HL Deb 21 July 1885 vol 299 cc1342-70

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 Chancellor of Ireland.)


My Lords, this Bill, as now introduced to your Lordships, is of such great importance, and has been so little discussed, that I am sure your Lordships will excuse me for offering a few remarks upon it. It is true that the amount to be advanced is limited to £5,000,000, for the purchase of their farms by the occupiers in Ireland; but whatever steps are taken with regard to the mode in which these purchases will be carried out will have to be adopted in any measure which may hereafter be passed with the same object. It is of great importance that your Lordships should fully consider the matter, and, therefore, I do not apologize for making some observations be- fore going into Committee. The question which, in connection with the matter, has occurred to my mind, is, what your Lordships mean when you say that you want to create peasant proprietors in Ireland? Is it intended that all peasants' rents should be at once and forthwith commuted, in the same way in which copyhold tenure has been commuted, and is being commuted, in England? Is it your Lordships' intention to carry it out at once in Ireland? My belief is, that there is no such intention. We want to proceed gradually and in a sound way in increasing the number of proprietors in Ireland. We do not wish to sweep into our measure of purchase all tenants, bad as well as good; but we desire to strengthen and to raise up in that country an intelligent, independent, and enlightened class of small proprietors. I am aware there are some persons who wish to introduce this measure simply in order to relieve the landlords of Ireland. I regret to think that, in Ireland, there are many landlords in very embarrassed circumstances. Some of them, perhaps, are unfortunately embarrassed by their own extravagance, or by the extravagance of their predecessors; while there are many others who are embarrassed from circumstances over which they have had no control, and for whom everybody must have the greatest sympathy. For that reason, I should rejoice if a measure of this sort could relieve those landlords, while carrying out a wise and sound Act for Ireland; but, my Lords, we must take care that, in doing that, we do not encourage agrarian agitation and raise political and financial difficulties. What, I ask, are the political difficulties connected with a scheme of the sort now proposed? It may be proceeding to the amount of only £5,000,000 now; but we may hereafter largely increase this amount and practically buy up all the farms in Ireland. The political difficulty is a very serious one, inasmuch as you are placing the State in the position of landlords in Ireland, and that, it seems to me, is a grave responsibility for the State to assume. We know, unfortunately, by sad experience, that there has been a cry of "No rent! "and a strike against rent due to individual landlords in Ireland; but we may have to cope with a worse difficulty should there be a strike hereafter against the payment of an annuity to the State from the small and the new owners of land. That annuity will almost come into the shape of a Land Tax in Ireland. I am afraid, from the past history of that country, that it may not be unlikely that, at some future day—if that country does not prosper, and if law and order are not maintained—there may be a strike against payments to the State. Then we have the financial difficulty and danger connected with a scheme of this sort. We are, in fact, placing a heavy burden on the taxpayers of the United Kingdom, and we ought to be very careful to see that, for any advance we may make, full and proper security is obtained. Now, my Lords, I come to consider how these objections and difficulties maybe most safely met; and the first question is, whether we ought to advance the whole of the purchase money to the tenants? Is it safe and prudent to do so? Under the present law three-fourths only can be advanced, and this has to be repaid with 5 per cent interest in 35years. I have to frankly con-fess that I see very grave objections and considerable difficulties to advancing the whole of the purchase money, and that I see considerable difficulties in doing so. If we only advance two-thirds or three-fourths, we take it for granted that the tenant has the money in hand to repay the remainder, or that he has sufficient interest in the country to be able to secure a loan of the remaining portion. Thus we should get a much more thrifty and better class of proprietors than we should if we advanced the whole of the purchase money. If you advance only a part, yon have other parties besides the State who are interested in keeping up the annuities; whereas, if the Government should advance, practically, the whole purchase money, the Government are the only persons concerned with the purchaser in the transaction, and the securities are, therefore, reduced. I am bound to admit, however, that those who understand the subject say that little or nothing can be done with regard to the purchase of farms by the tenants, unless the whole sum is advanced. Therefore, I reluctantly come to the conclusion that we must go further than has been previously proposed we should go, and must advance, in some shape or other, the whole of the purchase money to the tenants. Then comes the question, How is that to be done, and what is the best way to do it? Under the Bill of last year, greater encouragement was given to a tenant who sought for a partial advance than to a tenant who sought for an advance of the whole of the purchase money. The tenant who received an advance of three-fourths was to receive the loan at £4 10s. per cent for 40 years; whereas a tenant who received an advance of the whole amount was to pay 5 per cent for 33 years. In their measure last year, Her Majesty's Government also proposed that, when there was an advance of the whole of the money to the tenant, there should be a joint guarantee supported by a local body, as well as by the Government. The noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Ashbourne) said that that was unworkable in Ireland, and I admit that there are considerable difficulties in the way; but I venture to think it would get over the political and financial difficulty which I have tried to point out better than any other method, for not only should we get better security for our money, but there would be a local body interested in seeing after the farm, and having full knowledge of all the