In asking leave to introduce a—
Bill to further amend the law relating to the occupation and ownership of land in Ireland; and for other purposes relating thereto,
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. MORLEY, Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
said: I have once more to invite this House to give its serious, weighty, and most deliberate attention to an Irish Land Bill. I do not conceal from myself that there may be in more than one quarter of the House a feeling of discouragement, perhaps not far removed from despair, in approaching once more the Irish Land Question. The details of that question are intricate; the circumstances are unfamiliar to Englishmen and Scotchmen, and are, in some particulars, almost incomprehensible. And yet the demand for legislation such as I am about to propose is almost universal in Ireland. I may say that it is universal, and not least in the province of Ulster. I hope that the House will not grudge the labour of again taking this heavy and, as it may seem, almost impracticable, burden once more patiently and firmly upon its shoulders. In some respects we approach the question to-night under circumstances of advantage. I have been told that if I were to produce a non-Party Bill it would receive favourable attention from those who are, in the larger question of Irish politics, opposed to me. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the Leader of the House are now the only two Members left in the House, except the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, who were in the Cabinet which passed the Land Act of 1881. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman, who leads an important section of this House, will, I am sure, feel that an effort to amend the Act to which he was himself not an unimportant party requires his very careful consideration. Apart from the right hon. Gentleman's personal connection with the Act of 1881, the section which he leads have always maintained, first, that the Land Question is at the bottom of the disturbed and restive feeling in 296 Ireland; and, secondly, that—and it is one of their cardinal positions—that this House is competent to pass such legislation as Ireland requires better than a Home Rule Government could do it. The hon. Member for South Tyrone seems to me to have described what ought to be the Unionist view towards this proposal of mine in very pointed and unanswerable language. The hon. Member, in a recently-published article, says:—I am a convinced Unionist. I have told the Ulster farmers that I am a Unionist first and a Land Reformer after that. But why am I devoted to the Union? It is because I believe that the Imperial Parliament is alike able and willing to do everything for Ireland better than an Irish Parliament can possibly do it. Take this belief away, convince me that on this vital issue the Imperial Parliament, as such, is unable or unwilling to do justice—I say that, if I am brought face to face with such a situation, the platform on which I firmly stood crumbles away.That seems to me to be language worthy the attention of the whole Conservative Party in the House. I am not now going over the whole history of Irish agrarian reform. That would be a task which the House would not thank me for performing. I will mention one fact only. From 1816 to 1843 there were no fewer than 32 Acts of Parliament passed—what Burke called" a rabble of statutes"—concerning which a learned Irish Judge in a well-known passage declared that the whole code of landlord and tenant in Ireland, and all those 32 enactments in invasion of the common law, went directly to give increased facilities to the landlord, and that it never entered the head of the Legislature to make provision for the tenant. O'Connell did not go too far when he said that there had never been a more fertile source of murder and outrage than the iniquitous powers which the Legislature conferred on the landlord; and he declared—and truly, if my reading of Irish history is correct—that the cause of Irish crime was distinctly traceable to this. After the passing of the Act of Union it seems as if Parliament had deliberately set to work to make laws which have done more than anything else, perhaps, to make that Union the failure which, in my opinion, it has been. It is no wonder, if the House will bear in mind that fact, that Parliament has to be 297 invited time alter time, and that effort after effort has to be made in every direction, to unravel a web so tangled All the tenacity and patience which was shown in passing those 32 Acts against the tenant ought to be rivalled and exceeded by us, on whom is the imperative duty cast of steadily and patiently repairing all this confusion and disorder. The first great step was taken in 1870. I am obliged to go back to that Act, because we shall have a great deal to say about it in discussing this Bill. By the Act of 1870 Parliament said to the landlord:—You may turn out the tenant if you like but if you turn him out, you shall pay him compensation, not only for his improvements, but for disturbance.The Duke of Argyll is very fond of using strong language—I was going to say bad language—against the whole course of Irish Land Legislation.
But the Duke of Argyll was a Member of the Cabinet—as was also the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square—which passed the Act of 1870. He was a party to that Act, and it is impossible not to see that the Act of 1870 contained a principle from which all that has been done since directly and obviously follows. What was that principle? It was this—that the tenant has a right, an interest of property in his holding independent of his improvements or of anything else, for which he was entitled to be compensated. I will not take the House into the metaphysic of dual ownership. It is not necessary. That the Irish tenant has, in the technical language of the English lawyers, an "estate" conferred upon him by the Act of 1870 I do not for a moment pretend; but I do say that, when you declare to the original legal owner of the land that he shall not put the tenant out of possession except on payment of a certain sum, on a scale fixed by the Act, it is idle to deny—and some of the greatest text lawyers in Ireland agree with this—that you give the tenant a share out of the ownership of the land, and you make the tenant an owner to the extent of the sum required to turn him out. You may call it partnership, ownership or what you like, but do not deny that 298 you once for all invested the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland with qualities and attributes absolutely foreign and strange to the relations which exist in this country and in Scotland. The distinguished and accomplished Statesman who now represents Her Majesty in Paris took an important part in all the discussions upon the Irish Land Act of 1870, and made a remark which I came across the other day, and which was not very encouraging, in connection with this subject. Lord Dufferin said of tenant-right that—the whole subject is an incomprehensible puzzle to the intelligence of a British Parliament. The notion of a commercial value attaching to land, independent of, and in addition to, the landlord's rent and the farmer's profit, is to them an incomprehensible enigma.Sir, that makes it more difficult than it might otherwise have been to persuade the House of some of the propositions that I have advanced. But, to conclude what I have to say on the Act of 1870, it was the opening of that great revolution in Irish land tenure which, though it was opened a quarter of a century ago, has not yet by any means, I am afraid, reached its term. Then came the Act of 1881, which gave the tenant in occupation of his holding three rights: first, the right to assign, devise, or sell his tenancy to anyone he pleased; secondly, the right to go into court and have the amount of fair rent fixed; and, thirdly, the right to secure the occupation of his holding for a fixed term with the right to renew that term from period to period. Those three rights hung together by a close logical chain, and that Act, founded as it was upon the principle laid down in 1870, is the charter, imperfect as it may be, of the Irish tenant's rights and privileges. It is impossible to mention that Act without commemorating the intrepid and far-seeing genius of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, who carried it—an Act which probably no one but himself, with so great a grasp of detail and so firm a hold of principle, could possibly at that date have induced Parliament to accept. I need not elaborately argue the case for the Act of 1881. I will only make this remark, that I do not believe that any one who has been responsible for the Government of Ireland since that date, or who has watched those who have had 299 that responsibility, would not acknowledge that it would have been an almost impossible task but for the Act of 1881. It is as difficult to govern an over-rented country as it is to govern an over-taxed country. I would rather ask those who believe that purchase is to be the ultimate solution of the Irish Land Question whether they do not admit two things—firstly, that a system of universal compulsory purchase will take more than one generation to carry out, and that you must have some modus vivendi in the meantime; and, secondly, that purchase could not be carried out without arriving at a preliminary basis by an investigation of rent. If you consider how purchase up to the present moment has gone on, you will see how very slowly we are making an impression. In Ulster about 10 per cent., I believe, of the holdings have been sold, in Leinster only 4 per cent., in Connaught only 3 per cent., and in Munster 5 per cent., so slow is the impression which purchase is making, and so absolute is the necessity for what I have called a modus vivendi. In spite of all its vast cost and all the anomalies and inequalities that have attended the working of the Act of 1881, in spite of all that is abnormal in the whole system of fixing rents by a tribunal, I think every dispassionate observer will agree that it was an inevitable expedient. At all events, Sir, I need not labour it, because the landlords themselves, in their reply to the Report of the Select Committee, said:—We do not ask that any rights or benefits which were conferred on large classes of the Irish tenantry by the Legislation of 1870 and 1881 should be taken away, or that any technical obstacles should be allowed to stand in the way of their being reasonably exercised or enjoyed.It is quite true that as to further inclusions and concessions, they say:—No such Legislation is called for. The Irish agricultural tenants are at present in a better position as regards the protection of their just rights and interests than similar tenants in other portions of the United Kingdom, and in any other country.I do not assent to that, and I do not think this House will assent to it, when it considers some of the facts which it will be my duty to bring before it. If it is true that the Irish agricultural tenants are in a better position than any 300 other tenants in any part of the world, that is not an argument against, but rather for bringing, as we propose to do, a still larger number of tenants into a similar favourable position. The only figure which I will inflict upon the House as to the working of the Act of 1881 is this:—The gross amount of rental dealt with under all the fair-rent provisions of that Act between 1881 and 1894 is £6,140,602. The reduction, by various methods and provisions of all these Acts, in round numbers was £:1,280,000—that is to say, an average reduction of 20.8 per cent. I think some of the English gentlemen who addressed us on February 6, the second night of the Session, and who painted, I am afraid too truly, the almost desperate condition of agriculture in this country, and described how owners and farmers of land in England were in many cases on the verge of bankruptcy, will consider that the Irish landlords, who have had their rent reduced by 20.8 per cent., have not very much to complain of. I do not like to say that without admitting that I for one have seen enough of Ireland to say that I most sincerely commiserate, not the great landlords, but the small owners of land in Ireland—women and others—on their position. During the course of the last few months I have considered whether it was not possible to frame and adopt some device which would relieve small Irish landlords from the charges which now press upon them with great heaviness. I believe that all those who have considered this question in relation to the English charges have come to the same conclusion that I have—that at present I can see no means of bringing that relief to those whom I would willingly see relieved. The reduction of rent by the various fair-rent provisions of the Acts is roughly a million and a quarter. The expense of the Irish Land Commission in fixing fair rents from 1881 to 1894, is no less than £1,040,000; that is to say, an average of about £80,000 a year, though in 1883–4 it was nearly twice that sum. The official cost—not the cost to the parties—is something like £1,000,000. Now, Sir, what is the occasion which makes me come down to the House and ask leave to-night to introduce a Bill to amend the Act of 1881? In September or October next it will be open to tenants who had their rents fixed 301 14 years from that date to come into Court and again have a fair rent fixed, although that rent so revised and fixed afresh will not become payable until the expiry of 15 years—that is, in 1896. The question is whether, in the face of an approaching circumstance of that kind, we are to leave the Act of 1881 exactly as it stands; or whether we are justified in looking into its operation up to this point, and seeing how far it is necessary to put the ship into dock and repair it for a new voyage. The House appointed a Committee on the question last year, and I must for a moment diverge into a very unwelcome digression to say a few words upon that Committee, because upon the Report of that Committee, most, if not all, of the proposals which I am going to bring before the House were founded. So many things of an ill-natured character have been said of that Committee, that perhaps the House will forgive me for doing so. The House met on March 12, 1894; I put a notice on the Paper to the effect that I should move for the appointment of a Committee on the 16th. Night after night that notice appeared, but I was told that it was too wide. I amended it; it was resisted, first by one Gentleman opposite and then by another—not, I think, however, by any Irish Representative. [An hon. MEMBER: "Mr. Smith-Barry."] The hon. Member for South Hunts is not an Irish Member. The motion was agreed to on April 16th, and, one whole month having been lost the Committee was appointed on April 24. I will not go through the details of our work, but on July 24 the hon. Member for South Tyrone moved that the Committee was in a position to consider its Report. Dr. Johnson said, that if you speak well of an opponent you give him an advantage to which he is not entitled, but I cannot resist recognising in this place how much land reform in Ireland owes to the tenacity, ability, and energy with which the hon. Member for South Tyrone has spread the light upon the subject. Now the hon. Member having moved that resolution the majority of the Committee offered three more sittings to the minority, and we found, as the result of a division, a tie, six votes to six votes, and then I, as chairman, gave my casting vote in favour of bringing the proceedings to a 302 close. I must say further, that the fortuitous absence of two of our colleagues prevented the majority being eight to six. But the position being thus, is it really contended that I, as chairman, was to sit there and allow in July those tactics to triumph which were resisted in March? I am not aware of any fact, I know of no rule, which should make me ashamed of the action I took. Now let me mention the objections made to the Report. We are told that all the evidence was one-sided. Now, what was that evidence? We had among the witnesses the Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal, we had the Chief of the Land Commission, we had another Chief Commissioner, Mr. Fitzgerald, three Legal Commissioners, a considerable number of Assistant Commissioners and Sub-commissioners, and two County Court Judges. What sense is there in saying that these gentlemen, high officials, men of judicial mind and habit, intrusted with the administration of the Act, were one-sided persons, on whose evidence a Report should not be founded?
MR. J. MORLEY
I do not speak of the hon. and learned Member, but it has been said that the evidence was all on one side.
