that, if we go forward on these lines, irrespective of any administrative difficulties, it may, practically, absorb all that remains over of the money of the Ashbourne Acts. Instead of creating so many new tenants, we might be applying that money in relief of those who bought under previous Acts, and thus we should, practically, be acting in a manner inconsistent with the general policy of the Purchase Acts, which is to extend the number of new purchasers.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
As far as I can judge, the calculations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer appear to be very loose, and we are entitled to have some better evidence before we consider the matter closed. I cannot agree that this is a matter alien to the policy of the Bill, and I hope the proposal will not be allowed to drop. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many tenants are concerned in this 1476 Amendment, what the balance of the money is, and how the rest is to be obtained? It is true that the tenants have gone through a form of purchase, but they still owe large sums of money to the creditors of the State, and they are in a position of great helplessness. I think the Government can do no better thing than admit these tenants to the benefit of the Act, so as to make the ownership complete.
§ (4.5.) MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
Perhaps I may be allowed to state that altogether about 4,300 tenants are affected by the clause; and if relief cannot be given to them under this Bill, the Government ought to consider in what way relief can be given. The tenants have had to borrow one-fourth of the sum necessary to pay for their holdings, and about one-fourth of them have, I have been informed, been sold up by the money-lenders, through whom the money was obtained at interest varying from 5, 6, or 7 to 10 per cent. That statement is, I think, a serious one, and the tenants deserve some consideration. If it cannot be given under this Bill, the Government ought to consider how it should be given.
§ (4.10.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is unable to accede to the clause, and I would suggest that the objection might be met if the clause were limited to small holdings. Some years ago I had occasion to inquire into the condition of the tenants who bought under the Church Act, and I found that the statement made by the hon. Member for Dublin last night was fully borne out. The tenants bought at the top price in the market—22 and 23 years' purchase; the rates were notoriously high, and the property was in a very bad condition.
§ MR. M. HEALY (Cork)
Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer included sales made to persons who were not occupying tenants?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Two-thirds of the amount is for occupying tenants. I have consulted the highest authorities, and am assured that the amount required would not be less than £1,000,000 or £1,500,000.
§ MR. M. HEALY
rose again, but was informed by Mr. SPEAKER that he had exhausted his right of speaking.
§ (4.15.) MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)
I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer might find some way out of the difficulty. It is idle for the right hon. Gentleman to suppose that the scheme of the Government will only involve the expenditure of £30,000,000. If the present Government do not supply more money another Government will. It would be just as well, therefore, to do now for the glebe purchasers what the supporters of the clause desire. I feel bound to ridicule the idea that if this clause is agreed to the British taxpayer would run any risk.
§ MR. SEXTON
As a matter of order, I wish to ask if it is possible to separate the second paragraph of the clause from the first and third, so as not to involve the two questions which are altogether separate?
§ (4.20.) The House divided:—Ayes 117; Noes 144.—(Div. List, No. 257.)
§ (4.33.) MR. LEA
I now move the clause "Extension of time for advances." By the action of the Treasury 326 of the purchasers out of a total of 2,500 have been deprived of the benefit which was intended for them by Parliament. I propose that all should have the right which I believe the clause in the Act of 1887 intended for them. Under this Bill the Irish Church surplus will be used as a security for the congested districts. Who created that surplus? It was the tenants who paid such enormous sums under the Act of 1869, and therefore they are entitled to some consideration out of that surplus.
§ New Clause—
§ (Extension of time for advances.)
Whereas under 'The Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1887' (fiftieth and fifty-first years of Victoria, chapter thirty-three), the Land Commission was authorised (sections twenty-five and twenty-seven), in any case in which the special circumstances justified so doing, to grant an extension of time not exceeding forty-nine years to purchasers of land under section fifty-two of 'The Irish Church Act, 1869,' and also to purchasers under 'The Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act, 1870,' and 'The Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act, 1872,' as amended by section thirty-five of 'The Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881,' and under section twenty-five and under section twenty-six of 'The Land Law
(Ireland) Act, 1881,' be it hereby enacted as follows:—
On the application of any tenant purchasing under such Acts, the Land Commission shall grant such extension of time, so that the term shall not exceed forty-nine years from the date of advance, and shall adjust the annuity and vary the order accordingly,"—(Mr. Lea,)
—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ MR. SEXTON
I beg to support the clause, on the ground that it concerns only 326 tenants, and that it involves no fresh outlay, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not have to surrender one single 6d. of his cherished £1,000,000.
§ (4.37.) MR. GOSCHEN
I think that scant justice has been done to the action of the Treasury. Out of upwards of 2,500 purchasers some 2,262 have obtained the desired advances. I cannot accept the clause, because in most cases the amount outstanding is so small that it would be ridiculous to give 49 years. But what I would be willing to do is to put the remaining instalments on such a footing that none of the tenants shall pay more than 4 per cent., made up of 3⅛ and seven-eighths for the Sinking Fund.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I think the compromise suggested by the right hon. Gentleman is a fair one, but it will be necessary to alter the clause.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (4.40.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I beg to move the clause which I have placed upon the Paper relating to glebe tenants. There are a considerable number of tenants who have not purchased under the Irish Church Act of 1869. The Land Commission is the landlord of these tenants, and can only sell to them under the Church Act, and the term would be 38 years for re-payment, they also finding one-fourth of the purchase money. This clause would enable these tenants to purchase under this Act instead of the Irish Church Act.
§ New Clause—
§ (Glebe Tenants.)
Notwithstanding anything in Section fifty-two of 'The Irish Church Act, 1869,' when the Irish Land Commission, as representing the late Commission of Church Temporalities in Ireland, sell any land in pursuance of 'The Irish Church Act, 1869,' to the occupying tenants thereof, they may credit the purchaser with the whole or such part of the purchase-money as they think proper, on having payment of same with interest at the rate of three-and-one-eighth percent. per annum secured to the satisfaction of the Commissioners, and any such purchase-money may be made payable by half-yearly instalments not exceeding ninety-eight in number, "—(Mr. T. W. Russell,)
—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ MR. SEXTON
This is simply a proposal to bring the policy of land purchase up to date in respect of a certain number of tenants. It would be strange that the Land Commission should be bound by the Church Act to deal with their own tenants in a less liberal spirit. It would be against the policy of this House to maintain exclusion against any body of tenants.
§ (4.45.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I entirely agree with what has fallen from the hon. Member for West Belfast, that our object should be to deal with these tenants as with other tenants in Ireland, and to give them the advantage of the new system of purchase. But my hon. Friend who moves the clause will see that the Government can hardly accept it in its present form. We have many times pledged ourselves and the House against being parties to the extension of the Ashbourne Act, or any other Act for land purchase, without any collateral security. There is no power given in the clause to retain the landlord's fifth. What I am prepared to do is to bring these tenants under the ordinary operation of the Bill, and that, I think, could be done by leaving out all the words after the word "thereof," and substituting the following words:—The sale may be deemed to be a sale under this Act, and may be carried out accordingly.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause read a second time.1480
In line 5, to leave out all the words after the word "thereof," and to insert the words "The sale may be deemed to be a sale under this Act, and in such case shall be carried out accordingly."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, added.
§ (4.52.) MR. SEXTON
I now beg to move the clause standing in my name. A deputation of evicted tenants has been to London, and on their return they reported that they had had a favourable interview with the Chief Secretary, who took a deep interest in their case, and although he gave them no promise, yet encouraged them to conclude that he intended to take their case into his consideration. The right hon. Gentleman would hardly have raised hopes in the breasts of these poor men unless he intended to do something to satisfy those hopes. The deputation also reported that they had had an interview with the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Colonel Saunderson), who admitted to them that the case of the evicted tenants was a hard one, but the hon. and gallant Member is not now in his place, and on a former occasion he did not say a word to indicate that he wished to mitigate the hardships of these evicted tenants. This is probably the last opportunity there will be of bringing forward the case of these tenants. It is the last opportunity the Chief Secretary will have, as Chief Secretary, of contributing to the tranquillity of Ireland so far as it is affected by the position of these tenants. The right hon. Gentleman has great power and great responsibility; upon this question he has practically despotic power, because the Members of his Party will not listen to the Debate, but when the Division bell rings they will troop into the House to do his bidding. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pause and consider before he throws his last chance away. It appears very likely that the term of his power is drawing to an end, and if he leaves this difficult and dangerous agrarian question unsettled the effect on the country will be very bad. He will leave a legacy of disorder to those who 1481 will be responsible for the conduct of public affairs after him, and such a legacy would react upon his Party and himself. Can there be anything but unhappy consequences if the landlords of Ireland are encouraged to sell holdings to emergency tenants and casual occupiers to the exclusion of those who have created the greater part of the value of the holdings, or are the descendants of those who have done so? If a landlord sells holdings to these planters, can he expect to sell the remainder of his holdings to genuine tenants? Genuine tenants will be bound by their sense of equity, and by natural feeling to the evicted tenant, to whom the value in the holdings belonged. If these casual tenants, who are put in merely as agents, abscond at some future time, one-half of the loss will fall upon the rates of the county. If the casual holders are to be preferred to the evicted tenants, the tenants of the county will have their minds set against the policy of land purchase altogether. What would happen in England if tenant farmers, who are joint owners of their holdings, and who, through the unreasonable conduct of their landlords, have been evicted for a year or two, were to be deprived of their right to purchase under an Act of this kind? What chance will there be of tranquillity if 50 or 100 of these casual holders are to be made permanent freeholders, to the exclusion of the men who have put the value into the soil? What are called "ancestral homes" do not belong to the nobility only; they belonged to men of all ranks, and if the exclusion of evicted tenants, which is proposed in Ireland, were to be carried out in England there would be an agrarian revolution. Whenever landlords have resorted to this policy, and in carrying it out have done violence to the public conscience by introducing strangers upon their properties to the exclusion of rightful tenants, the results have been disastrous, and in some cases tragic. There are no blacker pages of Irish history than these. If some landlords had not refused to deal with their tenants in an equitable spirit, the Plan of Campaign would never have been developed. Who stands up in defence of Lord Clanricarde?—the type of a class of Irish landlords, of a 1482 class, a limited class, who, by the misuse of their power, are responsible for very much of the crime and disorder that has prevailed in Ireland. These landlords have refused concessions which had been made by the general body of landlords, and have been unwilling to resort to arbitration, by which serious difficulties might have been avoided. Tried by any test you please—by the concessions made by landlords themselves, or by the result of arbitration where it has been resorted to—it must be admitted that the demands put forward by those tenants before eviction were just demands. Two sayings of the right hon. Gentleman have become classical. He said that if he were an Irish tenant, and the landlords combined against him, he should combine against the landlords. That statement was the germ and the justification of the Plan of Campaign. The other saying of the right hon. Gentleman, which has also become classical, was that if he were an Irish landlord with evicted tenants he would be glad, even at a pecuniary loss, in the interests of the peace of his district, to restore those tenants. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to apply those sayings to the present case, to apply to himself as the head of the Irish Executive the feelings which he says would actuate him were he an Irish landlord. My former Amendment on this point was open to a technical objection, a mode of reply to which the right hon. Gentleman always flies, true as a needle to the pole, no matter how important the Amendment may be. He told me that if the Amendment were accepted it would punish the other tenants, because it provided that the landlord should not sell the farms. I told the right hon. Gentleman on the spot that I was willing to confine my proposition and to allow an unfettered right to sell. The arguments, however, had no effect. The right hon. Gentleman as usual had made up his mind beforehand, and he could not be moved. I hope, however, he will treat this Amendment in a different spirit. My present proposal is that the evicted tenant shall have priority in purchase, provided the Land Commission are satisfied that he is a proper person to receive an advance. The right hon. Gentleman may say that this attacks the interest of the tenant in possession. But the right 1483 hon. Gentleman well knows that in many cases these men are not genuine tenants; they are in receipt of weekly wages, and the farms have been stocked by political associations; some of them have not even gone through the form of tilling the land, which is now uncultivated; and I do not think I go too far when I assert that the case, so far as the tenants in possession are concerned, might be met with a gratuity from the landlord. This it would be well worth his while to pay for the sake of selling his whole estate, which he can not otherwise do, for the other tenants will not combine to purchase with these squatter tenants. If the farms are sold to these tenants, the security will be bad, for the security consists of the value of the holding and the character of the tenant. I know we are told that the Land Commission is not charged with the duty of inquiring into the character of the tenants, but it is their duty to see that the holding affords ample security for the advance, and if the tenant is one not able to cultivate the land the security cannot be good, the tenant will fail to pay, and the liability will fall on the county with results fatal to social order. The right hon. Gentleman said that if the security is good there is no reason why the sales should not take place. I reply that there is every reason, because an interest in the farms and buildings belongs to the evicted tenant. Of course in law he has surrendered that interest, possibly because his rent was in arrear a year or two, but that does not disturb the equity of the case. These men or their ancestors created a property in the holdings, and that property you propose to allow the landlord and the squatter tenant to divide between them. That surely is contrary to equity. If the right hon. Gentleman can restore peace to these troubled districts by reinstating these people in their holdings, he will accomplish something worth doing, his policy will be one worthy to be gratefully remembered; but if, on the other hand, he makes them outlaws, hanging on to the outskirts of their old homes, he will destroy all chance of social order in these districts. There will then be no chance of social order, for you will have intruders enjoying property created by the life-long labour of the evicted 1484 tenants who will be hanging about the farms, and who will possess the sympathy of the general community. I hope that some representative of the landlord class in the House will support me in this appeal, and that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment. If the Amendment is rejected, these evicted tenants will be a trouble to Parliament and to the Government of Ireland, to whatever Party it may belong, as well as to the Irish people, for many, many years to come.
§ New Clause—
§ (Priority in purchase to tenants whose tenancy had been determined by process of law.)