circumstances of the new occupier. They would be enlisted on the side of the payment of the annuity, and it would be an important consideration to have a kind of buffer between the Imperial Government and the new occupier. I regret, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord thought this local guarantee could not be adopted now; but if there are difficulties at the present time, then, at some future time, when there will be, as I sincerely hope, strong local bodies formed in Ireland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, this idea of local guarantee will, I think, be again revived. It has been said, with reference to a local guarantee, that a ratepayer in Ireland would resent very much paying for the deficiencies and delinquencies of his neighbour; but surely the taxpayer who lives in a remote part of Scotland or England would have greater ground of complaint if he had to pay for the deficiencies of an Irish owner. Again, the terms on which advances are to be made may be too liberal, and may practically offer a bribe, tending to drive persons whom you do not want to be- come owners into becoming owners. I am willing to admit, however, that the terms offered are too onerous, and will not encourage them to come forward. The noble and learned Lord proposes that the whole of the purchase money should be advanced, and that one-fifth shall be retained by the Land Commission—the body which is to represent the Government. With regard to the one-fifth being retained and the manner of dealing with it, I do not object to the proposals, assuming that the whole of the purchase money is to be advanced without guarantee. It is only another way of advancing four-fifths with good security. By advancing the whole of the purchase money, you prevent the tenants from falling into the hands of usurers, who would seek to obtain a high rate of interest for their advances, and thus you will increase the security of the State. The object should be to encourage the thrifty and intelligent tenant to become an owner, and not to draw into your net a thriftless or bad tenant. To this part of the scheme, therefore, I do not propose to offer any hostile criticism. I now come to the period of the advance, which Hook upon as the most important part of the scheme. I think that great danger may arise if proper terms are not made for the repayment of the loan. In order to test this part of the scheme, I will compare the annuity which the tenant will have to pay under the provisions of this measure with the amount of his present rent. Upon this point I maintain that if you give the tenants too great an advantage over those who are simply occupiers, you wall draw within the operation of your measure men whom you would rather not see owners of their holdings, and you will create great political dangers in the future in times of national agitation. In dealing with this point you will have to take into consideration three conditions of things—first, the number of years' purchase which the landlord ought fairly to receive; secondly, the period during which the payment ought to be spread over; and, thirdly, the actual amount of the sum to be repaid. Of course, a great deal will turn upon what may be considered the fair value which the landlord may expect to get for land in Ireland, and this will largely depend upon the market price of land in that country. Then, again, there is a danger that the Bill, in consequence of the provisions contained in it dealing with this matter, will tend to an interference with and institute an artificial increase as regards the value of land; for if you lengthen the period of repayment unduly, or diminish too much the rate of interest, you will artificially increase the value of property, and will throw a considerable difficulty in the way of arriving at the actual value of land in the country, besides preventing a rapid absorption of the debt. As far as I can ascertain, the fair value of his land in Ireland which the landlord expects to obtain is something under 20 years' purchase, which, owing to the difficulties of the last few years, your Lordships will find is the outside price of land in that country. Under the provisions of the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, the tenant is to repay the advance in 49 years, at the rate of 4 per cent on the total sum, which is to include principal and interest. In order to see how the provisions of the measure will work, let us take the case of a tenant who pays £100 a-year rent. That rent, at 20 years' purchase, represents a capital value of £2,000. In order to repay the advance and interest, therefore, the tenant will have to pay £80 per annum for 49 years, to which must be added £7 10s. as the landlord's share of the rates and taxes, which the tenant will then have to pay, in addition to his own share of them, making a total payment by the tenant of £87 10s. per annum, instead of £100 per annum, which he now pays. In some cases, however, the landlord may be willing to sell for 15 years' purchase, or even less, and then the tenants will only have to pay £67 10s. per annum. The consequence is, that you will draw in a very large number of tenants within the operation of the measure, if you show them that they can obtain such an enormous boon as a reduction of their rent by £32 10s. per annum. I think that this is too great a bribe to offer. In these circumstances, therefore, I should prefer a different scale of repayment, under which the tenant shall pay £4 10s. percent, and the repayment to be spread over a period of 40 years only. Of course, a great deal depends upon the number of years' purchase allowed. If it is 20 years it is much too little. Twenty-five years is sufficient; but the period proposed by the Bill—49 years—is much too long a period. That would entail a dissatisfaction as regards other rents, and would be anew danger. It is a new thing to spread the repayment of an advance of this kind over a period of 49 years, and I object to so long a period, as it prolongs all the risks that the State must run, besides creating a new and very grave danger to landlords who do not wish to sell, and whose tenants will naturally object to pay £100 a-year rent, when their neighbours are only paying from £67 10s. to £87 10s. for the fee simple of their land. On the other hand, if the annuities, taken together with the rates and taxes, are made to amount to somewhere about the same sum as the present rent, the difficulties and dangers to which I refer will not be created. Then the security