MR. J. MORLEY
I do not say that, but again and again it has been asserted the evidence was one-sided, and I submit it was nothing of the kind. But the hon. and learned Gentleman says it was official evidence. True, it was; but what were we set to inquire into? Into the practice and administration of these Acts. And whom should we naturally consult but those who had been engaged in the administration? What was the alternative? We are asked now—Why did you not give the landlords and their agents the opportunity of giving evidence?At the very first meeting of the Committee, I laid before the Committee my view that if we embarked 303 upon a proceeding of that kind, inviting the body of landlords to come and give evidence, we should be equally bound to invite the body of tenants, and we should find ourselves launched and embarked, not on the proceeding the House of Commons directed us to take, but once more upon the laborious undertakings of the Devon and Richmond Commissions. One other thing is said—that this is a Report of a packed majority. What was the majority composed of? I should indeed have been a wizard in the art of packing if I could have packed such a majority. There was one follower of the hon. Member for Waterford, there were three or four of what I may call the more orthodox Nationalist Party, there were two or three English members, there was the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and certainly it was a strange course adopted if this was packing a majority against the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Then I will not go through the narrative of the later proceedings of the Committee. The hon. Member for Guildford came, down when the time for considering our Report arrived and produced his draft Report. We had sat 30 days, we had heard all these gentlemen, and we were curious to know what view the party led by my hon. Friend took of all this evidence, and we find they had come to the Committee with one recommendation and one only—that the status of the judicial tenant on the expiry of the statutory term should be made perfectly clear and plain. That was the one result after the mountain had laboured so long. Certainly that was a most convenient proposal for the landlord interest. I daresay we shall hear more about this, and I shall be prepared to go further into the matter if required; and I shall be prepared to show that the Report of the Committee, whatever else you may say of it, represents the opinion of the most important sections in Ireland, and that the hon. Gentlemen opposite made a grave mistake, but a mistake which had compensation for the rest of the Committee who remained, when they left us to our deliberations. Now I proceed to describe our proposals. The foundation of the proposals the Government have to make is the broad principle of social policy in Ireland, and I will tell the House what it is. The general rule of protecting the tenant in the ownership of 304 improvements is in any country a wise and sound rule, but three or four times wiser and sounder is it in Ireland. In Ireland it is absolutely indispensable. I will not re-open the old controversy whether landlords were in the habit of making improvements, and I myself have never been able to understand why Irish landlords should be irritated when it is stated that they have not been in that habit. There are good reasons why they did not. With 390,000 out of 490,000 holdings under £20, Irish landlords must have been millionaires to undertake it. This, at all events, is clear—that no more improvements, broadly speaking, will be made by the landlords. The hon. Member for South Hunts said last year, in debate:—Before the Land Act of 1881, the landlords had been in the habit of supplying the materials and the tenants the labour for improvements in the farms, but, naturally, since that time, landlords had not been such fools as to do so.We cannot expect them to be such fools, to borrow the hon. Member's phrase; therefore, whatever agricultural improvements take place in Ireland, henceforth they will be done by tenants. So, then, on that broad principle we are bound to do all we can to guarantee that the tenant, so far as is consistent with equity, shall have protection for the labour, energy, and money he has expended on his improvements. I need not go through the history of the clauses in the Act of 1881 dealing with this point. The House knows that after a long struggle between the Houses, the attempt of noble Lords to insert Amendments was resisted in this House, and the struggle was in vain. The intention of the Government was stated by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) in one of his speeches, as follows:—In the Act of 1870 we did, in respect to the tenant, recognise the principle that he might be compensated by a reasonable lapse of time in respect of improvements he had made, and that the use and profit of those improvements for a certain time might be considered as compensation, but we do not recognise that principle in the present Act. None of the enactments of the present Bill are founded on that principle.… It is much better, I think, that those who make improvements should have the whole benefit of the improvements.From evidence before the Committee it is clear that, undoubtedly, the intention of Parliament was imperfectly guarded, 305 so that the Courts in Ireland felt bound to decide in a sense having the effect of defeating the intention of Parliament. This fault we have to repair. And now I must detain the House for a minute or two with a case the name of which is a terror to all who sit on that Committee and all who study the question, the case of "Adams v. Dunseath." In no single word, I say, would I impugn the decision of the learned Judges in that case. The Duke of Argyll has said that to criticise this judgment is an interference with the independence of the Judges. I hope the House will not accept any such doctrine. I have sometimes thought that Judges, in criticising the conduct of the Executive, have gone beyond their sphere. What is a Judge? He is an officer appointed to interpret and apply the law. But is the law-maker not to examine his interpretations and applications of the law so as to ascertain whether the working of the law which he has made is in the direction which he intended, or in a different one? That was the course we took in Committee, and I am not aware that there is any fault to be found with it. The evidence of the Lord Justice in the Court of Appeal as to the difficulties in which the Courts found themselves when this Act of 1881 was placed before them is very pathetic. The sight of these learned men, in their ermine and furs, on the banks of the Liffey, struggling with adversity, was very moving. The Act of 1881, we were told by Lord Justice FitzGibbon, was one of a series of statutes all of which might have to be read together—as many as 14. Then these unfortunate men had to grapple with an artificial system of definition; they had to learn, he said, a special language, and it is a language foreign to lawyers. For example, "present" meant "present in time past," and "future" meant "present." They were perplexed and bewildered to find that "held," "occupy," "reside in," "live in," were interchangeable words, and meant the same thing. Such words, again, as "mainly," "reasonable," and "substantial" caused great difficulty and embarrassment. It is not matter for surprise, therefore, that the judgment in this great case has caused very considerable confusion in the minds of the Assistant Commissioners and others 306 who have to administer the Act. There are two great cardinal points in this case. The first is the meaning of the word "improvements." When Parliament said that no rent was to be payable by the tenant in respect of improvements, what did it mean? Two views were taken. The first was that the whole effect of the improvement was to be placed to the credit of the tenant, and he was to be exempt from rent in respect of the increased letting value caused by the making of the improvement. The other view was that the actual improvements were measured by the money expended on them, and the actual improvement work only was to be taken into account and allowed for in fixing a fair rent. The Court held the latter view, with the result, broadly speaking, that since this decision there is only allowed to the tenant a certain percentage on work done—usually something like 5 per cent. We were told that this was the result, but we were also told that it was not the result intended by the Court. The Act of 1881 gave a general direction, no doubt, that in the fixing of a fair rent regard was to be had to the interest of the landlord and tenant respectively. Some of the Judges suggested that it might be possible and proper, and within the working of the Act, to apportion between landlord and tenant the increased letting value arising from the making of an improvement, and that this apportionment might be left to the discretion of the Court. I think that was said by Lord Justice FitzGibbon. In practice it is pretty certain that, generally speaking, the intention of the Court was not carried out. Mr. Justice Bewley told us that he thought it was carried out, but that it was done in a very singular form—namely, that allowance was made to the tenant over and above his percentage for the improvement in virtue of what the learned Judge called the tenant's occupation right. That is a very remarkable admission of the learned Judge, and one of which we could not find traces in practice in any evidence that came before us. In practice one of the results of the judicial construction has been that we have in this Bill to cure the misconstruction, apparently, which the 307 Commissioners have placed on the judgment in "Adams v. Dunseath." Lord FitzGibbon declared that they meant the tenant to have a percentage on his work, and the remainder to be divided at the discretion of the Judge between landlord and tenant. Mr. Justice Bewley said the tenant got his share of the increased value by the allowance for occupation right. Now the second cardinal element is the limitation of the improvements on which a tenant should not pay rent, to such improvements as would have entitled him to claim compensation on quitting his holding under the Act of 1870. If the improvements were of such a kind and were made under such conditions as would have prevented him from claiming compensation under the Act of 1870, it was held that the tenant was prevented from claiming exemption from rent in respect of such improvements—in other words, the right to claim exemption in respect of improvements was held to be exactly co-extensive and synonymous with the right to compensation for improvements under the Act of 1870. The effect of the importation of the Act of 1870 into the Act of 1881 was prodigious. The result was to sweep great classes and categories of improvements into the rent net, and, in spite of the plain, and specific directions of the Act of 1881 that the tenant was not to pay rent on his own improvements, there are now large classes of improvements on which he is obliged to pay rent. I do not presume for a moment to say that they did not find a justification in the 57th section of the Act of 1881 for importing into its administration the Act of 1870, but that undoubtedly was not the intention of the Legislature when the Act of 1881 was passed. The situation of the tenant on quitting his holding under the Act of 1870 is wholly unlike the situation contemplated by the Act of 1881; he is continued in his holding, and the principles of compensation for improvements in the first case were never designed by Parliament to settle a fair rent to the continuing tenant. There is one more effect of this judgment, and then I will sum up. The 5th section of the Act of 1870 reversed the presumption of law that all improvements belonged to the landlord, but then the exceptions were so numerous that 308 in practice the provision has been of little value, and the tenant has usually to prove his improvements. Now, I will sum up these three aspects of the question, which are not all, in my opinion, of equal degrees of importance. The first is, the disastrous importation of the restrictions and limitations of the Act of 1870 into the administration of the Act of 1881. The second is, the presumption that the improvements are made by the tenant in the absence of proof tothe contrary. The third is, the question of increased letting value. As to the presumption, we propose that all improvements on the holding shall be presumed to have been made by the tenant unless the contrary is proved But if the court is satisfied that an improvement was made before the year 1850–20 years before the Act of 1870 —then they shall ascertain, according to all the circumstances of the case and such evidence as they can get, whether legally admissible evidence or not, who it was who made the improvements. So much for presumption. How do we deal with the importation of the 4th Section of the Act of 1870? We propose that neither a contract by a tenant not to claim compensation for any improvement made by him on quitting his holding, nor anything else in the 4th Section of the Act of 1870, shall authorise the allowance of any rent in respect of any improvement. We leave the 4th Section of the Act of 1870 to perform the functions for which it was passed; but, otherwise, outside of these functions, we turn this Section out of the Fair Rent Courts, so far as it has had the effect of restricting and limiting the right of the tenant to exemption from rent on the fruits of his own industry and energy, and so of frustrating the undoubted intention of the Legislature. Now I come to the third point, as to the increased letting value. Mr. Justice Bewley told us that this was an academic question. He said that after you had fully indemnified the tenant for his own improvements, and given him a full and adequate percentage there is really very little left to decide between him and the landlord. This is in substance, in my judgment, by no means the most important of these three aspects of the question of improvements. But, unfortunately, the history of mankind shows that it does not at all follow 309 that the most ardent controversy will not flame and blaze around most unimportant points. In theology, in philosophy, in currency, and even in grammar, it has constantly been the very smallest points that have thrown mankind into the greatest passions. What we propose to do by the Improvement Clause is, firstly, to impose a duty on the Court of ascertaining whether any improvements as claimed have been made, and to record such improvements; secondly, that record shall be prima facie evidence on the future fixing of the fair rent; thirdly, we define what is an improvement within the meaning of the Act; fourthly, we assure adequate and ample indemnification of the tenant for his outlay, his labour, and his energy, and we assure him further so much of the increased letting value as is produced by and attributable to his improvements. The court, of course, is directed by the Act to have regard to the interest of the landlord and tenant respectively. Fifthly, we direct the court to be mindful of the right of the tenant to the continued occupation of the holding—a right asserted and described by Mr. Justice Bewley. Sixthly, I have spoken of the full indemnification of the tenant. Of course we provide in these clauses that the compensation so described must be definite and tangible—either money or money's worth. Now, I will go much more rapidly over the other provisions. By the Act of 1881 a fair rent once fixed is fixed for 15 years. 1 call the attention of the House to this remarkable fact:—The Act of 1881 had not been six years in force before it was found that the period was too long, and the right hon. Member for Manchester—whose absence I regret on public as well as personal grounds, and whose presence we hope, for very speedily—the right hon. Gentleman, despite his severe and violent protestations that he would never consent to the abridgement of the statutory term—a part of that vehement kicking against the pricks so common a feature in the dealings of English States—men with Irish questions—was forced to recognise that, the statutory term had broken down, and by the Act of 1887 judicial rents were subjected to a process of revision year by year for three years. In connection with the statutory term three points arise and are dealt with in 310 the Bill. What is my position as a tenant when the statutory term expires? Does the old non-judicial rent awake into life, or does the judicial rent fixed 15 years before run on? I am happy to think that on this point there is no difference among us. We are all agreed that this moot point should be settled, and we propose to make it clear in the Bill that at the end of the statutory term the rent payable should be the judicial rent previously fixed, and that the holding should continue to be subject to the statutory conditions thereby revised. The second part is as to the length of the statutory term. There was a complete consensus of evidence that this term was too long, and I would remind hon. Gentlemen who do not know Irish questions that the Cowper Commission, which sat on the nomination of the right hon. Member for West Bristol, recommended the abridgment of the statutory term. Some witnesses wanted five years, but we have determined that 10 years is a fair term to allow. The third question is a more difficult question. Are you to apply this abridgment of the statutory term to terms now current? Are you to allow tenants who have already had fair rents fixed for 15 years, to come into Court at the end of 10 years? It is hard to contend that there is any inviolable sanctity about the period of a statutory term after the precedent set. It is a question of equity and of policy. I hope it will be remembered that revision is not necessarily the same thing as reduction; it did not prove to be under the Act of 1887. At any rate our position is this—If 15 years are, in the opinion of Parliament, as they are in the opinion of the Government, too long for equity and for social convenience, and if every future fair rent is to be for 10 years and no longer, I do not know how you can justify the shutting out of so many tenants who had their rents fixed, say, between 1886 and the present day—shutting them up in a sort of limbo of their own on a 15-years term—a term which, by hypothesis, Parliament has decided to be inexpedient. Therefore, we propose to the House that this abridgment of the statutory term shall apply to terms now current. I now pass on to what is known as the landlord's right of pre-emption. In the Act of 1891 the tenant was allowed free 311 sale of his interest. But before he sold it he was to give notice to the landlord that he wished to sell his tenancy. On receiving that notice the landlord might under the Act purchase the tenancy for such a sum as might be agreed upon, or if the landlord and tenant did not agree then the holding was to be sold for what the Court might ascertain to be what the Act has called the true value. I ought to say that the specified value means this:—When the Court fixes a fair rent, if the landlord so desires it he may call upon the Court at the same time to specify what the value of that holding will be in case the tenant should at some future time wish to sell and he should wish to buy. That is specified value. True value is the value ascertained by the Court. Under the Ulster custom the tenant has no specified value, and he may please himself whether he will sell under the custom or under the Act. If he sells under the Act the landlord has the right of pre-emption; but practically we understand that he sells in pursuance of the custom and avoids pre-emption. The Commissioners nearly all told us that this fixing of specific and true value, so far as they are called upon to do it at all, is one of the most difficult functions they have to perform. That cannot but have the effect in Ulster of giving the tenant right to put aside his pre-emption to the landlord, and sell his tenancy for the best sum he can get in the highest market. The practice or precedent in Ulster cannot and ought not to be lost sight of. We regard the right of pre-emption on the part of the landlord as a check on improvements; and, therefore, in accordance with the principle I have laid down, we propose to repeal so much of the Act of 1881 as gives the landlord the right of pre-emption where the tenant sells his holding. I am glad to think that in practice this right of pre-emption is not greatly valued or greatly resorted to. I pass now to a proposal, mentioned in the report, and which I regard as of great importance. A present tenant is a man whose tenancy subsisted at the time of the passing of the Act of 1881, or was created before January 1883. A future tenant is a man whose tenancy began after the passing of that Act, and a man who has a tenancy of this kind cannot come into Court. The reason of 312 that was—in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian—that Parliament did not desire to make a holocaust of free contract. I hope myself that political economy will some day return from her hard exile; but we have to deal with that part of the work called Ireland as it is, and cannot regard the system of free contract as very likely to take place in Ireland at any time we can now contemplate. Unhappily, the number of future tenants is every year recruited by many hundreds of new comers, and these new comers are undoubtedly laying up trouble for future government in Ireland. Under the Act of 1887 a present tenancy is finally broken by the delivery of a registered letter informing the tenant that the tenancy has been determined by a judgment or a decree for ejectment for the nonpayment of rent. He thereupon became a caretaker. His status is reduced, and if he allows the period of redemption—that is to say, six months—to expire without redeeming his rights, his present tenancy is absolutely at an end. If he subsequently comes to terms with his landlord and discharges his obligations a new tenancy is created, and is, of course, a future tenancy. This kind of thing is going on all over Ireland, and I think this facilitation of the conversion of present tenancies into future tenancies was not contemplated by many of those hon. Members who assented to the clause of the Act of 1887. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for South Tyrone assents to that. The object of that clause was a good one, as it aimed at preventing all the turmoil of an actual putting out, but it had unforeseen consequences in this easier transformation of the character of the tenancy. What we propose is this— and I hope it will not be rashly dismissed —it is this: where present tenancy, to use not a legal word, had degenerated into a future tenancy which has been in existence: for a period of five years, and the tenant has discharged all the obligations incident to such a tenancy, the holder of it at the end of the five years shall be deemed to be a present tenant once more and again in the possession of all the rights of one. I do not know whether the House realises what the effect of that change will be, but I think it will be an inducement to the tenant to do his best to discharge his 313 obligations during the period of five years in order to recover his lost ground. In fact, it will be a premium on reasonable conduct on the part of the tenant.
