HL Deb 24 February 1868 vol 190 cc1039-52

, rose to call the attention of the House to the question of land tenure in Ireland. He commenced by referring to the Select Committee of their Lordships' House, to which his Bill of last year upon this subject was referred. In the month of July, that Committee unanimously determined to issue an imperfect Report, and to recommend its own re-appointment this Session, in order that the inquiry might be resumed. The language of the Report was— The subject-matter of the Bill is, however, of so much complexity and difficulty that they are of opinion that it is not possible for them, in the short period of the Session now remaining, to make such progress in it as to warrant them in recommending it at present for your Lordships' adoption. The Committee have therefore determined to report the evidence, together with the Bill in its necessarily incomplete state, and to recommend that the Committee be re-appointed at as early a period of next Session as practicable for the purpose of further considering it. He did not recollect that any objection was made by any Member of the Committee to that recommendation, which was moved by the noble Earl who represented the Government. He might say, however, that some Members of the Committee were of opinion that it would be well to draw particular attention to some of the statements made in the evidence, and to the conclusions to be deduced from them. A draft Report was prepared, and he should have been glad if it could have been laid before the House. One clause of the draft Report was as follows— The Committee again direct your Lordships best attention to the entire evidence as now reported, and upon which they will not further enlarge. A correct knowledge of the present condition of the country is necessary in order to guide safely to future legislation. The assertions so often reiterated, to the effect that the tenant makes all the permanent improvements in Ireland, that the rents are extravagantly high, that a competition for land is encouraged by offering it to the highest bidder at the expiration of a tenancy, that evictions and changes of tenure are of frequent occurrence, that no general improvement is taking place, and that a bad feeling commonly exists between landlords and tenants, will probably receive correction from its perusal. It was to be regretted that this clause was not published along with the evidence. What, he asked, was the condition of Ireland now? There never was a time when it was less necessary to take extraordinary and novel action, with respect to the subject of land in Ireland, than existed at the present moment. The condition of neither landlords nor tenants presented any extraordinary difficulty, and it was only the condemnation of the existing law by Judges of the highest authority, and differences of opinion among them that created litigation and directed attention to its amendment. The evidence taken by the Select Committee of their Lordships which sat last year plainly showed the gross injustice, exaggeration, and absurdity of the statements made by agitators as to exorbitant rents exacted by landlords, and frequency of evictions in Ireland. It was not to be said that evictions never occurred; but it had been shown that they were by no means so common as had been represented. Among other things it was shown that upon four estates, the rental of which amounted to£54,000, the landlords had expended, exclusive of money borrowed under the Drainage Act, no less than£142,000. A great deal had been said about tenant-right, and he desired to say nothing against tenant-right as it existed in the North of Ireland; but the schemes of many of those who designated themselves advocates of tenant-right no more resembled the system of things which existed in the North of Ireland than did the laws as to landed property in the moon, if there were landed property, and laws regulating it, in that planet. The assertion was often made that if tenant-right existed in the South of Ireland there would be no evictions; but the Returns which were obtained by the Earl of Belmore, although the information they furnished was not perfectly accurate as to the number of evictions which really took place, showed at least that tenant-right had little or nothing to do with their frequency or infrequency. He would compare two counties in the North of Ireland—Antrim and Armagh—in which tenant-right prevailed, with two counties in the South—Cork and Clare. During the five years ending with 1865, the number of civil bill ejectments in the county of Antrim, with a population of 378,585, was 1,101; while in Cork, with a population of 544,818, they numbered only 1,483. In the county of Armagh, with a population of 190,086, the number of civil bill ejectments during the five years was 1,344; and in Clare, with a population of 166,395, it was only 781. The last volume of the judicial statistics exhibited facts which were equally remarkable. It was generally said that Ulster was a very prosperous province, and that Munster and Connaught were in a state of great misery and poverty. Now, he could not altogether