§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (12.25.) MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)
I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which, so far as its principle and main provisions are concerned, has been introduced to the House for six successive Sessions; but owing to the inroads—the increasing inroads—on the time of private Members, we have been unable until this Session to submit it to the judgment of the House. I think I may be fairly asked on what Parliamentary information we submit a Bill of this kind. Well, I regret to say that the amount of Parliamentary information at our disposal is extremely small, but not from any fault of our own. Every morning among our Parliamentary Papers we receive Blue Books, some very bulky and some very carefully prepared, relating to all parts of the inhabited earth. We can know with fair accuracy the social, the agricultural, the industrial conditions of countries like Basutoland, of Wurtemburg, of Trinidad, or Tobago; but if we want to have a picture of the social or agricultural condition of Wales—a country within half a dozen hours' journey of this House—we cannot find it from the Papers presented to Parliament. Now, in 1888, when Welsh Members brought this matter of the condition of the agricultural tenantry of Wales before the House, we had to call attention to this matter, and to point out to the House that the only information upon the condition of the agricultural tenantry and the peasantry of Wales which we had was to be found in the Report of the proceedings of the Richmond Commission. How was that Commission constituted? 962 The staple industry of Wales is agriculture, and I think I shall be able to show shortly that in very many respects—in most important respects—Wales differs in its social and agricultural conditions from England. But on this Commission there was not a single Welshman, not a single gentleman connected with the agriculture of Wales. Not a farmer from the whole Principality was called to give evidence. All the evidence given from South Wales was the evidence of a land agent, and from the North Lord Penrhyn gave evidence from a landlord's point of view; but, competent as he and his bailiff may have been to give evidence from their point of view, I venture to think that if in respect to the Highlands of Scotland or to Ireland this House were expected to rely on information of such a class, there would be general dissatisfaction expressed. But I must admit that the Richmond Commission did make one appointment which showed that the Commissioners were not entirely forgetful of the interests of agriculture in Wales. They appointed a gentleman as Assistant Commissioner who had been an Inspector for the Poor Law Board. He knew not a word of Welsh, and from that one fact he was unable to communicate with nine out of every ten of the Welsh peasantry. He did not make any pretence or semblance of obtaining evidence from the tenantry: he sent a schedule of prepared questions to the clerks of Poor Law Unions inviting them to send him answers. Now, I venture to think that a Commissioner who considered he was doing the work appointed for him to do by adopting this method of obtaining information cannot be said to have afforded much assistance to the House in these matters. In 1888, when the Motion in regard to the land tenure and the condition of the agricultural tenants of Wales was brought before the House and was defeated by a majority of 18, the hon. and gallant Member for West Denbigh (Colonel Cornwallis West), who on that occasion voted against us, asked for a Royal Commission of Inquiry, and my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Stuart Rendel), who supported the Motion by speech and vote, asked also for a Royal Commission. 963 But with what result? Speaking in Wales about a couple of months afterwards, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) declared it was impossible to doubt that a strong, an irresistible case for a Welsh inquiry had been made out, but the Government of Tory landlords refused inquiry, and so Welsh farmers had to continue to prosecute their industry with a grinding thrift not equalled by the inhabitants of any other part of the Realm. They had to go on striving and struggling while Parliament closed its eyes and folded its arms with a slack and sluggish apathy such as had led to the Irish land difficulties. Such was the action of Parliament; but we, as Welsh Members, are Commissioners for our constituents, and we recognise our bounden duty on every possible opportunity—and the opportunities are few now for private Members—to bring before the House the condition of the tenantry and peasantry of the Principality. Now, I may be asked in what way do you differentiate between England and Wales? Why do you bring forward a Bill for Wales alone? The first reason is we can only speak for Wales; we know the condition of Wales; we do not know the condition of England, or, at all events, not so well as those Members who are sent to represent English constituencies here. We do not undertake to say what English farmers stand in need of; that is a matter more especially for English Members. But we do say that there are peculiarities and distinctions, in the relations between agricultural tenants and their landlords in Wales, which differentiate the case of the Welsh from the English farmers fundamentally. I am not going to enter at large into the matter to-day. In the discussion upon the Motion in 1888 we laid special stress on this point, but our arguments were of no avail. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Morley) in reference to that Debate, declared we had shown that there did not exist that community of feeling between landlords and tenants in Wales which alone could make agriculture successful, and that the two classes were divided in language, creed, and politics. In England there is the community of feeling and of interest. 964 The English landlord and his tenant speak the same language, and taking them in the bulk are of the same views in religion and in politics. In Wales the conditions are wholly different. The difference in language at once creates a chasm between landlord and tenant, which, at the present time, no one admits more willingly than the Welsh landlord himself. He will admit to you, and his agent will admit, that the landlord is at a terrible disadvantage owing to the fact that he has neglected the knowledge of the language of his tenantry; he cannot communicate with them in the only language they can understand. More than that, there is in religious matters a complete difference; nine-tenths of the peasants of Wales are Nonconformists; nine-tenths of the landlords are members of the Church Establishment. Now, without entering at all upon this very thorny question, one thing is clear—that these differences make community of interest and intercourse impossible. Then, in regard to politics, I may say that the state of these Benches is a sufficient indication of the revolution that has taken place in matters of politics. Fifty years ago Wales was represented practically by Members of the Tory Party, but what has happened since then? Following the religious revival in Wales came a political revival, and whether we are right or whether we are wrong—and as to that, of course, I personally have only one opinion—it is a fact that, during these years, the tenants of Wales, and especially the peasantry of Wales after the last enfranchisement, have with few exceptions, and by an overwhelming majority, voted in favour of Members who sit on this side of the House, and we have been commissioned to come here and lay before the House such Bills as this upon which I now invite the judgment of the House. Two Members representing Welsh agricultural constituencies sit on the other side of the House—the hon. Member for Radnor (Mr. Walsh), and the hon. Member for South Monmouth (Mr. F. C. Morgan). The hon. Member for Radnor has intimated his intention of not coming forward again as a candidate for the representation of that con- 965 stituency; and with regard to the sole remaining Conservative Member for a Welsh agricultural constituency, I at once admit that the hon. Gentleman represents not only the constituency, but a house which, in relation to its tenants, has ever borne a good reputation. What may be the representation of the constituency in the next Parliament I am not ready to say, though I have an opinion of my own. But I think I have shown that, in language, religion, and politics there is much in the relations between landlords and tenants in Wales to differentiate them from the tenant farmers of England. Wide, too, is the difference so far as the conditions of tenure were concerned. As has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Gladstone), in England the rigour of the law between landlord and tenant is mitigated by customs of the country which obtain practically in every part of England. That advantage to agriculture also existed in Wales, for tenure of land by contract and not by custom is a comparatively modern innovation. Within the memory of living men the tenure of land in Wales was largely regulated by local custom. But during the last half century, and since the development of the differences on religious, social, and political grounds, landlords have set themselves steadily against these local customs, and there is nearly always a clause in the agreement between landlord and tenant abrogating these old customs, and declaring that they shall not apply to the tenancy. What were some of these customs? This was one. When a tenant left his farm the incoming tenant not only paid the market value for the stock, he also paid a certain sum for good-will. It was a modified form of Ulster tenant right. For the last 30 or 40 years landlords and their agents have set their faces against that good custom. This was another. In the last century, and even for 30 or 40 years of the present century, the granting of leases was comparatively common; but now, over nearly all the land of Wales, to get a lease on fair conditions is very difficult. Another good custom prevailed, that when a tenant died 966 his interest in the farm could be handed over to his son or another member of his family. I think it was Lord Penrhyn who said there was a very strong desire among the tenantry—I think he went so far as to say it was the custom—for one member of a family to succeed another in a farm through generations. It was a custom of the utmost value; this security of a tenancy was security for labour and good husbandry. But the political conditions that have arisen during the last 50 years have largely trenched on this good custom, and landlords have helped in the breaking down of the good and wholesome custom of allowing a son or near relative of the tenant to succeed to the farm and to the improvements caused by the labour of the tenant. In regard to the question of pasturage, too, the rights of the peasantry have been invaded. In his evidence Lord Penrhyn admitted that considerable difficulty had arisen in his district, owing to the fact that the pasturage of the tenants had been inclosed. In the assertion of their rights the tenants had taken down the fences, and what did Lord Penrhyn do? He used his power as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, if I remember rightly, to obtain a special posse of police for the district, and he levied a special rate to bring to submission these farmers who asserted their rights. In 1870, speaking then in reference to Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian admitted that the taking away of customs and privileges and rights of the tenantry was one of the chief causes of uncertainty of tenure in Ireland, and I think I can show that this cause has operated in Wales to an increasing and ruinous extent, The right hon. Gentleman then gave expression to the fact which has been much commented on in this House, that the Irish peasants had a strong, a passionate attachment to the soil upon which they were born and had grown up, and what the right hon.. Gentleman said on that point is applicable to Wales in every word and syllable. The difficulties that come from this passionate attachment of the tenant to the land apply as much to Wales as to any part of Ireland. There is another point I would 967 here refer to. So far as my knowledge of the tenantry of England goes, they are much more nearly on a level with their landlords in their habits of life and in their standard of comfort than the tenants of Wales, of Ireland, or of the Highlands. In Wales the standard of comfort of the small farmers is infinitely lower than it is in England. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle used the right epithet when he described them as carrying on their industry with "grinding thrift." They are the best rent-payers in the whole Kingdom, and Welsh landlords will tell you that. This is largely due to the fact that they are a religious people; they desire to pay their way, and they will do anything in their power to cling to the land on which they were born, and which their fathers cultivated. What have these differences in the condition of tenants in England and Wales resulted in? I do not wish to labour the point, and I only speak of Wales. The first result of the differences which have grown up during the last half-century, and to some extent during the last three half-centuries, is the evil of insecurity of tenure, and this I consider the first and worst evil—worst for the peasants' rights and duties of citizenship, and worst for good husbandry in Wales. The evils of insecurity of tenure have been well expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in reference to Ireland, and I will venture to say that Welsh Members who follow me in this Debate will be ready to testify that the evil applies as much to Wales as it would to Ireland when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking. In that speech in 1870 the right hon. Gentleman indicated four ways in which the insecurity manifested itself. First there was the withdrawal of privileges by the landlord, and abrogation of old customs of tenure. I have referred to some of these customs—the payment for goodwill, the granting of leases, the succession of members of the family to the tenancy, the custom of pasturage; and now let me point out how landlords have, as I have said, set their faces against old customs and privileges formerly enjoyed by tenants. In the agreements entered into between the landlord and the tenants of a large 968 estate you find a clause providing that—No custom of the country shall affect the terms of this tenancy.And again in another—The Agricultural Holdings Act, 1875, and the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1883, or any part or provision thereof, shall not apply to this contract of tenancy hereby agreed to, nor shall any custom of the country affect the same, or be set up in opposition thereto.Here is another—The Agricultural Holdings Act, 1875, or any part or provision thereof, shall not apply to this contract, nor shall any custom of the country affect the same.And again—No custom or usage shall alter this contract of agreement.By such clauses in agreements we find landlords deliberately setting at defiance, abrogating, and stamping upon customs which, in Celtic countries, have so largely governed land tenure. In Wales the conditions of the old Celtic tenure were of great value, and tenants formerly relied on what was called the "honour of the landlord" and the custom of the country. Then the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) indicated another manifestation of the evil in connection with Ireland—the lavish use of notices to quit not always followed by the more acute measure of eviction, but producing chronic suffering and mischief by the uncertainty created, and destroying independence. Will the right hon. Gentleman believe that in the majority of the Welsh counties tenant farmers dare not appear on our political platforms? They dare not do so, though, in their hearts, they are ready to vote for us, and to express their opinions on our side. They dare not, because of their fear of the six months' or twelve months' notice to quit. Then the farmers in Wales dare not, as the working classes in England do, combine for their own security and good. The leaders are "spotted" from time to time, and the terror of the notice to quit is used to bring them into due submission; and they have to give up what is called "agitation" and "the stirring up of social mischief;" they cannot do that which working men in England are proud to do in support of Trade Unions. Again, 969 there is the question of game. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), in 1880, passed the "Ground Game Act," and that was very much valued; but only two Sessions ago, before the Committee on "Small Holdings," it was shown by witnesses that on many estates in Wales tenants dare not put the Act into operation. I can give an instance which comes very nearly home to myself, where because the straying dog of a tenant caught a rabbit, the tenant received notice to quit, and he was not allowed to re-enter his own farm until he had made a humiliating apology, had the dog shot in the presence of the landlord, and agreed to pay an additional £10 a year in rent. A third cause of discontent is direct eviction, and upon this I say, however much Ireland has suffered, there are many counties in Wales where the memories of evictions are of the saddest. After the election of 1859 some of the best tenant-farmers in my county were ruthlessly turned from their farms simply because they did not vote for the Conservative candidate. After the election of 1868 in the Counties of Carnarvon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, notices to quit came like snow-flakes. In some parts of Cardiganshire some of the best tenant-farmers in the county were ruthlessly evicted. These terrible evictions naturally sent a thrill of horror through the tenantry of Wales and taught them to know very well what a notice to quit means. It is true that they revolutionized the political representation of Wales, but the fact that 28 Liberal Members sit here and protest against evictions is but poor compensation to the tenants who suffered, or consolation to those who suffer under the present condition of things. You may say these things happened more than 20 years ago, but we know what has arisen in connection with the tithe agitation. Into the merits or demerits of that question I am not going to enter; we have had that question before us, but we know that tenant-farmers have been evicted from their farms simply and solely because they have refused to pay tithe voluntarily, and have allowed the agents of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and of the Clergy Defence Association 970 to sell their stock under distress. Extremely good farmers have been evicted, and others intimidated by notices to quit. The fourth grievance referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, in connection with uncertainty of tenure, was the demand for increased rent, founded solely on the increase in value which the labour and capital of the tenant added to the farm, the power of the demand depending upon the ultima ratio of eviction. Now, I have collected a few instances out of many that go to show how this power has been used, a few out of hundreds which, we hope, may be submitted to the decision of a tribunal. I will take two instances only: In the first instance, I go back to the year 1787. In that year a farmer in Anglesey took a farm on lease for life at 5s. an acre. In the last century such leases were common. At that time wheat stood at 47s. 6d. an acre and oats at 17s. 6d. That tenant was succeeded in the farm by his son, and the rent was raised, first to 10s. an acre, then to 16s. an acre. The son of the original tenant farmed well, he reclaimed waste and marsh, he re-walled the farm, he spent hundreds on buildings, he brought the land to a high state of cultivation. Over 97 years the landlord did not spend a penny-piece upon that farm, and the rent was never a penny in arrear. The tenant died, and his widow farmed the land for 16 years. During her widowhood, and under the operation of the power enforced by notice to quit, three advances in the rent were made until it reached 23s. an acre. During the last two or three years the landlord intimated that he would spend some money upon the farmyard, and, further, that the rent would be raised on this account. The time of depression came, and the widow applied to the landlord to refer the question of the rent to arbitration, but it was absolutely refused. Now, let the House remember those facts—the rent gradually raised from 5s. to 23s., with the ultima ratio of eviction, and, for 97 years, no expenditure on the property by the landlord. Rather than lose his home a farmer will submit to such dictation as this; but I say it is our 971 duty to make such exactions impossible. I take another case. In 1854 a farmer—whose name I have here—died, having spent £800 upon his farm. His son succeeded to the tenancy at a rental of £135; he re-walled the farm, erected buildings, and made improvements at an expenditure of £600. During his tenancy the rent was raised four times by means of twelve months' notices to quit, until from £135 it reached £205. Then the farm, with others, was put up to auction, and clinging desparately to his home and the fruits of his own labour and capital, and of his predecessor in title, the tenant competed against a large number of other buyers brought from all parts of the country to bid for the farm, and after he had succeeded, competent judges declared that in his purchase-money the tenant paid £1,500 for improvements he had actually made in the farm. He had spent £1,500 in improvements, and that sum he had to pay over again in the purchase-money in order to keep his home. He applied to the landlord for compensation, and the landlord said that the tenant had not given sufficient notice of the various things he had done, and offered him the bountiful—the extravagant—sum of £24 for his improvements! These, I say, are not isolated cases; they can be quoted as having occurred in nearly every county in Wales. On some estates I admit—I gladly admit—that the landlords do what they consider to be their duty: they provide houses and farm buildings; they supply pipes for drainage, timber for gates, &c. But, even in these cases, the tenant invariably has to do all the carting, has to clear the farm, to collect the stone, and even to provide a large part of the labour in building. He provides sheds from time to time, and, of course, has to do all the repairs according to the demands of the agreement. But I venture to say that, with regard to the vast mass of the permanent improvements on the agricultural land in Wales, including drainage, fencing, and those long and dismal lines of stone walls to be seen in many parts of Wales, the reclamation of waste and marsh, manuring, chalking the land, I say the mass—the overwhelming mass — of such improvements is effected by the tenants in Wales. On 972 the point of rack-renting let me quote a hostile witness. The Times, which I am glad to say of late years has taken considerable interest in Wales—not a very sympathetic interest it is true—but, at any rate, it is better that an English newspaper should take some interest, even though they should treat us with hostile comments, rather than that it should simply refuse to publish any information in regard to Wales. What does the special commissioner for the Times say? Referring to the re-valuation of estates, he says—On one estate, within a short period, there have been no less than three valuations, each followed by an increase of rents. In one case I am informed the rent was raised twice in a very few years to a considerable amount, and during the occupation of the same tenant. It must be protested that conduct of this kind is indefensible. It would be cruel in England, and would result in the loss of that precious thing, a good tenant; but in Wales there is but one end to proceedings of this character, and that is the ruin of the tenant, for a Welshman will always cling to his holding to the last gasp.I wish to say that we place in the forefront of our Bill a provision for security of tenure so long as the tenant pays his rent and fulfils statutory conditions. Arthur Young, a competent authority on agriculture, said that if a man really means to be a good farmer it can never serve his purpose to enter a farm with a shorter lease than 21 years—he was speaking of rich land; as to poor land, it was at once apparent that no man would farm it without a long lease. The land of Wales is, in the main, poor land. The first main part of the Bill is intended to improve the conditions of tenure upon which the land of Wales is held, and under which the peasantry of Wales now carry on their work; and the second main part provides for some outside impartial authority to fix reasonable conditions of tenancy and a fair rent. I will deal first of all with the second part. Happily, in this matter, we have precise information. No inquiry has been held as regards Wales, but we have been able to avail ourselves of valuable Parliamentary Returns as published from time to time. In these we have striking particulars of the conditions of rent in Wales. Yesterday, I think, the last Return of the Income Tax for the last ten years 973 was published. Now, comparing that Return with previous Returns which were moved for in this House, we get, I think, most interesting figures. Schedule B represents the agricultural rental. Now, what is the comparison in this matter between England and Wales? In 1888 when the Motion was brought before this House on this question I referred to these Returns, and I showed the difference between the rise of rent in England and Wales. Perhaps the House would allow me to quote these figures again. From the end of the Napoleonic Wars to 1843 the rental of England increased from £34,000,000 to £39,000,000, an increase of 11 per cent.; and the rental of Wales increased from £1,900,000 to £2,400,000, an increase of 25.8 per cent. From 1842 to 1880 the rental of England rose from £39,000,000 to £48,250,000, an increase of 23.5 per cent.; and the rental in Wales from £2,400,000 to £3,200,000, an increase of 34.6 per cent. Since 1880 what has happened? In Wales and England the price of everything from which the tenant can make his living has come down from 30 to 50 per cent.—whether we refer to sheep or cattle, or to wool, or to butter, or to cheese. True, in the last few months there has been a better price for butter in Wales, but, as compared with 1880, all the prices have come down from 33 to 50 per cent. I ventured to say in 1888 that the landlords and tenants of England had realised this; and the rents had come down fully 20 per cent. all through England; and I ventured to say, apart from a certain number of very reasonable and generous abatements—temporary abatements—in rent on the part of some landlords, the permanent reductions of rent in Wales had not come down 5 per cent. I find, from the Return published yesterday morning, from 1879–80 to 1889–90—ten years—the rents of England have come down from £48,000,000 to a little short of £39,000,000—that is to say, they have come down £9,500,000, a decrease of 19.5 per cent. With regard to Wales, the rents have come down from £3,200,000 to £3,100,000, a decrease of 4.4 per cent.; so that in 1888 I was well within the mark. 974 These figures more than confirm what I said in 1888—that the rents in England came down 20 per cent., and the rents in Wales only 5 per cent; as a matter of fact, they have only come down 4.4 per cent. Take a period of 75 years, from the close of the Napoleonic War to the present day; the rent in England has increased from £34,000,000 to a little short of £39,000,000—namely, an increase of 13.3 per cent., and the rent in Wales has increased from £1,900,000 to £3,100,000, an increase of 61.3 per cent. Comparing again 1890 with 1842, the rent in England has come back to what it was in 1842. Since that time in Wales it has increased very nearly £700,000, an increase of 28.5 per cent. I venture to say that if an impartial Commission were to look properly into this question of rent between landlords and tenants in Wales, we could arrive at something approaching justice in this matter. But the landlords in Wales, partly by obstinacy, partly by ignorance, partly by poverty, have not recognised the facts of the situation; they have not recognised the falling prices; they have not recognised the terrible suffering through which the Welsh farmers have gone, nor have they recognised the fact that Welsh farmers, in order to pay their rents, have left their shopkeepers, the villagers in arrears, in debt. And more than that—they have had to keep down more than they wish the price of labour, and they have had to borrow of one another security, and obtain loans from the banks. Hence failures of farmers and rural depopulation. This cannot go on forever. In many cases year after year you can see from the lists of bankruptcies this condition of things — one farmer after another in this and that part of the country is going under water, and the condition of the Welsh farmers is such that this House should urgently give heed and apply a remedy for this state of things. On some estates in Wales the rents, I admit, are reasonable; on others they are hopelessly unreasonable and unfair. But this is clear from the facts: the Welsh peasant clings desperately to his home and to the soil he tills; and all these conditions operate to enable the landowners to use relentlessly their power of notice to quit in order to keep up rents, and to keep 975 their tenants under submission to them. It may be said that in one respect we are going further than other Land Acts so far as Ireland is concerned—namely, in asking for reasonable conditions of tenancy. If time allowed me to read to this House extracts from various agreements that exist on the estates in Wales, I would be able to show the utter unreasonableness of many of these clauses. I will refer to four or five of these conditions of tenancy. First of all, there is a disposition, at all events in many, to evade altogether every Act passed by this House. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of landlords in Wales who did not contract themselves out of the Act of 1875; and even in regard to the Act of 1883—I am sorry to have to say it—in some fundamental respects that Act is a most grievous disappointment, and on many farms and estates has been a dismal failure. And more than that, it gave to the tenant a sense of security, because he thought he had sufficient measure of security to make, and some of them did make, very large and substantial improvements. But the pitfalls of that Act were such that one landowner and one land agent after another managed to make the Act of no avail in the majority of cases. There is another point—thepenalrents contained in these agreements are simply monstrous; they are an insult to the manhood and the intelligence of the tenant. A fine of £10, and in some cases of £100, is reserved for breaking some condition; and not only has the tenant to covenant to make up for the injury he may do, but he has to covenant to pay an addition to the rent of £10 or £15 an acre, a fine recoverable like the rent. I say that such a condition is quite unreasonable, and ought to be submitted when disputed to an impartial tribunal between landlord and tenant. Amongst other things the tenant has, in some cases, to take a goose to his landlord at Christmas; and in almost every agreement the tenant has to covenant to be a game preserver, and, more than that, to covenant to be an informer as well. Now, informers are hated in Ireland. Well, they are hated wherever there is a spark of humanity, and yet the Welsh 976 tenant has to sign an agreement in which he undertakes to go to the landlord and inform him as to any breach of the Game Laws; and, more than that, the tenant has to covenant himself to prosecute those who commit a breach of the Game Laws, and to allow the landlord to use the tenant's name as prosecutor in these cases. The Game Laws are bad enough in themselves; but agreements to turn the peasantry of Wales into game preservers and informers is an infamous demand on the part of the landlords. And there are other clauses with regard to cropping and the cultivation of the farm of an unreasonable character. I am not going to quote them, but they are here. Then we come to the machinery by which we ask that these things should be righted. In this matter the Bill introduced this year contains provisions different from the provisions of the Bill introduced five years ago by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Eifion Division. In his Bill the machinery employed for the fixing of a fair rent was by arbitration. We wished to have this provision in this Bill; but after consulting with tenants and those acquainted with agriculture in Wales, and after considering the working of that provision in the Agricultural Holdings Acts of England and Scotland, we came to the conclusion that arbitration has proved itself in England and Scotland, so far as the small tenants are concerned, a dismal failure. The tenants have no real confidence in it; and at best it is a very cumbrous, haphazard, and a very expensive measure, and, therefore, we had to turn to some other measure. The machinery proposed by English farmers, I find, is that each County Council appoints valuers, who settle the question of the cultivation of the land. We thought that if we in Wales were to adopt that machinery it might be used as an argument against us immediately that County Council elections in Wales have all been fought on Party lines, and an enormous majority of Liberal candidates have been returned; so that it might be said that we were going to make an unfair use of the power we thus possess in the County 977 Councils. What we ask, then, is that a central authority—Her Majesty's Government—shall appoint three men who shall form a body, a Commission, to be responsible primarily for the reasonable conditions of tenure, and for fixing a fair rent on the application of either party to the tenancy. We bring in local knowledge as far as we can. We ask that each County Council shall submit to the Land Commission a list of experienced men — experienced in agriculture, men experienced, if possible, in valuing stock, and men possessing local knowledge—and that the Land Commission, or any one member of it, can deal with applications under this Act in any given locality, with the help of a valuer or assessor so appointed. As we propose that the expense of the Commission should be defrayed by this House, we think the expense of the valuers should fall on the Local Authorities that appoint them. It may be said that the expense of the Commission is too large a sum for this House to pay; but I think that England owes a debt to Wales in this matter; and if she can by a small expenditure do away with wrongs, and give a fair and reasonable sense of security to the tillers of the soil in Wales, as they have in Ireland and the Highlands, then it will be money very well spent. Now, I am very well aware of the imperfections of this Bill, but I trust that those who are going to criticise or oppose it to-day will not judge it by its details or imperfections. Whatever vote may be given in this House to-day, you will rind that this Bill will be brought forward year after year until fairness and justice are done. We have not placed many limitations in the Bill. There may be mistakes in parts of the Bill. But what we ask you to-day is this—to give your judgment upon the main principles of the Bill. Are you willing to give to the peasantry of Wales security of tenure by which they can exercise and fulfil their duties as citizens, by which they can put forward their whole energy, their whole heart and hope into the work of farming, and by which they can exercise, as far as possible, all the conditions of good husbandry. I hope the three main principles contained in this Bill will receive the favourable con- 978 sideration and favourable judgment of the House. Here is the cry from the tenantry and peasantry of Wales, and I venture humbly to submit that it is the duty of this House to hearken to it; here is silent, bitter suffering from year to year of hundreds of homes in Wales—it is your duty to relieve it; here is long-continued wrong perpetrated under cover of the law, and it is your duty to right it. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Thomas Ellis.)