No advance shall be made under the Land Purchase Acts, 1885 and 1888, or under this Act, for the purchase of any holding by any tenant who has agreed to purchase the holding if it be proved to the satisfaction of the Land Commission, on the application of any person who was at any time between the first of January one thousand eight hundred and eighty and the first day of January one thousand eight hundred and ninety-one in occupation of the holding, and whose tenancy was determined by any process of law, that such person formerly in occupation is willing to apply for an advance to enable him to purchase the holding at the price which the tenant applying for an advance has agreed to pay, unless it be proved to the satisfaction of the Land Commission that such person formerly in occupation would not be a fit person to receive such advance,"—(Mr. Sexton,)
—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ (5.14.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I am not surprised that the hon. Member has raised this question, and I do not believe that any Member of the Party opposite could have raised it with greater ability, or with more chance of securing the attention of the House to it. The hon. Member, however, has given effect to the case of the evicted tenants as if it were the outcome of a legitimate agitation, but during the course of the agitation in Ireland the hon. Gentleman has not been mixed up in the rougher work in that country. He has confined himself to presenting its results in telling form to this House. I do not wish to import any heat into this Debate. I quite admit the importance of the question the hon. Gentleman has brought forward, but I am not prepared to support the appeal the hon. Member has made to the Government. 1485 The hon. Member has urged the acceptance of his Amendment on the ground of expediency. That is a ground which this House ought not to take into consideration. This is eminently a question not of expediency, but of principle. Some remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh have been alluded to by the hon. Member. If my hon. and gallant Friend said that the case of these tenants was a hard one, I quite agree that it is. Indeed, I think it is a desperately hard case, but I and my friends have had nothing to do with producing that hardship. If the case of these tenants is hard, they must lay the blame upon the other guides they have chosen. I do not believe that there is a single case connected with any estate in Ireland where there have been what the hon. Member calls wholesale evictions in which every reasonable attempt has not been made by the landlord to come to terms with his tenants. What is the position in which the hon. Member's clause would place the landlord and his present tenant? I will take a most extreme case first of all. Under the clause a landlord would be unable to sell to a tenant who may have been paying him rent and farming the land for 10 years, unless he is prepared to risk an action for libel or defamation of character, for that is what it comes to.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
That is undoubtedly the purport of the hon. Member's clause. It practically is the same as that clause in the Land Act of 1881, which enables an Irish landlord to object to a purchasing tenant, but which if he fails to substantiate his objections renders him liable to action for defamation of character. There is no end of inconsistencies which might be pointed out. I do not, however, wish to base my opposition upon extreme cases, but upon the principle which underlies the clause. It is said that those who have taken the places of the evicted tenants are not bonâ fide agricultural tenants, but men gathered up from the highways and byways of Ireland, that they have no agricultural knowledge and are unfitted to be considered under this Bill. I am not prepared to speak with authority of the estates in the South and West of Ireland, but I can speak with actual knowledge of the Massereene Estate, and in every 1486 single instance there the men are agricultural tenants of the best character, and most capable men. Those men are just as good security as men whose ancestors have been on the land for 200 or 300 years. There is not the slightest-danger that there will be any difficulty because some of these men may be included. Popular opinion in Ireland has undergone a great change within the last few months, and the hon. Member has conjured up a danger which no longer exists; there is no longer any inclination on the part of the tenants to take the advice of those who have misled them and caused such disastrous consequences to them, or to run any risk of their future in order to satisfy a policy by which they see in the long run that they get no benefit. They will not do that in order to satisfy those who up to the present have used them as their dupes. I beg leave to tell the Government that whatever course the Chief Secretary may adopt with regard to this Amendment, for my own part I feel so strongly on the matter that if I can get only one supporter I shall divide the House against the clause. I can conceive nothing more repugnant to the vast body of Irish tenants, who have adhered to their legal obligations and respected law and order and paid their rent, than to be told that men who have been just as capable of paying their rents as they are, but who have outraged all the laws of honesty, are to be given precisely the same benefits as they are. The hon. Member says the tenants were evicted because they found it impossible to pay their rents.
§ MR. SEXTON
No; what I said was that the abatements which they asked and were refused, and the refusal of which led to their eviction, were abatements proved to be just by the decision of the Courts and by the results of arbitrations as well as by the concessions ultimately made by the landlords.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
That proposition does not hold good either on the Massareene or the Olphert Estates. On the Olphert Estate 55 tenants had paid up five years' full rent and costs before the evictions, and all would have submitted if they had been allowed by those responsible for the agitation on the estate. But I do not wish to argue that point or to convert this Debate into 1487 a wrangle between ourselves and hon. Members opposite. I maintain that this clause will be looked upon as an unreasonable concession to the very class who ought to have nothing done for them, and, instead of settling the difficulties which have sprung from the agrarian agitation, I believe it will lay the seeds of future agitation and create enormous difficulties for Ireland during the rest of this century.
§ (5.25.) MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
This is a question of enormous importance, and upon its settlement will, I believe, almost entirely depend whether the Bill proves successful in securing social order in Ireland. I do hope that the Government will be able to give a kindly consideration to the clause, because from what I have myself seen in Ireland I am sure that unless some mode can be devised for putting back these evicted tenants on the land it will be impossible to restore social peace in Ireland. As one who regards with admiration the fair and honest way in which this Bill is being promoted in this House, and as one who has a sincere desire to restore order in Ireland, as one who has from the beginning supported a policy of land purchase for Ireland, I do think something should be done to re-instate the old tenants. I refer especially to those who have been evicted of late years, as it would be difficult to go back to cases where the tenants were evicted 10 or 12 years ago, and are perhaps now scattered in many directions. There are, however, scores of estates from which tenants have been displaced, and on the skirts of which may now be found 20, 50, or 100 persons, all hoping to be re-instated in their farms. Again, some of the men who have replaced the evicted tenants are men of bad character, and if something is not done they will establish a festering sore which would disturb the peace of Ireland for ages to come. A settlement which does not provide for the reinstatement of evicted tenants will never be recognised by the Irish people. I have supported the policy of land purchase in Ireland, and I give the Chief Secretary the fullest credit for wishing to do what he can to settle this running sore. For my own part, I have never spoken a word in favour of the Plan of Campaign. Some of these tenants have been undoubtedly misled 1488 by men who might have known better, and have been foolishly induced to throw up their land, to lose their savings, and to forfeit their rights owing to these unhappy disputes. But we have not now to consider whether their action was legal; we have to consider what is a statesmanlike course to pursue. We want, and I believe the Chief Secretary wants, to bring about a settlement, and to produce social peace, happiness, and contentment in the country. I believe the Government are as anxious as we are to do this, but I assert that if you exclude the evicted tenants from the settlement you will leave behind you a rankling sore which will burst out in the future. I hope the Government will look kindly at this matter. I think the proposal contained in the Amendment is hardly workable, and that something more moderate is required. In many cases the evicted tenants have disappeared, but there are numerous cases in which the evicted farms are occupied by mere caretakers and emergency men, and it would be a complete abuse of this Land Act to recognise them as bonâ fide tenants. Let us try, by our united wisdom, to disentangle this very difficult question, and secure a lasting settlement.
§ (5.31.) MR. PIERCE MAHONY (Meath, N.)
May I point out to the hon. Member who has just sat down that the object of this clause is to secure the re-instatement of such evicted tenants as are in existence, and are willing to give as good a price as the newly-introduced tenant? The hon. Member for South Antrim argued that this should be treated as a question of principle, and not of expediency. He is greatly opposed to expediency on this occasion, but his action throughout on this Bill has been based on expediency, and the whole policy of the Bill is a policy of expediency. I venture to think this is a difficulty which should be settled on grounds of expediency. The House proposes to confer a benefit on the tenants. Surely there is no principle involved in refusing to confer that benefit on tenants who have only recently become tenants of their holdings. Surely it would be better not to run the danger of establishing permanent discord and strife in certain districts by excluding the evicted tenants from all 1489 share in the benefits of the Act. The Act of 1881 treated tenants in two different ways. That Act was based upon the recognition of the fact that in Ireland the tenants have a valuable interest in the holding which they have inherited from their predecessors to a large extent. Therefore there is no principle involved in this clause. The hon. Member for South Antrim admitted that the case of the evicted tenants was very hard, but he contended that they were as capable of paying their rent as the tenants now in occupation. But one of the hard features of this matter is that there are many instances in Ireland in which the landlords have let the farms at much lower rents to new tenants than the evicted tenants paid, and were willing to pay sooner than be evicted. The Plan of Campaign has been alluded to. I am not going to enter into a defence of the Plan of Campaign, though I think that on the whole the result produced by it has been largely beneficial to the Irish tenants. The hon. Member for South Antrim alluded to the case of the Massereene Estate as one in which the tenants were not justified in their demands by subsequent events. But if my memory serves me right, while they demanded a reduction of 25 per cent., and were refused it, with the result that some were evicted, the Land Committee in the other cases ordered a reduction of 23½ per cent., and the landlord thereupon conceded that reduction, but insisted on making two of the principal tenants his victims by refusing them any abatement. Surely that shows the tenants were justified in their demands. I need not take other cases. I only wished to point out to the Chief Secretary that there have been in Ireland cases of eviction even when judicial rents have been fixed, in which subsequent events have shown that the tenants were amply justified in asking for a reduction of rent. One such case was in the County of Limerick, on the Glensharrold Estate. There the tenants were unable to pay the judicial rents, a reduction was refused, they combined in self-protection, every effort was made to break up the combination, some of the persons who advised it were sent to prison, yet when the property came before one of the Courts, and when 1490 the grievances of the tenants were inquired into by an official valuer, Judge Monroe ordered a large remission of arrears, and reduced the judicial rent by 30 per cent. Now, I say, that case alone shows that there are estates in Ireland where the judicial rents are unfortunately too high and where the tenants have been unjustly evicted. If that is the case with regard to estates on which judicial rents have been fixed, how much more must it be the case where the unfortunate tenants have never been able to get into the Land Courts. On these grounds, I would appeal to the Chief Secretary to make an effort to restore peace in Ireland. We only ask the right hon. Gentleman to withhold from bad landlords a special opportunity of getting out of their difficulties by obtaining the money of the British taxpayer, and we only ask him to do this where the former tenants are actually in existence and are ready to purchase their farms at the same price as the present tenants. We ask for a very small, though a valuable concession, and I do implore the right hon. Gentleman, if he possibly can, to make some concession on the point.
§ (5.43.) MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
I hope that if I say a few words on this clause the House will believe that I have no design to approach it in any controversial spirit. I cannot vote for the clause of the hon. Member opposite because I do not think, however anxious we may be to settle the unfortunate agrarian struggle in Ireland, that the clause will in any way meet the requirements of the case or settle the difficulty of the Plan of Campaign upon other similar estates. This clause is not a permissive but a prohibitive clause, which simply forbids the Commissioners to sell to new tenants who are at present in possession of farms in different parts of Ireland—farms which, in many cases, and, I think, in most cases, they are cultivating in a proper and husband like manner. You are simply endeavouring to shut out a class of extremely honest and deserving men, who are likely to make excellent citizens and excellent farmers in the future. I do not think such a proposal would in any way meet the requirements of the case. I should not myself be disposed to oppose a clause drawn in a more satisfactory 1491 way. I have no wish myself to see the door shut upon many of these men, who are now living outside their farms, no doubt very largely through their own fault; but still more largely through the fault—if I may be forgiven for saying so—of those who have lured them on to destruction. I think it possible that very recent events may lead the House to think that I am not myself disposed to deal harshly or vindictively with those who have been in opposition to me in matters of this kind. If a clause could be drawn which would enable the Commissioners to restore the evicted tenants under certain conditions, provided the security were good, I certainly should be very sorry to say that I would set my face against the re-instatement of such men. But this proposal is of a different kind. Those who have carried out their duty at very great danger and risk to themselves ought not to be ostracised but to be encouraged, and for that reason I shall oppose the clause.
(5.50.) MR. COLLERT (Sligo, N.)
I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in bringing forward this Bill is actuated, in a great measure, by a desire to settle, if possible, this agrarian difficulty, which has for so many years agitated our country. By neglecting to deal in the Bill with the evicted tenants, however, the right hon. Gentleman's efforts will be utterly shorn of any good they might otherwise effect. Anyone who visited the portions of the country where the evicted tenants are to be found would see that in those mountainous districts the poor people could not possibly eke out a livelihood. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that they have been unable to meet their demands. There may have been some few instances in which those who were evicted were able to pay their rents; but the great body of them certainly were unable to do so. What will be the result if the right hon. Gentleman rejects this clause? He will keep open that agrarian sore which has so much agitated the mind of the country, I might almost say for centuries, and, instead of effecting any good by the Bill, he will complicate matters more. The homes of these poor people are just as dear to them as are the homes of right hon. Gentlemen to them; and if the Government turns a deaf ear to the 1492 appeal we make to them, the agrarian agitation will continue in Ireland, and the boon which was intended to be effected by the advance of this £30,000,000 will be really no boon at all.
§ (5.54.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I am sure hon. Members have heard with very great satisfaction the speeches which have been made on this subject on both sides of the House. This is a subject which has often been debated in this House with extremely heated and sometimes bitter words, which have too often blinded the House to the sufferings of a humble but deserving body of persons. I regret that in a Debate of this kind so few English and Scotch Members have spoken. The amount of money proposed under this Bill would bring comfort to many English, Scotch, and Welsh homes, and would solve the greatest possible number of social and economic questions on this side of the water, which have been overlooked in the desire to remove the chronic difficulty of Ireland —the great secular wrong which has been inflicted on these tenant farmers who had always a moral, as now Parliament has pronounced them to have a legal, part proprietorship in their own farms. Now, we are asked to divert a certain proportion of the £40,000,000, not for the purpose of removing the secular grievances of Ireland, but for the purpose of turning into permanent proprietors the present occupiers of certain of these holdings. These men are not Irish tenant farmers of the old sort. At the very best they are merely on a rank with recent English tenants. I do not want to say anything against them. I do not wish to make the dealing out of this money a moral question. I do not wish to reward men who have been put in by the landlord or a syndicate, but, on the other hand, I do not wish to punish those who have acted on the advice of the National League. I want simply to look at this matter from a public point of view. The great number, if not all, of these men are not dual owners at all; they are simply tenant farmers holding upon a rack-rent. That is the objection I have to present to the House, and it is a very great objection indeed to the state of things against which the hon. Member for West Belfast protests. Besides that, there is the great argument 1493 which lies at the bottom of this case—the argument that this Bill is intended to establish tranquillity in Ireland. Let us remember that we ought to be, if we are not, an assembly of statesmen. If the hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry), with all the provocation which I willingly admit he has had from his point of view, can find so little to say against the principle of this clause, and so much to say in favour of its spirit, surely we ought not to throw away this last opportunity of giving that tranquillity to Ireland which I believe hon. Members on both sides at this moment equally desire.
