HL Deb 25 May 1897 vol 49 cc1241-51

rose to call attention to the effects of land legislation in Ireland during the last 30 years on owners and occupiers, and to move: — (1) That, in the opinion of this House, the time has arrived when, in the interests of justice, some compensation should be granted to landowners for the rights of which they have been deprived by the State; (2) that some relief might equitably be afforded to landowners, by granting State loans, on the same terms as those given to land occupiers, to facilitate the purchase by the landlord of the tenant-right or goodwill of the occupier, where lie is willing to sell such interest, or for any other purposes sanctioned by Parliament. He said that for various reasons lie had been compelled to defer bringing this question forward until then, and even then he was afraid that the time was considered to be somewhat inopportune by some of those whom the Irish landlords looked upon as their friends and supporters in that House. But it seemed to him that the fact that the Government had conceded a Royal Commission to inquire into the administration of the Land Acts was no reason why he should not propose this Motion for compensation to the landlords for the injuries which had been inflicted upon them. His Motion dealt almost exclusively with the past, but, of course, it did not follow from that that they would be debarred from making a still larger claim in the future if the course which had been pursued lately by the Land Commissioners were permitted to continue. In fact, it was all the more necessary to proceed with this Motion at the present moment, seeing that the Government had refused to stay the hands of the Land Commissioners pending the result of the inquiry which was to be held. He feared that in order to put his case clearly before the House, lie must go back over old ground and refer to the Irish land legislation of the last 30 years. Since 1870 no less than 25 Acts of Parliament had been passed dealing with land in Ireland. These Measures might be divided into two classes. The first class dealt with the questions of tenure, rent, and sale of holding, and the second class dealt exclusively with the question of purchase. It might be said generally that every one of those 25 Acts had been passed in the interest of the tenants. He called their Lordships' attention first of all to the Act of 1860. That Act introduced for the first time in Ireland a system of free contract. Under that Act the landlord could deal with his tenant as he pleased; he could turn him out on giving six months' notice to quit where a year's rent was duo either from a tenant under lease or from year to year. At the termination of a lease the landlord could take the land into his own hands without paying compensation. It was clear, therefore, that the tenant had no power to sell his interest, because if he attempted to do so the landlord could immediately defeat the sale by serving a notice to quit. The Act of 1870 interfered for the first time with the rights of the landlord. Roughly stated, the Act of 1870 legalised the Ulster custom, and it gave compensation for disturbance on a graduated scale through the rest of Ireland. It also provided that any improvements made by the tenant were to be paid for. The next Act was that of 1881, which included fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. Those were the critical points which bad damaged the landlord's interest and had obliged landlords to come to Parliament and ask for compensation for the loss sustained. Fair rent practically meant perpetuity of tenure and a lease renewable for ever. The tenant also got the power to sell his interest at the highest price which he could obtain in the market; and it was this combination which had brought the landlords into the position they were now in. The next Act was that of 1887, the principle of which was passed by a Conservative Government. For the first time it broke leases and solemn covenants entered into by men perfectly competent to make agreements. Next came the Act of 1891, which brought in long leases extending over a large number of years. There was another Act at this time which gave the power to a tenant who had been evicted to resume his holding in certain circumstances. In 1896 an Act was passed which, brought in large graziers, men supposed to be well able to protect themselves, up to a valuation of, £100 a year. It also took away rights and privileges from the landlords—water rights, turbary, seaweed, and sea sand. It also prevented the landlord from having the power of redemption, which was one of the things which Mr. Gladstone specially reserved in certain circumstances. In 1885 came the Purchase Act, known as the Ashbourne Act. For the first time the tenant under it could borrow the whole of the money from the State for the purchase of his holding under an annuity of 4 per cent, for 49 years. The consequence had been that the whole of the money was promptly taken up, and a short time afterwards another Bill was brought in for the purpose of extending the amount of this purchase-money. This legislation had placed the tenant in this position—he could not be disturbed as long as he continued paying rent renewable for ever; he had the power to dispose of his farm for the best price he could get, and he purchased with State money the fee of the land. It might generally be thought that the tenant should be perfectly happy after all these things had been done for him, but he was afraid that was not the case. And the reason was obvious, because unless the man were in occupation before the