HL Deb 31 July 1882 vol 273 cc150-5

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(The Lord Privy Seal.)


said, that during the discussion which took place on the second reading of this Bill a question was asked by the noble Marquess, who was not now in his place (the Marquess of Lansdowne), as to whether the Government intended this to be a final measure, or whether it was merely an instalment in Irish legislation. As no answer had been given to the question, he (the Earl of Camper down) ventured to repeat it. It appeared to him to be most important that Parliament should know the whole mind and plan of the Government in reference to this subject. When Parliament was asked to pass a measure which the Government, who were responsible for its introduction, admitted was contrary to all principles of political economy, and which could only be justified by its necessity, it was certainly not too much to ask that they should have an assurance that they should not be called upon hereafter to vote for a measure which should diverge still more from those principles. It was, therefore, important that Parliament, and still more the Irish tenant, should know the whole mind of the Government upon this question. How was it possible that they could escape from further agitation on this question if they did not know what was the limit to which the Government were prepared to go in this direction? The only indication they had received on this point was to be found in the speech of the Prime Minister made in the other House of Parliament, which was as follows:— One important subject was left in doubt at the time when I last spoke, and that was the amendment of the Irish Land Act. Various heads, none of them touching the essence of the Act (the provisions relating to tenure) hut still touching very important matters, have been raised, and have attracted, in different degrees, public interest, both here and in Ireland. As far as I recollect, among many others, there are, first of all, the provisions relating to purchase; then those relating to the date of the judicial rent; thirdly, the Emigration Clause; fourthly, the subject of leases, upon which I never spoke as of any large change, but with respect to which there is a recommendation of the Commissioners before the Government not altogether immaterial; and, fifthly, there is the question with respect to labourers, upon which also a recommendation of limited scope has been made by the Commissioners. There may be others; but I believe those are the principal questions." —[3 Hansard, cclxxi. 1968.] The right hon. Gentleman had then proceeded to point out that it was impossible to deal with these questions during the present Session of Parliament. It was evident from this language that there was some intention on the part of the Government of dealing with these questions in the coming, or, at all events, in future Sessions; and he thought that the House was entitled to some explanation of the meaning of those words. Their Lordships would perceive that the Prime Minister had referred to two very important matters, which affected most intimately the relations between the landlords and the ten ants of Ireland—the first being the question of the date of the judicial rent, and the second being that relating to the leases. In dealing with those two important matters it was quite possible that the whole subject of the Land Act might be brought under discussion. Neither the Irish Representatives in the other House nor the Irish tenants themselves were slow to appreciate the advantages which indefinite statements on the part of the Government on such subjects gave them; and indefinite language such as that used by the Prime Minister was calculated more than anything else to do great mischief in Ireland. In these circumstances, he trusted that the Lord Privy Seal would be able to give the House some definite assurance with regard to the extent and meaning of the Prime Minister's words, because he believed that plain speaking was the best policy to adopt in the interests of both the Irish landlord and the Irish tenant. How was a landlord to manage his estate, or a tenant to cultivate his holding, if they had an idea that the Legislature was going to do something in reference to land of which they did not know? It was proposed in this Bill to compound the debts of the tenants, and to pay a certain portion of them. It seemed to him, when they had done that, they had done as much as could fairly be claimed. The Government could confer no more important boon upon them both than to state distinctly and clearly what they were prepared to do, and what they were determined not to do, in the matter of future Irish legislation. If they did not speak out clearly, he feared the day was far distant when they would see the contentment and pacification of Ireland. He, therefore, begged to ask the noble Lord for an assurance that if the Bill became law no further important changes would be proposed by Her Majesty's Government in the laws relating to contract between landlord and tenant in Ireland; or, in the event of the Government being unable to give such assurance, he asked for an explanation of the Amendments in the Irish Land Act lately foreshadowed by the Prime Minister.


