§ Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Amendment to the Motion for the Second Reading, read.
§ Debate resumed accordingly.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
It is one of the many calamities under which Ireland has so long suffered that measures affecting that unfortunate country are never discussed on their own merits. We are always confronted with the difficulty of some desperate political crisis. No one, however, can deny that the discussion last night was limited almost exclusively to the merits of the Bill, and that on behalf of the Irish landowners it was conducted in the best and most liberal spirit. There was only three speeches last night in which allusion was made to the political situation, First of all, there was the speech of the late Lord Lieutenant (Earl Spencer), who secured for himself so much just merit for his government of Ireland, although he governed the country through the instrumentality of an exceptionally severe Coercion Bill. My noble Friend spoke with the calmness and dignity with which he always speaks. It was extremely well done, but the object of his speech was obvious; it was to disparage the Bill as much as possible without committing himself to any alternative policy. But at the end of his speech there was a single sentence which, like the postscript in a lady's letter, contained the whole substance of what he intended to convey. He challenged the Government to say whether they would stand or fall by this Bill, and that challenge was utterly inconsistent with the whole previous tone of 1552 his remarks. Then there was the speech of the noble Viscount (Viscount De Vesci); and then there came the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Ripon), flourishing his shillelagh—a Yorkshire shillelagh—with some mildness in it, no doubt; but the whole gist of his remarks consisted of a repetition of the challenge whether the Government intended to stand or fall by this Bill. In the speech of the noble Marquess there was a clear indication of his political view. Of course we know where this challenge came from. We have all read a speech delivered before an assembly of gentlemen who call themselves the Eighty Club. The challenges of the two noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench were mere repetitions of the passionate appeal made to the worshipful company of the Eighty Club. Now, it would be mere affectation, and worse than affectation, to pretend any longer that we can discuss this Bill without any reference to the political situation. We cannot discuss the measure simply on its merits, and I wish to say distinctly that I intend to discuss it with reference to the general political position. It would be worse than a farce not to do so. Before going further I wish to say a few words of sincere regret at my separation from my noble Friend (Earl Granville) who leads the Opposition. We have sat together for the best part of 30 years, and together have faced the battle and the breeze, and it is with the sincerest sorrow that I now find myself separated from him. Until now we have never had any difference, public or private; but I am obliged to look at the position which my noble Friend has assumed. The other night my noble Friend taunted the Government with their alliance with Lord Hartington, and referred to the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) as being all-powerful in this House in the present circumstances. The noble Marquess, as Leader of the Conservative Party, has always great power in this House; but why is his power at the present moment even greater than usual? Because a great portion of those whom my noble Friend (Earl Granville) has been accustomed to lead dread above all things the return to power of my noble Friend and his former Colleagues. My noble Friend has a right to take his own course, and to repudiate all the principles on which we have acted together 1553 for so many years; but we, too, have a right to take our own course, and we ask him this—Does he think it less honourable for the Conservative Party to loan on the support of Lord Hartington than for him and his former Colleagues to lean on the support of Mr. Parnell? Look at the position in which my noble Friend and his Colleagues are placed. They were beaten in the House of Commons the other night by a majority of 108. If Mr. Parnell's Party had not been in alliance with them they would have been defeated by a majority so enormous as to be almost unprecedented in the annals of this country—a majority of at least one-third of the whole House of Commons. Seeing, then, that my noble Friend and his Colleagues are in close alliance with Mr. Parnell, I ask—Does he think it more honourable for the political Opposition to be dependent on Mr. Parnell than for the Conservative Government to be dependent on Lord Hartington? I have never heard that Lord Hartington has been suspected of disloyalty to the Empire; I have never heard such language applied to him as Mr. Gladstone applied some time ago to Mr. Parnell. It was at Leeds, I think, that Mr. Gladstone said that Mr. Parnell had great ability, but that it did not require much ability to sway men through their covetous desires. Now, I know of no change of circumstances since the date when that speech was delivered which can justify any change of language; and let my noble Friend take care lest he and his Colleagues should, in their turn, be accused of attempting to away men through their covetous desires. I proceed to another part of the political situation. I have to think whether my noble Friend and his Colleagues have any plan for the government of Ireland better than that proposed by my noble Friend opposite. Yet my noble Friend and his Colleagues go about the country saying—"We have a plan and the Tory Government have none." Now, it seems to me exactly the reverse. They have no plan, and the Conservative Government have a very definite plan. The Liberal Government had a plan, but their Bills are now dead. They say—"We do not stand on our old Bills; they are dead and gone." One of the most prominent parts of the late Government's scheme was one for purchase, which I entirely approved. I mean that I 1554 approved of it with the great object of multiplying owners of land in Ireland. There was a great scheme propounded. I say nothing about the merits of its details, but it was sound in its general principles. What did Mr. Gladstone say the other day? "The Purchase Bill is dead, and dead for ever." Therefore, it is not at all according to the facts of the case that my noble Friend and his Colleagues have any plan as regards the Land Question in Ireland. I cannot say that I entirely endorse the language in which that scheme was propounded; but if there was any part of it which touched the question of personal honour it was that proposal about the land purchase. The proprietors of land in Ireland were to be subjected to a new government, and it was felt that if they desired it they ought to have an opportunity of cutting out. We all know that the Party is in alliance with Mr. Parnell and Mr. Dillon, and we know what some of these men are. Their conduct may be described as consisting of rottenness and confusion in theory and plunder in practice. I think it is quite on the cards that if our old friends came back into Office in alliance with Mr. Parnell we might have them going down and saying to the landlords of Ireland—"We are very sorry for you; we know you have been in Ireland, some of you 500 or 700 years; we know that your names have been associated with the history of Ireland; we know that many of you are loved by the people; but you must go out of the country and allow yourselves to be expropriated by the Government at any price we choose, because you did not accept our offer—an offer which was got up in six weeks and propounded to you. You did not choose to accept it; your sands are run out—we throw you to the sharks." So far as public utterances are concerned, this is all we have a right to expect from noble Lords who have placed themselves under the command of the Parnellite Party. Then we have to discuss the land proposals of noble Lords opposite, knowing what we are very likely to have from my noble Friends near me. Mr. Gladstone is able to speak for himself, and he does speak very copiously and writes very fully. I was much struck by a speech of Mr. John Morley, who is now intimately associated with Mr. Gladstone, and, I believe, knows his 1555 opinions. Yesterday, in The Times, I read a speech in which Mr. Morley used these words with reference to the position of Mr. Gladstone. Now, I consider that every word Mr. Morley or his Colleagues say Mr. Gladstone also says. They are acting under him and with him, and they will do whatever he bids them. They are his lieutenants, and nothing else. I see no indication of an independent state of mind among them. What does Mr. Morley say with reference to Lord Hartington's position on the Crimes Bill? Lord Hartington says—"The object of this legislation is to put down and clear the way of the revolutionary Party," "meaning," Mr. John Morley added, "by the revolutionary Party, the Party which agrees with Mr. Gladstone." That is an awkward saying, and I hope it will be repudiated, because I do not think it is quite true. Lord Hartington is not a man who uses violent language of his opponents; he was speaking strictly of the revolutionary Party, although my noble Friend and Mr. Gladstone have too close a connection with them not to be suspected of sympathy with them. Then, my Lords, I must again refer to the various speeches which have been lately made by my noble Friend (Earl Spencer) who was lately Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He has been starring in the country like the rest of his Colleagues, who had not always the same sense of responsibility as if they were speaking in this or the other House of Parliament. But I have been extremely astonished by the assertions made and the tone taken by my noble Friend. I have read the speech delivered at Bristol the other day by my noble Friend, in which he referred to the Plan of Campaign, which, he said, he did not altogether approve. Just think what the Plan of Campaign is! It is a combination by a large number of tenants agreeing to pay their debts into a common fund to defend themselves against their creditors. Was there ever a more monstrous form of combination? This is the mealy-mouthed language in which noble Lords, Privy Councillors of the Queen, who have held the highest responsibilities in the State and are aspiring to them again, referred to a scheme of violence so monstrous. What can we expect from them when they come back to Office? Then there is another part of my noble Friend's speech. He says the 1556 Plan of Campaign is strictly intended to be limited to the cases where landlords did not give reasonable deductions. Who is to judge of the reasonableness of the demand? What right had my noble Friend to speak of the object of the Plan of Campaign? Does he know how it was drawn up? Was he consulted? Did he draw his description from the actual operation of it? Can my noble Friend say that the operation of the Plan of Campaign is confined to cases of bad landlords? For instance, there is the case of my noble Friend Lord Lansdowne. Could he say he was a bad landlord? Then, I say, is it just, fair, or worthy of my noble Friend's position to go down to the distant Provinces of England to speak thus to men who have not time to read the Blue Books or the evidence?
§ EARL SPENCER
I do not wish to interrupt my noble Friend, but I hardly know to what report of my speech he is referring.
§ EARL SPENCER
That was a very inaccurate report of what I said. I said that in the first speech I made after the trials at Dublin had come to an end I had spoken strongly against the Plan of Campaign, and did not propose on that occasion to go at any length into it. I said there might have been some justification for it, in consequence of the refusal of the Government to accept Mr. Parnell's Bill last year. I then went on to say that the Plan of Campaign, so far as it had been explained, was intended to apply to those unjust landlords who would not listen to reason; but that, as far as I knew, I was afraid that it had gone considerably beyond that.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I am glad to have elicited from my noble Friend this explanation, though I cannot say it is entirely satisfactory. My Lords, if this conduct and principle were applied generally in civilized life society would be at an end. It is the duty of men in high position to use true language, and not to lower themselves to the sixpenny or halfpenny gallery. I say distinctly that I cannot speak or vote on this Bill except with reference to the political position, especially as it has been affected by the Land Act of 1881. I want to bring my noble Friend to the recognition of certain facts as proved before the Cowper 1557 Commission. I wonder how many of your Lordships have read that Blue Book, containing between 27,000 and 28,000 questions and answers, and covering upwards of 1,000 pages. My Lords, I have studied it with some care, and I am very much struck with the existing state of Ireland as affected by the Land Act of 1881. My Lords, what shall I say of the general knowledge in the political world of the failure of the Land Act of 1881? It is acknowledged to be a complete and absolute failure. But I am not satisfied with these general assertions. How many of your Lordships have gone through that Blue Book to see why that Laud Act has been a failure? My Lords, let me direct the attention of the House for a moment to this question, which I consider of the very first importance. Now, my Lords, remember what that Act was. It was an Act which placed the whole agricultural property of Ireland, both of landlord and tenant, absolutely at the mercy of three gentlemen. They might fix a fair rent, or a rent at what is called prairie value, or an exorbitant rent. Now the question is, whether it has done harm or good. Now, my Lords, let me call the attention of the House to the evidence of Sir Redvers Buller, and I must say that there has been an extraordinary want of candour in quoting this evidence. Let us remember who Sir Redvers Buller is. He is a distinguished soldier, and probably knows about as much of agriculture as I do of military tactics. A noble Friend near me says, soldiers may know a great deal of agriculture; all I can say is that I have not detected any signs of such knowledge in his evidence. He is a man of perfect honour, straightforwardness, and candour, and what does he say? He says what you want is some measure, some plan, which shall be a make-weight against the love of the Irish peasant for his own home, so that in making a bargain with his landlord there shall be something equivalent to the pressure which the landlord is able to put upon him. That is precisely what it was thought the Land Act of 1881 would give to the Irish peasant, who has an excessive love for his own home; to give him a counterpoise against the landlord in the making of his bargain. But Sir Redvers Buller does not seem to know that the Land Act of 1881 exists. That a gentle- 1558 man, knowing too, as I am now informed, something of agriculture, should be living for months in Ireland and not know there was a measure precisely answering to the philosophical description he had given of the needs of the Irish peasant speaks volumes for the success of that measure. But in quoting this evidence, and flinging it in the face of the Conservative Party, they omit to say that Sir Redvers Buller says the Land Act is a failure. My Lords, why is this Act a failure? We have abundant evidence in the Blue Book of the Cowper Commission. The administration of the Act was given to men who were called Judges, but they had no legal principles laid down for their guidance. The words "fair rent" were used, but no definition of those words was given. Now, my Lords, in Scotland the meaning of the words "fair rent" is not uncertain, because the Judges have decided what it means, because the Statute indicates clearly what that meaning is—it means the fair market value; in Ireland it does not, and was not intended to, have that meaning. Let me ask the House whether the evidence before the Cowper Commission shows an acceptance of these rents as judicial? In 1882 in the North of Ireland a land conference was held, and the conclusion come to was that the decisions of the Sub-Commissioners did not adequately protect the tenants in their holdings. That was a very serious decision, involving, of course, an utter mistrust of the judicial character of this Commission. Now, that was before the great drop in the prices of produce. The Government appoint the Sub-Commissioners, and they change them from time to time, I must say that a more formidable instrument of political corruption was never placed in the hands of any Government. It was quite impossible that the people of Ireland should have been satisfied with such a measure as that. After all, Irishmen are not all unreasonable beings, and the conclusions I have referred to might have been drawn from the proceedings of the Land Commission by the most simple and the most ignorant men. In one case a Sub-Commissioner is supposed to have valued 137 acres of land in an hour, being at the rate of one field in two minutes, including the buildings upon the holding. I have had some experience myself in valuing land, 1559 and in my opinion a valuation conducted in that way is utterly worthless and is a farce. My own strong impression is that the Sub-Commissioners intended to do their duty; but the question is, what was the state of mind in which they came to value the land? It is impossible to expect that people will value an Act which they believe is administered for political purposes, and which they believe is based upon no principle whatever. No real opportunity has ever been given under that Act for the real valuation of the land. It was the hollowness of the pretence at valuation of the land that was one of the chief causes of the failure of that Act. Evidence was given before the Cowper Commission to show that the effect of the Land Act had been to cheapen the value of land. That may be true as