MR. J. MORLEY
Certainly, wherever a future tenancy has lasted for five years the future tenant can go into Court and apply to have a fair rent fixed—that is, the tenancy must have begun five years before the application. The proposal has been very carefully considered by the Government, and is submitted with some confidence to both sides of the House. I come next to the exclusions under the Act of 1881. Those exclusions have shut out large bodies of tenants, and I hope Parliament will now see the expediency of admitting them to the fair-rent Courts. The first and most difficult of these questions is that of town parks. A town park in Ireland means a piece of land close to a town bearing increased value as accommodation land occupied by a person living in the town. The Act of 1881 did not allow fair rents to be fixed on holdings of that kind. Enormous conflicts of decision have taken place in the Irish Courts as to what constitutes a town. It was held under the Act of 1870 that Portglenone, with a population of 800, and Newmarket, with a population of 765, were; not large enough to be towns, and these could not have town parks. Following these decisions the Laud Commission, in the earlier administration of the Act of 1881, held that Borrisokane and Kircubbin, with populations of 700 and 600 respectively, were too small to have town parks, but later on Hacketstown, a place of over 600 inhabitants, Newport, with a population of 683, Fivemiletown, with 500 inhabitants, and Timoleague, with 360, were held to have town parks, and in the present year Caledon, with a population of 700, has been held to be a town. They were held to be a zone from which the tenants could not come in to have fair rents fixed. The Cowper Commission recommended that no town should have town parks unless it had a population of over 5,000, and the Government of 1887 proposed in their Bill 2,000 as the limit of population, but another place for once did not allow a Conservative Government in this House to have its 314 own way, and struck the 2,000 limitation, leaving the law as it was. What we propose is that there shall be no town park zone where the population is less than 2,000, and we propose as a second test, which I am not at all sure should not be made the only one, the question whether land adjoining a town is or is not used to make a profit by farming. I am not at all sure whether it will not be found, as the discussion proceeds, that it will be best to take that simple test only. The next exclusion is demesne land. The Judges say sometimes it is easy to settle a demesne case, but at other times it is very hard. The first decision was that land which was used for the purposes of pasture or pleasure, or during the minority of the owner, was demesne land; and I think the House will feel it to be hardly fair if land of that kind, attached for temporary convenience, is taken into Court to have a fair rent fixed, perhaps when the owner is elsewhere. The owner may be absent elsewhere, and it might suit him to let part of his demesne to a tenant; but it would be hard if the tenant had the right to have a fair rent fixed against him in his absence—perhaps in India on duty. I pass to pasture holdings. Pasture holdings were excluded from the Act of 1881 unless the tenant resided on the holding, or unless the annual value was over £50. In those cases no fair rent could be fixed. Mr. Justice Bewley thought the figure should be raised from £50 to £100. The Government accepted the recommendation of the Committee and provided that unless a pasture holding was over £200 the tenant shall have the right to go into Court. We think the big graziers are able to take care of themselves and take their own part. We then provide, with the exception of the big graziers, with whom we have no particular concern, that the tenant must actually reside on the holding. Next, as to subletting. No tenant now can apply to have a fair rent fixed if he is not in bona fide occupation, and he is not in bona fide occupation if he has sublet, a portion of his holding unless he has secured the landlord's consent. There has been some doubt as to what is "consent" in the judicial mind. Our proposal is that the tenant should not be debarred from having a fair rent fixed by reason of his having sublet, provided 315 he retains in his possession a substantial part of the holding. I shall only make one remark on this. It is said you will have all the old vices of the old Irish system of breaking up farms and of subdivision, but we contend that the very reverse of this will be the effect of this clause. The moment the tenant comes into Court to have a fair rent fixed the tenant is thereby disqualified from subletting, because to sublet will be a breach of the statutory conditions. I shall pass by three or four more points which are of minor importance here. We have had to consider the case of the middleman, where the sub-tenant has been deprived of his right to have a fair rent fixed without any reference to the landlord. We propose to guard against this harsh power being used where the landlord is aware of the subletting and has not dissented from it.
MR. J. MORLEY
The immediate landlord. It not unfrequently happens that the middleman is evicted for nonpayment of rent, and the sub-tenants lose their holdings. Our object is to turn them into tenants in occupation— that is, tenants under the head landlord. We, in fact, blot out the middleman. Next as to the case of the limited owner. It is well known that great hardship has arisen from complications of the law in this respect. Similar difficulties arise in other directions, and we take care to guard against fraud or collusion. Now these are some of the matters which we propose to set right. There are, however, two or three other topics which perhaps the House will kindly allow me to go into. First, there is a proposal to which I attach very great importance. The Cowper Commission recommended that no arrears of rent should be recoverable if more than two years were due. We propose to prevent the recovery of rents where more than two years are due; but we propose that within the next two years, which I may call a period of arrears now due may be recovered, but after two years have expired the landlord cannot recover more than two years. I have consulted many persons in Ireland on this point, and I find that there are very contradictory views held. One view was that it will make things harder 316 for the tenant, because the landlord would have greater inducement than now to insist upon his right before the end of two years. I will give to the House the view of Judge on the other side. [An hon. Member: "Roscommon"?] The case occurred in the west of Ireland. The Judge said:—It was intolerable for landlords to allow these arrears tohang over the tenants. He would tolerate no landlord when they allowed six or seven years' rent to hang like a stone of lead round unfortunate tenants' necks, and he would make use of the law to stop it. He would give no decree.And he went on to say:—He would not hear of those arrears being allowed by landlords to hang over tenants and then have them slap decrees. In equity the thing should be put down. He had seen arrears kept over tenants since the famine. He had put his foot down on this thing in another county.Then the remark was made that since the Arrears Act it was very hard on the landlord, but the Judge replied:—It is not hard on the landlords; it is ten thousand times harder on the tenants. The tenants should be made pay a fair rent, and no more about it. I differ from Mr. Morley almost in every particular thing in politics, but I agree with him in this—that two years' rent is the most a landlord should ever get.I think the House will recognise that these are things which require a good deal of consideration. They have been forced on me by some years of observation, and my own view is that some limitation as to the recovery of arrears would be in the highest degree desirable in the interest of both landlord and tenant. I have now two more proposals to make. I have been asked whether I was going to propose any reform in procedure. Now, there is one particular reform in procedure which was pressed on my attention in Ireland, and to which I have given the fullest, most careful, and prolonged consideration. The proposal to which I refer is one of the highest importance. The proposal submitted to me was this:—When you are revising the rents fixed, cannot you think of some automatic scheme avoiding the expense of taking cases into Court to be re-heard?The question of a produce, rent is not one familiar in this country, and, after 317 careful consideration, I cannot say that any scheme of the kind would meet the difficulty in Ireland or carry out the object which those who desire it have in view. I shall tell the House the proposal which we have not put in the Bill, but which I throw out as the best proposal submitted by those who have considered the question. That is the proposal, and though it is not in the Bill hon. Gentlemen can have access to it in its precise and legal form, and I should be glad if hon. Members from Ireland will consider it. The plan is this. We are now coming to the period for revising judical rents. Suppose that we had this semi-automatic plan and let us see how the Land Commission are to set to work in order to fix a rent on a holding. First, the Land Commissioners are to take the union or county or whatever other area they may think fit. They are then to classify the holdings in the district according to their character and according to the year in which the previous judicial rent was fixed. They then go to work in the ordinary way, and they fix a fair rent on the prescribed number of holdings of any class of a particular year within that district. Then they ascertain the average proportion or ratio between these new rents and the previous judicial rents in each of these classes of holdings, and they then proceed to apply that proportion or ratio so discovered and arrived at in all holdings of the same class in the same year and in the same district.
§ MR. T. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
was understood to ask whether the ratio was to be between the whole of the rents and all the holdings classified.
MR. J. MORLEY
It would have to be done in the way indicated by my hon. Friend, and there my hon. Friend probably discerns a rather fatal objection to the plan. It will have to be done by averages. The valuer will take a certain number of holdings of one class, and he will average the ratio between the judicial rents so fixed and the old judicial rent. If the House finds our plan to be an impossible one, a fortiori they will find any other plan that can be, invented or devised presenting still more formidable difficulties in the way. But it is a most important subject, that of providing an automatic scale which 318 would save the trouble of revising rents in courts in Ireland, and would be one of the greatest benefits to that country. I come now to what is known as the evicted tenants.
MR. J. MORLEY
Certainly, that is one of the exclusions which we propose to remove—that is to say, provided the holding is covered by the clause which enacts that, provided a substantial part of the holding is agricultural or pastoral, it shall not be deprived of that character. But I now deal with what is called the evicted tenants. Last year it was my duty, as the Minister responsible for administration in Ireland, to make certain proposals to the House as to certain evicted tenants in that country. I told the House, on my official responsibility, that I regarded those proposals as demanded by considerations of administrative urgency, and that nothing short of them, or some such proposals, would meet the necessities of the case or close the door to imminent peril to social order. I told the House that the mere re-enactment of Section 13 of the Act of 1891 would be entirely inadequate. Tonight I am here to propose, with some not unimportant modifications, the re-enactment of Section 13. The late Government thought that social peace in Ireland justified them in interpolating an Evicted Tenant Clause into the Purchase Bill; I do not think, therefore, that I am more inconsistent in interpolating such a clause into this Bill. I shall be asked—and I shall answer them frankly—two questions. I shall be asked how I explain the fact that the rejection of the Bill of last year has not been followed by any interruption to that blessed and merciful calm in which Ireland has for now nearly three years been wrapped about. I shall also be asked why we make a proposal to-night which a few months ago I described as inadequate. I shall give a perfectly frank answer to both questions. One reason why administrative trouble has been avoided, in my opinion, was that the gentlemen from Ireland were unexpectedly able to succour the hard necessities of that ragged cloud which my right hon. Friend, the Member for Bodmin referred to. The danger which Parliament ought to have met, and could have met, 319 with permanent effect was for the moment tided over; the mischief was for this year, and may be another year, assuaged. But the "peril to social order" in the Queen's Speech still remains, still haunts Ireland, and would still perplex the Governor of Ireland, whoever he may be, and whichever Party may be in power, until that difficult question is solved. We were also asked:—Why do you make a proposal to-night which last year you described as being inadequate?Let us look at the question practically. We were told last year that the Opposition, and that Legislative Chamber which controls, or is controlled by, the Opposition here, would accept no proposal for dealing with those unfortunate men except on two conditions—firstly, that these proposals should be voluntary, and, secondly, that they should proceed by way of purchase and not by way of reinstatement as tenants. All that reached me during the Recess convinced me that the Irish landlords, who have steered the House of Lords in Irish matters, are still, I am sorry to say, so far as the proposals of last year are concerned, in a hardened and impenitent frame of mind. What does this mean, therefore? It means that if we are to make any proposal at all, we must make the proposal voluntary, and we must proceed by way of purchase. We were assured by hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, the hon. Member for South Hunts, and others, that the renewal of Section 13 would suffice for dealing with the only cases which needed to be dealt with, and with the only cases that it was the duty of Parliament to consider. The landlords who assured us of this have undoubtedly very considerable power of fulfilling their own prophecies and of making their own word good. At any rate, we propose to give them the chance and to take them at their word. I will not profess to believe that this will suffice, but, at all events, it is leaving no stone unturned, so that whatever happens, we shall, at least, have no responsibility. We take the responsibility which you yourselves declare to be adequate, and if your prophecies are falsified, on your head the result will lie. I will describe the modification which we propose in Section 13 of the Act of 320 1891. According to Section 13, the landlord and tenant are to agree for the sale of the holding to the former tenant, and then, they could go to the Land Commission and get an advance as if the evicted tenant was in possession of the holding. Now, there are great difficulties, as I have been informed, in getting the landlord and tenant together. Their relations are unfortunately so strained that there is difficulty in getting them together; so we provide this, that either party—and it will usually be the tenant I take it—has to serve a notice on the landlord and on the Land Commission of the fact that he is willing to enter into an agreement for the purchase of his holding. By this means the House will see that either of the parties can move the Land Commission and can put the proposal in operation. If the other party does not object in prescribed time and manner, the agreement shall be deemed by the Land Commission to have been entered into. If they do not agree as to price, then the Land Commission shall fix the price, and if the seller objects either to enter into the presumed agreement at all or to take the price, the whole affair falls to the ground. It is a voluntary arrangement, and while I do not profess to believe that it means a final settlement of the question of the evicted tenants, I think it can do no harm; and if by the good will of the parties concerned it is widely operative, its effect cannot lie bad, but rather good. I apologise to the House for detaining them so long. But the ground to be covered is large, and the subject is laborious. All I can say is that we have made a strenuous effort to meet the practical difficulties of one of the foremost questions in the whole field of contemporary British politics in a practical, firm, and reasonable spirit. In that spirit I earnestly, and not without confidence, appeal to all sober, responsible men in both of the camps into which Ireland is divided on this question to give a fair and careful consideration to these proposals, and not lightly or passionately at this day and hour of Irish peace to fling away an opportunity of placing upon the Statute-book a just and politic scheme—an opportunity which may, perhaps, not very speedily return.
