HL Deb 20 May 1897 vol 49 cc896-902

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the proposed Commission on the Irish Land question would have power to examine and report upon the pledges given by the Government of the day on the passing of the Land Act of 1881; and as to whether the circumstances contemplated by Government which would raise a claim for compensation had arisen. In doing so, the noble Lord drew attention to some points in connection with the Land Acts. In the first place, he set himself to show the interdependence that exists among the various Land Acts; secondly, the difficulties of lawyers and experts in administering the Acts; and, thirdly, that there was a general consensus of opinion that there ought to be a general inquiry into the Acts, and that losses had been sustained by landlords, was supported by very great authority. With reference to the first point, he recalled the fact that when Mr. Justice Fitz-Gibbon wag examined before Mr. Morley's Commission, Mr. Morley asked (Question 2969, page 140):— I think the Committee, so far as I can judge, certainly including myself, feel that unprofessional persons must be perplexed beyond measure by the enormous difficulties of construction arising from the interdependence of the various Acts which refer to one another, in and out, of which you as a Court I suppose must have felt the difficulty as we laymen. I should like to hear if you would be kind enough to tell the Committee an account of the relations of those Acts to one another, and any statement that you may care to make of the difficulties arising from those relations. The answer of Mr. Justice FitzGibbon was as follows:— I can scarcely exaggerate the difficulty that has arisen in two ways. First, from the artificial system of definition that exists in these Acts, by which we have first to learn a special language before we try to find out what the interpretation of a particular erection is, we must know the language before we proceed to interpret it, and it is a foreign language to lawyers. Mr. Edward Carson, one of the Members for the University of Dublin, speaking at the Surveyors' Institute in London in November, 1893, was reported to have said:— If there was one thing more than another that he wished to impress upon those who came into daily contact with this Question, it was that they would not approach the Question from the standpoint of English land tenure, but must consider whether more or less legislation was required, and indeed, first ascertained how existing legislation dealt with the whole matter seeing what the existing legislation was. Again, Judge O'Connor Morris, writing in The Fortnightly Review of June, 1896, in the article, "The Irish Land Bill of Lord Salisbury's Government," said:— It does not attempt to place the land system of Ireland, at least in its most important relations, on a more stable and sound foundation, or essentially to change the legislation of late years, which has torn it, it may be truly said, to pieces." and further, "a Government which commands the field of politics might have made an earnest and thorough effort to set the Irish Land System on a better basis; ill its largest and most important province, to reconcile it in some measure at least with the conceptions of just and civilised law, to mitigate in part without doing violence to existing or recently acquired rights, the gross wrongs and the vexatious evils of an ill designed and revolutionary scheme of reform. Legislation of this kind, however, must have been preceded by a careful, protracted, and impartial inquiry into the present state of the Irish Land System and into the operation and effects of the Gladstonian Land Act," ‥‥ Again he said:— Land tenure in Ireland must be thoroughly recast if the Land System is to rest on a sound basis. Mr. Lecky, in his work, "Democracy and Liberty," says:— The Act of 1870 had many merits, but it admitted, as I believe, a dangerous and dishonest principle. Mr. T. W. Russell was reported in The Irish Times of October 13th, 1894, to have used these words:— People talk about the Act of 1881. The Act of 1870 governs it at every point. If they looked at the Act of 1881 they found it incorporated a great part of the Act of 1870. Any provision in the Act of 1870 not inconsistent with those of the Act of 1881 remain good, and the two, by Section 57 of the Act of 1881, "shall be construed together as one Act." What: did the newspaper which represents the Ulster tenants say as to an Inquiry? The Northern Wig of May 12th says:— If the Government decide on recommending a, Commission of Inquiry it ought to be a broad and general one, and not of mere politicians, nor of peers, nor of landlords. When Mr. Arthur Balfour spoke the other day in the House of Commons he condemned all the Acts. What effect had that speech produced in Ireland? A friend wrote:— He (Mr. Arthur Balfour) in effect