regards the rent paid to the landowner, but it is not true as regards the sum paid by the incoming to the outgoing tenant. Not one farthing of advantage is enjoyed by the incoming tenant, inasmuch as the outgoing tenant obtains the highest possible sum for the right of occupation. In all cases where the tenant is free to sell the effect of the Land Act has been to raise the price of tenant right higher than ever; and, indeed, a case came before the Cowper Commission where the tenant's right was valued at 40 years' purchase. The value of this right appears to rise in proportion as the holding is the more miserable. The result is that the new tenant comes in crippled in means, if not hampered with a large debt for money borrowed to enable him to purchase the right of the outgoing tenant. Is there any advantage in that to the public, to the Irish people, or to the nation? It must be recollected that before the Land Act was passed the value of the tenant right was limited by various local customs, and that those customs have been swept away by that Act, and that thus the value of the tenant right is now liable to be forced up to the highest possible point. Therefore, so far from the value of land having been lowered by the Land Act it has largely increased, at all events as regards the smaller holdings. Then, let me ask, what has been the result of the Land Act upon the system known as conacre under which the tenant sub-lets a portion of his holding to his labourers? The labourer has not the 1560 protection of judicial rents; he has to pay what the tenant chooses to demand of him, and frequently he pays for the hire of the land for nine months, during which he grows his only crop, potatoes, £4, £5, or £6 an acre for land which the tenant who has received that amount of rent informs his landlord he is unable to pay his judicial rent of £2 an acre for. The fact is that you cannot regulate the price of land any more than you can regulate the price of money. If you try to do it, it is like water that runs through your fingers. If you give an absolute monopoly to the existing tenants in Ireland of all the land they hold they will exact the utmost farthing from the labourers below them. Now, let me direct the attention of the House to another result of the Land Act. All witnesses say that the real difficulty in Ireland lies in a few spots, what are called the congested districts, where you find the old cottier tenancies. The Land Act has had the effect of stereotyping for ever that miserable system of conacre. By abolishing the power of the landlord over the tenant you abolish the possibility of reform for ever. I have had some personal experience with regard to land, and I know that there is nothing so desperate and so inveterate as custom among a half-civilized people. You may show them to demonstration that some practice is folly; but they cannot and will not take it in. But you do not require the consent of one man alone—you require the consent of the whole community in the matter of carrying out improvements. You have destroyed all the interest and power which has led to modern civilization with regard to land. Mr. Seebohm, in his book, has shown that in this country we should have a pauper tenantry had it not been for the creation of freehold tenure. What is the remedy which my noble Friends below me on that Bench propose? It is to give the whole of the Land Question into the hands of Mr. Dillon. Now, my Lords, there was another direct and. immediate effect of the Land Act, and that was the sudden inflation of rent. The Act held out an irresistible temptation to borrow money, and many of them borrowed it at enormous interest from the gombeen man. That was the immediate effect of your Act; you have a disastrous reaction 1561 now. The banks, to a great extent, have withdrawn their credit, and many of the merchants have done the same, and the consequence is that misery which has produced so much discontent in Ireland. There is another lament-able result of such legislation. You are putting a stop to all agricultural improvements by the landlord. The miseries of the Irish tenants with regard to the condition of their holdings have not come from English law, but from the absence of English law; they are not suffering from landlordism, but from the absence of landlordism and of that control which has been of so much advantage to civilization in this country. All the evidence taken before the Commission is conclusive on this point, that on many estates in Ireland large sums of money were laid out in improvements. Now, look at the case of Lord Clancarty, which shows the mischievous effect of your legislation. On the Clancarty estate a great outfall was made—one of the things which is most required in the case of great plains of bogs, which cannot be drained without such an outfall. It was a most valuable improvement, and the greatest service he could render to his country. I was myself the proprietor of such land. There were a few smaller proprietors whose lands also touched the marsh; we joined together and made an outfall into which the tenants' lands could be drained. But we did this because we trusted to the law of property, to the common sense of the Parliament of the country, and to the security of the law. Now, look at the case of Lord Clancarty. You send one of your Sub-Commissions down; they were asked whether they did not put a rent upon the tenant corresponding to the advantage he gained from the work of the landlord, and their reply was—"Oh, dear no, because there is no machinery for it in our Act; it does not matter whether the tenant is idle or imprudent. The land must be taken as it is now; we have no authority to do anything else." I ask, was there ever such accursed legislation? Conquerors have ravaged the cities of a country and plundered its Princes; but they have left the agrarian system untouched, and when the conqueror withdrew his foot the natural motives of mankind restored immediately the fertility of the land, and crops grew 1562 again. But you have cursed Ireland with a perpetual curse; you have destroyed ownership; you have not merely transferred it from one class to another. Do not talk to me of dual ownership; you have destroyed ownership, something that is unknown in any country in the world. You have got a system which is destructive to all improvements, which stereotypes everything that is bad, and makes reforms impossible. There is another point to which I would call your Lordships' attention with regard to the action of the Land Act, and that is, that it has stopped the flow of capital into Ireland. Nobody but a tenant can buy land now; anyone else would be an idiot if he laid out money in the purchase of Irish land. You have stopped all outlay upon improvements, and you have also excluded for over any capital that would have been brought in from a richer country. Do not tell me that the Irish labourer is incapable of labour, or energy, or exertion. Place him in favourable circumstances, and there is no better workman than the Irishman. I have myself employed large gangs of Irishmen, and I never saw any navvies work better; and, besides that, they were kindly and courteous men. Now, let me look at the effect of the Land Act. There is ample evidence that you have not only damaged Ireland in her material interests, but you have damaged her for ever—as long, at all events, as such principles are carried into effect. Honesty is not regarded, and the honest and thrifty man is discouraged by the idle, the drunken, and the profligate. The village ruffian commands in every district of Ireland under the rule of the League. Look at the evidence of General Buller, in which he talks of the bad characters who carry out the orders of the League. Look at the evidence of some of these witnesses with regard to improvements. The tenants do not improve their holdings because they think they will get more by agitating. Why should they go on laboriously digging, they say; plunder is better than work? Now, my Lords, with regard to the remedy of purchase. I am very much struck with this. No doubt some of the more respectable tenants in Ireland will purchase and do purchase, and I hope many more will purchase; but the poor cottier tenantry cannot purchase, or, if they have purchased, will they not sub- 1563 divide, as before? I know of nothing to prevent them. Now, my Lords, I turn to utilize all these facts to the excuse of my noble Friend's answer. I cannot defend the Bill on abstract principle; but it is an extension of the Land Act of 1881. Well, my Lords, I confess that as regards the working of the Act, when it becomes law, I think there will be all the difficulty which attends the valuation of land. With regard to the admission of leaseholders, I acquiesce in the general opinion of Irish landlords. They all seem to think it quite a natural consequence. They do not care about it. I take the opportunity of entering my protest against it on principle. Men say very loosely—What, after all, is the difference between a yearly tenant and a tenant under a lease? Why, the difference is this—that the yearly tenant has a far smaller interest in the holding. In the case of leases you have capable and intelligent men who in return for a long tenure calculate on an average of value, and promise that throughout a certain number of years they will pay a certain rent. But I am bound to say, for myself, that I will never vote for any Bill—I will never say "Content" to any Bill—which violates good faith between man and man. With regard to the principle of bankruptcy, though I am no judge of the workability of the clauses with reference to the Bankruptcy Law of Ireland and the bankruptcy machinery, I do see a certain value in the principle of those clauses, and that is this—that a man shall not cease to pay his rent to his landlord unless he is considered also a bankrupt to everybody else. A man should be under the stigma of bankruptcy who cannot pay his landlord as the man who cannot pay his merchant or usurer. There is a value in that principle, and I must say that though it is a very disagreeable thing for an Irish tenant to be called a bankrupt, and to be released from all his obligations to other creditors, it is a fair strain to put a man under who can pay his rent and will not. Some objections have been made to the Bankruptcy Clauses, which seem to have a certain amount of reason in them, and I hope my noble Friend who is in charge of the Bill and the noble Marquess will look carefully into the possibility of modifying those clauses. For my own 1564 part, as regards the great alternative which was before the Government—that of either breaking up the whole of the Land Act of 1881 or making occasional remissions of rent where the local Courts see cause for it—I think the noble Marquess has chosen the right course. In my opinion, the proposal of the Commission to have a quinquennial revision of rent would be fatal to the peace of the country. I think I can see cases where it is quite obvious that, either owing to a certain fall in prices or other causes, the tenant is really unable to pay his rent, and it is possible in this case that the County Court might be able in some cases to judge. Before I sit down I would only say a few words with regard to the challenge which has been repeatedly thrown out on these Benches that the Government will say that they stand or fall by this Bill. My Lords, I look upon that challenge as a mere Party move. It is a cry of faction and nothing else. I hope the Government will resist it. I am quite certain they proposed this Bill with an honest intention. The admission of leaseholders seems to me to meet with the acquiescence of the Irish landlords. With a generosity of feeling and a public spirit which I think does them infinite honour, they are casting no difficulty in the way, and this will affect no less than upwards of 150,000 tenants. I hope the public will be reminded of this—that it is not to the interests of Ireland or for the interests of the Empire that insolvent men should be kept in a solvent position. It is the interest not only of the landowner, but of the Empire, that the soil of the country should be in the hands of capable, industrious, and solvent men. It is a sickly sentimentality which wishes to keep stereotyped on the soil of the West of Ireland a vast mass of men who cannot live upon the land, who cannot live without labour, and at the same time to keep them under conditions in which labour is impossible and inaccessible. Now, my Lords, I have only one more word to say, and that is, I do earnestly hope that it will be possible even for a short time to put aside the spirit of faction in regard to this agrarian question in Ireland. I have no very strong hopes of it.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I hear a noble Lord say "Yes," and that comes from my noble Friend who last Session of Parliament said that the great difficulty was that it was impossible to exclude the spirit of faction.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
Well, let him begin with himself. There is no man in this House whose knowledge of Ireland is greater, whose acuteness of mind is greater, or who, I believe, knows more thoroughly the truth of the principles which I have endeavoured to lay down. I do not believe that my noble Friend believes in the success of the Land Act of 1881, or in any amendment of it. What we must look to is purchase, because we must look to the restoration of that which you have destroyed—the restoration of full ownership in the soil. That is the one principle of industry which has been the root of all improvements, and to this, by some means or another, it will be necessary that we should return.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My noble Friend who has just sat down has spoken for an hour and a-half. He divided his speech into three parts. The first was a political attack on the Opposition, the second was a violent attack on the Act of 1881, and then followed the third part, which related to the Bill before the House. I hope the Government will note how long my noble Friend took in referring to the Bill; it was just seven minutes. A speech of an hour and a-half, short of seven minutes, was devoted to a very strong attack upon his former Colleagues, and upon the Act which, whatever its merits or demerits, is the law now, and the basis on which all future legislation must rest. I do not accuse my noble Friend of faction, but I must say that I think he has most unnecessarily and unwisely dragged into the discussion on this Bill the whole conduct of political Parties in reference to the Irish Question. I do not desire to follow the noble Duke in this course, but I cannot avoid saying something in answer to the Party attack which he has made The noble Duke began by saying that my noble Friends the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the late Viceroy of India imparted much political bitterness to their speeches. As to the speech of the noble Earl (Earl Spencer), I 1566 would appeal to noble Lords whether it was not a remarkably calm and temperate speech, and as to the speech of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Ripon) the noble Duke chiefly found fault with it because the noble Marquess asked the Government what portions of the Bill they stood or fell by—what they regarded as the essential part of the Bill? That is a very ordinary question, and I fail to see why it should have raised the ire of the noble Duke. He next proceeded to contrast the position of the Government, who have the support of Lord Hartington—for which I envy them, for no one has a greater admiration for Lord Hartington than I have—with the position of the Opposition, who are associated with Mr. Parnell and his followers. I suppose, since the charge is made, that it is considered extremely wicked on the part of the Opposition to have the support of Mr. Parnell and his friends. But I can remember when we were in Office that the Party opposite had the support of Mr. Parnell and his friends, who rendered that support so effectively as to remove us from Office. I make no accusation against them for that. So far from its being matter of charge against us that we have the support of Mr. Parnell and 85 Irish Members, I consider that the great justification of our Irish policy. But a policy must be judged by itself. If it is right, there is nothing to be ashamed of in Mr. Parnell's alliance; if it is wrong, then it will not be made better by being supported by this or that man. The noble Duke referred to the Land Purchase Bill which was brought in by us, and he seemed to take it for granted that if we were to return to Office we should abandon all proposals of the kind. Lot me remind him, now that he is so enamoured of that Bill, that the noble and learned Earl formerly Lord Chancellor was the first to attack it by writing a vigorous letter to The Times couched in the most adverse spirit. I may be allowed to state that I am not aware that any of my former Colleagues have swerved from their belief that any just settlement of the Irish Question must be accompanied by a settlement of the Land Question. We are, no doubt, relieved from being pinned to the details of the particular Bill; but that a satisfactory dealing with the Land Question must be part of any 1567 satisfactory settlement of the great Irish question I believe we all of us hold to. Reference has been made to the Plan of Campaign, and, as it is considered the duty of every public man on all occasions to express his opinion concerning it, I have no hesitation in saying that I condemn it. But I must add that its origin may, to some extent, be traced to the fact that Parliament rejected Mr. Parnell's Bill last autumn. I am one of those who do not believe that we shall advance nearer to the solution of the Irish Question by indulging in purely Party recriminations and bandying charges of inconsistency. It is quite easy for any of us to bring forward quotations in support of such charges. I, however, make no charge of inconsistency against my noble Friend. The noble Duke opposed the Land Act of 1881 from the first, and he does so still. He asks me to say whether I still approve that Act. I conscientiously believe that that Act was based on sound and necessary