§ Mr. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)
said, that he did not think that anyone in the House would maintain that the right hon. Gentleman had not attempted to give the House at the earliest moment a very full outline of his proposals in connection with Irish land. It would be impossible, and also unwise, to attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman very minutely into the proposals he had made, or to express at this stage a very definite opinion upon them. If there was one thing more than another apparent from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman it was that the House this Session would be called upon to deal with alterations of the law of landlord and tenant in Ireland, involving the greatest complexity and the minutest detail; and in view of the amount of business which had already been put before the House in priority to the Irish Land Bill, he contemplated with some terror the time, which would be necessary for the discussion of so complicated a measure. The right hon. Gentleman said that from 1816 to 1843 a vast number of Irish Land Bills had been passed. He noticed that whenever gentlemen opposite dealt with the question of Irish land, they began with the grievances which the Irish tenant, suffered prior to 1870, and the only difference in their speeches in the House and in the country in this respect was that in the House they admitted that an improvement had taken place since 1870, while in the country they spoke as though the, Acts of 1870, 1881, and 1891 had never been passed. The right hon. gentleman dealt with the legislation up to 1843. Might he inform the right hon. gentleman of what ought to be a cardinal fact in this matter—that not one shred or tittle of that legislation was now remaining on the Statute-book? Every one of those Acts was practically repealed by the Act of 1860, and the whole law of landlord and tenant in Ireland depended, not on anything passed prior to 1860, but on the three Acts of 1860, 1870, and 1881. The right hon. gentleman also made a statement which appeared in the report of the Committee, that, while the reductions in rent given by the Irish Land Commissioner's only amounted to 20 per cent., the reductions in England had been vastly greater. That passage in the report was not 322 founded upon any evidence. Not a single question was asked about it during the whole inquiry, and nothing could be more unfair than to say that because certain reductions had been made in England there ought to have been similar or greater reductions made in Ireland. Where in England was it found day after day that the tenants' interests were being sold for £20, £30, and even £40 an acre? Yet that was the case in Ireland. Whatever the legislation had been, the result of it was that the accumulated interest which the tenant had received had now reached such vast proportions that it was about double the freehold of the landlord. In respect to reductions, therefore, the fact must not be left out of account that, while English landlords could not let the land, not an acre in Ireland could be obtained without paying £20 an acre or more for the tenant's interest. The right hon. gentleman had criticised rather severely the conduct of the minority upon the Committee. That Committee and the appointment of it was not altogether of that extremely fair character which the right hon. Gentleman would have the House to believe. While the notice for the appointment of the Committee was actually on the paper of the, House, a Bill, which practically embodied the recommendations of the Committee as ultimately made, was brought before the House. What happened? The points embodied in the Bill were every one affirmed by the members who represented the majority on the Committee. They publicly declared in the House that there were; certain principles and details which they were prepared to adopt; and then they went to the committee-room to find evidence to justify them. This kind of procedure was rather common in relation to Irish landlords; it was to condemn them first and try them afterwards. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: "What did the minority do on that occasion?"] The minority moved an amendment that, pending the report of the Committee, the Bill ought not to be proceeded with. The complaint of the minority in regard to the evidence before the Committee was not that it was one-sided, but that only official witnesses were called, and that the recommendations of none but official witnesses were absolutely useless. The Committee was to examine and report as to whether 323 they could suggest to the House any better mode of procedure than that adopted by the Land Commission. And whom did the Committee ask for information on this point? The very gentlemen who had themselves inaugurated this procedure. The Committee said to these paid officials—You have been paid to inaugurate the best possible procedure. Have you done so?Did the right hon. Gentleman expect them to say No? The minority suggested that some non-official witnesses should be called; and on the first day the right hon. Gentleman himself, in laying down his "ground plan," suggested that one or two practitioners in the Court who would not be bound by official procedure, and one or two valuers on either side, should be called. But it was that very evidence which the right hon. Gentlemen and the majority on the Committee refused to call. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech on the second reading of the Bill of last Session gave as a reason for the appointment of the Committee that it was expedient to consider whether some scheme could not lie hit upon for administering the Land Acts less costly and leading to less litigation than the present. The evidence before the Committee was of a most alarming character on this point. In every case where a fair rent was fixed it cost the landlord £6 or,£8 and the tenant £5 or more. Yet not a single witness, except the official witnesses, was called to say whether he could suggest any means of stopping these terrible expenses. The Committee suspended its labours without making a single suggestion on what the right hon. Gentleman had himself pointed out to be one of the most vital points. The right hon. Gentleman was credited with having drafted the Report of the Committee, and at the end of that draft there was a recommendation that the Committee should be appointed for the further consideration of certain subjects. In other words, when the right hon. Gentleman drafted his Report he was of opinion that those matters and the cognate questions on which he was about to legislate should be further considered. What better justification of the action of the minority could there be? If Select Committees were to do 324 any work at all, it was a strong line to take to closure six members of a Committee who wanted to hear further evidence because six others thought they had heard evidence enough. Perhaps the most material part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was the statement as to what would take place on the Bill. He was sure that it was the duty of the Opposition to weigh the provisions of the Bill, not in reference to anything which the Committee had reported, but in reference to the merits of the proposals themselves. In doing so they would be carrying out the wishes even of the landlords of Ireland; for the statement of the Landlords' Committee referred to the right hon. Gentleman I was perfectly genuine, as far as Amendment of the Act of 1881 was concerned; and the landlords would not desire any difficulty to be thrown in the way of facilitating the working of the Act. There were many subjects referred to by the right hon. Gentleman which were matters of detail where improvement was required. Such was the subject of town parks. But until the provisions of the Bill were seen it was impossible to pledge support to them. There were undoubtedly points where Amendments to the Act of 1881 might legitimately be made, but other of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals seemed, so far from being Amendments to the Act, to be enormous advances upon it, which would lead to the subversion of many of the fundamental principles on which that Act was founded. These points might appear innocent when stated in the sauve and bland manner which the right hon. Gentleman always assumed when he was proposing something revolutionary; but they were very much opposed to the main principles of the Act of 1881. The right hon. Gentleman, for instance, proposed to abolish the fixing of specified value, and to take away the landlord's right of pre-emption. Had the right hon. Gentleman considered how far-reaching was that proposal in regard to the whole superstructure of of the Act of 1881? The whole reason for the intervention of the court under that Act was, as stated over and over again by the right hon. Member for Midlothian, that because of the land hunger in Ireland, the tenant could not be trusted to give what was the reasonable 325 and fair rent to the landlord. But by abolishing the specified value and the right of pre-emption, the tenant was practically put into the same position in reference to the land hunger. The competitive rent was utterly set aside in fixing the fair rent; but now the tenant could go into the open market and take advantage of the very land hunger and competition against which he had been protected to sell his interest to another tenant. That one proposition would be practically a re-enactment of the whole mischief and injury which had been, first occasioned by the land hunger. The really vital question in the Bill was the law dealing with improvements and the presumption in relation to those improvements. While the landlords would be ready to consider any change of the law which would obviate any injustice, he understood the provisions of the Bill to be of a much more far-reaching character than anything which had ever before been suggested to the House by a responsible Minister. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to alter the definition of improvement; but he did not say what the definition was to be. To alter that definition would be to make such an alteration in the whole code and in all the decisions of the courts as must lead at least to great controversy. The right hon. Gentleman went on to discuss the case of Adams v. Dunseath and its effect upon improvements. That interest had to be measured between landlord and tenant, according to the nature of the, work. That was the law at present; and it' the right hon-Gentleman disputed that, he would find it so laid down in the evidence of Lord Justice Fitzgibbon; and, further, he might be, referred to the statement of his own Lord Chancellor, Lord Herschell, who said:—If a tenant's improvements were of a character that made the land worth £20 a year more, that was not all to be regarded as the property of the tenant, because not all would be produced by his money, industry, or skill: therefore, the judgment in Adams v. Dunseath on the point was perfectly correct.If he rightly understood the right hon. Gentleman, the whole increase, of the letting value brought, about by the tenant's labour was to be given to the tenant?
§ MR. CARSON
said, as he understood, he increased letting value of the holding would go to the tenant.
§ MR. CARSON
said, of course he could not criticise the Bill, but only the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and as he understood, the words were: "So much if the increased value as was brought about at the tenant's expense." That night be taken to mean the whole increased letting value, but the right hon. Gentleman would see that, if it was not dear in the Bill, then it would be well to modify the provision. The law was, that it should be divided between landlord and tenant; did the right hon. Gentleman mean to continue that? As there was no answer, then he fell back upon what had been said, that it was the intention to modify the existing law, giving a portion of the landlord's property to the tenant, giving a larger share to the tenant than the tenant had hitherto had. If there was to be an addition to the tenant of his interest upon the money he expended, if there was to be, a transfer of a portion of the improvability of the soil, then there would be a transfer of landlord's property. It would not be merely amending and extending the Act of 1881, it would be introducing a new principle which, in conjunction with others, would bring back the interest of the, landlord in the land to nothing more nor less than prairie value. The right hon. Gentleman said, the framers of the Act of 1881, and the Parliament, in passing the Act, never intended the definition since given to it; but that proposition he entirely disputed, and would be prepared to show that, both as regards the nature of improvements, and the question of presumption which the right hon. Gentleman now proposed to alter, a deliberate compromise was arrived at between Parties, and with the other House, that the Act of 1870 was to be the correcting Statute as regards the question of improvements; and this view was supported by statements made by the then Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Law) afterwards one of the Judges 327 who decided in the case Adams v. Dunseath. If the right hon. Gentleman proceeded with this part of the Bill he must be prepared to justify it on other grounds than that the definition did not carry out the intention of the Parliament of 1881. As regards the question of presumption, the right hon. Gentleman had given a hare outline of the proposals in the Bill, but it seemed to have been determined that as regards the question of evidence in relation to improvements not only would there be a presumption that all improvements were made by tenants, but, in addition, there was to be an abolition of the Law of Evidence.