is to be that of the Irish Church Surplus. That is certainly a novel way of applying that rather elastic fund. It has been constantly resorted to when the Government have been in difficulty, and wished to make a grant to Ireland without coming on the taxpayers of the United Kingdom; but, hitherto, all payments have had to be made in specific sums. We have had Intermediate Education, Emigration, Schools, and Arrears of Rent. But in all these cases, where money has been granted, the amount has been definite. This Bill, however, will, on the other hand, lock up the whole surplus of the Church Fund for 49 years to meet the claims under this measure. It is an entirely new principle, and I believe that, of itself, it will cause great dissatisfaction in Ireland. I sincerely trust the tenants will pay; but, if they do not pay, or do not generally adopt this scheme of purchase—and I do not think they will—as possibly they may be content with their present tenure, which is on extremely liberal terms, the whole of the rest of the Church Surplus of £750,000 will be locked up, for the sake of a few thousands borrowed, and Ireland will be deprived of the benefit of a fund which might do material good to the country in various ways. Upon this point I hope your Lordships will be furnished with some explanation, or possibly some defence, from the noble and learned Lord in charge of the Bill. I now come to the question of the tribunal which is to work this measure; and, if in nothing else, I am of opinion that unless a satisfactory, loyal, and intelligent tribunal is found to work the measure, the Bill, notwithstanding the facilities given by the removal of technicalities, will, probably, become a dead letter, like its predecessors, and will end in failure. I do not deny that the Church Commissioners have done their work with great energy and diligence, and with much credit to themselves; I but it must be recollected that they have hitherto succeeded in a peculiar way, and the money was got in under great pressure. I think the noble and learned Lord has done quite right not to interfere with what has been recently decided in Parliament—namely, to put this power in the hands of the Land Commissioners rather than in those of the Estates Courts Judge. I think the Land Commissioners, though not more successful, have had great difficulties to contend with. They have been extremely occupied with their pressing duties, and I think that they will be able to conduct this with skill, energy, and loyalty. Now, I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord what are his intentions, with regard to these Commissioners? I presume that he intends that these two new Commissioners whom he proposes to appoint shall be made available for the ordinary work of the Land Commission—that they will go to various parts of the country to hear appeals. That is a very important fact. I have full confidence that any responsible Government will feel the necessity of appointing men who are impartial and competent to discharge these very onerous duties. The noble and learned Lord referred to this very onerous duty last night, and to the great danger arising in Ireland, if new Commissioners are appointed with views totally at variance with the present Commissioners. I quite agree with that, for nothing would more shake the confidence which, I believe, exists in many parts of the country in the decisions of the Commissioners, than the introduction of elements of discord into their body from the introduction of two men of very strong views. I point out this, not in the belief that the Government intend to put men in this office who would take up this position. I do not attach any importance to the rumours going about London, for, having had experience of more than eight years in Dublin, I know that when these appointments are about to be made these rumours are afloat, and are devoid of foundation. I, therefore, believe that the Government will appoint the proper men to fulfil these important posts; but I think it right to refer to the grave effect of any miscarriage of the kind to which I have referred. At the same time, I think that Parliament will have a right to demand, before this Bill becomes law, to know the names of the gentlemen who are to fill the Offices. In my own opinion both of them should be laymen. I was, I must confess, somewhat surprised that the noble and learned Lord considers it necessary that two Commissioners should he appointed. Perhaps it is because that, in Ireland, appointments go something in the nature of see-saw. No confidence is reposed unless an appointment is given, one to one side and one to the other—one to one religion and one to the other religion. I should have thought that one able and impartial Commissioner might have been found to command the confidence of all Parties. A man, no doubt, difficult to find in Ireland, but not impossible, and one, I think, which would have been amply sufficient to carry out this experiment, large as it may be. The legal difficulties as to the sale of land should be diminished as much as possible, and in this respect I am glad that the principles of Mr. Trevelyan's Bill have been embodied in this measure; but there are some difficulties which I do not see how the Bill will meet. Take the case of large rent-charges, for instance. How does the noble and learned Lord intend to deal with these charges? If you break up an estate into 50 plots, this difficulty will be greatly increased. How does ho intend to deal with that? Does he intend to commute in cases of this sort. I do not see any machinery in the Bill intended to deal with them, and the consequence may be that a mortgagor may foreclose, and thus put an end to the matter. There is another point to which I wish to refer. An owner of an estate wishes to dispose of three or five farms out of 50. These are all-important points which I think I am justified in bringing before your Lordships. I have, however, made these criticisms in no hostile spirit; for it would give me the greatest satisfaction, if a Bill of the kind on sound principles were carried through Parliament, that it should be a success. A great deal depends on the condition of Ireland. If Ireland is prosperous and law and order are maintained in that country, if intimidation is kept down, and if men of various classes may-follow their lawful occupations without interference from voluntary and unlawful associations, then I think this Bill will have some chance of success and certainly no one wishes it more success than I do.