principles. Our difficulties in Ireland have in the past been mainly due to our determination to apply to Ireland principles which worked well in England, but which were inapplicable to Ireland. The Land Act of 1881 was a departure from that course. I believe that, at the time of the passing of the Act rents were exorbitantly high, and that if it had not been for the machinery provided by that Act it would have been impossible to bring them down to a reasonable amount. The noble Duke says that the evidence given before the Cowper Commission proves the Act to have failed. I admit that, in consequence of the fall in prices, the rents fixed throe or four years ago are now too high. I think there is abundant evidence to show that the rents fixed under the Land Act were not unfairly reduced—that a reduction of 18 percent was not by any means unreasonable. Those who object to what has been done under the Land Act in Ireland ought to consider the circumstances of agriculture in England. Does 18 per cent represent the fall in prices in many parts of England? In Ireland no one foresaw that there would be so rapid and continuous a fall in prices. The witnesses called before Lord Cowper's Commission tell us that not only has there been a greater fall than was ever anticipated, but that you have a state of 1568 great instability in regard to prices, which renders it impossible to calculate with any certainty what will be a fair rent for any length of time; and this is equally true of England and Scotland. My noble Friend goes to India for a comparison, and says that, although we are the conquerors of that country, we have never attempted to interfere with its system of land tenure. I am surprised to hear such a statement from the noble Duke. Has he never heard of the settlement of Oude, by which wide changes were effected in the land tenure? One of the statements of my noble Friend is that among the results of the Land Act of 1881 is a large increase in the value of tenant right. The Report of the Commission, however, contains evidence negativing that supposition. Witnesses from Armagh, for example, proved that tenant right has fallen greatly in value. I will now make some observations upon the provisions of the Bill itself. I agree that it is desirable that leaseholders should have the benefits of the Act of 1881; but I believe that the provisions which have been introduced into this measure with respect to this subject will cause considerable hardship. It is proposed to convert into yearly tenants all leaseholders whose leases will expire within 60 years from the passing of the Act of 1881. Now, there may be leaseholders who do not wish to be converted into yearly tenants. Why should they not be given the option of deciding whether they will take advantage of the provisions of the Bill, or whether their position shall remain unchanged? It would be a great misfortune if, in attempting to redress the grievances of the leaseholders, we should, in reality, injure their interests, though unwittingly. I turn next to the consideration of the Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill. It has bean placed on record by the Land Commission that the judicial rents fixed under the Act of 1881 are, in many cases, too high. This declaration has caused the Government some embarrassment, by forcing upon their notice the feasibility of breaking the statutory term fixed no longer ago than 1881. They think that the difficulty has been met by the introduction of these Bankruptcy Clauses; but in this they are wrong, because these clauses will leave untouched the cases of men who shrink from bank- 1569 ruptcy. The men who are anxious to pay their rents, but for whom it is very difficult to do so, are the very men whom it is most desirable to benefit, and yet this Bill will do very little for them. Another objection to these clauses is that they are almost unworkable. A tenant, after he has been declared bankrupt, will become a kind of bondsman to the Official Assignee. That, in itself, is an extraordinary position in which to place a tenant. Then we have been told that we may expect in one single County Court District as many as 4,000 applications under these Bankruptcy Clauses, and in every one of these cases it will be necessary to keep a separate account. The process will be that the tenant will come year after year, and producing, perhaps, some small portion of the rent. He will be asked why he did not pay more; and then there will be an execution of the bankruptcy proceedings. The result will be that you will have a set of Government tenants under the Official Assignee, composed of the poorest and most wretched in Ireland. Can anything be conceived more likely to embarrass landlords and tenants alike? Can this be otherwise described than as a most demoralizing system? My object is not to denounce the Government, but to prove that these clauses will not effect the object they have in view. The other creditors are in the ordinary position of creditors now; but in future they will have their claims postponed in order that the tenant may go on in a hopeless condition. I have spoken strongly of these clauses, but I hope not in an unfair spirit. They will not work to the advantage either of the tenant or the landlord. My noble Friend said that by the Land Act of 1881 the landlords were discouraged from effecting improvements on their property. I have no word but of commendation for those landlords who have done their duty in this respect. But in the large mass of cases improvements have been executed by the tenants, and, as is clearly shown by the Blue Book, the landlords have not done much to improve the land of the country. I will not go into the other provisions of the Bill, which have already been dealt with by several of your Lordships, but only desire to deny that any noble Lord on this side of the House approaches the question in any factious spirit. We are too well aware of the 1570 difficulties which surround the question of Irish land, not to desire to see some of them removed before we are called upon again to resume the responsibilities of Office.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I think my noble Friend the noble Duke was well justified in saying, at the outset of his eloquent speech, that he could not examine this Bill without some regard to the general situation in which we find ourselves with respect to Ireland. It is perfectly manifest that the three measures, two of which are now before Parliament, and the other is in prospect, are so related to each other that it is wholly impossible satisfactorily to separate any one of them from the rest. One of these two measures, now pending in ''another place," is for the repression of crime in Ireland, miscalled Coercion, but really a measure for the protection of liberty. The present measure, and the other and larger measure, bearing on the same subject, which I understand to be in prospect, refer to the Land Laws; and the present Bill I cannot but regard, with reference to the other and larger measure, as, to some extent, provisional in its character. But one thing, in my judgment, is absolutely certain—that without the repression of crime in Ireland you will not produce any good from any measure which you may devise. This present Bill being founded on the Report of what is commonly called the Cowper Commission, I have the authority of that Report for what I say. In paragraph 77 of that Report are these words—While recommending certain changes in the law which circumstances have rendered necessary for the present relief of the tenant, it is right that we should press, in the interests of all classes, the maintenance of law and order, which has in several parts of the country been grievously outraged. In the absence of that security which ought to he enjoyed in every civilized community, capital is discouraged, and enterprize and industry are checked; and it is impossible that any country can thrive, or any healing measure be devised, which can add much to its prosperity.I think the noble Duke had too much authority for some of his observations bearing upon the general political situation. Is it, or is it not, part of that political situation that the measure which the Government has introduced—I speak of its general tenour and principle, and not of particular clauses 1571 —that this measure for the protection of liberty and for the repression of crime and conspiracy is being opposed strenuously, and with extreme energy, all over the country by those who were lately responsible for the government of this country? When the noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) speaks of freedom from political passion and feeling in this matter, I would ask him whether there is, or is not, at the present moment an alliance offensive and defensive between those who lately had the government in their hands, and the same men who were not so very long ago described as marching through rapine to the dismemberment of the Empire? And are they not marching through rapine to the disintegration of the Empire as much now as then? These men have not relaxed one iota in their efforts or their object, and the rapine is as great as it ever was. What does this same Report say upon that subject? It says—The operation of the Land Act of 1881 has been affected in many districts by combinations to resist the payment of rent and the right of free sale.And then—Outrage was at first made use of to intimidate parties who were willing to pay rent, but latterly the methods of passing resolutions at National League meetings, causing their proceedings to be reported in the local newspapers, naming obnoxious men, and then Boycotting those men, has been adopted.Then the paragraph goes on to describe the horrible process, the terrible oppression, in terms which your Lordships have doubtless read; and in the appendix is printed the Plan of Campaign as it issued from the office of the National League. That is the situation with which you have to deal. A new morality, not merely a new policy, has been started by those who were lately responsible for the government of the country, and people are going all over the country, and the late Prime Minister is calling spirits from the vasty deep—it does not seem to matter what sort of spirits they are—I may speak of them in the words formerly quoted by Burke—Black spirits and white,Red spirits and grey,Mingle, mingle, mingle,You that mingle may.It was only yesterday that I read a letter from Mr. Gladstone—one of those letters 1572 which are scattered like snowflakes over the United Kingdom and the United States—declaring, that in order to defeat this Bill, which has been produced to put down crime and conspiracy against law, and to enable the Government to be carried on in Ireland, he is ready to risk all or any political consequences. What is meant by that? By way of appeal against an immense majority of the House of Commons, recently returned, something out-of-doors is to produce some political consequences for the purpose of overawing and intimidating the Legislature, and preventing them from passing measures for the restoration of order and the prevention of crime. That does seem to be a state of things relevant to this occasion and necessary to be borne in mind. It is the duty of every one of your Lordships to take care that those who have the courage to endeavour to govern Ireland shall receive the support which they ought to receive from the law-abiding and law-loving Members of the British Legislature. My Lords, I am very sorry to have been obliged to say this, because I know the private virtues of many of those who, in a manner which is to me perfectly inscrutable, have been brought into this situation. I should be very sorry to think unfavourably of them. That great reputations should be in danger of wreck, oven by suicide, is to me a matter of profound regret and sorrow. My Lords, I pass to some other topics that have been mentioned. The noble Earl who has just addressed your Lordships, in dealing with that part of the speech of the noble Duke which related to the defunct land scheme of the late Government, referred to a loiter published by me—I thought it my duty to do it—last year when that scheme was before Parliament. I then referred to a letter written in December, 1885, which was seen by some of those who had been my Colleagues. I said that to desert the loyal subjects of the Crown in Ireland and to hand them over to their avowed and bitter enemies, would, in my judgment, be the lowest depth of dishonour. I thought so then, and I continue to think so still, and with regard to the scheme of buying out the Irish landlords. I looked upon it as impracticable, because it could not be done on Irish credit and certainly would not be done on English. And my published letter was 1573 not written until it bad become apparent, from the manner in which that part of the scheme of the late Government was suddenly altered; and from Mr. Gladstone's language in explaining it, that there was no settled purpose in it, and that what afterwards happened, when it was given up, was practically sure to happen. Then, with regard to the Land Act of 1881—of course, if I had foreseen in 1881 that within six years those who introduced that measure would throw it over, and propose to abandon the whole government of Ireland to those who thwarted it from the beginning—if I had foreseen that I cannot tell what I should have said and done. I could not have spoken to your Lordships as I did. I could not have presented it to your Lordships as a measure which would operate for the benefit of the landlords as well as the tenants. I thought so then, and I am confirmed rather than otherwise by what has since taken place. After it passed, the outcry was from landlords that the rents were being unfairly and unduly reduced. The speeches in this debate seem to show that the complaint now comes from the other side, and that the judicial rents are said to be too high. Such expressions of dissatisfaction with the rents fixed on part of both landlords and tenants, appear to me to indicate that justice was, on the whole, done between them. In all large operations you cannot have absolute uniformity. The real reason why the Land Act of 1881 has failed is that, immediately the Act was passed, the present allies of the late Government sot themselves steadily to defeat its object by all the machinery at their command, and by all the means in their power. The present Government were, in my judgment, bound to consider three great interests. They were bound to consider the interest of the great body of the tenants, whom I place first because they are the most numerous. An Irish tenant whose judicial rent is more than could now be paid is entitled to at least as much consideration as an English tenant in similar circumstances. A good landlord in this country if he found his tenant really unable to pay the rent he had agreed to pay, and that he was unable to make a reasonable profit out of the land; and if he could not by determining the tenancy let the land on similar or better terms to anyone 1574 else, and also could not make any profit by taking it into his own hands, would take all the circumstances of the case into consideration. Therefore it appears to me that if we are to legislate at all to relieve the situation in Ireland in cases where the tenants find it impossible to pay their rents, we are bound to act upon those principles which in similar cases in this country a good, reasonable, and patriotic landlord would apply to his tenants. I think, on the other band, that the Government would be taking an erroneous course if they did not recognize the landlord's general right to his rent which has been fixed under the Land Act when it is not impossible for the tenant to pay it. I cannot admit that, in the case of a tenancy of land, any more than in any other bargain, relief ought to be given to a man who can pay, merely because the bargain has not turned out profitable to him. But there is also, as I have said, an interest of the nation—of the State. I have no hesitation in repeating what I said in 1881, that in the circumstances of Ireland the laws of property and the right of the landlord must bend to the necessities of the case, when it is necessary that some of their incidents should be modified, in order to prevent great public evils and dangers. To permit unlimited evictions to go on unchecked in that country under all conceivable circumstances, however harsh, would be to give ever}' possible handle to the evil-disposed to inflame the minds of the Irish people against the law, and would be infatuation on the part of Her Majesty's Government. It is the duty of the Government to consider by what means those evictions which are not the consequence of political or other combinations to defeat the landlords' rights, and which are admitted to be harsh and unreasonable, if not illegal, can be checked. It is the interest of the State, and. therefore, it is the right of the State, to place some limit upon evictions of that sort. It appears to me that the provisions of the present Bill are founded upon the principles which I have just laid down. In considering the general scope of the measure I shall not go through it clause by clause. I may divide the criticisms which have been passed upon the Bill under three heads. First, those which have proceeded from the Front Bench on this side of the House. I can- 1575 not conceal from myself that the view taken of the measure on that Front Bench is not likely to be entirely unconnected with some other matters which are quite distinct and independent of its particular provisions. As I have already said, even I myself cannot help connecting this measure with other matters which are proceeding "elsewhere;" and, therefore, when I hear from the noble Lords around me criticisms upon the Bill, some of which, upon their face, may sound reasonable enough—I do not say that they are not to be attended to and carefully weighed—but I own that those criticisms appear to me to come from persons who would not be very sorry if Her Majesty's Government were placed in a position of embarrassment with regard to this measure as well as with regard to some other matters. That fact, I confess, operates on my mind as a drawback from the value