§ MR. CARSON
said, he understood that the Law of Evidence was to be discarded in such cases. All he could say was, that if the right hon. Gentleman knew as much as he did of the difficulties of the Law in Ireland with this Law of Evidence, he would hesitate before he took away from Courts of Justice the possibility of arriving at the truth even by this flimsy regulation of the consciences of many witnesses in Irish Courts. The right hon. Gentleman was determined to abolish the time limit. He was going to allow a tenant to come forward and say he remembered that when he was a boy of six he heard his grandfather say that a certain field was all stubble, and see now what beautiful land it was, and thereupon was to come reduction of rent. If that was the intention, let it be done openly, not keeping up a pretence of justice. A similar proposal was in Mr. Parnell's Bill of 1883, and the right hon. Gentleman was the only occupant of the Treasury Bench who voted for that Bill. Naturally, the provision was revived, but if the provision was such as the speech indicated, then the Bill would be found to be over weighted with matter that must give rise to protracted controversy, and might lead to the prevention of the early enactments admitted to be necessary for the amendment of the Act of 1881, amendment to which all Parties in the House would willingly agree. Then, proceeding to another matter, the right hon. Gentleman said the Bill proposed that the tenant should have an allowance from his rent for occupation interest. If he proceeded to enact that, he would be 328 overthrowing the whole principle upon which the Act of 1881 was based. If there was one thing fought out, it was this question of occupation interest, and when the Bill was originally brought in, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) did propose that in defining fair rent, something should be allowed, very like giving a deduction for occupation interest; but when questioned further he made the following statement, which the Chief Secretary should consider, for the case of the Opposition was that, while ready to support all reasonable amendment of the Act of 1881, they would not be content to transfer another portion of the landlord's property to the tenant. The words of the late Prime Minister on May 26, 1881 were:—This is, however, one subject on which I wish to give an assurance. With regard to the question of fair rent, although the deduction has been an idea, as we think, forced upon us by the interpretation placed on the clause by hon. Gentlemen, we have never once, on any occasion, propounded that method of proceeding as the mode in which we thought fair rent should be arrived at. I disclaim that altogether, and when we get into Committee, we shall be prepared to deal with the clause in that spirit.Afterwards, when the clause had been amended, the right hon. Gentleman disclaimed any intention of allowing such deduction from rent which would otherwise be due to the landlord. It was upon that basis that the Fair Rent Clause, of the Act of 1881 was agreed to by the House and the other Branch of the Legislature. The question of what was the intention of the Act of 1881 could be disposed of by one short quotation from a speech by Lord Carlingford, who conducted the measure in the other House. He was challenged on this point and asked whether it was not meant that the tenant was to have something deducted for his occupation interest, and he said:—He did not know whether the noble Marquess attached much importance to this Amendment or not. It was true the words were not the words of the Government; they were introduced by the House of Commons. They did not make any substantial change. The Government looked upon them as nothing but a general instruction to the Court to give both parties a fair and impartial hearing. He did not see the cause for alarm.And it was in those words that they had paragraph after paragraph in the Report 329 of the Select Committee based upon the assumption that Parliament had the intention of giving to the tenant a reduction of rent in regard to his occupation interest. All he could say was, that the right hon. Gentleman could not bring this forward as the intention of the framers of the Act of 1881. He had proved by the quotations from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian and from Lord Carlingford, that, so far from that being their intention, it was on the express assurance that no such deduction should be made, that these words were allowed in the Bill at all. He passed away now from what seemed to him practically the most vital part of the Bill, and he came to what he looked upon as a startling innovation, namely, that all tenants wore to be let in who had previously had a rent fixed, if it had been fixed within the last ten years. That, to his mind, was a startling proposition. It certainly was a startling proposition, when a tenant had been given a 15 years' tenure, to say now that because they were going to reduce the tenure, they were to take off 5 years from his tenure. They were hardly prepared for such a proposition. This very proposal was made by the right hon. Gentleman's Friends in the Committee, when the right hon. Gentleman had it all to himself, and the House would hardly believe that it came to a casting vote between the interests of the Parties; and the casting vote was that of the right hon. Gentleman. What was his casting vote? That this proposal should not be made. It certainly did now come to him by surprise that, having upon the evidence produced before the Committee come to one conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman was now prepared on a vital principle to throw over his own deliberate judgment. As at present advised they would consider the matter in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's own proposals, made when he had the evidence before him, and of the facts which led him to his original decision. They would await with some anxiety the new facts that had come to light. He was not sure that he could not see the reason for the change. He did not think the Government felt as confident of holding office as they did a few months ago. Hon. Members had gone about Ireland telling 330 people that it would be a great advantage to them to get their cases into Court while the present Government was in power, who, as they felt somewhat shaky, would appoint a few mushroom Commissioners to do the work. He thought there were only two remaining matters of any great importance that he need refer to. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman as to future tenancies was of course important, but he did gather what its full scope was, and would therefore, rather not criticise it at present. As he understood the right hon. Gentleman, he said that where a present tenancy had degenerated into a future tenancy, and that future tenancy had lasted for five years, the man was again to become a present tenant. He would only ask the right hon. Gentleman this question, did he mean that the present tenancy which had degenerated into a future tenancy was still to be in the hands of the same person? That would make all the difference, for if it was to be in the hands of the same person, the provision would practically only apply to the case of evicted tenants. He wished to be perfectly candid with the right hon. Gentleman, and he hoped this matter would be cleared up, for he would gladly see those evicted tenants whose chain and title had been broken, restored as present tenants; and so far as they were concerned he would be prepared to support the proposal of the right, hon. Gentleman. He would, however, entirely dispute the advisability of the House now allowing in all future tenancies created since 1883. Nothing could be worse for the tenants themselves, for if all future tenants were to lie allowed into the Land Court, contrary to the provisions of the Act of 1881, they would never get any landlord to let a single tenant on to his land the moment he regained it and got it once more into his possession. The result of such a proposal would be that a man who had only been in possession a day would be able to go into the Land Court and claim occupation interest. If there was anything like that in the Bill, it would be entirely opposed to the policy of the Act of 1881, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian said, that while he was prepared to have fair rents fixed for those tenants who were in occupation, he would not be prepared to grant that 331 to future tenants who took the land with their eyes open. As to the proposals with regard to the recovery of arrears of rent, for his own part he was not sure that some modification in that respect might not be wise; but on that point he would only say that he thought the right hon. Gentleman was making a change of a very sweeping character if he enacted that only two years' arrears of rent should be recoverable for the future in Ireland. No one would accuse his right hon. Friend sitting near him of being a bad landlord, but he told him that he never got any rent from Ireland until it had been due for three years. Such a proposal as this, they all knew perfectly well, if carried out must lead to the most complicated relations between landlord and tenant, and he thought it would be wise to reconsider the matter. In connection with this matter the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had referred to the evidence of a learned judge. Well, the right hon. Gentleman had often pronounced strictures upon Irish judges. Might he now pronounce a stricture upon an Irish judge, and say that he thought it would be much better for the learned judge to administer the law as he found it rather than to announce in public that he was not prepared to make decrees in accordance with Statutes? He thought it would be worth the right hon. Gentleman's while to consider whether, while providing that ejectment should not be allowed for more than two years' rent, he would not allow the balance to be recovered like any other debt. There might be some alteration in that direction made in the law of distress. With regard to procedure, the right hon. Gentleman had said that there was to be a classification of holdings, and that there was to be a ratio between the old and the new judicial rents. It was a pity that this point was not discussed in the Committee, when they could have obtained evidence as to how the provisions of the Act of 1887, which established a kind of automatic scheme, had worked in the districts where they had been put in force. He should welcome some automatic procedure which should put an end to the practice inaugurated under the Act of 1881, of imposing on landlords and tenants the burden of vast judicial proceedings. He thought he 332 could promise that all the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman would be considered fairly by the Opposition; but, while they were prepared to amend the Act of 1881, so as to remedy any real injustice that might be done under it, they would have to consider very seriously indeed any proposals that would demolish the foundations upon which the structure of that Act was reared, or which would expose any portion of the landlord's property to fresh confiscation without compensation. Let not the right hon. Gentleman suppose, because the Opposition were not unwilling that an amending Bill should be passed, that they would assent to provisions of a confiscatory character. The introduction of provisions of that kind might prevent the Bill from becoming law. The right hon. Gentleman's own action in connection with the Evicted Tenants Bill of last Session supplied him with an object-lesson to which he would do well to pay attention. The Opposition were prepared last Session to go a long way in the direction of conferring benefits on the tenantry of Ireland, but the Bill was wrecked because the right hon. Gentleman insisted on making it compulsory in respect of the reinstatement of tenants. Now, however, the right hon. Gentleman had seen the advisability of modifying his proposals on this subject. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman had learned something by this experience, and that he would not include in his present Bill proposals which must lead to protracted controversy, and endanger the measure. The result of that would probably be that the tenantry would lose the benefits which they all joined in thinking might be conferred upon them with justice.
§ MR. J. J. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
thought that, after the speech that had just been delivered, the Debate would have an academic rather than a practical interest for the people of Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman had been good enough to say that he would give a fair, if not a favourable, hearing to Amendments of the Act of 1881 on such matters as town parks, demesne lands, pasture and sub-lettings, but to the Amendments on the subject of improvements he threatened an 333 unqualified hostility, describing them as having a confiscatory character. He (Mr. Clancy) regarded all the Amendments of the law proposed in this Bill as of some importance, but chief in importance were the proposals respecting improvements, and if the hon. and learned Member's speech really expressed the views of his Party in that House and the House of Lords oil the question of improvement, he feared that this Bill would not pass into law or would only become law in a shape disappointing to the tenants. He understood from the Chief Secretary's speech that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to exclude from the fair rent provisions of the Act of 1881 all the definitions relating to improvements, and all the limitations and restrictions adopted from the Land Act of 1870. That change would be a very important alteration of the law. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to say in plain words whether the whole increased letting value was to go to the tenants or not, because on the answer to the question would depend the real value of the Bill. With regard to the shortening of the term, he agreed that it would be a monstrous thing, and would lead to infinite trouble and confusion, and possibly to disorder, in Ireland if they had side by side tenants with a 10 years' term and others with a 15 years' term. Another vital provision was the question of true value and specified value. If the provision of law was to be continued whereby every landlord was to come in and buy for less than its market value the tenant's interest, grave injustice would be done, and there would be not sham but true confiscation. He was puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman's statement as to future tenancies, but what he specially wanted to know was whether "grabbers" were to be invested with a statutory term or not. That was the real point so far as the Representatives of the Irish tenantry were concerned. If they were to be made present tenants he should regard the proposal with the utmost possible disfavour. These land-grabbers were at the root, and had been at the root, of nearly all the land troubles of Ireland, because they had been the most efficient agents of the landlords. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to propose that for the next two years the landlords 334 might do anything they pleased in the way of collection of arrears. If the provision stood, there would be addressed such an invitation and incitement to the collection of arrears as might produce the very disorder and trouble the right hon. Gentleman sought to allay. The right hon. Gentleman finally brought forward a proposal in regard to the restoration of the evicted tenants, and his proposal was a revival of the 13th Section of the Act of 1891, with certain modifications which did not appear to be important. In his opinion, that was practically making no change whatever in the law as it stands. The law, as it stands, enabled a landlord to restore his evicted tenant. The evicted tenant might apply to the Land Commission, and if they agreed, the parties could settle to buy the farm. That being so, and no settlements being come to, what was the special virtue of reviving the 13th Clause? He repeated, there was no addition to the facilities already given by the law for the restoration of the evicted tenants. If this was the final proposition of the Government in regard to the question, and if this was the only hope held out to the evicted tenants of restoration, he must say a very sorry state of things had been reached, and one that brought the utmost discredit on the present Government. They all remembered the statements of the right hon. Member for Bradford as to what would happen when the Liberal Party returned to power. Making every deduction for those statements on the ground of their practicability, still, no one would have imagined that the final proposals of the Government would have dwindled down to the diminutive proposal of the Bill now introduced. The proposal was nothing short of a sham. He did not believe that five tenants would be restored under it. It was not as good as the voluntary part of the Bill of last year, because there the machinery would have been greased to some extent by the fact that £250,000 was to be provided to induce landlords and tenants to enter into agreements. This was a mockery of the tenants' claims, and was a sorry ending of the promises and engagements entered into on the subject by Members of the present Government, including the right hon. Gentleman himself. The right hon. Gentleman made a remark which 335 ought not to be passed over by one section of the Irish Nationalists. The right hon. Gentleman answering a question as to why disorder in Ireland was not provided against, admitted that the solution of the question, lay in the fact that those in charge of the evicted tenants had been provided with funds during the winter. In other words, the Paris Funds had come to the rescue of the right hon. Gentleman, and he (Mr. Clancy) thought the small party to which he belonged might claim some credit in this matter. They were asked to spend this money some three or four years ago, and had they consented it would not be available now. He was glad to hear, on the highest authority, that the action of his party had resulted so favourably as the right hon. Gentleman admitted, when he said that social order was largely preserved by the fact that the Paris Funds were now available for the evicted tenants. He repeated, that until they saw the Bill, it was impossible to estimate the real value and extent of its provisions, but judging it as a whole, he was sorry to think from the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for the Dublin University, that the Bill had only a faint chance of passing into law, either this Session or the next.
§ MR. J. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
said, they had had a very fair and full exposition of the Bill from the Chief Secretary for Ireland—an exposition, in point of fact, which they had expected from the Report which had been tendered by the majority of the Select Committee, and from the statements made by hon. Members during the past few months in different parts of the country. After the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University, it seemed perfectly clear that on many of the matters there would not be a great deal of contention on that side of the House, and the First Reading of the Bill would be allowed, no doubt, without a Division. It so happened that his three colleagues, in the representation of County Down, were, from various causes, unfortunately absent, and under these circumstances he would like to make a few remarks upon the subject of the Bill. The statement had been made that the Debate was, in a certain sense, an academic discussion, but he assured the House that the farmers in many parts of Ireland 336 did not regard it in that light. It was to them a very serious and an important matter, and he had no doubt it was an equally serious and important matter to the landlords. This was certainly not the last Irish Land Bill that would be laid before the House of Commons, and he had no doubt whatever that the final solution of the Irish land question lay in the total abolition of landlordism in Ireland. Lord Londonderry, who had held the highest position possible in Ireland, had said, in the clearest and most emphatic terms, that the continuance of dual ownership was in Ireland absolutely impossible; and, as Lord Londonderry was one of the greatest of the Irish landlords, his words could be relied upon. His words could only bear the construction that the dual ownership of land must end in the abolition of landlordism. It was the desire of many, who were on the same side of the House as himself, that landlordism should entirely cease to exist in Ireland, and that the tenants should, in every sense of the word, become the owners of the land; but they were equally desirous that no injustice whatever should be done to the landlords of Ireland. The Act of 1881 created a partnership between landlord and tenant. Before 1870, the landlords were, of course, the absolute and entire owners of the land in Ireland without any restrictions. After the Act of 1870, their powers were somewhat limited, but it was only by the Act of 1881 that the ownership of land was transferred to tenants. At the present time, landlords and tenants in Ireland were in the position of partners, the landlords being the sleeping, and the tenants the working partners, and it was necessary for the House from time to time to regulate the financial relations between these partners. There could be no doubt that the position of the tenants in Ireland had become appreciably worse in the last two or three years, and consequently there was a universal demand for Legislation in the direction of several of the proposals brought forward by the Chief Secretary in his Bill. A statement had been made about the character of some of the meetings that had been held, especially in Ulster, in relation to the Land Question; but many of those meetings had been got hold of and unwarrantably used by Home Rulers for 337 political purposes. He and many others thought that the Land Question really lay at the root of the Home Rule Question in Ireland—that if there had been no Land Question there would never have been any Home Ruleagitation. Therefore, they believed that the solution of the one would lead to the disappearance of the other, at any rate to a very large extent. Wholesale attacks had been most unjustly made on the character of the Irish landlords. There might be a few hard and dishonourable men among them, as there were in other classes, but as a body the Irish landlords were honourable and fair-dealing men; and the frank and straightforward way in which the Bill had been received by those who, it might be assumed, represented the landlords of Ireland in that House, might be taken as a proof that the landlords were ready to meet any reasonable proposals with all candour and fairness. It should be remembered, that if the case of the tenants was a hard one, that of the landlords was equally hard. The question was a difficult one, and anything like a settlement would require fairness of spirit on both sides. The proposals of the Kill introduced a considerable number of points, to which only the barest reference could then be made. The first point to which he wished to allude was that of the proposed 10 years' limit. He did not think the Irish landlords would have my objection to that proposal. In fact, he was informed that they would not object to a far shorter limit, but for the difficulty and expense entailed in fixing the rent at the end of the periods. If there were any self-adjusting method by which the rents could be automatically arranged from time to time, the landlords would not object to any limit, however short. In the matter of town parks, some change in the law was certainly desirable. The voluntary clause in relation to evicted tenants would, he believed, be accepted by the landlords with entire satisfaction, for no one would object to relieving, if possible, those strained relations which existed in some cases between landlord and tenant. The most important part of the Bill, in his opinion, and the matter on which the real contest on the Bill would be fought, was that relating to the tenants' improvements. It was a question which 338 loomed very large in the view of the tenants. He believed it would be very difficult, indeed, to frame a clause which would do entire justice to all parties. Therefore, the question would have to be dealt with very carefully; but he hoped it was the desire on both sides to act fairly. The representatives of the tenants, surely, could have no desire to deal unjustly with the landlords. He did not think that any hon. Member would consent to buy his seat at so heavy a price as knowingly to do injustice to either side. He understood, with regard to this point of the tenants' improvements, that, in all cases from 1850 to the present time, the burden of proof as to the making of the improvements rested on the tenant, but now the burden of proof was to be put upon the landlord. He did not think there would be any injustice in this, because the landlord, as a rule, kept books, and it would not be very difficult for him to prove the amount of money which had been laid out by him on the holding. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin University said the Chief Secretary proposed to suspend the entire law of evidence in Ireland. What he understood the right hon. Member to say was that the ordinary laws of evidence that were applied in nisi prius and criminal cases would not be applied, but that that kind of evidence might be adduced that was adduced in pedigree cases, for instance. Whether that was right or wrong, was a question for discussion; but the Chief Secretary's position was not at all a foolish one. The right hon. Gentleman had only brought forward the Bill they expected, and he did not think the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University desired to raise any serious objections, except with regard to improvements. The hon. and learned Member did not represent a constituency of agriculturists, and it was quite possible that Members representing such constituencies did not entertain entirely the views of the hon. and learned Member. Speaking for himself, he hoped the Bill would be read a first time and a second time, and that in Committee they would be able to make such improvements as might be deemed necessary.
