THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
rose to move for a Return giving the names of the evicted tenants in Ireland whom His Majesty's Government intend to restore, the date of their eviction, a statement as to whether they were or were not Plan of Campaign tenants, whether they were judicial tenants or not, the amount of rent in arrear when they were evicted, 1548 the name of the landlord, and the town-land, parish, barony, and county in which their holdings were situated.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I venture to call your attention this evening for a few moments to a very important subject, but not one which His Majesty's Government considered of sufficient importance to be mentioned in the King's Speech at the opening of Parliament, although that Speech contained references of more than usual importance to Ireland. The Motion has been on the Paper for a considerable time, and was put down before the introduction of the Evicted Tenants Bill in another place, to which I have no intention of referring; I do not propose to criticise the machinery of of that measure or to comment on the debates in the other House, though I am very much tempted to do so by the speech delivered by the new Vice-President of the Irish Board of Agriculture upon the Second Reading, which contained some of the most fantastic statements about this matter I have ever heard. I do not wish, however, to anticipate a debate that may very likely take place in this House later on in the session, though according to the progress His Majesty's Government are making with business in another place I do not think we are likely to receive the Bill until well on towards the end of September.
Your Lordships will remember that considerable notice was taken of the question of the evicted tenants in 1903 during the passing of the Irish Land Act of that year, and we are told that in that year a bargain was entered into for the restoration of the evicted tenants. But I do not think that some of the speakers who have raised the question of this bargain have entirely recollected what the nature of that bargain was. We are asked to believe that the bargain was that the evicted tenants were to be restored; we are almost asked to believe that that was the primary object of the Act of 1903, and we are accused of having broken that bargain.
Now, what was the bargain? It originated in a paragraph in the Land Conference Report saying that any project for the solution of the Irish land question should be accompanied by 1549 a settlement of the evicted tenants question upon an equitable basis. Your Lorships will notice the words "should be accompanied." It was distinctly agreed that the solution of this question should proceed pari passu with the solution of the whole land question. There was no suggestion that this question was to be settled in priority to all others; nor was it suggested that any inconvenience was to be caused to landowners or to other tenants by the settling of the question. The settlement was to proceed on voluntary lines, and upon the giving of, to quote the words of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, an honest price. I think we in Ireland have very great reason to be grateful to the Lord Chancellor for the use of that phrase, but I do not think that His Majesty's Government will be very pleased by the end of the session that the phrase was ever used. I am perfectly certain that some of their supporters will be extremely angry that it was used, because nearly the whole of the agitation which is now going on in Ireland has for its object the avoidance of an honest price.
We stated in 1903 that we had no objection to the restoration of evicted tenants, but we claimed that the restoration should be undertaken only on estates where sales were taking place; and that fact was recognised by the Government of the day, as is shown by the Regulation made by the Lord-Lieutenant to the effect that—The Estates Commissioners should only consider the question of providing a holding for a tenant evicted from any holding comprised in an estate, upon the sale of that estate.That condition carried out the undertaking accepted on all sides in 1903, and it was broken by .Mr. Bryce, who entirely on his own initiative altered the Regulation so as to remove the limitation.
The second condition of the bargain was that the process should be entirely voluntary. Sections 2 and 8 of the Act under which these proceedings take place state quite clearly that parcels of land may be purchased for, among other purposes, the benefit of evicted tenants, and it was made quite clear that no loss was to be incurred by the landlord and that no pressure was to be brought on the landlord or on any other tenant. This part of the bargain has not been 1550 kept. It is common knowledge in Ireland that pressure is being brought to bear on landlords by the Estates Commissioners to restore their evicted tenants, under the threat that if they do not their estate will not be declared an estate and that they will not therefore obtain their share of the bonus. And whether that is so or not, we all know that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to break through this second condition of the bargain by legislation.
The third condition of the bargain was, in our opinion, equally important. We made it quite clear that whilst we would aid in the restoration of evicted tenants we would take no share in the dispossessing of those who had come forward during the bad times and assisted us by taking their places; and my noble friend Lord Westmeath, I remember, moved an Amendment to that effect while the Bill was passing through Committee in your Lordships House, and it was one of the few important points on which we, the Irish landlords, failed to beat the Government. But, although we failed to get these words inserted in the Bill, we obtained declarations from the Government of the day which left absolutely no room for misunderstanding. Mr. Wyndham stated in the House of Commons that the landlords' representatives had dwelt on the necessity of allowing nothing in the Bill to bring pressure to bear, directly or indirectly, on men who had taken up holdings which others had left; and to that he agreed. That position was accepted by Mr. Redmond a few days later; and the words used by the noble Marquess behind me, Lord Lansdowne, were that—He would be sorry to be a party to any arrangement which contemplated their abandonment and their exclusion from the holdings they now occupied.Those were the three main features of the bargain. The first has been repudiated by the Government, the second the Government intend to repudiate, and I cannot help thinking that they would be glad to repudiate the third if they dared.
