§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *MR. MACVEAGH (Down, S.)
in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said I he would appeal to the House to give the measure a fair and even friendly consideration. He knew full well that in some quarters an invitation of that character was thrown away. The hon. Member for Wandsworth, for example, gave notice of his intention to move the rejection of the; Bill without even taking the trouble of waiting to see what the Bill would propose to do; and when he took to the warpath and flourished his tomahawk before the Bill was even printed, they might fairly assume that he did not belong to the ranks of those who were open to argument. Evidently it was not the merits of the Bill that troubled him, but perhaps he had come to the conclusion that he should oppose every Irish Bill that came before the House until the Government surrendered to Wandsworth on his pet fad of redistribution. There was no subject more vital to the industrial revival of Ireland than the legal position of the town tenants, and this House, after 209 having by successive and deliberate Acts of Parliament suppressed the industries of Ireland, owed it to Ireland that it should turn a friendly ear to every reasonable proposal that sought to undo that evil work. The terrible drain on the population caused by the appalling emigration from the shores of Ireland must be stemmed, and to do so something more must be done than fix the farmer in his homestead, alleviate the hard lot of the agricultural labourer, or solve the problem of transit. The future of Ireland rested mainly in her towns and if they were to make the towns prosperous they must sweep away every obstacle to the revival of industries. And what greater or more deadly impediment could they find than a state of affairs under which, on the expiration of a lease, the landlords were permitted to evict solvent town tenants, without giving them compensation for their permanent improvements or for loss of business? It must be obvious that until this disgraceful practice was made impossible, the fear of eviction or confiscation would have a deterrent effect on private enterprise, and that less employment would be given, less valuable property would be created, and less prosperity would exist in every district than would be the case under an equitable system of tenure in towns. The landowner got a much higher rent for the use of his land for houses and shops than for any other purpose. Now, what happened? A building lease was granted, the house was built, and an increased rent had to be paid by every householder to enable the builder or buyer of the house to get his money back, because at the end of the lease the landowner was entitled to claim the house, and also send in a claim for dilapidations, even if the house was going to be pulled down and rebuilt. Was this system calculated to give the working classes the best housing accommodation possible for the money they could afford to pay in rent?
As regarded business premises, the leasehold system operated with greater injustice; the lessor granted a lease and many tradesmen spent large sums in improving their premises, but when they asked for a renewal of the lease, they had to pay an increased rent based 210 upon the improved value caused by their own outlay. The short lease system allowed the ground landlord, without any trouble, industry, or expenditure, to step into an increment at the termination of the lease. It prevented thrift in the working classes and damaged co-operative and building societies, and its effects were peculiarly oppressive to the working classes. It encouraged jerry-building and insufficient maintenance of houses, and tended to raise rents. It produced fag ends of terms of years, and encouraged the house-farmers to buy them up, and, neglecting all duties attaching to property, tended to impoverish the poor. Instead of merely securing protective covenants it enabled the monopolist landlord to impose vexatious and restrictive covenants according to his caprice—covenants which were wholly unnecessary for the security of his rentannuity. He knew of one very enterprising town manufacturing firm in the town of Blarney who had built a magnificent factory and one hundred houses for workmen on a leasehold site. They got no Government loan; every stone was laid and paid for with their own money, and the valuation was over £900 a year; but at the expiry of the lease every inch of the property would be confiscated to the landlord. Was that honest or was it calculated to encourage the country's industrial development? There was not a constituency in Ireland where cruel injustice had not been worked, time and again, against industries and well deserving tenants. Quite recently there came under his notice a case in Hilltown, county Down, where the rent of James Gribbon was actually trebled on the expiry of his lease, although the landlord never spent one penny on the property. In the I neighbouring town of Rathfriland tenants had expended considerable sums of money, only to find, when they thought to put their property in the market, that the landlord denied that the tenant had any right to build, or that the purchaser had any right to fixity of tenure for any period whatever. He knew of two cases in Castlewellan, also in his own constituency, where Lord Annesley arbitrarily evicted two of the most respectable shopkeepers, Mr. James Murray, J.P., and the late Mr. John M'Kenny, and confiscated their property, 211 their improvements, and actually their means of livelihood. All over the Annesley property, in fact, the landlord regarded as solely and entirely his own the houses on which he had never spent a penny, and the law left the poor tenants entirely at his mercy. This same gentleman was also owner of the town of Newcastle, county Down, a sea-side resort which was capable of enormous development, and it was not too much to say that his system of control of the town was the greatest obstacle to its prosperity, and that any improvement which might be made in it would be made, not with his aid, but in spite of him. He owned the land, and would only give building leases on exorbitant terms, and if any resident was aggrieved he had no alternative but to clear out and start life in some other part of the country, where perhaps he would find himself equally dependent on the whim of some other ground landlord.
The position was an absolutely intolerable one all over Ireland, and had only to be stated to make clear what a blighting influence it exercised on the industrial life of the community. These were cases in his own constituency, and if he went outside of that constituency he should be confronted with an embarrassment of riches in the same direction; but he had occasion the other day to investigate a case in Dublin which might be worth bringing under notice. Mr. J. J. Lalor became tenant of a shop in North Earl Street. He took it on a ten years lease at a rent of £156, and at the end of that time, having meantime built up a business there which he could not afford to sacrifice, the landlord took advantage of the fact to demand an increase of £100 a year in the rent. Mr. Lalor offered to pay £228 a year instead of £150, if he could get a renewal of the lease for twenty years; and what was the landlord's answer? A notice to quit within seventeen days! He eventually condescended, however, to agree to a lease for fourteen years at the increased rent of £210. The landlord, he might mention, was Sir Joseph Downes, who posed as a philanthropist, and from time to time gave generous subscriptions to char table institutions; but if this was the way he got his money, he would 212 suggest that he should henceforth credit the subscriptions to his unfortunate tenants. Mr. Gladstone once spoke of Irish evictions as "sentence of death," and every terminable leasehold in Ireland had in it, according to present conditions and present methods, the material for a sentence to social death. Moreover, it told over again the old story of Sisyphus, for at the end of every period the process had to be begun anew. Wherever one travelled in Ireland to-day he found not only ruined castles, once the homes of prosperity and wealth, and roofless homesteads from which the once happy families had been evicted, but, what was even worse, ruined towns whose industries had been throttled, and the bulk of whose inhabitants had been scattered over the world. The only effect of the systems which had been set up had been to make wealth accumulate and men decay—to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Take, too, the position of the artisans. In nearly every town in Ireland they were in no better position than lodgers on sufferance. They might be the most industrious, hardworking, and deserving members of the community, but for two successive weeks they could not call their home their own. In any week they might, at the whim or caprice of the landlord or his agent, be turned out on the street, and they were absolutely without redress. Surely some security of tenure, some protection against the indulgence of personal spleen or political vengeance, should be vouchsafed to the workman who was willing to pay for the accommodation he received, who sought no favours, and who wanted only to be left alone. This question touched the roots of society. Be he peer or be he peasant, the home was his most sacred possession, and no statesman could afford to ignore sentiment in the government of a nation. "The glory of a nation," said John Bright, "is in the happiness of its cottage homes," but what was the position in Ireland? A member of the Government, Sir Horace Plunkett, said in his recent book—The Irishman scarcely seems to have a home in the sense in which an Englishman understands the word. If he love the place of his habitation he does not endeavour to improve or to adorn it, or, indeed, to make it in any sense a reflection of his own mind and taste. He treats life 213 as if he were a mere sojourner upon earth, whose true home is somewhere else, a fact often attributed to his intense faith in the unseen, but which I regard as not merely due to this cause, but also, and in a large measure, as the natural outcome of historical conditions.In the city of Belfast matters had been different, because for the past century the ground landlords, the successive Marquesses of Donegal, had been accustomed to grant leases for 999 years, with the result that houses and factories sprang up, and industries were established, until, what a century ago was an unimportant town, had become one of the most prosperous cities in the three Kingdoms. They used to hear much in the land question about the Ulster custom, but there was also a Belfast custom in leaseholds which might with advantage be extended to all Ireland. In Lurgan and in Lisburn the same results had followed the giving of long leases of fee-farm grants. Generally speaking, in fact, the position of tenants in towns in Ulster was much better than in the other three provinces; but taking the country as a whole the condition of house property in the towns was appalling and disgraceful.
Moreover, in no foreign country that he had read of, except perhaps Turkey, did such inequitable laws prevail in regard to the tenure of houses in towns. The system under which the houses built by the tenants became the property of the landlords at the end of a term was unknown in Austria. In Belgium the houses were freehold property. In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, the landlord must either buy at the official valuation all tenements built by the lessee, or have them removed. House property in Germany was invariably held on freehold tenure, whilst in Italy the tenant could compulsorily acquire his house; and so on in every European country, including even Russia. It was a common idea, however, that the residents of towns in England suffered in the same way as tenants in towns in Ireland, but nothing could be further from the fact. The evidence published in 1887 by the Town Holdings Committee gave no less than 318 returns or statements from town clerks and local solicitors—persons who were specially qualified to give information, and through whom, in fact all the title-deeds and documents had been prepared—as to the tenure prevailing in 258 214 towns. An analysis of the returns showed that out of the 2,600,000 inhabited houses in England and Wales, outside the Metropolis, only 136,584 of those houses had been built exclusively on the short leasehold system; and when the details were examined, it would be found that all the towns in which the short leasehold had been adopted were towns of comparatively recent growth, and only built or developed during the last fifty years. The great towns of Manchester, Wolverhampton, Bristol, Newcastle, Nottingham, Hull, and other such like towns, had, in fact, all been developed on one or other of the freehold systems. But even if the same system did prevail in the two countries, he denied that there was any parallel. The social and economic conditions in England were entirely different from those in Ireland. In the one there was a commercial community which had made, and was still making, enormous strides in population and in wealth; whilst in the other there was a country from which, by deliberate legislation, the Government had expelled industry, and in which in half a century they had reduced the population by one half. The result was, of course, that the artisans had less work and lower wages, and the shopkeepers had just half as many customers. In England, moreover, the public had a safeguard in that excellent thing known as public opinion, which always restrained the landlord; but no such power existed in Ireland, where the landlord based his hope of Government support on his scorn and contempt for the opinions of the people from whom he drew his income. Or take Scotland. Some critics had the hardihood to refer to its people and its customs as "unspeakable," and to suggest that its laws were relics of barbarism; but its worst enemies could not deny that Scotland had a short and simple way of dealing with land sharks. There when a man desired to get land on which to erect a dwelling-house, with ground attached, or without it, he took what was called a feu, and if he was a vassal of the original holder it was in name only. The ground became his in perpetuity, and no one could wrest it from him or put a tax upon his industry.
