HL Deb 26 June 1882 vol 271 cc363-70

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether, in consideration of the statement of the Prime Minister on public business on the 20th instant, in which he specially alluded to the necessity of amending (1) the leases, (2) the labourers, and (3) the purchase clauses of the Irish Land Act, 1881, and followed up his allusion to this subject by stating that— Although in reference to it he could give no positive intention on the part of the Government, he could only give assurances that the Government will endeavour to make up their minds at what they think the proper time, it might not be advisable for Her Majesty's Government, when they have definitely made up their minds upon the provisions of this proposed Irish Land Act (1881) Amendment Bill, to introduce it into this House, with a view of giving the country some knowledge of what is proposed as well as of accelerating the progress of the Bill through Parliament? The noble Earl, after apologizing for the length of the Question as it appeared upon the Paper, said, that during the last two years they had been accustomed, on every occasion when the Prime Minister made a statement on which a Question afterwards arose, to have his words explained away in one manner or another; and therefore he (the Earl of Galloway) had thought it only right to quote the words of the right hon. Gentleman before alluded to. He would call their Lordships' attention to what he might call the right hon. Gentleman's prefatory remarks, spoken on Tuesday last, with respect to Public Business, and intended, no doubt, as much for the benefit of that as of the other House of Parliament. The Prime Minister first repeated what they were all aware of—that the Government stood pledged to proceed in the first place with the Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Bill, a statement which would be approved on both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to say that Her Majesty's Government felt it of importance that they should proceed with the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Bill, and that they were going to ask that it should have precedence over all other Business except the Prevention of Crime Bill. Now, they all knew that the Arrears of Rent Bill contained principles which were of an entirely novel kind, and which, so far as they could glean from gentlemen connected with both sides of politics, were considered of an almost unprecedented nature. In consequence of that opinion, there could not be a doubt that before it came away from the other House it must go through an amount of sifting and searching criticism which would make it a considerable time before it could come to their Lordships' House. It was a Bill which he had no doubt would go down to posterity as the "Kilmainham Treaty Bill." The Prime Minister then observed that the Government intended to persevere with the Corrupt Practices Bill; fourthly, he thought it would be necessary to introduce a measure for the disfranchisement of certain boroughs; and, fifthly, to bring in a Bill, not for the continuance, but the amendment of the Ballot Act. Sixthly, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Procedure Resolutions; and he said he was to give a special night for the discussion of the Egyptian Question. All that information was given on Tuesday; and since then, in answer to a Question of his noble Friend below him (the Earl of Sandwich), it was stated that Her Majesty's Government intended to persevere with the Rivers Conservancy and Floods Prevention Bill. All these measures had been introduced in the other House of Parliament, and it was evident that none of them would come before their Lordships until they had passed the ordeal of the other House. In the statement made last week, before the right hon. Gentleman used the words to which he (the Earl of Galloway) was drawing attention, he alluded especially to the fact that the amended Irish Land Bill should certainly embrace three particular points—the amendment of the Leases Clauses, the amendment of the clauses with respect to Labourers, and the amendment of the Purchase Clauses of the Act of last year. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to say— I can announce no intention, no positive intention, upon the part of the Government; I can only give assurances that we will endeavour to make up our minds at what we think the proper time."—[3 Hansard, cclxx. 1774.] That statement was open to three questions. It was open to anybody to ask the proper time; whether the Government intended to make up their minds; and when they meant to endeavour to make up their minds? Before proceeding further, he wished to remind their Lordships of what had happened in regard to the Irish Land Act in their Lordships' House. It would be within their recollection that, at the beginning of the Session, their Lordships decided, by a substantial majority, though against the wish of the Government, that it was expedient that an inquiry should be made into the working of the Land Act of last year. It would also be within their recollection that that determination on the part of their Lordships produced a certain amount of rancour and hostility in the mind of the Prime Minister, and that it took a practical form. As regarded the result, however, he (the Earl of Galloway) did not know there was any other than a waste of the public time for three nights. But within a week of the exhibition of that rancour and hostility the right hon. Gentleman made the admission that it would be necessary to inquire into the working of that same Irish Land Act. Now, he (the Earl of Galloway) thought he was right in saying that that admission was made by the Prime Minister nearly four months ago. Therefore, the statement last week was merely a reiteration of what he stated four months ago. He thought it would be quite evident to their Lordships that that Bill, even if Her Majesty's Government did succeed in making up their minds, could not be brought into the other House of Parliament before the month of August; and it did seem to him that Her Majesty's Government were bound, in their intention to deal with it, that a Bill of such moment, involving interests of such magnitude, and which had caused a great deal of discussion and feeling in Ireland, should first be brought before their Lordships. He did think Her Majesty's Government were entitled to accede to the proposal, and in order that the country might have an early opportunity of seeing the provisions of the Bill it should be introduced into their Lordships' House. It used to be the custom of the other House to allow an interval of three weeks between the introduction of a Bill and the second reading; but he feared that that salutary practice was now obsolete. Perhaps circumstances made such an interval impossible in the present day; but, as far as the public were concerned, much the same result would be obtained if the Bill were first introduced into their Lordships' House. Otherwise, if the Government could not introduce it into one House, and would not introduce it into the other, it might be thought, after the Prime Minister's recent statement, that they were trifling with the patience of the country and dignity of Parliament. The dangling of a Bill in that way before Parliament, as a sort of horoscope, was much to be deprecated.