It is complained that the process of restoration under the Act of 1903 has been too slow. But it has gone on faster than that of dealing with estates, for it is stated in the special Report by the Estates Commissioners of their proceedings up to 1551 31st May last that the total number of evicted tenants, or other representatives, who have been restored to their former holdings or provided with new holdings up to date is 1,033, out of a total number of claims that the Government seem to have admitted of about 3,040. That rate of progress is slightly faster than the proportion of estates dealt with to estates in connection with which originating agreements have been lodged. And remember that the bargain was that the evicted tenants should be reinstated pari passu with sales as a whole. There is a remarkable paragraph in this Report in which the Estates Commissioners give their reasons for their failure. They say (paragraph 40) —The purchase of untenanted land under the powers given by the Act of 1903 is necessarily slow, inasmuch as it depends on the consent of the owner and proof of title to the purchase money.I would ask permission for a moment to examine those reasons.
First, there is delay in administering the Act. Whose fault is that? It is the fault of the Government of the day in the first place, and, I suppose, of the Estates Commissioners in the second place. But is that any reason for breaking up the bargain which was acquiesced in by all parties in 1903? What is the next reason? It is that it is difficult to purchase untenanted land because it depends on the consent of the owner. Is that not left rather vague in the hope that the public will assume that owners have been recalcitrant in selling land? What is the real position? Not a single owner, at any rate but a very small percentage of owners—I have not heard of a case—have refused to sell untenanted land which was not part of their demesne if offered an honest price. But, as a matter of fact, the Estates Commissioners will not offer what I would describe as the market price of the day for the land.
I will cite a case within my own personal experience where a considerable piece of untenanted land was offered to the Estates Commissioners by a landlord for the purpose now under discussion. The landlord said to the Estates Commissioners—I approve of the policy of reinstating evicted tenants. The grazing tenants on this land are prepared to buy it at a certain price—at the price I want. But in my anxiety to 1552 help you I am ready to lot you have this land over their heads for the same price, because I consider it is public policy to assist you in this matter if I can.The offer of the Estates Commissioners, given three or four months ago, was 25 per cent. below the price which the grazing tenants were ready to give, and 25 per cent., therefore, below the market price, or the honest price, to use the words of the Lord Chancellor. The Estates Commissioners cannot expect to buy grazing land, which is generally the best land in the district, unless they are prepared to give the price that the present grazing tenants are ready to pay. I am perfectly certain that there are other cases which could be produced from all over Ireland in which the Estates Commissioners have not been ready to give a fair price to the landlord, and, if that is so, it is not, I think, quite fair to state in a public document that the difficulty of obtaining untenanted land is complicated by the fact that so much depends upon the consent of the owner.
What is the position now? The number of claims have very greatly increased. At the time of the Mathew Commission in 1893 they had before them claims amounting in all to 3,639; the claims now which we understand have been made amount to 8,401. Since 1903 1,033 evicted tenants have been reinstated, and 2,000 more will have to be reinstated—a total of 3,033. Therefore it comes to this, that we are asked to believe that of the claims that were submitted to the Mathew Commission 83 per cent. were genuine. I believe nothing of the kind. If you have restored 1,033 tenants under this Act I do not believe another 2,000 genuine cases can be produced. That is why I have ventured to move the Motion standing in my name. The Government have all the information to hand. On page 10 of this Report appears a form—the form of application furnished to persons seeking reinstatement as evicted tenants or their representatives—which practically gives all the information for which I have asked, and such being the case I hope the Government will consent to grant the Return.
The suggestion has been offered that if the Government published the names of the claims that were considered genuine now, they would got into awful 1553 trouble with their Irish supporters in the other House. But this state of things cannot go on for ever, and it would be much better to know now what claims were genuine and what were not. The Irish landlords are anxious to help the Government in restoring every genuine case under the terms of the bargain made in 1903. I realise also that the Government are in a difficult position. The failure of their Irish Council Bill has led to an estrangement among the Government, their supporters, and the Nationalists, and it has lowered the credit of the Nationalists in Ireland. It seems to be thought, however, that the proposals of the Government as to evicted tenants may be the means of re-establishing the old friendly relations, and that if the Bill were passed something would be done to rehabilitate the credit of the Nationalist leaders in Ireland. If it is the object of the Government to lend themselves to the support of such results I can understand that they will refuse the Return asked for. But if they are really anxious honestly to go forward with the arrangement of 1903 they can scarcely object to grant my request. I can promise, on behalf of my fellow-landlords, that we will continue to do our best to expedite the policy in which the Government are interested in accordance with the arrangements made four years ago.
Moved, "That there be laid before the House a Return giving the names of the evicted tenants in Ireland whom His Majesty's Government intend to restore, the date of their eviction, a statement, as to whether they were or were not Plan of Campaign tenants, whether they were judicial tenants or not, the amount of rent in arrear when they wore evicted, the name of the landlord, and the townland, parish, barony, and county in which their holdings were situated." —(The Earl of Donoughmore.)