The Bill which he now submitted to the House proposed to allow a tenant (1) 215 right of making improvements and being allowed compensation for them; (2) to have a fair rent fixed; (3) to have his lease, at its expiration, renewed for a period of not less than that for which the holding was held under the expired lease, at a rent in default of an agreement, to be fixed by the County Court Judge; (4) to go before the Court in the case of a dispute with his landlord in regard to raising of the rents or capricious evictions; (5) and suggesting various amendments to the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, 1899. It could not be alleged, he thought, that these proposals were drastic or revolutionary. The County Court Judges in Ireland would not be accused of possessing extravagant prejudices against the landlords, for nearly all of them had been put where they were because they contested political elections in the landlords' interests. Moreover, the objects which the Bill had in view have been approved by Committees of this House. The Town Holdings Committee, in their final Report, recommended the principle of the Bill on the following grounds —After the statements laid before us by various witnesses, we cannot doubt that the ownership by a working man of the house he occupies is one of the strongest inducements to those habits of life which make him a good citizen and a useful member of the community, and that this stimulus is more strongly felt in the case of a man who has or can obtain the freehold than in that of a lessee for a term of years.Whilst Parliament should also bear in memory the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes in their Supplementary Report, namely—That legislation favourable to the acquisition on equitable terms of the freehold interest on the part of the leaseholder would conduce greatly to the improvement of the dwellings of the people of this country.on the ground that—The prevailing system of building leases is conducive to had building, to deterioration of property towards the close of the lease, and to a want of interest on the part of the occupier in the house he inhabits.and that—The system of building on leasehold land is a great cause of the many evils connected with overcrowding, insanitary buildings, and excessive rents.Some men had, it was urged, invested money in house property, and occupied to-day the position of middlemen; and 216 it was said we should be careful to see that they obtained a fair return for the money they had invested. He absolutely accepted that proposition, but said that care should also be taken that the house-jobbers and the jerry-builders should not be allowed to grow rich at the cost of the poor, and that they should not be be permitted to accumulate wealth by dipping their hands in the tills of industrious tradesmen or in the pockets of hard-working artisans. House property as well as landed property had its duties as well as its rights, and until the holders were forced to do their duty to the community we could not hope to make headway with the housing of the poor or the better accommodation of the labouring classes. He hoped, therefore, that the House would assent to the Second Reading of this Bill, and allow it to go to a Committee upstairs, where its details could be discussed, and where such alterations could be made as might be found necessary. Any crank could criticise the phraseology of the Bill, but he and his friends were not wedded to every clause, and they were quite willing to agree to any amendments which it might be thought desirable to incorporate. He presumed, from the absence of the Chief Secretary, that the Attorney-General for Ireland would speak on behalf of the Government; and, if so, he hoped they might, for once, be favoured with a broad and statesmanlike pronouncement on the question of compensation for improvements, instead of the pettifogging analysis of a second-rate attorney. There was no danger of any legislation of this kind being either unjust or hasty, for after the Bill had avoided the Scylla of the Grand Committee it would have to face the Charybdis of this House again on the Report stage, and still again on the Third Beading. If it were fortunate enough to escape shipwreck there, it would afterwards have to go before another House, where, it was rumoured, the landlords were fairly well represented; and, as they had never been suspected of being negligent in the defence of their own interests, he thought the House might rest assured that there were abundant safeguards against injustice to the landlords. This was a Parliament of compromises, and in such a Parliament they could not hope to get all they were 217 entitled to, but they did ask that they should receive at least an instalment of justice on this great national question. He hoped they should not have a repetition of the old, old story of English rule in Ireland—namely, the refusal of redress of a grievance until it had become dangerous to refuse it longer. They all knew, from the experience of history, the routine of Irish reform: first, the blank refusal, secondly, the public agitation and unrest, thirdly, the inevitable spell of coercion, and, finally, the reform. Delays were proverbially dangerous. It was an historical fact that when the Irish land question was first introduced in this House the only demand made was the modest one of compensation for disturbance. Justice was denied, and they knew the result. He hoped the Government would not repeat that experiment, and would not wait until the sand had begun to run down the hour-glass of the ground landlords of Ireland.
If he had been present, he would have appealed to the Chief Secretary—whose general sympathy they recognised, and whose soft words and blarney they appreciated without being deceived by them— to break away on this occasion from the evil traditions of the office which he filled, and to allow, for once, the views of the Irish representatives to have some weight in the removal of a great grievance, which, so long as it remained unredressed, could not fail to largely nullify the efforts of all who were seeking to restore the industrial and commercial prosperity of Ireland and promote the comfort and happiness of its people. The British Parliament might give free education, might dump down light railways all over the land, might make technical schools as numerous as blackberries in the season, might exude cheap sympathy with industrial revivals; but unless they made the home a reality to the people they would not solve the social problem. The people of Ireland wanted to make the houses in their towns places fit to live in; to put a premium on honest labour instead of penalising it; to alter a system which aimed at making the rich richer and the poor poorer; and in the confidence that the Bill which he now proposed would do something towards achieving that consummation, he left it to 218 the judgment of the House. It might be that the Government would accept it or they might reject it, and whichever way they decided their trusting majority, without listening to a word of the debate, would, when the division bells rang, troop into the lobby to support them; but the rejection of the Bill would not dispose of the question It would come up again and again; and sooner or later —more probably sooner than later—it would, like every reform demanded by the Irish representatives in that House find its place in the Statute-book. He was not without a hope that the Government would accept the Bill that day, and that they would decline to wait until delay had robbed the concession of all its grace.
§ MR. CHARLES DEVLIN (Galway)
said that in supporting the Motion for the Second Beading of this Bill, the object of which was to improve the position of tenants in towns in Ireland, and which ha d been so ably moved by his hon. friend the Member for South Down, he would use very few words. Around him were hon. Gentlemen who had consecrated to the study of this problem long years and very anxious thought. Never for a moment— even when engaged in the struggle for the settlement of other great and pressing questions, had they lost sight of the interests of town tenants. He would not stand in the way of their presenting to the House the important views which they had. It was admitted that legislation on this subject was necessary. It was one of actuality, and no better proof of this could be adduced than the long agitation which had existed to bring about an improvement, the meetings which had been held, the associations formed in every town in Ireland, the resolutions passed, and the determination in every quarter, that something must be done to put an end, once for all, to a most serious grievance. He maintained that not only was there a well-supported demand for legislation, but there was, as well, an absolute necessity for the same. He hoped, since the Irish Government had not taken the initiative in this matter, that they would at all events extend sufficient sympathy to enable this Bill to become law. The House was not dealing 219 with a subject capable of arousing religious or political bitterness. Far from it. This Bill, which affected the well-being of the overwhelming majority of the masses of the cities and towns of Ireland, ought to commend itself to hon. Gentlemen from all quarters of the House. It went to the very root of much misery and discontent, and it proposed no small measure of relief and security. Roman Catholic and Protestant alike were interested in its fate, and both were bound to benefit by the provisions of the measure. It was not a question upon which Nationalists and Unionists could well hold different views, for the demand for this legislation came from the North and the South, from the East and the West; from those of every shade of political thought and religious view. If there was one feature more striking than another in this Bill, it was the extreme moderation of the demands made. When he contrasted the position of the town inhabitants of other countries with those of the town tenants of Ireland, he had the right to claim that this Bill was one of the most just and needful, one of the most temperate and moderate, ever presented to Parliament. Not only was the proprietor in many other countries obliged by law to carry out the improvements which he and his friends sought, but every protection was provided for the comfort and well-being of the occupier. He had seen the great labouring classes in many towns in other countries the absolute owners of their houses and the land on which they were built, with the natural result of the embellishment and interest in everything connected with them. They made their houses homes, sweet homes.
England's law had made Ireland a nation of tenants. It had taken the land from the people and had practically kept the people houseless and homeless. But it had never been able to extinguish the race. They were as much alive to-day as ever, and as fully determined to see everything wrong put right as at any period of their history. What they asked was that some protection, some security, should be given to the tenants in the towns of Ireland. In the constituency which he had the honour to represent the greatest interest was taken in this 220 subject. There was a very considerable area of Galway city which was completely closed against the people, and the authorities were powerless to deal with the matter. What had happened? The city authorities were powerless to meet the difficulty. What happened? The difficulty was met in the most practical and patriotic way, not by any law passed by this House, but by an enlightened gentleman in the city, the Rev. Father Dooley. He recognised that there were many people in the city who could not get the houses and the homes they required. He borrowed a very considerable sum of money; and having secured a site he built quite a number of excellent modern houses on it which he gave to the artisan and labouring classes in Galway. The occupier paid an annuity—which incidentally he might observe was less than the rent he would otherwise have to pay—and at the end of twenty years the house became the absolute property of the occupier, the debt was extinguished, and he was glad to say no loss was incurred by the rev gentleman who undertook this very noble and patriotic project.
He observed on the Notice Paper Motions for the rejection of this Bill. The Bill dealt with Ireland but did not apply to England and Scotland; and he thought that hon. Gentlemen who had tabled those Motions would be displaying a very gracious spirit if they allowed the Irish Members to carry the Bill at any rate into Committee. It was possible that the Bill was not drafted as well as every hon. Member would wish; but what Bill had ever been presented in the House which was not amended. Even Government Bills were susceptible to improvement; and as a matter of fact w-ere improved as they went through the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not perhaps understand the very great need of the legislation demanded in the Bill, and they should allow the measure to proceed to Committee, where the details would be fully and fairly considered. The Bill was a moderate one, its demands were fair and reasonable, and objection to any particular part of it could be taken in Committee. His hon. friend who moved the Second Reading made out a very fair and strong 221 case for the Bill, the principles of which were compensation for improvements lawfully made by the tenant; the settlement of grievances which might arise between landlord and tenant by the Courts of the land, which were established by this Parliament and by Judges in whom the Government had confidence; to give greater security to the tenant than he now enjoyed; and finally to facilitate loans in certain cases. He begged to second the Motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. MacVeagh.)
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
said he wished to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months, because he objected to it s principle and not to any details in its drafting. He know very well how difficult it was to frame a Bill; but there were two reasons why a Bill might be objectionable from a drafting point of view. One was the difficulty of drafting; and the other was where there was no clear idea in the mind of the draftsmen as to how effect would be given to its proposals. These were different objections to objections which might be urged in Committee. He ventured to suggest that the framer of the Bill had hardly realised its true effect. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken said he desired the Bill because it would improve the towns; but from his knowledge of Irish or English towns he believed the Bill would materially injure them. The hon. Member for South Down said an argument in favour of the Bill was the system of short building leases. He was not called upon to defend the ninety-nine years system, but it certainly had the approval of an enormous number of people including both builders and purchasers of houses. He had in his mind a case where a man built a large number of houses and offered to sell them either on a long lease or as freehold. The price of the freehold was £850, £650 being the price of the lease. In nine cases out of ten the purchaser preferred to buy the lease, the reason being that he was able to produce the £650, but was either unable or unwilling to pay £850. The purchaser did not seem to care that at 222 the end of ninety-nine years the property would pass away from him. It was very seldom indeed that houses of the working classes were now-a-days built so substantially that they would be very much use at the end of ninety-nine years. More than that, it was wise not to build too substantially because the requirements of the future would probably not be the same as the requirements of the present day. He himself lived in a house in Ireland that had been standing for many hundreds of years. It was not a business premises, and if it were it would not now be suitable for that purpose.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON
said he had the house for ever, and therefore had no lease. It would not be to the interests of the working classes that houses should be built very substantially at an enormous cost, because that would make rents very much higher. On the whole, he believed that the working classes benefited by the short lease system, especially as they could not afford the price of a freehold. When houses were being built, in almost every case the landlord had to find the money, and he found it in one of two ways. He either built, himself, by contract, and then granted leases, or he let the land to a builder who put up the buildings on condition that he received a lease for ninety-nine years. But when the landlord did that, he almost invariably had to advance three-fourths of the money to the builder. Without that system there would not be so much building as there was in the neighbourhood of London, for instance. The Bill would put an end to that system in Ireland; but not a single word had been said to differentiate Ireland from England in this respect. The argument of hon. Members was in the main that the leasehold, system should be abolished but they did not differentiate the case of Ireland from that of England. He should certainly object to the compulsory prohibition of a system which had been found to be of such great convenience, and he did not see why any 223 differentiation should be made between Ireland and England in this matter.
