§ Order of the Day for the Second Beading, read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Privy Seal)
, in moving the rejection of the Bill, said, he opposed it, as he had opposed the Act of 1870, when he was told, at a private meeting of Conservative Peers, that he must not speak against the second reading, on which he ceased speaking and left the room. He opposed the second reading now, on the ground that it tended to make the State the proprietor of the whole of the land in Ireland, with a first claim upon all land that was forfeited. So far from being a message of peace to the Irish tenants, the Bill would constantly lead to all sorts of differences between them and their landlords, by costly, vexatious, and tedious litigation. He was reminded of Tennyson's words—Should banded unions persecuteOpinion, and induce a timeWhen single thought is civil crime,And individual freedom mute.Yet the poet wished to leave the region. He did not even now despair; and, when dividing the House in 1856, only throe Irish Peers voted with him—Lords 1355 Clanricarde, Clancarty, and another Peer. In "another place" the Bill was thrown out. He was asked by the Leaders on both sides not to divide the House; and there was a party at the Duchess of Gloucester's, which many of their Lordships were anxious to attend. On the Wine Licences Bill for Ireland he divided the House, contrary to the earnest request of the late Earl of Derby; but the whole country had come round to the opinion that magistrates, and not the Excise, ought to control the licensing of all houses for the sale of intoxicating liquors. He might not be able to find a Teller, but could never agree to the Bill, however altered in Committee. He, therefore, moved that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion (" this day six months.")—(The Lord Denman.)
§ EARL SPENCER
I sincerely trust the noble Lord who has just sat down will not carry his Amendment to a Division. I shall certainly do all I can to forward the second reading, and I trust the noble Lord will, with his usual regard to the opinion of the House, not divide on this occasion. I do not think I owe any apology to the House for coming forward at this early moment to discuss this important Bill. I have, both in this House and outside this House, frequently discussed this subject. I have always considered that the settlement of the Land Question in Ireland was of the utmost importance, and that, without a final settlement of this question, we cannot expect to have peace and order in that country. Now, my Lords, I regret that the Government have not been able to offer their whole plan on the subject of Irish land. It would have been very convenient and instructive to your Lordships for the purpose of considering the present Bill and estimating its worth if you had known the whole policy of the Government with regard to this important matter. But, while I say this, I am also bound to admit that there must be a long interval after the passing of a large measure for the settlement of the Irish Land Question before all the provisions of that measure can be carried out. I am, therefore, not altogether surprised that the Government propose to deal with 1356 this question in two Bills. I shall think it my duty to refer to some of the Acts which have already been passed on this subject. I shall not criticize the remarks of the Lord Privy Seal on previous Irish land legislation in his opening speech, or touch upon the many thorny points which are now before the country with regard to Ireland. But I wish to refer to one particular point in the land legislation of 1881—I mean that part of the Act which referred to the reductions of rent. I can freely and at once admit that, in theory, I agree very much with what has been said by the noble Duke behind me (the Duke of Argyll) against the principle of the State interfering between landlord and tenant with respect to rents. There are manifest objections to such a course, and we see some of these objections coming up now when we find these difficulties arising with regard to judicial rents. They involve fresh interference by legislation. I fear that is absolutely essential. But, though I say that, I cannot admit that we could have avoided, in dealing with the Irish Land Question, interfering with this question of rent. It was indispensable that some means should be arrived at for solving this question. My Lords, I base my justification on the Report of the Royal Commission presided over by my noble Friend behind me (Earl Cowper). I find in this Report the following statement:—In all, by the operation of the Act, including arbitrations, a rental of £3,227,021 has been reduced to £2,638,549, a percentage reduction of 18.2 … the number of tenants who have had judicial rents fixed up to last August were 170,800 on a rental of £3,227,021, and they hold consequently at an average rent of about £18 each.That is the answer to those who say we ought not to interfere with rents. I believe it can be conclusively proved that it was necessary to interfere with these rents. It was the only means of obtaining justice for those tenants who objected to their unreasonable rents. I need not go further into the evidence before that Commission, though I could quote many specific cases of injustice. I now come to the occurrences of the last few years which have so much affected the question. I allude to the great fall in prices of agricultural produce. I remember, when I was still in Ireland in 1884, that distinguished man (Sir Robert Hamilton) now Governor 1357 of Tasmania, whose services, I regret, are now lost to Ireland, discussing with me some of the questions regarding land legislation. He pointed out that very shortly this question of judicial rents would come before us. He said we could not avoid it, because with the fall of prices it would be impossible to maintain these rents. My Lords, the contention of my friend Sir Robert Hamilton was only too soon justified. The crisis occurred last year, and your Lordships will recollect that after the Government of the noble Marquess opposite came into Office Mr. Parnell introduced a measure to deal, at all events temporarily, with the difficulties which had arisen on account of this fall in prices. I, for one, could not have supported all the provisions of that Bill; but, in my opinion, the general principle of it was absolutely right. The Government, however, took a different view, and appointed a Royal Commission to look into the whole matter. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) made an important speech on the supposed fall in prices from which I will give one or two short extracts—But though that is the case, I am not at all sure that the judicial rents were not fixed with a perfect consciousness on the part of the Judges that a fall in the price was going on. That fall has been going on now for several years, and it is highly improbable that the Courts, in assigning judicial rents, have not taken that into consideration … But if it should turn out that the Courts have made blunders, and that there is that impossibility in any case of paying rent, I think it is not the landlords who should bear the loss. I think this would be one of the cases for the application of the principle of purchase by the State, and that the State, and cot the landlords, must suffer for the errors that have been made."—(3 Hansard,  68–9.)I cannot go into the Purchase Question now; but I hardly think that the noble Marquess will be able to carry that part of his plan into effect. But he does admit that, in certain contingencies, it would be necessary in some way to deal with these judicial rents. What was the Report of my noble Friend's Commission as regards this fall in prices?—The fall in the price of produce of all kinds and in all parts of the country has much impaired the ability of the farmers to pay the full rent. And this, following on a previous general restriction of credit by the banks and other lenders of money, as well as by the shopkeepers, has very greatly increased their financial difficulties. Much evidence in proof of this has been laid before the Commission … Although it is most undesirable to disturb an arrangement 1358 which was understood to be a permanent settlement, we cannot put aside the pressing necessities of the Irish tillage farmers, many of whom have lost much of their means, and are besides much indebted to banks, local merchants, and other creditors. The Purchase Act, as we have said, must necessarily be slow in its operation. Tenant right, on which the Bessborough Commission relied as a remedy, is, under existing circumstances, frequently of little value. To force such tenants to sell their working stock in order to pay full rent would be fatal to their future prosperity. The just remedy is to abide by the principle of termly revision already established, but to shorten the period to a term (luring which no serious error is likely to result. We, therefore, recommend that the term of revision should be shortened from 15 to five years.That appears to me to be a very remarkable, a very clear, and a well-supported reply given by the Government's own Commission. But it may be said, on the other hand, that when judicial rents are once fixed they ought to be allowed to continue, and nothing should then be allowed to interfere with the direct relations of landlords and tenants with each other. In the great bulk of cases I believe that would be a safe course. I believe the great majority of Irish landlords, as of Scotch and English landlords, have been generous and considerate to their tenants. The real offenders are not these men; but, unfortunately, the good landlords are affected by the law which we are obliged to pass for landlords who are deaf to all reason, who will not listen to the just demands of their tenants, who are not touched by what has been styled the humane but irregular pressure of the Government, and who are deaf to the voice of public opinion. It is against those landlords that you have to move, one or two of whom may set the whole country in a blaze. I should myself distinctly lay down this proposition—that we must in this Bill, if possible, find some method of dealing with judicial rents which are now unreasonable on account of fall in prices. The Marquess of Hartington, in a speech describing what the Government might do, said—I cannot hope that it will satisfy public opinion in Ireland; but it would go far to satisfy the public opinion and the conscience of the United Kingdom.These are the two propositions we must look for in this Bill. We must see that it deals with tenants whose judicial rents are unjust, and that it deals with those other cases of eviction that have 1359 created such a sensation in this country. I shall now proceed to see how the Bill of Her Majesty's Government will deal with those subjects. That Bill may roughly be divided into four parts. The first deals with the procedure of the Land Commission and with certain of the tenants excluded from the benefit of the Land Act of 1881. The second deals with the Purchase Clauses now in force. The third deals with, the present process and method of ejectment, and also with the rates; and the fourth deals with the new equitable jurisdiction to be conferred upon the County Court Judges. I shall not trouble the House at any length on the first three divisions. First of all, as to the procedure, that does not, in my opinion, raise any question of principle. I now come to what I consider one of the most important provisions contained in the Bill—in fact, I should call it the principle of the policy which is involved in this measure; I mean the admission of the leaseholders to the benefits of the Land Act of 1881. My Lords, I heartily rejoice that there is no Party difference in regard to this question. But I reserve my criticism on the mode in which it is intended to be carried out. I understand, from those best qualified to judge, that, in their opinion, those leasehold clauses are very defectively drawn. This is a matter for discussion in Committee. The leaseholders who, before the Land Act of 1881, considered their position very favourable in comparison with the other tenants, were, by the operation of the Land Act, placed at a considerable disadvantage. Those tenants are, as a class, the most influential in Ireland, and they are very discontented with their present position. It is important, therefore, that they should be reconciled by a revision of the law. I desire to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on including the town parks in the provisions of their Bill. That I also consider to be a matter of great importance. I observe the Bill says nothing about another class of tenants—namely, small dairy and grazing farmers. Men who know the country have often said to me that if tillage farmers require their rents revised by the Land Courts, small dairy and grazing farmers