admit the accuracy of such statements, for if their Lordships would look at the judicial statistics for 1866 they would find that there were in the province of Ulster 1,190 ejectments during the year, while in Munster there were only 771, and in Connaught only 619. Thus it would be seen that ejectments were more frequent in those parts of the country where tenant-right prevailed than in those where it did not. If any rule of political economy was admitted to be sounder than another, it was that the introduction of capital into a poor country would increase its prosperity, by increasing labour and giving means of living to the population, end it was one of the arguments put forward in favour of limited liability that it would enable companies to provide by association large capital which was necessary to make improvements in any business and in any country. What, however, would be the effect of the revolutionary propositions which had been made by Mr. Bright and Mr. Mill with respect to the mode of dealing with land in Ireland? Their propositions amounted to neither more nor less than to turn out all the men of capital in Ireland, in order to put in a class of peasant proprietors who had no capital. One proposal was that every tenant of a small holding should have a lease of sixty years as against his landlord, while the occupiers of large farms at high rents were to have a lease of sixty years imposed upon them. It was said that the carrying out of such a scheme would confer great benefits on the country. Such a proposition was ah-surd. Indeed, it was generally acknowledged, as could be proved by the evidence of men who knew the country well, that in many parts of Ireland the tenants were not much in favour of obtaining leases at all, and certainly would not consent to pay anything for them. But supposing for a moment the proposition for the purchase of the land of Ireland by the Government were entertained, what, he asked, would be the condition of the farmers? He believed the notion of those who wished to disturb the present system was that the holdings of the farmers of Ireland were all very small, varying from thirty acres to half an acre. He should like to hear the notion of the Government with respect to the manner in which the large farmers could be dealt with. Was the House aware that one family alone in Ireland paid from £30,000 to £40,000, and indeed he believed from £40,000 to £50,000 a year in the shape of rent for their holdings? Were the Government prepared to call upon tenants with such a holding to purchase it at the rate of twenty years' purchase? Why it would amount to £1,000,000. How could they expect one family to procure such a sum? The accounts they had as to the resources of the Irish tenantry were extremely contradictory. One day they were told that they were in a state of pauperism, and next day they were informed that they had £17,000,000 in the bank. It was well known that the effect of breaking up large holdings, and allowing the land to pass into the possession of small proprietors, was to increase the rents, whereas the large landed proprietors were content with smaller rents, and yet a proposition was gravely put forward to oust the great landlords in order to create a class who would infallibly raise rents upon tenants. He would now direct the attention of their Lordships to a very gratifying account of the improvements being made in Ireland. It was contained in a Report made by Mr. Adams, the American Minister, to his Government in September, 1865. That Report referred chiefly to a tour through the North of Ireland; but the remarks of Mr. Adams were also applicable in a modified form to the central and eastern portions of the country. He said— I have not seen anywhere in England more indications of comfort, plenty, and general good condition than are to be found in that portion of the northern province through which I have passed. Neither did I observe in the populous towns more instances of poverty and destitution than are to be met with anywhere in corresponding places in the three kingdoms, with the exception, perhaps, of North Wales. The same observation may be made, but in a much more qualified degree, of the central and eastern region, including Dublin and its vicinity. Although the prosperity is not so much marked, and the poverty is more apparent, the aspect of the dwellings, the cultivation of the lands, and the substantial condition of the middle classes all combine to disprove the presence of suffering much beyond the average in most nations of the Old World. The wretchedness that Mr. Lawrence described, instead of being universal, appeared to be confined to one portion of the island. He thought that after such a statement as that, they might dispose at once of the revolutionary propositions which had been made to forcibly deprive the landlords of their existing right of ownership. Mr. Mill had suggested that there should be a Commission appointed to value all the landed property in Ireland; but the labours of such a Commission must necessarily be very protracted, as the number of holdings in that country was no less than 600,000, according