§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (Earl CADOGAN)
My Lords, this is a Bill which carries out the provisions of one of the clauses, Clause 29, I think it was, of the Land Department Bill, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland last year, but was not passed. It has been before the country for about a year and a half. The clause, as it appeared in the Land Department Bill, has been modified in the case of this Bill, but merely in the sense of making the machinery of the Land Purchase Acts and the Fair Rent Acts applicable in every minor particular to the provisions of the present Bill. I may remind your Lordships that the Land Act of 1881, which conferred privileges upon tenants in Ireland, limited those privileges to leaseholders up to 60 years and under; and the Land Act of 1887 again modified that by carrying out the same policy, but including in its provisions all tenants who held leases up to 99 years. Now, with reference to those leaseholders who hold for longer terms than 99 years, who may be generically termed perpetuity leaseholders, I think it may be stated to be generally recognised that there is no worse form of tenure than land held in perpetuity at a rack rent by a tenant. Neither in England nor in any other country are such a tenure known; in Ireland it was only, I believe, in the year 1887 that it was enacted by an Act which was then passed through Parlia- 896 ment that copyholders should be compulsorily enfranchised. Therefore, the main principle upon which this Bill is founded will, I think, meet generally with approbation, and will generally be found to coincide with the principles which have guided Parliament during the last few years. I may also say that in Ireland at the present time the Purchase Acts apply to these perpetuity leaseholders, whereas the Land Acts do not so apply. This Bill provides that tenants for over 99 years, holding at what the Land Commission may consider a fair agricultural value, may apply to redeem their rents subject to the consent of the lessor or the grantor by payment of a capital sum to be agreed upon, or in case of difference as to this capital sum, the matter is to be referred to the Land Commission; but in case the lessor or grantor does not consent, or delays unreasonably the procedure for redemption, it is provided in this Bill that though the redemption be not made, the lessee or grantee shall be deemed a present tenant which, as your Lordships know, under the Acts of 1881 and 1887 means a tenant who has the power of coming into Court and applying to have a fair rent fixed. To that extent he will be brought under the Act of 1887. Thus, there will be two alternatives: the perpetuity leaseholder will have the power, if his landlord consents, of redeeming his rent, and in the event of his landlord not consenting, he will be able to come in under the Act of 1887, and be made a present tenant and have a fair rent fixed. Thus, my Lords, I think entire uniformity will be secured, and a grievance will be reduced, not, indeed, a very large one, because, although I have no figures before me, I have reason to believe there are not more than about 2,000 tenancies of this character throughout Ireland, but inasmuch, as I said before, as the principle of a tenant holding in perpetuity at a rack-rent is one which has not met with favour during the past few years, I venture to hope your Lordships will read this Bill a second time, thus doing away, as far as we can, with the last of the grievances of the leaseholders in Ireland. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Earl Cadogan.)897
§ *THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
My noble Friend, in placing this Bill before your Lordships, has certainly not indulged in much description; in fact, he has placed it before the House in a light which, when you read it, I think you will hardly believe applies to it. This Bill is really a much larger measure than my noble Friend's remarks would have led your Lordships to believe. I speak under correction, but I understood the noble Lord to say that this Bill applies to leaseholders who hold under unexpired leases of under 99 years.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
Your Lordships may put a "0" to that—it applies to men who have unexpired leases of 990 years, and it applies also to men who hold fee-farm grants. I must say I think this is certainly not a Conservative measure, although it is introduced to-night by my noble Friend. It is entirely a one-sided measure. It allows the tenant to force his landlord to sell to him at a price to be fixed by the Land Commission if the landlord and tenant do not agree; thereby, for the first time, introducing the pernicious system of compulsion. It forces the landlord to sell to the tenant, but if the tenant is in a position which would give the landlord any benefit by taking the same measures with regard to him that he can take with regard to the landlord, he is unable to do so. It is a one-sided Bill entirely: the tenant has the power of forcing the landlord either to sell the land to him at a price to be fixed by the Land Commission—
§ EARL CADOGAN
I am sorry to interrupt my noble Friend, who always understands these matters so clearly; but I hope, really, he will read Clause 1 with a little more care than he seems to have given to it. There is no power whatever in the tenant to force his landlord to sell at a price fixed by the Land Commission. It is provided it is true, that in ease the landlord and tenant disagree as to price the Land Commission may fix the price, but the Land Commission has no power whatever to force the landlord to sell.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