The first clause corresponded with the Bill introduced in the year 1886, which was objected to by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, and it did not appear to be directed so much to the length of the leases as to the improvements which might be made by a tenant. But if a tenant, who had a short tenancy, were allowed to get compensation for improvements made without the consent of the landlord, and which in the opinion of the landlord might not be considered improvements at all, it would certainly check the building of houses in the future. Under this Bill a man might be compelled to pay enormously for so-called improvements which he did not want, merely because the tenant chose to make them, and it must be remembered that the landlords were very often much worse off than their tenants, and they might be subjected to such charges by the tenants that they could not buy the tenant out. Was it to be said that because a tenant had made improvements he was to be left there for ever! If so, that was practically confiscating the landlord's property. The effect and intention of the second clause was to give the tenant a right to sell to somebody else to whom the landlord would be liable for the improvements made. Clause 3 dealt with future improvements to be made. Under this clause the landlord was not to have the right of objecting to such improvements. If he said he did not like the proposed improvement then he was to be taken to some Court which was to decide whether a tenant was to improve his landlord's property or not. Surely that could not be the intention of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Such a thing could not possibly be allowed. There was no reason why a man should be allowed to make alterations to another man's property. Clause 4 gave the mean landlord a claim over that of the superior landlord. With regard to this clause he would point out that in Ireland there were considerably more sub-leases granted than in England, and properties rose in that way to a very good rent indeed. Was this liability to be passed on right up to the man that had the head rent? Because if 224 so it would have the effect of confiscating the first owner's property entirely. A further clause provided that no contract should be entered into between a landlord and a tenant which would deprive the tenant of his right to claim compensation under this Act. Let the House consider what that meant. It meant that a landlord would not dare to let his house on any tenancy whatever, because if a man took the house for two years only, directly he got possession he might say, "I want to make some improvements here, and if you don't like it you must come to the Court, which will say whether I may make them," or in other words, "you will have to compensate me for what I have done at the end of my tenancy." The provision for the fixing of fair rents, which was not in the Bill of 1886, was put in very vague terms, probably intentionally, but possibly because the scheme had not been thoroughly thought out, but the effect of that provision was that any man who became a tenant, if he became only a weekly tenant, could retain his tenancy for ever and have his rent fixed. Now it surely could not be contended that anybody who took a house might stay in it for ever, but if it was, was it likely that anyone in the future would build a house when he knew that directly he let it, on whatever terms he might let, the tenant would practically become his tenant in perpetuity? Such a state of things would discourage the whole of the building classes in Ireland, and while this would inflict an infinitesimal amount of harm on that class of landlords to which the hon. Member for South Down objected, it would do an enormous amount of injury to the ordinary, good landlords and tenants, and must, in the long run, ruin all the properties in the towns of Ireland. He begged to move.
§ *MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
said he should like to disabuse the mind of the mover of the Bill of any idea that in blocking the measure he had been animated by a general animosity towards Irish legislation. The hon. Member had inferred from the fact of his putting down a blocking Motion before he had obtained a printed copy of the Bill that he was opposed necessarily to all Irish measures; but 225 he would like to remind him that he had always taken an interest in questions of this nature, and the issue of the Bill by the printers having been delayed, he naturally made a guess as to what its contents would be. He thought he made an excellent guess on this occasion; he guessed that the Bill would be the same as one introduced about two years ago, and his guess proved accurate, for it was precisely the same.
§ *MR. KIMBER
said that in all his experience in that House he had never had any difficulty with Irish Members, and he hoped that that would continue to be the case, and to infer from the circumstances which had just occurred that he was set against all Irish legislation was absurd. In fact, he wished to enlist the sympathy of the Irish Members in a grievance—an electoral grievance in which he was particularly interested, and he thought he would be acting most foolishly by opposing that or any other measure unless he could show good grounds for so doing. The hon. Member who had moved the rejection of the Bill had been resident in Ireland for some years, and he had had considerable experience of property there. Now he (the speaker) was opposing this Bill on grounds of principle, because he found that parts of these proposals were being applied, bit by bit, to the whole of the United Kingdom. It was a Bill, they were told, to remedy a grievance. But what was that grievance? He had listened to the speeches of both the mover and the seconder in order to ascertain what the grievance was, and who were the aggrieved parties. In all the instances hon. Members had cited they did not raise any question of the housing of the poor at all. The cases which they had put forward were the cases of well-to-do business men who must be presumed to have brains and a capacity for making contracts.
§ *MR. MACVEAGH
said he did quote the case of a very poor tenant whose rent was £1 per year, which, at the expiry of the lease, was raised to £3, a very serious matter for a man of that class.
§ *MR. KIMBER
suggested that the remedy applied in that case was almost absurd. It was to give a man who could not afford to pay a £3 rent the right to buy up the landlord's freehold. It was an insult to a poor man in such a position to give him such a power. But nearly all the cases cited by the hon. Member had to do with well-to-do business men. There was a case quoted of a miller who had taken a lease of some land and built a mill on it. Surely he was capable of doing business as well as the landowner, and in his experience the miller or the tradesman was much more likely to be able to get the benefit of such a contract than the landlord. The hon. Member did not tell them, as one of the ingredients of the contract, what were the terms of the lease of the land on which the house was built.
§ *MR. KIMBER
said it did not matter whether it was 40, 60, 100, or even only 10 years; the man entered into a contract, he was supposed to be capable of making a contract, and he deliberately agreed to do so. He was in the position, in fact, of forecasting what the possession of the land for forty years would enable him to do, and he came to the conclusion, apparently, that it would enable him to build the mill. He (Mr. Kimber) could tell the hon. Member that he had had considerable experience in dealing with property in this country, and he could assert without fear of contradiction that as between the freeholder and the building lessee, the latter nearly always got the best of the bargain. He made more money out of the contract than did the landlord. It was well known that the reversion of land leased at eighty years was not worth anything appreciable to the landlord until the lease had run out to less than fifty years, and then there was a reversionary value during the remainder of the term but the lessee generally got 6 per cent, on his outlay, which yielded him 5 per cent, for interest and 1 per cent, for sinking fund, which paid off his principal in forty-one years, and gave him the rest of the term for nothing. So much, then, for the disadvantages which the building lessee was supposed to be under. The point was 227 that the mill-owner entered into the contract with his eyes open. He was a free man, and presumably ho only made the contract because he thought it was worth his while to do so.
§ *MR. MACVEAGH
But what is the position of the mill-owner when his landlord practically owns the whole town? Has he freedom of contract?
§ *MR. KIMBER
said there were two parties to all contracts. The Bill suggested that the one who was hurt by having entered into the contract ought to be relieved by legislation; but if that were to become the duty of Parliament, the work of the House of Commons would never be completed. He would like to point out that considerable difficulties might arise from giving this power to purchase the freehold to only one of the parties to the contract. Why should not the landlord, who was the original owner, and in contact with whom the lessee might never have needed to come, have an equal power of buying out the lessee's interest? One of the curious consequences of the Bill would be that when once a man had become the tenant of a shop or a house, for however short a time, he could forcibly buy up the property of all the preceding owners, and even of other tenants who were on the same footing as himself. That was what he objected to on principle. The seconder of the Bill had given an interesting account of a Gal way case in which a certain benevolent gentleman had been enabled to supply the want of houses without the help of an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. CHARLES DEVLIN
said he had mentioned that case in order to prove the absolute necessity which existed for a Bill of the present kind, and in stating that particular case he had pointed out that the owner of the property had had to borrow money in order to secure the improvements, and that he got no profit in return.
§ *MR. KIMBER
said that the main objection to the Bill was that it destroyed freedom of contract between men who were capable of doing business on equal terms, and took away the ability to maintain contracts when made. 228 Freedom of contract was a leading principle of our law, and it was consecrated in the constitution of the American Union. In fact, it was so unalterable a term in the American Constitution that no law that was inconsistent with it could be passed. All sorts of evils followed any tampering with this principle. One set of men were given power to tyrannise over another set. What were the grievances to be remedied? What injury were the public suffering because A could not get property belonging to B? Was it good for society that A should be enabled to force B against his will to sell his property? The Legislature had adopted the principle that only for works of great public utility were compulsory powers of expropriation to be granted. Why should the House be asked to pass special legislation in favour of a very small, and that not a poor class of men, when there was no public end to be served? Moreover, the proposal would tend to recklessness of contract, and that was not to the benefit of any community in the world. He might multiply the objections to the Bill, but, as many others desired to speak, he would content himself by seconding the Amendment.
To leave out the word 'now' and at the end of the Question to add the words' upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Herbert Robertson.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. MOONEY (Dublin County, S.)
said the hon. Member who had just spoken was the apostle of the gospel that the Irish people were over-represented in the House of Commons, but if that were the case, it was a curious fact that, when a Bill dealing exclusively with Ireland came up for consideration, the Opposition should come from such typical Irish constituencies as Tunbridge Wells, Hackney, Yarmouth, and Wandsworth. Here was a Bill dealing with a grievance which was not confined to one locality in Ireland, but was admitted in Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, and it had to be brought to the English House of Commons, where its rejection was moved and seconded by Members from Hackney und 229 Wandsworth. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney was an attack not on the Bill, but on the building trade, for the whole argument was that a house could not be built to last through a ninty-nine years lease. The grievance in Ireland was that a landlord in Ireland was a different person altogether from an English landlord. In England in the majority of cases the rent paid to landlords simply covered with a slight profit, the interest on the money that such landlord, had spent upon the land or lands on the buildings thereon. In Ireland a landlord did not spend a single sixpence on 'the land; that was the point English Members failed to understand, as they were under the impression that the landland was simply getting the interest on the money he had spent. In Ireland the landlord originally obtained the land by confiscation or some other means; the land was let to a tenant; the farmer or shopkeeper who leased the land by his own ability and energy built up a goodwill in trade and: some buildings. The landlord did not contribute a single penny, but at the end of the lease he was entitled to confiscate not only the buildings but the goodwill also. It was regrettable that, although I this was really an Irish debate, the Chief Secretary had not found it convenient to attend. The promoters of the measure did not pretend that this was a perfect Bill. Doubtless the Attorney-General would be able to find in it many faults, But the Irish Party had not the advantage of two trained and well-paid legal advisers, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman would doubtless be able to recall recent cases in which the wording of certain Acts of Parliament for the legal clauses of which the Law Officers of the Crown were responsible had not been as lucid as it should have been. This was not a political, but an economic question, and should be dealt with as such and for this reason ho especially regretted the: absence of the Chief Secretary, who would undoubtedly reply in a less partisan spirit than the right hon. Gentlemen, the Attorney-General. He had in his possession a number of letters written by gentlemen in business in Kingstown, showing how they were affected by this grievance and he wished to state for the benefit of the Attorney-General that' all the cases he would cite, were from letters 230 sent by gentlemen who were not only his political supporters, but were his strong opponents. Men high in the councils of the Unionist Party. One case was when five acres of land was at a rental of £27 10s.; the present rental for a ninety-nine years lease of forty feet of the same land was £90, the increased value having been created not in any way by the landlord or his agent, but simply and solely by the energy and industry of the tenant. In another case a firm leased a piece of land at a heavy rental, intending to erect thereon buildings suitable for their business at a cost of £5,000, but they were simply told by the agent that, instead of buildings such as they required, they must erect buildings as directed by the landlord. Another letter was from a strong Unionist, personally known to the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General who wrote—Our position was that we had a house vi Kingstown at £77 valuation, for which we paid a fairly nominal head rent. The Lords of the Soil suddenly increased it 30s. per foot frontage, which we have to pay, as otherwise he would have to go and so forfeit our goodwill. To give you a contrast the Lords of the Soil in the Pembroke Township (in the best part of Baggot Street) only charge at the rate of 15s. per foot. Our former valuation was £77 together with another house at £44 making a total of £121. The probability is that with the £5,000 or so we had to spend on the house our valuation will be doubled. So in addition to paying double Municipal Rates, we have to send double the money to the Imperial Treasury. Police and Bridge Tax go up, and no redress, or account of how the money is spent.These were letters written by political opponents of his who had spent the best years of their lives in building up businesses, and who now, through no fault of their own, were placed in the position, possibly of ruining themselves by borrowing money to meet the exorbitant demands of the landlord. All that was asked for in this Bill was that the tenant might be compensated for any lawful improvement he made. They amply safeguarded the right of the landlord, and they asked that a fair rent might be fixed in the same way as was done in regard to the land. Objection had been taken to the provisions in regard to fixity of tenure, but they did not go so far as the law now in operation in Scotland, where the tenant paid a fixed rent which was never altered.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE (Antrim, N.)