§ Mr. W. E. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
said, it was perfectly true that 339 the hon. and learned Member did not represent an agricultural division. He, however, did represent a large agricultural division in the north of Ireland, and he entirely agreed with the statement of the hon. and learned Member. It was a remarkable fact—he did not know whether it was intentional—that the right hon. Gentleman alluded only very slightly to the proceedings of the Land Committee which sat during the greater portion of last summer. He disagreed with one of the interpretations which the right hon. Gentleman put upon the action of the minority. It never was their intention that the procedure of the Committee should be turned into that of a Royal Commission. The position he took up, not only on the Committee but before his constituents, was that the Committee was not in a position adequately to report to the House, nor indeed to frame any sound conclusions upon the procedure of administration of the Land Acts, unless it had before it some unofficial evidence. The right hon. Gentleman himself felt that very strongly, because at the first meeting of the Committee he himself proposed that in addition to the official witnesses a certain limited number of other witnesses selected from the gentlemen who appeared as legal advisers or as land valuers in the Land Court. The right hon. Gentleman receded from that view at a later stage, but that was no justification for his attempted censure on the minority who adhered to that view. And if the minority complained of his action as the Chairman of the Committee, in deciding by his casting vote to close the evidence and proceed to make an immediate Report, they did so because only just previously the right hon. Gentleman informed them that he thought the best course to take would be to make an interim Report and to apply for reappointment this Session. However, he took it that the right hon. Gentleman, from the manner in which he introduced his proposals, would invite the House to consider them not so much with regard to the conclusions contained in the Report of the majority as upon their own merits. With regard to that Report, he was bound to state that no Report ever made before by a Select Committee was such a complete perversion of the 340 evidence that was given. On one important point—perhaps the crucial point in this discussion—the manner in which tenants' improvements in Ireland had been dealt with by the Courts interpreting the Act, and the manner in which their decision had been administered the Report was misleading, and an absolute perversion of the real state of the facts. It was unfortunate that that should be so, because naturally he minds of a very large body of men in Ireland had been much excited by the unfounded statements contained in the Report. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would attempt to justify the alterations he proposed to make in reference to the tenants' improvement by the evidence submitted to the Committee, but he ventured to say that any person whose mind was not warped by prejudice would be obliged to admit that that evidence conclusively proved that not only had the letter of the Act of 1881 been carried out, but that the spirit and the intentions of the Act had been thoroughly adhered to, The judgment in Adams v. Dunseath was delivered by the then Lord Chancellor, who was the Law Officer in charge of the Bill of 1881, and must have been perfectly aware of the spirit and intentions of the framers of it. The position of the tenant under that judgment was that he received for the improvement work the value of the interest upon it. That varied from 3 to 12 per cent., over and above which he was entitled to the increased letting value which resulted from the improvement. Five lay Sub-commissioners—and they were the only Sub-commissioners who knew anything about the assessment of the value of tenants' improvements—gave much evidence on this point before the Select Committee, and three of them distinctly said that they gave the whole of the increased letting value to the tenants. The fourth said that he seldom met a case where any increased letting value resulted, and the fifth agreed with him. He ventured to say that the whole of that evidence clearly showed that tenants' improvements had been protected in the administration of the Act. The Chief Secretary had sketched the ontline of certain clauses by which he intended to alter the present law, but they had a suspicious flavour of prairie 341 value about them; but he would give these proposals full Consideration, and if they were genuine amendments of the letter or of the spirit of the Act of 1881, the right hon. Gentleman would find no stern opponent in him. But that was as far as he was prepared to go. As far as he could judge from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, however, his proposals amounted to tearing up the whole of that Act, while the restrictions which had been deliberately placed in it by the right hon. Member for Midlothian for the protection of the land-owning class were to be completely swept away. Of course these proposals might bear a different complexion when he saw them in print, but he would put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the policy of the Act of 1881 was to protect the tenant and not to ruin the landlord. For that purpose the author of the Act over and over again objected to clauses coming from extreme quarters in the House which had a tendency to deprive the landlord of that to which he was justly entitled, and the measure was full of provisions to protect what the right hon. Member for Midlothian conceived to be the fair and just interest of the landlords in their property. But the Chief Secretary seemed to have rambled through it guided by the sign board of a certain Bill presented to the House last year, and under the disguise of amendments was going to sweep all the restrictions which were inserted for the protection of the landowning classes in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had told them during his speech that he had been greatly struck by the enormous cost of administering the Act of 1881, and he thought that anyone who had devoted the slightest attention to the fixing of fair rents in Ireland would agree that a large debt of gratitude would be owing to the individual who devised some automatic procedure by which rents could be fixed without having recourse to the expensive and litigious action necessary at the present time. Such a procedure was of the greatest importance in view of the vast number of rents which would shortly come up for revision at the expiration of the statutory term. The right hon. Gentleman had no opportunity of hearing any but official views on this question, but if the inquiry had been pushed farther he would have heard 342 views expressed in favour of automatic revision. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to his proposal with regard to the status of future tenants, and he based his proposal for amending the Act of 1881 with regard to these tenants on the large number manufactured owing to the operation of Section 7 of the Act of 1887. The Report of the majority of the Committee referred to cases of eviction under the Section, but the Chief Secretary knew as well as he did that they were not cases of eviction at all. It is well known that the number of tenants turned out of their holdings under Section 7 were infinitesimally small as compared with the number of notices served under that Section. He had the figures with regard to the estate of the Marquess of Sligo in County Mayo, and they illustrated, he was certain, what happened in a great number of estates. Down to the 1st January 1895, 605 notices were served under Section 7 of the Act of 1887. Of that number 248 had been dealt with before the six months' redemption had expired—they were not disturbed in their holdings; 275 were dealt with after the six months, and were re-instated, not as future tenants, the landlord having extended their term for redemption, so that 523 tenants had their judicial tenancy not interfered with; 52 were evicted by the Sheriff chiefly on account of family disputes resulting in the re-instating of members of the same family; and in nine cases only were farms let to absolutely new tenants. If the Bill now before the House proposed a genuine amendment of the Act of 1881, in the spirit of that Act he should be glad to give it a fair consideration; but if they found the Chief Secretary embarking in absolutely fresh Legislation which was never intended by the Act of 1881, he must frankly tell him that he should offer a strenuous opposition to the Bill. As to the agitation in the north of Ireland, the Chief Secretary would find himself very much mistaken if he thought it would have any effect with regard to himself or his friends in dealing with his proposals if they were not founded upon justice between the two classes in Ireland with whom it was proposed to deal. The course he should take was the course which he had laid before his constituents.
§ MR. W. KENNY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
said he was a member of the Committee which considered this question, and he should like to make one or two observations with regard to the scheme explained by the Chief Secretary. However much they might disagree with some of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, he as a lawyer sympathised with the Chief Secretary as alayman bringing before the House an extremely complicated and technical case. The Chief Secretary had done his utmost in the time given him, and ungrudgingly given him—two hours—in giving a very clear exposition of the question. As a awyer, he thought he had been able to follow the greater part of his proposals, but he must confess there were two or three points which he could not follow. In recommending the question to the House as an effort to amend the Act of 1887, the Chief Secretary dissociated himself altogether from the wild and nonsensical language used in the Press and on the platforms in Ireland during the last six months. They had been told in the Nationalist Press that this was a Bill to crush the power of the Irish landlords, and that it would have the effect of transferring two millions sterling of the annual rental of Ireland from the pockets of the landlords into the pockets of the tenants. The hon. Member for South-east Cork in October last said the Bill would strike a blow at landlordism from which it never could recover, and that prairie value was simply common justice. The Chief Secretary had dissociated himself from that language, and he would be very sorry to represent that the Bill would have the effect of transferring 2½ millions or £50,000 of the rental of Ireland from the pockets of the landlords to to the pocket of the tenants. That some Bill was necessary everyone admitted. The minority Report admitted that the Member for Birmingham in this House, and the Duke of Devonshire in the other House, would give to any fair and reasonable measure a careful consideration. Having alluded to the views of Ulster Members, and admitted that the Bill was necessary, that admission upon their part had undoubtedly been the neucleus and foundation for the agitation which had been going on in Ireland for several 344 months. He seconded the Motion for the postponement of the Bill introduced into the last Parliament by the hon. Member for South-east Kerry. The Motion was not for the rejection of the Bill, but was to the effect that having regard to the fact that a Committee was then proposed or had been nominated to inquire into the principles and working of the Irish Land Acts, it was undesirable that the Bill should be then considered. He stated then what he had stated now, that he approached the question with a perfectly open mind, and that the Bill contained several proposals which commanded his sympathy. But the Chief Secretary now asked the House to entertain a Bill of a most controversial and complex character, and one which might possibly—unless the minds of hon. Members who acted with him changed when they saw the Bill—lead to a Division on the Second Reading. He went into Committee with an open mind. He had heard and seen it repeated over and over again that the Irish tenant was rented on his improvements. In his opinion the work of the Committee on the Irish Land Acts was closed before it had properly arrived at completion. The Report dealt with wholly official evidence. The Chief Secretary said that the Report had been characterised as one-sided. He himself had never heard it called one-sided. But what had been said was—and he himself had said so—that it was founded wholly on official evidence. The Amendment moved on 24th July 1894, in Committee, showed that was the ground on which the Ulster Members objected to the evidence being closured. The hon. Member for South Tyrone proposed that the Committee should proceed to report, and he himself moved an Amendment that, having regard to the terms of reference, it would be unfair and unsatisfactory that the Committee should report until it heard the evidence of non-official witnesses, and those witnesses whose evidence had not been concluded. That was the position which the minority took up. The Committee heard the evidence of Mr. Justice Bewley, Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, and several legal Sub-commissioners, but as to outside evidence they did not hear a single word. Three days of non-official evidence was given as a concession. That time was utilised 345 to the best of their ability. Three witnesses were examined, and these were all the non-official evidence. On one subject the evidence given before the Committee (official as it was) removed any doubt as to the Irish tenant being rented on the improvements in respect of which he was entitled to be exempted from rent. The evidence of every witness was, that before the landlord got anything in the nature of increased letting value the tenant got at least 5 per cent.—in some cases, witnesses said, 10 and 12 per cent.—on his improvements. What did Mr. Justice Bewley and others who were examined tell the Committee?—that that 5 per cent. on the improvements swallowed up the increased letting value as the result of improvements. But they admitted that it was in a small proportion of cases indeed in which there had been an increased letting value of more than 5 per cent. In "Adams v. Dunseath" the Judge decided that if there was any overplus it should be divided between landlord and tenant, according to their respective interests. The Chief Secretary said the Land Commission went in the teeth of that and did not carry out the decision of the Court of Appeal. Three Sub-commissioners admitted that they went in the teeth of it and gave an increased letting value of 5 per cent. to the landlord. But three Lay Commissioners who went over the ground and were responsible for the amount of rent fixed, told the Committee that in every case the tenant got every farthing of the increased letting value. He had seen it stated in the Press categorically that the effect of the evidence before the Committee was, that the landlord in every case got the overplus of letting value and the tenant got his 5 per cent. He hoped English and Scotch Members would take notice of the fact that under the administration of the Act of 1881 in Ireland the Irish tenant got in every case from 3 to 5 per cent. on his improvements, which, in a great majority of cases, exhausted the whole of the increased letting value. When the Chief Secretary spoke of the increased letting value, did he mean the prairie value or the reverse? Did he mean something intermediate and intend to let the Court puzzle on, as it was now puzzling on, to find out what were the respective interests of landlord and tenant? He 346 said the tenant was to get the benefit of his improvements, but the increase was to be proportioned according to the respective interest of landlord and tenant. Of all the vital questions which this Bill would give rise to, the question as to the increased letting value and unearned increment and the inherent capabilities of the soil was of the most substantial character, and the House ought to have been told in clear language whether for the purposes of the improvement he meant to adopt the 5th section of the Bill introduced last year by the hon. Member for South-east Kerry, providing that the Court should ascertain whether any improvements had been made by the tenant for which he had not been compensated, and estimate the increase in the letting value which should be deemed to lie the property of the tenant. Did he mean that the benefit of the inherent capabilities of the soil was to go to the tenant, because if he did he would go in the teeth of the law as it stood on the subject in England. The Agricultural Holdings (England) Act, 1883, provided that there should not be taken into account as part of the improvements of the tenant what was justly due to the inherent capabilities of the soil. Was he going to apply, as far as the capabilities of the soil were concerned, a different rule to Ireland from that which obtained in England? Under the Agricultural Holdings Act in England any increase arising from the inherent capabilities of the soil did not go to the tenant. Did he intend to hand over whatever arose from the inherent capabilities of the soil to the tenant, or did he intend to divide it between landlord and tenant according to their respective interests? Passing from the inherent capabilities of the soil the Chief Secretary dealt with the limitations incorporated into the Act of 1881 from the Land Act of 1870. He doubted whether the improvements swept into the net of the landlord were of the substantial or large character which had been described by the Chief Secretary. In the 4th Section of the Act of 1870 he found a provision dealing "with works not suitable to the holding." Presumably from the right hon. Gentleman's observations a tenant was not to have his rent fixed from the date of the passing of this Bill upon works 347 that were unsuitable to the holding. The Crofters Act of 1886 provided in the 8th Section that, when a crofter was removed from his holding, he should be entitled to any permanent improvements provided that they were suitable to the holding; but now a distinction was to be drawn between the rights of the Scottish crofter and the Irish tenant. The Irish tenant, no matter what he might do, was to get the value of his work, no matter how unsuitable it might be to the holding. The Chief Secretary was really making a holocaust of free contract, because no matter what kind of contract the tenant might have made he was to get a judicial rent fixed and the benefit of these improvements, though he might have received value for them from the landlord. The Chief Secretary, indeed, proposed by the Bill to hand over the inherent capabilities of the soil and to eliminate from the Act of 1881 the unsuitable improvements and improvements made in pursuance of a contract for valuable consideration. The right hon. Gentleman differentiated the cases of Scotland, England, and Ireland, and was applying to Ireland a wholly different law from that which existed either in England or Scotland at the present time. [Mr. J. MORLEY: "Hear, hear!"] If, then, a leading Member of the Government approved that course in a Bill of this kind with regard to Ireland it might not be long before the Government applied the same principles to English and Scottish holdings. The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question of presumption in making improvement, though he had not gone the whole length of the recommendations of the Committee with reference to that point. The Chief Secretary had laid down a time limit so far back as 1850. With respect to improvements before 1850 any kind of evidence appeared to apply that might be given before a Sub or Head Commission or a County Court Judge. This left the question of presumption in a very unsatisfactory position, and it would hardly commend itself to any jury. The right hon. Gentleman closed his statement by referring to another branch of the landlord and tenant trouble which did not form a part of the recommendation of the Committee, namely, the introduction of the 348 13th Section of the Act of 1891. The hon. Member for South Hunts had told the House that the question of the evicted tenants was settling itself in Ireland. The Queen's Speech, however, assured the House that there was a source of danger to social peace in Ireland. He doubted this. The Duke of Devonshire had pointed out on the Second Reading of the Evicted Tenants Bill that the question was settling itself, and the noble Duke gave as a test from the date of the Mathew Commission up to the date he was speaking that there had been 128 restorations, either by purchase or otherwise, of evicted tenants, which was at the rate of 14 per cent. on the evicted holdings of the 17 selected estates. He believed the same process was going on now. The Chief Secretary knew the efforts that had been made in various districts of Ireland to inflame popular feeling on that subject since the Bill was thrown out by the House of Lords last year. But there had been no agitation as the result of the throwing out of that Bill. Any attempt to force such an agitation would have no result. The Chief Secretary appealed to the House to give the Bill fair and impartial consideration, and that he certainly was quite prepared to give to the Bill; and, unless he found the Bill to be of such a controversial character, and of such a nature as to amount to further transfer of the annual rental of Ireland from the landlord to the tenant, he was disposed to vote for the Bill.