ought also to be brought under the operation of the Act. In the Report of the Cowper Commis- 1360 sion are some recommendations with respect to dairy farmers; but in this Bill there are no provisions dealing with them. I will not deal with the Purchase Clauses of the Bill. All that I will say is that it is very singular that they should have been introduced in such a Bill as this, and that their introduction looks very much as if the Government did not intend, or had very little hope, of carrying a large Purchase Bill this Session. As to the third division, I cannot say that I view with entire satisfaction the very great alteration those clauses make in the process of ejectment. It is proposed that the moment judgment has been given in the Court, a tenant can be converted by a written document into a caretaker. This is a change that ought to be watched with great attention. The present law as to the method of ejectment was deliberately adopted in the Act of 1860. One of its objects was to check needless evictions, and there are many who think that if the clause now proposed is carried it would increase the power of an unjust landlord to bring pressure on his tenants. It is said that the change will prevent a largo number of ejectments. I fear, however, that the very contrary may possibly happen, and that the change will only postpone the moment of difficulty when whole armies of soldiers and police have to be sent to support the Sheriff in carrying out evictions. In my opinion we must very fully weigh the arguments connected with this important matter before we attempt to change the law as it is here proposed. Then there is the question of the remission of rates in cases where landlords can prove, to the satisfaction of County Court Judges, that on account of intimidation they are unable to let their farms, or—and in this case it is without intimidation—to collect their rents. That is a serious change. At first sight it seems just that a man who cannot make profitable use of his land should be exempt from the payment of rates. But what will happen? The rates will be thrown upon other landlords and ratepayers. The change, I think, would work great injustice, and would offer a premium on disputes between landlord and tenant. Moreover, there are parts of the country where poverty is so great that the Unions are almost bankrupt, and in one or two 1361 cases since I left Ireland have been actually unable to pay their debts. In these Unions the increased rates caused by this provision would bring actual ruin on poor and struggling men. My Lords, I will now come to the fourth division—the equitable jurisdiction which is proposed to be given to the County Court Judges. I cannot welcome this part of the Bill, although, it is, no doubt, intended to meet some of the difficulties I have called attention to. I have seen this part of the Bill described as a "joy to country attorneys and an injury to everyone else." You are applying a law of bankruptcy, originally intended, for a mercantile community, to small holders of agricultural property. The machinery was never intended to be so applied. In dealing with this extremely technical subject, I wish your Lordships to understand that, although I fully accept responsibility for what I say, I do not pretend to give my own opinion only, but that I have consulted gentlemen who, I am confident, are the most capable of advising in such a matter. The Bankruptcy Law in Ireland is, I am informed, extremely complex. It involves petitions to a Court; the vesting of the estate in a creditor's assignee; the filing of a schedule of the transactions of the bankrupt for many years past; the personal examination of the bankrupt, and motions without end relating to matters arising out of the proceedings. I am told that the costs of bankruptcy, in proportion to the interests involved, are already exorbitant in Ireland on large estates, and when you apply it to the smaller estates it will be absolute ruin. Let us consider for a moment the condition of these small holders. They are often very ignorant, and they do not always speak the English language. They do not keep accounts, and they have no books to refer to. They often live in small, miserable hovels, and too often their assets are confined to the miserable furniture of those hovels, and amount to only a few shillings, or, perhaps, £2, which may come from the sale of their pigs. It is to such a person that you are going to apply the extravagant, costly, and complex method of bankruptcy. It is said that the Bills of 1870 and 1881 tended, to a great extent, to demoralize the Irish people. I deny that that has been proved; but I will venture to say that the utter demoraliza- 1362 tion of the Irish tenants will be effected by the Bankruptcy Clauses of this Bill. On this point I will venture to read to your Lordships an extract from what is generally allowed to be the organ of the Irish landlords. The Dublin Express of April 8 describes this Bill in the following terms:—This portion of the Bill invites, we might almost say, the whole of the peasantry of Ireland to become!bankrupt—to have their debts wiped away, arrears of rent included. To meet the inrush of candidate bankrupts coming by tens of thousands, and in the meantime declining to pay any rent, hastily improvised tribunals must be set on foot, with directions to finish off as many cases per diem as they can. This is inevitable; there will be no there ugh sifting inquiry into each man's case. The crush of business will break down every safeguard, exactly as it broke down every safeguard when the Arrears Act was in operation.And here I beg leave to remark to your Lordships that I was in Ireland during the operation of the Arrears Act, and I do not admit that there was any such break-down as is described by The Dublin Express. the article there goes on as follows:—The peasantry, en masse, will go into bankruptcy and prove well enough that they are bonâ fide bankrupts. In fact, to this bankrupt business there is no bottom at all. It seems a sort of bottomless gulf, into which all Irish interests are to be hurled pell-mell.Many persons will, no doubt, get reductions of rent because of bankruptcy; but I want to know how long those reductions will be continued? As far as I understand, it will only last so long as, in the opinion of the County Court Judge, the poverty of the land remains. After that, apparently, the Irish tenants will fall back upon their original rents, unless, indeed, they repeat the operation, and hereafter hold their farms on a tenure of bankruptcy renewable for ever. I have hitherto dealt only with tenants in reference to the matter of bankruptcy; but what, may I ask, will be the effect on the landlords? In other cases of bankruptcy, the connection between creditor and debtor is at an end on the payment of a composition; but, so far as I can understand, the Irish landlord will be bound hand and foot to his debtor for as long as the Judge thinks that the farm can be worked profitably for the creditors; and not only that—he will not receive the rent due to him, which 1363 will be kept for the benefit of the creditors other than the landlord. That is perfectly unfair. I now come to the County Court Judges. The duties which they will have to perform will be extremely difficult. They will have to administer estates, and often hundreds of acres of bog-land will come under the management of the Judge and his officers. That seems to me to be a matter which no County Court Judge in Ireland would be able to grapple with. There is also another matter of moment which seems to show that the measure will in some way prove a snare. A landlord in Ireland may proceed to get rid of a tenant in various ways. He may proceed by ejectment, and in that event the tenant can bring himself under the operation of this clause. The landlord may also proceed to recover his debt like any ordinary creditor; he can go to the superior Court, and the superior Court will issue judgment. When the fi. fa. has been issued, the sheriff, armed with it, can proceed to seize and sell the property of the tenant. If a tenant wishes to buy the property in, and bids a sufficient sum to pay off the debt and costs, then the Sheriff hands the land back. But if, on the other hand, he does not do so, the landlord can buy it, and then the tenant becomes a mere trespasser if he remains. In that way the landlords would be enabled entirely to evade this Act. My Lords, I have dealt with the tenants who are in difficulties, who, from non-payment of rent, are liable to ejectment. I have shown how disastrous and inapplicable these clauses are to them and to their landlords. But I have even a stronger objection. These clauses exclude wholly that class of honest and industrious tenants who are struggling with an excessive rent. This is the class which deserves most consideration. The noble Marquess at the head of the Government himself pointed out that if it were shown that judicial rents had been fixed at too high a figure they would have to be dealt with by purchase. The Commission has declared that judicial rents are too high, and proposes a plan for dealing with them. This large class is wholly forgotten in this Bill, unless, indeed, they go under the yoke of bankruptcy by not paying a year's rent. Can anything be more 1364 absurd or more unjust? You will say that you cannot break the 15 year lease, but you do break the leases of 150,000 leaseholders. You repeat the error made by us in 1881. We put the leaseholders at a disadvantage in comparison with the tenants at a judicial rent. You now reverse the process, and put the tenants under judicial rents in an unfair position in comparison with leaseholders. I trust that your Lordships will seriously consider, before this Bill leaves your House, the objections which I have mentioned; and I sincerely trust that you will be able to amend it in such a way that those acts of injustice which we know now arise from time to time may be avoided. There is one other matter on which I would say a few words. It has been already referred to in "another place," but the answer on that occasion was so unsatisfactory that I repeat the question. I wish to know from Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that this Bill is of vital importance, and whether they mean to stand or fall by it? If they do not stand or fall by this Bill, then the policy which they have put before the country is simply one of repressive criminal legislation.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
My Lords, I hope that it may be possible to consider a measure of this nature with that calm and quiet consideration which it is the practice of this House to employ in such cases, contrasting, perhaps, favourably with the case of other kinds of legislation. The noble Earl spoke at considerable length upon many parts of this Bill; I am, for physical reasons, unable to-night to do anything more than deal briefly with its general outlines; but I am anxious in a few words to place before your Lordships the reasons that will induce me to give a cordial support to this Bill; and, at the same time, to point out to Her Majesty's Government one or two matters which I think deserve their careful consideration. I was prevented from being present in the House while my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal made what I judge, from the report of it, to have been an admirably lucid statement of the objects of this measure; but I observe that he divided his observations into two parts. In the first he dealt with the case of leaseholders, and evictions, and appeals; 1365 and, secondly, with the question of the equitable jurisdiction in bankruptcy. I would say a few words on each of these points. As regards the first of these questions, I had myself, before I left Ireland, come to the clear conclusion that the change proposed in this Bill was one which was required by both justice and expediency. The noble Earl entered upon a defence of the Land Act of 1881. I disapproved that measure at the time and I disapprove it now, and when I look back it seems to me to have been the fountain head from which a great deal of the misfortune and trouble in Ireland has arisen. But once that Land Act of 1881 became law, I cannot see that there was either logic or fairness in continuing to exclude men from its benefits who were entitled to quite as much consideration as those who benefited from it. On the contrary, I came to the conclusion that there were many cases of hardship in connection with the question of leaseholders, and I desired to see the change effected which this Bill proposes. The noble Earl opposite dwelt with terms of approval upon the proposal for a quinquennial revision, made in the Report of the Commission of my noble Friend opposite. I quite admit that there is a great deal to be said in favour of such a periodical revision, and the method by which my noble Friend