Act of 1881, he had had to pay since that date large sums in, order to get into his holding. These large sums had lately been very largely increased, and the consequence was this, that the interest of the money, which the tenant had to pay for his tenant right in coming into a holding, together with, the reduced rent, very nearly amounted to his old original rent. What the Irish landlords said was this: You have reduced our rents, you have taken a large slice out of our property and handed it over to the occupying tenant, who is at liberty to go wherever he likes with the money. That was what Parliament had done. It had handed over to the occupying tenant the difference between the old rent and the judicial rent. He would take in illustration a peculiar case winch happened upon his own estate just after the Act of 1881 was passed. He happened to put a tenant into a farm a year before the Act came into operation. The tenant was to pay a rent of £150 a year. He had not paid a farthing for that, because tenant right did not exist in the south of Ireland, and as regarded his own estate, it was especially guarded. The tenant asked the rent to be reduced to £130. He asked to be allowed to sell and he was allowed to sell. The result was that he got £1,250 for his interest, having come in the year before without any interest whatever. This man walked off to America or somewhere else with his £1,250, and left the present tenant subject to the rent of £130 plus interest on £1,250, which, he was bound to add, the tenant was paying very regularly. Now that man was going into Court, and the question would arise—What would the Land Commission do? Would they take that man's interest into account or not? If they did, it would be taken absolutely out of the landlord's property and nowhere else. Numerous cases of the same kind could be cited. Mr. Healy stated the other day that in the large farms of £100 a year and approaching it, it was not the case that large sums were given for tenant right. But according to a Return which had just been compiled, this statement was not correct, there being a largo number of cases above £100 where very large sums had been given. There was a case where a tenant applied to be allowed to sell his tenant right for £500. The landlord objected that £500 was too much, and exercised his right of pre-emption. On going to the Land Commission, however, that body fixed the amount which the landlord was to pay at no less than £800. He quoted from returns of sales on a number of different estates to show the enormous sums given for tenant right, representing 20 and 25, and even 40, as muck as 40 and 44 years' purchase. Such were the enormous sums given for land which they were told was worth so little. He spoke as a largo farmer, having had for a considerable time as much as 4,000 acres on his hand, and he asserted that while undoubtedly prices had fallen, they had not fallen to anything' approaching the extent represented by the reductions made by the Land Commission, for the fall in prices represented only 10 per cent. Mr. Healy had stated that for every £1 of reduction the expenses to the country had been 19s. 6d. Adding the money spent by the tenant on lawyers and moneylenders, surely it would have been cheaper to the country to have spent the money on permanent relief to tenants, and left undisturbed property rights in the way that had been done. The landlord had been expropriated, and perpetuity had been given to the tenant. He had become a mere rent-charger, entitled only to an economic rent fixed by the State, whereas before 1870 free contract existed. Where before he would get from 25 to 30 years' purchase, he could now only get 15 or 20, and very often he could not sell at all. He had to pay high rates on his mortgages, and his powers of borrowing were practically done away with. Recovery of rent had been made more difficult than ever, and arrears had very largely increased, though allowances had been made. The landlord, besides, now had very heavy legal expenses. Landlords who before had never been obliged to go into Court, were now forced to go there. They had all the expense of the first hearing, and often of the appeal, which was entirely useless, as he knew. The landlord could no longer resume his land under any circumstances; his rents had been reduced by leaps and bounds, while the prices of tenants' right had been rising. Further, the landlord now had to pay the tithe rent, where formerly he was allowed to get it out of the tenant's rent. As to the Commissioners, if they were angels—and many of them were more like fallen angels—they could not possibly perform the task which Parliament had set them —that of fixing a so-called fair rent without any guidance at all. These men were let loose over the country to deal with an enormous mass of property, often without any previous knowledge, and simply judging in some cases from the smell of a stick which they had dug into the ground. That was no exaggeration, but fact. As Lord Dufferin had said, they wore sent groping in the dark to find the intentions of Parliament. They could not do the impossible, and the only rent which it was possible to fix was the market rent. If any lower rent were fixed, some one, not the landlord, must get the benefit of it, but some one would still be paying the market rent. These questions would never be settled until there was a return to freedom of contract. One party or the other must be bought out, and lie proposed that the landlord should have the same facilities for buying out the tenant as the tenant had for buying out the landlord. Surely