said, that none of the Land Acts can be any longer defended, and that the Conservative Party which, only tried to make them work, not approving of them, now see that they never will work, and must be superseded by some more statesmanlike, simple, and just legislation. Mr. Arthur Balfour had, in the face of the country, made this tremendous admission, but, great as it was, he doubted if it was stronger, except that Mr. Arthur Balfour was the Leader of the Unionist Party in the House of Commons, than the words of The Times that the landlords of Ireland demand an Inquiry into a state of things which, to say the very least, is altogether without a parallel in any country, civilised or uncivilised. Now, he might fairly ask how long was Ireland to groan under such a state of affairs? Mr. Gerald Balfour, in introducing the Irish Land Bill, referred to the Act of 1881 as nothing less than an "agrarian revolution." Were the Irish landlords not only to suffer for this revolution, of which they were not the cause, but to be punished by having their property confiscated under the laws of England into the bargain? No words of his could strengthen the overwhelming indictment pronounced by judicial authorities, by statesmen and historians and experts, against the Irish Land Acts passed by the English Legislature during the last quarter of a century, and which if they were to believe the Irish tenantry, left them no better off than they were before. So far, he claimed to have shown that the Irish Land Act of 1870 and those, following were so closely knit together that if full and complete justice was to be done alike to landlords and tenants in Ireland the inquiry could not be confined to one Act only; and, further, the quotations he had given pointed to the need of a general inquiry into all the Acts to ascertain the losses suffered by landlords under all the Acts, and how compensation should be given them. He would now deal with the pledges given by the Government of the day on the passing of the Irish Land Act of 1870. Speaking of "Those who have set up perpetuity of tenure for the Irish occupier as their favourite scheme," Mr. Gladstone disclaimed anything— dishonourable, anything that intends any injury to another's on their part, because we have not a doubt that they have seen that inasmuch as perpetuity of tenure on the part of the occupier is virtually expropriation of the landlord, and as a mere readjustment of rent according to the price of produce can by no means dispose of all contingencies the future may produce in his favour, compensation would have to be paid to the landlord for the rights of which he would be deprived… But suppose for a moment that we put the financial difficulty out of view, what would be the effect of perpetuity of tenure upon the tenant? As I understand it, the scheme itself amounts to this—that each and every occupier, as long as he pays the rent that he is now paying. or else some rent to be fixed by a public tribunal charged with the duty of valuation, is to be secured for himself and his heirs in the occupation of the land that he holds, without limit of time. He will be subject only to this condition somewhat in the nature of the commutation of Tithe Act—that with a variation in the value of produce the rent may vary but it will be slightly, and at somewhat distant periods. The effect of that provision will be, that the landlord will become a rent charge upon what is now his own estate. The Legislature has, no doubt, the perfect right to reduce him to that condition, giving him proper compensation for any loss he may sustain in money; the State has a perfect right to deal with his social status, and to reduce, him to that condition if it thinks fit. But then it is bound not to so think fit, unless it is shown that this is for the public good. Did this not describe the condition of landlords and tenants in Ireland to-day? Speaking further on in the Debate, Mr. Gladstone said:— Well, now, let us look closely at the case of Ireland, and see whether, in good faith, without injury to any class, we can provide a remedy for these evils.‥‥And as we have afforded the occupier improved security of tenure, so also have we afforded the landlord improved security for his rent, and improved security as we think for the better cultivation of his land. The then Attorney General, Sir Robert Collier said in his speech of March 8, 1870:— When they say that the landlord ought not to have power of ejecting the tenant except for non-payment of rent, and that the tenant has a right to remain on his holding as long as he pleases, what does that really mean but fixity of tenure—that is, that the landlord is to be deprived of his property? And again:— I believe the effect of the Measure will be, by giving the tenant security of tenure, to give him increased motives for industry, and, by giving to the tenant security of tenure, it will, at