proposed to obtain that revision was ingenious and—to use the word in no evilse nse—plausible. But, at the same time, there was one grave objection—namely, that every five years, and even before those five years came to an expiry, you will have a disturbance of everybody's mind with regard to this matter, and I can conceive nothing more unfortunate than that there should be anything of this nature. If there is one thing more important in Ireland than another, it is to give that unhappy country rest; and I honestly say that—within certain limits—almost any legislation would have been better for Ireland in times past than the system of perpetually passing legislation and then tearing it up, and allowing no man to believe that there is ever to be any finality or any rest. I now pass to the question of evictions. There is, no doubt, a very considerable change contemplated in this measure. It introduces a considerable breach in the ordinary law as between 1366 landlord and tenant, and the only ground on which I can agree to it personally is that the circumstances in Ireland are absolutely unprecedented, and that there are certain cases which the ordinary law does not meet. If I thought that by agreeing to this clause I was laying down a precedent for action elsewhere, I should have much doubt about doing so. Now I come to the question, of the equitable jurisdiction in bankruptcy, and I am free to express the hope that my noble Friends below me will take it into their cairn and full consideration whether these clauses can be allowed to stand in their present form. I am sure that they have been influenced by the best intentions, and a desire to meet a most exceptional and most trying state of circumstances, and a desire, above all, to deal gently and tenderly with the tenants of Ireland. But I think that they must be themselves aware that the proposal, in its present form at all events, has not been received favourably either by their friends or by their opponents. I listened to the speech of the noble Earl, and though I think there may be a little that is over-coloured in that statement, at the same time in the substance of it there is a good deal with which it is impossible not to agree. Such clauses as those contained in this Bill for equitable jurisdiction in bankruptcy are an inducement to tenants who pay under £50 of rent to declare themselves insolvent. Further, you have imposed upon your County Courts an almost impossible task, unless, indeed, you mean to create an enormous staff, and thus make what would be a judicial revolution. Nor must you omit to bear in mind how very open would be the door to fraud, and how difficult it would be to prove that fraud. I think that in the interest of the Irish landlords, who may be very heavy sufferers by any mistake in this vital matter, these clauses should be carefully considered. I noted with extreme satisfaction in the speech of my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal his promise of a further instalment of land purchase. I am satisfied with this—that the settlement of the Land Question lies—and this is not too strong an expression—at the root of all the Irish grievances. When I was in Ireland I consulted confidentially a large number of those whose opinions I thought were most de- 1367 serving of attention, and whose names, if I gave them, would carry the greatest weight in this House. There was a singular agreement among them, to the extent, I should say, of 19 out of 20, that the settlement of the Land Question really lay at the root of the Irish difficulty. I do not say that the settlement of the Land Question is the only cure. The evils which we find in Ireland are too complicated and of too ancient a date to be cured by any one specific; but the difficulties of religion, terrorism, crime, all are overspread by this one question of land. I believe that Her Majesty's Government are trying to the best of their power to hold an even balance between the landlord and the tenant in this very difficult matter—on the one hand to temper evictions, and on the other hand to secure the landlord in his just rights. So long as property and land continues eviction must be the last resort of the landlord. I shall not refer to the burning question upon which the noble Earl opposite has touched—namely, the enforcement of the law. We shall have before very long an opportunity, in one shape or another, of discussing that matter. I will not now anticipate that discussion, except to say that remedial legislation is not applicable unless the law is upheld. Remedial legislation cannot have fair play if the minds of men are set on fire by personalities and invectives, misrepresentations and calumnies. Remedial legislation at the present moment has a hard task before it. Doctrines are now propounded that criminal outrage can be justified in view of the acquisition of Constitutional or moral rights. I read of nightly scenes whereby Parliamentary institutions are degraded; I read with astonishment of appeals made from Parliament to mass meetings, and to what I may almost call mob law. I will not pursue this subject further, but will merely say that these are unfavourable conditions for remedial legislation. I trust, however, that the Government will not, on that account, refrain from persisting with their remedial legislation. I heartily welcome the promise of the comprehensive legislation which my noble Friend has given the House, and I gladly accept this Bill as an instalment.
§ LORD FITZGERALD
said, he had observed that both the noble Earls (Earl 1368 Spencer and the Earl of Carnarvon) who had spoken had devoted considerable attention to the provisions of the 1st clause; and the general acquiescence of their Lordships—as they had both been Lord Lieutenants of Ireland—in the principle of that clause must insure the second reading of the Bill. He desired to point out that the 1st clause of the Bill was so framed as to do what he scarcely thought was the intention of its promoters. He referred to the provisions dealing with leases, and the inclusion of leaseholders in its operation, to which there would be very grave objections. Their Lordships might recollect that the Act of 1881 was mainly confined to tenants from year to year; but it contained a Proviso that tenants who held under leases which terminated within 60 years after the passing of the Act should, upon the termination of their leases, become present tenants, with all the rights which the Act conferred upon tenants from year to year. When the Bill reached this House the Marquess of Lansdowne moved the omission of the Proviso, and, being supported by the noble Marquess at present the Leader of the House (the Marquess of Salisbury), the Proviso was struck out, on a Division, by 142 to 59. How it was restored he (Lord Fitzgerald) could not say, but it was probably in the compromises which followed between the two Houses. The Proviso, however, appeared to have been re-inserted. He did object to the Bill on the ground that it broke leases, nolens volens, whether the tenant desired it or not, and without any action on the part of the tenant. No matter what length of time the lease might be for, it would be broken by the 1st clause of this Bill and converted at once into a yearly tenancy. He thought that would be a very great danger, and he wished to draw strongly the attention of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill (Earl Cadogan) to it. The provision of the 1st clause of this Bill sets forth that, on the passing of this Act, the lessee of any holding who, at the expiration of any lease existing at the passing of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881, would be deemed to be a tenant of a present ordinary tenancy from year to year within the meaning of the said Act, at the rent and subject to the conditions of the lease shall, at the date of the passing of this Act, if 1369 bonâ fide in occupation of his holding, be deemed to be a tenant of a present tenancy, in like manner and subject to like conditions as if his lease expired at the passing of this Act; and his holding shall be subject to all the conditions of the Act of 1881 with regard to present tenancies as if the tenancy therein were a tenancy from year to year. Now, these provisions would apply to every lease bolder on the passing of this Act. The Bill showed a laudable desire to confer the benefits of the Act of 1881 on leaseholders, and that he appreciated; but they must take care how that was done. The change contemplated by the Bill was a very great one, and the full responsibility for it must rest upon the Government. With their Lordships' permission he would call attention to some of the provisions of the measure, in the hope that it would be amended in Committee. Now, he had said that the immediate effect of the Bill would be to turn all leaseholders coming within its provisions into tenants from year to year, but the true course would be to enable them to come into the Court to secure a fair rent without in any other respect altering the leases. In all other respects they would continue in occupation, subject to the other covenants of the lease. He submitted to their Lordships that the immediate effect of the clause would be to create alarm in the minds of the tenants, especially in the North of Ireland, when it was seen that any action on the part of the tenant puts an end to his lease, and converts him into a tenant from year to year. The tenants in the North of Ireland were hard-working, industrious, and steady men; and if this provision bore hard upon them it would create great disquiet and discontent. They were also men of independent views, and they would regard this provision in the Bill with alarm. He thought, indeed, that many of them would not accept the benefit proposed if coupled with the destruction of the lease. As to the Bankruptcy Clauses of the measure, he hoped to induce the Government to abandon them altogether. He believed—after a most careful consideration of these clauses—that they were demoralizing in their tendency and would be so in their effect, and they would also prove to be unworkable in 1370 practice and most expensive. If these clauses were to be retained in the Bill, he believed, in the case of the smaller holdings, it would be impracticable for any landlord in Ireland to enforce the payment of his rent from an unwilling tenant. Not only that, but a strain would be put upon the County Courts which they would be unable to bear, for the Bill proposed to make every County Court Judge a Bankruptcy Judge; and in Ireland the Bankruptcy Law, he could assure the House, was extremely complicated. There would be so many applications to the County Court Judges that they would not be able to deal with them, and the Courts would be blocked. The County Court Judges laboured under great difficulties in dealing with their work at the present time. The Judge had also a large equity jurisdiction, which embarrassed him very much at present; and if these Courts wore created perpetual Bankruptcy Courts they would be overwhelmed. A very experienced Judge had said that he alone would have 4,000 bankruptcy cases in a year. These Bankruptcy Laws, which were to be transferred to the County Court Judges, gave them jurisdiction in every case of a tenant whose rent was not more than £50 a-year. The Bill would also deal harshly with the tenants in some ways. If a tenant was in arrears he might pay to his landlord one day a year's rent, and on the following day a petition might be presented to make him a bankrupt. In such a case the Judge had no discretion, and had to take the usual course. He also objected to cast on the County Court Judges full and plenary jurisdiction in administering a difficult and complicated set of laws. There was certain to crowd around these Bankruptcy Courts a sot of legal practitioners who would use every means in their power to make the process expensive for both landlord and tenant, and that would lead to great evils. He also objected to the system of dealing with the creditors. Under the system proposed by the Bill, the primary creditors—such as those who had lent money to the tenant—got nothing, and thus the credit of the tenant was destroyed. When a tenant should have been brought by the landlord into the County Court, and should have been ad- 1371 judicated a bankrupt, his farm would not be sold, but would be managed under the supervision of the authorities of the Court. To this the creditors of the tenant would very naturally object, and those who had lent him any money would also object. Besides, this was not a temporary measure, but was to last for ever, so that the County Court Judge would be perpetually involved in this bankruptcy business. He gave the Government credit for wishing to benefit the tenant in this Bill; but he did not think they were taking the right course in some respects. He had no desire to criticize the measure, but rather to point out in what way it might be amended. He wished to support the second reading of the Bill, because he believed it would be a benefit to the tenants of Ireland. He had no wish in this matter but to benefit the Irish people. There were many other objections to this measure as prepared, but they would rather be for the Committee than on second reading.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND (Lord ASHBOURNE)