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said that his hon. Friend described himself as the representative of an urban constituency—that was to say, he represented people who knew nothing about this question, or who, at all events, felt no real interest in it. He, however, happened to represent a rural constituency—a typical rural constituency—consisting almost entirely of the class who would be affected by Legislation, of this kind. He was not, therefore, prejudiced in considering a matter of this kind, and, if he thought any proposals in the Bill were likely to do injustice to the landlords of Ireland, nothing would induce him to vote for such proposals. It certainly did not follow that, because a representative of farmers, he should advocate a policy of 349 robbing landlords. The Duke of Argyll, in one of his letters on the Land Question referred to the Report of the majority of the Committee as emanating from men wholly devoid of independence and simply representing tenant farmers; and upon that he might repeat what he had often said—that in Committee and in the House he had given votes that he was perfectly certain many tenant farmers in Ulster would not approve. Representing a constituency deeply interested, he desired to express the conclusions at which he had arrived, on the statement made by the Chief Secretary, not, of course, pledging himself on the First Reading to all the complex details of the Bill. For all practical purposes the Bill divided itself into two main parts—that which dealt with tenants' improvements and that which dealt with the exclusions from the Act of 1881. These constituted the real essence of the Bill. The importation of the 4th Section of the Act of 1870 into the Act of 1881 was a most important thing for the farmers of Ireland. The question was so clear that the wayfaring man could understand it. In 1881 Sir Stafford Northcote tried to incorporate that section with the Act then passing, but he was defeated by a majority of 134, and yet, in spite of that, six months later, the Court of Appeal did incorporate that section. For his own part, he had nothing to say against the 4th Section of the Act of 1870 when it was confined to its own sphere. When a tenant was quitting his holding by eviction or other cause, and when money compensation had to be paid to the outgoing tenant by the landlord, then there was reason in taking all these circumstances into account, the length of time of enjoyment of improvements and all else; but when it became a question of transferring the 4th Section, intended for the case of a man leaving his holding, to the case of a man who wished to stay on his holding and for that purpose tried to get a fair rent fixed, then the conditions were entirely different, and the section had no application whatever. It was entirely foreign to the intention of the authors of the Bill of 1881 and contrary to the wish expressed by the majority of the House at that time. It was said by his hon. Friend that 5 per cent. was allowed to 350 every tenant who made improvements, but then every decision of the Land Court in Ireland was subject to this 4th Section of the Act of 1870. It was the duty of the Government to divorce these two Acts—the Act of 1870 should stand on its own footing and the Act of 1881 should stand unencumbered by the Act of 1870. In this particular the Chief Secretary had done well, and had done what was right, taking from the landlord nothing that the landlord could honestly claim. The question of presumption was discussed at great length in the Committee, and the evidence, maimed as it was, all went to show that the improvements in Irish land had mainly been effected by tenants. What the Select Committee said was that when tenants had made improvements the law should follow the fact, and that they ought to belong to the tenant until the contrary had been proved. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to carry that out. The landlords said that that might result in prairie value. He, for one, when he gave his vote in the Select Committee, never contemplated that they were going back to the Ulster settlement, and that the tenant was to claim everything done since. The right hon. Gentleman had put in the limiting clause that was in the Act of 1870 that the presumption was not to extend behind 1850; but he seemed to say that the Court should have power, upon evidence which was not legal, to go behind 1850. He should be glad to go behind 1850 in any case which the Court thought was a special one and one in which wrong was likely to be done by the enforcement of the limit; the Court should have power to go behind it, but upon legal evidence. So far as the right hon. Gentleman proposed that the presumption should be in the tenant's favour, he was entirely with him upon that point. He did not think there was any serious question behind 1850. As regarded buildings, they were admitted to belong to the tenant now. As regarded drainage, no question could arise behind 1850: and the question would arise only in cases of reclamation: and all cases of necessity would be met by allowing the Court to have discretion to go behind 1850 upon satisfactory evidence. The question of increased letting value, as Mr. Justice Bewley 351 said, was more academic than real; and for all practical purposes, if Section 4 of the Act of 1870 were out of the way, the percentage now allowed would meet the great majority of cases. That was the evidence of every witness before the Committee; but cases arose in which the increased letting value had to be decided for the past 14 years, and, upon the legal evidence, had been decided wrongly; and the landlord had got that which, according to Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, he ought not to have got. No fixed percentage was mentioned in the Committee, and he should be prepared to leave the percentage to the discretion of the Court. He looked upon the matter in this way—the land and its inherent capacities belonged to the landlord; and the tenant had his improvements—the dwelling, the out-offices, the drainage, the reclamation, and whatever he had done. He also had, however, a valuable asset in the shape of the permanent occupation of the land which Parliament had conferred upon him. It was said by his constituents—but he did not agree with them—This land has been conveyed to us by a 15 years' lease; we have got the land and its inherent capacities at a certain rent; and, therefore, they are ours.If that were so he would agree with them; but the rent of the land was not fixed with that inherent capacity in view; if it were it would revolutionise the whole process of rent-fixing and double the rent. Rent was fixed upon the land as it appeared to the Commissioners when they went upon it. He did not ask that anyone should be robbed of his fair share of the increase of letting value due to capital acting on inherent capacity; but he did ask that the Court should decide how much was to go to the landlord and how much to the tenant. On the question of improvements, as a whole, he was exceedingly glad the Bill seemed to be drawn on lines he could approve and support, subject to differences of opinion on points of detail. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have steered a fair course, and one that he could support pretty well all round. In regard to exclusions from the Bill, the question of town parks was one of the most difficult that could arise. In 1887 the hon. Member for Galway moved that the population limit should be 5,000. 352 The Government resisted that, and then he moved that the limit should be 2,000. The Government, of which the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Brodrick) was a Member, accepted that; but it was rejected in the House of Lords and did not become law. He thought the distinction between accommodation lands and land held for the purpose of making a profit by farming was a vital distinction, but proposals might be made in Committee on which he desired to hold himself free. As regarded pasture holdings, they were practically excluded from the Act of 1881. It was then said that the graziers could take care of themselves, but the revolution that had taken place since 1881 in the cattle trade disposed of that argument; and he unhesitatingly said that, whatever chance the tillage farmer, with the labour within his family, had of making a livelihood out of his farm, the holder of a pasture farm had very little at the present moment. He agreed with the £200 limit, and believed it would exclude the large graziers in Dublin, and to his mind would bring in all the real farmers who lived upon their holdings. A great deal had been said on the question of sub-letting; he had as much objection to sub-letting or sub-division as any man, but he held that the proposal of the Chief Secretary was a radical cure for it. The landlords raised a cry against sub-letting, but it was not the sub-letting they objected to, but the fair rent. He came now to the question of the statutory term, and on that he said to the Committee, and he said it now, that he thought it a most dangerous thing to teach the people of Ireland, or any other people, that judicial contracts were simply made to be broken, and he gave effect to the opinion he held by his vote. He still held that opinion. He might be told that it was done in 1887, but it was done then under the strain of great distress, and if it had been said then that it was to be a precedent he very much doubted whether the strain of distress would have induced him to countenance it. The evidence, however, before the Select Committee went entirely to show that the rents fixed between 1881 and 1887 were too high now. There was not a single witness who did not say so. If, then, they were going to shorten the statutory period, 353 were they going to take these thousands of men, whose rents were shown by the witnesses before the Committee to be too high, and keep them at their present rents for seven years? But suppose they said,We have evidence that these rents are too high, and we will shorten the statutory period in these cases,there was another difficulty they would get into. Every man whose rent had been fixed since 1887 would believe that those rents had been fixed on a wrong view of the question. He put it to the House, were not these grave difficulties when they calmly sat down to settle a question like this? He admitted that there was simply a choice of difficulties, and he was not very sure that the Chief Secretary had not chosen the easiest way out of them. He now came, to the question called occupation right, and he asserted that there was nothing to warrant the consideration of occupation right as an element in the fixing of rent under the Act of 1881. This complex and difficult topic was not raised in the Committee by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, but by Mr. Justice Bewley in his evidence. He was far from saying that an Irish tenant had not an occupation right; the Act of 1870 made it clear that he had such a right, because it allowed compensation for physical disturbance, apart from the question of improvements. This right was a valuable asset, and had always been treated as such in Ulster, but he quite failed to see how it could be brought in as an element for consideration in the fixing of a fair rent. If it were brought in, the interests of the tenant would very probably suffer. If, for example, a farmer were to go into Court and say that he had built a house, drained the land and reclaimed it, and, in addition, that he had an occupation right which he valued at £300, having regard to his present rent, there were some Land Commissioners who would bow him out of Court on the ground that he had no claim to have his rent reduced. Respecting the question of future tenancies he felt some responsibility for the support which he gave to the Seventh Section of the Act of 1887, which was commonly known 354 as the "Eviction-made-easy" Clause. He supported that clause because he thought that it would render physical eviction unnecessary. He had since, however, felt positive alarm in consequence of the number of eviction notices that had floated across the country. Not less than 40,000 had been served since 1887. He might be told that the landlords, after the notices were issued, came to terms with their tenants, but they had no proof that that was the case, and the truth was that the tenancies were determined, and they did not know what became of the tenants. He welcomed, therefore, the proposal to confer the status of a present tenant upon a man who had been made a caretaker, who had done well for five years, who had paid his rent, and with whom the landlord had come to terms. On this point he was happy to be in agreement with the Chief Secretary. As to the right hon. Gentleman's automatic plan for fixing rents, he could only say that it would be just as easy to fix a ratio between gold and silver as to fix the ratio contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman in connection with farms. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would put that part of his plan in his pocket. He had often been told he was not an Irishman, but he knew one trait the Irish people had got—they dearly loved what they called law-day. Coming, in the last place, to the question of the evicted tenants, he should have preferred that it had been treated in a separate Bill, but he admitted that, inasmuch as the Leader of the Opposition had incorporated the 13th Section in a general Land Bill, the case which the Chief Secretary made for doing the same thing was complete. He pursued rather a difficult course on the evicted tenants question last year, and he rejoiced exceedingly that the Chief Secretary and hon. Members opposite had been able to agree on a clause which he thought the House would have very little difficulty in sanctioning. These people had been evicted, and they would have been evicted under any Government. He held last year, and he held now, that three-fourths of the cases might be settled by voluntary arrangements. The great drawback of 355 the 13th Section was that there was no provision for bringing the landlord and the tenant together. That had been removed, and whatever the landlords were, they were shrewd enough in matters of money; and, inasmuch as both sides were heartily tired of this controversy, he should imagine that the forecast he made last year would be found to be not far out when the testing-time came. Speaking for the great mass of the Protestant farmers of Ulster, he wished to say that, apart from technicalities and without binding himself to matters of phraseology, he believed this Bill in spirit and in fact was a good, a satisfactory, and an honest Bill. Reference had been made to the agitation that had been going on in Ulster. Having had something to do with the initiation and the conduct of it throughout, he could tell the House and hon. Members opposite that if they hugged to their bosoms the idea that that was an agitation of Home Rulers who were using the land question for ulterior objects they would be rudely awakened. Foolish speeches, even from the point of view of tactics, might have been made; but he asserted that four out of five meetings held in the province had been held by Protestants who were Unionists to the backbone, who did not desire to rob their landlords, who felt that the Act of 1881 had miscarried on these points as regarded them, and who were determined that these things should be put right before a second statutory term was entered upon. The Bill reversed Adams v. Dunseath in the vital points where that decision required to be reversed, and he would be a bold man who would go to Ulster either before or at the General Election and defend Adams v. Dunseath against the Chief Secretary's Bill.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh)
said, they had been told this Bill was to be a scorcher, framed with the distinct object of striking a blow at Irish landlords, from which they would never recover. He read speeches made at meetings in Ulster, at some of which the hon. Member for South Tyrone was present, and from the tone and character of the speeches made, with which to a 356 certain extent the hon. Member apparently sympathised——
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
begged pardon. He said at Belfast there was no greater enemy of land reform than the man who went about talking of this being a scorching measure. He added that such a man ought to be locked up.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
retorted that if the hon. Member who uttered those words were to be confined it would not be for the first time. On one point he entirely joined issue with the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and that was the taking away, as undoubtedly this Bill had done, the limitation of 1850 in the Act of 1870 with regard to the presumption of improvements. If his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary had been able to state that that limitation had not been taken away he should with great satisfaction not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. He and those who acted with him were entirely in favour of a satisfactory solution of this question. As the House had been reminded by the right hon. Gentleman, he supported the Land Bill of 1870. He said then, and he had never regretted it, that he supported the Land Bill for two reasons—because he believed it gave to the Irish tenants a protection which they absolutely required; and because he believed it would satisfy the English. He remembered when, in 1870, he made that statement the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian asked him what he meant; and he replied that he hoped it would satisfy the English, for he knew it would not satisfy the Irish. He thought his prophecy as to not satisfying the Irish had been amply fulfilled. To listen to the speeches made from time to time in the House one might be led to believe that the Irish tenant farmer was, without exception, the most trampled on specimen of an agriculturist to be found in the world; whereas Parliament had been legislating and conferring benefits upon him at least for 25 years, whilst the right hon. Gentleman had told them that so far from having concluded the operation of doing justice to Ireland they were only at the commencement. In 357 fact, according to the right hon. Gentleman, this Bill was a sort of preliminary canter; that before the year 1843, 32 Bills had been brought in on the subject of Irish land, all in favour of the Irish landlord and against the Irish tenant; and that now a commencement had been made on the other side, and Bill after Bill was to be brought in to compensate for their former injustice. What a happy prospect! He thought this country was beginnining to believe that a very considerable amount of justice had already been meted out to the Irish tenant. Very soon after the Bill of 1870 the Irish tenant was taught he had not had half enough, and that this was only a foretaste of the good things to come. The tenants then demanded the three "F's"—fixity of tenure, fair rents, and free sales; and the Irish land agitators at that time pointed out that, if they got this policy adopted, they would be in a better position than any tenantry in the world. They did get it, and they were just as full of misery and woe, and of the demand for justice from England as ever they had been before. They had free sale, fair rents—["No!" from the Irish Benches]—'hon. Members who said "No!" believed they ought to pay no rent; but reasonable men believed the Irish tenants had got fair rents, which were fixed, not by the landlords, but by a court established by that House. With regard to fixity of tenure, the Irish tenants simply meant by that, that they would be certain of being able to remain in their farms so long as they paid a fair rent. But since then they had had the phrase "duality of ownership," which implied that the tenant in Ireland had a property in the land as well as the landlord. He absolutely denied that any duality of ownership had been established by that House. Speaking on June 21, 1881, the right hon. Member for Midlothian said:—Our view is that when a tenant puts improvements on the holding, they become part of the holding, and both landlord and tenant have an interest in them—the tenant, a limited interest in respect of tenant-right, and the landlord a permanent interest aw owner of the whole.358 The agitation that existed in Ireland, but which no longer existed, was based on the idea that the tenant was as much the owner of the land as the landlord; and the part of the Bill to which he objected was that which proposed, if he understood it aright, to give the tenant not only security for the money he had laid out on his holding, but to give him also the whole value of the farm acquired by that expenditure. That would give the tenant a distinct ownership in the soil; and against that he (Colonel Saunderson) protested, and would continue to protest. If his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary had refused to go beyond the limit of 1850 there would not be so much between them. But his right hon. Friend proposed that the presumption of improvements might go back behind 1850.