My Lords, it is impossible for us to be otherwise than gratified by the way in which the noble Earl the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland has dealt with the Bill laid before your Lordships. Neither can we fail to appreciate the valuable character of the observations he has addressed to us with regard to it. The Bill is one that, at first sight, will no doubt excite astonishment and perhaps misgiving by the unusual character of the provisions which it contains; but those provisions it shares with a Bill introduced to the House of Commons last year, and therefore they have received the sanction of the highest authority. The idea of allowing a tenant to purchase his holding, and advancing to him the whole of the purchase money, and allowing him to pay it off by the manipulation of the public credit by no other process than continuing to pay his existing rent for a certain number of years, does, undoubtedly, seem a process which requires some vindication; and it would not be acceptable to Parliament except on the highest authority. I am glad to say on the present occasion that that authority does not exist. Two or three years ago a Committee of this House was appointed, and it was placed, at the instance of a noble Friend who is here, under the Chairmanship of one who is no longer among us, but one of the ablest, most acute, and most impartial men who ever sat in this House—one who knew Ireland well, and who was thoroughly competent to measure the effect of any legislation that was proposed for that country. It is a great recommendation of this measure that it comes with the imprimatur of the noble and learned Earl (the late Earl Cairns). And I may be allowed to say that it is an advantage almost equal that we have the approval of the noble Earl who has just sat down, who occupied a position the duty of which he lifted much above ordinary Party struggles. I think the general verdict of his countrymen is that he acted up to his duty, and to the model he was bound to set before him. He has shown—while we differ from him much—we have not followed the whole of his policy—in fact, in this House, more than once, we have felt it our duty to resist it according to our conscientious convictions—still, we on this side think that he has shown, through the course of his Viceroyalty, a high and manly courage, and that he administered his functions with the fairest and most equitable intentions, which have been as much recognized upon this side of the House as upon that. It is a great advantage that the main principle of the Bill comes with the imprimatur of two such men as the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) and my noble and learned Friend (the late Earl Cairns). I have only risen to deal with the principal suggestion of the noble Earl, not indeed fatal in itself to the Bill, but rather complaining of an omission in the Bill which raises some important and far-reaching principles. The noble Earl approved of most of our provisions; but he lamented that we had not the guarantee which he thought might have been provided by some arrangements of local government. He indicated the kind of local government he meant; and, to protect his observation from misinterpretation, he said that it was the sort of local government that ought to prevail in this country as well as in Ireland. His belief evidently was that such local bodies, if set up, would furnish a valuable buffer between the State and the tenant, and would also furnish a guarantee on which the State could rely. That is an argument which will require very carefully weighing before it can be accepted. We must not judge local bodies as they would be in Ireland by what we know of the working of similar institutions in this country. Local bodies will eminently share the passions, the feelings, and the interests of the particular local community by which they are elected; and if they are elected by tenants, the greater part of whom are indebted to the State, I am afraid the idea that their sympathies will be with the creditor state rather than with the debtor tenant is somewhat farfetched and unjustified. If local bodies were to declare themselves, if I may so put it, on the side of the State, they would, no doubt, be a valuable buffer between the State and its debtors, and withdraw from the State some of that unpopularity which the exaction of debt in every country, and especially in Ireland, is sure to excite. But if, as is more likely, their sympathies will be with the non-paying tenant, you will only be providing an organ by which the resistance of the tenant can be made more dangerous and powerful. I am afraid the local body would gather to itself an organized resistance with which you would find it rather difficult to deal. This is a question of extreme importance, and I earnestly hope that those who have a knowledge of Ireland, and are interested, in its welfare, will weigh well before they attach too much importance to the idea that they can constitute local bodies freely elected by the population in Ireland which will range themselves on the side of the State. There is another consideration to which the noble Earl alluded which has considerable weight— the dislike of people to pay rates in order to make good the shortcomings of other people. If your local body is made to furnish a guarantee, of course the ratepayers will have to make it good; so that, when the tenants are behind with their payments, the ratepayers will look to it that they were made. On this point, I only turn to a question of experience. Your Lordships will remember what took place on the abolition of church rates 15 years ago. The principle was to make it no longer compulsory to pay church rates. In parish after parish, one or two ratepayers only, generally the Bail way Companies, declined to pay the rates; and the result was, in almost every instance, that the parish having to pay for them, church rates were abolished because the rest of the ratepayers absolutely declined to pay for the shortcomings of other people. It would be an analogous feeling that would be raised if the ratepayers had to pay for some of the shortcomings of some of the debtor tenants. There are one or two other observations in the speech of the noble Earl to which I may refer. For instance, he found fault with our scheme, because we have assumed that, in a number of years, the rate of purchase would be higher than at present. I hope that the effect of this measure, if it passes, will be that it will produce that state of things, and that it will tend to raise the number of years' purchase that can be obtained for land in Ireland. But what is the cause of its low value? If I may be allowed to say so, without introducing controversial matter, I think that the legislation of the last few years is accountable for the low rate of purchase now prevailing. The noble Earl also demurred to our use of the Church Surplus; and his first objection was, we had not fixed the sum which we were going to draw from it as had been done before. If you take out of a certain sum a number of fixed sums, a point at last must come when the residue has to be applied. We have got to the bottom of this "Widow's Cruse, "which has furnished such incessant supplies, and I suppose no future Legislature will be able to obtain a portion of this inexhaustible resource. The inevitable result of that is, that the clause must be indefinite, and the sum taken uncertain. Nor can I agree with the noble Earl that this is an improper application of the Church Surplus. He must recollect our debate in 1869, as to the application of the surplus. He will remember that originally it was provided the fund should be applied to "inevitable suffering and distress;" but after much conflict that provision was struck out, and it was left to the future judgment of Parliament to decide the application of the fund. But, surely, if any human beings have experienced inevitable suffering and distress, to which they have been reduced by Act of Parliament, it is the Irish landlords. I could add to them, not less surely, the unfortunate tenants whose means of subsistence have been, to so large an extent, destroyed by the state of disorder and lawlessness into which society has been thrown, and of which many of them were not in any way the cause. They, equally with the landlords, claim our sympathies. I pray you, my Lords, not to look upon this Bill as a final and complete measure, or as anything which affects to be a panacea for the evils from which Ireland is suffering. It is an experiment, and a further experiment, on the path which many have travelled; and I trust, from what we have now learned by the failures of the past, that this experiment will at last succeed. If it does succeed it will give birth to further legislation in the same direction; and I have no doubt, in that future time, that Parliament will take care that all the precautions necessary to prevent its liberality going too far and defeating the object in view shall he taken. There is no doubt that if the great good we seek is to be attained, it must be by measures on a considerably larger scale than we have yet taken. The defence of this Bill is not so much that the measure is a remedy for the evils under which Ireland labours, as a means of ascertaining the mode in which a remedy can be applied. Again and again we have tried to ascertain it, and again and again we have failed. I earnestly join in the concluding words of the noble Earl—that it is on condition that Ireland obtains those blessings by which alone industrial life can be maintained that any success can be hoped for this Bill. If a condition of disorder is to be perpetuated; if men cannot pursue their daily toil free from the danger of molestation and intimidation, and cannot exercise their rights under the protection of the law; if the Government is not administered equally, firmly, strongly, and justly, then I fear that this Bill, or indeed any Bill inspired by the same hopes, must inevitably fail. But it is because we still cherish the hope that there is before Ireland a future in which these conditions will be fulfilled that we also express with confidence our hope that this Bill will meet with success.


