HL Deb 16 August 1881 vol 265 cc1-14

Moved, That the Commons Amendments to the Lords further Amendments, and Commons consequential Amendments, and Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords further Amendments, be considered.—(The Lord Privy Seal.)


My Lords, before we enter upon the consideration of these Amendments in detail, it may, perhaps, be worth our while to look briefly at the state of the Bill as it has been returned to us from the other House of Parliament. It will be in your Lordships' recollection that much of the discussion which has taken place in this House with respect to the merits of this Irish Land Bill turned upon what was the 7th, and is now the 8th clause—the clause which dealt with the assignment of a fair rent. Your Lordships resolved, for reasons which I think commended themselves to the vast majority of the House, that you would read the Bill a second time; and, in coming to that conclusion, you also impliedly came to the resolution that you would not make any Amendment in the Bill which would interfere with its essential principle. That was the view that was expressed at the time by myself and by my noble and learned Friend behind me (Earl Cairns), and, I believe, was, at least as far as our judgment went, generally adhered to by us in the discussions in Committee. But we were apprehensive that there were points in which the Bill did not fulfil the policy which its authors had announced, and was not in agreement with the doctrines which they had laid down; and that, consequently, it exposed to dangers—dangers of a serious kind, but lying outside the purview of the Bill—some of those classes which would be affected by its provisions. The greatest and most serious of those dangers affected the question of fair rent. There were in that clause affecting a fair rent sundry matters open to discussion. One of them—one of the most important of the secondary points—was that which excluded the landlord from equal access to the Court with the tenant, and that seemed to be a matter of considerable injustice. But over and above all the other dangers that affected the landlords from the operation of Clause 7 was this—that the fair rent should be fixed, not with reference to the circumstances which fix fair rent in England, and in all other countries in the world, but that it should be fixed with reference to the price which the tenant had given for his holding, and should so diminish the rent as the price of the holding increased; and when the price given for the holding again increased that the rent should be again diminished. This was the great danger to the interests of the landlord which arose from the operation of Clause 7. There was no other ground for apprehending that the rent would not be fairly fixed by those to whom the duty to fix it was assigned. With respect to the tenants' improvements, we were nearly all agreed that the tenant was to have the benefit and value of his improvements; and in all other matters we felt that honest and upright men would on inquiry be quite competent to fix a fair rent when once it was agreed that it was to be fixed by the tribunal to be appointed by the Bill. But in consequence of the prevalence of the opinion that the tenant right or price of the holding was to be a deduction from the fair rent—not only among Irishmen of the extreme school, but among many men in England also—it was felt that there was a serious danger that such an opinion would affect the Commissioners, and might leave its trace upon the decisions to which they would come. But I am bound to say that this opinion, whose operation we dreaded, was not an opinion which had ever been expressed by Her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, the Lord Privy Seal and the Lord Chancellor, in language I have already quoted, stated distinctly that they did not at all admit the doctrine that the price of the holding was to be a deduction from the fair rent; and the Prime Minister has expressed the same view more than once in the House of Commons. But I cannot say that there was equal unanimity among noble Lords who ordinarily support the Government. The noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll) said that it was absolutely inevitable that the fair rent, as the Bill stood, would be cut down by the price of the holding, and the noble Earl sitting on a lower Bench (the Earl of Dunraven) expressed the same view. We felt, as this difference of opinion existed, and as it was a matter affecting the rent of every landlord in Ireland, that this was a momentous part of the measure; and, though it was not a principle put forward by the Government, which we were contesting in fighting the Bill, still we thought it was essential that the greatest stress should be laid upon this matter. My Lords, I pointed out that danger when speaking on behalf of my Friends on the second reading; and my noble and learned Friend behind me, in more emphatic and clear language, speaking at the end of the debate, enlarged on the danger, and pointed out how it would work and how it might affect the decisions of the Land Commissioners. When we got into Committee I moved a sub-section which would have had the effect of preventing the dangerous operation apprehended in regard to these deductions. I said that it was impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Amendment, and that but for the hope of introducing some such words we could not have assented to the second reading. My Lords, I have dwelt upon these words because I wanted to explain the motive and animus of our conduct in this House with respect to the Bill, and to show that we have been guided by a consistent principle. Our view of the immense importance of this Amendment has at last persuaded Her Majesty's Government, not, I am bound to say, to give up any of the principles which they laid down, or to infringe in the least degree upon the principle of the Bill, but simply to give judicial and statutory effect to the doctrines which they have upheld; that is, no doubt, the most satisfactory result of the discussion which we have had in this House. The House of Commons has also, I think, with great wisdom and justice, assented, although not in the exact words we inserted, to the landlord and the tenant having equal access to the Land Court. They have also, with a slight alteration in the phrase affecting improvements, given their sanction to the view that the tenant can be paid for improvements he has made otherwise than by a mere money payment. There are many things known to all connected with land which it is fair to take into account when appraising the value of improvements and the effect they ought to have on a fair rent. I may say that the words we sent down were not accepted, but other words were substituted for them; and I am of opinion that the words sent back, on the whole, protect the landlord's interest better than the words we sent down. For this reason the House of Commons used the words "paid or otherwise compensated," whereas we entered into a series of circumstances that might be considered a ground for compensation; but it is obvious that the word "otherwise" will include not only all the words that we suggested, but any other circumstances or any mode of compensation that might have been omitted. With