If the noble Lord had only waited a moment he would have heard what I was about to say. What I said was 898 that the tenant can force his landlord to sell at a price to be fixed by the Land Commission, or if he does not do so, it allows the tenant to go into Court and to have what is called a "fair rent" fixed—but perhaps it is better to call it a judicial rent. That seems to me one-sided. I do not know whether my noble Friend thinks it is a fair thing that although the tenant can take the landlord into Court, the landlord should not be able to take the tenant into Court. There are many other kinds of leases in Ireland besides these leases let at full agricultural rents; there are many leases under which tenants hold at great advantages, and if the tenants are able to take the landlords into Court, why should not the landlords be able to take the tenants into Court? I cannot see the fairness of this sort of legislation; I think it is entirely unfair. My noble Friend rather led your Lordships to believe that the Act of 1881 was on these lines. At the time that Act of 1881 was passed I protested against it; but lot me tell my noble Friend it was not upon these lines at all, as no leases were broken by it. Under the Act of 1881, at the end of a lease of 60 years landlords and tenants could both go into Court; but here, under this Bill and under my noble Friend's previous Act of 1887, he only allows one party to go into Court. In respect of that my noble Friend quoted the Act of 1881; but I think he should not have done so, because both this Bill and the Act of 1887 are drawn on entirely different lines to the Act of 1881. There is no doubt that this Bill is a most serious measure, though, as my noble Friend states, it does not affect a very large number of leaseholders in Ireland, because the great bulk of leaseholders (of whom there are many) do not hold at full agricultural rents, and it only affects those who hold at full agricultural rents. But it is letting in a system of compulsion. Again, it is breaking up and tearing to pieces in Ireland all contracts. The noble Lord said that this particular class of leases were only known in Ireland. If yon take the present land system in Ireland, I do not believe such a system is known in any other country in the world. But I will not detain 899 your Lordships by dwelling upon this point. I would, however, point out to the noble Lord a particular clause in the Bill, the effect of which may not have been considered. He will see that by Sub-section 2 of Clause 2 the moment this sale has been carried out, the moment the landlord has agreed to sell to the tenant, and that the Land Commission has fixed the price, the rent-charges or other liabilities—that is to say, the charges on the holding—are to be transferred to the redemption money and taken off the land. Well, that may seem very fair, but let me point out to the noble Lord the effect of it. A landlord may in Ireland be paying 5 per cent. upon his mortgages; he agrees to sell under this measure; he can hardly refuse, because he is asked to sell with a pistol to his head. If he does not sell he has to go before the Land Commission. If he sells, all these charges are to be transferred to the land, and while he may be paying on his mortgages 5 per cent. interest, he will only receive, pending the time of fixing the price and proving the title, 2¾ per cent. Therefore, the landlord must naturally be so much out of pocket for all that time. I think that is a very great mistake, and that it would have been much better if this clause had been drawn on the lines of the Bill which was lately passed through your Lordships' House, and if the unfortunate landlord had, at any rate, been allowed to receive 4 per cent. from the tenant until such time as the title had been proved; but here you have a man who is obliged to sell, and he may possibly have to pay out of his own pocket possibly 3 per cent. more than he is receiving from the Government. I think that is a great hardship, and I hope my noble Friend will re-consider that matter. Then I would like to point out one other thing before I cease speaking to your Lordships, and it is with regard to the position of these leaseholders whom the noble Lord has referred to. Under the Act of 1887 those men were allowed to apply to the Court to have a fair or judicial rent fixed during two years. The Act of 1887 passed in August of that year, and they were given two years to apply to the Court: that is, they were given until August, 900 1889. Then my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary gave them a further year, until August, 1890. He placed these leaseholders under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and gave them another year, which carried them on to August, 1891. On what possible principle are these leaseholders to be carried on from year to year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act? If there was anything in the Act of 1887 which limited their powers of appeal for two years, then surely it should not be continually ripped up and still carried on. This is the system in Ireland which I object to entirely—this continual unrest. You never know where you are. If these leaseholders thought they had a hardship to contend with, they could have gone into Court at any time within the last four years. Why should they be placed in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act again? I would also point out to my noble Friend what I think would be a great improvement; that is, to bring them into this Bill—that is to say, to give them the same powers as he is prepared to give to these perpetuity leaseholders. If they like to sell to their landlords, let them do so; and if they do not like to sell to their landlords, let them have a fair rent fixed; but why they should be placed in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill every year I cannot understand, and I would suggest to my noble Friend whether he could possibly see his way to introducing some clause of that description in Committee, bringing in these leaseholders and admitting them to the advantages conferred by this Bill. Let us know, at any rate, how we stand with regard to them, and not be carrying them on from year to year, as they are being carried on at present. It is a very simple matter to do-so. If you are dealing with these long leaseholders upon this principle as you do in this Bill, why should you not place the other leaseholders in the same position whom you let in under the Act of 1887? I do hope my noble Friend will consider it, and before the Committee draw up some Amendment to deal with it, or I could do so myself.