My Lords, it is impossible, after listening to the speech of the noble Earl the late Viceroy of Ireland (Earl Spencer), not to feel that this Bill is full of dangers to the country. I observe, however, that my noble Friend did not oppose the Bill, but, on the contrary, concluded by blessing it, and he further stated that he earnestly hoped it would succeed; but none of the dangers to which my noble Friend referred can arise unless the Bill succeeds, and succeeds on a large scale. The political danger which my noble Friend pointed out has long been a familiar one to your Lordships' minds— that of the State becoming, on an extensive scale, the landlord of the country; and that danger cannot arise unless this Bill succeeds to an extent and on a scale that none of us at present anticipate. I cannot help asking why it is that such dangerous experiments as this have become necessary in Ireland? Let me direct your Lordships' attention to a few facts about which there neither can nor should be any controversy, and not to matters of opinion. The first is this— that the ownership of agricultural land in Ireland—I say agricultural land, because, of course, the observation does not apply so strictly to urban land, or land half urban and half agricultural— the ownership of purely agricultural land has become practically unsaleable in Ireland. The noble and learned Lord in charge of the Bill (Lord Ashbourne) has brought forward facts which are incontestable. He has shown that, up to 1881, the date of the passing of the Irish Land Act, land was saleable in Ireland at a fair price. The average sales, according to the noble and learned Lord, then amounted in value to £1,500,000 a-year. He went on to point out this most significant fact— that in every subsequent year the sales of agricultural land have steadily diminished, until, last year, the sales amounted only to a few hundred thousand pounds, composed, to a great extent, no doubt, of urban property. Why is it that people have ceased to be willing to purchase land in Ireland? A number of my old Friends in this House have said that agricultural distress is the cause. Well, there is one answer to that which seems to me to be conclusive. While the ownership of land has become unsaleable, the occupancy of land which is purely agricultural has risen enormously in value. I say that, if the unsaleability of land is due to agricultural distress, it is impossible that this contrast should exist. I do not know whether your Lordships noticed a fortnight ago a statement bearing upon this point in The Times. A property was exposed for sale in Ireland, and no bid beyond two or three years' purchase was received for it, and the property was therefore withdrawn. It was mentioned, I believe, at the same time, and with reference to the same property, that the occupancy of a holding was put up for sale. There was an eager and contentious bidding for it, and the occupancy, which was rented at £80, was sold to the new tenant for between £800 and £900. These few facts show that the ownership of land has become unsaleable, and that the occupancy of land has risen enormously in value. Is not the conclusion to be derived from these two facts per- fectly plain? Your legislation has rendered ownership, as compared with occupancy, an unsaleable article. The block in the land market arises from this—that the article which you sell is not worth a man's while to purchase. An utter want of confidence in the stability of our legislative wisdom and principles as regards ownership is the real cause of the block. There can be no question about it. Taking the two facts I have mentioned — namely, the utter unsaleability of ownership, and the high value of occupancy, and looking at the effect of your legislation, can you for a moment doubt what the cause of the block is? The noble Earl the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland used in his speech a word which I should not have used myself, but which, at the same time, I believe is strictly applicable in the present instance. He said that the Bill provides tenants with a bribe to put themselves into ownership. I quite agree with my noble Friend that it is a real and serious danger to offer an immense bribe to every tenant in Ireland; but if you are to try this experiment, I do not myself see how you are to avoid applying it to the impecunious and lazy, as well as to the industrious and skilled. There is another fact to which I wish to direct the attention of your Lordships, and which is a further indication of the block in the land market. I refer to the fact that all improvements by landlords are stopped in Ireland. No man with any sense now lays out a sixpence on his land in that country, except that which is in his own occupation. Is not that a most melancholy state of affairs? The landlords, in times past, laid out large sums of money for the improvement of their land, and the progress of events tended more and more to an increase of improvements. The evidence taken before the Bessborough Committee was clear upon that point — namely, that a yearly-increasing number of landlords had gone in for agricultural improvements in order to encourage their tenantry. Now, I say that every shilling is stopped and every tendency on the part of landlords to improve their land has been absolutely terminated. I am not directing the attention of the House to theoretical objections, but I am looking to practical effects. One particular clause of the Land Act was fatal to the carrying I out of improvements; but Mr. Gladstone, I may say, did not intend to stop them. It was provided that, after the judicial rent had been fixed, the landlord and tenant might agree upon a further sum, as interest on improvements, and it was further laid down that the rent should be revisable every 15 years. Now, if you wish to make improvements in Ireland under that law, you must charge a rate of interest which will recoup you your capital with interest during 15 years, and not less than 8 or 10 per cent is requisite for that purpose. I need hardly say that this is an additional rent charge upon the tenants which very few will be willing to pay. My noble Friend the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland seems to anticipate a very dangerous success on the part of this measure. I suppose, however, Parliament will keep this matter in its own hands. This Bill commits us, I think, to £5,000,000 sterling. If we find there is a great rush for the possession of land, on the easy terms the Government promise us, we shall be able to take the steps we may consider necessary in order to establish additional securities on that behalf. I, however, have very great doubt whether tenants in Ireland will be induced to become owners, even under this Bill. Their position as occupiers is so favourable, as compared with that of the landlords, that they know it is infinitely better for them to remain tenants than to change that position and become landlords. A friend of mine has told me of a conversation he once had had with a tenant in Ireland. My friend said—"Why don't you purchase this holding?" To which the tenant replied—"Why should I? I have already got a large slice of the property which belonged formerly to my landlord; and I have great hopes that in course of time, in consequence of further political changes, I may get another slice handed over to me. Why, then, should I change my position of tenant to that of proprietor, when the position of tenant is popular, and the position of an owner is exposed to all sorts of risk and public obloquy?" Those are the reasons that prevent men from going in for the purchase of their holdings in Ireland. Of course, no one will purchase land that has existing tenants upon it; but men may be per- suaded to purchase their own holdings, I because it has no tenants except them-selves, and they can let the land under what are called "future tenancies?" Now, what are the conditions of future tenancies? Certainly, they are not so onerous, so complicated, and so limited as in the case of a man who buys land with existing tenancies; but the owner who wishes to let land which is bought under this law will still be under the most grievous limitations. Under the Irish Land Act a man who purchases land cannot let any portion of it without giving a right of sale to his tenant. That is an intolerable limitation, and no man in his senses would buy land with such a condition. I will venture to make a suggestion to the House—I cannot, of course, make it to the Government, because it is, of course, impossible that they should enter, at this period of the Session, on any matter that would raise difference of opinion—but I venture to suggest to the House that a measure may be passed that will restore, or tend, at least, to restore, the saleability of land in Ireland, without all these great sacrifices on the part of the State, and without any risk of the serious political dangers to which allusion has been made by the noble Earl the late Lord Lieutenant. By the Land Act you have secured a large amount of property to peasant occupiers; it was their interests you looked to and fully secured. Mr. Gladstone, speaking in regard to that Act, has said that there is no country in the world which would derive more profit from the establishment of free trade in land than Ireland, only political difficulties stand in the way. Now, why not enact that every tenant who purchases his own holding should hold that land, not as a limited, but as an unlimited holder? In this way let him feel that, in the future, his land will be dealt with in the same way as land is dealt with in England and Scotland. Irish Peers and Members of Parliament say Irish tenants do not look so far ahead; but it is to be remembered that this legislation is not confined to the poorer class of tenants. It applies to the holders of farms of £3,000 rental, and many of them are very intelligent men, and men of some means. I cannot help thinking that if my suggestion were acted on, and these men were enabled to become unlimited owners, it would do much to restore the value and saleability of land in Ireland. You would not have to bribe men to buy the land, and the article, in short, would be restored to its pristine value—the value which it has in every other country. The change would also free us from these dangerous experiments of giving advances, and making the State the universal landlord on a large scale for 50 years or so. I wish to direct the attention of your Lordships to one danger which even the late Lord Lieutenant did not hit upon. It seems to me quite possible that, under this Bill, some of the larger tenants in Ireland may purchase their holdings on the very favourable terms which you are offering, and which amount, as my noble Friend has said, to a bribe, for the express purpose of sub-dividing and sub-letting them.