respect, therefore, to the 8th clause—the central and vital point of the Bill, so far as our deliberations and discussions have gone—I think we may speak in terms of unreserved satisfaction of the decision to which the House of Commons has come. With regard to the other Amendments, there are, undoubtedly, grounds why we should have been glad to see their decisions other than they were. With respect to two of them I do not speak quite freely, as they are not our Amendments. They were not moved from this side of the House, and we can scarcely exercise an entire liberty of disposition in regard to them. I could wish that the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), who I am sorry is not in his place, were present to take care of his own offspring. The noble Duke moved an Amendment to protect those who, under the promise given them by the Act of 1870, had purchased properties under the Ulster Custom of tenant right. I could not hold with the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal that those persons were foolish for what they had done, and who had relied upon the provisions of an Act of Parliament. The noble Duke proposed an Amendment. It consisted of two parts, the improve- ments made by the tenant, and the other and mysterious right, which entered into the goodwill. When the matter was last before this House the noble Duke abandoned the question of goodwill and limited the provision for compensation, which he introduced into the Bill, entirely to the question of the tenant's improvements. He provided that, where a landlord had previously purchased the tenant right of a holding, the landlord should be compensated out of the proceeds of the first sale by the tenant. I am sorry the provisions of the noble Duke were entirely rejected by the House of Commons. It is, however, fair to notice a thing which may have escaped observation. In assenting to another Amendment, the House of Commons practically do very much, though not entirely, what the noble Duke proposed. There is in the second clause an Amendment of ours which extended the landlord's right to compensation in the case of any sale in Ulster, or out of it, from the improvements which had been made by the landlord to those which had been purchased by the landlord. That is exactly the case of the person who has purchased the Ulster tenant right. Undoubtedly, in assenting to these words, the House of Commons assented to the principles of the noble Duke's Amendment. Still, if the noble Duke were here, or if he has intrusted anybody with the duty of moving and insisting on his Amendment, I, for one, should feel bound to vote for it; but substantially, and to a great extent, there is no doubt that the unobtrusive Amendment to which the House of Commons assented last night will, to a great extent, attain the object we had in view. I may say the same with respect to the Amendment of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) concerning leases. Since first leases were placed under the operation of the Bill it has received, from time to time, considerable modification; and the result now stands thus—that persons who have taken reversionary leases are saved, persons who wish to build are saved, persons who wish to have a home farm, or residences for themselves or their relatives are saved, and persons with very long leases are saved. There, however, remains, no doubt, a considerable residue; and my opinions are unaltered as to the injustice, in many cases, of the provisions of the Bill. How far the injustice extends to any considerable class of Irish people I am unable to say. That is a matter that depends on local knowledge. I was much struck by an observation made the other night by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Waterford) behind me, by whose discernment and knowledge of Ireland we have been so much assisted in our recent discussions. He said that, so far as the Irish people were concerned, he was satisfied with the exceptions and reservations which had been introduced into the original clause respecting leases. But in that matter I feel we are very much in the hands of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) opposite. If he is disposed to move that we should insist on the Amendment he first submitted, I should feel bound to support him by my vote. With respect to the remaining Amendments, the Amendment which I was rebuked for calling Mr. Parnell's has fallen out of the Bill—I hope not owing to the prejudice I was said to have vented against it. It has been abandoned, and I must say its abandonment is a very material improvement to the Bill, because, although it might not have had any great effect for its original object, there is no doubt the principle was more vicious than that of any clause I have seen introduced into an Act of Parliament; and it would have had the additional effect of so blocking the Court with work at the beginning of the operations of the Land Commission that the Bill would have had no operation at all. Another Amendment was made in the clause by which the Government had given a very strange preference, which, from the beginning, I was never able to understand, to the landlord who raised his rent; he was to have an advantage which nobody else was to have. That very unnatural preference has been abandoned, and the Amendment which your Lordships made on that subject has been accepted. On the other hand, certain provisions with respect to the resumption during the first 15 years, or statutory term, have been adhered to by the House of Commons, though considerable modifications have been made in the operation of them. The matter is one on which my judgment does not agree with that of the Government; but I am not prepared, for the sake of those 15 years, to wreck the Bill, nor am I prepared to advise the noble Earl who has charge of the Amendment (the Earl of Pembroke) with reference to compensation to press it. We have the pleasing assurance of the Lord Privy Seal that compensation will soon become an antiquated remedy. I could have wished that he had not thought it necessary to sharpen a weapon he never intended to use. The matter is not one of principle; it was abandoned in 1870, and I have never treated it in the debates as a matter of considerable importance. My Lords, this ends the catalogue of Amendments. I do not know what course the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) intends to take, neither do I know whether the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) has intrusted anyone to speak for him with respect to the Amendment which stands in his name; but, subject to the explanations I have made, we shall not, on our side, take any action, or send the Bill back to the House of Commons. I can only close my observations on the subject by saying that your Lordships have not interfered with the principle of the Bill; your Amendments have removed excrescences and guarded against dangerous perversions, but they have not interfered with the principle; and for that principle, and for all the results it may produce, Her Majesty's Government, and not the House of Lords, will be exclusively responsible. I part from the Bill, expressing a hope, rather than a trust, that it may do great benefit to the Irish tenants, and not much harm to the Irish landlords.