My Lords, in the effective speech to which we have just listened the noble Earl has stated some reasons, but not, after all, very many, why the Return for which he has asked should be laid on the Table. He dealt, in the course of his speech, with very many matters which are not strictly relevant to the Question he has placed on the Paper. He dealt with the Land Act 1554 of 1903, with what the Lord Chancellor had said, with what Mr. Bryce had done, with the Irish Council Bill, and with many other matters; and I would like to point out that a good many of the statements he made and the arguments he used would have been at least equally appropriate to the Second Reading stage of the Evicted Tenants Bill when that measure reaches your Lordships' House.
One thing the noble Earl said did particularly depress me. He expressed the opinion that the Evicted Tenants Bill would not reach this House until the end of September. I hope for all our sakes that that was a pessimistic and gloomy view to take, and that we shall have an opportunity of discussing that measure at any rate before the autumn is reached. I am not, of course, complaining because the noble Earl has chosen to go rather far a field from the Question on the Paper, as I know that is generally the custom in this House; but if the Committee on Procedure which is now sitting does in its Report recommend that discussion should be more strictly relevant to the Question on the Paper, and if your Lordships think fit to adopt that particular portion of the Report, I am sure no one will be more grateful than the individual, whoever he may be, who has the privilege—I suppose privilege is the right word—to be the unofficial representative of the Irish Office in your Lordships' House.
As regards the notice on the Paper, over 8,000 cases have been investigated by the Estates Commissioners, and it is estimated that some 2,000 of these will be reinstated under the Bill. The Government are unable to comply with the Motion of the noble Lord for the simple reason that it would enormously increase the difficult and the onerous task which the Estates Commissioners have already in hand. It is perfectly obvious that were we to publish the names of those 2,000 comparatively speaking fortunate people, naturally the Department would receive bitter complaints from the 5,000 or more persons whose applications had to be refused. They would compare their cases with that of those who were more fortunate than themselves. In other words, the thing would lead to endless commotion and disturbance. I am under the impression that there are plenty of people in Ireland already who have a 1555 grievance, and if we acceded to the Motion of the noble Earl we should immediately add an enormous number to that category. It is impossible for us to do business in this way. There is no desire for secrecy, but we have to adopt this course in order that we may expedite the policy of the Government of Ireland. Suppose we were to publish those names, then the 8,000 cases would have to be reopened. In the majority of cases I have no doubt they would have to be heard again. If only two hours were spent on each particular case, the labour entailed would amount to the work of years. Therefore, we say that the matter must be left to the discretion of the Estates Commissioners, who are skilled in this particular class of work.
The noble Earl expressed the belief that a large proportion of the 2,000 cases are not genuine; in other words, he implied that the Estates Commissioners are not an impartial tribunal to adjudicate upon this question. As noble Lords from Ireland know, the Estates Commissioners are three in number, and owing to the large duties which they were given under the Land Act of 1903, a considerable amount of attention has been directed to their individual opinions on political matters. One of these gentlemen, Mr. Wrench, is commonly known as a landlords' man, and Mr. Bailey is, I believe, known as a tenants' man. The third Commissioner, Mr. Finucane, was a distinguished Indian Civil Servant, and has a very high record of service, having served for over thirty years with great distinction in that part of the Empire. I cannot see what ground there is for impugning the impartiality of these three gentlemen.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I do not think I said anything which could be taken as impugning their impartiality. What I said was that I did not think there were 2,000 genuine cases remaining. It has been the common opinion in Ireland for years that the number of cases was very much less than 3,033.
I am glad to hear that disclaimer, but when the noble Earl said that a large number of these cases were not genuine, it did appear that he was making an attack upon 1556 the Commissioners. I am glad to hear that that is not so. I would remind the House that these gentlemen were appointed by the late Government to do almost identically similar work to that which they are now performing, and which they are performing in relation to the question of evicted tenants. As the noble Earl has mentioned the special Report which they have lately made, I would point out that they have all three signed the Report, and, so far as I know, they have been in complete agreement on the matter.
Then the noble Earl raised the general question of the policy of His Majesty's Government. I do not intend to go into that; it would perhaps, be hardly appropriate for me to do so in the subordinate position which I hold in relation to this matter. But I should like to call the attention of the House to some remarks which were made by a very distinguished authority on the subject when the Land Act of 1903 was before Parliament. He put it very concisely. He said—In dealing with the category of those who once had an occupying tendency in land and lost it, they must not stop to inquire for what reason, or under what circumstances, they lost their tenancies. They could not pick out here and there those who were misguided, others who had been fraudulent, and others who had been misled. If they did they were raking up the past. They must look beyond this, that it was desirable, if they could, to give these men another chance.