of those criticisms. With regard to the criticisms which have been offered to the Bill on the part of the next class, the Irish landlords, I must ask pardon from those who have put them forward if I say that criticisms which come from that side in Dublin in relation to such measures are very apt to be over-strained and exaggerated. I had occasion, in 1881, to say that the criticisms on the Land Bill of that year on the part of the landlords were so highly coloured that they did not commend themselves very much to my mind, and I am obliged to take the same view of some of the landlords' criticisms of the present Bill. But then comes my noble and learned Friend (Lord Fitzgerald), whom I put in a class by himself. With regard to the observations made upon the measure by that noble and learned Lord, whether they are right or wrong, we must all admit that he is a very competent judge of the matter on which he has spoken, and that he has brought to the consideration of the subject a most just and candid mind. From my personal knowledge of the noble and learned Lord, I must say that no authority can well stand higher in connection with any such subject than his. I cannot pretend to be as good a judge as he is of the probable practical working of the bankruptcy clauses of this measure; but I think that I should have been prepared, on principle, to have justified the bankruptcy provisions of the Bill. The principle on which those provi- 1576 sions are founded is that where bankruptcy has been caused otherwise than by the fault of the bankrupt, the Court may allow him to remain in possession; fixing a fair rent, subject to the control of the Court, until such composition of his debts as may be reasonable shall be paid, unless his conduct should make it right to displace him. The land-land will have secured to him the payment throughout of the rent which the Court thinks fair; and it is—I presume—intended, that when the bankruptcy is worked off, the tenant shall remain in possession at that rent. I confess I should not have thought—apart from the influence of unlawful combinations, as to which the Judge could hardly be misled—that there would be any very formidable difficulty in giving effect to these provisions. The objections to the scheme of the Commission have been stated with far more force and cogency than I could employ. Those which seem to me to be fatal to it are as follows:—First of all, that you have a solemn Parliamentary bargain between the whole of the tenant and the whole of the landlord interest in Ireland, made six years ago, for better or worse, for a certain term of years. To throw that over because in some cases, not generally, the rent may appear to be too high, would be to produce general insecurity and confusion for the sake of particular cases which may, I think, be dealt with otherwise. And the other reason, at least as forcible in my judgment, is this—that your quinquennial settlement would be open to the same sort of attack. The term is shorter, but it is a term within which prices may vary; and the next thing might be to say that nothing will do but to settle the rent every year. It seems to me that those are very serious and solid objections to the proposals of the Commission; and, there are others with which I will not now trouble the House. I cannot help preferring, subject to such Amendments as it may be susceptible of, the plan of the Government. With regard to the objection about the enormous block of these cases, it appears to me to be a question whether it might not be better, in order to relieve that difficulty, to limit the cases in which bankruptcy might take effect to those in which a judgment of ejectment has been actually obtained, not including the more nu- 1577 merous cases in which proceedings are simply pending. This Bill, however, if it were the best which the united wisdom of all your Lordships could devise, would be mere waste paper, you might tear it up at once, if you have not such a Crimes Act as will enable you to deal with crime and with conspiracy against law and order. And, therefore, my Lords, if I were to express my opinion of the duty of the Government it would be this—to consider the details of this Bill as reasonable men, to meet difficulties as far as they can: and if a clause as to which we are told that all the landlords and all the tenants disapprove it, is really found to be attended with such great practical difficulties as to prevent its working, and to be incapable of being obviated by amendment—why then, if nobody likes it, that certainly is not a matter on which the Government should need stand or fall. The Government will, of course, exercise their discretion as to what are the principles of this, or any other measure, by which they ought to stand or fall; but, in my humble judgment, they occupy at this moment a place of such serious responsibility, that it should be no light matter indeed which could induce them, even if they do not carry their measures exactly in the form which they prefer, to relinquish the post which they now hold.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
My Lords, I should, in ordinary circumstances, not wish to follow the noble and learned Earl (the Earl of Selborne); but it is impossible to remain silent, considering the language he has used with reference to myself and the Colleagues who sit near me. I can assure the noble and learned Earl that I heard his language with great pain—pain, not because I felt that I was in the least deserving the censures which he showered upon us, but pain because the respect which I entertain for the noble and learned Earl must always make it painful to find him indulging in such language of vituperation. I doubt very much whether the discussion of this measure will be improved in tone and spirit and usefulness by some of the speeches we have listened to. They have dealt with much that was outside the measure altogether. I feel it is to be regretted that we cannot find ourselves differing on political matters, however grave the differences may 1578 be, without seeking to tinge the action and conduct of one another in the way in which my noble and learned Friend has done. We may be as utterly wrong as he thinks us; but at least one would have thought that one who for years has been living in a judicial atmosphere, would have listened to see what might have been said, and have remembered how it might be possible to have an honest and true desire to do what was good while differing in the view which we take. It has been charged against us that we have adopted a new morality. I deny it altogether, absolutely, unequivocally. I cannot trust myself to use the words that seem to mo to be necessary to deny an imputation of that sort. I hold the same views which I have held all my life. Does the noble and learned Earl mean that we have approved, or do approve, all that has been done by those with whom he says we are in political association? All I can say is that if the noble and learned Earl intends to make such a suggestion, it would be better to make it more definitely and directly, and on an occasion when it can be directly met. The noble and learned Earl referred to the Bill which is at present in "another place;" but that is a question which could only be discussed at considerable length, and with an amount of detail which would be perfectly unsuitable on the present occasion. But one word I must be permitted to say. I trust the noble and learned Earl will cease to believe that I have the slightest sympathy or the slightest tinge of approval of any broach or defiance of the law or for crime or outrage in Ireland, or in any other part of the United Kingdom.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I never meant to accuse the noble and learned Lord of sympathy with crime. What I said was that a shield had been thrown over those who were responsible for it.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
I entirely deny that I have been a party to doing anything to throw a shield over those who are responsible for crime. Such a statement may to some extent damage the Members of the late Government; but may not that damage be too dearly bought? If such an accusation is believed—I very much doubt it—and if it were thought that leading men in this country, supported as they are by millions 1579 of their fellow-countrymen, have sympathy with crime, it would not be likely to make the task of governing Ireland very much easier. I have never said, and I will never say, one word that will make that task more difficult than it would otherwise be. I am not going into a defence of our action; but I would like to say this—that it is perfectly consistent to say that we do not sympathize with crime, and that we may, nevertheless, believe that the state of crime and outrage is such that a particular measure for its repression may do more harm than good. By such a measure you undoubtedly create a great and serious danger. An opiate may not always be the best remedy; it may give quiet for the moment, but it may make the disease more difficult to deal with. I am not going to say that it so in the present case; but I am prepared to defend the view which I take as to this measure, and I maintain that it is a view which, at all events, may be perfectly honestly held and acted upon by anyone in my position. I have said in public more than once that I doubted whether much good is to be done by that kind of denunciation which the noble and learned Earl thinks we ought to employ on every occasion with regard to the action of those to whom he has referred. In my opinion, violence of denunciation will in such cases do more harm than good. It merely leads to exasperation, and I doubt whether it ever does any good. You must try to see things as they see them, and try to understand their point of view, and then do your best to point out the evils that may result. I have always endeavoured to do that, and I shall endeavour to do it still; and I believe that that kind of reasoning is far more likely to produce a good effect than any violence of language or denunciation. Now, I wish to say something with regard to the question of land legislation. I am not going to enter into a defence of the Land Act of 1881, although my noble Friend opposite will remember that I took a somewhat active part in piloting that measure in "another place." But I have seen no evidence to show me that that Act was not an absolute necessity. It has been said that it is a failure. But what was the state of things in Ireland at that time? What does the noble Duke think would have been the 1580 state of things if that Act had not been passed? A measure is not necessarily a failure if it has not produced all the results which were expected from it, or if evil results happen which were not expected. But does anyone suppose that we should have been in a better position if that Act had not been passed? If Ireland is to be governed by legislation from a united Parliament, is it possible to conceive that we can go on legislating in utter disregard of the enormous majority of the Representatives of Ireland, in that case of all shades of political opinion? Would it have been safe or reasonable for any Government of this country to disregard such an opinion, and to refuse any legislation which was thought necessary by such a vast majority of all classes of political opinion? If we are to continue to govern Ireland by laws passed here, it is essential as far as possible to consult Irish opinions. The evidence given before the Land Commission has satisfied me that the Act of 1881 has been a great benefit to Ireland. If you compare the reductions made by the Land Commission with the reductions made by landlords in England and in Scotland it will be seen that as far as judicial reduction of rents is concerned, its effect has been to do nothing more in Ireland than good landlords have voluntarily done and are doing in England and Scotland. I do not think that that is necessarily a condemnation of Irish landlords; I quite admit the difficulties in the way, and I admit that it may have been more difficult for them to come to the kind of arrangement which has been come to elsewhere. Everything that has been brought out convinces mo that that Act was necessary, and that its operation was just. Now I pass to the present measure. My criticisms I know are discounted in advance by my noble and learned Friend. He says that noble Lords on this Bench criticize the measure as a matter of course in connection with what we have heard outside, and in connection with another measure. If what we have heard outside is well-founded, there are noble Lords in immediate political sympathy with the: noble and learned Lord who have boasted of the hand they have had in the legislation of the Government, and have pointed out that if the Government are passing repressive measures 1581 they have forced it at the same time to introduce remedial measures, and have claimed the authorship of the most important of the clauses of this measure, of course by way of suggestion only. What is the mischief that has to be met? The Commissioners who have fully investigated the condition of affairs in Ireland have reported that, owing to the unexpected fall in prices which has taken place, the judicial, rents—though fair when fixed—have now become unreasonable, and in many cases impossible. That is the mischief that has to be met. The Report clearly establishes that though allowance may have been made by the Sub-Commissioners in fixing a fair rent for the probability of good and bad seasons, yet that there was not taken into consideration a serious fall of prices, for such fall was not anticipated. Now this Bill proposes to do nothing for any of the tenants of Ireland unless they are leaseholders or become bankrupt. Leaseholders are to be allowed to apply to have a fair rent fixed, and of course the rent that would now be fixed would be very much lower than the rent fixed three or four years ago. The tenants whose rents have been fixed some time ago are, unless they become bankrupt, to go on paying the rent which is unreasonable and excessive and much higher than the rent which will be fixed to be paid by the leaseholders. This will give the leaseholders a great advantage over the ordinary tenants of Ireland, and yet in 1881 it was admitted that the ordinary tenants had a far better claim to relief than the leaseholders. At present there are only certain parts of Ireland that are disturbed; but such legislation as this would cause dissatisfaction and disorder all over Ireland, and in some districts that are now the quietest. These bankruptcy provisions are calculated to produce the maximum of disadvantage to the landlord, and the minimum of advantage to the tenant. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Fitzgerald) pointed out that they would be unworkable. The Bankruptcy Act of 1883 gave County Court Judges jurisdiction in bankruptcy up to a small amount. Long before this measure was introduced I received a communication from a very able County Court Judge, who had had great experience in regard to this part of the Act, and it was his testi- 1582 mony that the difficulty of arriving at the facts, so as to decide what composition a bankrupt could pay, was so great that this part of the Act had completely broken down. It would be the same with the bankrupt provisions of this Bill. If you put the case of fair rent, what is your guide unless you have regard to what the land produces and the tenant can pay? But according to your Bill the County Court Judge is to consider at large what rent he will choose to fix as the reduced rent which the tenant can pay. The scheme is not fair to the other creditors of the tenant, because if they get a judgment they cannot get it executed, and can only look to what they can get from the Official Assignee, and the whole of the tenant's assets may go as reduced rent to the landlord. Both in the interest of tenant and landlord it seems to me a disastrous proposal. It is said that rent was solemnly fixed judicially some years ago, and how can we justify any interference with a Parliamentary contract? I cannot understand that argument in the light of this Bill, which breaks two conditions of the statutory tenancy. The Parliamentary contract fixed the rent which ought to be paid; but it fixed also the date on which it was to be paid, as well as the amount. There is no use in fixing the rent if you also provide that it need not be paid. Then there was another condition—that the statutory contract was broken if anything was done which would vest the tenancy in the assignee in bankruptcy. But this is your scheme. Can there be any greater violation of the Parliamentary contract than interfering with the time of payment, and vesting the tenant's estate in the bankruptcy assignee? If this bankruptcy scheme be not satisfactory some other method must be found. It will never do to leave the matter where it is. The noble and learned Earl said that it was essential to the success of any remedial legislation to pass a measure for the repression of crime. But it appears to me that the question is whether we have not done harm by continually mixing up our remedial legislation with measures dealing with crime, and thereby putting the people into a state of exasperation. If you are going to introduce remedial legislation you would do much better to introduce that remedial legislation first, 1583 and try whether it will not render stronger measures unnecessary. I quite appreciate the view that remedial legislation must have fair play. But this argument is weakened when you remember the state of mind which has always been engendered by repressive legislation. But whatever view may be maintained, the Government will see that it is absolutely essential to make the remedial legislation as thorough as possible. I do not believe there is any difference in our desire to do what is best with reference to Ireland. I can understand the anger of those who think the course wrong pursued by those of us who sit on this Bench. I believe them to be as sincere as we are ourselves; but at least in a measure such as this, which need not introduce any Party question, we may co-operate together to the same end of making this a measure as satisfactory as possible.