§ (1.35.) MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
I rise to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. I am sorry that I should be doing this in connection with a demand on behalf of distressed agriculture whether in England or Ireland, or any other part of the United Kingdom; but I believe, from hearing the speech of the hon. Member, that if this Bill were passed it would not benefit the Welsh farmers in the way he thinks it would. It is because I am strongly convinced that that is so that I take upon myself to move the rejection of the Bill. We have heard that the farmers in Wales are worse off than the farmers in England. I think it would be presumptuous on my part to challenge the accuracy of that statement, because I must admit at once that I am not well acquainted with agriculture in Wales. I know a great deal about the distress which the English farmers suffer; and if the distress suffered by the Welsh farmers during the last ten years has been greater than that suffered by the English farmers, all I can say is, then I pity these men from the bottom of my heart. The hon. Member tells us there is a great difference between matters agricultural in Wales and matters agricultural in England in many points. We were told—and I think with a great deal of accuracy—that the English farmers were represented in this House by Conservative landlords; and then the hon. Member tells us in the same speech that these Welsh farmers, whose position is more deplorable than theirs, are represented by a vast majority of 979 Gentlemen who sit upon the opposite side of the House. If that be so—and I do not dispute it for a moment—I should suggest that it is worthy of the consideration of these distressed. Welsh farmers that they might be better off if they would go in for a little Conservatism. There is another most striking advantage which the Welsh farmer has enjoyed as compared with the poor English farmer. Is it not a fact that the Welsh farmer has had as a guardian angel for years past a gentleman whose voice has more weight in this House than the voice of any other hon. Member? Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian has a close connection with Wales; and yet, is it really true that, in spite of all that, the position of the Welsh farmers has been so deplorable for so long a period? I want to show the hon. Member who introduced this Bill that it is a strange thing that, notwithstanding all these advantages, the Welsh farmers should be in a position which can fairly be described as worse than that of their brother farmers in England. Now, Sir, I do not think that these proposals, any more than others to which I have listened since I had the honour of a seat in this House, and which have been found as a remedy for agricultural distress, are likely to carry with them great support from the agriculturists of England as a body, because as a body they must clearly see that if agriculture is to be substantially and permanently benefited, that benefit will never arise from any assistance that can be given by hobbies of this sort. I look upon this Bill as only another of those stumbling, broken-kneed hobbies which are periodically trotted out by people who think they know a great deal about agriculture, but who really know very little about it, and who only seem anxious, in season and out of season, to make shuttlecocks of the interests of the British farmer. We are told, when it suits the purpose of these good friends of ours, that if only we employed machinery on a large scale everything would be right; that if only we conducted our business in the way the large monopolists do in the cotton and iron districts we would be successful. 980 Then soon afterwards we are told that that is a wrong thing altogether; that we should restore the yeomen and the small farmers. Now, Sir, I would like to point out to Welsh Members, if they will allow me, that some 20 years ago in England young men who were anxious to become farmers were advised, and honestly advised, by their friends to buy their land in order to secure that fixity of tenure which otherwise they would not have. Some 25 years ago, when I was contemplating farming operations, I was told on all sides, "Do not hire land, buy it, because if you hire it and improve your farm the day will probably come when the agent will advise the landlord to increase the rent." Well, Sir, that advice was listened to 20 years ago by a large number of young Englishmen who were entering upon a farming career. On the other hand, there were a large number of young men who did not take that advice, but hired land in the ordinary way, and I want to point out to our Welsh Friends what has taken place. I could point to scores and scores of men who bought their land convinced that it would give them security, and who were absolutely ruined, and are now dispersed all over the world. Some of them are driving omnibuses in London, or something of that sort. On the other hand, many of those who hired farms are today, upon the whole, going on fairly well. I admit that when the terrible agricultural depression first set in a few years ago, the men who had hired suffered very severely; and although I know no English farmers who are making money rapidly, yet I know the men who hired their land as against those who bought 20 years ago may be said to have done better, and I would advise all young farmers to be very careful indeed before spending their money in purchasing land. Somebody may say, "If that is your view, why do you support the Small Holdings Bill?" Well, Sir, all I have said is that I would like to see the experiment of small holdings tried. And that brings me to another point—namely, fixity of tenure. If hon. Members opposite attach so much importance to fixity of tenure, why, instead of asking the House to read this Bill a second time, 981 do they not give all their strength and all their support to the Small Holdings Bill? If fixity of tenure is so desirable, why should not the unfortunate Welsh farmers be encouraged to buy their land under the Small Holdings Bill? We are told that some of the great disadvantages between the landlords and their tenants are differences of language, politics, and religion. But if hon. Gentlemen opposite will support the Small Holdings Bill they will get rid of this grievance, because they will altogether get rid of the landlords. Now, Sir, I do see another great objection to this Bill. Like most other proposals of the sort, it is a Bill that would do a very good turn to the lawyers. I do not think we need do any more good turns for the lawyers. They have harvests frequently enough. I do not think it would be possible to work a Bill of this kind without going very often to the lawyer's office. That is a very great blot in this Bill. I do wish that someone would make a proposal which would be a really tangible benefit to the farmers not only in Wales, but in all parts of the United Kingdom. If some one would make a practical proposal of that kind, I do not care whether it comes from this side of the House or the other, I will support it. But, Sir, I am sure that under this Bill the position of the Welsh farmer will continue just as deplorable as it is at the present time. I do not deny that the hon. Gentleman opposite has a bonâ fide interest in the Welsh farmers; but if he and his friends think that by putting a measure of this kind on the Statute Book they will benefit the Welsh farmers they are labouring under a very great mistake. From the beginning to the end of his speech the Mover has not shown how this Bill, if passed into law, would enable the Welsh farmer or any other farmer to become prosperous in the present state of prices for agricultural productions. This is not the time to say what would be a tangible benefit; I only wish I had an opportunity to speak on the subject. However, Sir, we must not trust to Bills of this kind; and I would advise the hon. Gentleman not to put his own Front Bench into an awkward position by insisting upon a Division. I am told, and I can 982 well understand, that they are not going to give a very cordial support to the Bill. Having so openly drawn attention to the grievances of gallant little Wales, I hope hon. Gentlemen will not press the Bill. I beg to move that it be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. G. W. Gray.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
The hon. Member who has just sat down is quite right in supposing that I do not feel myself able, consistently with my sense of duty, to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but he will be quite wrong if he imagine I shall withhold my support from the Bill upon the grounds he has stated in his speech. At the same time, I must make one exception in referring to that speech, because at the close of it, if I understood the hon. Member aright, he said he considered the statements made by my hon. Friend the Mover of the Bill were well worthy of the attention of the House. If they are well worthy of the attention of the House, I must say I think it is very difficult even for the hon. Gentleman—I do not say to withhold his support from the present Bill, but not to feel that we are under some obligation to inform the House what view we take, and what course we think ought to be pursued, in consequence of having laid before us statements upon the subject undoubtedly of vital importance, and statements which the opponents of the Bill consider to be well worthy of attention. The ground on which I am unable to vote for the Bill is that, in my opinion, the question raised by my hon. Friend is not ripe for a definitive solution such as is proposed by the Bill now before Parliament. In stating this I must endeavour to do justice to my hon. Friend, after the very able and the very temperate speech which he has delivered. My hon. Friend did not attempt to dissemble the politics he professed; he did not deny that in his view the political 983 element does, to a certain extent, affect the Land Question in Wales. But quite apart from the particular statements he advanced on that subject, I am sure he would feel, as I feel, the greatest possible desire to dissociate this question from political, or, at any rate, Party considerations. It is far too important to be decided upon these grounds. The claims of the Welsh farmer cannot possibly depend on the question whether he is a Liberal and Nonconformist or a Conservative and Churchman, and my hon. Friend would be the last man who would be disposed to disguise the true nature of the case by allowing it to be confounded with political considerations. Now, Sir, my hon. Friend, by his appeal, asks us to advance to a very forward point indeed—namely, to introduce into this country principles which we have hitherto confined strictly to Ireland, and to the case of the crofters in the Highlands of Scotland. With regard to the case of the crofter districts in the Highlands of Scotland, my hon. Friend will bear in mind that the greatest pains were taken in the Act which was passed for the purpose of giving relief to the crofters so to define those districts within which alone the Act should be applicable, as to prevent the drawing from it of any precedent as to the general agricultural condition of the country. Those are unquestionable facts with regard to the nature of the Crofters Act. If I remember rightly its terms, the basis of that Act is strictly historic, and it is not allowed to operate except in cases where the Commissioners are sufficiently assured that within the memory of man, and within a limited period, the system of rent, as it is now understood, was not applicable to those districts, and that they had passed with great rapidity out of a tenure and under peculiar circumstances totally different and involving much community of common rights and common property, as it is now understood to apply. With regard to Ireland, I think my hon. Friend has pursued a very judicious course, because he did not at all attempt to show that his case, viewed generally, could be supported by the case of Ireland as a precedent. What he did was—and I think he was justified—he 984 showed that in certain points, and points of great importance, the case of Wales had a certain approximation to that of Ireland. Well now, Sir, let me consider how we stand with regard to this subject. I must say for myself I do not pretend to speak upon it either with the authority of an agriculturist—which I am not—or with the authority of a Welshman in the full sense of the term—that is, as having Welsh experience drawn from those portions of the country where Welsh conditions prevail. My own property with which I have any extensive acquaintance is a property actually touching the English Border. The parish in which it is contained actually touches the English Border, and all our conditions in that parish are really English; and, so far as I am aware, we belong very much more, with respect to our agricultural conditions, to Cheshire than to Wales. I am sorry to say we shared fully with Cheshire in the outbreak of cattle plague, while our properly Welsh neighbours were exempt from it almost throughout the entire range of the country. Therefore I do not speak of places where English customs do not prevail, and I view the case presented by my hon. Friend as one entirely depending on special treatment. And, Sir, while in my opinion we are not justified at the present date in adopting such a measure as my hon. Friend proposes, I do not preclude myself from the ultimate adoption of such a measure as this if, upon a careful, impartial, and adequate inquiry, it appears to be demanded. My hon. Friend has proceeded with too great rapidity under the legitimate influence of Welsh patriotism; but this House, as representing the entire community, would not at present be justified in acceding to his proposals. My hon. Friend divided—at any rate I may divide—his speech into two portions. By far the larger portion of the two was simply directed to the demand for an inquiry; while in the latter part he undoubtedly declared his adhesion to the main principles of his Bill, security of tenure, the intervention of an external authority for the fixing of rents, and I think further legislation in the sense of security for improvements. These, I believe, are the essential 985 principles of his Bill, and he asked our assent to those essential principles, while in all other respects he said to us, "Re-model the Bill as you please," but he sagaciously deprecated criticism of the details of the Bill. I will not take my stand upon those details, but even if this Bill were to be read a second time and referred to a Committee, even from the point of view of my hon. Friend, it would be found that his Bill would require not merely ordinary amendment, but almost entire re-construction. The question really before us is whether my hon. Friend has laid before us the grounds which make it the duty of the House to desire to recommend, and the duty of Her Majesty's Government to institute, any measure calculated to give just effect to the claims of Wales arising out of the state of things which my hon. Friend has suggested. The real question is, can the statements of my hon. Friend with regard to the condition of things in Wales be denied? The hon. Gentleman who has moved the rejection of the Bill has made no attempt to deny these statements; on the contrary, he has in general terms acknowledged their force. What I wish is to impress upon the mind of Her Majesty's Government—though I do not differ from them as to the position on which I stand with immediate reference to the question of to-day—is to impress upon the mind of Her Majesty's Government that a case has been made out for a thorough, searching, impartial, and dispassionate inquiry. And not only should that inquiry be thorough and searching, but it should be attended with authority. I must say that my hon. Friend himself has bestowed such attention on the case, and has done so with such diligence that his personal inquiry may be called thorough and searching. But I would ask for an inquiry which shall be attended also with the great element of authority, which, of course, it is not possible to claim in the same sense as when a public investigation has been ordered by the Government. My hon. Friend has, I will frankly own, enlightened my mind and enlarged my information with regard to the nature of the case in the interior of Wales. I do not know whether the House fol- 986 lowed in full the figures produced by my hon. Friend. In my opinion, they are most important. So far as I understand, he dealt with two periods: first, the period of the increase of rents from the end of the great war down to 1880, and I presume his statement to be incontrovertible, being founded upon a comparison of the old Income Tax with the new, and dealing with land and not with other property. I think this is a most important statement, and shows a far greater and more rapid increase of rents in Wales during the whole of that period than had taken place in England. And I am not aware of any economic circumstances in Wales—if we are to presume a similar relation between Welsh landlords and their tenants to that which prevails in England—why the increase of rent