My Lords, there have been many great efforts to deal with this great question in many great Bills. In 1870 a very important measure was introduced, and it was considered by its authors—I am sure honestly—to be a just and a final measure. But in 1881 another measure was introduced, which, it was thought, would be more just and more final; yet that Bill is the direct cause of the introduction of the present measure. The Act of 1881 involved the question of dual ownership in Ireland, and that has thrown the whole question of land in Ireland into endless and hopeless confusion. A wise and sound measure of purchase must be looked to for a real solution of the present difficulties. Such a Bill necessarily takes time to introduce and get into working order, and thus it was essential to act at once; and, therefore, this Bill has been introduced into this House and is now before your Lordships for acceptance, for examination, and for criticism. It was introduced, my Lords, with no extravagant expectation that it will please everybody and do everything; but I may say that it was introduced with the earnest hope that it will meet the exigencies of the position, and that it 1372 will be found to apply adequate remedies where hardships and abuses are found to exist. The landlords of Ireland have not yet taken part in this discussion; but still, from my experience and knowledge of Ireland, I know that necessarily they cannot view with favour many of the provisions of the Bill, although, probably, there are clauses in which they acquiesce and which they consider necessary. The time has gone by when anyone would introduce an Irish Land Bill with the expression of extreme hope. My Lords, the way in which this Bill has been received is noteworthy; but, after all, it is very much what might have been expected. I should like to know what conceivable Land Bill that could be promoted by any statesman, I care not whom, would be received by the Irish Party? If the genius that is now arrayed upon their side applied itself once more to the production of the most just settlement of the Irish Question, do any of your Lordships think that it would be received and accepted as final by that Party? My Lords, the discussion to-night has been extremely interesting, and worthy of the closest and most attentive consideration. Many of the criticisms made were on clauses and details which it would be more desirable to deal with in Committee. I assume those criticisms will find their places on the Amendment Paper in Committee, when every particular criticism can be more easily and satisfactorily dealt with. My Lords, there are some points that cannot be regarded as matters of mere detail which I should like to note. The question of leases has been naturally very fully referred to. I do not myself know what is the exact number of those leases; but it is very considerable, and has been said to amount to 150,000. Those leaseholders are a very deserving class of tenants, and the change which the Bill proposes to make in their position—the gravity and importance of which I do not for a moment deny—was brought before us in the unanimous Report of the Royal Commission, and it is supported by a vast mass of public opinion. As to the phraseology of the clause, I admit, as everyone must admit, that the matter is beset with some complications, and may require examination in Committee. By 1373 Clause 21 of the Land Act one of the most important covenants in the leases was broken, and it was a mere question of time how soon the question would have to be more fully dealt with. At the same time, I must say that it is not correct to say that all clauses in leases are intended to be broken by the operation of the clause in the Bill dealing with leases. Another observation was made with reference to town parks. There was no criticism on that subject, the noble Earl opposite expressing himself satisfied at the way in which the Government were going to deal with the question. I do not propose to weary your Lordships by going in detail into the Bill. There are 33 clauses, many of which are so obviously remedial clauses that they may be passed with general consent. I propose to deal with a few of the more important matters which have been brought forward. The remission of rates is, no doubt, a difficult question, that must be looked at from several points of view; but unquestionably it is an evil for which it is necessary to find a remedy. As an example of the evil, I may point out that in Co naught the tenancies of some of the great properties are very small, and that landlords are in the position of being unable to collect their rents, whilst liable for all the rates. The Guardians will not give credit to landlords for the rates; but obtain judgments and present petitions for the sale of their properties. It is very hard that a landlord who is unable to get a farthing rent from the tenants of these small holdings should be compelled to pay the rates of them. This is certainly a matter to be discussed and examined with a view to the discovery of a satisfactory remedy. As to the recommendations of the Cowper Commission for a revision of rents. Her Majesty's Government have considered with every respect the views of the majority of the Commission, though it is obvious that in appointing a Commission the Government did not bind themselves to accept every recommendation made by the majority of its Members, independently altogether of their own views on a full and fair examination of the evidence. Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Commissioner Litton, two of the greatest authorities, were, however, opposed to the suggestion of the ma- 1374 jority of the Commission, and gave very weighty and powerful reasons against the proposal to reduce the term of revision from 15 to five years. We have been told that rents should be automatically regulated in relation to prices; but I should like to ask what prices? I am told that it might take two years to get anything like an authoritative and satisfactory statement of prices that could be appealed to in each locality for an automatic revision, even were such a revision considered desirable as a matter of policy. Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Litton pointed out that the people would never regard anything as final when judicial rents, fixed by the authority of Parliament, were to be unsettled and disturbed every five years in the way suggested by the majority of the Commission. The Government are of opinion that the provisions of the Bill will make things bettor for the tenant, and are sound provisions to work; but when the Bill is in Committee there may be useful criticisms of the details. I believe that it will be found that the Bill puts a serious and substantial check on evictions; it deals with arrears, and gives power in certain cases and at certain times to refix rents. No doubt, my Lords, those are great powers, and well worthy of your Lordships' attention. With regard to the proposal of the Bill to enable the landlord to give the tenant notice, so that the six months' period of redemption might run without an actual eviction, I believe it will be of the greatest value. I am of opinion that this clause will largely check evictions. Under the present condition of things a landlord cannot be finally assured of possession until that period has run, and one of the great grievances of Irish landholders was the uncertainty of this period. In order to begin this period at all the landlord must evict, though in the majority of cases tenants are returned as caretakers. But what is done by this clause? It dispenses with the necessity of going down and evicting the tenant, a process which is apt to produce bitter feelings of exasperation; and it allows six months to run from the notice, during which the parties may have a fair chance of coming to terms together, and without an eviction the tenant is made caretaker. That, I think, is a sound inten- 1375 tion, and one calculated to check evictions and to bring about a settlement which, will prevent some of those scenes from occurring which have not been satisfactory from the point of view of law and order, and have caused great trouble and expense to the Executive. There is another clause which has not been discussed by anyone to-night, which will also have a great and beneficial effect in checking evictions, and that is the 21st clause, which is the first of the Equity Clauses. This clause is free from some of the criticisms which we have heard to-night. It is not a Bankruptcy Clause; It is a clause which gives the widest possible discretion to the tribunal which has to deal with ejectment for rent, and allows it to grant a stay of execution for a reasonable time and on fair terms whenever it thinks that justice and fair play require it; and the Court: is also allowed to order that arrears are to be paid by reasonable instalments. It is a fair and equitable clause, conceived in the most reasonable spirit, and one which can obviously be worked without the inconveniences, which have been pointed out, and is free from the objections which have been taken to the Bankruptcy Clauses. I do not contend that the Bankruptcy Clauses have been received with widespread enthusiasm; I know that they have been assailed on the part of the tenants, and that they do not seem popular with landlords; but I can only say that the Government will give careful attention to all the suggestions and criticisms which may be made with regard to them. But I should like now to present the question from a point of view which may, perhaps, be narrower and humbler than any which has as yet been presented to your Lordships. One of the great grievances among the poorer tenantry in Ireland is this—and it is not a question only of recent years—that a load of debt presses them down. Debts, not to landlords only, but to shopkeepers, money-lenders, loan funds, banks, and sometimes to the gombeen man, hopelessly keep them down, and the greatest possible been to the Irish tenantry and small farmers would be some cheap and expeditious local system of bankruptcy. That is a matter which, of course, the Government have had in 1376 view. It is desirable that, if possible, the tenantry of Ireland should be given a fair start from their incubus of debt, and allowed a chance of fighting out the battle of life, under freer and better conditions. Those who claim to speak for the tenants have received these provisions in a very critical spirit. They say that they do not like bankruptcy at all, and have an excessive dislike of the summary process of bankruptcy procedure, because it is a summary and resolute method which does not stand anything in the way of evasion or deception. As to the landlords, I do not think that they have as yet shown any marked desire to have these clauses carried into effect, as far as I can understand from the Press and in other ways, on the ground that it may lead to litigation, expense, and delay. But it appears to me that in the views which are thus taken it seems to be assumed that everything bad that is conceivably possible will happen at the same time and on the same occasion. That, in my opinion, is not the way to look at legislation of this kind. I read in The Times of this morning a very interesting speech delivered by Mr. John Morley, in which he seems to speak of these clauses in a very disparaging way, and talks of annual bankruptcies, while the landlord is to be deprived of his accruing rent. This is not the case, as it is the first charge after the tenant is allowed to remain in possession. This system, like any other, may be abused; but if the Bankruptcy Court frees the tenant from debt, it must naturally claim great power over him. All powers of bankruptcy are conferred on the County Court Judges, with certain additional powers, which will be found in Clause 23, and they will be exercised under prescribed rules, and with judicial discretion. It is contemplated that these rules will be carefully framed, with a view to avoiding dilatoriness and litigation, and of reducing costs to the lowest possible figure. We have had a sketch of a rather startling character of the procedure under these clauses, and if it was at all likely to happen, we should have a very troublesome time in Committee. I believe that arrangements in bankruptcy do not run for an indefinite period, but for a period ranging from 12 to to 15 or 18 months. 1377 The 23rd section, which gives a wider discretion to the County Court Judges than is usually possessed in bankruptcy, must have presumed that it would be administered by them as trained Judges. However, every one of these possibilities will be examined by the Government, and will be discussed in Committee: What the Government have in view, and desire, is some method by which the Courts will be armed with ample power to deal with hard cases, and to check harsh evictions, and the more speedily and cheaply this can be done the better pleased will the Government be. When Amendments are put on the Paper, we shall be glad to examine and consider them with attention; and I trust that the result will be that the Bill will leave your Lordships' House what the Government desire it to be and have framed it to be—a measure which will be practical, remedial, and just.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