said, he could not congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this Bill. The position of the Irish landlord under it would not be a happy one. He was placed between "the devil and the deep sea," or in other words, between the Land League and political necessity. It had been well said that Irish landlords were like men living in a country subject to earthquakes, where, periodically, an earthquake was sure to come and destroy part of their property. It had been said that this Bill was the counterpart of the Crimes Bill. But he thought it unwise that both Bills should be passing through Parliament at the same time. It would have been better to have allowed the Crimes Act to produce the desired effect before introducing any measure like the present. He thought it would be wiser to introduce at once the Purchase Bill which had been foreshadowed. In that case the Purchase Clauses would very probably have been put in operation without delay, and all the annoying proceedings which were likely to take place under this Bill would have been avoided, because the tenants and landlords would have had a direct inducement to come to a final arrangement, and the confusion and litigation which must inevitably be caused by the present proposals of the Government would be avoided. He was strongly opposed to the present system of dual ownership. Before the Land Act of 1584 1881 there was never any difficulty in selling land in Ireland or in mortgaging it. Now sales were impossible, except under Lord Ashbourne's Act; no one would lend money on land or invest capital in the country. The dual ownership created by the Act of 1881 had, in fact, destroyed every advantage formerly attaching to land tenure, and until it was got rid of in some way or other it would be impossible to have prosperity in Ireland. There were two ways of getting out of it; one was the purchase of the landlord's interest by the tenant, and the other the purchase of the tenant's interest by the landlord. He contended that if the landlords were bought out they would be doing as great an injury to Ireland as it was possible to conceive. Landlordism he believed to be absolutely necessary. If the landlords were bought out the tenants would in time get into the hands of the "gombeen" men, who would become the landlords of the future. By passing the bankruptcy and equitable jurisdiction clauses the Legislature would break the promises made to the landlords in 1881. It was then understood that, a fair rent having been fixed, a tenant would only be permitted to retain possession of the land as long as he should fulfil the conditions of his judicial lease. Now, however, it was proposed to allow the tenant to break his judicial lease and to withhold the rent agreed upon, and yet to retain the land for an indefinite period, to be fixed by a County Court Judge. The Bill, in fact, would put a tenant into a better position than he would be in if he had purchased the property; for if he had purchased the land it would be sold, were he made a bankrupt for the benefit of his creditors. But because it was his landlord's property he was to be allowed to retain it for the purpose of paying his other debts. He thought that so iniquitous a provision that he, for one, could not think of voting for anything of the kind. Those who were accustomed to deal with these matters in Ireland should be allowed to say a word as to the possible effect of these Bankruptcy Clauses. The National League would advise tenants not to pay their rents, in order to go to the Bankruptcy Court. The tenant could not be ejected until a year's rent was due. When that time arrived and the landlord proceeded against him the tenant would make a 1585 counter move, and apply under the Bankruptcy Clauses; that would probably extend the time for another three months, and if during the next six months the landlord were fortunate enough to get his case heard he might get a portion of his rent. That meant he would have to be out of his rent for at least 18 months. The enormous costs which would be put upon the landlord by those proceedings would of themselves absolutely swamp him, to say nothing of the time which would be consumed. The Irish landlords begged their Lordships not to pass a Bill which, although it might appear to Englishmen and lawyers to work well in theory, would not, in the opinion of those most intimately acquainted with the circumstances of that country, work in Ireland. If their Lordships passed the Bill in its present shape all he could say was this—and he was backed up in his opinion by a large number of people in Ireland who were accustomed to deal with land—that it would absolutely ruin all those who had encumbered estates. With regard to Clause 4, which provided for a notice in lieu of ejectment, it ought to be made clear that the landlord would be able to take possession by the notice which he was called upon to serve. Immediately that notice was served the landlord ought to be able to deal with the land as his own, and that should be made clear. In one case in which his Lordship had himself ejected a tenant for three-and-a-half years' rent the man was re-admitted a caretaker. He owed £350, and his Lordship at once took possession of all the property on the land, with the result that on accounting at the end of six months to his tenant, the latter had only to pay £40 to be readmitted a tenant as a free man. With regard to the remission of rates, some objection had been taken to that provision; but, for his own part, he could not see any objection to it. It seemed to him perfectly reasonable that if a landlord was unable to make use of his land, he should not be charged with the rates upon it. As to the objection that those rates would be thrown upon the other ratepayers, he thought it an advantage that they should have an interest in preventing farms from becoming derelict. He thought that unfair ejectments could best be dealt with by an enlargement of Clause 21; but limits should be placed upon the powers of the 1586 County Court Judges in dealing with those cases, and a certain proportion of the rent should be paid down. He thought a very small alteration of the clause would be sufficient. Landlords, he thought, as a rule dealt as leniently with their tenants as the County Court Judges were likely to feel themselves justified in doing. He sincerely hoped that whatever Bill was agreed to by their Lordships would at least have the effect that, together with the Crimes Bill, which was now certain soon to become law, it would spread a new light and prosperity over Ireland from one end to the other. It was his firm conviction that if the Crimes Bill was properly and judiciously worked it would have the effect of inducing tenants to return to their old ways, and they would see that honesty was the best policy.
§ THE EARL OF HOWTH
said, that as a Liberal Unionist connected with Ireland he felt that the Members of that Party owed a great debt of gratitude to the Conservative Government during the past year for having preserved the United Kingdom from a great danger, and, therefore, without any departure from their principles, it was both their interest and their duty to do their best to support Her Majesty's Government in their endeavours to pass this Bill. He hoped, however, the Amendments which had been alluded to would receive the full consideration of the Government. It was equally the interest and the duty of Her Majesty's Government to bring forward this measure, which was intended to relieve the tenants, whether leaseholders or not, from having to pay unfair rents, and to stop evictions. The leaseholders of Ireland were about 150,000 in number, and their annual rentals amounted in the aggregate to something like £4,000,000. The leasehold landlords would have to incur the fortune of war and to have their rents reduced, but scarcely, he thought, to the extent of 40 per cent, which was the amount of reduction which had been demanded by some persons who put themselves forward as representing the interests of the tenants. He trusted that the future status and condition of the leasehold landlords of Ireland would be fixed so that they might be placed upon an equality with the other class of landlords, whose rents had been judicially fixed. He thought that the leasehold 1587 landlords of Ireland, who had for generations given their tenants what was practically fixity of tenure, were entitled to some consideration at the hands of Parliament when the terms of their leases were broken by legislation.
THE DUKE OF ABERCORN
said, that he was glad that the ability with which the Lord Privy Seal had introduced this measure about a month ago had been recognized by his having been made a Cabinet Minister. He agreed with the general principles of the measure, although its details would inevitably be subjected to severe criticism. He believed that Her Majesty's Government had introduced this Measure with the best intentions of ameliorating, as far as possible, the condition of the tenants of Ireland, and especially those poor tenants who held under £4. At the same time, he hoped the Government would not go too far in the direction of impoverishing the landlord class in that country, whose property had been sliced away by various legislative Acts during the past few years. Never in the history of Ireland had the landlord class been in such a critical position; many of them at the present moment were in poverty, and if the little that was left them was taken away by the provisions of this Bill that poverty would be turned into absolute penury. The Government never had a better opportunity of passing a good Land Bill than at the present time. They were backed up by a large majority in both Houses of Parliament, and their endeavours would be very much helped by the country at large. Of the present Bill the clauses referring to leaseholds and town parks were connected principally with Ulster; the Equitable or Bankruptcy Clauses referred principally to the South and West; and the 21st, the Staying of Eviction Clause, referred nearly to the whole of Ireland. Now, with regard to the leaseholds, he rejoiced as an Ulster man that the large class of tenants who held leases were to come under the provisions of the Bill; it was a very great privilege which was being conferred upon them, and he hoped that they would be grateful for it. He did not agree with the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Herschell) as to the evils or injustice to year-to-year tenants which would arise concurrently, with this benefit to the leaseholders. With regard to the Staying of Eviction 1588 Clause, every loyal Irishman would rejoice that under it no harsh or unnecessary eviction would be longer possible. Of the Bankruptcy Clauses, he had noted that only one noble and. learned Lord had expressed his approval of them. If that part of the Bill was carried into effect new Courts would have to be constituted, and the expense accruing would be very considerable indeed. A gentleman well acquainted with the working of the Bankruptcy Laws in Ireland had stated to him that the expense probably would be no less than £300,000 per annum. He could assure the Government that the Ulster farmers were sick of agitation which destroyed all commerce and enterprise; the tenants, as a rule, in the South and West were also sick of agitation, and would be only too glad if the action of the National League were to be once for all put a stop to. But to obtain such rest a good Bill was absolutely necessary. In his opinion, the present measure, with some Amendments, might be made a good one. He hoped, therefore, both the Government and the Opposition would unite in endeavouring to make this Bill as perfect and as workable as possible, so as to make it final, and declare that they would allow no more tinkering with the Land Laws of Ireland. If they made that distinctly known to the tenant farmers of Ireland, he believed the amount of good that would be done could hardly be over estimated. But as long as the farmers were so burdened with debt as at present, such legislation would lose much of the good it might otherwise produce. He should like to add that he was commissioned to say that the Presbyterian farmers in the North of Ireland entirely objected to and repudiated the Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill. In their opinion, they were not workable, and they thought it unfair that those tenants in the South and West who had refused to pay their rents, and had combined to decline to fulfil their lawful obligations, should receive the benefits they were asked to accept under those clauses. At the same time, these Presbyterian farmers fully recognized the difficulty in which the Government were placed, and that it was essentially necessary to free the poorer tenants from the vast debt which hung like a rope round their necks. He would, therefore, suggest 1589 that if it was found that the equitable clauses of the Bill were not workable, a retrospective clause might be introduced for the purpose of dealing with the debts and liabilities of the farming class as regarded the shopkeeper and the "gombeen" men, so that the tenants might start perfectly free from all incumbrances as soon as the Bill became law.