Mr. Wyndham in the House of Commons when the Act of 1903 was before Parliament. That is exactly the policy of the Government to-day—to give these men another chance. It very often happens in the stress of modern life that men do not get another chance; but if hardship, suffering, and privation do give them a claim upon the sympathy of those whose lot in life has fallen in pleasanter places, then I believe there are no class of men to whom the average Englishman would more readily hold out a helping hand than the evicted tenants of Ireland.
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down invited your Lordships, in the closing 1557 words of his speech, to express sympathy with the evicted tenants in Ireland. I am not aware that my noble friend who moved this Motion said anything calculated to show a lack of sympathy with these tenants or of a desire that relief should be given to those who fairly came within that category. While sympathising with the evicted tenants and desiring to see a fair measure of relief given there should be no mistake as to the issues involved in this matter. It is said that we must trust to the discretion of the Estates Commissioners. We fully recognise, of course, that they are honourable men, and we are prepared to trust choir discretion in a reasonable way. But now it is proposed to make the discretion of the Commissioners boundless, in a way never contemplated when the Act of 1903 was passed. The Return already furnished is interesting and, so far as it goes, valuable; but it is not complete, and it needs supplementing. And with reference to the objection that the Return asked for would entail work, surely it is reasonable that a public Department should employ some of their public time in meeting a public demand, which is for legitimate information. There may be something in the objection to giving all the names, but there are other particulars for which we have a right to press with considerable insistence.
It is mentioned incidentally that there were seventeen Plan of Campaign estates, and that in fifteen of these the landlords have voluntarily settled. Does not that let in a flood of light as to the way in which the landlords have met the poor tenants who were duped into the action which led to their eviction? Surely it is creditable to the landlords to the last degree, and it indicates, as has been pointed out, that the landlords wore willing to meet the demand, subject only to the condition that they obtained an honest price. One of the two campaign estates in connection with which there has been no settlement is the Lewis estate, county Galway, and the reason for the efforts of the Commissioners to effect a settlement proving fruitless in this case was that the representatives of the landlord said they could not afford to sell unless they were given the price which they asked. The matter was ended by the Estates Com- 1558 missioners saying that they would not give that price. Surely that is a point which should be dealt with at greater length in the Report.
There has been an enormous increase year by year in the class of evicted tenants. It seems to have become a matter of business to be an evicted tenant. There are thousands of tenants in Ireland with farms of five, ten, or fifteen acres poorly equipped, and if it is declared that evicted tenants are to be given substantial farms, organised and well equipped, and have house and offices built for them, it is a great temptation to these people to become evicted tenants. Therefore it is desirable to know how the Commissioners have exercised their discretion in the past in reference to tenants who have been evicted, not only in the Plan of Campaign, but in the ordinary course of law for the non-payment of rent.
The reasons that have been given for delay are curious. In the paragraph in the Report which my noble friend Lord Donoughmore referred to the delay was attributed to the fact that the consent of the owner and proof of title to the purchase money had to be obtained; but in the earlier portion of the same paragraph it is pointed out that the evicted tenants were unwilling to take land at a distance from their former holdings. Surely it is rendered oven more desirable to become an evicted tenant if the tenant is to be not only restored to a bigger farm than before and to have it equipped, but to be given the choice of where he should be placed. The Report indicates that over 2,000 claims have been rejected, and the grounds on which they have been rejected suggest to me that many people did not know where to stop in making their applications. It seemed to be generally thought that a great many elastic claims would be considered, and that one man stood as good a chance as another. I do not think that the notice which claimants were required to fill up was sufficiently precise, and I think I should have required the applicants to sign a more detailed form.
We are also entitled to know the dates of eviction; that is a date of first-class importance which it could do no harm to anyone to publish. Surely in the case of a man evicted twenty-five years before 1559 the Act of 1903 came into force, who had been all over the world and done nothing in particular ever since, it would not be reasonable to consider putting him back on the farm and displacing the occupying tenant who had probably been working, and toiling, and tilling for the past twenty years. I do not discuss that, but it is obviously desirable to have these dates for our guidance in forming a judgment. Another point on which we want information is as to what arrears—this is not confined to Plan of Campaign tenants— were due by the evicted tenant when he left the holding. Then I think it would be important to know what is the present position of the applicant, what he has been doing from the time he was evicted, whether he has been thrifty or thriftless, what he is doing now, his age, and other circumstances about him; and it would also be desirable to know whether each holding on which evicted tenants have been placed was at the time of the restoration in the possession of another tenant. The date should also be indicated when the new tenants came into possession.