Parliament did not wish to banish the landlords from Ireland altogether. Such a thing would be ruinous to the country, and the working people regarded the prospect with horror, for the landlords, and not the tenants, were the men who gave employment. The despised landlord, too, was still the constant adviser of the poor people in any difficulty. There must be one person, and one only, in ownership of the land. As to what the Commissioners were now doing, it was right that the attention of Parliament should be called to it. He had the latest returns as to the fixing of judicial rents. They Clinic down to the end of February 1897, and covered 1,672 cases. The total original rent involved in these cases was £52,994; the valuation was £39,368; the rent fixed for the first term was £42,289, or a reduction of 20.2 per cent., and the rent fixed for the second term was £30,957, or a reduction of 26.8 per cent. The total reduction on the two terms was equal to 41.5 per cent., or one-quarter under the valuation on which the rates were paid. The original rent, £52,994, was, curiously enough, one-quarter above the valuation. Lord Dufferin had well said that "the landlords were being jockeyed out of their property." It was all very fine to talk about the fall of prices; but the fall in England had been far greater than in Ireland, where most of the land was grass land. Besides, in England the landlord could always resume his land and farm it himself; in Ireland he could not. As to the Irish landlords not spending anything on their property, who could expect it with such constant inroads being made? They could have no hope of getting the money which they spent back again. Before the landlords were dealt with by the Act of 1881, they had a margin of not more than 50 per cent, to spend. The reduction made by the judicial rents amounted to 41.5 per cent.; so that the landlord was now left with a margin of 9 per cent., and in many cases the whole of his income had been swept away. Therefore he felt bound in honour as an Irishman and a representative of Ireland to come forward on behalf of the large number of people who were being reduced to absolute poverty, and to ask Parliament why nothing was being done to stop what was going on. He now came to an important matter. Mr. Gladstone clearly foresaw that the question of compensation would arise under the land legislation which he initiated in 1870. On asking for leave to introduce the Land Bill of 1870, into which he was asked to introduce "the three F's," Mr. Gladstone said, "Perpetuity of tenure on the part of the occupier is virtually expropriation of the landlord:" also "compensation would have to be paid for rights of which he would be deprived; "and he then wont on to show that the occupier only would benefit by the proposed legislation. Speaking again on March 11, 1870, Mr. Gladstone said:— If you value rents you may as well for every available purpose adopt perpetuity of tenure at once. It is perpetuity of tenure only in a certain disguise. On May 19, 1870, Mr. Gladstone, discussing fixity of tenure and valuation of rents, said:— If we believe these provisions would be beneficial to the country it would be our duty to give them compulsory force by legislative enactments; and to consider from what source we ought to provide compensation to the landlord for rights he now enjoys. Mr. Law, the then Solicitor General for Ireland, speaking on the Bill of 1870, said:— The property must be in some one, and if we were to secure the possession of the land and the enjoyment of the profit to the tenant and his successors for ever, subject only to a rent, we should in effect, no matter how we disguise it, transfer the property of the farmer to him and change the present landowner into a mere rent charger. Sir Roundell Palmer (afterwards Lord Selborne) speaking in March 1870, said:— Fixity of tenure, which in plain English means taking the property of one man and giving it to another. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) said, according to the principles of justice, if we transferred property in that way we must pay for it. No doubt, we may take a man's property, but in that case we must compensate him for it. Sir R. Collier, the Attorney General for England, taking part in the same discussion, said:— What does that mean but fixity of tenure —that is, that the landlord is to be deprived of his property. Ten years later, Mr. Gladstone, in bringing in the Bill of 1881, 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 those classes, either or both of them, have a just claim for compensation in consequence of the manner in which their interests will be affected by this Bill, we are bound as a Parliament to give it to them. Could any language in favour of compensation be plainer than that. On July 22, 1881, Mr. Gladstone also said:— We, in 1869 (on the Disestablishment of the Church) provided that every holder of an advowson in Ireland should receive the full market price of his property. This ire held to be the true principle on which compensation should be based, and this is the principle on which the question should be approached on the present occasion. If after experience should prove that, in fact, ruin and heavy loss is likely to have been brought on any class in Ireland by direct effect of this legislation, that is a question we ought to look directly in the face. There was one letter he should like to read to the House. It was from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack (the Lord Chancellor) in reply to a letter from a landlord in Ireland, asking him his opinion on