said, he could not agree with the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) as to the effect of that most unfortunate measure the Land Act of 1881, which, in his opinion, proceeded on entirely false lines, unsettling everything and settling nothing. With regard to the earlier clauses of the present Bill and the question of admitting leaseholders, he had no objections to the Bill. He also approved the provision which made the time for redeeming run from the date of the decree. If a decree was given for possession, and if the tenant did not redeem within the period of six months, the Sheriff ought then to place the landlord in possession, and it should not be left to him to take possession by his own servants. A great deal had been said against landlords exacting "impossible" rents. This was an expression rather racy of the soil, for how anyone could exact what was impossible passed his comprehension. Landlords, as a rule, were not, he believed, at all prone to exact exorbitant rents from their tenants, and they, on their part, had good cause for complaint against the Inland Revenue, who charged the landlords Income Tax on the valuation of the holding, which in many cases was considerably above the "fair rent" which the landlord received. The Bill contained two entirely novel legal principles—first, that in considering what was a fair rent the Courts should have 1378 regard not to the value of the land, but to what might be described as the value of the man—what he could pay. The County Court Judge was to decide whether the tenant became bankrupt through default of his own. Supposing a man had 13 children on a holding that would only support three, was that to be regarded as his own default? Supposing his wife was a drunkard, or that he commenced to farm without having any capital land which required capital? Were these matters for which he was to be responsible? These questions would be constantly cropping up, and they would be left to the decision of a County Court Judge, who, in many cases, would have had no previous experience of land at all and knew nothing of the tenant. He hoped that these provisions would be carefully considered by their Lordships. The second novel principle which the Bill contained was that a tenant who became bankrupt was to be allowed to retain his assets—namely, his tenancy. He did not desire to speak harshly of Irish tenants, many—perhaps most—of whom, if left alone, would do their best to meet their liabilities. But they were easily led by bad advisers. They saw looming a large land purchase scheme, and, indeed, there was no other means than such a scheme of bringing peace to the country. Of course, the tenants' desire was to bring the price down to the lowest possible figure. But this meant absolute ruin to many a landowner, and it was only reasonable that men in this position should understand exactly where they were and what was the nature of the measure, as they had their mortgages and other charges to meet out of the rent, and there would probably, in many instances, be nothing left. One of the most serious defects in the Bill was its tendency to encourage litigation, over which the lawyers were already jubilant. There was no reason why the tenants on an estate should not purchase as a body and not as individuals. While, therefore, supporting the second reading of the Bill, he reserved liberty to oppose certain clauses; and he particularly objected to Clause 23, which gave a minimum amount of relief to the tenants with a maximum of inconvenience to the landlords. He was entitled to speak, not only for himself, but for others on the other side of the Channel, when he said that something 1379 on the lines of Mr. Parnell's Bill of last Session, suspending eviction on payment of a certain percentage of the rent, would be more preferable to the machinery of the Bill. But, as he had already said, a large measure of purchase was the only possible solution; and he should like the measure to be compulsory, with every reasonable advantage secured to the tenant. The land was now becoming a damnosa hereditas, and no other escape was possible out of the present deadlock.
§ LORD CASTLETOWN
said, he was glad that a large and industrious body like the Irish leaseholders were about to be admitted to the important provisions of the Land Act of 1881. He also felt sanguine that the new Purchase Clauses would, in many respects, effect the good they were intended to do, and facilitate the working of a valuable measure. They required amendment, however. As to the clauses relating to "equitable jurisdiction" and bankruptcy, they introduced a new feature and principle into commercial and agricultural life which ought to be scrutinized with the greatest care. It seemed to him that if some of the clauses of this Bill were to pass into law as they stood, it would be quite justifiable to introduce a Bill for the purpose of making their application possible with regard to town holdings held at a yearly rent of £50 or more. The average Irish landlord was now only a ground-rent landlord. He had none of the privileges of the position of an owner of house property. He could not raise the rent at the expiration of a lease without the permission of a Court. He could not assume possession of the improvements of the tenant without compensation, and his power of re-entry in case of non-payment was very slow, tedious and expensive. It was now proposed to debar him from recovering his land out of which the ground-rent was paid, and to place him on an equal footing with an ordinary creditor. Why should not this law, if just to the Irish landlords, be applied for the benefit of English bankrupts? The tenants of town holdings were a more numerous class than the Irish tenants, and according to the figures of Mr. Lee Knowles, quoted in The Times on April 16, they suffered greater hardship; and cases of eviction among them were, pro ratâ, more numerous. He feared that 1380 in the congested districts the Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill might lead to perennial bankruptcy and extravagant usury. There was no doubt that if Clauses 22 and 23 were to pass unchanged, many improvident and fraudulent bankrupts would be supported for a time by the "gombeen" men; and though the landowner might be ruined during the transaction no class would be benefited except the village usurers. If these sections of the Bill were remoulded, the circumstances of the occupiers in the contented districts might be alleviated, though he feared that it would be at the expense of the shopkeepers, small traders, and landowners of the district. But if the clauses to which he referred were not altered, what would be their effect on the ordinary tenants holding under £50? Of these men holding under £50 there were about in number 208,250. He excluded all holdings up to and at £4. Of this 208,250, in all probability every man made his rent out of the land. How would these people be treated by the Bill? Their financial credit would be destroyed the day that Bill became law. Many of these men were well off. Their position was sound, and that position the Bill would endanger in order to keep one or more fraudulent bankrupts in their holdings. Suppose one of those £50 men was made bankrupt; the unfortunate shopkeeper who had given credit, and the landlord who had given time, would be heavily mulcted, and the tenant, who would, perhaps, have paid honestly in the long run, would find bankruptcy a useful game, and become a confirmed swindler. This would be the case of a man who began, bankruptcy as an honest man. He would agree to anything that would make the rare case of an unjust eviction an impossibility; but he could see no advantage in inflicting injustice on all the creditors of an improvident farmer simply because he was or had been a spendthrift. That section must be amended in such a way that the honest but unfortunate farmers would be protected, while the reckless and fraudulent were made to incur the penalty which was the fate of all classes under such circumstances. It was possible that, once law and order were restored in Ireland, these clauses, even when amended, might prove useless. He believed free 1381 sale of the goodwill was the real preventitive of eviction, and it would then have fair play. At present the National League almost entirely prevented it, and would prevent any remedial measures to be utilized. He knew of many cases of that interference. He now came to the second question of vital importance in the Bill—that of fixing a fair rent. That question underlay the whole matter they were dealing with. How was the County Court Judge going to fix assets if he did not know what the income was or had been? Take the case of a judicial rent. After all the trouble and expense, there was not one record to help the County Court Judges to arrive at an opinion as to assets, improvements, income, & c. Next came the question of the leaseholders, who were admitted to the benefits of the Act of 1881; but little or no provision was made to amend the obviously unequal administration and decisions of the fair-rent Courts. The manner in which fair rents were fixed was absurd. In the first place, the intentions of the Act of 1881 had not been carried out. The cost of each Sub-Commission was about £3,800. Then the cost of each case to a tenant was about £3, and to the landlord a little more. After all that cost there is not a vestige of a record, not even notes of what they have seen on the land they have run over. Surely some amendment was needed now that it was proposed to bring 160,000 leaseholders under the Act, and that many other tenants were going into Court. In thousands of cases appeals for a rehearing had been lodged. These appeals would never have been proceeded with had justice been meted out. This was proved by the fact that, out of 4,000 cases fixed by arbitrators, only six appeals had been proceeded with. He welcomed most portions of the Bill, though he considered it susceptible of great and useful amendment in many of its clauses. The Government had an immense opportunity now of making the Land Act of 1881 a workable measure and of use. But tinkering would not do. This Bill should facilitate those portions of that measure they proposed to introduce which dealt with land purchase. The abolition of dual ownership, fair rent, and fair sale questions were interwoven. The fair rent decisions must contain some data by which 1382 the two parties in the ownership might arrive at a conclusion. In this way men would begin to assent to terminating that partnership voluntarily. This could be done if they choose to do it. If not done, those portions of the Bill he had referred to would be nothing but shams, and of no value. It was, undoubtedly, the fact that in many parts of Ireland the people were getting tired of agitation, and were anxious to get from under the coercion of the National League; and it was also certain that, once the village tyrants—as a rule, reckless bankrupt men of no character—realized that their power to do evil and coerce was limited, and the law of the land was stronger than the law of the conspiracy, peace and prosperity would return. The present Government had the best means of solving the Irish Question. They had a strong majority, composed of Members of the two great English Parties, at their back. They had means of carrying through measures, not only calculated to prevent crime, but also of a remedial nature, with greater effect and facility than any other Government for many a long day. They had received a distinct mandate from the country to settle this Irish Question. If they faltered in their task, if they were led astray by partizan notions, or by ignorance, when they could be taught, the result would be disastrous to themselves and to the whole country, and especially to Ireland, whose social and commercial existence was at stake. On the other hand, he was convinced that the question could be solved now, and permanently, if it was dealt with bravely, vigorously, comprehensively, and without fear, favour, or affection.
