§ Order for the Second Reading read.
§ MR. BIRRELL
said he was glad to think at all events that there could be nothing irregular about this Bill for it came to them from the House of Lords, where it was read a third time without a division. It would be within the recollection of those Members of the House who were present during the debates on the Evicted Tenants Act of last year, that in the House of Lords a proviso was added to one of the provisions of that Bill, providing that no tenant who occupied a farm from which a previous tenant had been evicted should be, if cultivating that farm in a husbandlike manner, obliged even on the payment of compensation to give up his holding. That was put in the Act in the House of Lords on the very creditable ground that no person in these circumstances should be required to leave his holding if he chose to remain in it. The words of the proviso were proposed by Lord Robertson and inserted in the Bill and became law. However, some tenants on Lord Clanricarde's estate were willing to go and had made arrangements to go on payment of compensation by the Estates Commissioners. But the point of law was raised that, having regard to the language of the proviso added in the House of Lords, if the land was being 242 cultivated in a husbandlike manner it was beyond the purview of the Estates Commissioners, and beyond the powers of the Act for that tenant cultivator to be affected and to go. That was not the view taken by the Judge in the Court of first instance, but the Court of Appeal in Ireland, which was the final appeal under the statute, unanimously decided that the learned Judge was wrong, and held that according to the true construction of the proviso, once the farm was being cultivated in a husbandlike manner it was outside the purview of the Act. That matter was brought before the House of Lords by the Bill which he was now moving to have read a second time, and which was intended to carry out the object which both Lord Robertson and Lord. Lansdowne with characteristic fairness at once admitted they had intended the proviso should carry out. The noble Lords both stated when dealing with the Bill that their object had been not to protect the landlord of the land, but to protect the occupier of the land. If the occupier did not want to go and was cultivating his land in a husbandlike manner, he was not to go. So long as that was assured the noble Lords were content, and they therefore allowed the Bill to be read a second time. When the Bill was considered in Committee hi the House of Lords an Amendment was made which, when the Committee stage was taken in the House of Commons, it would be for the Committee to consider. But so far as the general principle of the Bill was concerned, there was complete unity of opinion in the House of Lords, as he hoped there would be in the House of Commons, that the object of the measure was merely to give effect to the legislation of last year. He would, therefore, ask the House to read the Bill a second time, and when they got into Committee they would have an opportunity of discussing the Amendment made to the Bill by the House of Lords
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Birrell.)
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said that when the Chief Secretary referred to this 243 question a short time ago, he (Mr. Long) stated on behalf of his friends on the Opposition side of the House that it was impossible for him without notice of the debate, to examine the references which the right hon. Gentleman had then been good enough to give. He, of course, took an early opportunity of reading the debates which took place both in the House of Commons and in another place, and he satisfied himself that the language used in another place, and also by himself and his friends in reference to the Act of last year, had been accurately described by the Chief Secretary. The difficulty it was proposed to deal with in the Bill was one that it was not easy to dismiss in a few sentences, even at that hour of the morning, but he wished to say at once that he and his friends would not offer any opposition to the passage of the Bill on its Second Reading. When they came to the Committee stage they would have to consider the Amendment inserted in another place, and it would be for them to say what their view of it was. What they felt was that the Chief Secretary had stated the view held generally by Unionists in both Houses when the Evicted Tenants Act was passed, namely, that while they expressed grave doubts as to the wisdom of the Government's policy, as to its ultimate success, and as to its effect on the prospects and prosperity of other tenants in Ireland, they admitted that if the evicted tenants question was to be dealt with by legislation, the one thing that ought to be insisted upon by Parliament was that no tenant sitting on a farm and carrying on his business in a decent and proper manner, in accordance with the ordinary rules of good husbandry, ought to be disturbed. While Parliament was then asked to accede to the request to protect the sitting tenant when he wished to remain in his holding, it was quite obvious that it was impossible and unjust to ask that Parliament should say to the tenant who was anxious to go, that he was not to go, because there was some other reason against him doing so. Then came the question, was the tenant in reality anxious to move? That raised a very controversial and difficult question, No doubt allegations could easily be 244 made by both sides as to the undoubted pressure being put on tenants to express their opinion one way or the other. But all that Parliament could ask within the limits of the Bill or within the operations of the Evicted Tenants Act was that the man should assent to his removal to another farm. He regarded the Bill as a necessary complement of the proceedings which occurred in both Houses during the passage of the Evicted Tenants Act. While holding that view, he hoped he would not be considered as committing himself to the acceptance of all the views, from time to time expressed, in regard to the Evicted Tenants Act. He would certainly offer no opposition to the progress of the Bill on the Second Reading, but when it came to the Committee stage, he should suggest that Parliament ought to protect the sitting tenant from injustice and from removal against his will.