to the estimates of the best statisticians. He understood Mr. Bright's proposition to be that the tenant, on being converted into a proprietor, should pay the present landlord the full value of the land. If this was so, he apprehended the tenant would have a very bad bargain; for according to Mr. Bright's plan, no one was to hold land but an occupier. But, suppose one of these oc- cupiers, having become a proprietor, made money and wanted to sell his land, if he was to be restricted to a market in which all the intending purchasers were occupiers, it was clear that he would be obliged to sell at a depreciated price that for which he himself had paid the full value. They were told that occupying proprietors were the best farmers in the world; but be would ask their Lordships whether that class of agriculturists were the farmers who had improved the breed of cattle, or who had introduced steam ploughs and steam thrashing machines, and made those other improvements in farming which had rendered the soil more productive with a less expenditure of manual labour? Mr. Mill had justified his proposition for the establishment of a peasant proprietary by the example of Belgium. If, however, they turned to that country they found that the principal portion of the agricultural work was performed by women, and there was no sign of the energetic improvement by the expenditure of capital in the application of steam or other machinery, such as was evinced in Ireland. Through whose instrumentality, he asked, was it that the steam plough, steam thrashing machines, and improved agricultural implements which were now to be seen in Ireland had been introduced? Could anybody deny that it was the doing of the landlords? In Belgium they might perhaps see in a whole village one single horse thrashing machine, while all the other agricultural implements were of the rudest character; yet the Belgian peasantry were held up as being superior to English and Irish farmers. He had avoided going into the question of the political condition of Ireland; but before sitting down he thought it right to say that Ireland never had been more free from agrarian disturbance than she had during the last year. The absence of crime in Ireland was really marvellous, not by comparison with the state of things in that country at any former period, but by comparison with the state of things among any other population of equal numbers in any other country on earth. He thought that the Minister whose duty it would be to ask their Lordships to continue the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act would tell them that only very few of the farming class had identified themselves with the Fenian movement. Undoubtedly it was alleged that some of the farmers had shown a cer- tain amount of sympathy with the Fenians; that they had taken no active part in apprehending offenders and endeavouring to put down the movement. But let their Lordships just consider the temptations of such sympathy to which the people in the rural districts were exposed. These were temptations which it was hard for those who were subjected to them to entirely resist. The small farmers were told by agitators, and read in the papers, that they were going to be put in possession as proprietors of the land which they now farmed and paid rent for. Some such conversation as this took place—"Did you hear the good news? You are going to be put into possession of the land. You need not trouble yourself much longer about the rent." "How is that?" "The philosophers in England have found out that the tenants ought to have the land, and the Government are going to give it to you. It is all owing to the Fenians." "How can that be? I read in the paper the other day that the heads of the Fenians in America were selling our land, and I was thinking to myself whether I'd like my Yankee landlord as well as my Irish one." "Oh, that's not it at all. The English Government are so frightened about the Fenians that they are going to give you the land and put an end to the rebellion." It was not unnatural that the tenant farmers to whom such news was communicated should say "More luck to the Fenians." To put an end to such delusions his Bill, or some measure like it, ought to be passed by Parliament. He believed there was no honest man, whether landlord or tenant, who did not feel that the tenant ought to be fully compensated for any improvements he made in the land, and should be protected in his holding so far as was consistent with a due regard for the rights of the landlord and with the proper cultivation of the Irish soil. There was no occasion for a revolution. This year rents had been easily collected and most cheerfully paid in Ireland; profits had been made by the farmers; and this year the landlords had had less trouble than, perhaps, at any former period. If Parliament only endeavoured to improve the system of letting by such means as he ventured to submit for their Lordships' consideration, he felt no doubt that Ireland would progress, and the tenants would become contented and happy. The noble Marquess concluded by moving the first reading of his Bill.