§ (6.4.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
In explaining the views of the Government on this Amendment, I find myself under some disadvantage, for I notice that, whenever I give the House the general principle which in my opinion ought to govern their position on any particular question, I am described as indulging in vague declamation, and whenever I go into detail I am accused of using dialectical ingenuity and taking advantage of small technicalities. Between these two opposite criticisms I will attempt to steer as well as I can, but I think it will be admitted that if I am to be met, whatever line I take, with comments of that description, my task is not rendered easy. Let me say at the outset that by voting for the Second Reading of this clause hon. Gentlemen are not confining themselves to a barren expression of sympathy with the lot of the evicted tenants; they are expressing an opinion that this clause, or something like it, that this provision, or something into which it may be turned by discussion, is the mode in which to deal with the difficulty. If we were asked to pass an abstract resolution that we desire to terminate the disputes on the Plan of Campaign estates, and express our opinion that these controversies should cease, I gather that we should all be found in the same Lobby. But we are asked to do something very different. We are asked by the hon. Member for West Belfast, and by everybody who has spoken in favour of the clause, to express an opinion, not merely that some settlement of the disputes on the Plan of Campaign estates is desirable, but that the proper way of arriving at a Settlement is to carry out the suggestion of the hon. 1494 Member; and it is because I think the House cannot possibly accept the hon. Member's particular mode of dealing, with the question—it is for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I ask the House to vote against the Second Reading of the clause. Let us consider this clause from the points of view of the various interests concerned. The point of view of the landlord need not occupy us long. Looking at the clause, in the first place, from the standpoint of the landlord, it is evident that its effect is merely to restrict his liberty of action, and it cannot be said to be in his favour. Then, I take the point of view of the locality. The hon. Member says the locality is the ultimate guarantor of the advances made by the State, and, if that is so, the ultimate guarantor has some right to consider whether the security is, or is not, sufficient, and, in his opinion, the security of these holdings never can be sufficient. Now, I am not pre pared to subscribe to this statement of the fact, but, even if I ere prepared to allow that the security of the holdings would not be sufficient, if I were to sub scribe to the statement of fact of the hon. Member that the locality, as the ultimate guarantor of the advances by the State, has some right to consider if there is some possible danger of the security of the holding not being sufficient, I still could not accept the clause, because, in my opinion, it is the duty of the Land Commission, and not of this House, to say of a particular holding whether the security is or is not sufficient. If I pass from the interest of the locality to the general interests of the evicted tenants in Ireland, I have to point out that the number of evicted tenants who would be reached by this clause is insignificant, almost in finitesimal—that is to say, if we are simply to consider those persons who have been described as planters or settlers on the Plan of Campaign estates. The proportion of these persons to the total number of persons evicted in the last 11 years is really infinitesimal. The House is asked to pass a clause as a solution of the evicted tenant difficulty which only deals, and that in an inefficient manner, with a mere fraction of the total cases of evictions. Remember the Plan of Campaign began in 1886, and was enforced on a few estates only, and this 1495 case is presented to us incorrectly— as if these few cases were those only on which the previous tenants have been replaced by new tenants. The House must be aware, and the hon. Member who moved this clause will not dissent from this, whatever may have been the general tenour of his speech, that a very large number of farms in Ireland from which tenants have been evicted have not been filled at all, and a very large number which have been filled are not farms on the Plan of Campaign estates at all.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The House has been listening to an attack upon those tenants on the Plan of Campaign estates who have been described as grooms and ostlers, and others, imported from the cities of the North by the landlords to cultivate the farms, but the great mass of holdings from which tenants have been evicted do not belong to that class. They belong to one of two other classes—either the class of land which still remains in the occupation of the landlord, or the class in which, in the ordinary course, the competition for land in Ireland has provided the landlord with a new tenant from the neighbouring district or county, and brought in under very different circumstances to what are called the settlers on the Plan of Campaign estates. Now, I want to call the attention of the House to this fact. With regard to the former class, the clause does not touch the evicted tenants at all, but leaves them absolutely out of account. It affords no remedy and no solution, and leaves matters exactly where they are. Take next the case of those holdings which have been occupied, not by settlers, but by tenants in the ordinary course. Of these, there is a very large number now in Ireland. Can it be said that these men are undeserving of the consideration of the House? In many cases they have been in occupation for three, five, six, seven, eight, and even ten years; they have been on good terms with their landlord all along; they have cultivated their holdings, so far as experience shows, with success; they are as fit, so far as we can see, to become peasant proprietors and the pro- 1496 genitors of future generations of peasant proprietors, as any other tenants holding farms in Ireland; and can it possibly be said that to exclude this large body of legitimate tenants from the operation of this Bill is a way to produce agrarian peace in Ireland? It appears to be a short cut to adding to the existing discontent, and creating more discontent, among a large and deserving class. Passing from this class of what I may call ordinary tenants to the case of the so-called planters, why are these men to be excluded? By the admission of the hon. Gentleman, they came in under circumstances of considerable difficulty, and at one time of considerable danger, to farm land from which the previous tenant had been evicted in consequence of his having joined an illegal conspiracy. Why is a man who came forward under these circumstances to occupy and cultivate a holding to be branded as a man to whom his tenancy shall not be sold? I really cannot understand it. I do not mean to discuss in detail the merits or demerits of the various landlords, or the various politicians, or the various tenants, who have been concerned in the Plan of Campaign Estates, but really, to tell the House at this time of day that men like those who were responsible for the management of the Ponsonby Estates, the estates of men like Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Olphert, are men whose view has been to deal harshly, or whose practice is deserving of the epithet of harsh, is absurd. The hon. Member has quoted the action of Lord Clanricarde as if he were a specimen of the landlords upon whose estate the Plan of Campaign has been put in operation. I am not concerned to defend the action of Lord Clanricarde towards his I have never thought it my business in this House to discuss the action of Lord Clanricarde, and I express no opinion upon it now. But I do most absolutely and emphatically deny that the management of Lord Clanricarde's estates has in any degree resembled that of the three or four large estates I have mentioned, and it is preposterous to say that the landlords of those estates have acted harshly towards their tenants.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I mentioned three or four big estates and proprietors, of whom Mr. Olphert is one, and I say it is preposterous to say that these landlords had the intention, or did, in fact, act harshly towards their tenants. The hon. Gentleman has drawn a picture of what would be thought in England if English tenants were turned from their holdings under such circumstances as the tenants of the Olphert, Lansdowne, Ponsonby, or Massereene Estates were turned out of theirs. I have no desire, as I have said, to argue the question in detail, but I firmly believe that in such a case of conspiracy in England the whole sympathy of public opinion would be on the landlord's side. I say this merely in answer to the hon. Member for West Belfast, and not to make it the basis of my case against the proposed clause. I agree with much that fell from the right hon. Member for Bridgeton and other speakers. No man in the House desires more than I do to see this question settled, and settled in an amicable way. But I cannot give my adhesion to a clause which if it were passed into law would not settle the question, but would rather add a new and substantial grievance to the many unsubstantial grievances alleged to exist in the law in Ireland governing the relations of occupier and owner—a clause which would affix an undeserved stigma and inflict an undeserved injury upon a class of occupying tenants who deserve well of the community, and a clause which after all, if it were passed into law, could by no possibility benefit more than a small, I might almost say an insignificant, fraction of the clients whose interests the hon. Member for West Belfast is endeavouring to serve. Under these circumstances I hope that, whatever solution it may be possible to find to this question, the House will not be deluded into taking any course which suggests the possibility that the road to the solution of the problem is to be found in the clause of the hon. Member for West Belfast. I believe it to be unjust and unworkable, and that it would not effect the object the hon. Member has in view, and I am sure that, so far from giving peace to Ireland, it would only add to the troubles, already sufficiently numerous, which have so much disturbed those who are 1498 responsible for the government of the country.
§ (6.20.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
Of the three speeches we have heard against the clause, that from the hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) seemed alone to breathe implacable hostility to the evicted tenants. The hon. Member began by saying that he opposed the Amendment on grounds of principle, not of expediency, but I listened carefully to his speech, and I confess I found no principle there, unless it was the principle that there should be eternal punishment for these unfortunate tenants. Now, I would suggest to the hon. Member that he should leave the enforcement of that principle to "another place"; at all events, I think we shall all prefer to leave this principle out of sight in our discussion of the position of these unfortunate tenants. The hon. Member lays down the principle that these tenants are never to be restored to their holdings because they have broken some unwritten law of the landlords, that any man who does not pay his rent must necessarily be unfit to cultivate a holding. But I venture to controvert that doctrine. These tenants in many cases would have paid a fair rent if they could have done so. It is utterly untrue to say that the majority of these tenants, whose case my hon. Friend desires to meet by his Amendment, have been evicted because they pursued a course of combination legal or illegal. The vast majority of the tenants evicted during the last 10 years did not actively pursue any course of agrarian combination, and in many cases their eviction resulted from their not having been wise enough to adopt a course of combination; they were evicted because they were unable to beg or borrow the money wherewith to pay the exorbitant rents their landlords persisted in demanding. Their case might have been dealt with had your legislation been more rapid; but we know that, in the first place, nothing was done at all until three years of agricultural depression had passed. During those three years the landlords of England had been reducing their agricultural rents voluntarily. In Ireland the landlords did not reduce their rents voluntarily, and, indeed, I know of more than one case in which an Irish landlord tried to raise his rents in 1880. It 1499 became necessary to pass legislation to compel landlords in Ireland to make those reductions which in England landlords voluntarily undertook. The Act was passed, but hon. Members who have had practical experience of the Land Act in Ireland must know how tedious its operation was. A tenant had frequently to wait three years before he could get his case into Court, and meantime he remained liable for the old rent, and only recently was the Act amended to enable him to get back afterwards that part of the old rent which was over the fair rent, and tenants have frequently been evicted simply because they have been unable to pay that which the Court afterwards declared to be an unfair rent, and these are the men who on no principle should be punished. The hon. Member has told us that the Amendment would be unworkable because a landlord could not prevent a sale to an evicted tenant without running the risk of an action for libel. A more groundless proposition was never put forward. It is true the only way in which a landlord could prevent an advance being made to a tenant who had been evicted would be by proving to the Land Commission that such a person was not fit to receive an advance; but he would prove that in the ordinary course of law, and he would be privileged in doing this. I believe there is no doubt about that, and I cannot conceive that there would be any objection to a provision making it absolutely clear that the landlord is absolutely privileged in any matter to be brought before the Commission. An objection of that kind is easily explained away. Then I venture to think that the speech of the hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry), though more benevolent in tone, did not offer any proposal by which to reach the heart of this difficulty. It comes to this, that the hon. Member is in favour of legislation which shall enable a landlord to sell to his evicted tenants. But this is ridiculous; for a landlord can sell to them at any moment; he has but to reinstate them and they become present tenants; but the difficulty is that some of the landlords do not want to do this; they seem to breathe the spirit animating the hon. Member for South Antrim, and want to punish their 1500 tenants. If a landlord is actuated by a humane desire to sell to his evicted tenant he has but to restore him to the position he occupied before eviction, and he becomes a present tenant, and can receive the advantages of the Act. I wish the hon. Member would translate his view into legislative language. So also I would like to have translated into definite language the good wishes of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman tells us the clause is of no use, and that it will not effect the object my hon. Friend has in view, and yet he seemed to convey to the House that he was of the same opinion as my hon. Friend, that something ought to be done for those evicted tenants. What is he going to do? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the principle of the hon. Member for South Antrim, and is he going to keep these tenants out of their holdings for ever? If not, what is he going to do? If the right hon. Gentleman declares that in a measure which purports to settle the land question nothing is to be done on behalf of the evicted tenants, then I tremble at what the consequences may be when those poor men hear what will be to them a message of despair. Surely, if the Chief Secretary has any policy on the question and intends to do anything for the evicted tenants, now is the time to disclose that policy to the House. We are anxious to come to any reasonable compromise; we wish, for the peace of the community, to restore the tenants to their holdings on as favourable terms as possible, and if the right hon. Gentleman can show us any better way to meet the difficulty, my hon. Friend will withdraw his clause at once. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's carping criticisms of the proposal of my hon. Friend I confess I had doubts if the right hon. Gentleman had considered any policy in relation to these matters. The right hon. Gentleman said the clause would not do the locality any good, but I venture to ask him does he really think that it will be to the interest of the peace of a locality to allow these emergency men to buy the holdings they occupy? I have a certain number of friends connected with the landlord interest, and I have one friend connected with one of the largest land estate offices in 1501 Ireland. "Surely," said I to him one day, "it is not necessary that these land grabbers should have police protection?" "Yes," he said, "it is absolutely necessary they should be carefully watched, and if they were not they would steal the wire fencing from the farms." These were the words used by a gentleman connected with one of the largest land agencies in Ireland. In nine cases out of ten these men are not bonâ fide agricultural tenants. Take the Massereene Estate as an instance, and I admit it is the strongest case against us. The men who came into the holdings did so without paying a farthing for the improvements on the holdings as an ordinary tenant would have done; they had no capital, and the landlord had to supply them with stock, and they had to pay lower rents than the previous tenants, and yet they at once began grumbling. A gentleman was sent by a Unionist Association to report on the condition of these tenants, and he declared that if he meant to keep these valuable men Lord Massereene "must put his best foot forward." I do not know that much importance should be attached to the opinion of this gentleman, Mr. Crockett, but according to his statement these tenants were treated better than ever tenants on the estate had been treated before, and yet, though good agriculturists, they could not make the farms pay. I deny they were bonâ fide agricultural tenants; but if they were and could not live from the farms, how was it possible for the previous tenants to do so under the extreme conditions imposed upon them? With the bonâ fide tenants who have succeeded to the evicted farms we do not propose to interfere; it is only the men known as landgrabbers who will be touched by this clause. If a man has been evicted because he was in-le of working a holding, and, therefore, it may be assumed he cannot work the holding as a purchaser, then the Land Commission can refuse the advance to him. We propose to deal with a limited class of cases, but cases where the grievance is great, where a landlord refuses, even on fair terms to restore an evicted tenant. We propose to deal only with those tenants, who, if given a fair chance, would become useful cultivating owners. Whatever criticisms 1502 may have been passed on the details of the Amendment, in principle it is an Amendment which the House ought to accept, and which, I venture to hope, will have support from the other side of the House.