said he wished to put before the House the opinion which the Ulster Members had arrived at with regard to this Bill. They had come to the conclusion that it contained at least two very valuable principles which they felt bound to adopt and they should therefore support the Bill in the Division Lobby. Having said that he hoped he should be allowed to differ from some of the statements which had been made by previous speakers in the debate. He knew that the present system inflicted a good deal of hardship upon the town tenants in Kingstown and Black Rock, but he wished to deal with the smaller country towns in Ulster with which he was more familiar. While he was not going to make any objection to the drafting of the Bill, he thought the hon. Member for South Down had put the thing too broadly. He was afraid that when the Bill came to the Committee stage it would not be found possible to leave it in the power of a monthly or a weekly tenant to become an owner in perpetuity. In the hard case of the manufacturer which had been cited he was prepared to give relief, but if he had built 100 cottages for men in his employ and any of those men were discharged, it meant putting a tax upon that manufacturer to provide another fifty cottages, or whatever it might be. It was obvious that in cases like that, where the tenure was short it would be impossible to give perpetuity because it was to the convenience of those tenants to have a short tenure, and this was also in the interest of the manufacturer who provided the cottages. His experience was that the majority of artisans preferred monthly or weekly lettings instead of a lease. The class moat affected in the North of Ireland was the shopkeeping class, or what he would call the lower middle class. This was not a question of the artisan but a question affecting the shopkeeper more than any other class, who had felt the hardship in the past, and who felt it at the present time, and these were the people who were pressing upon Unionist Members the desirability of a proper and legitimate reform in his matter. With regard to houses in the North of Ireland, there were very few landlords who would not be 232 pleased to get good tenants, and they would be quite ready to give a lease of ninety-nine years. The old houses were let generally by the lord of the soil, and he received about 1 per cent. of the rent for ever, but he had no concern with the betterment of the town. It amounted to this, that, in the case of old houses in Ulster towns, the landlord affected by this Bill would be another middle-class retired shopkeeper or present shopkeeper. It was not a question of legislating for one class, because it was the same class in the old houses as in the others.
This was a social and economic question, and it ought not to be prejudiced by considerations of landlords against tenants when both parties were absolutely in the same class. They regarded those affected by this Bill as divided into two classes, the yearly tenant and the leaseholder. They regarded it as right that the yearly tenant should be encouraged to make improvements and receive compensation for them, and it was provided in Section 3 that the yearly tenant might do so. It was in the interests of the town and of everybody else that the premises should be developed in that way. But the fair way—and it was a fair way—in which Section 3 was drawn provided that before a tenant could do this in a case happening after the passing of this Act, he must give notice to the landlord, and its reasonableness be determined by the Court. Looking at the matter as impartially as he could, he did not think it would be fair to insist on compensation being given for improvements which had already been carried out without notice to the landlord, and which had been carried out under the existing law, under which all parties knew they made improvements at their own risk. Therefore, while he should be glad to support Section 3, he did Dot know that his own friends would he prepared to support the Bill with regard to retrospective improvements. He would not consent to the proposal to make a fair rent Court in a town. That seemed to him to be an absolutely unworkable proposal. They could make a fair rent Court in the country, because they could ascertain the amount of improvements which the tenant had 233 made. In a town the value of a house depended on entirely different considerations. A house might be near a post office. The post office was built by somebody else. What third parties did in the neighbourhood was an important element in the value of a house. It seemed impossible to lay down any principle by which a fair rent could be arrived at for a house in a town beyond the actual value for the building material. He was not aware of any claim or public voice on behalf of the tenants to hive their rents fixed. They wanted their perpetuity and compensation for improvements, but there was hardly a man who was not content to go on paying his present rent if he only had fixity of tenure.
In a Bill which was introduced in the last Parliament there was a provision that the extension in perpetuity should only apply in the case of those leases which had fifteen years to run unexpired. That limitation was dropped here, but personally he did not think it mattered. He thought it would be a very desirable thing that in town houses they should carry further the principle adopted as far back as 1854 by the renewal of the Leasehold Conversion Act, which gave power to settle the rent and fix it in perpetuity. He thought it would be an exceedingly satisfactory solution of the question. They would thus get out of all difficulties about improvements, because when a man had premises of his own there would be no question of compensation. Section 12 was a very important provision which was to apply the provisions of the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Acts—To any estate whether mainly agricultural or pastoral, provided such estate formed portion of a town or village the population of which did not exceed 3,000 persons.The Act was very short but very useful. With regard to land legislation they had the Act of 1860, the Act of 1870, and then the Act of 1881, all of which sought to fix fair rents, and they had had a Purchase Act since. He had no objection to Section 12 of the present Bill if it were explained where the money was to come from. There was no object in letting the tenants in to purchase unless they provided the wherewithal. Was it intended that the 234 £12,000,000 voted in the last session were to be taken and diverted from their original purpose? The hon. Member hid provided no funds to mike his Bill workable in addition to those which had already been voted. He regretted it because it seemed to make the Bill a little illusory. In conclusion, he would say that, on the lines he had indicate' all Irish opinion was in unison. He had no doubt that hon. Members on the Nationalist Benches would rather accept the three-quarters of a loaf which he had suggested than be deprived of the whole loaf which they desired. The argument which had been relied on by the hon. Member for Hackney was that the interests of town tenants in Ireland and the interests of town tenants in England were identical, and that it would be unsafe to legislate for Ireland before the Government were prepared to legislate for England. But again and again they had been informed by the Government that the desire was to legislate in Ireland when Irishmen of all shades of opinion were found in harmony. Again, legislation had been tried in Ireland which they had never tried in England, and he thought this was an occasion when, considering what had been done for the residents upon Irish agricultural land by giving them a special code of legislation and special advantages which had never been tried in England, something should be done for their fellows in the towns. He believed that his views and those expressed by his colleagues were absolutely safe and fair, and he hoped that the Government, when its representative came to reply, would consent to the Bill going to Committee, or, if not, that they would at least give an assurance that, in the near future, legislation on some such lines, with the consent of Irish Members, would be adopted.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said that as an English Member he wished to express his hearty approval of the Bill, which was very much on the lines of the Bills he and his hon. friends had introduced in previous sessions. Every one who wished well to Ireland, and who had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, must believe that the Government ought to give favourable consideration to the Bill 235 seeing that there was agreement of every section of Irish opinion upon it. Any objection that might be taken to some of the details could be easily dealt with in Committee upstairs. He had listened with amazement to the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill, the principle of which was very simple and ought to be carried out by all friends of the future development not only of Ireland but of England and Scotland. That principle was, that a man who made an improvement should not be deprived of the benefit of it by the law of the land. The hon. Member for South Down had referred to the Select Committee on Town Holdings on which he sat several years ago, but he had omitted to notice the most material point in the recommendations of that Committee, viz., that improvements made on premises, for trade purposes, which added to the value of the holding should be compensated for at the end of the lease or tenancy. The motive of the speech of the hon. Member for Wandsworth was perfectly plain. They all knew that there was an enormous hostility on the part of the great landlords in England and Scotland to the extension of the principle contained in the Bill to the leasehold estates in towns. That was the real motive of the opposition to the Bill. He did not agree with the hon. Member for South Down as to the absolute distinction between the Irish and the English case. The root evil was absolutely the same in both countries. The Market Gardens Act of 1895 not only admitted the full rights of the tenant to execute such improvements as were likely to add to the value of the land, but gave compensation retrospectively where the tenants had carried out the improvements. That fact, and the recommendation of the Select Committee to which he had referred, should have weight with hon. Members in coming to a decision to support the Bill. He did not profess to understand all its details, but the principle was the same everywhere. Under the existing law the more a man improved his premises for the purpose of advancing his business, the more he was at the mercy of the landlord, and the more the landlord was able to confiscate the improvements the tenant had made. He hoped the Bill would be accepted, and 236 he trusted that it would be the fore runner of legislation on similar lines for England and Scotland.
§ SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
said that some of the most startling doctrines he had ever heard in his life had been enunciated in the course of the discussion. It was a case of "Heads I win, tails you lose." The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill had suggested that the landlord and tenant should meet and fix the rent of the holding in perpetuity. That might be an excellent arrangement for the tenant, but it would be an extremely bad arrangement for the landlord. It would be practically compulsory purchase, without finding any money. Nothing was more calculated to prevent capital from going to Ireland than legislation of this sort. The hon. Member opposite had expressed dissatisfaction that English Members should oppose Irish Bills of this kind. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that English Members had no interest in Irish matters. Ho begged to differ. Irish Members were not so keen on that point when they asked English Members last session for £100,000,000 for land purchase, or a grant of £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 in order to rectify bad legislation. He would have thought that the principle of fair rents had been so utterly discredited that nobody would have had the hardihood to get up and suggest that such legislation should be introduced. He wished to call attention to the fact that the Second Reading of the Town Holdings Bill was opposed by Mr. Gladstone in 1886. A Select Committee on the subject was appointed, and in 1889 they condemned the proposals in the Bill by a majority of twelve to seven. He understood the proposals in the present Bill were exactly identical with those in the Town Holdings Bill. The Select Committee in their Report pointed out that there was no analogy between the Agricultural Holdings Act and that particular Bill.
§ MR. CHANNING
said that the Agricultural Holdings Act was passed six years after that Select Committee sat.
§ SIR FREDERICK BANBURY
said that they had passed a good many bad 237 Acts in that House, though he always did his best to prevent it.
