HL Deb 01 June 1908 vol 189 cc1506-10

My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend Section 1 of the Evicted Tenants (Ireland)Act, 1907, in respect to the compulsory acquisition of tenanted land. As this Bill does not bear the explanation of its introduction on its face, and as we are about to adjourn for the holidays, I think, perhaps, it would be convenient if I briefly explained the circumstances under which it is brought in. The Bill consists of only one operative clause, as follows— The proviso at the end of subsection (3) of Section 1 of the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act, 1907, shall not apply in any case where the tenant consents in writing to the compulsory acquisition of the land by the Estates Commissioners. Subsection 3 of Section 1 of the Act of last year runs as follows— No tenanted land shall be acquired compulsorily unless it is in the occupation of a new tenant to whom this Act applies, and unless the Estates Commissioners, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district, and to the cost involved, consider it expedient that the evicted tenant should be reinstated as a purchaser of that land. Then comes the proviso with which this Bill deals— Provided that no tenanted land shall be acquired compulsorily which is in the possession or occupation of a bona fide tenant using or cultivating the same as an ordinary farmer in accordance with proper methods of husbandry. I may remind your Lordships of the discussion which took place on that Amendment. Its design was to carry out a purpose of which, we all approve, although, we were some time before we were able to hit upon a form of words which commended itself to the House as a whole. Its object was to secure that no bona fide tenant who desired to stay should be compulsorily removed by the Estates Commissioners; and the conclusion which, I think, will be clear to everybody who reads the report of the debate in Hansard is that it was in the interest of the tenant, and of the tenant alone, that this proviso was inserted. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, speaking on this Amendment on 23rd August of last year, said— The 'caretaker' the nondescripts, the birds of passage, will not be protected under the terms of our Amendment. Then there are other of these planter-tenants who, no doubt, will be perfectly willing to move elsewhere, under the liberal inducements which are to be offered to them; those men are willing to go and need not be considered. What then remains? Only that residuum—that handful of courageous men—who are farming their land properly, who have their farms stocked, who are paying their rent, and who wish to remain where they are. In the course of the present year a case has occurred on a single estate which has caused the introduction of this Bill. On that estate certain planters came to an agreement with the Estates Commissioners, and it was expected, as we read the Act, that the planters would retire and the evicted tenants be reinstated. But it occurred to the landlord, or some one who advised him, that the section might be read in a different sense. He assumed that not only was the agreement of the tenant to move necessary, but that his assent was also required, and this view was upheld by the Court. The result is that so far as that particular estate is concerned—and the same, of course, would apply to any other estate when the landlord took a similar view, so long as that view is upheld in the Courts—the Evicted Tenants Act of last year becomes nugatory. The object, as we all remember, of that Act, keenly debated and canvassed as it was in this and in the other House, was to produce a kind of eirenicon, a general system of allowing bygones to be bygones; it was an attempt to heal an open sore which, by common consent, was doing much harm in Ireland. We do think it is a very un- fortunate thing if a landlord, for reasons of his own—whether they be bad or good I do not pause to consider at this moment—is able to prevent the operation of the Act in a case where the planters are perfectly willing to leave. We, therefore, propose that the proviso at the end of the subsection shall not apply in any case where the tenant assents in writing to the compulsory acquisition of the land by the Estates Commissioners. Of course, I do not expect noble Lords opposite, having only heard the clause read for the first time to-night, to express a final or definite opinion upon it now, but it seemed to me convenient that I should make this statement in moving the First Beading. I do not propose that the Second Reading should be taken until a week or so after the House meets again.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 1a."—(The Earl of Crewe.)


My Lords, the noble Earl was kind enough to make me aware of the course he intended to adopt with regard to this Bill. I think all my noble friends on this side will agree that it was extremely desirable that he should do this evening something more than formally move the First Beading of the Bill, and that he should lay before us a clear statement of the reasons which have induced His Majesty's Government to move in this matter. I was glad the noble Earl went on to say that he did not expect us on this side of the House to pronounce a final judgment upon the proposals of His Majesty's Government this evening. I am not prepared to do so even on my own account; still less am I prepared to commit those with whom I usually act. I will only say this with regard to what fell from the noble Earl, that to the best of my belief he described correctly the main object with which we insisted upon the insertion in the Evicted Tenants Bill of a clause protecting a certain section of what were generally described as planter-tenants. What we desired was that those planter-tenants who were bona fide farmers, who were cultivating their land in a proper manner, and who did not desire to leave their holdings, should be protected from extrusion under the very strong and arbitrary machinery placed at the disposal of the Commissioners. Our great object was that the protection afforded to these farmers should be real and effectual protection; and I am quite sure that we, on this side of the House, should regard with great jealousy any proposal for new legislation which might render that protection less real or less effectual than it is at present. I add to that that if, inadvertently, we inserted in the Bill words going beyond what was necessary for the purpose of achieving the object we had in view, if it can be clearly shown that the Amendment went beyond the necessities of the case, we should certainly be ready to consider, with an open mind, the propriety of fresh legislation. But it is right, I think, that we should have ample opportunity to consider the manner in which the proposal of His Majesty's Government will work, and that time should be given to noble Lords interested in Irish land affairs to confer with one another, and with those who advise them, as to the propriety of accepting this measure.


My Lords, I rise to say a few words on behalf of those who come from Ireland and are very much interested in this subject. The speech of the noble Earl has taken me quite by surprise, and I was astonished that, in moving the First Reading, the noble Earl should have dealt at such length with the Bill and quoted extracts from the speech made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition when the clause in question was under discussion last year. If we had had notice of the proposal there are Members of the House who would have been prepared to meet some of the statements which the noble Earl has made. All I wish to say now, however, is that we hold ourselves quite free as to our future action in the matter; and I hope the noble Earl will allow ample time before he puts down the Second Reading, as there are many interested in the question who would like to come over from Ireland to hear what has to be said upon it by the Government.


I "suppose we shall have the Bill in our hands very shortly?


Yes, to-morrow morning.

On Question, Bill read la; to be printed; and to be read 2a on Thursday, the 25th instant. (No. 91.)

House adjourned at half-past Six o'clock, to Tuesday, the 16th instant, a quarter-past Four o'clock.