HC Deb 13 August 1896 vol 44 cc811-7

announced that a message had been received from the Lords that they had agreed to the Commons' Amendments to the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, with Amendments.

Motion, That the said Amendments be considered, agreed to.

Amendment in Clause 1, page 2, line 27, to leave out "this" and insert "that," agreed to amid general laughter.

On the Lords' Amendment to the provision dealing with the occupation right of the occupier in the fixing of a fair rent,


opposed the Amendment, contending that it deprived the tenants of the rights which they enjoyed under the Act of 1881. ["Oh!"]


said he had not seen the Amendment, nor had he been able to attend in the other House to hear what had taken place. He was engaged in the House of Commons in the discharge of his duties. No one could deny that the House of Lords drew, so to speak, the naked sword and brandished it in the face of the Irish tenants. The Government had compelled them to sheath that sword, which the Lords had now abandoned. The original Amendment was a challenge to the Irish tenants, and, admitting that the Bill had excellent points, he should sacrifice it over and over again if the tenant's occupation right was not to be considered in the fixing of a fair rent. The Irish held the old Gaelic idea that the landlord was a mere rent-charger, and they could not give that up. He had seen the Amendment adopted in the House of Lords, and so far as he could judge it, speaking on the spur of the moment, he saw nothing in it which damaged the immemorial position of the Irish tenants that the land belonged to them, and that the landlords who came in upon it were only entitled to a rent-charge. The landlords had really been frightened by a shadow in this matter of the tenant's occupation right. All that was claimed for the the tenant was that that occupation right should be taken into account in the first fixing of a fair rent, and not that it should go on reducing the landlord's interest after every 15 years' period, when the holding was brought into Court again. He should have been glad had the Government's Amendment to the Lords' Amendment been accepted yesterday, for they would have for the first time the occupation interest of the tenant recognised by the law of England, and a long advance would have been made on the weary pilgrimage of the Celtic serf to freedom. That Amendment would have been passed unanimously yesterday, and the House would not have got into the present tangle, had not the hon. Member for Mayo unfortunately interposed when it was put from the Chair, and said he did not understand. [Ministerial laughter.] Unhappily, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College was in his place also, and he having reinforced the arguments of the hon. Member for East Mayo against the Amendment, the Government had to give way, and had to do the best they could to retrieve the situation in the House of Lords. He rejoiced that the House of Lords, with its concentrated wisdom coming down from the days of the Norman Conquerors, had reduced themselves to the position in which he found them with regard to this Amendment, because a more harmless one never emanated from that Assembly, or one that touched so little the interests of the Irish tenant. The Lords had made themselves a soft bed to fall upon, and they had fallen upon it, drawing their ermine round them with the greatest grace. [Ministerial laughter.] Ireland was an impressionist country, and so much depended on the transitory opinion of the moment. He had known Judges take one view of the law when a Liberal Government was in power, and another view when a Tory Government was in power, and yet they were always regarded as most eminent, virtuous, and respectable. The Amendment left the law exactly as it found it. Taking the case as a whole, he could only say he trusted that the example the Government had had of their successful management, though in a limited measure, of this thorny and difficult question would induce them on some near occasion to address themselves to other branches of the Irish problem—[Ministerial laughter]—and he could assure them that, as far as his humble voice and vote went, thanking them as he did heartily for the good work they had done on this Bill, that if they proceeded as they had done in regard to this Bill, and addressed themselves to future Measures as they had done to this, they would have his cordial support and acquiescence. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)

said he would not follow the hon. Member who had just spoken into the imaginary historical dissertations he had given on the question of occupation right. He told the House that, according to Irish traditions, occupation interest had been the immemorial possession of the tenants. The amount of exaggeration attached to that statement might be imagined when the House recollected that, as stated on Wednesday, the suggestion of this right was first made in 1894, when Mr. Justice Bewley was examined before Mr. Morley's Committee on the Irish Land Acts. On Wednesday there was a consensus of opinion between the Leader of the House and himself upon the real meaning of the Acts of 1881, and the rights of the tenants thereunder, and the Committee appointed to draw up the reason for rejecting the Lords' Amendment said the Lords ought not to insist on introducing occupation right, because no such right in fact existed; and it being stated by the Leader of the House that no such right existed, it was proper for the House of Lords to say whether some Amendment might not meet their view, which would at the same time do no injury to the tenants or take away anything they had under the existing Acts, and protect them in the future from the assertion of a right which the Leader of the House said never existed. That was what the Amendment proposed by the Government did. But Mr. Justice Bewley said the matter had never been decided. All the Amendment did was to state in effect that, if the matter was relied upon and regarded in the assessment of the rent by the Sub-Commissioners, they must put it on the face of the order so that it might be tested in the Court of Appeal, and they might see whether it was a mere myth of the imagination of the learned Judge who introduced it to the Morley Committee, or whether it was a substantial matter. The tenant would have all he was entitled to under the Act of 1881, and no more; and no one ever wished to go back upon that. ["Hear, hear!"]