said, that the Irish Question was so constantly before that and the other House, that hardly anything that could be said would throw any new light upon it. The statement of the Prime Minister was, however, of vital importance, coming as it did less than a year after the passing of the Land Act, and at a time when its action had put the landlords and tenants of Ireland in the peculiar position not only of suffering for what had been done, but in not knowing how much they would suffer in future. When the Land Act was discussed early in the present Session, the opinion was generally ex- pressed on the Ministerial Benches that the worst cases of rack-renting came first into Court, and that the Commissioners would not, as time went on, make such general or such large reductions of rent. But it had altogether worked in another direction; for, since that debate, the prophecies made on the part of the Government, and in defence of the conduct of the Commissioners, had not proved true, and the experience of the cases which had come before the Land Courts had taught them that the Land Act had already deprived the landlords of about one-fourth of their property. Now, he should like to know what guarantee there was that the new changes shadowed forth by the Prime Minister would not take away the few remaining rights of the landlords and the residue of their income, for the proposal of the Government looked very like carrying out the recommendations of Mr. Redmond's Bill. It might not be a Treaty, but here were the "suspects" all out, and part of a measure proposed by the Representative of the extreme Irish Party brought forward, and the other items promised to be brought forward by Her Majesty's Government. If that was not a Treaty, he did not know what was. What were Irish landlords to expect, or how could they possibly make any arrangements, when there was a new sword of this kind hanging over their heads? What could they expect from the Purchase Clauses of the Act, which were the only means they had of escaping from the unfortunate position they were in? When they knew their rents were to be reduced in the future, they certainly consoled themselves in the hope of getting the arrears of the past; but there was introduced a compulsory measure which released the tenant of his obligation to pay his arrears. The Bill would not reach their Lordships' House till late in the Session, after the passing of the Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Bill, when the noble Earl the Leader of the House would press upon them the necessity of accepting it without delay; but surely, if they were threatened with the loss of a large part of arrears due under the sanction of a Bill in Parliament, they ought to be allowed time to discuss it.


, interposing, said, that the Government were as anxious as anyone could possibly be, and most desirous to introduce the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Bill at the earliest possible time; but whatever faults it might possess, and whatever difficulty there might be in discussing it later on, the noble Lord opposite (Lord Oranmore and Browne) was clearly out of Order in doing so at the present moment.


said, he did not intend to discuss the Bill, however much it might be a common practice in that House. The tenants who were making efforts to pay up rents were, in consequence of the introduction of that Arrears Bill, now paying none.


rose to Order. The question was, whether a certain Bill should be introduced in that House or "elsewhere."


I do not know that I am in the least out of Order. It would be well my noble Friend should read the Notice on the Paper.


I think the noble Lord has already made two or three speeches.


proceeded to say the statement referred to of the Prime Minister would tend to increase disorder in Ireland. It had already prevented arrangements being come to in regard to rent, and also the payment of arrears, and it would greatly embarrass the action of the landlords. Landlords were so placed that they did not know what to do, and they were often compelled by circumstances to act in a way they would not in a more settled condition of things. There was a report that the Prime Minister was well satisfied with the results of his Irish legislation, and that they did not disturb his rest. That showed that he had got a fine constitution; but if he could see the unfortunate results, it would not be surprising that his rest, like that of Macbeth and Richard III., should be disturbed by the ghosts of those who, through his mistaken policy, were now in another world.


said, it appeared evident to him that the House did not intend to be led away by the allurements of the noble Lord (Lord Oranmore and Browne) to enter into a discussion of the Irish Question upon this inquiry, which had been accurately described as one relating simply to the procedure of the two Houses of Parliament upon a possible Bill; and he should absolutely decline to follow the noble Lord by attempting to discuss the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Bill now before the other House. The noble Earl (the Earl of Galloway), he thought, had not quite accurately conveyed the purport of what was said the other day by the Prime Minister when, in the course of a long statement, he referred to the Land Act. The Prime Minister made no announcement on the part of the Government of any intention to bring in a Bill relating to any part of the Land Act, excepting, of course, that which was before the other House dealing with the arrears. What the Prime Minister said was that there was the question of the Purchase Clauses, which would, sooner or later, have to be dealt with. The noble Earl spoke of the subject as if it were the property of Mr. Bright; he seemed to have forgotten the Report of their Lordships' Committee on that subject. The Prime Minister added that certain suggestions had been submitted to the Government by the Land Commissioners, as to leases and labourers—that was, as to the effectiveness of the provisions in the Land Act with respect to labourers—but he said that the time had not arrived when it would be possible for the Government to say whether they could deal with these points by a measure during the present Session. The Prime Minister also said that when the Government knew they were through the two Irish Bills now before the House, they would decide whether or no they could attempt to remedy the defects of the Land Act this Session; and, if so, that would be the time for them to consider in which House the Bill should be introduced. But, of course, they reserved that question until they had decided whether there should be such a Bill at all.


said, that the formation of a Labourers' League in Ireland, for the purpose of promoting the interests of labourers, and ready to seize upon any idea that might be thrown out to them, indicated the danger of the situation, and made it desirable that the views of the Government as to whatever was to be done should be formulated as soon as possible. It would be very undesirable, and it could not be the wish of the Government, that that League should assume the same character as the League formed by the tenants.


said, he had thought it necessary to refer to the words of the Prime Minister, because certain questions respecting the Labourers' Clause had been the subject of recommendation by the Land Commissioners to the Government; and there was also a question as to the Purchase Clauses. Those were both important points, and, while acknowledging what had fell from the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville), he should be glad to have some assurance from the Government as to when they intended to make up their minds on the subject.