THE EARL OF BELMORE
said, he certainly did not intend to speak in any spirit of hostility, as he was of opinion that the Government was actuated by the best possible motives in bringing forward this Bill, with the hope that a better condition of things might be produced in Ireland. The question of Irish land was often discussed as a matter merely between landlord and tenant; but, in reality, the subject affected a great number of persons outside those classes. For example, the income from the Irish Church estates had suffered very severely already from the state of things in Ireland. The Representative Church Body had some 1383 £3,500,000 of trust money invested in Irish mortgages, of which the interest amounted to about £1,500 a-year, the accumulated arrears of which, owing to the present state of things, was now no less than £57,000; and, if matters went on in the same way, the income of the clergymen depending on the Fund could not fail to be injuriously affected. They would be reduced to a state of semi-starvation, and would be unable to educate their children. In dealing with the Bill before the House, he said about 110,000 leaseholders would now be brought under the operation of this Bill. A strong point was made by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Fitzgerald) that many of the persons who would be brought under the operation of the Bill would not want it at all. Whether that was so or not, there could be no doubt that many leaseholders would be greatly injured by it. As a landlord, he might be told that it was better for him to say nothing on that subject. He wished, however, to be perfectly fair; and the tenants had plenty of friends "elsewhere" who would call attention to the matter if it were passed over here. He would, however, call the attention of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to the provision that a leaseholder was not to be liable to become a present tenant under the Act if a valuable consideration had been paid for the lease. He presumed that that was intended to apply only to the case of a fine paid to the original lesser by the original lessee, and not to a subsequent sale of the tenant right? [The LORD CHANCELLOR intimated assent.] If so, it would be better to say so in terms. With regard to the question of town parks, he had stated on the occasion of the first reading, that the Bill seemed to leave the law as it was before; and he was still of the same opinion. He did not see that the Bill did much more than give a definition of what a town park was; it did not really alter the law with regard to them. He approved of the suggestions made by the noble and learned Lord in the direction of amending the Bill. He also approved of the clauses dealing with ejectments and evictions. There might be some harsh evictions. A farmer might, not merely from the fact of prices, but from other causes, be unable to pay his rent, and so be evicted; but he thought moat landlords 1384 would hesitate to take that step in such cases. Indeed, in many cases compromises had been effected when the tenants saw that their landlords did not wish to take them into Court. He further hoped the Government would consider the question of re-imposing the duty of carrying out evictions on the Sheriffs. He approved of the proposed alteration by which a tenant would remain in as a caretaker during the six months which the law allowed him wherein to redeem, instead of, as at present, evicting him at once. From his own experience as trustee of a public estate in Ireland—that of the Raphoe Royal School—he was of opinion that that provision would be a beneficial one. On that estate, the tenants refused to pay, not because they could not, for they had money in their pockets, probably; and these provisions would deal with such cases. He, therefore, attached much importance to the clauses. With regard to the Bankruptcy Clauses, while admitting that something should be done to prevent harsh evictions, he thought that tenants would prefer to throw themselves on the generosity of their landlords, rather than appeal to the Bankruptcy Court. As to the question of the Appeal Court, it was necessary that something should be done. Cases for hearing had so largely accumulated that a long time elapsed before they could be disposed of. In his own experience, it had taken three years to have an appeal case decided. Meanwhile, prices had fallen, and the rent had to be fixed on a lower basis, increasing the chance of the loser having to pay the costs. He approved of the recent appointment of Mr. Wrench as one of Head Land Commissioners. He knew him well; he was an experienced and competent Englishman. He would not occupy their Lordships' time further; but—particularly by calling the attention of his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland—who had come in whilst he was speaking—to the question of the fines paid by leaseholders—would express a hope that a more distinct definition of some of the points in the Bill would be made in the Committee stage.
VISCOUNT DE VESCI
said, he would congratulate the Government on having introduced a Bill dealing with the land question of Ireland, and hoped that it would be proceeded with pari passu with 1385 the sister measure in the other House for amending the Irish Criminal Law. He regarded it as the precursor of a much larger measure of land reform, which would deal with and utterly extinguish the intolerable anomaly of dual ownership of land in Ireland. He thought the country was deeply indebted to the members of the Royal Commission, who had, at great sacrifice of time and personal convenience, visited Ireland to inquire into the Irish Land Question on the spot. Ho, however, regretted that one member of that Commission had thought fit to present a Report different from the Report of the other members, for that gentleman was a very fair representative of the substantial North of Ireland farmers. Without desiring to offer this Bill any factious opposition, he thought it necessary to point out that several provisions of the Bill would, if not amended in Committee, work great injustice both to landlords and tenants. The disease from which Ireland was suffering was undoubtedly serious; but he denied that it was so desperate as it was sometimes painted, or that desperate remedies were required; and he had good hopes of great benefits flowing from the land legislation of the Government.