§ (6.37.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL
As the House knows I have taken a somewhat strong line in regard to the quarrel which has been going on in Ireland during the last 10 years upon this question, and I am therefore all the more anxious to express my. views upon this Amendment. I shall not be able to vote for it, but, on the other hand, I am not in agreement with the hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney). Before I deal with the hon. Member's position, however, I desire to say that the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast was one of the most pathetic incidents I have over seen in the House of Commons. After a 10 years' struggle, in which a great organisation, led by Members below the Gangway, has been encouraging the tenants, and which is largely responsible for a number of evictions—I admit that the hon. Member himself has been little mixed up in these matters—we see the Member for West Belfast coming here to-night and making an almost passionate appeal for the cessation of the strife and the restoration of the tenants to the holdings from which this great organisation, of which the hon. Gentleman was a member, drove them out. I do not complain of the hon. Member for West Belfast doing this. On the contrary, it is greatly to the hon. Gentleman's credit and honour that he has delivered such a speech. But the hon. Member's clause practically proposes that every tenant who has been evicted since 1881—and I am glad he proposes to include the evictions that took place under the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton—who turns up and makes his claim shall have a right of purchase, to the exclusion of the tenant who is actually in possession of the holding. That is a somewhat extraordinary proposal to make to the House of Commons. It is one thing to be anxious for the restoration of evicted tenants, but another and very different thing to bring in a sweeping clause like this without paying any regard to what was the cause of the eviction, whether 1503 it was just or, as hon. Members below the Gangway will say, unjust; whether the tenant got something for going out, as in many cases he did, from the incoming tenant. It is an extraordinary proposal that the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) embodies in this clause. Will the House consider the position in which the Land Commission will find itself at once placed if this clause, or anything like it, is passed? What is the position of the evicted tenants at this moment? They are, in the main, absolute paupers. That is what the agitation of the last 10 years has done for these evicted tenants. The men who were fairly well to do in many cases are to-day absolute paupers, living upon aid from foreign countries, and upon the aid of their fellow-citizens, and is it possible that the hon. Member for West Belfast proposes to go to the Land Commission with these paupers. [Cries of "Oh!"] Well, I do not use the word disrespectfully. The men are not to blame; other people are to blame. Is it reasonable to ask the House to send these men, most of whom are absolute paupers—and I greatly regret to say it—before the Land Commission as suitable purchasers under this Act. They have no capital to work the land with, or to buy stock or anything else with, and it will be absolutely impossible for the Land Commission to place these men, ruined as they are, upon the land from which they were evicted between 1881 and 1890. The clause is, therefore, impracticable. Whilst I say that I want the House to see whether anything can be done or not. It is quite impossible, in my opinion, to eject a tenant. Of course, the House of Commons can do anything, but there are some things I do not think this or any other House of Commons would do. The House of Commons would not eject a tenant who is legally in possession for the sake of a man who has been legally evicted.
§ MR. SEXTON
Surely there is no question of ejectment here. We do not want to turn these men into freeholders.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
You want to give the tenant who has been evicted a right of freehold. There are numberless holdings all over Ireland which are now derelict, or in charge of caretakers, 1504 or as they are sometimes called emergency men. I am not concerned with these emergency men. The emergency man is generally a man who carries his life in his hands, and I do not think you will always find them sons of Bishops. But in the case of holdings which are absolutely vacant, and holdings in charge of caretakers, I do not see that there should be any difficulty in arriving at a settlement; I rely on the Chief Secretary, and I think this would be an appropriate time for a settlement. Ireland is profoundly peaceful, more peaceable and more prosperous than she has been for 20 years. The Crimes Act is absolutely ceasing to operate; the Plan of Campaign is crumbling to ruin. This, therefore, is an admirable time for looking this question fairly in the face and seeing what really can be done in the case of holdings that are vacant, but with the old tenants there, or in case of land that is in charge of a caretaker, and where the tenant can be found. I wish in these cases something could be done to restore these tenants; but I think it is a large order to say that all the tenants evicted since 1881 should be restored. The House of Commons cannot, I am persuaded, agree to that.
§ (6.45.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
The closing words of the Chief Secretary appear to indicate that he is prepared to approach this question in a spirit of far greater conciliation and moderation than he has ever exhibited in previous Debates. The right hon. Gentleman stated that no man in this House is more desirous of settling the question than he is. That fact, taken in connection with the speeches of other Members, and especially those of the hon. Member for South Huntingdon and the hon. Member for South Tyrone, shows that the question is ripe for dealing with, and that it will be a great misfortune if this Bill is allowed to pass without some bonâ fide effort being made in that direction. The Chief Secretary, however, while finding fault with the proposal of the hon. Member for West Belfast, did not give an indication of any alternative method of dealing with the question. If the right hon. Gentleman had done so, I for my own part would not be prepared to vote for the clause now before us, but I would 1505 have waited with hope for the proposal of the Chief Secretary. The Chief Secretary, no doubt, is justified in some of his comments on the proposal now before us. He pointed out with justice that the proposed clause only deals with a part of the difficulty. I think there are only three estates where combinations have taken place, and where a successful attempt has been made to put other tenants in the place of those evicted. But, though the number dealt with is small, the principle involved is of very great importance, and if once conceded may be followed afterwards. Nothing could be more unfortunate than to allow the men who are not really tenants to take advantage of the Bill, as that would be merely to aggravate the disputes in Ireland between landlord and tenant. Many of the men who have been put on the land are merely bogus tenants—they are men with no capital of their own, and they have come into possession of the holdings for a mere argumentative purpose. It may be true that in one or two cases on the Massereene Estate there are substantial men, but even those men have paid nothing whatever for tenant right to the outgoing tenant, and, therefore, are not entitled to any advantage under this Bill. Great efforts have been made to induce the Land Commissioners to allow the supplanting tenants to purchase their holdings, but hitherto the Commissioners have refused to admit that they are tenants in the ordinary sense of the term. I believe I am right in saying that the Land Commissioners have incurred a good deal of odium in certain quarters for refusing to admit these men to the privileges of the Ashbourne Act, but I think they have done well. The clause of the hon. Member for West Belfast is intended to affirm the principle of action which has hitherto been taken by the Land Commission. In that sense I think it is a wise and just proposal. After all, I fully admit that the clause, as it stands, would only deal with a small branch of the question, and that a wider question would still remain undealt with, namely, how to bring to a conclusion the few remaining agrarian disputes in Ireland, with a view to the settlement of the question. Earlier in the Session I brought the whole matter before the House, and urged that arbitration was 1506 the only feasible plan for the settlement of the disputes. I am still of that opinion, and my impression is that if the Chief Secretary would now use his influence with the landlords to promote arbitration the difficulty could still be surmounted. Since the opening of the Session there have been two estates where settlements have beenarrivedat—namely, the Glensharrold and the Leader Estates, and in both cases practically on the same terms. All the evicted tenants have been replaced; large remissions of arrears have been given; and arrangements have been made for admitting the re-instated tenants to the privileges of the Bill before the House. It has been represented that in the case of these disputes the settlements have been a victory against the combinations known as the Plan of Campaign; but, so far as I can understand the matter, that is very far from being the case. All the other outstanding disputes could easily he settled on the same basis. I cannot help hoping that the Chief Secretary will still find it possible, either by using his influence with the landlords, or by making a proposal to the House, to promote a settlement of the outstanding disputes. I am certain that if those disputes are allowed to continue, the feeling in Ireland will be aggravated instead of being allayed by this measure.
§ (6.57.) MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
I am sure everyone who has listened to the Debate must have been struck with the very greatly improved tone on all sides, promising apparently an opportunity for a real settlement of this great question. That tone ought to lead the Government to make some attempt towards bringing about the settlement. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of this as a matter affecting a comparatively small number of people. But has it not always been the case that the failure to settle these difficulties has arisen from the action of a very small number of men? There has been a great deal of abuse of Irish landlords in which I have never been able to join. The bulk of the Irish landlords have been a very kindly race. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"] They have not been a very prudent race, but neither have the English landlords. If the Irish landlords had not been a kindly race, it 1507 would have been impossible to have established tenant right without any protection of the law. It is also a matter of history that a small number of Irish landlords of a very different description have been able from time to time to upset all the endeavours of this country, and of the better class of landlords for the amelioration of the tenant's position. Omissions on the part of the Legislature have been taken advantage of by one or two bad landlords, and the confidence of the whole body of tenants has been shaken in the legislation that has been passed. With its usual folly, Parliament, instead of watching the progress of its legislation, has allowed these mistakes to continue, undertaking reforms only when it is too late. If this question is not dealt with, it will leave a small centre of poison in the state of agrarian feeling in Ireland which will poison the whole country. The Chief Secretary has admitted to a great extent this danger. What we want is an assurance that he will bring his great talents to bear to cut out this poison.
§ (7.2.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford speaks with great authority on this question. Since 1875 or 1876 he has interested himself largely in the Land Purchase question, and, moreover he speaks as a former Minister and from the Front Opposition Bench. He has pointed out that the settlement of the Irish land question will be left imperfect if this running gore—the evicted tenants—is allowed to continue. We are all acquainted with the events in Ireland of the last 10 or 11 years. There are not many Members, probably, who take the same view of all the circumstances that have occurred during this period; but we all know that there are certain tenants who have stood out for what they considered their rights. They have been evicted in process of law, and have suffered heavily, and yet it is owing to the fact that tenants have stood out in this way that large concessions have been made to their class. A unique and unexampled opportunity of closing this question now presents itself. It is in the power of the Chief Secretary to introduce some kind of clause which will terminate this struggle 1508 and allow everyone to start afresh. The hon. Member for Carnarvonshire, who has also, for some years past, taken a deep interest in this question, also thinks that this is a favourable opportunity for the Chief Secretary to bring about a settlement. I would join with him and with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, and appeal to the Government to terminate this struggle, and allow some retreat to the evicted tenants. The present clause is negative in its action. If it passes it can do no great amount of good and may do a certain amount of harm; but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford has pointed out that unless the Government propose to do something he will be obliged to vote for it, and the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire, and probably many others, will have to do the same. The Bill will be incomplete if this matter is left open. The Government should propose some means by which in cases where the landlords and tenants agree, the latter should be re-instated in their holdings. There is nothing of the kind in the Bill at present, but I think it would be possible for the Government to propose something of the sort. This is a Bill which, on the whole, I approve of, and to which, on the whole, I have given support in the House, whether other Irish Members have been opposed to it or not. Well, I think the measure will be rendered complete if the Government take in hand the settlement of this matter, and that the fame and credit of the Government in Ireland will be incomplete unless they open a door by which the present evicted tenants may be re-established in their holdings. There are many ways of doing this. They may propose a provision of either a compulsory or permissive character. As I have said, the present clause is of a negative character, and would not reestablish the tenants. All that it would do would be this—it would have a strong tendency to prevent new tenancies being established over the heads of old ones. Moreover, it is a protest against the omission by the Government of all consideration of the case of the evicted tenants, and unless the Government themselves make a proposal, I shall be compelled to vote for it. I, however, do not think it too late for the 1509 Government to do something in this direction.
§ (7.8.) MR. M. J. KENNY
The House is in an unsatisfactory position as regards this matter, because the clause the hon. Member has brought forward has raised a question in regard to which the House is in some respects practically unanimous. Representatives on all sides have admitted that something should be done for the purpose of settling this question of evicted tenants. We have had opinions from quarters differing so widely as the hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry), the Chief Secretary himself, the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), and hon. Members who sit below the Gangway on this side of the House. So far every one, except the hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney)—who speaks solely for himself—admits that there is a grievance here that should be dealt with if there is to be a perfect settlement of the land question in Ireland. The Chief Secretary, instead of meeting the question fairly, and going to the root of the matter, went off on a number of side issues, and then, by a series of destructive criticisms on minute points, he seemed to think he had settled the whole question. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to go away from the point in that way, but the question still remains: What is to be done with the evicted tenants? I do not care if they were evicted under the Plan of Campaign. It is of no consequence whether the Plan of Campaign is defensible or indefensible—whether it is moral or immoral. I assume that the principle underlying the Bill is the settlement of the agrarian difficulty in Ireland. If the real principle is the settlement of the land question, you have to take facts as they exist. The hon. Member for South Antrim said they were not responsible for the eviction of the tenants under the Plan of Campaign. No; but to say that the tenants are solely to blame for the Plan of Campaign is manifestly absurd, for the Plan has been enforced on something like 60 or 70 estates in Ireland, and out of that number settlements have been effected in. almost seven-eighths of the instances, and the landlords and tenants have come to arrangements on terms closely 1510 approximating to the demands of the tenants. It is only in three or four special instances that settlements have not been arrived at, and in the most notorious of those cases no one has any sympathy with the landlord—Lord Clanricarde. The question is not what were the causes which led to the Plan of Campaign, but, if the Government want to go to the root of the agrarian question, they must deal with the evicted tenants. Whether the proposed clause would effect the particular purpose which so many Members have in view, or whether it would not, is a question on which there may be a difference of opinion. I admit that it is a negative proposal rather than a positive one, but if the Chief Secretary will not accept it, we invite him at least to adumbrate a proposal of his own. The right hon. Gentleman asks, "Why must we brand these tenants who have come into possession by excluding them from the operation of this Act?" The tenants who have come into possession within the last few years are in an absolutely different position to those tenants who were originally in possession. The tenants who were evicted were owners of a very important estate in the land. They had their own interest, which is generally speaking as great as that of the landlord, they forfeited that interest owing to a temporary inability to pay their rents. They lost, therefore, for a comparatively small sum a valuable estate. The landlords succeeded in certain instances in re-letting the farms to men who were immediately placed in possession, not only of the tenancies as between themselves and the landlord, but also in possession of the improvements effected by the previous tenants, and for which they paid absolutely nothing. The equities, therefore, are not even. The proposal is simply to extend the period of redemption of the tenants' interest, and to enable the tenants, even at the eleventh hour, to come in and save themselves from final destruction. It is all very well for the landlords to demand some victims of their policy. You may make scapegoats of these evicted tenants, but they will nevertheless remain with you. We are told they are ruined men. Some of them are ruined men, but others, if replaced, would be perfectly competent to retrieve their fortunes. The 1511 Land Commission will, under this clause, have a perfect discretion to decide whether the evicted tenants are fit to be replaced or not; if they are not fit the Land Commission is not bound to re-admit them to their holdings. We hear it said these men have no capital. I should like to know what capital the squatters on the Massereene Estate had? They went there absolute paupers, and had to rely on a landlord organisation for the means with which to stock the farms. The result was that the land has not been farmed very successfully. But if you replace the old tenants, the men who have made all the improvements, and give them the additional stimulus of ownership, I believe you will find them most satisfactory purchasers, men who will meet their obligations with perfect regularity. Under the circumstances I think the right hon. Gentleman has no ground for refusing the proposal of my hon. Friend. The position of the right hon. Gentleman is most unfair. His attention has been drawn to the matter repeatedly, and I assume he has given the matter consideration. Surely the time has now come. when he is able to devise some means of settling this difficult and pressing question. We are entitled in the interest of these tenants, in the interest of land purchase, to demand a declaration from the Government of their intention with regard to these matters. You cannot complete the system of land purchase while you continue to exclude from the operation of the Bill a great number of men who have all their lives practically been tenants, who have created valuable interests in the land, and who only lost their interest in the land owing, as a rule, to circumstances over which they had no control. Assuming that these men have been dupes, surely they have been punished enough. Judging from his speech, I do not think the hon. Member for South Hunts is anxious to exact vengeance. I do not believe there is any desire on the part of any fair-minded landlord to exact vengeance. This is a case of grievous hardship. The Chief Secretary has achieved his reputation on the ruin of the evicted tenants, and I think the time has come when he should make some return to these men.