§ THE EARL OF ERNE
said, as this measure dealt with the whole of Ireland, and as many parts of Ireland were free from agitation, the effect of the present legislation would be to create dissatisfaction in the peaceful parts. He feared the gravest results would flow from creating a large body of tenants who had less claim to relief, and giving them better terms than their neighbours who had a better claim. He thought that the magnitude of the been which the Bill conferred on the Irish tenant by the admission of leaseholders to the benefit of the Land Act had not been sufficiently appreciated or commented upon in that discussion. Roughly speaking, this class represented something like a quarter of the number of holders of agricultural land in Ireland. They will get the benefit of the Act at a time when, owing to the fall in prices, rents were being reduced below the reduction of two or three years ago. For his own part, he had never understood why in 1881, when political economy had been relegated to the planet Saturn, one class of contracts should have been placed on a different footing from another. But he was glad now to see that a Conservative Administration was giving what had been persistently denied by Liberal Governments. With regard to town parks, he regretted the insertion of the provision in the Bill, and he hardly sale that there was any necessity for legislation on this point. He supposed it was because there were in the small towns in Ireland a certain number of bonâ fide agricultural tenants, and it was considered necessary to meet their case. He believed, however, that the Sub-Commission had perfect power to deal with all such cases. With reference to the Bankruptcy Clauses, he shared to the full the apprehensions expressed by noble Lords on both sides of the House. They had hoard last night from a noble and learned Lord, who spoke with great authority, that these clauses were viewed with disfavour by the tenant farmers in 1590 Ireland. He was not surprised that solvent and industrious tenants should view with disfavour legislation that would be accompanied by widespread demoralization. But there were numbers who were neither solvent nor industrious, and they would rush to the Court, causing a greater block than had been the case after the passing of the Land Act. It must be remembered that the bankruptcy of the tenant would be as bad for the landlord as for the tenant. He could not see anything to prevent the tenant from repeating the operation of going into Court year after year, and thus getting rent-free. The County Court Judge would have no guide as to the standard of rent he should fix, and the Irish bankruptcy system was too complicated for the clauses to work with any effect. He was sorry that these clauses had been introduced; he did not want in any way to hamper the Government in the task they were carrying on in Ireland, nor did he underestimate the gravity of the crisis or the arduous nature of their struggle against anarchy in Ireland. He hoped, however, that they would carefully consider these points in Committee, and see whether they could do anything to meet the objections and dangers which had been pointed out in the course of this debate.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, he thought the first part of the policy of the Government ought to be the maintenance of law and order, and in that policy he believed they would not only have the support of both Houses of Parliament, but of the great majority of the nation. With that policy it was also necessary to produce remedial legislation. He admitted that the Land Act of 1881 had introduced a great deal of difficulty into the question. He had voted for that Bill, and he recognized in the fullest manner that that Act had said to the Irish landlords—"You shall receive a diminished rent, certainly; but that rent shall be paid to you, and the law will enforce it." It was admitted, however, that the fall in prices had made tenants unable to pay the rents of 1881 and 1882. The condition of thing3 in Ireland in that respect was exactly the same as in England and Scotland. Any Scotch landlord would toll them that even in the case of 19-year leases it had been found absolutely indispensable for landlords, as a matter of common justice 1591 and common sense, to depart from the conditions of their leases and lower the rents named in them. The Irish landlords who had taken part in the debate had spoken in the most liberal tone; a more liberal tone than might reasonably have been expected, considering how closely their interests were involved. He had carefully read the Report of Lord Cowper's Commission, and he agreed with the majority of the Commissioners that it would be desirable to revise the judicial rents after a shorter period than 15 years. As a landlord himself, he would not be content to let land in Scotland for 15 years at a rent which would now be fair, for he believed they were now quite at the lowest abyss of the agricultural depression, and that there was much more chance of an improvement than of a further depreciation. In these circumstances, he certainly should not be prepared to commit himself to an arrangement that was to last for 15 years. If he were an Irish landlord he would consider it a disadvantage to be bound for 15 years by rents now fixed. He knew the arguments that might be raised against the frequent revising of rents; but on the whole he thought there would be no real objection to the revision of rents every five years. He, however, recognized that non-interference with the judicial rents was the essential part of this Bill. The bankruptcy provisions of the Bill had been severely criticized, and it certainly did not appear that the Bill dealt adequately with the case of solvent and honest tenants who desired to pay their rents without resorting to bankruptcy. The Bill proposed to give the Court discretion as to the time in which arrears should be paid, and as to the amount of the instalments; but it did not give any discretion as to the amount of debt which ought to be paid. He thought it was a matter for the House to consider whether in that respect the discretion of the Court should not be made complete. He assured the Government that he would give them his most cordial and earnest support in considering this Bill with the most sincere intention, and also to support them in upholding the law, while at the same time they endeavoured to do justice to the tenants of Ireland.
THE EARL OF MILLTOWN
said, that, as a Member of the Royal Commission to which such constant reference had 1592 been made, he desired to make a few observations on this Bill, and in explanation of the fact that he had the misfortune to differ from his Colleagues with regard to certain of their recommendations. He had no interest of a personal nature in this matter, and he joined the Commission at the request of the Prime Minister, with the earnest desire and in the hope that he might be of some use in solving a question which he knew to be a vital one to the welfare of Ireland. He determined to examine carefully into the evidence to endeavour to elicit the truth and to give a true verdict according to the evidence. As to the recommendation that the rents should be quinquennially revised, he could not agree to it for this reason especially—that it was impracticable. There existed no machinery for carrying it out, and, as the Commissioner who was best qualified to express an opinion on the point had stated, it would take some years before such machinery could be provided. The recommendation, therefore, afforded no immediate relief for that which was an urgent state of affairs. Judging from the evidence given before the Commission he came to the conclusion that the tenants themselves viewed with the greatest alarm the prospect of a quinquennial revision. One and all expressed the greatest dislike of a scheme which might result five years hence in the raising of their rents. With regard to the proposed extension to leaseholders of the benefits of the Act of 1881, he agreed that it was impossible to overestimate the magnitude at the boon. The number of leaseholders was about 150,000; but by the kindness and magnanimity of the landlords nearly 50,000 of them had already been allowed to participate in the benefits of the Act. Those, therefore, whom the Bill would affect numbered about 100,000, and they were the very cream of the tenantry of Ireland. Why they had hitherto been left out in the cold he could not say. If it had been the Machiavellian policy of the Liberal Government to leave open a permanent source of discontent in Ireland no better means by which to effect their end could have been found. Certainty, the result of their exclusion had been to create an immense amount of irritation, and the leaseholders of Ireland would be grateful to the present Government for having taken the first opportunity 1593 to abolish the inequality of which they complained. To the Equitable and Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill he could not give an unqualified assent. They conferred upon County Court Judges a discretionary power of a most extraordinary kind. How those Judges were to discover all that they were required to know if these clauses were carried he failed to understand. One could not make bricks without straw, and the wisest Judges could not come to a conclusion without evidence. Even if the County Court Judges were endowed with the wisdom of Solon, and the integrity of Aristides, it would be very difficult for them to perform their duties under this measure. How were they to find out the exact position of a tenant's affairs, and whether it was "through his own fault" that their difficulties had arisen? The only evidence forthcoming would be that of the tenant himself. No books would be produced, for the tenants did not keep any. He greatly feared that the immense temptation which the provisions of the Bill presented would result in a certain amount of demoralization similar to that which occurred under the Arrears Act, which, as the evidence given before the Commission showed, was one of the most demoralizing Acts passed in recent times. He might be permitted to give them an instance of this demoralization. It would be remembered that a tenant, in order to become entitled to the benefits of the Act, had to give evidence as to the value of his tenant-right. On one occasion a tenant, anxious to reap the benefits of the measure, solemnly swore that his tenant-right was worth nothing. His arrears were accordingly wiped out, but a very short time afterwards he sold his tenant-right for £400. The story was told to his parish priest, who was at first very much shocked, but said subsequently—"After all, it was not the poor man's fault; it was the fault of that detestable Government which passes such abominable laws that the poor people are obliged to perjure themselves in order to take advantage of them." The object of the 21st clause of the present Bill he thoroughly approved, for he felt that it was right that landlords should not be permitted to effect harsh evictions and to refuse a tenant's reasonable terms. He doubted, however, whether adequate machinery was provided for giving effect 1594 to the purpose of the clause. With respect to the Bankruptcy Clauses, subject to what had been said already about the difficulty of ascertaining the facts, they might be valuable if they enabled the tenantry to get rid of the load of debt which had been contracted in prosperous times, and which they were unable to discharge in consequence of the fall in prices. It had been computed, by one of the witnesses whose evidence appeared in the Appendix to the Report, that nearly half the tenantry were overwhelmed with debt to the shopkeepers, the bankers, and the money-lenders. Thus, if the process of bankruptcy only wiped off the arrears of rent, very little good would be done towards giving the tenant a fresh start in life. The other creditors would then proceed by civil process. The Government, therefore, had better get rid altogether of these Bankruptcy Clauses. He quite agreed with what had been so often said, that a Purchase Bill was the only possible solution of this Land Question. The thing was to give these tenants a fresh start. But if this method of bankruptcy was to be kept dangling before their eyes, they would be utterly demoralized; they would always be looking to the State instead of to their own exertions, and a grievous blow would be struck at credit. The tenants of Ireland had been too long spoon-fed, as it was expressed by one of the witnesses before the Commission. He understood from the Lord Privy Seal that he did not contemplate an interference with the judicial rents. But the proposal to give the County Court Judge the power under the Bankruptcy Clauses of fixing such rent as he thought fit in those cases to which the clauses applied, was the very worst way possible of tampering with the rent, and gave a most unfair advantage to the bankrupt and thriftless as compared with the industrious and solvent tenant. He did not believe that in general the judicial rents were too high, and merely on the ground that there had been one or two bad years, it was not right to interfere with those rents. He believed, though judicial rents were very uneven, they were in the main reasonable. If bad years made it difficult to pay judicial or any rent, the loss might be made up in subsequent good years. There was much force in what the noble and learned Earl the late Lord Chancellor said—that judicial rents must on the whole be fair, 1595 because they satisfied neither landlord nor tenant. At the same time he admitted there were cases, especially in the North, where the tenants were unfairly rented on their improvements. However hard it may have been for the tenants in the last year or two to pay their rents, there were signs of improvement, and since the Report the price of store cattle had gone up. There were 282,000 tenants in Ireland whose rents were £4 and under, and it was absurd that these men, who were really only labourers, should go through the solemn farce of a complicated bankruptcy to obtain relief from their arrears. Supposing anything like a general strike against payment of rent in Ireland took place, what would be the position of the landlords? During all the time proceedings were pending they would be unable to receive a single penny of rent, yet all the time they would be obliged to fulfil their own legal obligations and continue to pay all the numerous charges on their property. There was another class of men who had been entirely lost sight of in this matter—the Irish labourer. True it was he was not yet represented in Parliament, but he soon would be when he knew his power. His class depended wholly for their living on the landlords of Ireland, because, as a matter of fact, the Irish small farmer never employed a labourer when he could possibly help it, and he never kept him an hour longer than he could avoid. The only employers of these labourers were the men whom recent legislation had pauperized. Consequently, when the labourers found out that the Irish gentry were no longer able to employ them, they would add a considerable item to Irish discontent. With regard to the Purchase Clauses, he cordially agreed with them so far as they went, and, of course, he did not suppose those clauses were the last words of the Government on the subject. He hoped the Government would see their way to consolidate the Courts which dealt with the sale of land in Ireland. In conclusion, he expressed his earnest hope that the Government might see fit to pay attention to the suggestions he had ventured to make, and to modify some of the proposals of the measure.