This is a large question, and I submit that it does not display a want of sympathy with the evicted tenants to ask how you are going to work the Code intended for their benefit. We cannot say, except by the merest speculation, how the Estates Commissioners have exercised their great functions without the information, or a good deal of the information, for which I ask. I take things as I find them. I take the circumstances of the case now before the country, and I say that we are entitled to further information to enable us to judge how the Estates Commissioners have exercised the vast discretion entrusted to them, particularly at a time when it is suggested that further discretion of a sweeping character, and without appeal, should be given to them. It is impossible not to disappoint people. I have no doubt that the 2,000 or 2,500 applicants whose claims do not stand investigation and who have to be sent empty away will be full of sorrow and grief, but in this world you cannot please everybody. The art of saying "no" is one of the things a Minister must learn, and the sooner "no" is said in this case the better, because it will prevent these men continuing to entertain hopes which are only 1560 doomed to disappointment. I have no desire to cause embarrassment to the Government, but I hope the Government will indicate willingness to furnish in some form the information upon which those interested can base their judgment.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, into the general question, however interesting and fascinating, I do not propose to enter. In fact, I do not see how anyone can very well do so without transgressing the rule against commenting on a Bill which is before the other House. But I wish to guard against the possible misapprehension that might arise as to my own views upon one point.
My noble friend Lord Donoughmore quoted a recommendation of the Land Conference to the effect that any measure for the settlement of the land question should be accompanied by a settlement of the evicted tenant question on an equitable basis; and my noble friend argued from that that the reinstatement of evicted tenants should proceed pari passu. with the sale of the estates. With that in a general way I do not cavil; but I do not wish it for a moment to be imagined that I assume that the evicted tenants, or a certain number of them, who ought to be restored to their holdings or given other holdings, are not to be so restored until the last estate in Ireland has been sold. That would be quite apart from my idea. On the contrary, I think this question of evicted tenants is an urgent phase of the agrarian question in Ireland, and I do not wish it to be assumed that in my opinion the restoration of evicted tenants should be delayed until the whole transfer of land in Ireland is concluded. Nor am I sure that I am quite in agreement with my noble friend as to one part of the bargain of the Land Conference being that restorations should only occur on estates as they were sold. That is not quite my impression. I agree with him, however, that the reinstatement of an evicted tenant should be solely for the purpose of his purchasing, but I do not go so far as my noble friend in holding the opinion that he should only be restored on the sale of the estate.
As to the Motion on the Paper, I must admit that I sympathise a good deal with the noble Lord who 1561 represents the Irish Office, for I honestly do not think that any one of your Lordships could have gathered from this Motion that my noble friend was going to call attention to the special Report of the Estates Commissioners. With regard to the Motion itself, I am not very much surprised at the Government's demurring to give these Returns. I should like to ask my noble friend this: Supposing he gets them, what will he do with them? My noble and learned friend who has just sat down mentioned other points on which he thought information was desirable, but the most important information is that asked for in the Motion itself. But what are your Lordships to do when you get the names and addresses of the 2,000 tenants whom His Majesty's Government propose to restore, and the various other particulars con-corning them? Are we going to sit in judgment on the list and comment upon the decisions of the Estates Commissioners and say whether those tenants should be reinstated or not? If that is to be the object surely we ought to know the particulars of all the claimants, otherwise how is it possible to judge properly?
What I think my noble and learned friend really requires is to know what data the Estates Commissioners took into consideration in settling whether a tenant should be restored or not, and I am bound to say I think further information on that point might be very useful to the House. As to the publication of the names and addresses and the other particulars of these 2,000 people, I confess that I think it would lead to a great deal of confusion and heartburning in Ireland, and I cannot see what practical purpose would be achieved by the publication of that Return. Therefore, I support His Majesty's Government in not agreeing to the Motion of my noble friend.
*THE EARL OF MAYO
Notwithstanding what the noble Earl who has just sat down, and who was chairman of the Land Conference, has said, I shall, as one of the members of that Conference, adhere to the statement of my noble friend Lord Donoughmore as to one part of the bargain being that any prospect for the solution of the Irish land question should be accompanied by a settlement of the evicted tenants question on equitable principles; and when the 1562 Evicted Tenants Bill reaches this House I hope care will be taken that it is dealt with on an equitable basis, and on the terms referred to the other day by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. We have asked for a Return of the 2,000 evicted tenants, and the noble Lord who represents the Irish Office said that if this Return wore granted they would have to go into all the claims of all the others and so again into the whole question. I should like to ask, have the Government settled who these 2,000 tenants are, or have they not? The murder will out some day. The Government seem to be in a funk lost the other 6,000 tenants fall upon thorn and say, "Pat Murphy is being restored; why should not another Pat be restored as well?" During the debate in 1903, Mr. John Dillon said the evicted tenants in Ireland were only about 400, and Mr. Redmond stated that £100,000 would settle the whole thing. That was very different from this scheme. This scheme will cost a million—
*THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
May I ask whether the noble Lord is not going beyond this Motion and discussing the Evicted Tenants Bill?
*THE EARL OF MAYO
The Government propose to reinstate 2,000 tenants, and I was dealing with that matter.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
The noble Earl is only entitled to deal with the question raised by the noble Lord on the Front Bench.