§ SIR FREDERICK BANBURY
said that not even the Conservative Party was immaculate. He opposed the Bill because he thought it was right that the views of those who held that the principle of it was sheer confiscation should be put before the House. The hon. Member for South Down seemed to think that the Bill ought to pass because the land in Ireland was originally got by confiscation; but supposing that were correct, two blacks did not make a white, and there was no reason why, in a more civilised and sensible age, they should revert to the practice of bygone generations. He opposed the Bill for another reason, viz., once this sort of Bill was passed for Ireland, the same principle would be extended to England. They in England were desirous for the prosperity of their country, and that capital should be encouraged to come here and remain here. The result of all legislation of this kind was to retard improvement. Some of the provisions of the Bill were so extraordinary that he really believed he could talk an hour upon it. He, however, did not intend to do that, because the Bill was so bad and so ludicrous that there was not the slightest chance of the House giving it a Second Reading. He wished to draw attention to a particular clause—that which provided that the tenant should be compensated, not for improvements he himself had made, but for improvements his predecessor had made. To give a man compensation for something that he had never had anything to do with was extraordinary. He felt so certain that legislation of this kind was detrimental to the best interests of the country that he would oppose it to the utmost.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said he congratulated the House on the un-expected treasure it possessed in the hon. Baronet, who had told them that he could talk for an hour. In view of this fact he thought it was to be greatly regretted that in the rearrangement of the 238 Government he was not made Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he noticed that there was difficulty in getting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say anything in the House on the fiscal question or anything else. Since last they addressed themselves to this question in 1886, when Mr. Crilly's moderate Bill was introduced, considerable disadvantage had accrued to the town tenants of Ireland by reason of the legislation of this House. They had for many years suggested the amendment of the Grand Jury Laws, but when, in 1888, after nearly half a century of struggle, that reform was conceded, it was only conceded by laying upon the tenant a burden which had no connection with the real grievance that was being redressed; without rhyme or reason the town tenants had placed upon their shoulders in 1886 the entire rates which had hitherto been borne by the landlords. Then the readjustment which the Local Government Act granted, perhaps it was worth a penny or two-pence in the month in the case of tenants under £4 per year, had worked a grievance and a very great hardship indeed; and in many cases it had worked the disfranchisement of these tenants, and whole groups of labourers in small towns of Ireland had lost their local government franchise and Parliamentary franchise because of that enactment throwing the rates upon them. In fact, in many cases it was no longer worth the while of the county council to attempt to collect the rates of these men. Therefore, without rhyme or reason they had placed a burden upon these town tenants for which no return whatever had been given, so that the result of legislation in Ireland was that they had absolutely relieved the landlord class of Ireland, not merely in the country but in the towns, of all liability for local rates. It did not necessarily follow that they would have to pursue similar legislation in England; and he could quite understand English Members asserting that what they were seeking for here might not necessarily be of advantage in England, for the position of the English landlords was not comparable with that of the Irish landlord, who never probably saw the town he owned, and who cared for nothing but the quarterly or yearly cheque he got from his agent and spent in England, who 239 cared no more what went on in the town than he did for what went on in Japan. He was very much struck with what he saw the other day in visiting Navan. Mr. McCann, whose death every Member of the House greatly deplored, had just bought nearly the whole town from Lord Russell, and he had built a factory there of the most valuable kind, giving work to scores of artisans, and the indirect effect of which was enormous. He could not help thinking if the landlords of Ireland for the last 700 years had made their incomes a blessing to the inhabitants of the towns they owned, as Mr. McCann was trying to do when he died, what a different Ireland there would be. There was not a man owning a single house or a single property in Ireland who really had got to any real extent that home feeling, that patriotic feeling—perhaps he should call it parochial feeling—in relation to his tenants which no doubt English landlords had, and which prevented those evils which were a curse to Ireland.
The Bill had been promoted on that side of the House, and it had been supported by the Member for North Antrim on behalf of the entire Unionist and Orange Party for the North of Ireland, including the right hon. Member for North Armagh, so that, as far as Ireland was concerned, all representatives, Unionists and Nationalists, landlords and tenant, except for the official voice which they had not yet heard, and perhaps also the voice of Trinity College, were united in favour of some such legislation. It was very easy to speak as that hon. Member who had just sat down had spoken. He himself treated Bills proposed by private Members as merely sketches or dummies. The Second Reading debate of a private Member's Bill ought to be regarded in the same way as a debate on a Motion. As a Legislature this House was merely a farce so far as Ireland was concerned. They had accorded them the dignified opportunity of debate on two or three Fridays, but, so far from considering this Bill as a vital root on which they could graft effective legislation, they all know it would never take effect in law. Even if it went to a Select Committee, it would go no further, unless the Government 240 gave it its assistance, and even then it would be killed in the slaughter-house across the Lobby. Therefore, they did not need to engage themselves in criticising the details of the Bill. The first question to be considered was whether there was a grievance to be remedied. Would anyone contend that the state of the town tenants question in Ireland, regarded from the point of view of the labourer, the artisan, or the shopkeeper, or even the landlords themselves, was in a perfect or even a decent condition? He remembered in 1886, when Lord De Vesci or Lord Longford, he did not know which, in the Kingstown case, was brought before this House, and the Prime Minister was a member of the Select Committee, Mr. Stewart was examined, and his excuse was that Lord De Vesci was a tenant for life and could not give a long lease, unless he had an Act of Parliament. So they had this grievance, that this was not only a tenants, but to a considerable extent a landlords grievance also, because landlords were in many instances unable to give long leases, which in many cases they said they desired to do. He was therefore far from supposing that the Government contended that the situation, so far as town holdings were concerned in Ireland, was satisfactory.
Was there to be no attempt made to remedy it? The Bill of 1886 was a moderate Bill. It simply proposed to extend the law of compensation as applied to agricultural districts to towns and houses. Was that a severe measure? Was that confiscation? Why was it confiscation if a tenant made improvements perhaps doubling the value of his house to suppose that the tenant should not be turned out at the end of his lease without getting something? Surely even Conservative Members must admit there was nothing confiscatory in that policy. He did not say of course, that the suggestion to fix a fair rent of these town holdings would in ail cases be satisfactory. He thought it would be a mere absurdity to offer a labourer the power to go into the Court to decide whether his rent should be 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week. But what was the grievance of these labourers and artisans in these towns? The fact was they could 241 not get houses with which to cover their heads. They could not get them. It was not a question of tenure with them; it was a question of getting the houses, and why could they not get the houses? First of all it was because the landlords would not give sites for them without compulsion; and secondly, because if they did give them they gave such ridiculous tenures that no speculator would build upon them. Who would lay out in thirty-one or sixty years leases, not to speak of ninety-nine years leases? Who would lay out the capital? Why did not capital come into the country? The want of artisans' dwellings existed, but the capital did not flow into the country simply because the landlords would not themselves build and would not allow others to do so for them, the tenures they suggested being too absurd and impossible. He respectfully asked the Government to declare that the condition of affairs with regard to these town tenants was unsatisfactory. Of course, there was the shopkeepers' grievance in Ireland as in England, but this was a question which need not necessarily be gone into deeply to-day. It was a very great hardship on the shopkeeper when he had made his business valuable, whether in Grafton Street in Dublin or the Strand in London, that he should be turned out at the end of his lease. His own opinion was that the democracy in England would yet exact reform, whether it was from a Conservative or a Liberal Government, and that Ireland would share in the reform pari passu with England. He appealed to the Government to address themselves with candid minds towards the question. It was not to be solved merely by a Labourers or an Artisans Dwellings Act. This was a grievance of an enormous kind, leading to the decay of towns, insanitary holdings, unhealthy conditions, and practically to emigration. In nearly the whole of the Irish towns they could not get decent houses to go into, because there was no site upon which to build them, and builders would not build on the tenures offered.
The hon. Gentleman who proposed this Bill gave them the case of Belfast. That was a remarkable case. It had been referred to in that House historically for the last forty or fifty years. The 242 fact that Belfast had thriven was due to the fact that the Marquess of Donegall had been forced to grantlong leases and so encourage the industry which he was happy to see had grown up. This was a grievance which had led to the decay of towns in Ireland, to the insanitary conditions which existed in Ireland, and to emigration. This grievance was solely due to the fact that foolish landlords living in England had been solely in the hands of Irish agents who took a short-sighted and narrow view of the situation, and did not give the more equitable terms which would be granted in this country, and without which no decent dwellings could be erected. Therefore, without committing himself to all the propositions laid down in this Bill, he should vote for it on the sole ground that some legislation was necessary, and that the Government had proposed none; and until they did every person in that House who desired that grievance to be remedied was entitled to vote for any reform that was proposed.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
said he was glad to hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman the, businesslike statement that there was no use in offering a fair rent Court to a tenant paying 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week. That was what the Bill would do. It appeared to him that the Bill was really a Bill to apply the Act of 1881 to towns. Every hon. Member should remember that the House spent the greater part of last session over a Bill which involved large financial transactions. He was glad to support that Bill in order to escape from the economic confusion occasioned by the Act of 1881 as applied to agricultural land. Having applied the principle to agricultural land in Ireland, it was found, after twenty years experience, that it produced such a state of chaos that it was necessary to adopt heroic measures involving considerable financial responsibility in order to escape from the position which had been created. From that point of view he was justified in contending that the House should not put the towns in Ireland in the same state of economic chaos that the Act of 1881 produced in the agricultural districts. On that broad ground he opposed the Bill. The hon. 243 and learned Gentleman referred to landlords living away from their property. He himself had represented Bow, and the great landlord there lived in Wales. There was no argument to be based on where a landlord lived. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill referred to the case of Blarney. He instanced the case of a mill-owner who established a great industry there which was now of world wide fame. It was necessary for him to provide accommodation for his employees. The hon. Member stated that the mill-owner entered into a contract with the landlord for a forty years lease, and he drew a harrowing picture of the position of the mill-owner when that period had expired The hon. Member gave that as an example in favour of passing this Bill, but the mill-owner entered deliberately into the contract. The hon Member said that at the end of forty years the mill-owner would be at the mercy of the landlord. But was that so? He did not think it was. A very considerable village had grown up in Blarney, and he wished to give all honour to the mill proprietor for the houses he built for his employees, and for the way in which he looked after them. He had the greatest respect and admiration for the mill-owner, but when the forty years had expired was there nothing to compel the landlord to be reasonable? He thought there was. How was he to dispose of his houses?
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said his point was that a great number of houses had been built under the forty years lease, and that the mill-owner would not be at the mercy of the landlord at the end of the period, because there would be no demand for the houses except as habitations for the mill employees. Surely, therefore, it was to the mutual interest of the mill-owner and the landlord to arrive at a reasonable arrangement. This was a Bill which, after their experience of Ireland, this House should not pass. If there was to be legislation altering the existing rights of house property, it ought to be applicable to the United Kingdom generally, and not confined to any particular part of it. He 244 opposed the Bill because it would be un just and unwise to take the steps it proposed. The difficulty in Ireland was caused by the fact that there were too many middlemen. In England, in most cases, the landlord kept direct control; but in Ireland there were frequently half a dozen middlemen, every one of whom made a profit, and the last middleman had such a little margin left that he screwed up the poorest class of tenant, who were really treated like dogs. The Bill would not remedy that grievance. It would affect the well-to-do class. Supposing a South African millionaire returned home and rented a mansion in Merrion Square, he could turn the stables into a ballroom, call it an improvement, and make the landlord pay for it. The Bill would merely benefit a class which was not deserving of the special consideration of the House; and he thought he had shown sufficient reasons why it should be rejected.
§ MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
said he desired to express the hope that the Government would see their way to assent to the Second Reading of the Bill. Even the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham admitted that the Bill was of the greatest importance. The hon. and gallant Baronet who had just spoken talked of the economic chaos which the Bill would introduce into Ireland. The hon. Member who had travelled over many parts, must have been struck with the decay and misery that existed in many cases just outside and round the great towns of Ireland. This Bill was to try and stop this decay. It was said that this Bill if passed would interfere with contracts, but hon. Members who relied on that argument forgot that the legislation for England and Ireland had always run in different grooves, and that in Ireland the principle had been recognised that for the public good private interests must give way. It was absurd to argue that it was objectionable because it interfered with contract; the whole code of land laws for Ireland interfered with contract, but without the Land Acts, Ireland would be more miserable than she was at present. The hon. and gallant Member did not seem to have read the Bill with any degree of accuracy. He spoke of a South African millionaire renting a house in Merrion Square and 245 adding a ball-room to that house, and then claiming compensation. This Bill only said that a tenant was to get compensation for improvements that added to the value of the holding. Surely if the ball-room added to the value of the house it was only right that the tenant should get compensation for that improvement, but if it did not add to the value of the holding then he was to have no compensation at all. It was with great pleasure that he heard the hon. Member for Antrim boldly stand up in favour of this measure. That enabled him to say that all the Irish Members of this House, save the law officers of the Crown, were in favour of the principle underlying this measure, which was brought in in the hope that it might do something to revive the wretched and decaying villages and towns in Ireland. Was nothing to be done now to try and improve that condition of things? This Bill went in the direction of encouraging the tenants to improve their holdings and obtain that security which had already been given to the occupiers of agricultural holdings, which insured that all they spent in improvements would not be lost. He approved of this Bill because it enabled the tenants to improve their homes, and enabled them to say, "Those who sow shall reap." The principle that everything put into the soil belonged to the landlord was an obsolete principle, and one of the last surviving rags of feudalism, and, in his opinion, every improvement made, whether in a town house or the country, should entitle those who made it to adequate compensation when they left. He also approved of the Bill because it did away with the injustice of the present law. In many parts of Dublin there were houses falling into decay which the landlords could not or would not repair, and which people would not take because the landlords would not reduce the rents. They were not prepared to take houses at a high rent, re-roof them, and repair them, put in modern appliances and bring them up to date without some security that the expenditure thus entailed would be returned to them. That applied to all tenants throughout Ireland. Turning to the clause affecting fair rents he could not see why, if under the Land Acts an agricultural tenant had a right to 246 have a fair rent fixed to his holding, a town tenant should not have the same right. There was no reason in principle or equity why a distinction should be made between them, and in that regard this Bill only provided for extending the principles of the Land Acts already in existence. This Bill set up an admirable tribunal to ascertain the value of the improvements and also the fixing of fair rents. That tribunal was to be the County Court Judge, whose time was altogether at the disposal of the Government, and who was familiar with the locality in which he was judge, and two assessors, one appointed by each of the interested parties. He could not conceive a more fair or admirable tribunal for ascertaining the amount of compensation or for fixing the rents. Hon. Members opposite had often shown their sympathy for these decaying towns and villages, and he hoped now, when an opportunity was given to them to carry out those wishes and put into practice those professions they had often made upon public platforms by the introduction of a measure of this simple character, they would take advantage of that opportunity and sanction the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ *MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY (Limerick, W.)
expressed the opinion that it was most unfair that, when a shopkeeper in his endeavour to improve his business had added to the letting value of his holding by making improvements to it, upon the expiration of his tenancy the landlord should be able to demand a higher rent from him than that which he originally paid, simply on account of the improvements for which he himself had been responsible. In other words, it was most unfair that a landlord should have power to confiscate his tenant's improvements. Nothing could be more unfair than that the tenant, on his refusal to pay the increased rent, should be compelled to quit his holding without compensation for the improvements he had made. One of the principal aims of this Bill was to remedy that injustice. The first clause provided that a tenant might, on quitting his holding, claim compensation for improvements made by him or by his predecessor in title, which had added to the letting value. In event of a dispute between the landlord and tenant 247 with regard to such a claim, such dispute, unless the parties agreed to leave the matter to arbitration, was to be decided by the County Court Judge and two assessors, which tribunal had the power to take into consideration the rent of the holding and also any benefits the tenant may have received from the landlord in consideration of such improvements. That was the basis on which the Bill was framed, and nothing could be fairer. Under this Bill, if a tenant desired to make improvements he must give notice in writing to his landlord of his intention. If the landlord objected within a month of the service of such notice, then the tenant could go to the Court, which could sanction any or all of the improvements. Nothing could be fairer than that, and if this Bill was passed into law many people who held under short leases would make improvements which they would not contemplate making under the present law. There were other clauses in the Bill to his mind equally as important, notably the clause dealing with the fixing of fair rents, which if hon. Members would read they would see were just and moderate. Another part of the Bill was the part dealing with the question of purchase. He was strongly of the opinion that town tenants should acquire the right to purchase their holdings, just the same as the agricultural tenant, especially since under the Land Act of last year where a village or town was comprised in an estate which was principally agricultural or pastoral and where that estate was being sold the tenants in such towns and villages could purchase their holdings. That being now the law he failed to see why the tenants in towns, on an estate which was not agricultural or pastoral, should not acquire the same right. Recently a case was brought under his notice where the landlord of a small estate, not agricultural or pastoral, but consisting of ground-rents with small plots of land, offered to sell to his tenants and the tenants were most anxious to buy if they could get the money from the Government on the same terms as the farmers under the Land Act of 1903. It was to meet such cases that Clause 12 was inserted in this Bill. In their case the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act 1899 would not apply, because there were licensed 248 premises on the estate and the tenant of such premises would not get an advance under that Act to purchase his holdings. There were also tenants of small plots of land on the estate who were not town tenants, so that he was right in saying the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act would not apply. With the extension of the provisions of that Act he was entirely in accord, because he believed the acquisition of their dwellings would be an incentive to industry to the people of Ireland, who would then feel that they had something to work for. He pointed out that the question of the town tenants, now that the land question was about to be settled, would, if it were not dealt with, very soon make itself felt. Already the town tenants were forming branches of the Town Tenants' League and holding meetings and bringing their grievances before those who represented them in Parliament, and, in his opinion, the sooner the Government realised that this question would have to be dealt with, the better it would be for their administration in Ireland. He, therefore, trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary or his colleague the Attorney-General, whichever of them replied on behalf of the Government, would not take up a non possumus attitude with regard to the Bill, but give it the consideration it deserved; and he trusted that hon. Members representing English, Welsh, and Scotch constituencies, having regard to the fact that this Bill was approved by every Irish Member in the House, would recognise the reasonableness of their claims and would give the Bill their support on the division.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said the hon. Member for South Down might congratulate himself, if not upon the Second Reading of the Bill, on the discussion that had taken place and the hopeful tone of the debate. They had had presented to the House the family-lawyer point of view in opposition to the Bill. That point of view was simply the question of property—property belonging to one class and that class clinging desperately to it, right or wrong. In addition to that, they had had a statement from the hon. Member for North Antrim, a statement not made by the hon. Member in his personal capacity, bat 249 in the capacity of the deputy leader of the Ulster official Unionist Party, that they would support the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman had an official connection with the Chief Secretary, and he could hardly imagine that the private secretary to the Chief Secretary would oppose the policy of his chief. He therefore gathered that the line taken by the hon. Member for North Antrim indicated the line that was to be adopted by the Government. They had this extraordinary feature also in the present debate. Every Irish Member in the House who had risen to speak had supported the principle of the Bill and the opposition to it was left to the Members for Wandsworth, Hackney, Peckham, and Yarmouth. That was not a rare occurrence in the House. During the last twenty years he had seen the same thing over and over again, and the result had been, in many cases, that the measures thus opposed only by English Members and supported by all sections of Irish Members had found their way into the Statute-book of the realm, nobody being any the worse and everybody a great deal better for it. The hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth said that the Bill proposed to apply the principles of the Land Act of 1881, which had created confusion in Ireland, to the towns. He was aware that the hon. and gallant Gentleman wished to get rid of that Act, but he believed that that Act saved Ireland from great disaster and was absolutely necessary, and that if it had had fair play and had been more generously worked it would have gone far to settle the Irish land question. The people of Ireland regarded the present position of tenants in towns as inequitable and unfair, and they meant to put an end to it if Parliamentary institutions could do it. He had in his mind the licensing cases which were heard before the Kingstown Bench recently. Applications were made for transfers of licences. What was the position of the applicants. Their leases were expiring; either they or their predecessors had built the houses in which the businesses were carried on. The landlords—Lords Longford and De Vesci—had not laid one brick on another; had not spent a penny on the property, yet they insisted on the applicants rebuilding the houses— which were 250 many of them in a fair condition to his knowledge — and actually increased the rents on the tenants' own improvements. It might be said that the tenants could have gone elsewhere. So they could, but they could not have taken their businesses with them, and so they had to comply with the landlords' terms. This was all right according to the family lawyer, but after all why should men reap where they had not sown?
There were two things which it was absolutely necessary for the House to bear in mind. First, that the tenant's lawful expenditure ought to be protected, and that no man should be able to appropriate it. He knew that was anathema maranatha to the family lawyer, but they had nothing to do with the family lawyer. The second point was that on the fall of a lease confiscation of the tenant's property should not be permitted. These were the two main points of the Bill. All other matters were for consideration in Committee, and he hoped the Government would lend a willing ear, if not to the whole Bill, at all events to those two principles. Everyone who knew the Chief Secretary and the Attorney-General for Ireland knew perfectly well that they desired the true welfare of Ireland. They had done much for the land, though they would have to do a little more, and they knew perfectly well that, apart from the land, the great landless masses were living, in many cases, in what he could only call a horrible condition. Let them to-day send a ray of hope to the towns and villages of Ireland, to show that they were not for ever to be neglected, and he believed the Irish people would not be ungrateful.
§ MR. MCKEAN (Monaghan, S.)
thought it augured well for the future prospects of the Bill that the only opponents had been the hon. Members for Wandsworth, Hackney, Peckham, and Yarmouth, and the arguments against the Bill might be crystallised in one, viz., a belief in the sanctity of contract. They were told that a bargain was a bargain, and had Shylock been alive to-day he would have rejoiced at the declarations of opinion to which the House had been listening. The old fallacies, exploded time and again in that House, had been once more advanced by 251 the opponents of the Bill. What was the position to-day? The Bill dealt with a grievance of a most urgent character. That had been admitted by hon. Members on every side. It was moderate in its character. It contained nothing subversive of the rights of property. It sought to do something for a class almost entirely neglected by Parliament, the class of small shopkeepers in Ireland. The Legislature had already set its seal upon every principle and clause in the Bill in the land legislation it had passed for Ireland. Let them take the case of the leaseholders. The law with regard to them was a disgrace to England and to civilisation, it was nothing but robbery legalised. The landlords under it imposed impossible and even grotesque conditions before granting renewals of leases. One tenant was called upon at Kingstown to rebuild his house and erect a weathercock over it at a cost of £12; another licensed trader was compelled to put a dome over his building like that of St. Paul's Cathedral on a small scale. Surely it was time the Legislature did something to remedy that disgraceful condition of affairs. Now if a young man took a house at £20 a year, and by his business ability and energy created a good and prosperous business he was liable to have his rent increased year after year. Surely that required remedying. Compensation for improvements was one of the best established principles of English jurisprudence, and he would like to know what argument the Attorney-General had to advance against its application to Ireland. What course did the Government propose to take. Would they assume the old hopeless, helpless, can-do-nothing attitude, or would they come forward with a statesmanlike scheme of their own. Of course they could not expect heroic measures from the Government, except on behalf of the Irish landlords or the mine-owners of South Africa, but he reminded them that the sand in their hour glass was rapidly running out, and the only way to secure a new lease of power was by introducing great reforms.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
said that the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill 252 was good enough to state that he rather expected from the representative of the Government narrow and captious criticism on the phraseology of the measure. But his apprehension in that respect was altogether unfounded, for it was not his habit, neither was it his desire, so to treat private Members' Bills on any occasion. As he understood the Bill, it meant to apply the legislation which already existed in Ireland with regard to agricultural land in all forms, to houses in towns. It meant to apply to houses in towns, no matter what class of houses, first, the legislation dealing with improvements; secondly, the legislation fixing fair rents; and, thirdly, the special provision of what was called the renewal clause. It was said that if the Bill was passed it would do two things—it would improve the houses of the working classes, and it would promote the prosperity of Ireland and secure the granting of building leases. So far from improving the houses of the working classes, it would, in his opinion, defeat that object. A similar Bill was introduced a few years ago by the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division, who himself subsequently admitted that it would not effect that object.