My Lords, I interpose in consequence of the appeal made to me by the noble Marquess. He asked me whether it was my intention to persevere with the Amendment relating to leases which for some time stood in my name. That Amendment was one with regard to which I felt, and still feel, very strongly. If it had to be considered upon its merits alone and with reference solely to the subject matter, I should most certainly ask the House to insist upon that Amendment. But the time has come when these details of the Bill can no longer be considered as mere matters of detail. Broader issues are before us—issues affecting the state of Ireland, and affecting, though in a less degree, the position of your Lordships' House. I own that, if by persevering in this Amendment, or any other, I was to produce the effect of interrupting the progress of this measure, I should not be prepared, under the circumstances with which we are now confronted, to take the responsibility which such a course may involve. With reference to the position of your Lordships' House I feel this—that it would be impossible for your Lordships to insist upon a point relatively of such minor importance without rendering yourselves liable to have your arguments misrepresented and your motives obscured out-of-doors. Six months hence it would probably be difficult to find anyone who would be able to say precisely what it was your Lordships had determined to stand firm upon. More than that, I am influenced by the fact the noble Marquess has so well pointed out, that Her Majesty's Government have dealt with this Amendment and with other Amendments made by your Lordships in a spirit of conciliation, and with a desire to consider them fairly. And in the case of this particular Amendment, although the concessions made by the Government do not go as far as I should have wished, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that they are of considerable value. I will not take upon myself, after the full account which the noble Marquess has given, to recapitulate the concessions which we have obtained. They seem to me, as he stated, to be concessions of great importance, and they have this undoubted advantage—that not one of them, so far as I am aware, need interfere with the practical working and utility of the measure. I believe that is true of every one of your Lordships' Amendments, from that first important Amendment which had reference to holdings managed according to the English system, down to the last Amendment dealing with that of wild duck, which was retrieved for us by my noble Friend (the Marquess of Waterford) on the other side. My Lords, under these circumstances, I shall not certainly press this matter further; and I, therefore, beg to withdraw the Amendment which stood in my name.