in Wales should have so greatly outstripped the increase of England. There may be some difference, a greater proportion of hill pasture for instance, but there is nothing, I think, to account for the state of the facts which my hon. Friend represented. Then he came to the period of the diminution of rents. And I almost wish that it were in the power of my hon. Friend, which I believe it is not, to give us information somewhat more precise than he was able to extract from the Paper that was circulated yesterday. The information he gave us with regard to the diminution of rents was certainly in itself very striking, and I admit that it must have some considerable foundation. At the same time, I doubt whether it can be relied upon as precise because it was not directly based, as the preceding information of my hon. Friend had been, upon the diminution in the receipts of the landlords. And that is the question with which we have to deal. We have in the figures, which may be found in the Statistical Abstract at page 32, a very valuable statement which exhibits the very thing we want, but, unhappily, exhibits it for England, including Wales. I should like very much, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be so good—and I think he will agree with me, especially after the Debate which has taken place to-day—as to give the information for Wales separately. In 1881 the receipts of landlords for England and 987 Wales on which they were taxed for Income Tax were £50,599,000 and in 1890 £41,795,000. That is a very large diminution, effected without the intervention of Parliament by the free action and thorough goodwill which usually prevails in England between landlords and tenants. But, the point of my hon. Friend is that, of all that diminution, a very small proportion is due to Wales. It would be very important, I think, that we should know how much of that diminution is due to Wales; and it could easily be done, because it is only necessary to separate the Welsh counties. My hon. Friend, with great force and great clearness, went over all the different heads upon which he considered that he ought to take his stand in order to demonstrate the wide difference between the condition of the tillers of the soil in England and the condition of the tillers of the soil in Wales. He showed what I think is undoubtedly the case, that there are standing differences in Wales, not only religious and political, but the difference of language, which, in my opinion, has had a very important influence indeed upon the relations of landlord and tenant in Wales. I do not mean to say that it has produced hostility, but it has interposed a much wider interval between the average landlord and the average tenant in Wales than can be said to subsist in England. Within my knowledge, and in the knowledge of all who know anything of Wales, the feeling of the landlords has been, at any rate, up to a very recent period, with respect to the use of the Welsh language, one of great hostility. Such have been the proofs given, within the last eight years, of the intentions and determined attachment of the Welsh people to their language, which, in my opinion, is to their honour, that the landlords have withdrawn a good deal of that opposition. I do not think that of itself would constitute a case for my hon. Friend; but he goes a good deal beyond that. I do not think any amount of statement, however carefully prepared, would form any basis, without further investigation, for future legislation. My hon. Friend's statements are of the greatest consequence. He states that there is insecurity of 988 tenure, and indisposition to lease. I accept that statement provisionally, on the authority of my hon. Friend. As I have said, my own limited sphere is in England rather than Wales. Undoubtedly the unwillingness to grant leases, as far as the limited circle of my knowledge and experience goes, is not an unwillingness on the part of the landlords, but on the part of the tenants. The statement of my hon. Friend may be true for all that. Undoubtedly he has shown us a case which, I presume, no one here is able to confute or is disposed to question. His statement of the case is of a very painful, stringent, and remarkable character. A farm upon which no improvement of any sort has been executed by the landlord for 97 years, the rent punctually paid during the whole of that time; in that case I think, and likewise in other cases, detailed with great clearness by my hon. Friend, there has been a considerable increase of rent progressively made upon the improvements of the tenants. And, undoubtedly, these statements show that the landlords in some portions of Wales come a great deal too near to some of the severest and worst parts of the old land system in Ireland. I cannot decline to accept the remedy of my hon. Friend without stating strongly what I think. We have a right to demand an authoritative inquiry into these circumstances. It is impossible not to observe, although the hon. Member opposite (Mr. C. W. Gray) is entitled to claim a great deal as a practical agriculturist, that Essex is a distant quarter from which to obtain our detailed information about Wales; and the hon. Member could not but feel that there was a great deal of anomaly in his position when he submitted to the House a Motion which, undoubtedly, one would suppose might have proceeded with great appropriateness—I will not say propriety—from a Welsh Member. How is it that no Welsh Member is ready to make this Motion? If I am told it is because of the pressure of their constituents, then I am bound to say I do not think the pressure of their constituents of itself forms a conclusive reason why this House should legislate in this particular sense. But I do think that the strong and general senti- 989 ment of the constituencies of Wales brought in a proper, respectful, and considerate manner before the House, as it has been to-day, does form a reason why we should give provisional attention at least to their complaints and assist them to obtain that fuller knowledge of the facts which we ought all to desire. More than this, I think I am correct in saying that those Welsh Members who might be supposed to act with something like independent authority have admitted the necessity of this inquiry, or at all events those Welsh Members who are hardly to be suspected of entire submission to the wishes of their constituents. There is one name which I cannot help quoting, in this connection at all events—that of the late Colonel Talbot, a man whose seat was so secure and his position so strong that he was by no means a man under the necessity of giving way to the populariaura. And he was a man whose prejudices, if he had any, were those of a very large landed proprietor. Nothing can be more conclusive than that Welsh authority goes undoubtedly up to the point of demanding an inquiry such as I desire to press. My hon. Friend stated that the Act of 1883 had been, to a great extent, a failure in Wales. I am extremely sorry to hear it. I cannot myself give any opinion upon that subject except that at the time the Act was passing, in the sphere within which I was more immediately connected, I found it excessively difficult to induce the farmers to give it any attention at all. I supplied myself with a considerable number of copies of the Bill, and I took them down and distributed them with a strong recommendation to the farmers to make themselves masters of the Bill. But I do not believe one of them looked at it. However, if the provisions of that Act are insufficient that is a reason for ascertaining carefully whether it is capable of amendment. This provision for the introduction of an external authority, who shall come into the place of private contracts in all cases relating to the letting of land—do not let us conceal from ourselves—is a very extreme provision. It is going a long way. It was certainly necessary in Ireland, and the House ought never to forget this im- 990 portant fact that a Commission sat in 1880, on whose Report the Act of 1881 was passed, and that that Commission actually reported that cases of excessive rents in Ireland were comparatively few. But when the Report of that Commission came to be subjected to the practical control of the Act itself, what was the condition of things?—an absolute proof that they were entitled to relief from excessive rents. One-half of the tenantry were in that very dread predicament of paying excessive rent—which the Commission failed to discover. It may be that the statement of my hon. Friend can be mitigated and disproved, and that it is applicable only to a very limited and exceptional number of cases in Wales. That ought to be tested. But it may be also that that might happen in Wales which happened in Ireland; that is to say, that we should find the extent of the evil to be very much greater than has been supposed by the best and most impartial authorities. So I think there is considerable force in my plea that on matters directly affecting our own relations and that essentially alter any of those relations, the House of Commons ought not to adopt propositions of that kind upon any foundation which has no greater solidity than can possibly be found in the speech of the hon. Member. His speech undoubtedly constitutes an important fact in the case; and while it may make this an important day in the history of the land question of Wales, it cannot constitute a sufficient ground for the adoption of measures fundamentally altering the relations of all land contracts in Wales. More information is required before that is done. While frankly admitting this, I would say that in my opinion my hon. Friend, if I may venture to make a recommendation, should, for the present, endeavour to obtain from the Government some promise that an inquiry such as I have endeavoured to describe should take place. I feel confident, though it may seem to counsel delay, that that is really the most expeditious mode. He will find difficulties which do not come out so much in a Second Reading Debate, when he comes into Committee, to be 991 very great indeed. If he were disposed, although I have no right to commit him or to commit anyone—and I am only speaking my own individual sentiments—I would ask him not to press the Second Reading of this measure, but to hold it over for consideration after the limited and moderate time which the inquiry need occupy. Having listened to the demand, and having heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill, I hope Her Majesty's Government will announce to the House that they think a case has been made out which renders it advisable that they should advise the institution of an inquiry such as may give confidence to the Welsh public and will guard, on the one hand, against any apprehension of rash or intemperate interference with the general basis of agricultural contracts in this country, and will, on the other hand, show the tenant-farmers of Wales that their complaints and grievances do not fall upon deaf ears in the British House of Commons; but that, on the contrary, there is a disposition to ascertain exactly and fully the actual facts of the case with the view of afterwards applying promptly to their case such a remedy as these facts may require.
§ (2.50.) MR. ABEL THOMAS (Carmarthen, E.)
I am only saying what every Member for a Liberal constituency in Wales will agree with, when I say that I am deeply grateful to the right hon. Member for Midlothian for his speech. It is true that he has suggested that there should be an inquiry instead of the actual Second Reading of the Bill; but I am sure we are not afraid of, and will not shirk, an inquiry or Commission which would inquire in Wales itself, going from centre to centre of the agricultural districts. We should be only too happy to have, and be satisfied with, a Commission of that kind. I am afraid, however, that inquiry will not be given to us, and therefore we must take the only course we have, and press for a Division on the Bill itself. It has not yet been suggested from the other side that the Bill would interfere with the sacred rights of property. I hope we shall not hear to-day that we have 992 many times interfered with those rights—as by the Conveyancing Act of 1881, the Irish Land Act of 1881, the Ground Game Act, and the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883. Hon. Members do not now say that those Acts have done anything which is unjust, and yet this Bill is only carrying out, in a way, the principle admitted in those measures. The true question in this matter is, Will it be for the good of the people that a Bill of this kind should be passed, and is the change in itself inequitable? Are we asking for any injustice so far as the landlord is concerned? Will it remedy an evil which is substantial and wide-felt throughout the length and breadth of the Welsh part, at any rate, of Wales? I speak with some knowledge of Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire, Glamorganshire, and Pembrokeshire. It is not, perhaps, so much felt in Glamorganshire, as there is at present a kind of tenant right there which is sold by the outgoing to the incoming tenant. In the other three counties there is no right of the kind, and we there see how the condition of the law affects the position of landlord and tenant. The more I see of what takes place there the more I am convinced that an Act of this kind is imperative. Since the Ballot Act has been passed, and since it has been thoroughly known that it was secret, I have seen tenant farmers go into the booth really sweating with fear lest the landlord should find out which way they were going to vote. There are districts in Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, and North Pembrokeshire where the tenant farmers dare not say for whom they are going to vote, and where they have even gone to the poll wearing Conservative colours, and have voted for the Liberal candidate. Such a position for an honest man is degrading, and yet he has to do it. The land is to a large extent in the hands of Conservative landlords. I do not say that if the landlords were Liberal and the tenants Conservative the same thing might not occur. There is a great hunger for land in Wales, and vacant farms are quickly applied for, and the love of the farm is so strong in the mind of the farmer who has lived on it for many years, and, perhaps, his ancestors before 993 him, that he is afraid to be an honest man. A measure of this kind would prevent that difficulty altogether. He would not then have to work from year to year as he does at present. No one who has no acquaintance with Wales can have any idea of how he works; he lives practically like one of his own agricultural labourers, has the hardest fare, is often in great discomfort, and dresses no better than his herdsman, except, perhaps, on market day, and then he is not much better. The English farmer lives almost as well as his landlord, not being under the same pressure as the Welsh farmer, for in England there does not appear to be the same intense desire to live in the place where one is born and bred, and consequently to pay rents which it is impossible to pay except by living in the meanest and hardest manner imaginable. This makes the great difference between the English and Welsh tenant, and necessitates the bringing in a Bill of this kind for Wales, where we know that rents have been driven up too high. Under these rents it is impossible for a man to do justice to the land and to himself. The hon. Member for Essex (Mr. C. W. Gray) said he did not know much about Wales, and that is evident from his remarks about the sale of land there. It is very seldom that land is offered for sale in Wales, and when it is, because of the love of the tenant for his farm, prices are given which are wholly too high to enable him to live properly on the place afterwards. In Wales the landlord is usually an English-speaking man, and the tenant a Welsh-speaking man; the landlord is usually a staunch member of the Church of England, and the tenant usually an equally staunch member of a Nonconformist body; the landlord is a strong Tory, and the tenant almost invariably an equally strong Radical. Of course, with all these differences, the two are driven further and further apart; it is inevitable that it should be so. It is no use shutting our eyes and saying these things ought not to be so; they are there, and there is not the same close connection between landlord and tenant that there is in England. The result is that we find notices to quit are far more frequent in Wales than in England. 994 But it is not only then that the rent is raised. Whenever there is a sale of land in Wales the farms are run up to enormous prices, and, to my knowledge, in Pembrokeshire they have gone up to 30 and 35 years' purchase. When the sale takes place the new landlord wants interest on his money and up goes the rent, although for years previously the tenant has done everything for the land. The hon. Member for Essex seems to think he is the only one who knows anything about agriculture in this House. My hon. Friend who sits below me and myself know probably as much about agriculture in Wales as the hon. Member does about agriculture in England.