*THE EARL OF MAYO
I will, then, deal with another matter. The noble Lord who replied on behalf of the Government labelled one Commissioner a landlords' man and another a tenants' man, and said that the third was an official from India. I have had dealings with these Estates Commissioners and can testify to the fact that they have acted all through those dealings in a straightforward manner. I think it is curious that the labelling of these Commissioners should come from the other side of the House. We have every confidence in the Commissioners, The reason the evicted tenants have had to be dealt with on this enormous scale is that the Government, through the Lord-Lieutenant, have altered the rules 1563 made in dealing with this question, and the efforts of the Commissioners have been diverted from land purchase to dealing with these evicted tenants. We have asked for this Return because we have a strong suspicion that a great many of these cases have been manufactured, and manufactured in consequence of the orders given by the Lord-Lieutenant. Lord Denman quoted from a speech by Mr. Wyndham in the House of Commons in 1903, in which he spoke of giving the evicted tenants another chance. I contend that it was giving them another chance under the bargain of 1903. But that is quite a different thing from dealing with evicted tenants in the present manner. Therefore I do not think the noble Lord had any right to quote the words of Mr. Wyndham in connection with the new state of things which has come about in consequence of the alteration of the rules of the Estates Commissioners.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I hope the noble Earl who has just sat down did not in any way resent my interrupting him, but, as a matter of fact, this debate has wandered over a somewhat large field, and even the noble Earl who initiated it, in spite of the self-denying ordinance with which he began, travelled at some length in his speech—his very interesting speech—over the greater part of this whole question of evicted tenants.
I should like to say one word about what has been called the bargain made between the landed interest in Ireland and those who spoke for the tenants before the Land Act of 1903. I was very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, for correcting what I can only venture to call, so far as one point was concerned, a travesty of that bargain as it has been understood by everybody, as I believe, from that day to this. I have never heard anyone before intimate, as I understood the Earl of Donoughmore to intimate, that this particular question of the evicted tenants was no more urgent than the general question of land purchase in Ireland, and that it might easily be possible that fourteen or fifteen years might pass before some of these evicted tenants were restored to their holdings. I cannot read this into anything that was said by the Government of 1564 the day, and I should be very much surprised if the noble Earl, or anybody else, could show me any passage in the speeches of the Irish Members of Parliament which showed that they put this colour on the statements which were made by Mr. Wyndham at that time. I think it is really beyond dispute that, although the whole question of land purchase was an urgent one in the sense that it was desirable to deal with it in as few years as possible, this question of the evicted tenants was considered infinitely more urgent, and that it certainly was the general expectation that it would be dealt with in a fewer number of years than the land question as a whole.
With regard to the large and ever-increasing number of people who claim to be evicted tenants, I think it is important to draw a distinction between an evicted tenant and a tenant who has been evicted. Evicted tenant has become—I am sorry it should be so—almost a technical term; and what I think is clearly understood by evicted tenants when they are spoken of as a class in Ireland are those who have lost their holdings owing to the agrarian disputes which have existed in that country, and that, therefore, when there was a desire that there should be a general eirenicon at the time of the Land Bill—as Mr. Wyndham said, that bygones should be bygones—these men were to be treated on precisely the same terms as those who were tenants of farms. But no one ever imagined that, when evicted tenants were thus spoken of, every man who had lost his farm, whether it was because he was an impossible tenant, or a bad farmer, or a generally undesirable person, should necessarily be reinstated. You have only to study the debates on this subject to see that, when the Irish Members of Parliament spoke of evicted tenants, it was to those who had suffered in the land war that they confined their remarks.
I am very glad to note that noble Lords opposite speak of the Commissioners in high terms. I have the advantage of knowing much of these three gentlemen, and I can entirely confirm everything that has been said in praise of their high character, of their ability, and of the devotion which they give to their work. The noble Lord opposite has said that this demand for a 1565 Return of the tenants whom His Majesty's Government intend to restore did not show any mistrust of the Commissioners. I join with Lord Dunraven in asking what is the object of having this Return, unless you mistrust the Commissioners? Our contention is that it is perfectly safe to leave to them the selection as between those who are genuine evicted tenants in the sense intended by the Act of 1903, and those who are not. If noble Lords ask for a Return of names, it can only be to look into the individual cases and, in some way, to revise the discretion exercised by the Commissioners. That shows you have not confidence in the Commissioners, and that you desire to constitute yourselves or somebody else into a Court of Appeal from the Commissioners.
It seems to me that the real question is, What do you mean by a genuine evicted tenant? I use the words in the sense I have just indicated, as that of a man who had been evicted owing to agrarian conditions in Ireland. But if by "genuine" you mean to go behind those conditions and to ask, in individual cases, whether a man is a generally deserving person, whether through all the changes and chances of life he has behaved exactly as he ought to have behaved, then you are in conflict with the declaration of Mr. Wyndham when he particularly said that you ought not to go into those matters, and that, so far as those matters were concerned, he would desire to allow bygones to be bygones. It seems to me impossible t o supply a sort of biography—a land of "Who's who?" —of all those evicted tenants, and I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Dunraven that, even if this list were produced at great trouble and expense, your Lordships would really not know what to do with it.