§ MR. ATKINSON
said he was sorry if he had done the hon. Member an injustice, but at any rate it was his contention that the Bill would not improve the houses of the working classes, and he would tell the House why. The difficulty was to build houses to let at rents which the artisan could afford to pay. It never could be done by the individual effort of artisans. It was absurd to talk of the man earning £1 a week spending his little capital in improving another man's house. The only way of effecting that object was by municipal action or by encouraging capitalists to build with the object of making a profitable investment, while securing to the working classes accommodation at a price they could afford to pay. The only security to the man who built houses for the working classes was the power to turn a tenant out if he did not pay. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for North Louth that it 253 was ridiculous to invite a man paying 1s. or 1s. 6d. weekly, as rent, to come into Court to get his rent reduced. The Bill would not help forward the housing of the working classes. It would impede and discourage building because a man directly he became a tenant would be able to refuse to pay the rent he had contracted to pay. The tenant would acquire a permanent right to remain.
§ MR. ATKINSON
understood Clause 6 to provide that the rent should be fixed, but it did not say for how long. He therefore concluded that it was intended to apply the principle of the Land Act of 1881, so that when once fixed the rent would continue for some certain period.
§ *MR. MACVEAGH
said that was shifting the point. He asked whether, if he did not pay his rent, a tenant could not be turned out.
§ MR. ATKINSON
said he was referring not to the rent the tenant contracted to pay, but to the rent fixed by the Court. The only security to the man who built houses for the working classes was the power to turn out a tenant if he did not pay. According to the views of hon. Members opposite, if he took a house for a year, then went into Court and got the rent fixed under this Bill, he could not be turned out as long as he paid that rent; therefore he got a perpetuity at a fixed rent. The Bill was not for the benefit of the working classes, because, so far from facilitating and encouraging the building of houses, it would hamper and hinder such operations at every step. Why did a man build a house? Simply to invest his money, or to live in the house himself, or to let it to a tenant who would enter into a contract to pay a certain rent. But this Bill would tear that contract in two; the owner would never be sure of getting the rent the tenant had contracted to pay. It would hinder men from investing money in land, because it would take from them the fruit of their investment. If the Bill were passed he could not understand why any man should build a house at all, because the 254 house would be useless to him immediately he ceased to live in it himself. Suppose a man had a house in Dublin in which he did not wish to live for three years. He might let it to a tenant for a period of three years at a rent of £103. Under this Bill the tenant would be able to go into Court, get the rent reduced by £50, and keep the owner out of the house for ever.
§ MR. ATKINSON
said he might want his house. The Bill would make the employment of capital in the building of houses for the working classes either by capitalists or by municipalities absolutely impossible. One matter had been referred to, which he admitted was somewhat puzzling, viz., the question of the duration of leases. It might be desirable that landlords should be induced or compelled to grant building leases for such a term as would enable tenants to expend capital upon them; but this Bill would impede rather than promote such an object. If he gave his land for a certain period at such a rent as would induce the tenant to expend capital upon it, it was in the hope and expectation that his successors, if not himself, would get back the land he had leased with the buildings upon it. [An HON. MEMBER: Confiscation.] If he let so many perches of land which were worth now, for any temporary purpose, say, £5 or £10 a year, and if he gave a lease for 999 years at £1 in order to induce tenants to expend capital upon it, what was there in law or in morals in his getting back the place at the end of the lease? It might be that a solution of that question was desirable, but it was not to be found in this Bill, for it would not compel landlords to give long leases on adequate terms. He was not, however, arguing as to the justice or injustice of the law. His argument was that the Bill did not solve the problems before them, but that, on the contrary, it would be a direct inducement to the ground landlord not to give encouragement to build. He fully shared the extreme pain which all must feel on seeing the miserable houses in some Irish towns. But he could not think that that state of things was due to the want of building 255 leases, or to the absence of any right to improvements, or to the want of provisions for the fixing of fair rents. In his opinion, it was due to the absence or the decay of industry. Let them take the instance of Belfast. There was probably not a city or town in the three Kingdoms where the working classes were better housed than in Belfast. What was the reason of it? Capitalists had built long rows of houses which were occupied by men who could be turned out if they did not pay the stipulated rent. But this Bill would give them a right to stay in for ever. He ventured to say that if such provisions with regard to fixing rents and giving a perpetuity to the occupier as were contained in the measure under discussion had been in force in Belfast during the last fifty years, not one of those rows of working men's houses would ever have been built. It was only because the capitalist was sure of getting his rent that he invested his capital in that way.
The Bill was conceived in the present interests of the shopkeepers. It would not affect their permanent interests, but it did affect their present interest, because it undoubtedly enabled a shopkeeper, when his lease was expiring, to get it extended against the will of the landlord and to get his rent reduced. To that extent it conferred a benefit on the present occupier, but he was not at all sure that the benefit would be permanent. When the present occupier died, leaving a widow and children, if the premises were let for a period with the idea of the son taking over the business subsequently, the premises and business would be gone for ever, because the new and, as he was supposed to be, temporary tenant would be entitled to go and get a fair rent fixed and to hold in perpetuity. That was why he said the Bill was by no means in the permanent interests of the tenant. The Bill was entirely misconceived. It was an attempt to apply the principles of the Land Act to a totally different condition of things. Why were the Land Acts passed? Because it was recognised that the tenant had a real interest in the soil, that he alone made the improvements, that he could be turned out and his improvements confiscated, that agriculture was the only industry in the country, that the tenant was so poor he could not, protect 256 himself, and that he had to take the land or starve; and these conditions were held to justify the abolition of freedom of contract and the intervention of the State between tenant and landlord. No one had pressed that view more strongly than Mr. Gladstone, who, in introducing his great Land Bill, excused himself for interfering in contracts on the ground that the tenants were not free, that tenant and landlord did not deal on equal terms. Mr. Gladstone said—No person values more highly than I do freedom of contract; it lies at the root of every healthful condition of society.and the reason he gave for invading freedom of contract was that the contracts were not free contracts, that the landlord was dealing with a man who had no choice, who must either take the land or starve.
The conditions to be dealt with by the present Bill were altogether different. Why was the Act for fixing fair rents passed in 1881? The Act of 1870 gave certain rights; it gave compensation for improvements, and so on; but those benefits were given only when the tenant was going out. If he wanted to stay, the necessities of the case induced him to submit to increases of rent, which practically confiscated the improvements and the other benefits that had been conferred upon him. He was not free to defend himself, and so the Legislature stepped in to preserve to him the benefits the earlier legislation had intended to confer. But here the case was altogether different. He absolutely denied that either historically or actually there was any parallel between the case of the Irish land occupier, who had benefited by land legislation, and the cases cited that day. In the former case the absence of freedom of contract was alleged; the cases now brought forward were special cases of contracts between landlords and a class of capitalists, both of whom were perfectly able to take care of themselves. Individual hardships and inconvenience in occasional instances did not justify interference with freedom of contract, as Mr. Gladstone had himself acknowledged when explaining his own legislation. He could not understand the difference between entering into a contract and enforcing a contract. If a merchant entered into a contract to supply certain goods, and the market went up, he had 257 still to carry out the contract, even though it ruined him. Why should a different principle be applied in the question of a lease? If a man took a piece of land for a term of years which did not justify him in expending capital upon it, and then at the end of the term he failed to obtain a renewal, where was the moral difference between enforcing that contract, and enforcing a contract with a merchant to supply 1,000 tons of hay? The principles upon which the Acts of 1870, 1881, and 1887 rested did not apply to such cases as these. Freedom of contract was such a precious thing, and its benefits were so inestimable, that although it might occasionally work hardly it could not be forfeited because of the occasional hardship it inflicted. As to the main provisions of the Bill he regarded the fixing of a fair rent as infinitely the most important part. He would not deal in detail with the provisions of the Bill in respect to compensation for improvements. The object, apparently, was to apply the principle of the Act of 1870 generally; but there were important omissions, as, for instance, in relation to improvements carried out in pursuance of contract. Great injustice might result from the application of the principle which had been applied to improvements in land tenancies. In land the productive capacity was increased by improvements, and it was right that when the land passed again into the hands of the landlord he should pay for the enhanced value. That, however, did not apply to a house. The improvement made by the tenant might be suitable for the particular purposes of his occupation or business and yet unsuitable for another tenant or for the landlord. It was impossible for the Government to approve the principle of the Bill.
§ *MR. FIELD
said the limited time at his disposal would not allow him to properly develop his arguments—but he should say that with the exception of the concluding sentences the right hon. Gentleman had not touched upon the main principles of this Bill, which he has entirely misrepresented, respecting the letting of houses for a limited period not leasehold. He had indulged in a good deal of sarcasm as to the way the Bill had been drawn up, but he had not made any suggestions as to the way it 258 ought to have been drafted. He wished to know if the Attorney-General was prepared to bring in a Bill to carry out the ideas that had been suggested. It was very easy to criticise Bills brought in, and declare that such important legislation as this ought not to be introduced by private Members. He would remind the House, however, that some of the most important reforms passed by the House of Commons had been introduced by private Members, and further, that public Bills introduced and drafted by the Government officials were also subjected to criticism and amendment. To-day the Attorney-General had acted upon the principle of "when you have a bad case abuse the opposition." The Irish Members had been accused of standing in the way of legislation regarding the housing problem, when the fact was that the Irish Parliamentary Party were, and had been, consistent supporters of dealing adequately with the questions of cheap and suitable dwellings for the workers. This was not a Bill for the housing of the working classes, but simply for the protection of town tenants, tenement occupiers, and inhabitant householders. He thought that those who had supported the protection policy hi regard to fiscal matters might adopt the same policy in regard to this protective measure. He happened to be a member of the Black-rock urban district council and also of the Dublin County Council, and he found that the financial difficulty in regard to the housing of the working classes was that the present system of transfer of title in regard to property added so enormously to the cost of the sites that they could not under existing circumstances erect cheap dwellings. That was the extraordinary condition of affairs. With regard to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman respecting the building of blocks of houses and the eviction of tenement occupiers, he wished to remind the House that it had frequently occurred that large numbers of tenement occupiers were evicted, not because they refused to pay rent, but because the landlord took objection to some action on the part of the tenant, and that sort of capricious eviction ought not to be permitted. The right hon. Gentleman had devoted very little attention to the vital question raised about 259 the confiscation of the tenants' improvements. Nothing had been said about the fact that the ground landlord who owned a town when the leases fell in not only took over the improvements made by the tenant, but he also appropriated all the improvements made by the taxes paid by the ratepayers. Since the year 1869 the ratepayers of Kingstown had contributed £350,000 in rates expended for municipal improvements. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in his opinion, he thought it was a correct state of things that the ground landlords of Kingstown should be able under the present law not only to appropriate the buildings of the tenants and their improvements, and also raise their rents and compel a large expenditure, but also practically utilise the £350,000 sterling which the ratepayers had paid in taxation, to which the ground landlords had not contributed, for taking over the roads, the main sewers, and the public buildings and everything that made a town. Was it just that all this should be practically appropriated by the ground landlords?