§ MR. G. W. GRAY
I was particular to state when I began my speech that I knew very little about agriculture in Wales.
§ MR. ABEL THOMAS
Of course, I accept the explanation of the hon. Member at once, and withdraw any argument I deduced from it. Is it for the benefit of the country at large that the tenant should be ensured in his holding, and should only pay a fair rent for it? I cannot understand anybody suggesting that it is not. The man who farms his farm and knows that he is to reap the fruits of his labour, or the money he has spent, must inevitably farm better than the man who is always under the knowledge that even if he and the landlord are on the best possible terms the landlord may have to sell the land, and the price will include all that the tenant has done with his labour and money, and the incoming landlord will expect an increased rent on these very improvements. Where the tenant feels that he will get the benefit of his improvements he does more for the land, and every improvement increases the riches of the country in which he lives. It is, therefore, impossible to say it will not benefit the country. Is it an injustice? It seems to me that it can be no injustice when you consider the terms of the Bill. All the landlord wants is a fair rent; if he wants more he ought not to have it. No hon. Member opposite would suggest that the landlord should receive a rent which 995 the tenant could not pay out of the land, but which he would have to pay out of his own pocket. What the Bill proposes is that there shall be a fair rent measuring the value of the land from the day the Act passes; whether the landlord or tenant has improved the land, the land is to be valued as it stands, and a fair rent paid for it. What can there be unfair or unjust between two honest men in such a proposition? The result of the present state of things is that the tenant is badly fed and badly clothed, whereas, if he paid a fair rent, he ought to be able to make a fair living out of the land. Next comes fixity of tenure. Nothing has been said about it, but it does seem to me that Sub-section 2 of Section 3 is intended to mean that if the land is being impoverished or worked out by the tenant, the landlord will be able to eject him and get another tenant. That was the intention of the hon. Member who brought in the Bill, and I fail to see what the honest landlord wants more. The Bill will prevent a tenant being turned out without cause in rhyme or reason. If there is bad farming, or the landlord wants to put a relative of his own in, or to retake the farm himself, or any other reasonable ground, he will be able to retake the farm under the Bill. There is no injustice in that. The fixity of tenure is only so far as it will not injure the landlord, and I hope hon. Members will come to the conclusion that the Bill proposes no injustice to the landlord, but that it prevents any injustice being done at all. Is there a great demand for it in Wales itself? Will it enable the tenant to be happier or better, or to live more freely and independently in the place which he so dearly loves? Those of us who know anything of the Welsh districts of Wales know that injustice is done, and that it is felt to an enormous extent by the Welsh farmers. There is no question which is nearer to the hearts of my constituents than that of fixity of tenure. I see that a number of Conservatives are coming down to Wales with the idea of being returned for the south-western counties; but we on the Liberal side should never dream of 996 fighting one of those constituencies without saying, as has been said on every Liberal platform in the country, that Wales will never be satisfied until it has fixity of tenure and fair rents. That is the meaning of the Bill. It has been said that it is badly drawn; but it was drafted, I believe, from the Irish Land Bill and the Crofters Act of Scotland; and those Bills, instead of being impossible, as this Bill has been described by one hon. Member, are in actual operation. The Member for Essex declared that this Bill would put money into the pockets of the lawyers, but we maintain that that is just what this Bill succeeds in preventing. We have introduced into it the commission system of the Crofters Act, and the whole amount of fees paid under that system is 2s. 6d. The Bill, it is true, leaves the matter open to some extent, as does the Scotch Act; but we believe that the Commissioners would act as the Scotch Commissioners have done, and the 2s. 6d. would cover the whole of the expenses, except the expense to the country of the appointment of the Commissioners and Assessors. I am sure that every Welsh Liberal Member was only too pleased to hear the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), and I can only say not as a Representative, but as one of the Radical Members from Wales, that we should be glad to accept an inquiry into this matter. We are not afraid of such an inquiry; and if it is not granted, I hope the House will draw the inference that it is the other side who are afraid of it. We should be more than satisfied with a Commission, but we fear that the facts are only too well known in some quarters, and there is a desire, if possible, to prevent the Bill from becoming law.
§ (3.15.) COLONEL CORNWALLIS WEST (Denbighshire, W.)
I am glad I can agree with the last speaker in his praise of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, but I look upon that speech from a different point of view to that of the hon. Member. I agree in desiring a Commission in the interest of the landlords, the promoters of the Bill in 997 the interest of the tenants, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian must give very cold comfort to those hon. Members. I have always thought that so long as these reckless charges are made against the landowners in Wales it was only just and fair that a Royal Commission should be appointed. I entirely deny the accuracy of the picture which has been drawn of the condition of the Welsh tenants. The tenants have been described as depressed and tyrannised tenantry, and hon. Members have tried to lead the House to believe that Welsh landlords are rack-renters, and that they have no scruples about evicting tenants for the most absurd reasons—for political, religious, or other reasons. I utterly deny that anything of the kind has existed for years past. The Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. Ellis) quotes the years 1859 and 1868. It may be true that at that time there were cases of intimidation and hardship, but I deny that during the last 20 years there has been anything of the kind, and I defy any hon. Member to give a properly authenticated instance, with the names, places, and dates accurately laid before the House. The hon. Member for Merionethshire has given us stories of evictions, but there was not a single name mentioned, or anything to give the House any idea where or when they took place. Accusations of this kind are not fair, either to the landlords or to the House. I must confess that, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Gladstone), I am unwilling to go into the details of the measure, because it is evident that in its present shape the Bill cannot be seriously discussed. It can never be passed, and, in all probability, we shall never see it again, and I think the most prudent course would be to withdraw it. With respect to fixity of tenure, the Member for Merionethshire says he demands it, because of farmers being evicted on account of their political and religious tenets, and also from causes arising out of the Game Laws. It is all very well to make these random assertions, but I should like to know where any- 998 thing of the kind has taken place. He also gives some historical facts as to the raising of the rents in Wales. There may have been some few cases in which landlords have raised the rents upon the improvements of their tenants but I strongly deny that this is the usual practice, and I declare that the landlords of Wales have acted with great generosity to their tenants during the last ten years. I will tell the hon. Member what has been one cause of the rise of rents, and that is that the railways have had a very considerable effect in raising the value of land.
§ COLONEL CORNWALLIS WEST
They certainly have materially increased the productions of Wales. Then the hon. Member expresses a doubt as to whether rents have been reduced to the extent of more than 5 per cent. The reductions have been very much more than that. To quote my own case, I have given reductions up to 20 per cent., and I believe if a Commission of Inquiry were appointed it would discover that on many estates reductions, instead of being 5 per cent., had been as much as 10, 12, or even 15 per cent. It must be recollected that the Welsh farmers have never suffered to the same extent from the agricultural depression as their English brethren, because they do not grow corn, but practice a mixed system of farming. The hon. Member asks for this Bill on the grounds of the arbitrary conditions of tenancy, and he mentioned some conditions which I have never heard of in my whole life, such as the supply of geese to the landlord, and other conditions which are most absurd. Those are exceptional cases, and exceptional cases will always exist; but this House will not pass a Bill of this kind merely to deal with them. With respect to fixity of tenure, the Bill proposes to give to the tenants property for which they have never paid. It proposes, in fact, to give the property of A to B without any consideration. I wish to point out that there is an immense difference between the case of Ireland and 999 the case of Wales. In Ireland the buildings are generally put up and the repairs executed by the tenant, but in Wales it is not the case, and I say that very often we let our farms so as to get only 3½ per cent. on the value of the buildings, taking no account whatever of the land. I am not an advocate of a judicial system for fixing a fair rent, and I doubt extremely whether there is any demand, as has been said, for that system. There may be some discontented and impecunious farmers who think that by some process of this kind they may get their rents reduced, but I deny that that is a general and prevalent feeling. I am convinced that one of the principal effects of this Bill would be to put money into the hands of the lawyers and other harpies, and it is much better that the farmers should deal direct with his landlord than that he should have to pay the expenses of valuers and assessors. Hon. Members make out that the Welsh farmer is the greatest coward possible, but my experience of him is very different, as he is quite equal to making his own terms, as between man and man, and I think it is more than this House will believe that he is completely at the mercy of a tyrannous landlord class. The 18th clause of this measure strikes me as one of the coolest proposals I have ever heard. It gives the power to a tenant to bequeath his tenancy, and what has he done for that? He has cultivated the land that was let to him, and in consequence we are asked to give this individual a sort of joint property in his holding, for which he has not paid a sixpence. If this Bill were passed, do hon. Members think the Welsh landlords would keep up their farm buildings in the way they do now? I hope no one will run away with the idea that the landlords in Wales are not deeply interested in the tenant farmers. Our interests are bound up with theirs, and what affects them affects us, and I do not believe that because a few irresponsible landowners in the Principality may have acted in the past with injustice, the House will accept a measure of such a revolutionary character as the one now before us, 1000 and which had been so admirably snuffed out by the right hon. Member for Midlothian.