§ EARL COWPER
said, the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) who began the dis- 1596 cussion that evening had entered at great length into the question of the Land Act of 1881. He (Earl Cowper) did not feel that it was his province to combat all that had been said by the noble Duke; but he must express his surprise at the peculiar position held by him at the time that Bill was passed. He could not understand how anyone who supported the Land Act of 1870 could have been so bitterly opposed to that of 1881. With one or two exceptions, he distinctly stated that, until very recently, landlords did not make improvements on the land, and when the tenants made them, the rents were immediately raised. He attributed the present condition of Ireland to the fact that the landlord class in Ireland—who, in other respects, were a most admirable race of men—had in many instances been undoubtedly bad landlords. The future hope of the country lay in protecting the tenants in the possession of their improvements. One of the reasons why the Act of 1881 had not worked better was that the Land League set themselves against it, and another reason was the fall in prices. It was difficult to hit upon any plan of fixing rents of which great complaints would not be made. He thought the complaints of the Commissioners under the Land Act of 1881 were exaggerated, and the fact that the landlords complained that the rents were too low, while the tenants complained that they were too high, was primâ facie evidence of their being fair and just. He thought that on the whole the work of the Commissioners had been satisfactorily performed, and every case in which it had been alleged that they had acted unfairly or wrongly had been brought before the public. With regard to the proposal of the majority of the Commissioners that there should be a five-yearly revision of rent, the principal objection made to it had been that it would interfere with the finality of the arrangement between the landlord and tenant which was supposed to accompany the Act of 1881. But was not that finality broken by the proposals of the Government, which some landlords regarded as taking another slice from them? He hoped the Government did intend to have remedial legislation for those tenants who were over-rented; but it was impossible to have it without interfering with finality. 1597 It was further objected that a five-yearly revision of rent would require an investigation every five years into the circumstances of every holding. That, however, would not be the case, because a clerk sitting at a table with a list of the prices of agricultural produce before him would be able to fix the amount of rent with precision and speed. He believed that perfectly accurate returns could be obtained in much less than two years, and a sufficient basis for all practical purposes already existed. It had been said that the Land Commissioners had expressed an opinion that it was impossible to convert the judicial into a produce rent. That was not the fact, however, because Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Commissioner Litton had merely said that, as lawyers, they thought it was not advisable that the proposal should be adopted, and Mr. Litton distinctly stated that it could be done. Then, again, it had been asserted that the tenants themselves did not desire that this change in the character of their rents should be effected. He altogether differed from that statement. Mr. Knipe gave them distinctly to understand that the tenants here presented wished for the change. Moreover, a great deal of evidence had been given before the Commission which showed that the tenants did desire that their rents should vary with the price of produce. It had been brought forward, not in that House, but out of it, as an argument against this proposal that it would interfere with the purchase scheme of the Government. He could not conceive how this could be the case. It must be remembered that the price of a holding must be fixed by a valuation and not by the amount of rent, for 20 years' purchase to a man, when rent was fixed now, would be very different from 20 years' purchase to a man whose rent was fixed in 1884. All the arguments which had been raised against the proposal of the majority of the Commission had been brought forward at its sittings by the noble Lord who differed from him with all his ability and force. As regarded the leaseholders, it was very creditable to those noble Lords who sat on the Benches in front of him, that they now admitted the mistake which they made six years ago in excluding leaseholders from the operation of the Act; and it was equally creditable to the landlords of Ireland that they had 1598 not said a single word against the ex tension of the principle of the Land Act to the leaseholders, who were undoubtedly the cream of the Irish agricultural population; they were the most hard-working and the most deserving of all the Irish farmers, and it was only surprising that they had been so long left out in the cold. He entirely approved of the proposal that the right of redemption should date from decree instead of from the actual eviction, because he was satisfied that its operation would be most beneficial in the disturbed districts of the country. With regard to the Bankruptcy Clauses, on which so much has been said, he had not heard any answer to an objection which struck him the moment he hoard of the provision—namely, that it would give no relief at all to the most deserving class of cases—those who, having struggler under great difficulties and shown greater industry than their neighbours, and a greater desire to discharge their legal obligations, had been able to pay their rent. There were so few people had stood up for the Bankruptcy Clauses, that he presumed they might consider them as practically thrown overboard; and, if so, there would be very little that was remedial left in the Bill, and something would have to be substituted. The Government had been pressed very much to declare whether they intended to nail their colours to the mast and make the Bill a question of confidence. He sincerely hoped they would not do so. He confessed he was sorry he could not give a more cordial support to the measure of the Government. He came down perfectly prepared to support anything they recommended to the country, because he was as desirous as any noble Lord opposite that the present Government should remain in Office. There was no doubt the Liberals had come to a place where two roads parted; and, as far as he could see, the prospect of their coming together again was far distant. He, therefore, should be most sincerely grieved at doing anything which could in any degree weaken the present Government. If they came to a Division, he should most certainly go in support of the Bill, not only because there were many parts of it of which he approved, but also because he was anxious, on general grounds, to give the Government every support in his power.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, the noble Earl made an excuse for taking up the time of the House when your Lordships are anxious to hear other Peers speak. I wish to say that such an apology from him is absolutely unnecessary. There is nobody who has a greater claim to address your Lordships upon this subject, and I must say that the admirably condensed and cogently reasoned speech he has just delivered thoroughly justifies that claim. I am well aware that there is an anxiety to hear the announcements and explanations of the noble Marquess in the somewhat peculiar position in which the Bill finds itself; and, therefore, I will be as short as possible in the observations that I propose to make. This Bill is divided into four parts. With regard to three of those parts, there are clauses to which no allusion has been made, and there are others which have been highly approved. As to the admission of the leaseholders to the advantages of the Act of 1881, I think, with the exception of the noble Baron who moved the Amendment, and the noble Duke, there has been no one to express an opinion against that part of the measure. Some criticism has, indeed, been levelled against it in its present form, but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Lord Ashbourne) has said that it is not the intention of the Government to put the leaseholders in the same position as the annual tenants, and I have no doubt that the Government will take care that an amendment is made in that respect. Another difficulty has been pointed out by my noble and learned Friend the late Lord Chancellor (Lord Herschell) with regard to the position in which you are about to place the leaseholders as compared with the annual tenants. They are almost certain to get larger reductions of rent than the annual tenants have already received. That is a point which ought to be carefully considered, though it ought not to be at the expense of the leaseholder. There is another clause, with regard to which I will not say much, having reference to the rating of the landowner, and the disadvantage of the exemption of one will be to the neighbouring ratepayers; and I observe that no answer whatever has been made to the charge that it will give an incidental advantage to a bad landlord 1600 over a good one. Now I feel some hesitation in coming to the great battle-horse of this second reading—the Bankruptcy Clauses—more especially as we have been told that the objections of those who do not understand the matter ought not to have much weight. But some of the facts are so clear with regard to these clauses, that a mere layman without much knowledge of local custom can form a clear decision on the matter. A good deal has been said about the County Court Judges and the duties proposed to be put upon them. In the first place, I understand their duty is to ascertain whether the bankruptcy is genuine or not, not always a very easy matter; secondly, whether it has arisen from any cause otherwise than from his own fault; thirdly, whether the bankrupt ought to be put in re-possession of the farm after a time, and whether he would be enabled to work and hold the farm advantageously; fourthly, the County Court Judge is to decide what amount of occupation rent is to be paid; and, fifthly, what shall be the compensation with regard to rent arrears, and also as to the instalments to be paid and the time in which they are to be paid. There are further details with regard to the principles of the management and working of these holdings—some of them contemptibly small in character. Now, as I understand, any tenant of a holding under £50 of rent is entitled to a summary revision of rent with a view to stopping evictions, and is also to be allowed to hold his land for six months. It is quite clear that most of these tenants will avail themselves of these provisions, and to do this he must refuse payment of rent. It is equally clear that in almost all cases the landlords will be obliged to have recourse to evictions. The evil of this is enormous. As has been said, you are actually giving a premium to fraud. You force both landlord and tenant, or, at all events, induce them, to come into a long and very expensive litigation. Then, with that litigation, it is certain that bitterness and irritation will arise. As to the economical results, nothing but evil will come. There is an encouragement to the tenant to do everything that he ought not to do; for instance, to allow deterioration with a view to re-valuation. I believe that the whole of the proposed system is bad. 1601 You have mixed up two questions which ought to be entirely distinct. It is one perfectly distinct question whether you wish to reduce rents which in certain cases may be supposed to be too high, and it is another question whether you should allow some mitigation to an insolvent tenant. With regard to the insolvent, this Bill offers bankruptcy; in all other respects it put the tenant on quite a different footing from what is the usual course, and it puts the landlord in this unfavourable position, that in the case of another debtor, he can cut off all connection with him. In this case the landlord is obliged to go on giving credit to the tenant. I believe that the description which has been given of the Bill is a correct one: that it is an Arrears Bill, without compensation to the landlord. It is a Land Bill, interfering with many most important provisions of the Land Act of 1881, and it is a Bankruptcy Bill which will, in time, involve nearly all the landlords and nearly all the tenants in a perpetual system of bankruptcy, It is a Bill which, as has been said to-night, must end in ruin to both landlord and tenant, and in the demoralization of the tenant. The noble and learned Lord was most courteous and, I have no doubt, perfectly sincere in inviting Amendments from all parts of the House, to which he promised the most careful attention. Many suggestions have been made with regard to the details of this Bill which might, no doubt, be considered and possibly carried out in Committee. But I have great difficulty about the Bankruptcy Clauses. I speak not from my own knowledge, but after consulting the most competent persons; and I am assured that there is a vital defect in the principle underlying these clauses that will render it impossible to remedy them in Committee; and it seems to me that the only course will be to abandon the clauses altogether. The noble Earl referred to a precedent for this course, and cited the fact that the late Government threw over their Land Bill. But the precedent is, I think, scarcely applicable, for we only did so after we had been beaten on the Home Rule Bill. After the evidence taken before the Commission, and the promise implied in the appointment of the Commission, it is impossible for the Government to drop these Bankruptcy Clauses without substituting something 1602 in their stead. An old politician once gave me the advice that for a public man it is better never to admit anything. I feel, however, that I must make an admission and an apology to your Lordships. On the occasion of the first reading of this Bill I ended my speech by saying that I was convinced that Her Majesty's Government could pass through this House either this Bill or some other Bill that would be equally pleasing to themselves. I must admit that I was perfectly wrong in the first part of this assertion, and nothing has transpired to show which Bill they would like. The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal referred to precedents. I have had some experience in this House, and I do not think that I ever remember a Bill dealing with an important subject of the day such as this which has gone through two nights' debate without any defence whatever of one of its principal provisions. I am a little inaccurate, perhaps, when I say that there has been absolutely no defence, for I now remember that a noble Earl (the Earl of Dunraven) who a few weeks ago gave many and excellent reasons for leaving the Government supported the Bill and gallantly defended its provisions. The Lord Privy Seal made a charming little speech, with some neat repartees, but the only defence he made of these clauses of the Bill was to rebut the accusation that they could be termed "bankruptcy" provisions.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (Earl CADOGAN)
What I said was that certain provisions of the Bill to which reference had been made came under the equitable powers given to County Court Judges and could not be correctly referred to as "bankruptcy" provisions.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I am sorry, then, that not one argument was used for these provisions. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for Ireland confined his defence of these clauses to stating that they were not open to all the theoretical objections that had been urged. The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) has referred to the 30 years that we have been associated politically together. I can go back for 50 years of personal and family ties. I altogether reciprocate his regret at the termination of that association. And I may also say this with regard to the noble and learned Earl (the Earl of Selborne). There is no 1603 personal friend for whom I have a greater regard, and I never knew a more loyal and helpful Colleague. I own when I was first subjected to violent personal attacks from two such Friends I felt it much. But I am getting hardened, and feeling no diminution of my regard for them, and believing that there was some reciprocacy of that feeling towards myself, I console myself by believing that they are only actuated by the notion that it would be a want of kindness to spare the rod to the child of their affection. For my own part, I respect their motives and I understand their action, and I hope that these feelings are not absolutely without reciprocity. The greater part of the speech of the noble Duke was a second reading speech against the Land Act of 1881, and the noble and learned Earl also made a second reading speech in favour of the Bill which is now being so warmly debated in the other House. But with regard to the Bill before your Lordships, the noble Duke not only rejected the Bankruptcy Clauses, but made the strongest possible protest against the other main provisions of the measure; and the noble and learned Earl really said nothing that showed that in his opinion this was a Bill which your Lordships ought to adopt. I confess I heard with some astonishment the attack made by the noble Duke upon the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) for having inquired whether the Government are prepared to stand or fall by their remedial measures, and what was the character of the Bill by which they intended to stand. I ventured to say the other day that I thought it most important that before the close of this debate we should have a general statement as to the whole Irish policy of the Government. How are we to arrive at a real understanding of the measures of the Government when, at the present moment, we do not know what the intentions of the Government are as to some of the provisions of this Bill; and are absolutely ignorant of the character of the other remedial measure which is to be introduced? With reference to this other measure, it cannot have been very encouraging to the noble Marquess to hear from the noble and learned Lord that Irish security will not do and that English security cannot be got. I hold that I have a perfect right to ask whe- 1604 ther the Government intend to stand or fall by their remedial measures. That is not a factious question. In conclusion, I cannot help pointing out to the Government that if they really treat very differently the two Bills which have been introduced, and are determined, coûte que coûte, to pass their measure of repression, while they are willing that the remedial measure should take its chance, I believe it will not put them in a good position before the public opinion of this country.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