THE EARL OF KILMOREY
said, he would be the last man to desire to embarrass the Government; but there were clauses in the Bill which made it quite impossible for any Member of the House as deeply interested as he wax in the Irish Question to permit the second reading to pass without uttering a strong protest. Personally, he was one of the fortunate landlords who had no rents in arrear; but that was no reason why he should not stand by his fellow-landlords in the universal shipwreck which threatened them. If English, Scotch, and Welsh landowners should continue to admit the principle that the value of the landed property of an Irishman was no longer what it would fetch in the open market, but what a confiscatory Court of Commissioners assumed a lazy or improvident tenant was able or willing to pay for the privilege of "squatting" on land which did not belong to him, the day would come when the saying, "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," would be forcibly applied to themselves. It should not, however, be 1386 assumed that the opposition to this Bill was confined to landlords, or that he opposed it on their behalf only. As he was informed, the Bill had no friends, at least, in Ireland. The general opinion was that the Bill, besides suspending and eventually wiping off, not only all arrears now due to the landlords, but all that which would become due between this and the date of the settlement of the composition alluded to in the Bankruptcy Clauses, would destroy all credit, paralyze all trade, and rapidly establish universal bankruptcy. If the landlords hated it much, the shopkeepers hated it more, and the "gombeen" man more still. The Government asked them to accept this Bill merely as an instalment of further remedial measures, which were to culminate at some not far distant date in the introduction of a grand scheme of purchase, which was to put an end to the dual ownership and all its concomitant difficulties, and finally settle the great grievance of the Irish people. He could not refrain from remarking that, in his opinion, the passing of this Bill would render unnecessary a second and more popular instalment of remedial measures. Why should the tenant buy at any price, however low, the holding that he could continue to occupy under the benevolent provisions of this Bill without paying any rent at all? For unless certain clauses were amended that would certainly be the result. He could not support the Motion of the noble and learned Lord. By the courtesy of the Prime Minister ample time would be afforded them for the consideration of Amendments; and he would, therefore, offer no opposition to the second reading. All he would do that night was to protest against the introduction of the Bill at all. He objected, to begin with, to the clauses which affected leasehold property and town parks. Previous Bills were bad enough, but this was worse. Previous Bills introduced by Liberal statesmen contained certain exemptions. This Bill removed them. It was left to a Conservative Government to introduce another instalment of remedial legislation more confiscatory than its predecessors. He looked upon this as the refinement of political cruelty; and, as a Conservative of 20 years' standing, who had seen a deal of Irish land law reforms, he felt constrained to address 1387 to the Prime Minister the memorable words of the stricken Cæsar—Et tu, Brute! The position of the Irish landlords in that House afforded a painful illustration of the unusual hardships, commented upon on a former occasion by a noble Friend of his (Lord Brabourne)—namely, that of the eels being asked to skin themselves. It was time, no doubt, that the eels got used to the skinning, but they could not be expected to enjoy the process. A noble Lord in "another place," not long ago, prominently connected with the present Government (Lord Randolph Churchill), was heard to say—"You have got the Crimes Act—what more do you want?" And then he added with great lack of feeling, "You must make up your minds to leave some more of your clothes behind you." Let them picture to themselves the melancholy effect of this gradual removal of their garments by Irish landlords. What was an average Irish landlord to do whose income was solely dependent on his rents if this Bill passed? How was he to pay, first, the heavy family charges on his estate; secondly, the interest on mortgage money; and, thirdly, maintain his family. If this Bill passed as it now stood three-fourths of the Irish, landlords would become hopelessly and irrevocably insolvent. Bad as their case had been and still was, the passing of this Bill would aggravate their misery and intensify their distress. The action of the Bankruptcy Clauses would be that the landlord must lose one year's rent, because the tenant must owe that before the landlord could proceed against him. Then ensued the unlimited period during which the tenant's Petition to be adjudicated a bogus bankrupt under Clause 23 was under consideration. County Courts were few and far between, and did not sit daily, and the number of applications would be as the sands of the seashore. Rest assured the landlord would receive no rent in the meanwhile. The plan of his noble Friend was 20 times more injurious than any Plan of Campaign. But if Her Majesty's Ministers would consent to tone it down, they would find the band of resolute opponents to the Bill gratefully doing their utmost under those trying circumstances to assist, not to retard, the passing of what appeared 1388 to be one of the most important measures of this surprising and turbulent Session. He was sure they were all equally determined to prevent the repetition of those deplorable scenes which, alas, too frequently, characterized an Irish eviction, and which excited so much sympathy antagonistic to the administration of the law and to the legal vindication of the rights of property. At the same time, he failed to see how, since the passing of the Act of 1881, any eviction for the non-payment of rent could be fairly said to be harsh and unreasonable. At all events, under this Bill, as amended, they would have the satisfaction of knowing that never again would there be such a thing, if indeed there ever was, a case of an unjust and unreasonable eviction. He objected to granting power to a County Court Judge to tamper with the decision of the Land Commission and stultify its judgment by a readjustment, however temporary, of a judicial rent. Power to do this was given by the 23rd clause, and he trusted this would not be enforced. Let him have a power to stay evictions by all means. Let him have power to deal with rent, arrears, and liabilities due up to the passing of this Bill or the date of a tenant's application to the Court, but no further. He prayed his noble Friend to purge the Bankruptcy Clauses of their novel and eccentric peculiarities or expunge them in toto, and re-introduce the unobjectionable portions of them in some other place—say, at the foot of Clause 21. If his noble Friend could see his way to assent to certain Amendments in Committee his noble Friend might count on the speedy equipment of the new ship just launched upon the troubled waters of the ocean of politics. And when it left Lake Superior, and was piloted and manned in "another place" by a crew and master no less hard-working and efficient than its present "company," he wished it all the success it deserved; and when laid up in ordinary as an obsolete hulk, its batteries no longer needed, might it always be said of the old ship that she held water, and might she always rank with credit among the Parliamentary achievements of the Lord Privy Seal.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
Nearly every noble Lord who has spoken objects to every part of the Bill from opposite reasons and motives. Approving of 1389 the Bill, I wish to save myself from being supposed to approve of legislation of this kind. I do not approve of interference with the Law of Contract, and with the right of men to agree between themselves on business matters. There are peculiarities in different people and congregations of people, but there are certain great lines of policy common to all people; and if it be unwholesome to interfere with liberty of contract in Great Britain, it is equally unwholesome to do so in the sister island. The noble Earl opposite (Earl Spencer) said the advantage of doing it in Ireland had been shown by the fact that rents had been reduced; but if a Court had been set up in 1881 for Great Britain, I fancy it would have been found that rents had been largely reduced in Great Britain also. I believe the Bill is absolutely necessary in the present condition of Ireland. I can fancy some of your Lordships absolutely denying the conclusions arrived at by the Commission presided over by the noble Earl (Earl Cowper); and I can understand this Bill being objected to by those of your Lordships who absolutely ignore the evidence taken before that Commission, and the conclusions arrived at by the Commissioners. But if your Lordships accept the Report as being in the main correctly drawn from the evidence, I do not understand what logical objection can be taken to this Bill. The portions of the Bill which appear to be most objected to are the clauses with regard to bankruptcy. I will not attempt to go into detail upon them; but I would remind the noble Earl opposite—a late Viceroy of Ireland—that a great deal of the expense now incurred arises from proceedings being taken at a distance, and that undoubtedly the expense will be greatly lessened by the fact that proceedings can be taken in the County Courts. There seems to be a general impression that the tenants will flock into the Courts and declare themselves bankrupt. I have not the slightest fear of any result of that kind. I imagine that if there is one thing the Irish tenant dislikes more than another, it is to be made bankrupt. I have no doubt insolvent tenants will avail themselves of the clauses, and I should think it is an excellent thing that they should do so; but I do not believe any large number of solvent tenants will avail themselves 1390 of these clauses to make themselves bankrupt. To believe the contrary, we must suppose that the County Court Judges will be either indisposed or unable to do their duty. After all, it is not so very easy for a man to be a fraudulent bankrupt—it is not so very simple a thing to maintain before a Court of Law that he has no property and no assets; and owing to the way in which the powers of the Court are safeguarded in the Bill, and owing to my strong belief that solvent tenants will not be anxious to be made bankrupt, thereby losing their credit with the country, I have very little fear that these clauses will be used for a bad purpose. However, there seems to be a general idea in the House that the Government will abandon that part of the Bill. I do not know if that idea is well-founded or not; but I wish to point out that if it be well-founded, there would have to be some other clause in the direction of allowing County Court Judges to make a reduction of rent for a reasonable time. The 21st clause itself is admirable and equitable, and no valid objection has been made to it. That clause provides that the County Court may stay evictions; but more than that will be necessary. It will be absolutely necessary, in order that the main purpose of the Bill be carried out, that a County Court Judge or other officer should have power to reduce the rent to what he thinks a reasonable amount for a reasonable time. I think the course taken in the Bill is the best way in which it can be done, and that a man should make himself bankrupt before he can get his rent reduced. It will not be sufficient unless that is done. Then the provision as to caretakers is an enormous benefit, and the contention that it will do much to reduce the number of evictions is, I think, a correct contention. The noble Earl (Earl Spencer) thought it would only postpone evictions; but I think it would have quite the opposite effect. As the matter stands now, a landlord is obliged to evict on the granting of a decree, and is obliged to evict again to get rid of the caretaker; but by this Bill the first and most painful eviction will be done away with altogether. It may be that it would be advisable for the power to be exercised by the Sheriff instead of by the landlord. The general effect of the Bill will, I believe, be excel- 1391 lent; and I would wish to point out to those of your Lordships who object to the Bankruptcy Clauses and other portions of the Bill, that this Bill is an alternative. I assume that the evidence given before the Commission is valuable, and that it is necessary for any Government, with the Report of the Commission before it, to legislate on the subject. I must point out that the only alternative to a Bill of this nature is what was suggested by the Report of the Commission—that rents should be readjusted every five years. That, I think, would be intolerable; it would keep the country in an everlasting state of turmoil, and there would be no rest or peace. The only other alternative to the Bill would have been the exercise of what I may call an illegitimate dispensing power on the part of the Executive, which I hold would be absolutely destructive of all possibility of maintaining law and order in Ireland under any circumstances. The only alternative to these courses is what this Bill does—to increase the dispensing power which already exists in the hands of the County Court Judges. On the whole, I believe the Bill would do no more than what any reasonable landlord would do of his own accord, except this, that a large measure of responsibility will be taken from the shoulders of the landlords and placed upon the shoulders of the County Court Judges. I am certain in my own mind that the effect of the Bill will be to largely diminish the number of evictions, and thus to act beneficially. I am sure that the tenants will not avail themselves unjustly or improperly of the provisions of the Bill, and that its general effect will be to the advantage of landlord and tenant, and consequently to that of the whole country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