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I have no wish to oppose this Bill—far from it; but I cannot help wondering when I read it what sort of reception 901 this Bill would have had if I had had charge of it sitting on the other side of the House. I expect I should have heard some pretty strong language from noble Lords with regard to breaches of contract and a great many other things. We have made great advances since 1881; and, of course, it is very encouraging and satisfactory to us on this side to find that the Act of 1881, which I have so often heard described on Conservative platforms in language of the most unmeasured kind, is now made the basis of all legislation in Ireland. I do not profess to understand thoroughly ail the Irish tenures, but no doubt this must be a very peculiar tenure indeed, because, as noble Lords who have read the Bill will have observed, its operation is limited to that particular class of leases which, although perpetual, or let for long terms, are let for an agricultural rent. That, of course, makes a great distinction from the case in England where a small head-rent is paid, but where the circumstances are extremely different. Though I know nothing of the condition of these leaseholders or the special circumstances, I should certainly suspect that such a tenure is found to be an extremely un desirable one. My own feeling in the matter is this: I am rather doubtful whether it would not have been much better and fairer to have limited this Bill, as it is, in fact, a compulsory Bill, as I shall presently show, to compelling the tenant to buy of the landlord, or enabling the landlord to require the tenant to buy, either party requiring the other. That would have brought the matter to a complete conclusion, and would, at all events, have made an end altogether of the relations between the landlord and tenant. The tenant would then have become the freeholder. I should have thought that such an arrangement might have been made under the Land Purchase Act we have recently passed; that is to say, some assistance might have been given those tenants on certain conditions which would have enabled them to have bought out the landlords. I would also observe that the analogy which the noble Lord who moved the Second Beading of the Bill finds between the Copyhold Acts in England and this Act is really not a true one, because in the case of the Copy hold Acts either party may compel 902 the other: the lord of the manor or the copyholder may compel the enfranchisement of the copyhold. Neither are these copyholds in England really in the same position, for this reason: In the case of a copyhold the lord's rights are, generally speaking, a very small part of the value of the holding, and the copyholder is, to all intents and purposes, the owner of far the larger interest in it. The rights of the lord are limited, in fact, to the receipt of a very small quit rent and of a tine which has become, in most cases, exceedingly small, because the fine was either fixed irrevocably at a very small amount many hundred years ago, or is now restricted by the operation of proceedings in the Law Courts to two years' fine. That is not the case here, for the landlord is in possession of the full agricultural rent of the land; and except, therefore, as regards his power of resumption of the land at the end of the lease, he is really in possession of the full value of the land in the same manner as the landlord who has let it in the usual manner. But I was going to observe that this Bill is in one sense compulsory. It is quite true that the 1st clause is, so far, not compulsory—that it does not say the parties are to agree together; but if they do not, they come under the proviso at the end of the 1st clause, and that proviso is a very drastic one indeed, because it simply converts this leasehold into an ordinary present tenancy under the Act of 1881. That is an entire, complete alteration of the position of the landlord and tenant. This certainly seems to me, upon the whole, to be the strongest measure ever proposed with regard to Irish land, and in that sense it may be said to complete what has been done previously. I may say that, looking to the very extraordinary nature of these perpetual leasehold tenures, and to the undoubted evils which must result from their continuance, it seems to me justifiable on the part of Parliament to compel a sale on fair terms. I doubt very much whether it was necessary or desirable to compel the landlord to adopt the alternative of agreeing with the tenant; and if the tenant does not agree with him, then that the tenant shall have the power of compelling him to sell under the Act of 1881. I greatly doubt whether that is a fair or reasonable 903 arrangement, but, as I have said, I should be quite out of court, after the part I have always taken and the policy I have advocated with noble Lords on this side of the House, if I objected in any way to the principle of this Bill. I would only again remark that Her Majesty's Government have been educated very far, and this Bill is a proof of how far their education has gone in this direction, because in the earlier Act we did not deal with leases; the Act of 1887 did, and so does this, and it is curious that it should have fallen to Her Majesty's Government to carry the principle further than we originally intended.