§ (3.32.) MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)
I have no inclination or desire to go into any personal considerations, and I am quite willing to believe that the hon. Member who preceded me (Colonel Cornwallis West) acts in a proper and liberal manner towards his tenants; but if he believes the picture he has drawn to be a reflection of the state of things which exists in Wales, from one end to the other, I can only say he must live in an exceptional part of the country. He must live in a kind of Arcadia, and must attribute to the general class of landlords those virtues which probably he possesses himself in such abundant fertility. He says there is no general demand for this Bill, and couples that assertion with the rash statement that hon. Members will not see this Bill again. I daresay there are some Members for the Principality who will not see this Bill again, but I think that those who are deprived of this good fortune will not be found in the ranks of those who support the Second Reading. I represent a constituency which is especially interested in land legislation, and there are men of good repute not only in Cardiganshire, but throughout the district, whose families were the subjects of those evictions after the Election of 1868. We are told that this is ancient history, but I venture to think that these evictions would have been repeated to a very much larger extent, but that the ballot box afforded protection to men whose lives, and the welfare of whose families, were bound up in the way in which they were supposed to give their votes. It has been said truly that landlord tyranny has a tendency to make men do one thing and appear to do another, but if that is even the case, whose fault is it? It is the fault of those who made hay while their sun shone, and who, if their sun were to shine again to-morrow, would go on in the same path. Has the last speaker been present at an election contest, and 1001 seen people brought up to the poll in large numbers by the agents of the Conservative candidate, and marked the triumphant return of the Liberal candidate? These poor farmers dared not show their true colours because, if they did, they would have been evicted. Has he seen the landlords' agents stand guard over these men and endeavour to mark their going in and coming out, and try to discover how they gave their votes? This was not done to satisfy a mere laudable curiosity, or as a metaphysical speculation, but in order that they might bring some power to bear if they voted adversely to them. A good deal has been said as to whether this subject is ripe for discussion. If the vast numerical majority of the Members for the Principality be taken into account that shows that the question is abundantly ripe, and if any persons desire to know whether the Welsh people believe that the question is ripe let them come down to Wales and offer themselves as candidates, and express themselves against the principle of fixity of tenure and fair rents. The hon. Member for West Denbighshire declares that he is opposed to fixity of tenure, and, so far as I can see, he is also opposed to fair rents. But what he is really opposed to is the creation of an independent tribunal to settle those questions. Why anyone should object to fixity of tenure passes my comprehension. With regard to the establishment of an independent tribunal to fix fair rents, every man desires that a fair rent should be paid. But who is to be the judge of what constitutes a fair rent? At present there is no fair contractual relation existing between landlord and tenant in Wales. My hon. Friend appears to have a morbid horror of lawyers making any gains. There are circumstances under which it is necessary to have lawyers, and, of course, they must be paid for their services; but there are cases in which the Unnecessary introduction of lawyers may be a matter very much to be deplored, and I should be very sorry to advocate any legislation which would render the undue increase of lawyers' business necessary. By the provisions of 1002 this Act it is rendered impossible for this much-abused class of persons, who have been described, I think unfairly and improperly, by my hon. Friend as "harpies," to make undue costs. It is not my business, however to defend every possible member of the profession; but I venture to think that the expression as applied to the persons who would be members of a Commission of this kind is not one that is legitimate, and it possibly arose from my hon. Friend's ignorance of those who practice this honourable profession. This legislation has been called a hobby; it is a hobby in the sense that every redress of grievances may be called a hobby. My hon. Friend the Member for West Denbighshire himself confessed that there were bad representatives of the landlord class who do these things. We do not make laws for the good; we make them for the bad. He said it is not customary to do this; well, I suppose in the great majority of the population of this country it is not the custom to steal a man's watch as he passed along the street; and yet we legislate for the purpose of guarding against the minority who do engage in practices of this kind. We gladly recognise that there are good landlords in Wales, but even though such landlords were in the majority, that is no sufficient reason why Parliament should not legislate for the redress of an existing grievance. Therefore, it is because I believe there is a grievance; because I believe that that grievance is especially felt in Wales; because I know that the majority of the agricultural population believe, rightly or wrongly, there is a grievance; because I know that the majority of the Representatives of that country believe they are giving effect to the wishes of the nation when they try to obviate this grievance, that I am determined myself, having made these few observation in order to show the grounds upon which I act, to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ (3.45.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
It appears from the language used by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cardigan that he and his colleagues 1003 were returned by a majority of liars. I do not think that has much to do with the merits of this Bill. But I regret that he should have made use of an expression so uncomplimentary to Welshmen.
§ MR. W. B. ROWLANDS
I desire, in the strongest manner, to explain to this House that I never used any expression which by any fair construction could be construed to mean that the Welsh Members represent a community of liars. I said that the extremities to which the tenants have been driven by their landlords sometimes were such as to have necessitated them to have recourse to tacitly allowing it to be supposed that they were going to vote in a certain direction; and I said that the blame for that rested on those men who forced them into such a position.
§ MR. S. LEIGHTON
I cannot congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on his second speech. I do not think it has mended the matter. The hon. Gentleman who has brought forward this Bill complained at the commencement of the emptiness of these Benches, and the want of interest in the matter which was shown on this side of the House. I beg leave to say if it had not been for my coming into the House and making a House for him, I do not believe he would have got a House at this moment. There was a little conclave of Welsh Members the other day held to settle what on earth they should do with this Bill. There were only 13 present, and even they could not agree. One-fourth of them thought the Bill should not be brought forward, but the majority carried the day. And now they find that the Leader of their Party comes down to the House and throws as much cold water over the Bill as he can. The statement of the hon. Gentleman who has introduced the Bill was full of inaccuracies. The hon. Gentleman said he spoke with some knowledge of Wales. I speak also with some knowledge of Wales. All my sympathies are entirely in favour of the tenantry of 1004 Wales. I am not speaking of the territorialists of Wales; I leave their case in the faithful keeping of the right hon. Member for Midlothian; I am speaking to-day of the tenantry of Wales. I am speaking as a farmer and not as a politician, and I will not be led away by questions of religion, language, or politics on a question which is purely agricultural. I also speak for 50,000 small freeholders in Wales. If there was a collision of interest between the many and the few—between a few land owners and the great body of the people—of course, the landlords must go to the wall. That is the old theory of Toryism—we were always on the side of the people. And when the interests of the many come into collision with the interests of the few, then the interests of the many must prevail. Let us look at the condition of Wales at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian said he lived in Flintshire, and did not recognise the description given by the hon. Member for Merionethshire as applicable to his part of the Principality. One of the most important Commissions that ever sat in this country reported on the agricultural conditions of Wales, and the Report of that Commission is full of the most exhaustive information with regard to the Principality. The hon. Gentleman, if he reads that Report, will see that Wales has suffered less during the long depression than England; that whereas in England the average size of small tenancies is 55 acres, in Wales it is 47 acres. It is shown that there has been a continuous increase in every decade of the land under cultivation in Wales, corresponding to an increase of tenants' goods and chattels and the occupiers' cattle; that they are better off now than ever they were before; that the rents are easy; that the tenancies are generally hereditary; that the landlords do all the repairs; and that there is hardly ever any increase of rent or any re-consideration of rent, except on the occasion of a change of tenancy. The Report also shows that there is very little competition for farms in Wales, 1005 and that there are fewer evictions than elsewhere.
§ MR. T. ELLIS
What Report is the hon. Member reading from? Is it the Report of the Richmond Commission?
§ MR. S. LEIGHTON
From the Report of the Richmond Commission, which the hon. Member will find in the Library, and which is the most exhaustive Report on the condition of agriculture generally, and especially on the condition of Wales, that has appeared for a long time. I am now going to give an extract from this Report, which entirely contradicts almost every word which the hon. Member for Merionethshire said—In a considerable portion of Wales occupiers, great and small, have undoubtedly suffered less than the corresponding classes in England. Another circumstance which deserves notice in connection with this inquiry is the fact that the almost exclusive use of the Welsh language amongst the small farmers in Wales, especially in the far-away districts, gives Welshmen an almost exclusive monopoly of landholding, as amongst that class there is a considerable jealousy of what may be called the intrusion of strangers. With the increased facilities for communication and the growing disposition of capitalists to invest in land in Wales, an unwillingness to welcome strangers is gradually disappearing. The restricted competition for farms compels landowners in many cases to accept undesirable tenants—men without skill, enterprise, or capital. It is notorious that a small farmer will enter into possession of land in Wales without as much as 40s. an acre to stock and work it.What Wales wants, or rather what the twelve Western Counties—for they have no more right to be called Wales than Shropshire has to be called Mercia—want is more communication with this country; what they want is more development of mines and water-works, and more resident gentry. The residential development is the most important. Another point, which hon. Members opposite will agree with me in saying is one of the highest importance, is sympathy between the occupier and the owner. Now, how are we going to encourage that sympathy by this Bill? By putting up an intermediate authority which shall regulate their relations between occupier and owner, by raising a brazen wall between them. The large 1006 Welsh landowners have extremely low rents; so low that I have sometimes heard neighbouring landlords complaining that it puts them to a disadvantage in letting their land. What we want is to have rich residents, and many of them. I should like to know who would invest his money in land in Wales if this Bill is passed? I do not deny that it might be beneficial to a non-resident territorialist. His low rents would be raised, his repairs thrown on the tenant, and his tenants evicted by the Land Commission as soon as they were in arrears. But for a resident landlord not to be allowed to walk about his own land, to be prohibited from even sketching, sporting, or looking at the view, would be to put a veto upon any capitalist investing money in Wales. And again, from the cottager's point of view, this Bill provides that all common or open land shall be placed under the authority of a committee of farmers, who shall have power to prohibit not only the access of tourists, but to drive off the squatter who has cleared a few acres and built a cottage without their leave! There is another clause to which I wish to direct the particular attention of the House. By Clause 7 the landlord is to be allowed to resume possession of the land in order to put his mother in a farm. But if the mother does not live seven years then the previous tenant is to resume his right. That is the most ludicrous provision I ever saw in a Bill. Supposing a landlord put his widowed mother, with the younger children, into a house on his estate, and supposing she died within seven years, the former tenant might either resume his occupation or, if he liked, might put his own cook, or housemaid, or carter into the farm, and if it so happened that he died before his landlords mother he might bequeath his rights to anyone he chose! Now, Sir, a good deal has been said about the question of language. Hon. Gentlemen forget that in Wales three languages are spoken—English, and South Welsh and North Welsh, which are entirely different. We in North Wales do not admit South Welsh as fit to be spoken. It is so odious to our ears that we cannot endure the sound of South Welsh. If, therefore, a Welsh 1007 Commissioner is to be appointed, I should like to know which language he he is to speak. In the name of the farmers, for whom I speak, I say that this Bill is one which will do them great harm, will prevent them expending any money or having money spent on their holdings by their landlords, will create an army of perpetual mortgagees or rent-chargers utterly estranged from the occupiers of the soil, will bring bankruptcy upon the small farmers and the small freeholders, and will ruin the small shopkeepers.
§ (4.10.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has discussed this question from the point of view of the man who looks at Wales from the outside and not as one acquainted with the conditions of life there. No doubt the speeches of the hon. Member are amusing; but it is always difficult to consider them seriously, or to treat them as a serious contribution to the matter before the House. The hon. Member does not represent any portion of the country to which it is proposed this Bill should apply, and therefore I cannot see how the hon. Member can come armed with authority to speak and vote against this Bill. I do not even think he made a strong point when he said that the language of South Wales—which he does not speak—is not fit to be spoken in North Wales. The hon. Member said that the great need of Wales at the present time was not necessarily to improve the lot of the farmer or of the peasantry, but to draft from England some residential gentry, who will shine with all the brilliancy of bright particular stars upon the benighted peasantry of Wales. This measure, however, is not brought forward in the interest of a large number of territorial magnates, but is intended as a bonâ fide effort to represent fairly to Parliament the condition of the Welsh peasantry, and the circumstances under which they have existed for a long time in reference to their land. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian said that the House could scarcely act upon the speech of my hon. Friend who introduced this Bill, because that informa- 1008 tion was not formally before the House, and he said that the information could not be treated as authoritatively as if it had come from a Royal Commission. The right hon. Gentleman also made a very important suggestion. He said the Government might consider whether they should grant a Royal Commission of Inquiry on that point. Well, Sir, we have had no information from the Government on that point. But, supposing they grant a Commission, we should like to know how it is to be constituted, where it will meet in order to take evidence, and whether there will be a proper representation of the Welsh farmers and the Welsh people upon the Commission? The hon. and gallant Member for West Denbighshire (Colonel Cornwallis West) denied that the conditions mentioned by my hon. Friend existed among the peasantry of Wales; denied that there were any evictions or any demand for a Bill of this description except on the part of some farmers who are impecunious, and who were making unreasonable demands. But who made these farmers impecunious? Why were they living a life of hard thrift, and yet impecunious? The explanation is simple—namely, that rents in the Principality are higher far than they ought to be. Many hon. Members are always inclined to say that the condition of things pictured by the Welsh Members does not exist; but the Welsh Members representing the various parts of the country know that my hon. Friend the Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. Ellis) has not in the least degree over-stated, or overcoloured the case. I know nothing about the estate of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Cornwallis West), and I say nothing about it. It has been said there have not been any evictions; but surely it is sufficient to have a notice to quit, or that the rent will be raised. What took place in 1859 and in 1868 still rankles in the mind of the country, and the evictions of that date may, as is threatened, be repeated. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said no names have been given of the persons evicted. Well, Sir, as specimens, I will mention one or two cases. There is the case of 1009 David Edwards, late of Twgwyn, Abergale. He was managing his farm excellently well, was a man who was looked up to, a man of great industry, an Alderman of the County Council of Denbighshire, and, unfortunately for him, he belonged to the Anti-Tithe League. He married a lady who was born on the estate. He had no arrears of rent, although the rent had been raised twice. One or two years ago he was evicted, and he is now trying to eke out an existence in England. It may be said that under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 his improvements would be paid for; but the House knows how difficult it is to get farmers to give the notices necessary under that Act. He made improvements of the value of £802, and he only received £100, or about one-eighth of the amount to which he was entitled. That was because he did not receive the written assent of the landlord to those improvements which he made on the farm where he had lived for 36 years. There is another case—that of William Jones, of Tyntwll, Llanbeblig, Carnarvonshire, who has been evicted twice, although there was no complaint against him, because he was a Radical, and because of the part he took in the Election of 1868. His rent was £90, and it was regularly paid. The farm was let without his knowledge, and he was evicted together with his wife and children. There is a third case—that of Mr. S. Evans, Frowen, Pembrokeshire, a relative of my own. He lived on the farm for 34 years; there were no complaint of his farming; there were no arrears of rent, but, because as a Nonconformist, he objected to the voluntary payment of tithe he received notice to quit. It is said that the landlords of Wales do not treat their tenants badly; but in nearly every case they have contracted themselves out of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1875. The hon. and gallant Member for West Denbighshire (Colonel Cornwallis West) has said that he has made large remissions in rent. Perhaps he has. But let the House consider the fact. The agricultural seasons have been bad and the landlords have been obliged to make 1010 reductions. But the good landlords are the persons who let their farms at a reasonable rent, and they are the persons who make the largest remission, whereas the bad landlords who exact large rents are the persons who make the small reductions. That is a state of things which the House ought not to allow. The provisions of this Bill have scarcely been controverted at all. They are three in number: (1) security of tenure; (2) fair rents fixed by an outside tribunal; and (3) an extension of the provisions for tenants' improvements. The Return which has been circulated among Members clearly shows that at the time when rents were increasing in England and Wales—and the Richmond Commission is not entitled to be regarded as authoritative on this point, because it took no evidence in Wales—the rate of increase in England was higher far than in Wales, whilst, when rents were decreasing in 1879 and 1880, the percentage of decrease, which was 19.5 in England, was only 4.47 in Wales. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, said he was not quite sure about these figures; but they were quoted from the Statistical Abstract, and they are the identical figures, and may, therefore, be relied upon. Rents have been unfairly raised in Wales, and there are precedents in Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland for fixing a fair rent under such circumstances. It is not our fault that the information we provide is insufficient, because we have asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer over and over again to provide the data necessary to enable us to arrive at the real state of the facts. Now, Sir; it will be noticed that the arguments against this Bill have come from English Members, and it will further be observed bye-and-bye that the Welsh Members will go solidly into the Lobby in its favour. Now, Sir, I should like, with the permission of the House, to give an extract from the speech which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. Speaking at Llanylyther, on the 13th October last, he said— 1011Under recent legislation—much of it the work of Mr. Gladstone, some of it the work of the present Government—the Irish tenant has a right to go to an impartial court to get a fair rent fixed for the holding. A fair rent is not to be the rent other people would give for the holding, not a competitive rent, but such a rent as will enable him to make a living out of the holding when he has got a fair rent fixed. Would not Welsh farmers like something of the same sort? Do not they think the Irish tenant has had enough, and do not they think that the time has come when attention might be given to the condition of the agricultural population in England, Scotland, and Wales?Therefore, the great supporter of the Unionist policy from this side of the House went amongst the thick of the peasantry of Wales to ask their support for a Unionist Government, on the ground that it would give them the same advantages as had been already accorded to the Irish tenantry. We are told that no demands are made for this measure, but we are always told that unless there are circumstances of great terror existing in the locality. This House has a tendency to wait until too late before passing remedial legislation. But the Welsh people are very peaceable, and would do anything rather than indulge in agrarian crime, and it would be very bad policy for this House to wait until they had been driven to agitation of that kind. I hope the Government will now give some answer to the demand for a Commission. But I must be permitted to say, on behalf of my colleagues, that if one is granted, it must be a real Commission. A Committee of this House sitting upstairs, would be no good; it must be a real Commission to go to the centre of agriculture in Wales, and upon which the tenant farmers and the Welsh people would be properly represented. And, if we have a Commission of that kind promised, I dare say it will not be necessary to go to a Second Reading with this Bill. But, if we do not get a Commission which is entirely satisfactory in its constitution and method of inquiry, then the whole of the Members for Wales on this side of the House will be prepared to support my hon. Friend in pressing this Bill upon the House.
