HL Deb 09 September 1886 vol 308 cc1713-9

, in obtaining leave to withdraw the following Notice:— To call attention to the social disorder arising from the unequal rental and land tenure under Trinity College, Dublin; and to move that the triple ownership of land should he equitably terminated; rose to move— That in the opinion of this House all leaseholders in Ireland who at the natural expiration of their leases will come under the Land Act of 1881, or who may be subject to a fluctuation of rent during the term of their lease, should have access to the Land Commissioners for the adjustment of their rents. In doing so, the noble Earl said, that there was an agitation in Ireland on this subject which had made great progress, and which had met with the approval of many Members of Parliament belonging to all Parties, who were pledged to vote next Session for legislation in the direction in which his Motion pointed. The present position of affairs with regard to leaseholders in Ireland was exceedingly undesirable and ought to be terminated at once. There was no analogy between Irish leases and English and Scotch leases. Their origin was entirely different. An English landlord equipped the farm which he let on lease, whereas the Irish leaseholder equipped the farm, building his house and offices, and probably even laying out the land. Having equipped his farm it could hardly be expected that the Irish leaseholder should lose his interest in the farm at the expiration of the lease. In fact, Parliament by the Land Act of 1881 had adopted that view and had given the tenant the power to apply to the Commissioners, if he could hold on for a time, to extend his lease for a period of 15 years at a judicial rent. It would, therefore, be seen that his proposal merely anticipated by a short time what would eventually occur if the tenants could but hold on. It might be asked—"Why do these people wish to break their contracts?" He justified such a breach of contract on the ground that the basis of all Irish land legislation for the last 20 years had been that the Irish tenant was not free to contract. If, then, the ordinary Irish tenant was not free to contract, why should it be supposed that the poor leaseholder was free? These leases for the most part had been entered upon for various reasons. There was, for example, general insecurity of tenure, and rents were being constantly put up and raised capriciously and sometimes unjustly; and, again, the tenants might have wished to protect themselves against possible new landlords. In order to avoid these and other contingencies the tenant might have entered upon a lease. He maintained, therefore, that outside pressure and insecurity had deprived the tenant of freedom to contract. There was good reason, then, for a revision of the leases. It was rather hard that tenants who had been granted by Parliament a distinct prospective interest in their holdings, should, through the present bad times and perfectly unforeseen circumstances, lose that very substantial prospect of interest which Parliament had given them. He appealed to their Lordships to do justice to the Irish leaseholders. Even Trinity College, Dublin, had issued ejectments against their leaseholders, or at least against one leaseholder, and had taken other action which had been the cause of social disorder in the districts affected for the last 18 months or two years. On a previous occasion when he brought this subject before their Lordships Lord Ashbourne stated it would probably never be heard of again. The noble Lord never made a greater mistake in his life. It was his intention, and the intention of those who thought with him, to stick to the matter until it was set right, and he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would see the wisdom of settling it. The noble Earl concluded by moving the Motion of which he had given Notice. Moved, "That in the opinion of this House all leaseholders in Ireland who at the natural expiration of their leases will come under the Land Act of 1881, or who may be subject to a fluctuation of rent during the term of their lease, should have access to the Land Commissioners for the adjustment of their rents."—(The Earl of Leitrim.)