said, the sum was limited to between £3,000 and £.5,000.


That may be a holding which a landlord, might very well sub-let. The Irish Land Act prevents sub-division on the part of a tenant; but, of course, there is nothing to prevent a landlord doing so, and ho may divide a holding as much as he pleases. This legislation, therefore, among other risks, involves the possible setting up of small holdings, from the rents of which those who purchase under this Bill may derive largo profits. I shall not, neither do I wish to, oppose the Bill; it is an experiment that I heartily wish to succeed; but if it succeeds on a large scale, Parliament may have to legislate for the purpose of avoiding or evading the serious consequences that may follow from its operation, and to which it is calculated to give rise.


My Lords, the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) has made use of this Bill to make a speech against the Irish Land Act of 1881, and has expressed views upon it against which I shall, in a word or two, make a protest. He assumes that the whole necessity for this Bill is due to the legislation of the Irish Land Act. The noble Duke fixes his whole attention on the Act of 1881. What was that Act? It does not stand alone; it was intended to be, and it has been, a great and trenchant remedy for the most formidable evils that could press upon a State. My noble Friend thinks of no thing but the remedy, the surgical operation; he pays no atten- tion to the disease that was to be cured. The Act of 1881 certainly has not done all we could wish; but, in my belief, it has done a vast deal. It has restored the payment of rent in Ireland for one thing. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes; speaking of the country as a whole, it has restored the payment of rent in Ireland. The Land Act has put an end to what was, and would have continued to be, a state of absolute anarchy among the agricultural population of Ireland; it has improved the relations of landlord and tenant; it has greatly stimulated industry; and I believe, to a great degree, it has increased the contentment of the agricultural population. ["No, no!"] I admit that the state of affairs is still unsatisfactory and not free from danger; but, considering the condition of Ireland at the time the Act was passed, and the formidable agitation that has gone on since, I say that the Act has done great things. One thing, however, it has not done. It has not, up to the present time, made land saleable in Ireland. But it is no condemnation of the Act that it has not done everything that we could wish. In a large part of England land is not saleable. The noble Duke passes that fact by, with the observation that in Ireland the tenant's property is saleable. Yes, no doubt it is; but that has no bearing on the causes of the present unsaleability of the property of the landlord.


I specially dwelt upon the fact that the saleability of land did exist up to the time of the passing of the Land Act.


That is exactly the way of putting the case against which I protest. Land was saleable in Ireland until there came a period of agricultural distress, and an unparalleled agitation set in against a Land Law which could not be maintained without radical change. I say that, in that state of things, the Act has had a most salutary effect. It was intended to deal with an agrarian agitation accompanied by crime and violence. The noble Duke has no right to talk of the saleability of land up to the passing of the Act, as if there were nothing but the Act to be considered. Land has really become unsaleable, partly as a consequence of the crisis produced by the period of depression which has visited the country, and partly from the existence of a dan- gerous agitation, all the evil results of which I freely admit the Land Act has not been able to cure. As to the other points on which the noble Duke condemned the Land Act, they have nothing to do with the Bill now before us. He spoke of the stoppage of improvements by landlords; but the importance of landlords' improvements in Ireland is enormously exaggerated by those who are accustomed to the system of England and Scotland. The security of tenure created by the Land Act is of far more importance than any diminution of those improvements. In this respect, the Act has done far more for the good of the country, in the way of the tenant's security, than landlords' improvements could possibly have done.


No, no, no.


Well, that is a form of argument to which I can hardly reply. The noble Duke asks whether it could be expected that anyone would buy land on which the tenant had the right to sell his interest under what is called the future tenancy? My answer is very simple. I appeal to any Ulster landlord in the House to say whether the system of saleable tenant right has not existed for generations in that part of Ireland which has been most pros-porous, and where the value of land has been highest? I do not desire to say much about the present Bill beyond this, that I wish it all possible success. I am bound, however, in frankness to say that I greatly share some of those misgivings which were stated by my noble Friend the late Viceroy (Earl Spencer). I fear that, by this Bill, we are going beyond the bounds of wisdom and prudence in the enormous temptations that will be held out to Irish tenants to purchase the land they occupy. The Bill has this peculiarity—that the only check upon its operation is one that cannot act in any way upon the tenant, and can act only upon the landlord. The only check which the Bill provides, over and above the checks which we may believe to exist in the nature of the case, and in which I have little confidence—the only hope of preventing an indiscriminate operation, the sweeping into the net of all tenants, good and bad alike—is the retention in the hands of the State of one-fifth of the purchase money, which the landlord cannot touch for 12 years, and which he will run the risk of losing altogether. But that will not in the least affect the desire of the tenant to purchase his holding. Evidently, we have before us here the possibility of a very grave and serious difficulty. If the tenants shall convince themselves that they are not to get their holdings for nothing, or for half their value, an immense popular movement may very possibly arise, under the advice of interested leaders, for the purchase of land, and the risk of such a state of things has been stated as well as it can be by my noble Friend the late Viceroy. It is not necessary, however, to dwell further on the case of landlords who do not wish to sell, and we know that there are proprietors who are content with their situation. ["No, no!"] I mean landlords who, in spite of the tremendous difficulties through which we have all come, are content to remain Irish landlords. There are landowners who are attached to their homes and property, and do not desire to sell them. That I state with confidence. But lean easily conceive a popular agitation producing a state of things in which there may be such an amount of popular pressure brought to bear on them, that they will be deprived of that freedom of action which it is desirable they should possess. My Lords, I will not dwell upon these misgivings, although I sincerely feel them; I hope that all such forebodings may prove to be without foundation, and that the Bill will meet with all the success which such an undertaking de-serves, and which the noble and learned Lord (Lord Ashbourne) himself desires.