§ MR. FIELD
said that this was so—but if the tenants were secured in their tenure and improvement, they would have the use of those municipal facilities paid for by themselves, but under the Terminable Leasehold system their improvements were confiscated and their rents and valuation raised. In America the Betterment law provides that 80 per cent, of the values created by municipal expenditure shall be appropriated by the municipality that made the expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman was aware that the Terminable Leasehold system which existed in England and Ireland was not in existence in any other part of the world, and it was unknown even in Scotland. In the year 1895 the Prime Minister, at Manchester, said he had been concerned in the passage of a Bill for Ireland, having for its object the advancement of money to aid the tenants to buy their homes, and he regarded as being of enormous importance that the number of owners of houses, as well as the number of holders of land, should be increased. There was no freedom of contract in 260 this matter, for the will may be nominally free when the action cannot in any sense be called voluntary. Now unless the Government took some action an agitation would spring up which would compel some definite legislative step to deal with this grievance. As one long identified with this subject, having introduced a Bill every session since lie entered, Parliament he trusted that the House by giving a large support to the principles of this measure which was theoretically approved by the Prime Minister, would educate Parliamentary opinion to pass amending legislation and so ensure economic justice and social reforms to millions of urban resident.
§ MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)
said he had not been at all convinced by the speech of the learned Attorney-General for Ireland, and he should certainly give his vote in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill. Hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House had trotted out the bogey of the Land Bill of 1881 and had used it for all it was worth. Nevertheless he thought a case had been made out for the Second Reading of this Bill, and he should vote for this measure on its merits. He hoped the Government Whips would not be put on upon this occasion, and that they might be allowed upon this question the privilege of voting upon a Bill according to its merits. He would not give a machine-made vote, and he should vote as the justice of the case required it. He had been enormously impressed by the unanimity of Irish opinion on that question, and that opinion had not been opposed on this occasion by the Ulster Members. Upon such questions as this he was a believer in expert advice, and the experts on this occasion were men on the spot. When such experts agreed, he paid more attention to their speeches than he did to the speeches from hon. Members who resided in the neighbourhood of London. The Government were going to propose compensation in this country to prevent a hardship being done to a certain class in the exercise of their calling, and he did not see why a similar protection should not be given to those affected by this Bill. He hoped they would all be allowed to vote as they pleased without the Government Whips being put on.
§ MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)
said he entirely associated himself with his colleagues with regard to the support they had given to this Bill. In the capital town of his constituency not long ago they approached the local landlord and asked the price of some building sites upon land which he rented at £2 an acre in the urban district, and £908 was the
§ price he asked them for an acre of land within the urban area for the erection of artisans' dwellings, or about 500 years purchase for the sites.
§ Question put.
§ Words added—
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 162; Noes, 199. (Division List No. 43.)263
|Abraham, William (Cork N. E.)||Gordon, J. (Londonderry, S.)||O'Malley, William|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Goulding, Edward Alfred||O'Mara, James|
|Allen, Charles P.||Hammond, John||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Ambrose, Robert||Hayden John Patrick||Partington, Oswald|
|Ashton, Thomas Glair||Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.||Paulton, James Mellor|
|Austin, Sir John||Healy, Timothy Michael||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Helme, Norval Watson||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Hemphill, Rt Hon. Charles H.||Price, Robert John|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Holland, Sir William Henry||Priestley, Arthur|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Horniman, Frederick John||Reddy, M.|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C.B.||Hutchinson Dr. Charles Fredk.||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Black, Alexander William||Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Boland, John||Jameson, Major J. Eustace||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Brigg, John||Jones,David Brynmor(Swansea||Rigg, Richard|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Joyce, Michael||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Kearley, Hudson E.||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Burke, E. Haviland||Kilbride, Denis||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Burns, John||Labouchere, Henry||Roche, John|
|Caldwell, James||Lambert, George||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Cameron, Robert||Langley, Batty||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Rose, Charles Day|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Leese,Sir Joseph F.(Accrington||Russell, T. W.|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Leigh, Sir Joseph||Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Leng, Sir John||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Cogan, Denis J.||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lough, Thomas||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Crean, Eugene||Lundon, W.||Sheehy, David|
|Cromer, William Randal||MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Crombie, John William||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)|
|Crooks, William||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Slack, John Bamford|
|Cullinnan, J.||M'Calmont, (Colonel James||Sloan, Thomas Henry|
|Delany, William||M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Denny, Colonel||M'Kean, John||Spencer.Rt Hn.C R (Northants|
|Devlin Charles Ramsay Galway||M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Sullivan, Donal|
|Devlin, Joseph (Kilkenny, N.)||M'Laren, Sir Charles Benjamin||Tennant, Harold John|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Malcolm, Ian||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr|
|Dobbie, Joseph||Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh,N.)||Thomson, FW (York W. R.)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Mooney, John J.||Tomkinson, James|
|Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||Moore, William||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Ellice, Capt. E. C. S. Andrw'sBghs||Murnaghan, George||Ure, Alexander|
|Emmott, Alfred||Murphy, John||Wallace Robert|
|Evans, Sir Francis H. (Maidstone||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Walton, John Lawson (Leeds S.|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Nolan, Col. John P. (Galway.N)||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Farrell, James Patrick||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)|
|Fenwick, Charles||Nussey, Thomas Willans||White, Luke (York E. R.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Wilson, Fred W. (Norfork Mid)|
|Field, William||O'Brien, Kendal(Tipperary Mid||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Woodhouse, Sir J T Huddersf'd|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, X.)||Young, Samuel|
|Flynn, James Christopher||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||O'Connor, T, P. (Liverpool)|
|Freeman-Thomas, Captain F.||O'Doherty, William|
|Fuller, J. M. F.||O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Sir|
|Furness, Sir Christopher||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)||Thomas Esmonde and Captain Donelan.|
|Gilhooly, James||O'Dowd, John|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon,N|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Allsopp, Hon. George||Arnold-Forster Rt Hn Hugh O.|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Anson, Sir William Reynell||Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John|
|Aubrey-Fletcher Rt Hon Sir H.||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Pemberton, John S. G.|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Flower, Sir Ernest||Percy, Earl|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Forster, Henry William||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Foster, Philip S.(Warwick,S.W.||Pilkington, Colonel Richard|
|Baird, J. George Alexander||Garfit, William||Platt- Higgins, Frederick|
|Balcarres, Lord||Gordon, Hn. J E (Elgin & Nairn)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Gordon, Maj, Evans-(T'rH'mlets||Purvis, Robert|
|Balfour, RtHn Gerald W.(Leeds||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||Pym, C. Guy|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Graham, Henry Robert||Randles, John S.|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Greene, Henry D (Shrewsbury)||Rankin, Sir James|
|Bathurst Hon. Allen Benjamin||Groves, James Grimble||Renwick, George|
|Beach Rt Hn Sir Michael Hicks||Hall, Edward Marshall||Ridley, S. Forde (Bethnal Green|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F.||Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield)|
|Bignold, Arthur||Hamilton, RtHn. LordG (Midd'x||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Bigwood, James||Hamilton, Marq of (L'nd'nderry||Robinson, Brooke|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Hardy, Laurence(Kent Ashford||Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert|
|Bond, Edward||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Round, Rt. Hon. James|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith||Haslam, Sir Alfred S.||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Heath, Arthur Howard(Hanley||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Heath, James (Staffords N. W.||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford'|
|Bowles Lt.-Col. H F (Middlesex Heaton, John Henniker||Heaton John Henniker||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander|
|Bowles, T Gibson (King's Lynn||Hoare, Sir Samuel||Samuel Sir Harry S.(Limehouse|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Hornby, Sir William Henry||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos.Myles|
|Brotherton, Edward Allen||Horner, Frederick William||Scott, Sir S. (Marykbone, W.)|
|Bull, William James||Howard, J(Midd., Tottenham)||Seely, Chas. Hilton (Lincoln)|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Hozier, Hon James Henry Cecil||Seely, Maj. J.E.B.(Isle of Wight|
|Campbell, Rt Hn.JA (Glasgow||Hunt, Roland||Seton-Karr, Sir Henry|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Hutton, John (Yorks. N. R)||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Cavendish, V C W. (Derbyshire||Jeffreys, Rt. Hon. Arthur Fred.||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Jessel, Captain Herbert Morton||Skewes-Cox, Thomas|
|Chamberlain, Rt Hn J A (Worc.||Kenyon-Slaney Col. W. (Salop.||Smith, Abel H (Hertford, East)|
|Chapman, Edward||Kimber, Henry||Smith, James (Parker Lanarks)|
|Charrington, Spencer||King, Sir Henry Seymour||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Clive, Captain Percy A.||Knowles, Sir Lees||Stanley Rt. Hon. Lord (Lancs.)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Coddington, Sir William||Lee, Arthur H.(Hants. Fareham||Stock, James Henry|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N S||Stroyan, John|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Long, Col Charles W (Evesham||Talbot, Rt. Hn. JG (Oxf'd Univ.|
|Cook, Sir Frederick Lucas||Long, Rt Hon Walter (Bristol S||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Lowe, Francis William||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Lowther, C. (Cumb., Eskdale)||Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Lucas, Col Francis (Lowestoft)||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Crossley, Rt. Hon. Sir Savile||Lucas, Reginald J (Portsmouth)||Tuff, Charles|
|Cust, Henry John C.||Macdona, John Gumming||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Maconochie, A. W.||Valentia, Viscount|
|Davenport, William Bromley||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)||Vincent,Col.SirC E H.(Sheffield|
|Dewar, Sir T R (Tower Hamlets||Manners, Lord Cecil||Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir William H|
|Dickson, Charles Scott||Martin, Richard Biddulph||Warde, Colonel C. E,|
|Dimsdale, Rt Hon Sir Joseph C.||Maxwell, Rt Hn Sir HE (Wigt'n||Webb, Colonel William George|
|Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Milner, Rt Hon Sir Frederick G||Welby, Lt.-Col A C E (Taunton|
|Doughty, George||Montagu, Hon J.Scott (Hants.)||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers||Morgan, David J. (Walthamstow||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Doxford, Sir William Theodore||Morrell, George Herbert||Wilson, A Stanley (York E. R.)|
|Duke, Henry Edward||Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Durning-Lawrence, Sir Edwin||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Wodehouse, Rt Hn E R. (Bath)|
|Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William Hart||Muntz, Sir Philip A.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Murray, Rt Hn A Graham(Bute||Wrightson, Sir Thomas|
|Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Faber, Edmund B. (Hants W.)||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Fergusson, Rt. Hon. SirJ (Manc'r||Newdegate, Francis A. N.|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Nicholson, William Graham|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Parkes, Ebenezer||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir|
|FitzGerald,Sir Robert Penrose||Pease,Herbert Pike (Darlington||Alexander Acland-Hood and|
|Fitzroy, Hon Edward Algernon||Peel, Hon Wm. Robert Wellesley||Mr. Ailwyn Fellowes|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.264
§ Adjourned at twenty-two minutes before six of the Clock till Monday next.