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why he occupied the unusual position of supporting the Government Amendment? ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.]


admitted that it did seem rather curious, and he was stating the reasons why he found himself occupying that somewhat happy position. The hon. Member for Louth stated that the tenants had now what they always had under the Land Acts, but what they wished was that they should not have something more, which was suggested in an indefinite manner, or that if it was attempted to give them more there should, at all events, be an opportunity of raising the question in the highest Court of Appeal. ["Hear, hear!"] This was the last time there would be an opportunity, of speaking on this Bill, and he only wished to say he had to the best of his ability opposed the Government in certain particulars in which he believed he was bound by his pledges to his constituents to do so. His efforts had been directed to mitigating any evils that might arise from the Bill. He admitted that on some occasions he did appear to some hon. Members to have gone too far. If anything he had said in the course of the Debates had offended anyone, he regretted it exceedingly. ["Hear, hear!"] He could only say that, while he had had many tussles during the Debates with the Chief Secretary, he was perfectly sure that, as he gave him credit, the right hon. Gentleman would also give him credit for this—that all they differed upon was as to the best method of promoting what they both had seriously at heart—namely, the interests of Ireland and the maintenance of the Union. [Cheers.]


observed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that a Committee of the House had placed on record the fact that it refused to accept the Lords' Amendments, denying the tenant occupation right, on the express ground that no such right existed. He rose for the purpose of giving that statement the most absolute contradiction. ["Hear, hear!"] There was not one word in the Commons' reasons to bear out such an allegation. The reasons stated— The Commons disagree with the Amendment made by the Lords because (1), after a net fair rent has been fixed no deduction can he made from it. Nobody ever alleged that the occupation rent could be deducted from a net fair rent, which meant a fair rent from which all deductions had been made. The reasons went on— (2) The only deduction allowed by the clause from the gross fair rent in order to fix the net fair rent is in respect of tenants' improvements. That was the position the Irish Members had taken up from the beginning to the end of this question. The fair rent was the tenant's right to have a fair rent fixed after taking into account such occupation right as the law entitled him to. When they had fixed the gross fair rent on that basis they arrived at the net fair rent by deducting from the gross the value of the tenant's improvements. He was certainly amazed that the right hon. Gentleman, with his Parliamentary experience, should venture to get up and, without the smallest qualification, say the Committee had placed it on record that that House had refused to recognise the tenant's occupation right.


I say so still.


He put forward the reasons given by a Committee of that House as the charter of the tenants' rights. That occupation right had now got a sanction from that solemn declaration of that Committee, coupled by the refusal of that House to accept the Lords' Amendment negativing the tenants' occupation right. With that declaration he fearlessly left this matter to the judgment of the tenants of Ireland.


said he had always heard that Irishmen were so fond of fighting each other. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"] He withdrew that expression. They were so fond of fighting that, if they could not fight the Government, and if they could not fight the opposite political Party, they got up faction fights of their own and fought about anything that no one could determine at all. [Laughter.] If that were true he could only say that they could not have had a better illustration of it than the little fight they had seen across the floor of the House on this Amendment, because it was quite evident that, though the hon. and learned Member for Louth made a very interesting and an amusing attack upon his right hon. and learned Friend behind him, and, though his right hon. and learned Friend behind him made a most interesting reply to the hon. and learned Member for Louth, they were both in absolute agreement that the words introduced by the Lords left the law of the land as it stood at present—["hear, hear!"]—and they both thought that a most desirable consummation. [Laughter.] If that were true—and it was true—why should they go on discussing it? [Cheers.] They were both agreed that the Amendment carried out what they wanted. In Heaven's name, therefore, let them leave the discussion, too long prolonged, upon that controversial matter and let them part in peace and close the subject, which had caused too many heart-burnings during the Debates they had spent upon it. He was glad to think that, in the last Debate on this Bill, they were in perfect agreement. The House of Commons agreed with the House of Lords; the Gentlemen who sat upon the opposite side of the House agreed with the Gentlemen who sat on his own side of the House; the representative of the tenants agreed with the representatives of the landlords, and at last a great peace had descended upon the land. [Loud laughter and cheers.]

Amendment agreed to; remaining Lords' Amendments considered, and agreed to.

The conclusion of the consideration of the Lords' Amendments was greeted with general cheering, and as Mr. Gerald Balfour left the House he was warmly cheered.