said, he wished to bring back the attention of the House to the real issue before it. Reference had been made to the Land Act; but that Act was the established law of the land; and it was their Lordships' duty to give effect to it. No discussion of that Act would lead them to a right conclusion on the question before them; but he might remind their Lordships that the real character of that Act had not been, he thought, fully appreciated by the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll). The great aim of that Act was to give to the Irish tenant security of tenure. When the historian came to deal with the question he would point to that, and to that alone, and would also point out that, before the passing of the Land Act, the occupier of the soil was a mere serf, who held his position simply at the will of the landlord. Indeed, it had been a not uncommon practice to write a notice to quit at the back of each receipt for rent. That state of things was altered, and the tenant was now a free man, and held his land in perfect security. He did not wish to say one word in hostility to the measure of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Ashbourne), and he did not intend to follow his noble Friend the late Lord Lieutenant (Earl Spencer) in his criticisms, many of which he himself fully adopted. He would remind his noble Friend who had spoken on the Bill from the Cross Benches, and had shown so thorough an appreciation of the subject, that he was, by the course which he was adopting, imperilling a very valuable measure. The justification of the Bill was, that it was an attempt to redeem the country from an intolerable state of things. The ownership of land in Ireland had been for some years past perfectly unsaleable. There was an enormous amount of capital locked up in land. One of the results of the present Bill might be to create a change in that respect and make land saleable—a consummation which was absolutely necessary to the prosperity of the country. At the present period of the Session, therefore, he would not interfere by proposing a single Amendment, but would leave the credit, as well as the responsibility of the measure, entirely to the Government. But there was one important consideration which ought not to be lost sight of. The Bill was emphatically one of finance; every clause of it involved finance, and it ought to have originated in the Commons. The Bill would go down to the House of Commons, and whatever Amendments wore introduced there would have to be accepted. The House of Commons might increase or reduce the charge on the Imperial Exchequer. The £5,000,000 might be increased to £20,000,000 or reduced to £1,000,000. The 49 years might be reduced to 40 years. In view of these possible changes, ho would have been glad if there had been more time to consider it; and, in that case, he would have been disposed to suggest its reference to a Select Committee; but under the circumstances in which they were placed, and considering that it was really a Money Bill, which ought to have been initiated in the other House, and that their Lordships must either reject the Bill altogether, or accept it as it came back from that House—and he hoped it would be accepted there—he advised noble Lords, especially the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Milltown), not to insist upon Amendments which would have the effect of imperilling a Bill that might do much, good. It was also to be hoped that it would be found possible to make use of existing machinery, and that the knowledge and experience of the staff in the Land Registry Office would be made available for the purpose of the Bill. This Bill was a tentative measure; it went in the right direction, and he wished it God speed. He could only hope that it would prove to be, as it was intended to be, advantageous to the country.