The noble and learned Lord opposite asked for some account of the principles on which the Commissioners had acted in the past. As to that, my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary said in the House of Commons that, so far as regards the evicted tenants or their representatives who have already been reinstated or provided with new homos, there was no objection to giving a Return of the particulars asked for. I stand, of course, 1566 by the declaration of my right hon. friend as far as the past is concerned, but, as regards the future, I, for the reasons which my noble friend has stated so clearly, am not able to give the Return.
The noble Earl Lord Donoughmore spoke of the dispossession of those who have taken evicted farms. It seems to me that the hon. Gentlemen who sit for Ireland spoke very fairly indeed on that subject in the course of the debates. I think both Mr. Redmond and Mr. O'Brien dealt with it, and that they held the view, which His Majesty's Government also hold, that where it is shown that a man is a bona fide farmer, working his farm to advantage and desiring to retain it, he certainly ought not to be dispossessed. But there were a certain number of cases where men were put into farms who were not bona fide farmers, to whom it was of no advantage to remain, and those cases stand on a different footing. I hope noble Lords opposite will be content with the interesting discussion that has taken place and will not press us for Papers beyond the extent to which my right hon. friend has indicated his willingness to go.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I rise with more than my usual feeling of trepidation because I feel sure that before I have proceeded very far with my remarks I shall be called to order by the Lord President, who so effectually checked the eloquence of my noble friend behind me. Lord Mayo is not, as a rule, very easily repressed, and I was somewhat surprised at the readiness with which, at a moment when he was making observations which seemed to me perfectly relevant to the Motion before the House, he was interrupted by the noble Earl.
I am not going to enter on a discussion of the famous so-called bargain of 1903. I would only say this of it, that there were two elements in it, the presence of which will not be contested. It was, in the first place, to be on a voluntary basis, and, in the next place, on what is spoken of as an equitable basis. A passage from a speech delivered by Mr. Wyndham has been quoted by the other side; but surely I may venture to quote, from a passage which really governs the whole of the policy of which 1567 Mr. Wyndham was then the exponent, these words—He had laid down three principles for dealing with this question. The first was that there should be no compulsion, the second, that they must give equal treatment to all classes of persons with whom the Act would deal, and the third, that there must be no special mention of evicted tenants.That is a clear and succinct description of Mr. Wyndham's policy. At any rate, whether the scope of this supposed bargain was wider or narrower than we imagined, no one ever supposed that it was to lead to the kind of proposals which have now been placed before Parliament by His Majesty's Government.
I think my noble Friend is fully entitled to bring up this question. He does not desire at this moment to call in question the Government Bill, but he does rightly desire to call attention to the data on which this proposal or any other proposals for dealing with the. evicted tenants must be based. What is the position of this House? Is it not extremely important that the ground should be cleared for us by the production of some evidence at any rate as to the lines on which the Government intend to proceed? We shall have this Bill, a Bill of the most controversial description, embodying principles which no one has yet accepted(and least of all His Majesty's Government), in the last days, or even in the last hours, of the session; and it will be discussed under great pressure of time. It will certainly be discussed, too, under pressure, I will not say of threats, but I will say of suggestions that it is of urgent importance for the sake of peace and good order in Ireland that the Bill should be passed into law without further delay. Is it not natural that we should desire now to elicit information as to the very foundations on which the Government measure is supposed to rest?
With regard to our attitude on this side of the House, I may say that we are entirely ready to approach this question in no narrow or grudging spirit. We admit that, if there is to be a great settlement of the Irish land question on lines of purchase, that settlement may well include a measure for the reinstatement, under careful restrictions, of a number of those who have 1568 lost their farms owing to agrarian disputes during the last few years. But we certainly assume that, if a settlement of this kind is to take place in regard to the evicted tenants, it should be upon the distinct assumption that the other part of the bargain of 1903, that part which dealt with the sale and purchase of land, should be carried out loyally and in the spirit which characterised the negotiations which then took place. I have, however, vet to learn that any one on this side of the House, or on that, is in favour of an indiscriminate restoration of the whole of the evicted tenants who have lost their farms during the last twenty-five years. His Majesty's Government are evidently themselves not in favour of such a restoration, for they are selecting somewhere about 2,000 cases out of a grand total which is variously estimated at 6,000 or 8,000.