said, he had no desire to enter upon a discussion on the Irish land question. There was no question before the House, and no conclusion could be come to. He, however, thought this was a very good time to promote any measure to remove, as far as possible, any objection to the existing relations between landlord and tenant in that country. But he must call their Lordships' attention to the fact that the evidence taken on this subject disclosed a very different state of things from that which was generally supposed to exist. From that evidence it would appear that landlords and tenants were on the best terms. It also showed that the landlords laid out many thousands of pounds in building houses and making other improvements which tended to the advantage and comfort of the tenants. There was no doubt, however, of the existence of much agitation on the land question. There was a feeling of uneasiness which must prevent things from going right if there was no other obstacle to their doing so. But before the Bill of the noble Marquess came on for a second reading, it would be well to consider if provision had not already been made by Parliament for what this Bill sought to effect. So late as 1860 two Acts were passed, one in relation to the tenure of land in Ireland, and the other having more direct reference to the relations between landlord and tenant in that country. They had a common design, though their provisions were different. It appeared to him that nothing had occurred since 1860 with reference to the tenancy of land in Ireland to make further legislation necessary, unless it could be shown that the Acts now on the statute book did not reach every difficulty. The first of the Acts to which he referred provided for improvements by the landlord and for improvements by the tenant, and it contained provisions for the acquiring of leases. The Bill introduced by the noble Marquess did not provide for more, except as regards binding remaindermen by the grants of tenants for life, which will require great consideration. The other Act of 1860 was not only valuable for its own provisions, but as a digest, admirably made, of the existing law between landlord and tenant, and a schedule of every previous Act repealed or affected by that Act. The date and chapter were carefully given in every instance. But what did the present Bill propose? By a single provision, and without any express reference whatever, it proposed to unsettle the whole of the existing law. Before dealing with the question in such a spirit, the defects, if any, existing in these two Acts of 1860, which professed, and did, in fact, attempt, to make a regular and business-like settlement between landlord and tenant, ought to be pointed out. If, therefore, this Bill were referred—as he presumed it would be—to a Select Committee, he hoped the noble Marquess would be prepared to point out in what respects those Acts of 1860 had failed. It was proposed that all the lettings in Ireland should be by lease, or, at least, that the conditions of tenure should be reduced to writing. But there were tens of thousands of tenants in Ireland who would not take a lease, because they would not incur the necessary expense. A gentleman was examined before the Select Committee upon this very question, and stated that he had got in his office a high pile of leases and counterparts, all duly executed by both landlords and tenants, but he could get nobody to take them away because they would not pay the expense which had been incurred in stamping them. Their Lordships might, perhaps, gather from this story what was the reason why the Act of 1860 had failed. Yet the noble Marquess proposed to repeat the same enactment, and to enforce it by a singular penalty. Because there were tenants that would not take leases the noble Marquess proposed to punish their landlords, by depriving them of the simple remedy he proposed to create, and by making them have recourse to more expensive tribunals. The reason a tenant was unwilling to accept a lease was plain enough. "If I take a lease for twenty years," he reasoned, "the landlord will know as well as I do when the term expires, and will insist on a re-valuation; but if I am only a tenant from year to year, my family and I will remain on at the same rate, and he will think nothing whatever about it." One of the most extraordinary provisions contained in the Bill, however, was that with regard to the planting of trees, which were to become the property of the tenant if planted under certain conditions, one of these being that there should still be seven years unexpired of his lease, or one life in the lease remaining—a life which might at that very time be eighty or ninety years old. Let any noble Lord say how he would like to get up some morning and find a tenant planting oak trees all over his estate, which the tenant might either cut down or sell on the expira- tion of his tenancy. The noble Lord then referred to the mode in which leases and compensations are managed in England; it was worthy of consideration whether the plan might not work well in Ireland. He disclaimed any intention to force upon Ireland a plan merely because it operated well in England.