My Lords, I must say that it is not my intention to criticize or discuss the provisions of the Irish Land Act, or the policy connected with what has been called the Coercion Act, or the condition of affairs that has led to them. If I were to do so, I should have to occupy more time than is desirable; and, therefore, I decline to avail myself of the generous, if somewhat insidious, invitation that has been addressed to me from the other side of the House. When a question like that involved in the present Bill comes up, you must regard it boldly, broadly, and from a practical standpoint; and it is impossible to discuss, at this time of day, any great question connected with Ireland from an ideal point of view. You must look boldly at it, with a sense of the reality of things, and the only logic by which you must be governed in criticizing it is the logic of facts. Applying these common-sense observations to the present Bill, I may put this practical question—Have not the Government of to-day a right to consider the past history of this subject, and to ask whether the previous efforts to settle the question, however honestly they have been meant, have failed to come up to the benevolent intentions entertained by their authors; and whether the time has not admittedly come for another, a broader, and a bolder effort to deal with this question? If that be so, it is right to ask your Lordships to rise above the consideration of small technical matters, and to look at what are the difficulties to be met. The chief difficulty is essentially this— that land in Ireland is at present substantially unsaleable, that there is such a block in the land market that it interferes with the whole well-being of the country, and that it should be one of the first principles of practical statesmanship, putting all Party considerations on one side, to try to grapple with that evil, and to present a measure—not, it may be, an ambitious measure, but one which, at all events, will indicate that its authors had before their minds an earnest intention to present to Parliament a measure which shall be short, practical, and workable, and which, as far as may be, shall avoid contentious matter. After the debate which has taken place I cannot say that we have avoided all debatable topics; for, in dealing with a complicated question like this, we must present topics and clauses which must be regarded from many points of view. The answer I have to address to many of the criticisms which have been made, of which I acknowledge the justice, is that time is a necessity in the case. It is desirable that every effort should be made to expedite the passing of a measure like this; and the intelligent criticism to which it has been subjected by your Lordships will, I trust, facilitate the discussion of it in the other House. With regard to the speech of the noble Earl the late Lord Lieutenant (Earl Spencer), I recognize, in its closing words, that which was its governing spirit—namely, a desire that this Bill may be passed, and that it may be attended with every possible success; but several of the noble Earl's criticisms were, I think, made more or less to save his conscience, because the measure introduced by the late Government was to be passed by, and buried out of sight, with an admission that it was not workable. The other night I criticized Mr. Trevelyan's Bill with what I intended to be well-considered moderation; and when I mentioned the Guarantee Clause and its failure, I said that that proposal, which was originally well meant, and which received some small support on both sides of the House, was not, as experience shows, in itself workable. The noble Earl himself has tonight indicated that a guarantee re- quires a system of local government which does not exist in any part of the Empire. Has the noble Earl suggested any substitute for a guarantee, besides the substitute to be found in this Bill—namely, the retention of one-fifth of the money? That retention of one-fifth is far safer, more convenient, and more available than any system of guarantee. The noble Lord also criticized the terms on which, an advance is to be made. Those are questions which may be discussed from many points of view: and I admit at once that the terms are extremely liberal. When the late Government announced, in the other House of Parliament, that it was their intention to make certain proposals with regard to this question, that must be taken as an indication that they intended that their new proposals for facilitating the working of the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act should be in advance of those which they brought forward last year. What those proposals might have been we cannot say; but we are answerable for those which we ourselves have thought it right to bring forward; and I think the Bill provides, perhaps not the best, but a fair and workable substitute for the guarantee contained in Mr. Trevelyan's Bill of last year. The noble Earl opposite expressed his opinion that the terms of this measure are so liberal as to amount, in fact, to a bribe. Acquainted as we both are with the condition of Ireland, I am rather surprised to hear such a statement made. In reply to it, all I can say is, that my settled conviction is that no one acquainted with Ireland will for a moment entertain the view that this measure will cause a headlong rush to buy out the land in Ireland; but if such a rush does result from it becoming law, the effect will be at once to cause some circulation with regard to the price of land, so that the law of supply and demand with regard to it may again come into a healthy state of operation in that country. Our object in bringing forward this measure is to make a beginning, at all events, in the direction of re-opening the land market of Ireland. I am myself far too intimately acquainted with the past and present history of my country to indulge in any wild language of confidence with reference to the results of this measure; but I have a reasonable and a moderate hope that it may be attended with reasonable and moderate results. I do not think that I should be justified in entering at this stage into a reply to the detailed criticisms which have been passed upon the provisions of the Bill, and, therefore, I shall leave that to the Committee stage. I may, however, say, in reference to the provision of the Bill which makes the Church Surplus Fund available as a last resort, that the Treasury have always a hankering after a last resort, and that I do not think that that fund will ever be called upon to meet deficiencies under the Bill. I hope, however, your Lordships will permit the clause to stand as it now does, so that the matter can be discussed in "another place." As to the appointment of the new Commissioners, I cannot, unless I wish to make my life a burden for the next few days, do more than say that the Government will be conscious of their responsibility as to the selection of two capable and upright men to discharge the functions intrusted to them; and they will not be influenced in those appointments by any consideration that will interfere with the legitimate, fair, and impartial working of every clause of the Land Act. In conclusion, I trust that this measure may tend in some degree to a settlement of the Land Question in Ireland; and if it should, indeed, prove an opening for a settlement of that important question I should, in truth, be satisfied, as well as greatly gratified.

Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

Clause 1 (Short title) agreed to.

Advances by the Land Commission.

Clause 2 (Advances to tenants under the Act) agreed to.

Clause 3 (Deposit of money as guarantee fund).


said, he wished to call attention to the position under this Bill of those persons who had purchased their estates in the Landed Estates Court.


also expressed a hope that the Land Commissioners would be required to exhaust all means at their disposal to recover the price from the tenants before the landlord's one-fifth was touched.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 4 (Terms of repayment of advances) agreed to.

Sales of Land.

Clause 5 (Purchase of estates and holdings) agreed to.


proposed the insertion of an Amendment giving power to the tenant for life to leave a portion of the purchase money outstanding.

Moved, In page 3, after Clause 5, insert as a new Clause:—

(Power to tenant for life to leave part of purchase money outstanding.) Where a landlord of a holding is a tenant for life, or has the powers of a tenant for life within the meaning of those expressions as used in the Settled Land Act, 1882, and is selling such holding to the tenant thereof, he may exercise, to the same extent as if he were an absolute owner, the power of permitting any sum not exceeding one-fourth of the purchase money to remain as a charge upon such holding secured by a mortgage; and in case any advance is made by the Land Commission to the tenant for the purchase of such holding, any such mortgage shall be subject to any charge in favour of the Land Commission for securing such advance: and any such mortgage shall be deemed to be part of the purchase money payable in respect of such holding, and the money secured thereby when paid shall be dealt with as if it were capital money arising under the Settled Land Act, 1882, or purchase money otherwise payable under this Act."— (The Lord Castletown.)


said, he would accept the clause.

Motion agreed to; Clause inserted accordingly, with an Amendment.

Clauses 6 to 14, inclusive, agreed to, with Amendments.

Supplemental Provisions.

Clause 15 (Injunction to put purchaser in possession).


said, he objected to the proposed mode of applying the Irish Church Surplus to the purposes of the Bill, in that it would lock up the fund for 10 or 11 years.


asked whether it was intended that the interest, as well as the capital, of the Church Surplus Fund should he looked up for the whole nine or 10 years?


in reply, said, that he regarded the exact mode of dealing with the fund as a matter for the Treasury to decide; and he should, therefore, leave the question open for the present.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 16 to 24, inclusive, agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Thursday next; and Bill to be printed, as amended. (No. 197.)

In reply to Earl SPENCER,


said, he preferred not to give the names of the two new Commissioners on the Report.