said, he was able to answer the noble Earl's question in the affirmative. He need hardly say that the Bill now before their Lordships' House was naturally one of a temporary character, intended to meet a crisis in the agrarian history of Ireland, and its effects would come to an end in the course of a very few months. The present measure was not intended to serve as a precedent or example for any future legislation that would effect any serious change in the principles of the Irish Land Act of last year; and he might add that the Prime Minister never had in his mind any serious changes as to matters of principle in that Act. In saying this, of course he did not pretend to bind the Government down so as to debar it for all time, or for the term of its existence, from proposing any corrections of detail which they might deem just or expedient in carrying into effect such a large and complicated measure as the Irish Land Act of 1881. One of those corrections of detail, which was one of the very things alluded to by the Prime Minister, and was now before their Lordships' House, was the correction suggested by the Irish Land Commissioners, supplying an omission in the Act of last year with respect to the provision of houses and allotments for labourers. But his right hon. Friend personally had no intention, and Her Majesty's Government as a whole had no intention, of proposing any change in the Tenure Clauses of the Land Act, which would affect the principles of the Act of last year. In making that statement, he wished to include in it not only the matter referred to by the noble Earl, but the question which his noble Friend had not mentioned, but which was adverted to lately by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne)—that relating to the law of compensation for improvements, or the effect of the tenant's claim for improvements in fixing a fair rent, which the noble Marquess described under the form of the principle of "prairie value."


said, he would venture to warn their Lordships against being misled into supposing that Her Majesty's Government either could or would bind themselves, as the noble Lord told them, to any cessation of their attacks upon property in Ireland. When he looked back to the professions made in 1870, when they were told that arguments altogether unanswerable were produced against the very things which were embodied in the Bill of last year, and when he found that no attempt had been made, even by those who brought forward that Bill, to address themselves to a proper answer to these arguments, he felt how uncertain all this legislation was, and especially where the Prime Minister, instead of placing some limit on this occasion on his concessions as he did in 1870, came forward now with language of the most uncertain description —language which had already gone to Ireland and produced its evil effects, however it might be corrected and palliated by the noble Lord opposite. The present Government, in fact, was always actuated by circumstances as they arose, and the more terrible those circumstances were the less it seemed prepared to cope with them in the only way in which they should be met—namely, by reserving the policy of conciliation until peace and order had been firmly established in the country.


said, he was surprised that such an appeal as that of the noble Earl (the Earl of Camper-down) should have been made to the Government, because it was one which no Government ought to answer in any other spirit than that of the noble Lord (the Lord Privy Seal). No Government could with propriety bind its discretion. He, however, quite agreed with the noble Viscount as to the value of any assurances that might be given by the present Government — a Government which had never hesitated on occasions to retract or explain away its opinions. The Irish landlords certainly, after their recent experience, would not easily be reassured by anything the Prime Minister might say. The Bill was contrary to all sound principles of political economy. It inflicted hardship on the landlords by singling them out from all other creditors as the only victims; it rewarded the tenant in proportion to his failure as a farmer, or his dishonesty as a man. The Bill would waste useful funds, which, wisely applied, would be capable of rendering the greatest service to Ireland, and would most likely inflict heavy burdens upon the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. As regarded the general scope of the Arrears Clauses, upon which he wished to say a few words, he could not but express his regret that the interests of the labourers had been so much overlooked. Such neglect, it seemed to him, was especially unwise at the present time, when the Labourers' League was beginning to make itself felt in Ireland. Within the past few days he had heard of intimidation and "Boycotting" being practised by the labourers; and he was afraid that they, in their turn, were beginning to learn that the commission of outrages was the best means of calling attention to their wrongs. The result of the Bill would, in his opinion, be to alienate and discourage the whole body of the labourers of Ireland, and to foster the spread of the Labourers' League, and thus to add one more element to that social disorganization which had so largely followed the advent of the present Government to power in Ireland. Much as he should regret the loss of the Emigration Clause of the Bill, he should prefer to incur that loss rather than to see the first part of that measure passed in its present form.

Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

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