, as a Member of the Committee which considered his noble Friend's Bill last Session, said, he desired to say a few words, not only on the present Bill, which resembled that of last year, but also to speak on the subject generally. The noble and learned Lord who had last spoken had done good service in calling attention to the difficulty which would arise in endeavouring to create a complete code of law as regards land in Ireland. Without careful examination the new enactment would clash with existing laws, which should be repealed, if it were desired to repeal them, not by general words, but by express provisions. Those not learned in the law who were on last year's Committee had considerable difficulty—he himself found insuperable difficulty—in drawing repealing clauses. He did not know whether his noble Friend (the Marquess of Clanricarde) had ever fully stated the provisions of his Bill; but he would doubtless forgive him if he gave his view of them. The Bill had four objects, setting aside subsidiary provisions. In the first place, it provided that all agreements for letting farm lands should, as far as possible, be in writing. His noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) would pardon him for saying that he had fallen into an error when discussing this part of the Bill, because he argued as if the Bill required the granting of leases, and by "leases" he evidently meant agreements for a term of years. The Bill, however, did not propose to force such agreements upon either landlord or tenant, but simply required that all land, whether let for a term of years, or only from year to year, or even for a shorter time than a year, should be let under an agreement reduced to writing, and that if no agreement in writing was come to within a certain period then the landlord should be able to take advantage of that special procedure created by the Bill, which might be described as its second set of provisions. These proposed that a Court should be established, simple in its procedure, to which all differences between landlord and tenant should be taken. The third object of the Bill was to enable landlords to grant leases, and to deal more freely with their estates than the law would now permit them, an object which all persons who had dealt with the question thought desirable. The fourth object of the Bill was to enable tenants to obtain compensation for improvements they might have made. Before going further he wished to notice what his noble Friend had said as to the relations subsisting between landlord and tenant in Ireland. As his noble Friend had spoken from actual experience, he should not think of setting up an opinion against his; but he asked whether it was not a fact that a great difference existed between the number of years' purchase obtainable for agricultural land in England and Scotland, and for similar properties in Ireland? Was not twenty years' purchase regarded as a very fair price for land in the South and West of Ireland; would not land similarly circumstanced in England sell for as much as thirty years' purchase, and if that were so could any one deny that the conditions under which persons hold land in Ireland caused it to be estimated less highly than in England and Scotland? This granted, did it not follow that the condition of agriculture in Ireland demanded the special attention of Parliament? Without objecting to the general tenour of his noble Friend's Bill, which was chiefly permissive, and not likely to lead to evil, he thought the clauses providing compensation to tenants for improvements were insufficient. His noble Friend proposed only that landlords and tenants should have power to enter into compensation agreements. Something more than this was necessary, and he (the Earl of Kimberley) believed it would be found advisable to enact some measure similar to that which was suggested by the late Government. He thought it would be found consistent with justice and expediency to establish that wherever no special agreement had been made between the landlord and tenant, prohibiting the tenant from making improvements, the general law of the country should by some means secure to the tenant compensation for any improvement he may have made. And when speaking of compensation for improvements, he desired to remind his noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) that he was not referring to payment for manure or for root crops, for which in England the tenant was paid in a manner satisfactory to both parties, but to permanent improvements, such as buildings, roads, drainage, and the like, which in England were usually executed by the landlord. If in Ireland the landlord could not let his land if the permanent buildings on it were not in good repair, the case would be very different; but in the South and West of Ireland, permanent improvements were constantly executed, not by the landlord, but by the tenant. And it should be remembered that it was always intended to limit the claim for compensation to charges on account of permanent improvements only. There was, however, one point of great difficulty, and one in regard to which he freely admitted that the Bill of the late Government was defective. There must be some mode of registering the improvements, so as to prevent claims from being made for work which, in point of fact, had never been executed. Before sitting down he desired to say a word or two on other schemes which had been proposed to amend the defective relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland on a very large, and as some said, revolutionary scale. He did not scout a scheme because it had been styled "revolutionary;" the subject was so important that all schemes demanded careful examination. But any scheme for handing over the land to the existing