This Bill has been brought in by Her Majesty's Government for the purpose of affording some further relief to Irish tenants, in consequence of the great fall in prices that has taken place during the last few years. It is, I think, much to be regretted that Her Majesty's Government did not know last autumn the real state of things in Ireland with respect to the fall in prices, and take measures for the remedy of that state of things at an earlier period, for, if they had done so, much that has happened would have been prevented, and 1392 many circumstances which we all regret, and which have occurred since, would have been averted, and the country would have been placed in a much more satisfactory position than that it now occupies. There has been displayed in the course of this debate great unanimity with regard to the necessity of some legislation of a remedial character, but it is remarkable that an almost equal unanimity, with the exception of the noble Earl who has just sat down, has been shown on the part of everyone, but the occupants of the Treasury Bench, in considering the measure proposed by the Government for dealing with this question, as in regard to some of its principal provisions, altogether unsatisfactory. This somewhat confusing position is due partly to the fact that we have now only a portion of the plan of Her Majesty's Government now before us. Had they put forward their promised measure with regard to land purchase in Ireland, it might have been possible that the scheme of Her Majesty's Government with regard to bankruptcy might have seemed less objectionable. The circumstances being such as I have described them, I venture to think that we are entitled to hear from Her Majesty's Government before this debate closes an explanation of the main object which they have in view. I think that your Lordships are entitled to a clear and definite statement as to the course that will be pursued. We have aright to know from Her Majesty's Government whether the whole of this Bill is open to consideration, or whether Her Majesty's Government intend to leave the House to deal with all the details as they think fit; or whether there are in the Bill matters of principle by which the Government intend firmly to stand. It is admitted on all sides that the measure of relief now dealt out to the leaseholders in Ireland is urgently needed. As to whether the Bill would decrease the number of evictions there are grave differences of opinion. In the formal sense it is true that under these provisions only one eviction would be necessary, instead of two as at present. But would there be any reduction of the number of persons ultimately evicted? Upon that point there are differences of opinion. Many persons believe that under the new Bill ejectment notices would be taken out in greater numbers. 1393 There would probably be for six months no actual forcible evictions, and for that the Government would be able to take credit. But what would result at the end of six months oven as regards the leaseholders? I do not think that the recommendation made by the Commission intended that the whole body of them should be turned at a stroke of the pen into the condition of tenants from year to year. The noble Lord (Lord Denman) who has just sat down said, that solvent and industrious tenants in Ireland would not avail themselves of the bankruptcy clauses. What does that mean? It means that the very men who called forth the interest of my noble Friend who presided over the Commission will get no benefit at all from it. I confess I cannot conceive any stronger condemnation of these clauses. To avail himself of them, a man has got to declare himself a bankrupt, or take steps which will entitle his landlord to have him declared a bankrupt. That is an extremely unpleasant position for any man to put himself into. If it is true that in consequence of the fall in prices many of the rents are rents which the tenants cannot legitimately afford to pay, you put them into the alternative of becoming bankrupt or deprive them of obtaining any relief whatever.
THE EARL OF MILLTOWN
May I ask the noble Marquess what portion of the Report makes any such statement as that which he has just made?
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
The Report says—Although it is most undesirable to disturb an arrangement which was understood to be a permanent settlement, we cannot put aside the pressing necessities of the Irish tillage farmers, many of whom have lost much of their means, and are besides much indebted to banks, local merchants, and other creditors … Should the future range of prices continue on the present low scale, it will become absolutely necessary that a revision be made on the rents fixed prior to the beginning of 1886.I think that that thoroughly bears me out in the statement which I have just made. I say that those men will not be provided for under this Bill unless they put themselves into the condition of bankrupts.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (Earl CADOGAN)
The noble Marquess commenced his speech by saying that the course of this debate had been unprecedented, and he explained that obser- 1394 vation by the statement that whereas considerable objections had been taken to various portions and clauses of the Bill now under the consideration of the House, yet my noble and learned Friend beside me (Lord Ashbourne) had stated that he would give his consideration to the various points to which allusion had been made. I think that if anything has been unprecedented in the proceedings of to-night it has been this statement of the noble Marquess himself, in which he told us that because the Government accepts criticism and declares its disposition to give a favourable consideration to Amendments proposed on both sides of the House, therefore, and thereby, they declared their willingness to abandon the Bill. I must say I have often heard from the promoters of a measure, both inside the House and outside of it, the sentiment "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill;" but I have never heard thick and thin opponents of a measure declare that they will be satisfied with nothing but the whole Bill. It is, I think, pretty well understood that on the debate upon the second reading of a Bill we should confine ourselves as much as possible to the main principles of the measure and avoid a discussion on its details. The noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Fitzgerald) said that his view of the situation was that it was the duty of Members of the House who differed from the Government to offer their suggestions, and to make their criticisms, and to leave it to the responsibility of the Government whether they will accept those criticisms. That statement embodies the course which the Government will adopt. It is hardly necessary to repeat what I said when I had the honour of bringing in this Bill as to the position in which Her Majesty's Government found themselves when they embarked in legislative proposals with regard to the land in Ireland. The noble Earl the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland alluded to the legislation of 1870 and of 1881, and told us that it was unavoidable and. justifiable. On the other hand, my noble Friend (Lord Carnarvon), who had equal opportunities as the noble Earl opposite with regard to experience in Ireland, told us that the Act of 1881 was the fountain head of all the troubles with regard 1395 to land legislation in Ireland. In a similar manner the noble Earl opposite told us that it was necessary to adopt that portion of the Report of the Commission which recommended a revision of rents, whereas my noble Friend gave strong reasons against the adoption of any such course. With regard to the provisions of the Bill which proposes to admit leaseholders to the benefit of the Act of 1881, I understand that there is a practical unanimity on both sides of the House as to the desirability of such a course. I believe it is rendered necessary by the fact of their being omitted from the Act of 1881, and we are obliged to give to one class of tenants what the noble Earl opposite gave to another. The noble and learned Lord opposite made some suggestions as to the drafting of that clause. I hope that if I say we shall consider those suggestions the noble Earl opposite will not think I am giving up the Bill. With reference to ejectments, I wish to say, once for all, that it is the main object of Her Majesty's Government in bringing in this Bill that harsh evictions shall be put a stop to in Ireland. The term unjust evictions can perhaps hardly be accurately used with reference to what after all is a resort on the part of the landlord to a legally authorized and legally sanctioned operation; but, at the same time, there is no doubt that harsh evictions have caused scandal, both in this country and in Ireland, which no Government should refuse to take into consideration. Therefore, I am anxious that it should be clearly understood that the great object which we propose to ourselves is to minimize, if possible, these evictions. Now, there appears to me to be a considerable difference of opinion as to the steps we have taken, and especially with reference to the powers of ejectment. I myself, from all the information I have been able to acquire, see no reason to qualify the statement which I ventured to make on the first reading of this Bill, to the effect that we believe that this system of giving notice would operate largely in diminishing the number of evictions. But the operation of that clause should be considered also in connection with the equitable clauses of the Bill. We believe that those clauses will operate in the same direction, and it is with that 1396 view that we shall press them. With reference to the equitable jurisdiction of the Bill, there is one remark that I desire to make. It has been impossible for me not to notice that noble Lords on both sides of the House have referred to "the equitable jurisdiction" which this Bill establishes, and have treated it as if it were confined to proceedings in bankruptcy. This view of certain provisions of the Bill has also been expressed outside the House, notably by Mr. John Morley, of whom I wish to speak with the highest respect for the consistency of his views throughout in regard to Ireland. He stated that he believed that the remedial policy of the Government could be summarized into one sentence, "an Act of Bankruptcy." It is not my intention to deal on the present occasion with the different clauses of the Bill; but I beg to point out that the 21st clause, which gives the County Court Judge the equitable jurisdiction, has nothing to do with bankruptcy. All it empowers the County Court Judge to do is to stay evictions in certain cases where he considers that a tenant is unable to meet his liability. This being the case, I think it is not fair to say that the relief is given only through the means of bankruptcy. I also desire to make a remark following upon, the observations which the noble Marquess opposite has made in reference to the position which the Government takes up in regard to this Bill. I cannot help referring to a question that was asked by Mr. Gladstone in "another place" not many days ago. He asked whether this measure was a reality or an "imposture," and when murmurs arose he altered the word to an "illusion." Now, I do not wish to anticipate any statement on the subject of the position of the Government in reference to this Bill which may be made by the noble Marquess the Prime Minister. But perhaps I may be permitted to say on my own account that if I believed that this Bill had been brought forward as an "imposture" or an "illusion," as Mr. Gladstone seems to suggest, I should certainly not have taken the part I have in regard to it. I may also be allowed to say on my own behalf that as I have undertaken the charge of this Bill it is my intention and anxious wish, so far as in me lies, to meet the views of noble 1397 Lords on both sides of the House in modifying and strengthening it, so as to make it, as I believe is the object of noble Lords on both sides of the House, deal as satisfactorily and with as much finality as is possible with one of the most difficult problems that any Government can have to face.
§ On the Motion of the Duke of ARGYLL, further debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at half past Ten o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.