§ (7.24.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)
Since I became a Member of the House. I remember few more solemn occasions than the present, because I regard it as a turning point in the settlement of the land question. We are all agreed as to the desirability of a settlement, and as to the settlement having a permanent effect. I believe the objects of Irishmen and Englishmen in this matter are common ones. Some may say our objects are different. It is said we who sit on these Benches are anxious to keep up agitation with an ulterior object. As a matter of principle, it seems to me that these men should be re-instated in their holdings. The right hon. Gentleman can, if he choose, insure the passing of this clause, which would do much to restore peace and tranquillity to districts, where now there is dissatisfaction. If the evicted tenants are given to understand that they must never hope to re-occupy their holdings, they and their descendants will never forget or forgive. I believe that on the estates where the tenants have refused to pay rent they have been driven to refusal as an extreme measure by the exacting demands of the landlords. A Land Sub-Commissioner once told me that he had never known a case in which a tenant was not willing to pay a fair price for his holding. The action of the evicted tenants was absolutely necessary. But for them there would have been none of this land legislation, and it would unstatesmanlike, impolitic, and unchristian to visit them with such cruel punishment as that which is now proposed in this Bill. On every account, therefore, and because I believe this clause, if carried, would tend to social order, I have great pleasure in supporting the proposal of my hon. Friend.
§ (7.30.) MR. MACNEILL
I rise for the purpose of making a personal appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who has it in his power to restore peace and comfort to these people. The hon. Member for South Hunts and the hon. Member for South Tyrone, both of whom know the condition of these evicted tenants and the inconceivable sum total of misery which the eviction of an Irish family involves, are in favour of doing something for them. I appeal to the Chief Secretary as a man to solve 1513 this question, and thus to secure the success of land purchase and alleviate a vast amount of human misery. The right hon. Gentleman knows the condition of these people, and on him lies the responsibility. I have often wished that the right hon. Gentleman had spent one single day longer in Donegal. I invited him to witness the scenes of suffering on the Olphert Estate, but he declined the invitation. I have sometimes thought that if the Chief Secretary had spent six hours on that estate the whole course of things would have been altered. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to look at the position which Irish Members occupy in relation to their constituents. If the Irish Members, or the Irish people, were to desert these evicted men, they would be guilty of a stupendous act of perfidy. If the right hon. Member for West Birmingham were in his place, I would appeal to him to support the proposal for including the tenants evicted under Land League agitation, for, in a speech made in Liverpool in 1881, he said that the Land League was necessary for the passing of the Land Act of 1881. Of the Plan of Campaign, too, it may be said that it was the precursor and generator of the Act of 1887. These evicted tenants are really the soldiers who bled for the common good, and having regard to the circumstances of their sufferings, I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give their case lenient consideration. We say that these emergency men are out of the purview of an Act of Parliament which is to confer, as we understand, exceptional benefits on men exceptionally situated. The emergency men do not come within that category. They entered upon these holdings with their eyes open; the responsibility was not forced upon them, but they willingly accepted it. No doubt many of the evicted tenants are paupers, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that many of their successors also are equally paupers. They certainly cannot be said to be trustworthy men. Although, as the Chief Secretary knows, I have strong feelings about Mr. Olphert, I am anxious to say nothing in reference to him. I would rather avoid personal recriminations. I do not think I ought to further trespass on the attention of the House. I should not 1514 have detained it at such length had I not been anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should not for one moment imagine that I ever say anything against him behind his back which I am not prepared to say before his face. Nothing has so greatly aroused the sympathies of the English people as the miseries under which the evicted tenants are now suffering. I do not know how many families would come within the purview of this section, but probably they would number close on 30,000, and their sufferings are almost inconceivable. I make an appeal now, not only to the Chief Secretary, but also to the First Lord of the Treasury. Let them both put politics on one side. Let the First Lord use his great influence with the Chief Secretary in the interests of kindness and humanity with a view to getting these people restored to their homes. When we see the sufferings of a little child in the streets we are sometimes moved to pain for days; yet these people are in a continual state of wretchedness, poverty, and despair, leading to idleness and demoralisation. I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he wishes to make the Land Purchase Bill a success, to get rid of the flaw which my right hon. Friend has pointed out. I ask him, for the relief of suffering humanity, and for the promotion of peace and goodwill in Ireland, as well as for the sake of the solution of the land question, to listen to this appeal. Do not let it depend on questions of Party Government; rather listen to the dictates of Christian feeling. We wish the Chief Secretary every political success—though not in Ireland—and if he will only take advantage of this opportunity to benefit his fellow-creatures, and make his Land Act a success, he will do much to alleviate human suffering and to produce that reconciliation between all classes which is so much to be desired.
§ (7.52.) MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S.E, Eccles)
It is with considerable diffidence that I rise to say a word upon the matter. But having listened to the Debate, I cannot but think it is possible by some alteration of this clause to meet, to a large extent, the wishes which have been expressed on both sides of the House. I would venture to suggest the omission from this clause of the first two lines and a half declaring that 1515 no advance shall be made for the purchase of a holding by a tenant if it is proved by another applicant that he has been evicted there from. I would make the clause read that if it were proved to the satisfaction of the Land Commission, on the application of an evicted tenant, that he is willing to purchase at a price agreed to with the proprietor, it shall then be competent for the Land Commission to treat the applicant, for the purposes of this Act, as a tenant who has made an agreement for the purchase of his holding. By some such alteration two objects would be effected: The evicted tenants would have a chance of being permitted to purchase their holdings, and, at the same time, a discretion would be left to the Land Commission to intervene in a case in which the circumstances render such a course unjustifiable. It seems very desirable that there should be some power of arbitration; and the Land Commission might be empowered to arbitrate, and, if they think fit, to give the priority to an applicant who has been evicted from a holding. Perhaps the Government may see their way to allow the clause to be read a second time with the object of making some Amendments such as I suggest.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
On a point of order. As I understand the suggestion, it is that the Land Commission shall be empowered to sell to an ex-tenant as if he were a tenant. I wish to ask the Speaker whether a proposal of this sort, which has a certain resemblance to one that has already been on the Paper in the name of the senior Member for Cork, is in order?
§ (7.55.) MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
I had not the advantage of hearing the speech of the Chief Secretary, but I gather that he rather ridiculed the Amendment as not calculated to afford redress or comfort to the evicted tenants. If these are his genuine feelings, surely nothing would be easier than for him to enlarge its scope. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast would be only too delighted to agree to that. Now, an Irish Member speaking on a question 1516 such as this to this House is at a great disadvantage, because it is notorious that Englishmen, who are the greatest travellers in the world, visit every nook and corner of the earth, and yet take little trouble to go to Ireland, the country which they insist upon ruling. Most of the Members of this House have no idea of what the land question in Ireland really is. On English estates most of the improvements are effected by the landlords. But in Ireland it is the very reverse. The permanent improvements are effected solely by the occupier. We have a remarkable confirmation of this in the words which fell from Lord Cowper, who presided over a Royal Commission. He said that English gentlemen could have no conception of what the agrarian question in Ireland was; it was possible to count on one's fingers the estates in Ireland which are managed on the principles in vogue on most English estates. Most Englishmen are surprised at these evicted tenants wishing to get back to their homes, their squalor being so great and their accommodation so wretched. But the secret of the desire of the people for their homes is this: that, poor and lowly as no doubt they are, they have been erected by the people themselves, or by their ancestors, and they are endeared to them by the links of flesh and blood, and by the reminiscences of the past. We ask that these people shall not be dealt with in a spirit of vindictiveness. We maintain that it is in the interests of peace that the question affecting the evicted tenants should be settled on a broad and lenient basis. It may be said that some of us on this side of the House are in favour of agitation and confusion in Ireland. We desire, as a fact, from the bottom of our hearts, that peace should reign in Ireland, and we say that we have been forced to agitate and combined by the conduct of this House. Every reform we have conceded to Ireland has been obtained by agitation. We maintain that the Government is responsible by its policy for the position of the evicted tenants, and especially of those evicted under the Plan of Campaign. A Bill was brought forward on these Benches to give judicial leaseholders a revision of their rents, and to admit them to the benefits of the Land Act. It was scouted out of the House, and 1517 thus the Government made itself the father of the Plan of Campaign, for, after stubbornly refusing to listen to the voice of the Irish people, you only a year later, brought forward a Bill enabling a revision of judicial rents in the case of leaseholders. We say it is your duty, in honour, to come to the assistance of the men whom you have driven from their homes and farms by your unwise policy, and if you are not pursuing them with vindictiveness you will do what we ask you to do. It is notorious that many of the men who have replaced the evicted tenants are bogus tenants, and I again urge the Government, instead of leaving to starvation the people on behalf of whom, we plead to give them an opportunity of returning to their holdings.
§ (8.7.) MR. JORDAN
We, as Representatives for Ireland, feel great responsibility for the evicted tenants. It was pleasant this evening to hear the tone in which the Member for Huntingdon and the Member for South Tyrone, and even the Chief Secretary, spoke. The one jarring note was that uttered by the Member for South Antrim, who, true to the instincts of his class, sounded the old note of "No surrender." But we know from experience that, in spite of all, he will ultimately submit. I should advise the hon. Member to be somewhat more moderate; he is far more likely to be successful if he adopts that plan. I rise to appeal to the Chief Secretary and to the Government in relation to these evicted tenants. Whether they have been evicted rightly or wrongly is not the question. They are now out in the cold; they are suffering, and we ask the Government to make some practical suggestion towards the solution of the difficulty in restoring them to the land, or otherwise relieving them. If no redress is attempted, great irritation will be produced, not only among the evicted tenants, but among the tenants remaining on the estate. We, too, as Representatives of the Irish people, will feel the irritation. We are bound not to desert the evicted tenants; we cannot give up the conflict. The hon. Member for South Tyrone seems to think that our right arm has lost its cunning. It is not so. We are not powerless. We are capable still of maintaining a hard 1518 struggle, and I calculate wrongly in regard to the spirit and pluck of the Irish tenants if for many years they will not be able to keep up the fight should you reject this appeal. The irritation caused by the present position of the evicted tenants works. hate, and hate produces discontent, and the discontent leads to disorder, and will lead to disorder: it will lead to disorder as against the emergency men. About these men I have scarcely any patience to talk. They are a mean and contemptible lot. Instead of being respectable tenants, as I have heard the Chief Secretary style them, they are a mean and grabbing lot of men. I know something of the men on the Massereene Estate. It is said they are men of capital; but I know that many of them have been obliged to sell out in their own district, and that they have gone to the Massereene Estate because they thought they could get hold of other people's property. This, of course, they do in the name of loyalty to the Queen and Constitution. One man named Johnson, who took land on that estate, retained his own land in County Fermanagh. He put his nephew in his own farm, and out of pure greed went up to Louth simply to get a piece of good land and a good house for nothing. Possibly he had some hope of being made County Magistrate and a Grand Juror. It would be no misfortune for that man to be turned out of his farm in Louth. I have talked to Orangemen, neighbours of Johnson, in Fermanagh. Those men condemned the conduct of Johnson, and said if they had a quarrel with the Marquess of Ely or the Earl of Ennis killen, their landlords, they would not care for Roman Catholic tenants to come from Louth and take their farms, appropriating their tenant right. I am rather cool and phlegmatic; but when I think of these emergency men appropriating the property of the tenants, my blood boils, and I can call these men by no other name than that of robbers. I do not wish to create a great gulf between the Government and ourselves in the discussion of this subject; but when I hear even the right hon. Gentleman claim for these emergency men—these wanderers, the position of tenants, I am filled with indignation. They are not to be put on an equality with the 1519 hereditary agricultural farmers; they are only squatters, wanderers going about, like their illustrious predecessors, seeking whom they may devour— [laughter] — seeking whose property they may devour. You talk about morality. The less you talk about aristocratic morality—landlord agrarian morality—the better. You talk about morality and legality. Yes, you are all very legal so long as the law is on your side. If I were in such a position as the evicted tenants, and my little property on which I have lived all my days and on which my father and grandfather had lived before me, were taken from me by some men from the South of Ireland, the interloper would require a good deal of protection before he gained his end. I appeal to the Government to produce some scheme. The hon. Member for West Belfast and his Colleagues are not wedded to his new clause, but are prepared to meet the Government half way, and more than half way. The hon. Member for South Hunts is now in consultation with the Chief Secretary, possibly suggesting some way out of the difficulty. Let the Government do something. Let them show that they do not merely indulge in lip service, but are sincere and in earnest in their commiseration for the evicted tenants. There is probably no person who has sympathised with the Chief Secretary and his Land Bill more than I have. I am anxious that this Bill should have free scope, and that the tenants of the country should enjoy all the benefits of it. But does the right hon. Gentleman expect the Bill to settle the land question if he excludes the evicted tenants from its purview? He can hardly expect that? I believe the right hon. Gentleman wishes to govern Ireland well. I am not one of those who think that everything the Chief Secretary does is bad. I am not one of those who think the right hon. Gentleman is naturally depraved. I admire the great ability of the right hon. Gentleman, and even believe he is disposed to be fair. But the Chief Secretary has functions to perform conferred on him by the State, and he can do nothing that will give greater satisfaction and do more to promote peace and quiet in Ireland than to restore the evicted tenants 1520 to their homes in the interests of humanity and good order. I press for consideration for the evicted tenants. I have much pleasure in supporting the new clause of my hon. Friend. (8.30.)