§ (4.35.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
Mr. Speaker, we are asked to-night to read a second time a Bill which, if it is brought forward seriously, undoubtedly involves questions of the greatest gravity and magnitude. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian that some of the proposals which it contains are so extreme that when I read the Bill I doubted whether it was brought forward for serious discussion. But it has been treated so to-night by hon. Gentlemen representing Wales, and, therefore, it is my duty to deal in the same fashion with it. The hon. Member for Cardiganshire stated, in the course of his observations not many minutes ago, that he had not heard a single argument advanced against the proposals which this Bill contains. I hope, before I sit down, to be able to convince him that there are some arguments, at all events, which can be adduced against the Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Member is himself a considerable owner of land, but he was generous in the extreme in regard to the concessions he would be prepared to offer to the tenants in Wales; and I have noticed that it is a peculiarity of some gentlemen in this House—whom I hope I may describe without offence as representatives of modern Badicalism—that there are no bounds or limits to the generosity with which they are prepared to give away the property that belongs to others. The purport of this Bill is to apply the principles of the Irish Land Bill of 1881 to Wales; the principles to which I refer being what were generally known at that time as perpetuity of tenure and rents valued by the State. I remember quite well that upon the first occasion upon which proposals of a similar character were submitted to the House of Commons, they were met by a statesman who was the most consummate master of debate that I have ever heard, either within or without these walls, in a speech and with arguments which were absolutely crushing and complete, and to which no answer from that day to this has ever been attempted to be given by any 1013 Member of Parliament that I have over heard or known. It is, unfortunately, quite true that in later years the right hon. Gentleman changed his opinion, and was himself instrumental in applying those principles which I can only describe as pernicious in the extreme to Ireland. In arguing in support of the views which he entertained at that time, he was fond of saying that, if it was good for Ireland, it could not be so very bad for Scotland or Wales or England. But I am glad to find, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said to-night, that he has re-considered his opinions altogether as to those principles being equally appropriate to the three countries. Now, what are the principles of which I am speaking, and which are, according to the statements of hon. Gentlemen to-night, the main principles which are now under discussion. The hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill, whom, in common with other speakers, I would congratulate upon his most able speech, stated the main provisions of the Bill. But, inasmuch as these Benches were far more empty than they are at the present time, I hope the House will allow me for a few moments to mention some of the provisions of the measure. The Bill appears to be a compound of the principles of the Land Act of 1881 and of the Crofter Act for Scotland of 1886. If hon. Gentlemen will refer to Clause 29 of this Bill, they will at once, I think, approve of what I say, because in that clause occurs the word "crofter," which clearly shows one origin of this Bill. I will follow the example set by other speakers, and will avoid entering at any great length into the details of the measure, but I must say a word or two upon its main principles. The Bill provides in Clause 3 that no tenant in future in Wales shall under any circumstances be compelled to leave a farm for any cause, unless he commits a breach of some of the statutory conditions in the Bill. In other words, the Bill establishes perpetuity of tenure in Wales. That is the first point; and the second point is this: A Land Court is created which is to regulate for the future all the relations 1014 between landlord and tenant in Wales, which is to calculate the rent to be paid and the terms and the conditions upon which the farm is to be held. The Bill, therefore, establishes these two principles as the guiding principles of the relations between the landlords and tenants of Wales in future, namely, fixity of tenure on the one hand, and fair rents upon the other. There is no Member of this House who would deny that those are extreme and most important propositions, and that both of them up to the present, at all events, with the exception of the crofter district of Scotland, are entirely novel in this country. That being so, I confess I listened with great interest and with the closest attention to hear what were the grounds upon which the adoption of these extreme propositions for England and Wales could be maintained; and I own that I certainly should have thought that before making proposals of this kind to the House the hon. Members who advanced them would be prepared with reasons of a far more overwhelming character than any they have submitted to the House. When the Irish Land Bills were introduced, although I differed entirely from that policy myself, I know it could be said that the relations between the landlords and tenants of that country had for years been governed by custom and by practice; that all that legislation did in Ireland was to bring the law into harmony with those customs, and that the customs that prevailed in Ireland were entirely different from those which prevailed in England. Again it was urged, and very truly urged, in the case of Ireland, that, whilst there all the buildings and improvements, as a rule, were made entirely by the tenant, exactly the opposite practice, as a general rule, prevailed in England; and, further than that, it was pointed out that by some of the customs, and notably by the custom of Ulster, enormous sums of money were paid by the tenants, when they entered upon their farms, for what was known as goodwill. These sums I have constantly heard estimated at enormous amounts, varying from a quarter of the value to half the value of the freehold, and in some cases they have been almost 1015 equal to the value of the feesimple itself. (Cries of "More!") Hon. Members who are better acquainted with Ireland than I am say that the sums paid were sometimes greater than the value of the fee-simple. Undoubtedly it could be argued that, by these payments for goodwill on the one hand, and by the creation of the improvements on the other, the Irish tenant, standing as he did in a totally different position from that of the tenants in this country, had acquired a certain interest in the soil, which it was desirable should be recognised by the law. But there is nothing whatever of the kind in England or Wales which can be seriously advanced, or which has been urged by speakers in the course of this Debate; although it is true that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill, in referring to the customs which formerly prevailed in Wales, did refer to one under which, he said, large sums of money used at one time to be paid for the goodwill upon entering upon farms, and that it was a kind of modified custom of Ulster. But then there was this very remarkable condition which attached to the custom to which he referred, that it had disappeared and been broken up altogether 50 years ago. Well, if it be true that a sort of bastard Ulster custom did exist in Wales 50 years ago, and since that time has altogether disappeared, does the hon. Member mean to tell us that any practical man of business in this country would think it desirable to revive it? I do not wish to say one word to hurt the feelings of any of my friends from Ulster; but, having had many opportunities of considering the Ulster custom, I own, speaking as an English landlord, that it is the very last custom I should wish to see introduced into this country. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that there were three differences between the tenants in England and the tenants in Wales. In England, he said, the tenants and the landlords speak the same language, they worship in the same church, and their politics are usually identical; but in Wales the case is exactly the opposite, and upon one and all of these 1016 points, which are themselves highly material as a general rule, the tenants and the landlords differ altogether Again, he said, that while the customs in England were good—and that he was kind enough to admit—in Wales the great majority of the agricultural customs had been overridden altogether. Irish tenants, he said, were passionately fond of their holdings and of the farms upon, which they had been born and bred, and brought up, and he said that applied equally to Wales. But I wish to point out to the hon. Member that those feelings are by no means peculiar either to Ireland or Wales, but are felt by hundreds and thousands of tenants in this country in exactly the same degree as they are felt there. The hon. Member went on to say that English tenants were more on a level with their landlords, that the standard of comfort in England was much higher than in Wales, where they were the victims of what he called "grinding thrift," and yet, notwithstanding this, they were the best rentpayers in the world. I am bound to say I should not have thought those were arguments which, had I been desirous of forwarding this Bill, I should have thought it wise to use in support of a tribunal to fix rents between landlord and tenant. The hon. Member then inquired—and he dwelt upon this point at some length—as to what were the results which followed from the existing state of things. First of all, he said it led to great insecurity of tenure on the part of the tenants; and in support of that assertion he quoted two different contracts, which were signed by the tenant on the one side and by the landlord on the other. They were to the effect that the Acts of 1875 and of 1883—that is, the two Agricultural Holdings Acts—shall not apply to these agreements.
§ MR. T. ELLIS
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to remember that I quoted these merely as instances, but said that insecurity of tenure was manifested by repeated notices to quit and ejectments.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Oh yes, I know that; but this was one of the points to which it was said insecurity of tenure 1017 was due, as agreements existed which precluded the operation of the Agricultural Holdings Acts. The answer to that statement is absolutely simple. If these agreements do exist they are illegal, and have no force and no power at all. A tenant who holds a farm having signed those agreements is able, just as well as any tenant who has not signed them, to claim all the advantages of the Act. Clause 55 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, I will point out to the hon. Member, is to this effect:—Any contract, agreement, or covenant made by a tenant, by virtue of which he is deprived of his right to claim compensation under this Act, shall, so tar as it deprives him of such right, be void both in law and equity.