My Lords, I certainly shall not attempt to fight the battle of any Amendment over again. I have little to say upon the statement of the noble Marquess opposite, except that I listened to it, in common with all your Lordships, with the greatest possible pleasure. It was, of course, directed more to the other side of the House than to this; it was certainly not intended for this Bench. We are thoroughly satisfied with the reasons given by the noble Marquess for recommending the House to make no more changes in the Land Bill; we should have been perfectly satisfied with any reasons he could have produced. I have only one word to say. In our opinion, this Bill, if it passes into law in the form in which it has now come from the House of Commons, will not have sacrificed any one of the essential principles which it originally contained, or fail, so far as we and Parliament are concerned, to attain substantially the objects it has in view. I am quite willing to add that, with respect to its details, in our opinion it has been distinctly improved by the collision and comparison of opinions of the majorities of the two Houses of Parliament, looking at it, no doubt, from opposite points of view. That is our conviction, which I am glad to state to the House. I will only say, in conclusion, that I join with the noble Marquess in earnestly hoping that this measure will do great good to the tenants in Ireland; and I also hope and believe it will do great good to the landlords of Ireland. ["Oh!"] I speak as one of them myself. I believe, considering the circumstances of the country, it will do them essential good in the future, by placing the essential rights of property—which are certainly at this moment in Ireland not in a satisfactory condition—upon a firmer and a safer foundation.

Motion agreed to.

The Commons propose to amend the Amendments made by the Lords to the Amendment made by the Commons to the Lords Amendment in page 2, line 5, by leaving out the words ("or acquired, and have in the main been upheld,") and inserting in lieu thereof the following words ("by the landlord or his predecessors in title, and have been substantially maintained,") by leaving out the word ("or") and inserting the word ("and,") and also by leaving out the words ("made or acquired.")

Moved, That this House doth not insist upon their Amendment.


said, that the Bill, having escaped the shoals and quick-sands which had beset its course, was now about to pass from their Lordships' hands, and embark on its mission as a solvent of some of the social and political difficulties of Ireland. This was the last opportunity which would offer in their Lordships' House for either criticism on its details or speculation as to its probable effects. He therefore trusted their Lordships would allow him to trespass on their attention with a very few observations.


rose to Order. He said he did not think the noble Viscount would be in Order in speaking at this stage on the general principles of the Bill.