§ (9.5.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
It is somewhat difficult for a Member without technical knowledge or legal ex perience intervening in a Debate of this kind, to bring any additional pabulum to the discussion—
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ (9.8.) DR. TANNER
proceeded: It is difficult for an ordinary Member to enlighten the House upon any points of technicality in connection with this question. I have had the opportunity of listening to speeches from several hon. Members who usually differ from us, and notably to speeches delivered by Members connected with the landlord party, and I must say that, taken all in all, the expression of opinion evoked has been in favour of something being done on behalf of the evicted tenants. Of course it is our duty, and our right, to take up the cause of these tenants. I may say that, but for having witnessed the horrors of eviction in Ireland, I should never have taken an active part in politics. It was through witnessing eviction scenes, as a medical man, that I was brought into public life, and sure I am that if hon. Members had had the experience I have had they would be as ardently in favour of these evicted tenants as I am. Of course I know there are many hon. Members who share the Chief Secretary's condemnation of the Plan of Campaign, but the tenants evicted from the Campaign estates are but a small proportion of the number of tenants who have suffered from unjust eviction. Does not the history of legislation indicate how great has been the grievances of tenants? Have you not introduced Land Bill after Land Bill for the protection of tenant farmers in Ireland in their struggle against excessive rents? Have we not seen your Land Courts cutting down rents right, left, and centre? In my own constituency Judge Ferguson, in the Macroom Court, has reduced rents by no less than 40 percent. But what has become of the tenant evicted before they had any chance of 1521 obtaining a reduction of their rents? These unfortunate men have been evicted for no fault of their own—your legislation has recognised that—and, in the interests of peace and justice, we ask you to take the case of these tenants into serious consideration. The recent Census, I understand, shows the population of Ireland to be 4,700,000, a decline of 450,000 from the Census Return of 1881. With this decline of population you have, of course, a diminution in the number of men capable of tilling the land, the competition for land is less keen, and a great number of evicted tenants have long been waiting, hoping against hope, and in the face of many difficulties, for a return to those holdings made productive by the capital and industry of their fathers. These people have an equitable and certainly an hereditary right to the first claim upon their old holdings, and I think this hereditary principle is one the Conservative Party should not be slow to recognise; if that principle be good for peers, it ought to be good for honest agricultural working men. This is a crucial question; we are dealing with a matter which amounts to one of life or death to many of these unfortunate men and their families. Are men of the character of those who have taken evicted farms to be encouraged in doing so to the detriment of other men who have certainly been unfortunate owing to the peculiar circumstances?—to which I will not now advert, as I think we ought to try at the present time to soothe all minor difficulties. How many people do we find have been evicted during the last five quarters? Excluding those who have been evicted for ordinary debts, I find that the numbers are for the quarter ending March 31, 1890, 1,365; for the quarter ending June 30, 1,967; for the quarter ending September 30, 2,002; for the quarter ending December 31, 1,043; and for the quarter ending March, 1891, 1,167, making a total of 7,544. Surely these people ought not to be left as a burden upon the community if you can possibly do anything for them. I have sometimes been accused of speaking too strongly, and also of being rather prolix. On the present occasion I do not intend to offend in either particular I believe that if you can assist these poor people, 1522 you will not merely be benefitting this country and Ireland, but you will he benefitting humanity. If you inquire into the outrages which have taken place in districts where a great number of emergency men have been planted, you will be convinced that the employment of these men is contrary to any rule of morality or order, and that they are a distinct curse to the districts in which they are found. I would point out that up to the present time no advances have been made to any of the men we call grabbers. I feel that I should not have done my solemn duty to the poor tenant farmers in the mountainous districts of the West, whom I represent, if I had taken no part in this discussion. I do not like appealing; I prefer fighting; but when it is a question of dealing with these unfortunate people who have no friends, I think it my duty to join in the appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary on this subject.
§ (9.28.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
Belonging as I do to a nationality which, like that of Ireland, is very much rooted in the soil, I have been intensely interested in the Debate of this evening. I think the right hon. Gentleman could not have a better opportunity than is now afforded him of doing something for the evicted tenants. The Debate has been of a most temperate character, and there seems to have been a consensus of opinion that something ought to be done for these people. Among landlords, especially in the case of the member for South Hunts, who delivered a speech in which he displayed the best instincts of the landlord, there is a feeling that with a view to the settlement of the land question in Ireland these poor people ought to be restored to their holdings. Now, what is the object of land purchase, and what has rendered the land purchase measure necessary? You have a strong attachment to the soil on the part of the people, and, on the other hand, you have new tenants who cannot be so deeply attached to the soil that they will feel much hurt at being turned out of the farms of which they have become tenants under somewhat peculiar circumstances. Some Members of the House have die-cussed the question from the point of view of expediency and others from the point of view of principle. Amongst the 1523 latter class is the hon. Member for South Antrim, who said he objected to dealing with the question from the point of view of expediency, and that it should be dealt with from the point of view of principle. But the Chief Secretary himself admitted the expediency of doing something, and said it was his desire that, as far as possible, the evicted tenants should be restored to their holdings. The hon. Member for West Belfast has proposed a clause that the right hon. Gentleman says is unsatisfactory. Well, the hon. Member for West Belfast is not wedded to his clause. His loyalty to the interests of the evicted tenants is so great that he is prepared to throw over any amour propre he may have for his own proposal if he sees a chance of effecting his purpose by any other means, and he would readily accept any clause proposed by the Chief Secretary. It has been said that the present affords a great opportunity to the Chief Secretary for the complete settlement of the agrarian question in Ireland, and it certainly seems to me not only a good opportunity, but probably the last opportunity the right hon. Gentleman will have, because if the new tenants who have taken the place of the evicted tenants are to be turned into freeholders by this Bill, it will be a long day indeed before a measure is prepared to turn them out of their holdings. The Chief Secretary, whilst he desires to find a way out of the present difficulty, says the road to the solution is not the clause of my hon. Friend. But, surely, it is the right hon. Gentleman himself who has taken in hand the great matter of solving the agrarian difficulties in Ireland, and it is he who is best able, with all the information he possesses in the Irish Office, to frame a proposal. Surely it is not a statesmanlike action to let the House of Commons lose its grasp of the Land Purchase Bill without an attempt to settle this most difficult and thorny part of the agrarian question. I am not ambitious enough to cherish the hope of ever becoming Chief Secretary for Ireland, or of holding any other office under the Crown; but I do say that if I occupied the position the right hon. Gentleman occupies with such conspicuous ability, I should do my utmost to embrace the opportunity now afforded of settling this question.
§ (9.35.) MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I do not wish to add more than a few words to the very able speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and whose intervention in the Debate we most cordially welcome. The speech of the Chief Secretary, to which I listened attentively, was, I thought, studiously intended to be conciliatory in tone. At the same time, I was unable to see how the right hon. Gentleman could reconcile himself to the two positions he took up. He admitted quite frankly that the case of these tenants should he dealt with if possible. He went further, and said— and I think that in his position the statement was quite credible—that there was no man in the House who desired more earnestly than he did the settlement of this question. He also alluded to the fact that from his own side of the House, from his own supporters, from the man prominent among his supporters for the part he has played in one of the fiercest struggles, had come an expression of the same wish, that the question should be settled. If I did not misunderstand the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he went further, and admitted that the existence of this question, still open, would be an obstacle to the full success and fruition of the whole Land Purchase Bill. It is perfectly evident that if this question is left open it will interfere with the success of the Bill. Though these tenants may appear to the right hon. Gentleman to be in a broken position, they are still powerful in the sympathies of their fellow countrymen. The hold these evicted tenants have on the sympathies of their fellow-countrymen will render the operation of the Bill impossible on Campaign estates and, indeed, in the counties in which those estates are situated. I put that point to the right hon. Gentleman, and I ask him—viewing the circumstances apart from the political issues involved, which I, in common with my hon. Friend, wish to exclude from the present discussion—if he cannot realise the force of it. The exclusion of Campaign estates from the operation of the Bill will be a much more important and far reaching matter than the exclusion of the individual evicted tenants. The whole fate of the Bill in at least three provinces of Ireland is largely bound up with the 1525 fate of the Campaign tenants. I do not wish to put the case more strongly than it will bear, but I am within the mark when I say that the present situation is similar to that of 1881. When Mr. Forster's Land Bill in 1881 was approaching completion, the Irish Members took it upon themselves to give the Government of that day some advice. A large number of persons were in prison at that time in connection with the agrarian agitation in Ireland under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. The Irish Members told the Government that if they wished their Land Bill to be properly accepted in Ireland, they must release those men. The Government did not take that advice, and if they had, all I can say is that the Irish Members would not have succeeded in keeping the tenants out of the Courts. If the Chief Secretary turns a deaf ear to the warning now given by the Irish Members, he will find his experience will be similar to that of Mr. Forster. The right hon. Gentleman has sufficient acquaintance with the Irish character to know how large a part exasperated feeling plays in the reception of legislative proposals in Ireland, and I say that if he refuses our advice now as Mr. Forster did in 1881, he will have to be face to face with the same state of things. I should be sorry to think that the Chief Secretary would desire the influence of his legislation in Ireland to cease with the term of his official life. I should hope that he has a higher ambition than that, and that he desires to leave a permanent mark on the agrarian legislative history of the country, but that I hold he will not succeed in doing if he neglects this opportunity of settling the question of the evicted tenants. In this matter we Irish Members are pleading more for the future fame of the right hon. Gentleman than we are for our own political ends. I desire that the political question should be treated apart from the agrarian question with which we are mixed up. I hope I am dealing with the matter in a spirit of candour. I acknowledge that there was some force in one of the points the right hon. Gentleman made, though I cannot join in his eulogies of those Irish tenants who have been called "planters." I think if the right hon. Gentleman were as well acquainted with the antecedents and the character of 1526 some of these men as we are he would not himself join in these eulogies. But I cannot deny that some of these men have entered upon their holdings with the intention of cultivating them. I admit that some of them have gone in with the idea of cultivating the holdings tempted by the wages, though I hold that that does not apply to all this class of tenants. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was justified in pointing out to my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast that there would be a certain degree of hardship in turning out these planter tenants who have been a year or two in occupation, especially where it can be shown that they have made bonâ fide payments for their holdings. But I think his objection can be met. I am rather disinclined to make any allusion to the Irish Church Surplus Fund, but I think that on these Benches, at least, we should make no objection to a portion of that fund being employed, if necessary, for the purpose of compensating these planter tenants whose eviction would necessarily follow the re-admission of the regular tenants. My hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast has asked me to throw that out as a suggestion to the Government. I would not make the suggestion, but for two reasons: First, because that fund is an Irish Fund, and we shall not be making a demand on the unfortunate British taxpayer; and, secondly, because, after all, the Land Purchase Bill is a Bill for the pacification of Ireland and the restoration of social order, and the use of this money in this way will effect that magnificent object. If the right hon. Gentleman would accept the principle of my hon. Friend's clause, and undertake to re-model the provision at a later stage, he would find no opposition from these Benches to the proposal I have made. I do not believe he would find any on the Benches opposite, whilst, if he did as I suggest, he would be making the best provision for the future success of this Land Purchase Bill.
§ (9.47.) MR. GILL (Louth, S.)
I have not intervened in these Debates until now, for reasons that have no interest to the House of Commons. I will only say that, in the two sections in which my colleagues and the Irish Party are now divided, I feel every confidence that the interests of the Irish tenants, as concerned in this Bill, are amply taken 1527 care of; and while my individual interference would be of no practical use either in urging this particular proposition or in opposing it, I was desirous of avoiding, as much as I could, an occasion when I might be brought into conflict with one section or the other of my colleagues. But this proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast is one in which I feel particular interest, and I am keenly desirous of joining in the protest which has been made on these Benches against the idea that this is a proposition which ought to be dealt with solely on the ground of expediency. These men have been evicted simply because by their sacrifices, their efforts, and their heroism they have won for the rest of the tenants of Ireland the benefits of that legislation from which they themselves now stand excluded; and if ever men under Heaven have earned as a right the small modicum of justice sought to be given to them by this proposal, these tenants have done so. Their efforts will ever remain in the history of Ireland as a bright spot, and the Irish people will never forget them. On the question of expediency there is no necessity for me to say anything. Enough has already been said from these Benches to-night to prove to the right hon. Gentleman, if he needs it, that if ever a statesman was given an opportunity of performing an act of wise and conciliatory statesmanship, he is given that opportunity in the clause of my hon. Friend. I would, therefore, urge on the right hon. Gentleman, before he undertakes the responsibility of rejecting this proposition of my hon. Friend, to very carefully weigh all that that proposition means, both in the success of this measure in its working throughout Ireland, and in the fame that he hopes to leave to posterity in regard to his administration during very troublous years of my unfortunate country.
§ (9.53.) MR. M. HEALY
I trust we have not heard the last word from the Treasury Bench on this Bill. I think it will be felt in all quarters of the House that the Debate has been such as to warrant us in concluding that we may yet hear from the Government a more sympathetic view of the question than has been expressed in the speech of the Chief Secretary. That speech has been somewhat of a tantalising character; the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that 1528 there is a strong case for the evicted tenants, and one that is worthy of the consideration of the House of Commons, and has said that if this had simply been a Resolution expressing sympathy with them he would have been in favour of it. When the right hon. Gentleman has gone so far as that, I think he must feel that he must go a little further. I do not think it was worthy of him to treat the Amendment of my hon. Friend as he has done tonight. He took exception to its form, and one of the objections he made to it was, that it was of a negative character; but when a proposal was made which would have converted it into a positive proposal, he was the first to suggest that that proposal was out of order. That is not the way, I submit, to treat an important question of this kind—first, to suggest that a clause is lacking in some particular, and then, when an Amendment is proposed which will cure the defect complained of, to get up and ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that Amendment out of order. It is complained that the clause is in the interests of the Plan of Compaign, but those who use that argument would remind of the sound policy of building a bridge for a flying enemy. It is said by hon. Members opposite that the position of these tenants is a desperate one. Even if it were so desperate as they endeavour to show, the Irish people will not desert them. But on these Benches we do not admit that the position of these tenants is of so desperate a character. That, perhaps, is verging on the ground of controversy, and I should prefer to treat this question as it has been treated hitherto, in a non controversial spirit. I would join with hon. Members in all parts of the House in urging the Government to seize this acceptable time for settling this important question, and thereby to do something in the interest not merely of the Irish tenants themselves, but in the interests of order and social peace in Ireland generally. We have heard to-night the Plan of Campaign attacked. This is not a time to touch on any controversy of that kind, but I do ask hon. Members who offer these criticisms to remember the desperate circumstances of the Irish tenants when that method of combination was adopted, before they pour out the vials of their wrath on those tenants. The case of the 1529 Government is that these men were intimidated, and that they were not free agents. That is the line the Chief Secretary has always taken in his speeches in this House, and that has been the position which the Irish landlords have assumed in this controversy—that if the tenants had been left to themselves they would not have joined the Plan of Campaign, and that to the extent to which they joined it they were not free agents. If it is true that the tenants were not free agents, and if they are suffering for the sins of other people, then I ask is it statesmanlike, or I would rather say is it just, that now when passing a large measure for the settlement of the land question in Ireland we should close our eyes to the, position of these tenants, that the Government should assume the attitude which the Chief Secretary seems to have assumed, crying out that never to the end of time will there be pardon and forgiveness for the tenants whose combination, whatever you may say against it, has unquestionably been fruitful of the best results to their brethren throughout the length and breadth of Ireland? In whatever terms any hon. Member may characterise the Plan of Campaign, however you may consider that the tenants who were implicated in the combination have suffered for their own actions, no one can deny that, taking the tenants as a whole, their action has been productive of very beneficial results. That being so, it does seem to me that it would be a cruel and unjust thing, that now while passing a measure of land purchase, which you say is to be the last word of the English Parliament on the land question in Ireland, that you should shut the door of mercy and redemption on these unfortunate tenants, and for ever shut them out from their ancestral holdings—from their ancient homes. I hope, before the Debate concludes, we shall have an assurance of some more satisfactory character than we have at present; that between now and the end of this stage of the Bill the Government may see their way to make some proposal on behalf of these unfortunate tenants. The Chief Secretary has himself admitted that the condition of these tenants is one that commends itself to the sympathy of the House; he has said it is a desirable thing that the House should deal with 1530 the question of evicted tenants, making some provision on their behalf; and it does, therefore, seem to me a lame and impotent conclusion to turn upon the Amendment of my hon. Friend as the right hon. Gentleman has done, to deal with it not upon its merits, discussing it not in accordance with the gravity of the issues involved, but taking objection to petty points of form and drafting, and saying that, having regard to the particular form of the clause, the Government cannot accept it. I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to rise to the importance of the occasion, and, if he is satisfied of the desirability of dealing in some way with the question of evicted tenants, to put forward some proposal of his own, and not to be content with a negative attitude, criticising the present Amendment, though agreeing with it in principle, and making no counter proposal.