the subject of compensation. The noble and learned Lord wrote:— Dear Sir,—As my words were not committed to writing, I cannot speak with absolute certainty as to what they were. But what I think I said was, that I could see no reason why Irish landlords should be excepted from the principle which was generally applied in all cases where State policy involved taking away something to which an individual had a right—that is to say, that compensation should always be given where, for State reasons, private rights were invaded. He would also quote John Stuart Mill on compensation. The extract was quoted from "Principles of Political Economy." The principle of property gives them (the landowners) no right to the land, but only a right to compensation for whatever portion of their interest in the land it may be the policy of the State to deprive them of—to that their claim is indefeasible. It is duo to landowners and to owners of any property whatever, recognised as such by the State, that they should not be deprived of it without receiving its pecuniary value or an annual income equal to what they derived from it. If the land was bought with the produce of the labour of themselves or their ancestors, compensation is due to them on that ground. Even if otherwise, it is still due. on the ground of prescription. Nor can it ever be necessary, for accomplishing an object by which the community altogether will gain, that a particular portion of the community should be immolated. When tin; property is of a kind to which peculiar affection attach themselves, the compensation ought to exceed a bare pecuniary equivalent. The Legislature, which, if it pleased, might convert the whole body of landlords into fund-holders or pensioners, might, a fortiori, commute the average receipts of Irish landowners into a fixed rent charge, and raise the tenants into proprietors, supposing always full market value of the land is tendered to landlords. The last extract he would trouble the House with was from Bentham's "Theory of Legislation." The principle of security require that reform should be attended with complete indemnity. The interest of individuals, it is said, ought to yield to the public interest; but what does that mean? Is not one individual as much a part of the public as another? This public interest, which you introduce as a person, is only an abstract term—it represented nothing but the mass of individual interests. Individual interests are the only interests; take care of the individuals; never molest them; never suffer anyone to molest them, and you will have done enough for the public. I shall conclude with a general observation of great importance. The more the principle of property is respected the stronger hold it takes on the popular mind. Slight attacks upon this principle prepare the way for heavier ones. A long time has been necessary to carry property to the point where we now see it in civilised societies, but a fatal experience has shown with what facility it can he shaken, and how easily the savage instinct of plunder gets the better of the laws. The Legislature had always granted compensation where Measures had been passed for the public good, and had imposed it on public bodies, companies, or the individuals to whom it had granted compulsory powers to interfere with property and vested interests, And this compensation was not limited to damage done, but extended to prospective, possible, or contingent damage or injury. In 1833 the West Indian slave owners were enormously compensated when slavery was abolished, although it was questionable whether there existed in the planters any right to the ownership of other individuals. Compensation was also promised by the Government recently in the similar case of Zanzibar. It was also given in 1869 under the Irish Church Act; in 1874 and 1878 under the Public Health Acts and Acts directing the slaughter of diseased animals; in 1882 under the Arrears of Rent Act; and in 1871 on the Abolition of Army Purchase, He did nor propose to say what course the compensation should take, he left that to the Government, but he thought it should take a direct form. Of course, to those who had no mortgages on their estates what he proposed would not be very much relief, but to those who had it would be an immense relief. He saw no reason why advances should not be made to the landlord to pay off the charges with which he was saddled for no fault of his own, his income having been diminished by the State. The State would have perfect security, and they lent money upon much worse security to the tenant. He appealed to the House and to the country to consider the claim they now made; to consider it not only on account of men in the upper classes of life who were in a position like himself and those around him, but to consider what was the position of those who had been brought up, if not in the lap of luxury at least with every comfort around them. What position were they to be placed in? Were they to be destitute, and were their children to be left without education? Were their Lordships to fold their hands and say that political necessity obliged them to do this wrong, in id that they would not put their hands in their pockets to assist these people? He would ask them to bear in mind the saving, "Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum." [Cheers.]


said that, in view of the extreme importance of the speech of his noble Friend, he would move that the Debate be adjourned till Friday next.

Motion agreed to.

House Adjourned at Half-past Seven o'Clock, to Friday next, a Quarter past Ten o'Clock.