§ MR. T. ELLIS
May I tell the right hon. Gentleman once more that I did not refer to that at all as a proof of insecurity of tenure. I showed that the agreements were deliberately drawn up in order to abrogate and stamp out the customs of the country, and in order to show that I was obliged to read those clauses by which the landlords contracted themselves out of those two Acts. But I made no point whatever as to the contracting out of the Act, and merely read part of those clauses in order to show that landlords were stamping out the customs of the country.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Then I fail to see what was the necessity for referring to those agreements which the hon. Member read to the House. Well, the hon. Member said that notices to quit were lavishly served on the tenants of Wales, and to such extent was this practice carried out that there was hardly a case in which a farmer would dare to go on a public platform. I receive with great respect everything that comes from the hon. Member, but I must beg leave to hold that he has been singularly unfortunate in his experience and, until I am otherwise convinced, I shall decline altogether to believe that the great majority of the tenant farmers of Wales are people of such a disposition that they would consent for a moment to be placed in what I should regard as an extremely humiliating position. The hon. Member 1018 further alleged that the great mass of the improvements were made by the tenants, and, above all, he pointed out that the rents had increased in Wales during the last 40 years as compared with England by a percentage which, I am sorry to say, I was unable to carry accurately in my mind. But whether the percentage was great or small—and I think it was 28 per cent.—I have two things to say upon this point which are well deserving of the attention of the House. The House must remember that where the great fall of rents has occurred in England has been in the great corn-growing districts of the country—in Lincolnshire, Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and in the eastern districts generally, which are chiefly devoted to corn - growing. But, unless I am altogether misinformed, little or no corn is grown in Wales. Of course, I am speaking comparatively. In Wales a comparatively small amount of corn is grown, and it is quite sufficient to account for the difference in the character of the fall in rents. But there is another reason. The hon. Member who has just sat down, the hon. Member for Glamorgan, reminded the House that Wales is essentially a country of small holdings. I believe that to be true. But the rents of a district where the holdings are small must necessarily be greater than where the holdings are invariably large, for this reason—that where the holdings are small the buildings are necessarily multiplied, and rents for the buildings must be taken into account, as well as for the land. Now, Sir, I have, I think, dealt with the main grounds which have been put forward by the hon. Gentleman opposite in favour of this Bill, and I am bound to say that they seem to me to be wholly inadequate and insufficient altogether. But if the House will allow me to trespass on its attention a little longer, I venture to say this—that if the reasons for the Bill are few, the reasons which can be urged against it are many. There is no difficulty, I think, in finding arguments against it. I take the question of perpetuity of tenure. What is the meaning of perpetuity of tenure? Perpetuity of tenure, if it means any- 1019 thing at all, means virtually expropriation of the landlord. If I understand that proposal in this Bill, the effect of it would be this—to reduce the landlord to the position of nothing more nor less than that of a mere rentcharger on his own estate. I know it has been contended that the State, on giving him proper compensation for any rights of which he may be deprived, has a perfect right to reduce him to that position if it thinks fit to do so. But the State is bound not so to think fit, unless it is shown to be for a great object of public good. Is it for the public good that landlords in Wales should be deprived of their property, denuded of all interest in it, and, what is of more importance, absolved from all their duties in connection with it? What the Bill does, Sir, in effect, by this part of its provisions, is simply this. I beg the House to follow me in this, because I do not think the Bill has been sufficiently examined at the present time to convey to the House all it means. Under Clause 3, the tenant, who may be a notoriously bad character, a habitual drunkard, a bad farmer, a bad master to his labourers, and a bad neighbour to all his friends, shall not, under any circumstances, be obliged to quit his farm so long as he does each of three things. He must pay his rent; he must keep his buildings in some kind of repair; and he must not continue after he has been warned to break any of the statutory conditions of the lease. If he dies, no matter what sort of character he may be himself, he has the right to bequeath his property in the farm to any person he pleases, no matter what character that person may have borne, or how objectionable he may be to his landlord. I venture to think, speaking without a sufficiently accurate acquaintance with the Irish Land Act, that this goes far beyond any provision contained in that Act. It is perfectly true that another clause of the Bill, Clause 4, provides that, by giving twelve months' notice to quit, the landlord may reserve for certain purposes, including that of letting to some member of his family, some portion or the whole of the farm. But that provision is altogether illusory, as I will point out in a moment. Let 1020 us see how it would work. The landlord gives notice for the purpose of taking the farm from the tenant, and re-letting it, say, to his son. Thereupon the tenant is entitled to compensation at once under two heads—first of all for improvements; and, in the second place, for what is called compensation for disturbance. The son dies within two years. What happens then? The tenant is immediately entitled to come back either at the old rent on which he held the farm before, and to have compensation if in any respect the farm has been deteriorated, or he is to be entitled to sell his tenancy to another tenant, having left it with a double compensation, first, for improvements, and then for disturbance, only two years before. If those are the terms which you are prepared to inflict on landlords, why not go a step further, and make it an absolute misdemeanour on the part of anybody to own land in Wales at all? The hon. Member who introduced the Bill rather objected to any discussion of its details, and, I must say, with good reason, for there could not be, I think, a more barefaced and impudent proposition than that contained in the clause, and remember that all this is to be done only for the existing tenants—tenants on farms at the present time in Wales. What proportion of the population do they represent? Why is the rest of the community in Wales to be excluded from an opportunity at any future time of obtaining farms in Wales on the same footing? That, Sir, I venture to think, is another consideration which ought, at all events, to have some weight with the Members of this House. Now, I turn the attention of the House to Clause 7, and there it is provided that either party to a contract of tenancy now or hereafter may apply to the Land Commission to fix reasonable conditions and a fair rent to be paid by the tenant. That is to say, there is always to be a tribunal to which the tenant in Wales, who has made a bargain on his own terms and in any way he pleases, can apply if he feels aggrieved, and where he may have the rent he has agreed to pay reduced. I have no arguments of my own which I can advance against 1021 such a proposition as that one-half so good or so effective as the arguments which have been used upon this question before by a Member of this House, whose views I am convinced will be received with great respect by every Gentleman sitting on those Benches. I wish to quote a very short sentence from a speech, delivered, I acknowledge, a good many years ago, upon precisely the same question as that now before the House. It is to this effect. On that occasion the speaker said—If I could conceive of a plan more calculated than anything else, first of all for throwing into confusion the whole economical arrangements of the country; secondly, for driving out of the field all solvent and honest men who might have bidden for farms and might desire to carry on the honourable business of agriculture; and, thirdly, and carrying widespread demoralisation throughout the whole masses of the Irish people, must say it is this plan and this demand that there shall be an authority always existing ready to release them from the contracts they have deliberately entered into.That is exactly the proposition in this Bill. The great authority I have referred to is a gentleman who has this moment returned to the House—namely, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of the speech which he addressed to the House not very long ago, made a statement which I own I heard with some little surprise. If the right hon. Gentleman will pardon me, I understood him to say that he would not pronounce a positive opinion on this proposal, but that he would not preclude himself from its ultimate adoption after further inquiry.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I never spoke of the ultimate adoption of a proposal for the purpose of releasing people from their contracts. We had declined in our Irish Bill to release people from their contracts; that was not done till 1887.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I was not speaking of what the right hon. Gentleman did with regard to Ireland, but I was speaking of a statement he made in his speech on this Bill in this House not an hour and-a-half ago. I understood 1022 him to say with reference to this Bill that one of the propositions in the Bill was this: that there should be a tribunal to which tenants could go at any time in future for the purpose of having their rents reduced and being relieved from their contracts. What I understood him to say was this: that he would not preclude himself from the ultimate adoption of the proposals of the hon. Member after further inquiry.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I spoke of establishing an authority for fixing judicial rents. I said nothing about contracts.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
That is included in the Bill and in the proposals of the hon. Member; and even taking it on the ground which the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted, that he was prepared in the future, under some circumstances, to adopt the ettablishment of a tribunal for fixing judicial rents, he will admit that that was essentially part of the Land Bill of 1881. And what did he say with regard to that and its principle being extended to this country after the Irish Land Bill had had passed? It is well, perhaps, that I should remind the right hon. Gentleman of some of the views he has publicly declared on this point. Speaking at Leeds, in October, 1881, he said—But although that is so, and although I, at least, at all events, shall never be a party to the introduction of the Irish Land Bill into England, nor, indeed, do I believe it is the desire of any sensible—I beg pardon—any appreciable portion of the people of this country, yet there remains much to be done.The right hon. Gentleman is going rather near to the introduction of the Irish Land Act, I must say, in accepting the possibility of establishing a tribunal which is to have the power of fixing judicial rents in Wales. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman in the course of his speech, and other speakers representing constituencies in Wales, pressed on the Government that we should consent to an inquiry into this question. Inquiry into what? Inquiry into the extension of the system of 1023 valued rents to Wales is one thing. An inquiry into the agricultural condition of the country is another thing. As far as the Government are concerned, they will not agree to an inquiry on the first ground in any case. On the second ground I have only to say this: it is my duty, as Minister of Agriculture, to watch over the agricultural condition of every part of the country, but I am not prepared to accept the description of the agricultural condition of Wales at the present time which has been put before the House by some hon. Members who represent that country. Nor do I admit the accuracy of their description of the Reports and Evidence given before the Richmond Committee upon it. On the contrary, I maintain that since those speeches have been made they have been effectually contradicted by the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) and others; on the second point I say nothing whatever on this occasion. It is a new question which has been raised before the House suddenly in the course of the Debate this afternoon, on which neither I nor any of my colleagues are sufficiently informed to express an opinion. On that point I desire to keep a perfectly open mind till I have more information on the matter than I have at present. The question we have to decide on is the Bill the Second Reading of which has been moved to-night. I do not think it is necessary for me to say more on that point than I have said already. But I would venture most earnestly to ask the House to remember that what has been proposed this afternoon has been already tried, and has failed, utterly and completely failed before. In 1870 the right hon. Gentleman declared, as I have reminded the House, that he could conceive nothing more calculated to demoralise the whole mass of the people than the establishment of an institution by which they were always to be able to be relieved from their contracts and to obtain a reduction of their rents. The foresight and wisdom of that statement was borne out to the letter when, notwithstanding the views which he had previously expressed, the right hon. 1024 Gentleman established judicial rents in Ireland in 1881. By him and his colleagues they were heralded at the time as the certain and the sure precursors of a new era of contentment, of happiness, of peace, and prosperity in Ireland; but their opponents warned them at the time that the ink would not be dry which should make judicial rents the same throughout the land before a new and another agitation would arise against the intolerable injustice of paying any rent at all. And what was the result? The former predictions of the right hon. Gentleman were literally fulfilled. The demoralisation of the masses had already begun; and within six months—I think even less than six months—of the time when the right hon. Gentleman had carried his newest legislation with regard to the valuation of fair rents in Ireland, he found himself confronted with this position. The famous "No Rent" Manifesto was issued, and he found himself compelled to imprison the late Mr. Parnell and a number of his friends for the doctrines they were seeking to enforce, and which the right hon. Gentleman himself described as nothing less than the doctrines of sheer public plunder. But the demoralisation of the masses unhappily continued; and having once begun became so thoroughly complete that the "No Rent" Manifesto—as the House will recollect, as this is a much more recent date—was afterwards followed by that institution which was known as the Plan of Campaign, an institution which has been denounced as criminal and dishonest, not only by the Judges of the land, but by nearly every responsible statesman in this country. I would ask the House of Commons whether, with these warnings and these examples which we have before us, the time has not arrived when men of all shades of political opinion should put their foot down and resist all attempts whatever to renew these iniquitous proposals. I would fain believe, after what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman to-night, these proposals will never receive the sanction and the weight of his great authority and name; and if by anything that I could say I 1025 could exercise the smallest influence upon the House of Commons, I would most earnestly appeal to Members of this House, in whatever quarter they may sit, to take their stand on sound and honest principles and reject by a sufficient and, I hope, a significant majority what I can only characterise as a mischievous, utterly unprincipled, and wholly uncalled-for measure.
MR. J. B. ROBERTS
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture is mistaken—the Bill does not interfere with contracts. It provides that leaseholders shall only come under the operation of the Bill at the expiration of their leases. I demur also to the right hon. Gentleman's description of the Bill as one giving perpetuity of tenure. It gives to the tenant the security of tenure which exists on all well-managed estates. In drafting the Bill the utmost care has been taken to provide for every just cause of eviction, and to reserve to the landlord the exercise of the right of eviction on any reasonable ground. This is done by Sections 3 and 4 of the Bill. The right hon Gentleman said that if the tenant were a drunkard or a bad farmer he would leave the farm to whom he liked. Sub-section 2 of Clause 3 expressly entitles the landlord to evict a tenant if he commits any waste by not keeping the buildings in repair or farming the land badly, but the tenant is not entitled to assign or underlet the holding. If the tenant breaks any one of the statutory conditions of the tenure, the landlord has the right to evict him. If the landlord desire to take possession of the holding for the general purposes of the estate, or to take it into his own hands, even for planting purposes, he can do so under the Bill. All the Bill provides is that he shall not capriciously evict the tenant. I am not surprised that the Member for West Denbighshire should oppose this Bill; but I am surprised to hear him say that there is no demand for it, 1026 because he is responsible as much as anyone on this side of the House for the movement in which this Bill originated—the movement as started in my hon. Friend's own constituency. In 1886 the tenant-farmers in that county held a conference which my hon. Friend attended, and the principles included in this Bill were decided upon at that conference with the approval of my hon. Friend. A division took place at the conference on the right of free sale, and he afterwards expressed his approval of what had been done and his satisfaction at the moderation of the demands which had been made. This Bill has done no more than put in legislative shape the decision of that conference. Several mistakes have been made by hon. Members on the other side of the House in describing the objects of the Bill, but at this hour I think it is unnecessary that I should further refer to them.
§ Question put.
§ (5.23.)The House divided:—Ayes 113; Noes 234.—(Div. List, No. 34.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.