§ (10.4.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
I had no intention of intervening in this discussion. I have, I am glad to say, no evictions to answer for; and I had intended to give a silent vote. I cannot refrain, however, from expressing my sympathy with the object of the hon. Member who has just spoken. At the same time, I cannot help thinking that the speeches we have heard in support of the clause have been somewhat irrelevant to the proposition before the House, and, I may add, I cannot for a moment see how the proposition itself would answer the purpose expected from it by its proposer. I hope that some plan may be devised which will relieve these unfortunate men from the position in which they are placed; it is not relevant or desirable to say how they came into that position, and I regret that the remarks of the hon. Member who has just spoken should have tended in the direction of raising the old controversy. The hon. Member will not suppose that we shall agree that the Plan of Campaign has been any benefit to anybody. However, if it were possible to devise — and I think it would be possible to devise—some arrangement by which these unfortunate men might be relieved from the misfortunes which have befallen them, I certainly should regard such an arrangement with great satisfaction. How it is to be done is a question to which I cannot find the answer. I hope the Chief Secretary will 1531 consider the possibility of bringing forward such a plan. This proposal, however, is one I could not, under any circumstances, support; it would touch but the fringe of the question, and would do gross injustice to a class of tenants as much entitled to consideration as those the hon. Member proposes to relieve. I must vote against the Amendment, though I sympathise with its object.
§ (10.7.) MR. DICKSON (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
I hope that, before this Debate closes, the Chief Secretary will say something towards giving effect to what seems to be the unanimous opinion that something should be done in the direction of this clause. Let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the success of his Land Bill depends very largely upon what is done upon this point. It is utterly impossible to expect a restoration of peace so long as evicted tenants remain without the chance of restoration to their holdings. I venture to predict that in many a parish the Land Bill will end in disappointment and failure if nothing is done under it for these evicted tenants. The right hon. Gentleman objects to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend; and though he admits that it is desirable that something of the kind should be done, he makes no alternative suggestion. Surely something might be done to mitigate the difficulties of the position. There were on the Derry estates at one time 500 tenants under notice of eviction, but the Drapers' Company very wisely submitted their case to arbitration. The whole county was in a disturbed state; police and military were engaged in eviction duty; but no sooner was arbitration entered upon than things quieted down and land purchase went on, and peace and order reigns where confusion and anarchy prevailed. I hope that on other estates something may be done to bring about such a result. It is impossible that peace can exist where these new tenants are occupying the land the evicted tenants have made profitable. In the interests of peace and order we support this proposal. I hope the last word has not been said from the Treasury Bench on this subject; and to give the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary the opportunity of a reply, I now beg to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ (10.10.) MR. LANE (Cork, B.)
In seconding this Motion, I do so with the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will intervene with some assurance that will give satisfaction to both sides of the House. As the Debate has proceeded and opinions have been expressed in favour of the principle, if not of the form of the Amendment, we have felt reasonable ground for the belief that the right hon. Gentleman would change the attitude he assumed at the be ginning of the discussion. We believe that time and consideration will enable him to give effect to his good wishes which he says this clause will not accomplish. In seconding the Motion, I do not follow the line taken by some of my colleagues; I make no appeal ad misericordiam on behalf of these tenants. I do not believe that the position of the evicted tenants is at all so desperate as some of my friends seem to think it is—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Question before the House is now the Adjournment of the Debate, and upon that the hon. Member is not entitled to discuss the Main Question.
§ MR. LANE
I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reply with a short assurance that before the Bill leaves the House he will give consideration to this subject. I hope he will re-consider his position, and that his promise will enable us to proceed more rapidly with this Bill, which now blocks the way of other Parliamentary business.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed) "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Dickson.)
§ (10.13.) MR. SEXTON
Anyone who has observed the course of the Debate must admit there are reasons which justify this Motion for Adjournment. My hon. Friends are not actuated by any desire to prolong Debate or interrupt the proceedings, but the motive has been mentioned by my hon. Friend (Mr. Dickson). The right hon. Gentleman is, by the Rules of Debate, shut out from making another speech except by the indulgence of the House, but this Motion affords him the opportunity of briefly stating what his intention is. Without trenching at all upon the matter of the Main Debate, I may be 1533 allowed to say that there are two peculiar features that mark out this Amendment as occupying an exceptional position in the proceeding upon the Bill: In the first place, there is the admission of the Chief Secretary that this is a question which, in the public interest, it is desirable to deal with. The Chief Secretary is a man of acute intellect, and a master of resource, and I am astonished that after such a case has been presented for settlement he should come to the lame and impotent sequel that nothing can be done. The second remarkable feature is the extraordinary agreement upon this battle ground of faction in regard to this particular point that there is a question which calls for treatment. I have heard with great satisfaction speeches from the other side of the House, only one hon. Member assuming an absolutely hostile attitude. The hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry) has made a speech to-night of which the least that can be said is that it interposed no obstacle in the way of a friendly settlement; the hon. and gallant Member for South Down (Colonel Waring) has spoken in the same sense, and I believe the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) has indicated his willingness that a settlement should be arrived at, and that, I believe, is the feeling entertained by the hon. Member for South Derry (Mr. Lea). I do not know that it can be said that any Party, section, or man is opposed to the principle of my proposal. I am not a lawyer, and can lay claim to no skill in drawing Amendments, but if it be admitted that the principle of my clause is worthy of assent, I will say that my only desire is that some way may be found of restoring these people to their homes, that since the right hon. Gentleman spoke my hon. Friends have opened up new matter for consideration, and I think we are now entitled to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what course he intends to take—whether he is still satisfied to let the question drop, injuring the prospects of land purchase, or if, with a better sense of his responsibility, he will make an attempt to settle the question on this or a future stage of the Bill. I am not unreasonably exacting; I am willing to withdraw the clause if I have what an intelligent man may regard as reasonable ground for hope 1534 that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the subject.
§ (10.20.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I understand that the object with which the Adjournment has been moved is to obtain from the Government a further declaration of policy in regard to the important question raised by the hon. Member for West Belfast. Although it is not competent for me on this Motion to discuss the merits of the question raised by the Amendment, I may remind the House that it is a proposal to enable purchase to take place between the landlords and the ex-tenants over the heads of the actual tenantry. Substantially this is what the proposal amounts to, and, though I do not think it is necessary, I must repeat what I have said before, that it is really quite impossible for the Government to give their assent to a proposal of that kind. While entertaining a strong opinion against the justice and policy of any such suggestion, I do not withdraw what I have said as to my desire to see the disputes on the Plan of Campaign estates settled as soon as possible on an equitable basis. I confess I should not even have gone that length if I believed that, as a factor in politics, the Plan of Campaign had any longer any existence. I believe it is admitted that the Plan of Campaign is dead and a thing of the past, and that makes it easier for us to express our desire to see all these disputes settled on an amicable basis. Hon. Members, with compliments to my intellectual ingenuity, have suggested that I must have a plan for dealing with this question. I have no such plan, nor would this be the occasion to suggest one. All I can now do is to express my opinion upon the proposal before the House. I stated that opinion at length on the Second Reading, and I will not now attempt to re-argue the question. All I will now say is that the opinion I then gave has not been modified by the course of subsequent discussion. I trust that hon. Members will not prolong the Debate, or consider it necessary to press the Motion to Division, because there are other points to be settled sufficient to occupy the House for the remainder of the evening, and which I trust we may now be allowed to proceed with.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
I am afraid that we must accept the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman as a non possumus, 1535 although he has renewed his expression of a desire that some means might be found of clearing up the difficulties on the Plan of Campaign estates. The House, however, asks from the Government not the expression of a desire, but the expression of an intention. More especially is this the case when the Government is being provided by Parliament with such enormous pecuniary means for dealing with the land question, and, after all, money is the great factor in these matters. If the Chief Secretary had added to the expression of his desire the declaration that the Government were determined to spare neither pains nor money in dealing with this difficulty, and bringing the discontent to an end, I am quite sure that in that case the hon. Member for West Belfast would withdraw his clause. But the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to go to that extent, and there is nothing for us but to fight it out in the Division Lobbies. Very sorry I am that this should be the result of a Debate in which on both sides so much sympathy has been expressed with the object of the clause.
MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said something about fighting out this question in the Division Lobbies, but he omitted to tell us what it is that is to be thus decided. Does he endorse the opinion that occupying tenants should be set aside?
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
(10.25.) MR. J. LOWTHER
The right hon. Gentleman, on resuming his seat, said it only remained to fight out the question in the Division Lobbies, but the right hon. Gentleman omitted to state what the question was. Do we understand that the right hon. Gentleman really endorses the opinion that occupying tenants should be superseded by tenants who have been evicted—that tenants who violated the law, who joined an illegal conspiracy, are to be restored by the aid of the Government to the holdings they formerly occupied, to the exclusion of other tenants now lawfully occupying them? I did not rise to make a speech on the main question, but merely to reply to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman made 1536 on the Motion for Adjournment. I think we are entitled to hear from a right hon. Gentleman who has occupied a responsible position in the Government whether he endorses the theory laid down in support of this clause, or what plan he would suggest. At any rate, I hope the Government will stand firm to the policy of vindicating the law, and of holding out no incentives to its breach.
§ The House divided: — Ayes 74; Noes 112.—(Div. List, No. 258.)
§ (10.37.) MR. KNOX
I now beg to move the new clause standing in my name, "Order cancelling agreement." It is necessary in regard to the first section of the clause to explain what the present state of the law is. When the Land Purchase Act of 1885 was passed, there was no provision by which the Land Commissioners could try even an action for specific performance, and the only way in which either party could enforce an agreement was by an action in the Chancery Division. That was found to be an extremely inconvenient procedure, and by Section 22 of the Act of 1887 some provision was made on the point. That section provided that, after an agreement had been made for a sale of a holding, either party to the agreement might apply in a summary manner to the Land Commission for a decree for specific performance of the agreement, and the Land Commission should have authority to decide on such application and should have such power to make a decree as was vested in the Chancery Division. Unfortunately, that was not altogether sufficient. Take the case of a tenant who has been compelled to make an agreement under duress. I think the Attorney General for Ireland will admit that where there has been duress specific performance of an agreement ought not to be required. The tenant would be inclined to resist the performance of the agreement, but if the proceedings for specific performance were brought in the Land Commission there would be nothing very onerous about them; he would be able to resist the action without incurring a large expenditure. But there is nothing to compel a landlord to proceed in the Land Commission: he can bring the action in the Chancery Division just as well as in the Land Commission. If the 1537 tenant is a poor man the landlord will prefer to bring the action in the Chancery Division, so I think it will be admitted that, under the present law, the tenant suffers an injustice. I confess that, personally, I attach as much importance to the 2nd sub - section of the clause as to the 1st, though I cannot be so sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to accept it. I, nevertheless, press it for his consideration. Under the present law as laid down by Mr. Commissioner Lynch, in the cases of the Marquess of Waterford, the tenant, in order to defeat an action for specific performance, must prove, not merely that he signed the agreement under fear of eviction, but that he had no other reason for signing it. Of course, nearly every tenant signing an agreement for purchase knows that afterwards his annual payments will be less than his old rent, and that, undoubtedly, is a motive to induce him to sign; but, nevertheless, in many cases the ruling motive is a fear of eviction. I propose that the Land Commission shall cancel the agreement where they find that fear of eviction was present at the time when the agreement was signed, and that it shall not be necessary for them to inquire whether such fear of eviction was the only motive actuating the tenant. Of course, the second part of the clause will only be put into operation in cases of extreme injustice. I have made it available for both parties to the agreement, though practically the tenant alone will avail himself of it.
§ New Clause—
§ (Order cancelling agreement.)
brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ (10.47.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
The hon. and learned 1538 Member has stated that the Amendment is intended to meet what he describes as extreme cases of injustice. I wish, however, to point out to the House that already, under the Act of 1885, a sufficient protection has been afforded to either party to the agreement against extreme cases of injustice. If either party objects to the agreement being carried out the party who wishes to have it specifically performed can apply in a summary way to the Land Commission, who, if they see reason, can refuse to carry out the agreement. Under the hon. Member's clause, as drawn, it need not be proved that the fear of eviction is well founded, or that it is an important element in the consideration of the tenant when he enters into the agreement. He need only prove that he has a fear of eviction, and he can put an end to the agreement. A clause containing such a provision could not possibly be accepted even if the proposal was not unnecessary.
§ (10.50.) MR. M. J. KENNY
I greatly regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen his way to accept the Amendment. Anyone who reads the Return that has been made to this House of the judgments of the Land Commission on this matter will see that the law is not in a satisfactory state. The power my hon. Friend proposes to confer on the Land Commission is, I believe, precisely analogous to that vested in the old Landed Estates Court to set aside sales obtained fraudulently or on misrepresentation. Why should not the Land Commission, which is a much more important Court, have a similar power to that possessed by the Landed Estates Court? We cannot but consider that there is a serious defect in the law as it stands, and unless the Amendment is accepted the Land Commission will be in a great difficulty, and persons who have been entrapped or forced into purchase will be at a serious disadvantage on account of the defective condition of the law. It is true that the purchaser who has purchased under duress may go into the Court of Chancery, but proceedings in the Court of Chancery are exceedingly costly, and in the case of a small tenancy it would cost as much as the value of the holding to take even the initial steps in a question of duress or fraud. The object of land legislation for years past 1539 has been to simplify the proceedings. In many respects the Land Commission is a branch of the Court of Chancery. Whenever questions of equity come into play jurisdiction has been conferred on the Land Commission to deal with them. Mr. Justice Bewley was appointed President of the Commission, on account, I assume, of his particular qualifications in that respect. There is no question at all of the ability of the Master of the Rolls and the two Judges to whom a question of this kind would be in the first instance referred under the present law, but there is equally no doubt that on a question of law, Mr. Justice Bewley is quite as high an authority as those Judges. Why should not the proceedings be cheapened by allowing the tenants to go direct to Mr. Justice Bewley? The clause would materially improve the Bill.