said, he was not going to speak on the general principles of the Bill, but only to say a few words on its probable effects in Ireland. This Bill had been supported and tolerated in their Lordships' House from very mixed motives. It had been supported as a great measure of public policy for the pacification of Ireland, and had been accepted on this ground by those who dissented from many of its principles and details. For his own part, he had given it a loyal and ungrudging support, because he considered it a measure founded on the strictest principles of equity and justice—a measure which gave to the tenantry of Ireland some reparation for the past and security for the future. He believed that these were also the sentiments of the small minority of Irish Peers who acted with him on this question. They considered that they were only doing an act of justice in supporting this Bill, and they had no right to make any claims on the gratitude of their countrymen for doing an act of justice. But, having thus separated themselves from their class for the purpose of supporting the claims of the great body of the Irish tenants, he thought they had entitled themselves to appeal to them, and to those who possessed their confidence, and to ask them not to nullify their work, but to give to this Bill a generous reception, and to its provisions a full, honest, and fair trial. The enactment of good laws was of little use if sinister influence was used to induce those who were to be subjected to them to baffle their objects and to cripple their operation. He be- lieved this Bill was capable of conferring inestimable benefits on all classes in Ireland; but this result would mainly depend on its being received in a loyal and generous spirit, and on the removal from the course of its operation of all disturbing elements. Political agitation was a mighty influence for the attainment of political purposes, and he was not the man to deprecate or discountenance it when kept within legitimate bounds, and directed to the accomplishment of feasible objects; but it should be used as a remedial medicine, and not as the normal food of the system. Neither the human frame nor the body politic could be maintained in vigorous or robust health if subjected to the continual action of drastic influences, which were on occasion useful, and even necessary. From various circumstances, this had for some time past been the case in Ireland; and he would appeal in the interests of the country to the patriotism, good sense, and good feeling of all classes of Irishmen to endeavour, by seeking to calm the public mind, to secure for the provisions of the Bill an honest and a full trial. But if these considerations should not have weight, and it should become apparent that it was determined to neutralize the designs of the Legislature by continuing the licentious agitation which had produced so much lawlessness in Ireland, then he thought they who had given them a loyal support had a right to appeal to the Government to take stringent measures to counteract such conduct. Their Lordships would easily understand that it was not an agreeable duty for one sitting on those Benches even to hint at a course which might involve interference with personal liberty or freedom of discussion. They were told by moralists that all vices were the result of the misuse, the perversion, or the misapplication of instincts, sentiments, and principles in themselves just and lawful; and what was true in morals was equally true in politics. Personal liberty, the right of free speech and free discussion, were not absolute rights to be exercised by every man at his own discretion. The exercise of all these rights must be subject to the fundamental rule of the social compact, by which they all agreed to give up a certain portion of personal liberty in order to secure the enjoyment of regulated freedom. Where liberty ended and licence began must in every case be decided on its own circumstances; but most reasonable men would agree that the line should be drawn somewhere short of the point where discussion took the form of disputing the right of the Government to the allegiance of its subjects, and personal action was directed to oppose the enforcement of the law. He was quite aware of the difficulties, moral and legal, with which the Government had had to contend in endeavouring to enforce the law up to that time in Ireland; but the passing of this Bill had swept away many of those difficulties from its path. There was now in Ireland no dominant creed or class; there was now no room for unjust oppression of one class by another. The agitation, if continued, must be directed, not to the redress of grievances, but to the destruction of all authority; and he was bound to say that, in the event he contemplated, the time would have arrived when Her Majesty's Government would have to make their election between the alternative courses of either giving up the country altogether or adopting such a vigorous plan of administration as would provide ne quid detrimenti respublica capiat, and prevent the beneficent intentions of the Legislature in passing this Bill from being frustrated or defeated.


I feel some doubt whether I should take any part in a discussion which appears to some of your Lordships not to be strictly within the Rules of Order; but your Lordships would wish me, I think, to take some notice of the appeal which nobody could make with greater authority than the noble Viscount behind me. I do not know anyone in this House who, from the large and liberal views he has taken with regard to the tenantry of Ireland, has a right to speak with more authority in advising them to receive with satisfaction and goodwill the measure now passed by both Houses of the Legislature. I will only in one word say that Her Majesty's Government have had a most difficult task imposed on them. They were of opinion that it was absolutely necessary to deal with the lawless state of things in Ireland; and they were equally convinced that they ought not exclusively to deal with that state of things by measures of coercion, but that it would be necessary to bring in reme- dial measures. They feel what was so well expressed in the language of the Lord Privy Seal and of the noble Viscount with regard to the state of things in Ireland; and if this extraordinary agitation should continue they will not relax their vigour and determination in maintaining the majesty and authority of the law.

Motion agreed to.

Commons Amendment agreed to.

Remaining Commons Amendments to the Amendments made by the Lords agreed to.


The last of the Amendments having been agreed to, I wish to make a statement in confirmation of the statement made by the Prime Minister. It may be presumptuous to suppose that anything he says can require confirmation as a matter of fact; but his credibility was doubted when he said that there had been no arrangement between the two sides. Now, the Front Opposition Bench of the House of Commons had no notion what course the Government intended to take with regard to any of the Amendments; and the Prime Minister's statement, if I may say so without presumption, is therefore absolutely true. I had no knowledge whatever as to what the Government intended to do with any one Amendment, nor was there any person authorized to act on our behalf in that respect. It is, therefore, an entire mistake to suppose that there was any arrangement between the two Houses on the subject.

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