the same time, give to the landlords an increase of rent. Mr. Gladstone had distinctly admitted the fact that his Land Act of 1870 took away from the owners of land in Ireland a part of their property and made it over to the tenants. In his speech of April 7th, 1881, when he introduced the Act of that year, he said:— With a supply of land in the market so much less than the demand, you have a state of things in which it is well worth the while of a man who has not got land as a means of obtaining a regular subsistence and livelihood, to pay for obtaining it. That willingness of the incoming tenant, to pay enters distinctly into the interest of the outgoing tenant so long as he continues the tenant, us something he has to receive. The principle of compensation was admitted by Mr. Gladstone in 1881, when he said:— If, as has been said. Parliament is about, to invade the property of Irish landlords, the question of compensation becomes a very serious one indeed, and one concerning which, if we are prepared to deal with it at all, we ought to speak in most decisive terms. If these classes, either or both of them, have a just claim to compensation in consequence of the manner in which these interests will be affected by this Bill, we are bound as a Parliament to give it them. He would quote one case which showed clearly the state of affairs in Ireland. It was the case of "Bolton landlord," which was heard at Dundalk on February 11th last, to determine the true value of the holding. The holding comprised 79 acres, 2 roods, and 19 perches Irish. The rent £103. There were no improvements claimed by the tenant. The land had been let previously by the landlord to the tenant, and the tenant had paid no fine to get possession of the farm. On the hearing, the landlord produced two valuers, one of them Mr. J. J. Russell, who described the farm as in a very bad condition. He said:— There is nothing in the farm which usually goes to make up what is known as a tenant-right interest—no houses, no fences, no unexhausted manures, no improvements of any kind. On the contrary, a considerable permissive waste is allowed to go on, evidently will the object of getting a low rent fixed in a year or two. After making allowances for repairs, etc., he valued the tenant's interest, or the true value, at £83. The landlord produced another valuer, Mr. MIlvaine, County Court valuer, Mr. M'Ilvaine, Mr. M'Ilvaine considered the rent was too high; he estimated that it would be reduced 25 per cent, two years hence: and he considered the tenant's interest was 15 years' purchase of the reduction. In all, he estimated that tht true value !would be between £400 and £500. The I tenant produced two witnesses, who stated that they believed the tenant's interest was worth from £1,000 to £1,200, perhaps more. The Sub-Commissioners fixed the true value at £550. The question was, what was that £550 for? Was it not a part of the corpus of the landlord's estate, and should it not belong to him? There were no improvements claimed by the tenant. The evidence showed that the place had been grossly deteriorated, and was it reasonable and fair that a landlord, to resume possession of the farm, should pay the tenant this amount for getting his land back in a grossly deteriorated state? Surely the Act of 1881 never contemplated that the portion of the corpus of the estate of the landlord should be transferred to the tenant. Speaking as he had done, on his own behalf and on behalf of others, with a view to what was just between man and man in Ireland, and what was best for the whole community both in Great Britain and Ireland, he urged that a great wrong had been done to the Irish landlords, for which compensation was due; and, for the moment, the responsibility of action rested with Her Majesty's Government.


I can only refer the noble Viscount to the speech which was made by the Chief Secretary in another place a few days ago, in which the right hon. Gentleman stated that the proposed Commission in connection with the Irish Laud Acts would be confined to inquiring into the practice and procedure of the Land Commission and the County Courts in fixing fair rents, and of the Land Commission in making advances under the Land Purchase Acts. At this moment it is impossible to give the noble Viscount any more details as to the terms of reference to the Commission, and I cannot now go into other particulars.


said that those whose property had been dealt with would like to know as soon as possible the personnel of the Commission, the terms of reference, and the name of the Secretary to the Commission. As to the question of compensation, he believed that the Royal Commission could take that question into consideration, though it could not fix the compensation or grant it. He was glad that the matter had been brought forward.

House Adjourned at Seven o'Clock, till Tomorrow, a Quarter past Ten o'Clock.