HC Deb 28 July 1896 vol 43 cc870-5

"(1) Where a tenancy in a holding began not less than one year next before the tenant thereof applies to have a fair rent fixed for the holding, and the tenant so applying either has at any time, whether before or after the passing of this Act, been a present tenant of that holding or of the substantial part thereof, or was, before the twenty-third day of August, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven, a tenant of that holding or the substantial part thereof, the tenancy shall he a present tenancy within the meaning of the Laud Law Acts, and the application shall he deemed to have been made by a present tenant.

(2) If at any time the landlord and tenant so agree, a future tenancy shall become a present tenancy within the meaning of the Land Law Acts."

He said that if this, Bill were to have good results its scope ought to be as wide as possible, and many thousands of tenants, who were now future tenants, would, without this clause, be outside the Bill. In the present year no less than 2,238 present tenants had been converted into future tenants, and altogether quite 40,000 present tenancies had been destroyed, many because the fair rents could not be fixed in time. Then, the 7th Section of the Act of 1887 had worked more actual wrong to the tenants than the most barbarous evictions. He knew this was a drastic Amendment, but they should be willing to accept any reaasonable modification of it, or any material rearrangement of it, so long as these future tenancies were relieved from the hopeless condition in which they were at present. In the interests of peace, harmony, and good government, he hoped the Government would give some relief to a deserving body of men, a number of whom had been suffering cruel wrong.


stated that the effect of the 7th Clause of the Act of 1887 had been this—that by the receipt of a registered letter hundreds and thousands of tenants had lost all their rights under the Land Acts without knowing what had happened. Indeed, for a considerable period after the letter had reached them they had not the least idea of the disastrous consequences that had been inflicted upon them by a registered letter. Country people could not understand all the subtleties of an Act of Parliament, and He held that the old system of the Sheriff marching out with a force of constabulary to deprive the tenant of the right of occupation of his home was a more wholesome system, painful though it was, because it gave the man full warning of the chance wrought in his condition. Under the operation of the clause in question 30,000 or 40,000 tenants had been driven outside the pale of the law and were now future tenants at the mercy of the landlords, and just in the same position as if no Land Act had ever been passed at all. He received a letter the other day on behalf of 300 future tenants in one parish alone. He warned the Government that no Bill could settle the Irish Land Question which did not take into account the position of the future tenants, those tenants, most of them, being in their present position owing to the failure of the Government in the Act of 1887 to provide a remedy for a grievance which they admitted to exist.


said he was not going to ask the Government not to give way on this matter, because that was certain to produce a decision of the Government to give way. [Nationalist cheers.] But he was going, as an English Member representing an English constituency, to explain to English Members what was the difference between a present and a future tenant. The Act of 1881 created every tenant in possession a present tenant, and as such he had a right to get his rent fixed and a right to his improvements, but it was conditional on this, that when he had his rent fixed he paid it. He had been a Member of an East London constituency from 1886 to 1892, and had seen more evictions in East London during that period than he had seen in all his life in Ireland.


Did the English tenants build the houses they were evicted out of? [Nationalist cheers.]


hoped that no heat would be imported into the discussion, as they had up to this got on amicably together. [Laughter.] He would not ask the Government whether or not they were going to accept the Amendment, for they had done so many extraordinary things that one was never sure of them. But when he told English Members that future tenants were men who had lost their positions as present tenants, with fair rents fixed by the Land Courts, because they had not paid those rents, He felt sure that English Members would not support the Government if they gave way.


said his hon. Friend need not be afraid; the Government were not going to give way on the point. If a tenant were evicted from a holding he might be replaced as a present tenant if the landlord so desired; but if the landlord replaced the tenant as a future tenant, there could be no justification for the Government stepping in and saying that all future tenants should be present tenants. He believed that if the clause were passed it would be an incentive to landlords not to put back evicted tenants as they could only put them back as present tenants, but to let the holdings instead to other men as future tenants.


said that a clause similar to the one now under consideration was inserted after great deliberation in the Land Bill of the late Liberal Government, which passed its Second Reading last year. He thought the suggestion of the Chief Secretary that the effect of the clause would be to prevent the landlords from reinstating evicted tenants was rather strained, The meaning of the clause was that a man who had lost the status of a present tenant by eviction should be placed in the position of the present tenant again and have a fair rent fixed. It was unfortunate that the Bill of last year had not passed into law. If it had passed there would be some hope that the vexed question of landlord and tenant in Ireland would be settled for half a century; but they would be as badly off as ever after the present Bill had become the law

MR. JASPER TULLY) (Leitrim, S.

said the unfortunate condition of the future tenants was exemplified by the condition of the Madden tenants in the constituency he represented. These tenants, about 100 in number, owed in 1881 a couple of years' rent as a result of the great distress of the preceding years. When the Land Act of 1881 was passed the landlord came down on them, served them with ejectments, and thus deprived them of their status as tenants, which prevented them from going into the Land Court to have fair rents fixed. They were then compelled to accept agreements constituting them future tenants, and making their arrears a debt to be paid oft' in instalments. This landlord was, therefore, better off than landlords who treated their tenants with more wisdom and less harshness. It was not the good and generous landlords who would be touched by the clause, but the bad landlords, who were a constant source of trouble in Ireland.

MR. SMITH-BARRY) (Hunts, Huntingdon

said the condition of the future tenants had been much exaggerated, A few cases which had occurred on his own estate in Tipperary would show that future tenants were in as good a position as the present tenants. In one case a man paid down £600 for the sake of going into a farm as a future tenant; in another case between, £300 and £400, and in a third case £500, were paid for the interest in farms held under future tenancies.


gave instances of present tenants on his own estate who had gained a distinct advantage by being converted into future tenants.


explained that the class of future tenants was largely composed of men who were obliged to take advantage of the Arrears Act of 1882 These tenants found themselves in the position of owing one year's rent after they had taken advantage of the Act, and that liability debarred them from benefiting under the Land Act of 1881. Of course as had been shown, there were cases of men who had voluntarily consented to occupy the position of future tenants, and he admitted that as far as they were concerned, this clause perhaps went a little too far. It might be fair to exclude them from the operation of the clause until they should have been in possession of their holdings for five years. It should not be forgotten that the tenants who took advantage of the Arrears Act of 1882 were men who had been grievously rack-rented. It was computed that there were 40,000 future tenants in Ireland at present, and the process of converting present tenants into future tenants was proceeding at the rate of 3,000 a year. In a very short time a very large percentage of the total number of tenant-farmers in Ireland would have been converted into future tenants. It was to the advantage of the landlord to make his tenants future tenants, for he thus deprived them of the benefits of the Land Acts, and was able to extract from them the whole value of the produce of the soil. The hardship of the condition of a future tenant was chiefly felt in the poor districts of South Antrim, Mayo, and Galway. To large numbers of small tenants in the congested districts of the West, this Bill as it stood would not apply. If nothing was done for them he feared that these men might be driven to agitate in order to force their grievances on the attention of the House.

Motion made and Question put, "That the clause be read a Second time."

The House divided:—Ayes, 97; Noes, 189.—(Division List, No. 354.)

The following clause stood upon the Paper in the name of Sir Thomas Lea:—