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I should not have interfered on this occasion but that I should not like to appear to pass in silence a measure of this kind introduced by a Conservative Government. The noble Earl opposite really rather applauds the Conservative Party for bringing forward and carrying through Parliament measures which he and his noble Friends had not the power of carrying themselves, and I think he alluded to the Bill of 1887. With regard to the Bill of 1887, which was introduced into and carried through this House by my noble Friend below me, I would remind your Lordships how that Bill was carried through. I will say that that Bill was not only distasteful to the Irish landlords, but to the Conservative Party in general, for it was breaking into the freedom of contract; and I, for one, deeply regretted that such a breaking into the freedom of contract and such a cancellation of leases which Mr. Gladstone promised in 1881 should not be touched for 15 years, should have been carried out by a Conservative Government and by the Conservative Party in 1887. But I would ask your Lordships to consider, why was it necessary that such a measure should be brought forward? For the simple reason that the Unionists knew they must bring forward remedial measures, measures which we considered it essential for the government of Ireland should be carried through Parliament. By passing that Bill we were enabled to secure those powers by which we have restored—as, I venture to say, we have restored—law and order in Ireland. With regard to the Bill which has been 904 introduced to-day by my noble Friend, I confess I do not think it will do any harm; but, at the same time, I regret to see that there is again a breaking into freedom of contract in a measure brought forward by the Unionist Party. I speak subject to correction; but, if my memory serves me rightly, in 1887 the noble Earl made statements with regard to the inclusion of leaseholders in a manner diametrically opposed to the representations made on the introduction of the Bill on the present occasion. I should be the last person to wish to damage the Bill brought forward tonight, for I fully recognise that the Bill is a proof of the wish of the noble Lord and the Government to render the Purchase Bill a complete measure. I believe it will in no way damage any tenants, be they yearly tenants or leaseholders, who ought to be able to participate in the benefits of a Bill intended to benefit all classes connected with the agricultural interest in Ireland.
§ EARL CADOGAN
My noble Friend behind me has stated that when the Bill of 1887, which I had the honour to introduce in this House, was under discussion, I made statements with regard to leaseholders which were diametrically opposed to those I have now made. My noble Friend will not, I am sure, have forgotten that the whole object of the Bill of 1887 was to include leaseholders in the privileges which were conferred by the Act of 1881. It is perfectly true that in the Act of 1887 we did not include leaseholders beyond 99 years; but that I used arguments against the inclusion of leaseholders in the discussion on the Bill in 1887 I most emphatically deny. The noble Earl opposite appears to take a somewhat doubtful view with regard to this Bill, because while on the one hand he objects, to a certain extent, to the compulsory purchase which he contended was provided for under this Bill—
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
No; I beg the noble Earl's pardon; I said I thought it would have been much better if it had been a compulsory purchase and not a purchase which is connected with the proviso.
§ EARL CADOGAN
I was going to say that while the noble Earl did not object entirely to this Bill, he suggested that compulsory power should have been 905 inserted in the Bill which lately passed through Parliament.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I apologise for again interrupting the noble Lord. What I said was simply that I thought it might have been better if the first part of Clause 1 had been made compulsory, and if there had not been the indirect provision that the tenant should become the present tenant of the landlord if he did not agree. I made no reference to the Land Purchase Bill at all.
§ EARL CADOGAN
The noble Earl has complimented us upon the state of our education. Well, I can only say that we are not quite educated up to that point, because we deny that there is any direct compulsion in this Bill. We admit that at the end of the clause there is a certain indirect compulsion, because if the landlord and tenant do not agree, the alternative is given to the tenant to come in and become a "present tenant" under the Act of 1881. If I am asked to ratify the progress with which the noble Earl has been good enough to credit us in land legislation in Ireland in the direction of breaking of contracts—a progress which I confess I do not entirely understand myself—I would say, as has been said before, that we are driven to these measures entirely owing to the action taken by the noble Earl and his friends in passing the Act of 1881. I know the noble Earl denies that; but perhaps he will not, at all events, deny this: that the result of the Act of 1881 was to leave a large body of tenants in Ireland who have a substantial grievance because the privileges which were conferred upon tenants under the Act of 1881 were denied to leaseholders in Ireland. Then, I say, the passing of the Act of 1881 obliged us, and would have obliged any Government after a few years, to take into consideration the case of those tenants who, being leaseholders, were excluded from the benefit of that Act; and it was the necessity of remedying the apparent inequalities in the position of tenants in Ireland by which tenants who were not leaseholders were accorded privileges which were denied to tenants who were leaseholders—it was entirely the result of the Act of 1881 that induced Her Majesty's Government to pass the Act of 1887, and to still 906 further reduce those anomalies by the Bill which I now ask your Lordships to read a second time.
§ On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.