MR. J. MORLEY
said, there was no presumption behind 1850. The presumption then expired, and evidence was required.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said, that at any rate a claim could be made for improvements effected before 1850 if the Court were satisfied on some kind of evidence that they were made by somebody. That was the sting of the Bill. He did not know who suggested such a proposal. He believed that if the Chief Secretary were left to himself he would never have put it into the Bill. He believed the proposal had been suggested to the Government by that part of their following who kept them in office. [Mr. T. M. HEALY.—"Never; on the contrary."] Some of the eminent leaders of the Nationalist party did, he had no doubt, suggest the proposal to the Chief Secretary, though the hon. Member for Louth might not have been the one. But if that proposal did not exist—and he regretted very much that it did exist—both sides of the House would have been willing to give the Bill a very fair consideration. There were many things in the Bill with which he was inclined entirely to agree. He was in entire accord with the right hon. Gentleman's desire to fix the status of the new tenants, and all his colleagues exactly felt with him on that point; but he regretted at 359 the same time that the right hon. Gentleman did not see his way to make it a cheaper operation for landlord and tenant to get fair rents fixed. That would be the most unpopular thing in the world amongst lawyers; the lawyers were the only people that had fattened on the land in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman, however, gave them a plan. He knew why the right hon. Gentleman proposed it. It was because it might otherwise be said the right hon. Gentleman did not produce a plan of any kind. The right hon. Gentleman, however, did not seem to like the plan himself, and, no doubt, the House would hear no more about it. The right hon. Gentleman twitted the Irish landlords on the happy position in which they found themselves with regard to reductions in rents.You have only given reductions amounting to 20.8 per cent.," said the right hon. Gentleman, "and you are in a far happier position than the landlords on this side of the Channel.But before they compared the reductions in both countries they should find out whether the rents were higher in England than in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, when introducing the Land Bill of 1870, dealt with that very point. The right hon. Gentleman then said that in 1779 Arthur Young estimated the agricultural rental of Ireland at six millions. In 1869 it had been raised to 12 millions—that was, doubled. In 1771 the agricultural rental of England was estimated at 16 millions. In 1869 it had been raised to 48 millions—that was, raised three times in amount. In Scotland in 1770 the agricultural rental was estimated at £1,200,000; and in 1869 it had been raised to £7,200,000. He believed that one thing would become evident after the conclusion of that Debate—namely, that the Irish people, although they did not always get the credit for the most wisdom, had solved the agricultural question. The right hon. Gentleman knew well that the Returns from the joint stock and savings banks in Ireland showed that the Irish people had vastly increased their savings. How was it that the Irish contrived to do that, and that agriculturists on this side 360 of the water could not? The Irish farmer had proved that the farm that paid best in these days was the farm that could be worked and managed by the farmer. In Ireland they had small holdings, so small that it was a physical impossibility for the owner of the estate to work the farmstead. These small farms in Ireland, just as in France, paid their way, and there was in Ireland at the present moment a far more thriving population than there was 30 or 40 years ago. Agriculturists in this country were in deep distress, and he thought the time had come when this country might learn, a lesson from her smaller sister. The proof that they had solved the question in Ireland and that the farmer thrived was shown by the immense price which the free-will of a farm fetched at the present day. It was idle to talk about land hunger; the Irishman knew which side his bread was buttered, and if he went into the market and gave 20, 25, or 30 years' purchase for a farm, depend upon it he did so because he believed that the farm would pay him well. He thought the Bill would pass through the House without very much opposition if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to make some small alteration in it, which would not cost him very dear, and which would satisfy the Irish people if they meant fair play. He said most distinctly, on behalf of the Irish landlords, that they were unwilling to receive rent on the money made out of improvements by the Irish farmer; and if this Bill aimed, as it ought to aim, at giving the Irish tenant perfect freedom to get all he could out of his improvements, it would receive their most cordial support. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had alluded to an extraordinary method adopted by some of the Land Commissioners in reducing rent on the occupation interest. He ventured to think that an ordinary Englishman, Scotchman, or even Welshman, would not have the remotest idea what that meant, because it was a thing which could not be conceived by anybody but an Irishman. The occupation interest of a tenant he took to be what a farm was worth if it could be sold. They must remember 361 that the occupation interest was granted by Parliament to the Irish tenants without, in most cases, their ever paying one single farthing for it. It was only in a small part of Ulster that they had paid for it in times gone by. Now, he had endeavoured to lay before the House the views the landlords would take of this Bill. So far as the Bill meant fairplay, and no more than fairplay, to the Irish tenants, it would receive their cordial support; but so far as they believed the Bill struck at the very foundations of property in Ireland, they would strenuously oppose it. The tenants of Ulster, to whom the hon. Member had referred, thoroughly understood the meaning and importance of establishing the rights of property. They knew well enough that if you destroy the rights of property for the present landlords, those rights would be swept away from the landlords who followed. If the tenants availed themselves of the Purchase Acts, they would become the future landlords. The tenants quite knew that. Surprise had been expressed that the tenants had not availed themselves more largely of the Purchase Acts. Why had they not done so? Because month after month and day after day they had been told to hold their hand, for if they did so, they would get the land at prairie value. If the House only showed that it was determined not to go a step beyond what was fair and just—that it would put its foot down on any attempt at injustice to any class, the Irish tenants would soon avail themselves of the advantages of the Acts. As far as he was concerned, he should give the Bill fair consideration; but if it remained unaltered, if it retained a principle which he looked upon as dangerous in the extreme, he should be compelled to oppose it, though with great regret.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
said, the most remarkable feature of the Debate was that up to that time no prominent Member of the Irish Party had taken part in it.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, that at any rate they should be glad to hear the hon. and learned Member when he chose to address the House, for it was very important that the House should understand what was the attitude of hon. Members on the Nationalist Benches with regard to the Bill. The Chief Secretary had told them that the Bill was mainly based on the Report of the Committee. Hon. Members representing the Irish Party had told their constituents that a Bill based on the Report of the Committee would have the effect of largely reducing the rents in Ireland, even to the extent of 50 or 60 per cent. They had also said that such a Bill would strike a blow at Irish landlordism, from which it would never recover. Why were not these statements made in that House? If the responsible Nationalist Members held such opinions let them fairly and openly state them. If they were so stated, however, he thought the House would look very closely into the scope of the Bill. The Debate for some time had been confined to Ulster Members, as if the Bill mainly or only concerned the people of Ulster. He had not the slightest objection, of course, to hon. Members from Ulster speaking strongly on all matters which concerned their constituents, but he would point out that this Bill was not intended for Ulster alone. It concerned the other provinces of Ireland also. The Bill was one which would apply, as previous Land Acts had done, legislation incident to the Ulster custom to the whole of Ireland. He believed the premature closing of the Committee had two or three unfortunate results. The question of improving and cheapening the procedure under the Act of 1881, was, perhaps, the most important submitted to the Committee, but the evidence upon it was entirely from officials. He believed that the money value involved in the question of improvements would, in some cases, not amount to very much compared with the law costs which would be involved. He grudged every farthing spent in law costs in connection with the land question in Ireland; and he thought those internecine struggles ought to be 363 brought to a close. His earnest desire in the Land Committee was to obtain suggestions from unofficial witnesses as to how litigation could be avoided, and he regretted that the Chief Secretary declined to treat the minority with that generosity—he might also say that fairness—which characterised him in his public utterances and his public bearing. The result was, that they were called upon to discuss a onesided Bill on imperfect evidence. He would gladly have seen more evidence brought before the Committee for the benefit of the Member for South Tyrone. The hon. Gentleman had thrown out that he was not prepared to transfer to the tenant such an amount of the value of his improvements as was due to the inherent capabilities of the soil.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said the hon. Member had signed a Report which stated—that there appears to be no reasonable and no intelligible cause for denying to the tenant the full enjoyment of any improvements in his holding produced by the expenditure of his capital or the application of his labour.The Report proceeded to say that the interference of Parliament was required in order to ascertain and secure to the tenant his right to the improved letting value.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
explained that the Report originally contained the following words:—Your Committee for these reasons recommend that no rent be allowed in respect of any part of the letting value resulting from the improvement of the tenant.These two lines were struck out on his motion.
§ MR. BRODRICK
could only say that competent lawyers did not take the same view as the hon. Member of the effect of the paragraph as it now stood. He could not believe, unless he had it from the Chief Secretary, that the right hon. Gentleman intended to go back on the expressed intentions of the Act of 1881, which gave the tenant no claim in the inherent capabilities of the soil. He believed the reception of the Bill would depend largely on the way in which that point was dealt with. 364 With regard to the right of preemption, he thought there were grave objections to the course the right hon. Gentleman had taken. There were reasons for it in Ulster, but what the right hon. Gentleman had done, or was going to do, was to give a tenant the right—and he could give case after case, in the South-west of Ireland—to sell his occupation interest for an indefinitely large sum, although he had never paid a farthing for the holding, and could show no improvements whatever upon it. By thus removing the safeguard of the Act of 1881 against a tenant, giving in tenant right the equivalent of a reduction in rent, the old evil effects of land hunger would be restored. The course which the right hon. Gentleman would pursue therefore, was not only subversive of the public interest, but of the policy in which successive Land Acts had been introduced. It would be impossible for them on this side of the House to accept that provision in the Bill. The question of town parks was also one which interested them deeply and they would have to go closely into it in the subsequent stages of the Bill. They were willing however to suspend their judgment on the Bill until it was placed in their hands, and were prepared to discuss the suggested Amendments fairly and honestly, and although they did not take up a non possumus attitude, yet, as the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin had pointed out in unmistakable terms, some of the propositions which had been foreshadowed by the Chief Secretary would meet with strenuous resistance from that side of the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would make an earnest attempt to meet the wishes of both Parties, and would not force them to reject what might be made a good Bill by endeavouring to create a favourable impression on the present tenants in Ireland, at the expense of those who came after.
§ SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken seemed to think there were some provisions in the Bill in which there had been no legislation before, but as a matter of fact, they were; really the 365 corollary of previous Bills all of which he had supported since and including the Act of 1870. They were merely protecting, as they ought to protect, the interests of the tenants and the rights of the soil. He understood the Chief Secretary to say that presumption was to lie in the interest of the tenant up to 1850. With regard to the statutory period, opinion had changed since 1881 and it was now in favour of not a longer, but a shorter period than 15 years.
Leave being given, MR. MORLEY brought in the Bill, which was read a first time.