tenants at the present rents, whether accompanied or not by measures of compensation to the landlord, seemed to him to be a scheme to which Parliament would not consent, and to which it was not desirable that Parliament should give its assent. He based his objection, not on any general abstract opposition to this scheme, but upon practical reasons. One proposal that had been put forward by a very eminent man was that the landlord should have the option of receiving an equivalent to the rent in Consols, if he were not disposed to continue to hold the land at such a fixed rate as it might be valued at by the State. But he would ask their Lordships whether they thought that if such a scheme were carried into effect it would really be calculated to improve the existing relations between the Irish people and the English Government? That was the test to which any such scheme must be brought. Admit, even, that the dissatisfaction which prevailed in many parts of Ireland was such that it required little short of what might be termed a revolutionary measure to allay it, the effect of this measure would be to hand over a considerable amount of land to the English Government, who would thus become the direct landlord, and would have to collect the rents from the peasantry, and to evict them if the rents were not paid. Was it not as certain as anything political could be that, so far from removing disaffection, such a scheme would have the effect of increasing it? The Irish landlords would naturally part with the worst portions of their estates, and the tendency of the measure would obviously be to strengthen the sympathies of the population with Fenianism; because the farmers who had become the direct tenants of the Government would, if they could succeed in getting rid of the Government, get rid of their landlord also. Other objections might be stated; but those which he had just urged seemed to be so fatal, that, with every respect for the author of the measure, he thought the sooner it was generally known that no party in Parliament or in the State was likely to entertain the proposition, the better would it be for the relations existing between the two countries. With regard to the scheme for giving compulsory leases of sixty years, it seemed to him also open to most serious objections, and to be one which Parliament was not likely to entertain. Land might be increased in value in other ways than by the improvements of tenants, such as by the establishment of new markets, the growth of towns, and the establishment of railway communication; and yet by this scheme the landlord would be deprived for sixty years of all advantage from such increase. He did not believe that any such indiscriminate and sweeping measures could have any good effect in Ireland or elsewhere. The nature of the disease was not such as could be cured by such measures; on the contrary, they would produce greater dissatisfaction than existed at the present moment. The circumstances of the land differed widely in different parts of Ireland, and the positions of the landlords and tenants were not the same; so that if all were dealt with by the same measure, although no doubt great advantage might accrue in some cases, great injustice would be done in others. It would be much more agreeable if they had to deal with a state of things in Ireland for which some remedy could be suggested that would have the effect of transforming that island at once into a thriving and prosperous country; but as he did not believe in any scheme of so Utopian a character, he thought they would do well to be contented with less ambitious endeavours. To any measure, however, which might be calculated to improve the rela- tions between landlord and tenant in Ireland, from whichever side it might come, he should be happy to give his most cordial assent. Meanwhile, he could not help remarking that he had hoped that Her Majesty's Government would have taken this opportunity of announcing the policy which they intended to pursue with regard to Ireland. When called upon, as they were to be, to sanction the continuance of coercive measures, they were, he thought, entitled to such an explanation. He trusted, at all events, that when that measure came forward for discussion the explanation would be afforded.


No one has a better right to be heard on this subject than the noble Marquess who has introduced this Bill; but I can only now give him much the same answer that was given last year—namely, that Her Majesty's Government have no inclination, at this progress of the Bill, to oppose it. The noble Marquess has acted wisely, I think, in following the course he pursued last Session, and proposing to the House to continue the Committee, which no doubt elicited last year evidence upon the subject of a most important character. I believe the noble Lord proposes to read the Bill a second time some day this week, and whilst the Government offers no opposition to the Bill in its present stage, we reserve to ourselves entire liberty to support the Bill or oppose it, entirely or in part. I shall say no more on this subject at this moment, and with respect to what the noble Earl who has just sat down has said with regard to the policy of the Government with reference to Ireland, I may add, following the rules of the House in not having had any notice given of the important question, that I decline this evening to give any information upon the subject. Your Lordships will not, however, have long to wait for information on the subject; because to-morrow evening the Chief Secretary of Ireland will probably explain in "another place" the intentions of the Government with respect to Ireland.

Motion agreed to.

A Bill to provide a simple Law of Tenure in Ireland—Was presented by The Lord SOMERHIIL; read 1a. (No. 23.)