said, that this subject affected a large number of Irishmen who, like himself, were interested in leasehold property, and he wished, therefore, to make one or two observations in reference to the statement of the noble Earl (the Earl of Leitrim) who had just sat down. He did not in any way desire to obstruct legislation on this question, but the period had certainly not come for such legislation. There were many circumstances connected with the question which could not be properly stated at two or three days' Notice. As an instance of this, he might mention that when the Crofters Bill was under discussion the question of leaseholders was not dealt with in the Act. The Motion of the noble Earl recognized no equality whatever between the landlord and tenant. According to the Resolution, the tenant had very full opportunity of bringing his landlord into Court; but he did not see that the landlord had the same facility. He was himself a Liberal, and in "another place" he had supported the Land Bill of 1870 and had given a full consent to several points in the Land Bill of 1881. He would divide leaseholders into five classes. In the first were the rich tenants, who had large incomes independent of their leases. In the second were those who had other sources of income besides agriculture—he referred to the large grass owners. In the third were the middlemen, who certainly did not bear a very good name in the country, though he did not desire to say anything against the noble Earl, who was a middleman. There were a great many vacant seats on that (the Liberal) side of the House, and after this Motion of the noble Earl he anticipated that next Session they should see him occupying one of the seats. He thought, however, that a great many of the misfortunes which had occurred in Ireland were owing to middlemen. In the fourth class were the tenants who had nothing but land to depend upon, and with whom he had much sympathy. In the fifth class were the tenants who held small pieces of land, and upon whom, from various causes, leases had been forced. If in any case leases were to be broken it was in the case of this class. Speaking according to English ideas and legal opinion, he supposed contracts to be sacred. When the case of the crofters was dealt with in "another place" and the question of leases came to be considered they were not allowed to be broken. If that privilege was not accorded to the crofters of Scotland it was very hard on the Irish landlord that his leases should be broken by gentlemen who might have £500 or £600 a-year. He thought the Irish landlords could demand with perfect justice that it should be shown whether they had treated their tenants well or ill, or whether they had evicted. It ought to be remembered that at a period when things were very different from what they were now these leasehold contracts were highly valued. In 1870 these contracts were held in such high estimation that the Government, desirous to make their Bill acceptable to the farmers of the country, instead of treating lightly contracts between landlords and tenants, exempted those who were under such contracts from the provisions of the Bill. From 1870 to 1881 the relations between landlords and leaseholders were upon their trial; and he believed the landlords had not been found wanting in consideration for their lease-holding tenants. On an estate with which he was acquainted there were a number of leaseholders, and on the renewal of leases which fell in instructions were given to go back to the rents of 1854. That showed that the interests of the tenants were considered by the landlords.


, that when he saw the two Notices placed upon the Paper, although they were different in form and in scope, he came to the conclusion that they were both directed to the examination of the same subject—namely, that of the perpetuity tenants holding under Trinity College, Dublin—a subject which the noble Earl (the Earl of Leitrim) had on four previous occasions brought under the notice of the House. He had introduced two Bills—one a Private Bill, and the other a Public Bill—both of which were rejected; and he had also moved for inquiries both by Commission and by Committee, the second being so late as March of the present year. The noble Earl had not that day gone very far in his remarks before he found himself discussing the position of the leaseholds under Trinity College, Dublin. The noble Earl had, however, withdrawn the first Resolution, and, therefore, it was not necessary to follow him in the remarks he had made upon it. With regard to the second and larger Resolution, the noble Earl had scarcely appreciated the scope of the wording of his Motion. If it were carried, it would bring under the Act of 1881 all leaseholders—including those whose rents fluctuated—whether they were occupiers or not, whether they were agricultural or not, whether they were in town or country. Under the Land Act of 1881 the word tenant was defined to mean a person who occupied a holding under a contract for a tenancy, and the whole machinery of the Law Courts was adapted only to cases where the tenant was also the occupier. Therefore, the change proposed by the noble Earl was one of great extent, and would be one very far-reaching in its results; and he would put it to their Lordships whether, under the present circumstances, it would be possible to give effect to a Resolution of this sort, which had been brought forward at a very short Notice and in so small a House? He thought that the noble Earl had probably achieved his main object in obtaining an opportunity of making remarks on the subject. He had, in a speech of considerable ability, laid once more before their Lordships his views, and he had been, to a great extent, answered by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Howth). Under these circumstances, it was his duty, on the part of the Government, to express their inability to accept the Resolution, and he ventured to hope that the noble Earl would not press the Motion he had made to a division.


said, that the noble Earl (Earl Cadogan) had adroitly avoided the first part of the Resolution, and both noble Lords appeared to doubt his sincerity on that part of the subject. He (the Earl of Leitrim) was not in the habit of saying one thing and meaning another, and he was of opinion that leaseholders were suffering great hardships in spite of all that had been said from the opposite Benches. The Motion referred to leaseholders suffering from high rents, and, as a rule, the high rents had been arrived at since the passing of the Act of 1870. The date in the Act ought to have been 1869 instead of 1870, because a number of leases were forced upon tenants with a view of avoiding the Act before it was passed. In speaking of intimidation, he did not bring anything like a general charge; and he admitted that there were landlords who had given leases with the best intentions and the best results. Still the very fact mentioned, that a landlord had put back the rents to what they were in 1854, bore testimony to the hardship of many existing rents. From the point of view of the landlords, he maintained that it was desirable that this question should be settled. His own instructions were that leaseholders should be put upon the same level as ordinary agricultural tenants.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.