§ (10.56.) MR. M. HEALY
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to accept this Amendment, which I think would be a distinct improvement in land purchase legislation. Of course there is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, power vested in the Land Commission to transfer to itself the jurisdiction of the Chancery Division on these questions, but it is still in the power of the landlord to go into the Court of Chancery and enforce specific performance there. It is plain that a power of that kind may be exercised by the landlord in a most oppressive way. The costs of a Chancery suit would be utterly out of proportion to the value of an average tenant's holding, and an unfortunate tenant might as well give up his holding altogether as attempt to resist a suit in the Court of Chancery. The tendency of legislation has been to consolidate in the hands of the Land Commission all powers relating to land questions. All my hon. Friend's proposal does is to carry that tendency a little further, and, seeing that the Government, in the Act of 1887, proposed to hand over to the Land Commission co-ordinate powers with the Court of Chancery in regard to specific performance, it would, I think, be very unwise to reject the present proposal. It is perfectly plain that the second portion of the clause would put an end to a distinct blot in the existing law. Reference to a Return issued to this House will show that there are a large number of cases in existence in which it is com- 1540 petent for the landlord to enforce in the Court of Chancery utterly inequitable and iniquitous agreements, with results most disastrous to the tenants. The tenants themselves complain that the agreements were arrived at under such circumstances as to entitle them now to have them amended. Indeed, they did refuse to put them in force; but when they went before Commissioner Lynch, he found himself coerced by the existing state of the law to declare that they were bound to execute their purchase agreements—agreements which were practically obtained by force and fraud, and the carrying into effect of which would inevitably lead to their eviction from their homes. I have had, on more occasions than one, tenants coming to me and telling me how these agreements were exacted from them by the landlords under pressure. I had one tenant tell me that the landlord was putting pressure upon him to pay at a price which was both unjust and iniquitous; but he was going to execute the agreement, because he believed the price was such that the Land Commission itself would refuse to sanction the sale. His anticipation was verified. The Commission refused to sanction the sale under such conditions. Now, I say the Government, if they are anxious to protect the interests of the British taxpayer, ought to accept a clause of this kind, for it will prevent improper pressure being put on the tenants to make agreements which they cannot carry into effect under this Act. It will secure, at any rate, that such agreements as are made will be just and fair.
§ (11.4.) MR. P. J. POWER
I gather one of the objects of this clause is to cheapen procedure. My hon. Friend referred to some correspondence laid before the House in connection with the Marquess of Waterford's estate. That estate is within my constituency, and I am in a position to know something of what has occurred there. I am informed that five of the tenants who signed the agreements referred to in the correspondence — an agreement executed under duress—have since been sold out. I think if the power contained in this clause were conferred on the Land Commission it would be for the safety of the tenant, and likewise for the safety of the State, and I think the refusal of the Government to accept it shows a 1541 want of confidence on their part in the Land Commission.
§ MR. SEXTON
I think it is somewhat unreasonable, seeing that we are now dealing with a vast number of poor people, that the landlord should retain the power to take these cases to the Court of Chancery. Surely the Attorney General for Ireland must have forgotten himself, or must have supposed the House had forgotten, that out of 600,000 tenants who may be dealt with under this Bill, 400,000 are tenants whose rents are under £10 a year, and does he seriously suppose that in the case of a body of tenants, of whom two-thirds are under £10, reference to the Court of Chancery is reasonable? I do urge that this question should be dealt with by the Land Commission, although the Attorney General persists that there ought to be an option for the landlord to go to the Court of Chancery if he chooses.
§ MR. MADDEN
This clause does not affect the Court of Chancery at all. The Land Commission will be able to hold their hands if they see anything improper in the agreement. As the law now stands, instead of going to the Court of Chancery, the parties can have the dispute tried in a summary manner on application to the Land Commission, and the necessary legal procedure has already been provided for that.
§ MR. SEXTON
I am quite aware that the landlord can go either to the Land Commission or to the Court of Chancery. That is my complaint. I wish the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery to be so far ousted that the tenant shall have the right to have the case tried before the Land Commission if he chooses.
§ (11.11.) The House divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 111.—(Div. List, No. 259.)
§ (11.21.) MR. RATHBONE
I wish to propose the clause which stands in my name, providing for certain restrictions upon the sub-division of holdings. The object, of course, is to increase the 1542 stringency of the law against the subdivision of the larger holdings that will be created under this Act. No one who has not visited Ireland can realise the danger of such large holdings in Ireland being subdivided. All recent legislation has been in the direction of providing that the evil shall be reduced as far as possible; and now, when we are going to create in Ireland a body of landowners of £50 a year and upwards, I think we are bound to provide that the evil should be still further guarded against. It has been clearly shown that a holding of £20 a year is the size which a tenant can best work. On this question of small holdings there was a curious experience on the estate of Lord Portsmouth. Forty six years ago the late Lord Portsmouth had an agent who said to him, "If you want your tenants to be prosperous you must give them security of tenure." Accordingly, he put in a form of lease the customs of the country, and set forth that the tenant was to be considered the possessor of all his improvements in the land which the landlord could not show had been made at the cost of the landlord. He agreed not to raise the rent on those improvements, and to give free power of sale. It is most remarkable what the effect of that action was. Ten years ago Lord Portsmouth informed me that in the course of 36 years the estate had cleared itself of all tenants under £20, for in bad years the less thrifty had sold their holdings to the more prosperous. In addition to that, on the last settling day, before Lord Portsmouth gave me the information, the gross arrears on an annual rental of £13,000 or £14,000 amounted only to £500. That, I hold, is a strong argument that holdings of £20 are those most suited to a peasant cultivator. I may be told that it will be in the power of the Land Commission to prevent any greater sub - division. I think we want further security than that. When we are giving men who have no special claims upon us this great advantage, we have a right to say that they shall not sub-divide their agricultural holdings. No doubt, so long as the present Chief Secretary remains in office, care will be taken to prevent sub-division; but we know how in Ireland pressure can be brought to bear upon Public Courts and Bodies; we 1543 know what a ridiculous way they have of managing things there; and, consequently, it is important to provide against any future possibility of subdivision. I think we are entitled to the insertion of this provision to prevent the recurrence of an evil we are now trying to remedy. I therefore move the clause of which I have given notice in the hope that the Chief Secretary will see his way to accept it, and thus strengthen a Bill which I believe will redound to his credit.
§ New Clause—
§ (Restriction on sub-division of holdings.)
The Land Commission shall not, as respects any holding charged with an annuity in their favour for the repayment of an advance under the Land Purchase Acts or this Act, consent to the sub-division thereof into portions the fair rent of any one of which would, in the opinion of the Land Commission, be less than £20; and the Land Commission, if they become aware of any such holding being so sub-divided, shall put in force their powers under Section 30 of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881, for the sale of the holding,"—(Mr. Rathbone,)
—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ (11.30.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I sympathise with the object of the hon. Member, but it is already adequately secured by the provisions in the Bill. No doubt Public Bodies in Ireland, as elsewhere, are subject to public pressure, but there is no fear of there being in Ireland any pressure in favour of encouraging sub-division.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. KNOX
I now beg to move the clause next standing in my name. The Trustees entitled to estates for sale are really landlords, and ought to have the same right to sell to tenants as other landlords. I should have been glad if mortgagees could have been included in the clause, but I have confined it as nearly as possible to the terms of a similar clause in the Land Department Bill. There are many schools all over Ireland which hold property, and it is very desirable that they also should be enabled to sell to tenants. The 2nd sub-section of the clause will enable sales to be made in those cases where there are middlemen, a class whom we all wish to get rid of.
§ New Clause—
§ (Person entitled as Landlord to sell under Act.)
(1.) Any persons entitled to an estate as Trustees for sale or Trustees with a power of sale, and any Body corporate, Trustees for charities, commissioners, or trustees for collegiate or other public purposes, shall have the same power of selling under the Land Purchase Acts, as amended by this Act, as if they were private individuals, subject, nevertheless, to the provisions of the said Acts respecting the disposal of the purchase money, and subject also to such consent (if any) as would be required in the case of a sale independently of this Act.
(2.) A landlord holding land under a lease for lives or years renewable for ever, or for a term of years, of which not less than 60 are un-expired at the time of a sale, may sell under the said Acts as if he were owner of the fee simple and inheritance of such land, subject, nevertheless, to the provisions of this Act,"— (Mr. Knox,)
—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ MR. MADDEN
I am quite ready to accept the first part of the Amendment, but it would be impossible for the Government to adopt the second part.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause read a second time.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out Sub-section 2.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That Sub-section 2 stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
§ Clause, as amended, added.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The next clause on the Paper, "Rights of turbary and acquisition of bog," is out of order.
§ (11.45.) MR. KNOX
I now approach a very difficult and complicated subject. I beg to move the new clause which stands in my name as to the jurisdiction of the Land Commission. I think it desirable, if Mr. Wrench and Mr. Justice Fitzgerald are to be permitted to meddle in the business hitherto conducted by Mr. MacCarthy and Mr. Lynch, that Mr. MacCarthy and Mr. Lynch should be allowed to meddle in the business hitherto conducted by others. I object to the Government method of merging these jurisdictions, as a matter of general principle; and I think that if there is to be any merging of jurisdiction, it should be merging all round. It would be desirable to give Mr. Lynch and Mr. MacCarthy the power 1545 to make absolute orders for the sale of estates which are now held up in consequence of the learned Judges refusing to make such orders. It would facilitate land purchase all over Ireland if that were done. There is an immense amount of property held up in Ireland under the Landed Estates Court. We have heard of the copper corner in Prance, but there is a far greater corner in land in Ireland. There is a great deal to be said for compulsory purchase where the landlord is unable to perform the ordinary functions of landlord, and in such cases I think we should provide that there should be compulsory purchase on the application of the tenant. We cannot provide that in the Bill, but we can give to Mr. MacCarthy and Mr. Lynch a power to order that in these cases there shall be an absolute sale—and we know that in nine cases out of ten in Ireland the only purchaser would be the tenant. The tenant would not be looked on so unfavourably by the Land Commissioners as he is looked on by the Judges of the Landed Estates Court; and if we adopted this principle we should carry out the spirit, if not the letter, of the proposal the hon. Member for Londonderry put before his constituents when the question of compulsory purchase was attracting a good deal of attention in Ireland a short time ago. Briefly, the effect of the 2nd sub-section is to give the Treasury power to transfer from the Board of Works to the Land Commission the power to make advances in certain cases where they could much more conveniently be made through the Land Commission than through the Board of Works. I refer specially to labourers' cottages and to loans for the improvement of land and for other purposes. I think it will be admitted that this is a very simple administrative 'reform, to which no objection can be made from any part of the House. It may be pointed out by the Attorney General for Ireland that there is a distinction made between the Commissioners appointed under the Land Purchase Act 1885 and the Land Commission, and I do not wish for a moment to disguise that fact from the House. It is part of the general scheme of the clause. If it is necessary to give Mr. Wrench and Mr. Fitzgerald other occupations than that of revising rents, we could not object to give them power 1546 to inquire whether loans for improving labourers' cottages or land should be made. But, on the other hand, the duties of the Land Judges under the Landed Estates Act are largely contentious, and the gentlemen who have hitherto fulfilled those important duties have not allowed any sales to be made on account of their political opinions. I think, therefore, that, in making this transfer, it is necessary to make it to gentlemen who have not pursued precisely the same policy as has been pursued by Mr. Justice Monroe.
§ New Clause—
§ (Jurisdiction of Land Commission 40 & 41 Vic. c. 57.)
(1.) There shall be transferred to the Land Commissioners appointed under "The Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885," the jurisdiction, powers, and duties following, namely:— The jurisdiction which was by "The Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Act, 1877," transferred from the Landed Estates Court, Ireland, to the High Court, including the control and direction of the Record of Title Office of the Landed Estates Court, Ireland, and all powers and duties exercised and discharged by the judges of that court, or either of them, under "The Record of Title Act (Ireland), 1865," so far as the same jurisdiction, powers, and duties exist at the commencement of this Act. (2.)The Treasury may from time to time, on being satisfied that the transfer to the Land Commission of any of the powers or duties hereinafter mentioned would be conducive to efficiency and economy, by order (in this Act referred to as an order of transfer) transfer to the Land Commission any of the powers or duties of the Board of Works under any of the enactments mentioned in the First Schedule to this Act, or any amending enactment, 80 far as any such enactment relates to loans for the improvement of lands in Ireland, or to the erection of farm buildings or labourers' cottages, and thereupon those powers and duties shall be transferred accordingly, but the exercise and performance thereof shall be subject to the like control by the Treasury as at the date of such order. (3.) The Land Commissioners appointed under the said Act of 1885 may exercise, for the purposes of their duties under the Land Purchase Acts, any powers vested in them by virtue of the transfer of the powers of the Landed Estates Court, Ireland, and the Land Judge, hereinbefore mentioned. (4.) The Land Commission, or such Commissioners as aforesaid, shall not be subject to be 'restrained in the execution of their powers under this Act by the order of any Court, nor shall any proceedings before them be removed by certiorari into any court,"—(Mr. Knox),
—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time,"1547
§ (11.54.) MR. MADDEN
I think this clause does not raise to any extent the larger question adverted to by the hon. Member. It has been taken out of the Land Department Bill, but it is inapplicable to the present Bill. The Land Department Bill would have constituted a great Department for the discharge of duties of a very varied character connected with the land, and it proposed to vest those jurisdictions in the Land Department as a whole. This clause proceeds on a diametrically opposite principle, and proposes to vest this in the two additional Commissioners appointed in 1885. The 2nd sub-section is a good one if you are dealing with a Department that is to be able to discharge the varied duties to which I have alluded, but it would be unreasonable to adopt the sub-section under existing circumstances.
§ (11.58.) MR. M. HEALY
The right hon. Gentleman makes it a grievance that my hon. Friend has adopted the proposals of the Government.
§ MR. M. HEALY
These are perfectly good, and we make no difficulty in acknowledging the fact. The Government think it an excellent proposal to hand over to Mr. Wrench and Mr. Justice Fitzgerald co-ordinate jurisdiction with the Land Purchase Commissioners, but think it is a monstrous thing that the converse should take place so far as the duties transferred from the Landed Estates Court to the High Court are concerned. That is the attitude frequently taken up by the Government and their friends in these matters.
§ It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.