So much has been said about the Irish Land Act of 1881 that perhaps I should be open to misconception if I did not, like others, make my confession of faith in respect to it. I am, therefore, bound to say that all the objections to that Act which I have ever entertained I entertain still. I conceive it to be one of the most unfortunate measures ever submitted to the British Parliament, and my objection does not simply arise from the clause for fixing a fair rent. I thought that was a very objectionable proposal; but it was not a new one. It was analogous to the Statute of Labourers, to the Statutes on Usury, and to the law of the maximum and other laws passed by uncivilized communities at various times for fixing the price of commodities between man and man. The practice was barbarous but not unprecedented. A much more serious provision was that which said that where a man had lot a bit of his land to another man on the condition that it should be given back at a certain time, that condition should not hold good and the occupant should keep the land for ever. That was a tremendous interference with the rights of property, and in large parts of the country the effect of that interference was very severe. My objection to the Irish Land Act was, and is, that it must inflict a blow upon all confidence in dealing with property which it will require generations to efface. Men never can be certain that in what they are doing, in the contracts and agreements to which they may come, they will not be interfered with by a superior invalidating power. They know that they have no longer to reckon upon pure law or simple right, but that they are relegated to the domain of force. It is 1605 electoral force instead of military force; but it is force all the same, and the class that is the weakest cannot be certain that its contracts will be enforced. The noble Earl behind me (the Earl of Kilmorey) complains that I accept the legislation of 1881 as the basis on which we are now to proceed. My Lords, we have no other choice. Continuity of policy, absolutely necessary in foreign affairs, cannot be absolutely dispensed with in home affairs. If every Government were to make it its business to reverse in most vital matters and in connection with critical measures the policy of its Predecessors, confusion and absolute chaos would result. Therefore we are not to blame if we try to work out as far as we can to just and beneficent ends, legislation of which we so much disapprove as we do of the Act of 1881. This doctrine is my defence for assenting to a measure which I like no better than the noble Duke opposite. I do not approve of breaking the contracts of leaseholders in order to bring them within the operation of the fair-rent clause; but I cannot avoid recognizing that you have already broken contracts in the far more essential matter of the restitution of land. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that these leaseholders will form their standard of what is right and just, not from any theories or doctrines or knowledge of law, but from the practice which they see sanctioned by statute with respect to their neighbours; and when they see persons in whom they cannot trace any essential difference of condition from that which they occupy, and when they see their neighbours enjoy advantages which they do not enjoy, it is impossible to say that, though their discontent is illogical, therefore it is unreasonable or unintelligible. Therefore, although I confess I should have great hesitation with reference to this clause if it were generally opposed, yet, as there seems to be a general feeling in favour of it, I think it is the duty of the Government to propose it. But there is one point with regard to the leaseholders on which the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition assumed a great deal. He said that the leaseholders would get their rents fixed low when they went into Court, and that would lead to discontent on the part of the statutory tenants. But how does the noble Lord know that 1606 prices will be low when these leaseholders come in? Prices are rising, and, what is a most essential matter in Ireland, the prices of stock are rising. The noble Earl has fallen into a singular confusion between the English and Irish case. We have had a perfectly phenomenal fall of prices in some of the most essential articles of English produce, and it must take a long period of years before we recover that state of depression. The essence of the English depression is the fall of prices of wheat and barley, which go for very little in the prosperity of Ireland, and although there has been a fall in oats, sheep, cattle, butter, wool, and, I believe, potatoes, it has not been what I may call a phenomenal fall, not anything travelling beyond the ordinary fluctuation of prices which experience of this and past generations ought to prepare us to meet. Therefore, we have no ground for thinking that the low prices in Ireland, so far as they exist, will last, or that the leaseholders who, at the end of this or next year, may go into Court, will meet with exceptionally favourable treatment. But you say that if they do, it is a great injustice, and that you ought on that account at the same time to cut down the rent of their neighbours. But how far are you going? Prices vary, fair rents will vary in the same way. You will always have rents fixed in years of high prices and rents fixed when prices are low, and are you going to be perpetually varying rents in farms where rent has been fixed in order to follow these variations. We have had a very interesting speech from the noble Earl the Chairman of the Commission (Earl Cowper), whose name I cannot mention in this connection without expressing to him our public thanks for the great self-sacrifice and ability which he has shown in the most thankless and difficult labour which he undertook, and although we have in one point differed from my noble Friend, that does not diminish the great sense we have of the ability with which he presided over the Commission. The reasons why we cannot accept this recommendation have already been mentioned in this debate. A five years' term would introduce much and serious litigation. But that is not the only difficulty. The noble Earl and his Colleagues, or the majority of them, 1607 recommended that there should be an automatic shifting of rents in accordance with the prices of certain produce every five years. The first answer is—we do not know what the prices are, and there would be great difficulty in ascertaining them in each district. There would be landlord prices and tenant prices. The peculiarity of Ireland is that the whole country is divided into two camps, and there would be great difficulty in obtaining an impartial return of prices. Then, again, what are the products the prices of which are to regulate rents in the several districts? They say that the articles of produce in the different districts which are to regulate rents can be settled by general orders to be made by the Land Commission. Now, it might be that Kerry was an oat county and Clare a hay county; Tipperary might be a potato county. Suppose a man who had grown a crop of potatoes which fetched very little in the market wanted a reduction of rent, it would be poor consolation to him to be told that his county was an oat county, and that the price of oats was unusually high. Until you determine on what produce the rent of a farm is to be fixed you cannot fix rent by a produce scale. You will have to send each farm anew before the Commissioners to have it determined on which particular kind of produce that rent is to be fixed. I confess that that objection was to my mind fatal, and I never saw my way to overcome it. Many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have assumed that the Commission reported that any distress which may exist, or any difficulty in paying rents, was due exclusively or mainly to the fall in prices. Everybody has spoken of that as if it was the one thing the Commission had noticed, and the late Viceroy of India took very high ground and spoke of it as imposing an imperative duty upon the Government. My Lords, nothing of the kind. The Commission has not determined that the tenants have been ruined by the fall in prices. It is by several causes. Here it is in the 16th clause—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 hank and other lenders of money, as well as by the shopkeepers, has greatly increased their financial difficulties.1608 Then they go on—The sudden fall in price during the last two years was intensified in its effect by a gradual deterioration which has been going on in the quality and produce of the soil.And, again—The cost of cultivation compared with that of an earlier period had also greatly increased.There are thus four causes assigned by the Commission as the reasons why tenants were in a worse position than they formerly were. But if you now interfere with the judicial rent on the ground that prices have fallen, do you imagine that you will be allowed to confine it to this one instance? If you interfere with judicial rents, do you think that you will be allowed to treat this as a special and exceptional occasion? Again and again you will have causes which will reduce the prices of produce. You will have bad seasons, increased cost of cultivation, financial difficulties. Then the tenants will point to this Report and say—"You lowered the rents once, why not lower them again?" What possible answer can you have to the constant appeals which will be raised whenever any cause occurs which diminishes the capacity of the tenant for paying his rent? One of the greatest evils of the Act of 1881 was the value it attached to speculation in Parliamentary concessions. It taught the tenantry of Ireland to look to the possibility of acting through the electoral machinery on Parliament as a relief from difficulty, instead of trusting to their own industry. The oftener you interfere to tear up contracts you have made, and reverse the process through which you have gone, the more you will impress upon the tenantry of Ireland that it is through operating upon the feelings of Parliament that they must look to their well-being. The more often you tear up your own contracts, and set at naught your own promises, the more worthless those contracts and promises will be. My Lords, a belief on the part of men that they will have to perform the promises they make is the very foundation of civilized society. You are laying your axe to the root of that fabric. There is nothing to prevent the tenantry from again acting at a future period for the purpose of again operating on your feelings by the means which they have used in times past. And you may depend upon it that 1609 such interference with judicial rents, attractive as it may seem for the moment, will be dearly paid for by the absolute loss of confidence which it will introduce into all transactions between man and man. We have heard a great deal of sympathy expressed for tenants who are able to pay their rents, but who find that they have not made profitable bargains. But are they alone in that experience? Is it not a thing that happens to people every day? A mans buys a business, and the business falls off. Are you to say that the price at which he bought the business is to be paid back to him? You have a terrible experience in late years of the danger of purchasing land in the belief that it will bring in a certain income. Are you prepared to allow all the contracts—all the purchases of land—to be torn up because they have not turned out so profitable as those who entered into them expected? What distinction can you draw between these cases? We have approached the question from a different point of view. As long as people can pay what they undertake to pay, let them do so. But to many men there comes a time when they cannot do it, when the bargain is beyond their strength; and for generations society has recognized this exception to the sacredness of contracts, and has provided relief for insolvent persons, enabling them to escape from the full performance of the contract into which they had entered. It seems to us that this is the precedent to follow where the tenant cannot pay his rent. You do no wrong to the landlord by saying that he shall be excused from the necessity of paying his rent when he is unable to do so. The only question is whether you are able to ascertain with sufficient accuracy whether the rent can be paid or not. My Lords, the objections which I have heard to the Bankruptcy clauses resolve themselves really into two. I heard the County Court Judges will be incompetent to do their duty; and that the tenants will be so desperately fraudulent that nobody will be able to penetrate through the unscrupulous devices they will set up; and, lastly, there will be such a rush of business that the Courts will be blocked. With regard to the County Court Judges, I believe them to be the best judicial officials in Ireland; and that in case of any mistake we have 1610 furnished an appeal to the Judges of Assize. I do not believe that any better judicial machinery can be provided. With respect to the habits of perjury which are said to be inherent in the Irish race, I confess that I heard the statement with astonishment. I believed that the Irish are a rather truthful people. I can only give this assurance, that however high my noble Friends behind me may rate this characteristic, it is not so high as that inherent in certain races lately ruled over by the noble Marquess opposite, and that in spite of this proclivity we have found Englishmen perfectly able to administer very good justice and to see through frauds which have been elaborately drawn up and spread out before them. I do not for a moment believe that this inability to penetrate the case exists, although the noble Lord has laid that down with so much authority. I am inclined to rely on the speech of the noble and learned Lord (the Earl of Selborne), and am content to believe that there is nothing in these Bankruptcy Clauses which is inherently incapable of being carried out. We shall be ready to accept any reasonable Amendments in these Bankruptcy Clauses; all that we shall press is that which we consider ourselves in honour bound to do our best to achieve, and that is to put a stop to harsh and unreasonable evictions. In a word, I will explain why I consider that to be necessary. It is the landlord's right to get his rent as long as his tenant can pay; it is the landlord's right to change the tenant if he can find a tenant who can derive better produce from the farm. As long as he restricts himself within these two rights no one can accuse him of being harsh and unreasonable. But things have gone a good deal further in Ireland than that very simple form of ejectment which we occasionally see in this country. They have got into a wholesale form. There are wholesale combinations of tenants to refuse the payment of rent, and there are wholesale evictions of tenants on particular properties. I do not attempt to state whose fault this is. I merely recognize the state of things as it exists. The result is that in the districts where these operations are going on agriculture is practically paralyzed. Men cannot cultivate their own farms in peace, and 1611 landlords cannot either get their rents or let their farms or cultivate their land themselves. It is a state of things in which you must look a little beyond the rights of individual persons. The right of society must be recognized, and the right of the peaceable landowner who has quarrelled with nobody, and who finds that in consequence of the flame that is spreading over the district his agriculture is paralyzed, his right deserves to be recognized as well. Our contention is that this land war must cease. We have offered to the other House of Parliament a measure, certainly not marked by hesitation, in order to put a stop to criminal combinations. But surely we are not unreasonable in saying that when we have asked for exceptional measures in order to put a stop to these combinations that some check should be put upon the action of landlords who exasperate their tenants and keep alive such combinations. I observed that the late Irish Secretary, Mr. John Morley, speaking somewhere in the South of London, compared the people of Ireland to the inhabitants of Bedlam. I should not be prepared to say that, but accepting the comparison from him, if a portion of the population of Ireland are in a position that deserves it, surely when we are doing our best to put on the strait waistcoat we may fairly ask on the other hand that the particular process of unreasonable eviction, by which they are driven to the verge of madness, shall cease. That I must say to my noble Friend behind me is the account of the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. We consider these two Bills as sister Bills; they are the complement of each other. The noble and learned Lord has very rightly said that without a measure for the repression of crime, any measure for the improvement of the Land Law would be perfectly futile. That is perfectly true; but there is a reciprocal truth that, without a measure for preventing the new powers now given being used for the purpose of unreasonable eviction, there is no probability in the present state of the opinion of the people of this country of any such measure for the repression of crime being passed. My Lords, I have been pressed to say whether we will consider this a vital question. The noble Marquess who spoke 1612 last night put to me a question as to what Amendments we would admit and what Amendments we would consider vital. I hope the noble Lord will not consider me disrespectful if I say that I will give him my opinion on Amendments when I see them, but I am wholly unable to do it before. But in respect to the Bills as a whole, and subject to such Amendments as on consideration we think it right to accept, I say most positively that if they are rejected by a majority of either House of Parliament we shall come to the conclusion that we do not possess the confidence of Parliament. I lay stress on the word "majority" because minorities have exercised considerable powers of late; and when I know what the powers of Obstruction are and what unscrupulous backing they have received, I am not disposed to add more to their sinister force than that which they naturally possess. My Lords, we shall consider with great care, and I assure you with every desire to give effect as far as possible to the various opinions of those favourable to the Bill in the shape of Amendments which are offered to us, but we earnestly beg you on your side not to allow merely imaginary or possible dangers to interfere with the passing of Bills which are, I believe, essential for the primary purpose of restoring law and order in Ireland; and I earnestly hope that you will sustain us in the performance of a task of which all that has gone before, as well as all that exists around us now in the shape of political circumstances and political opposition, makes one of the most arduous tasks that ever statesmen had to deal with.
§ On Question, "That ('now') stand part of the Motion?"
§ Resolved in the affirmative.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday the 12th of May next.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock A.M. to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.