Are we too curious when we ask his Majesty's Government to give us some idea of the criterion which has been applied? Where have they drawn the frontier line between those who are to be admitted to these immense and unusual advantages and those to whom they are to be denied? Whom have they consulted? We know that agents of the Land Commission have been travelling about the country collecting information. Have they consulted any representatives of the owners of the estates from which these people were evicted? The noble Lord spoke of the confidence which was due to the Estates Commissioners; but he surely does not ask us to believe that every one of these 8,000 cases was personally examined into by the three Commissioners themselves. It is obvious that they depended to a great extent on local information.
I assume, as the noble Earl allows me to assume, that it is not intended that every broken down farmer who has lost his farm during the last twenty-five years is to be put back. If that were contemplated, it would involve as a consequence that the same privilege should be extended to unfortunate farmers in other parts of the United Kingdom as well as in Ireland, and no one proposes that. Nor, again, is the Government's proposal confined to those who are only spoken of as "Plan of Campaign tenants." We know that they 1569 have been virtually provided for already. Out of a total of 1,600, there are only about 160 unprovided for, and they belong to two estates only.
There must be a criterion of some kind which has been applied by the Estates Commissioners, and we want to get at what that test was. My noble friend proposes that the names of the selected tenants should be published. His Majesty's Government see a difficulty in that course. I can quite understand one difficulty which, no doubt, weighs very considerably with them, and that is the feeling of exasperation which will be produced when 4,000 find themselves left out, and only 2,000 find themselves left in. That will be a rude awakening which may be deferred, but which has to come; and I do not think the Government of Ireland will have a very happy quarter of an hour when two-thirds of the flock become aware that they are on the side of the goats and not on the side of the sheep. If we cannot have the names—and I admit that in some respects the information provided by the mere production of the names would not be of a very convincing or satisfactory character—can His Majesty's Government not give us the information which my noble friend seeks in some other shape such as that suggested by my noble and learned friend Lord Ashbourne? It cannot be difficult. We have been told during the last three days by a member of the Government that they now know the exact number of those who have a just claim to reinstatement. Let us be told how that exact number has been arrived at.
I hope noble Lords opposite will not think that the feeling of suspicion—for I can use no other word—with which we regard these proposals is altogether unreasonable. Look at the portentous, the immense growth which this evicted tenants problem has undergone within the last year or two. In 1894 Mr. John Morley announced that a sum of £100,000—afterwards raised to £250,000—would settle the whole question. In 1899 Mr. Michael Davitt estimated the whole number of tenants to be dealt with at a 1,000. In 1903 Mr. John Dillon said that, in his opinion, a sum of £200,000 would be sufficient to settle the question and to settle it in a generous way. What has happened since? How do His Majesty's Government account for the extraordinary 1570 increase in the number of those who are now applying for and of those who are now going to obtain this great privilege of reinstatement? We are alarmed at the manner in which the lesson which has been taught them has been learnt by the tenant farmers of Ireland. We are not less alarmed because we fear that the great sum which will be required to carry out this measure—a sum estimated at £2,000,000, to which must be added the expense (which cannot fail to be very great) of equipping the holdings which these tenants are to occupy and the expense of supplying them with capital with which to begin their enterprise—is likely to be diverted from funds which would be. more properly employed in carrying out the great operation of land purchase in Ireland. We doubt very much whether you will get these two or three millions as an extra allowance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and if you do not, so surely will that sum be diverted from funds whose legitimate destination is the promotion of land purchase. That is why we have raised this question. Our feeling is that, unless you restrict this privilege carefully, and exclude from this boon all those tenants whose cases are not really deserving, you will put an immense premium upon the repudiation of contracts in Ireland, and that you will start all over the country a new wave of insecurity, owing to the compulsory shuffling of tenancies to which you will be obliged to resort if you are going to make room for anything like the contemplated proportion of these numerous applicants.
The seriousness of this matter cannot be overrated. And remember, the victims of this attempt will be, on the one hand, the sitting tenants, whom, unless I misunderstand the proposal, you are going to remove from their farms in order to make room for other and less deserving people whom you are to bring from a distance—on the one hand the sitting tenants, men who have fulfilled their obligations honourably and against whom not a word is to be said; and, on the other hand, landlords who, perhaps, have never had any difficulty on their estates, with whom everything has gone quietly and happily, and who yet may be called upon to give up land which is as much theirs as the clothes upon their backs, and to disposses tenants who have as much right to 1571 remain where they are as any tenants in any part of the United Kingdom. And all this is in order to facilitate this dangerous enterprise. I am afraid that unless it is carried out under the most careful restriction you will by this operation saddle the Land Commissioners —who will in future become the landlords of the greater part of Ireland—with a class of tenants who will owe their position, not to the fact that they are the survival of the fittest, but to the fact that they have successfully repudiated their obligations and extorted by participation in a dangerous agitation a privilege which honest and law-abiding farmers will never be allowed to obtain.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, after the speeches of my noble friends behind me I do not intend to press my Motion to a division; but I certainly hope we shall see the Return which has already been promised in another place. I shall, of course, consult with my noble friends as to whether we cannot move for a Return containing the data which have been asked for.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.