HL Deb 25 June 1908 vol 191 cc4-18


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Crewe.)


There are well-founded rumours, my Lords, that this Bill is to be read a second time. I, therefore, cannot acquiesce in silence in that Reading of this amending Bill, which, I now understand, will be accepted by the House. It is an instance of political vituperation to which we are accustomed in Ireland. We may, however, congratulate ourselves on the fact that the Bill has not been introduced in another place; as a consequence, the landowners and planter tenants with whom it deals will not be subject to the abuse which usually emanates from a certain party in that place who are adepts in that manner of speaking.

In Ireland we know that the Bill is introduced in consequence of a decision of the Court of Appeal with reference to the powers of the Estates Commissioners under the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907. The appellant in the case was Lord Clanricarde, and the Estates Commissioners were the respondents. Three questions were put before the Court, the most important of which was— Are he Estates Commissioners debarred from acquiring the said lands under the provisions of the Evicted Tenants, Act on the grounds that the lands are tenanted lands and in 'occupation of a bona fide tenant using or cultivating the same as an ordinary farmer in accordance with proper methods of husbandry? The last words are taken from the Act itself. The answer was in the affirmative, and the appellant won his case. Therefore your Lordships will understand that the Bill is aimed at Lord Clanricarde and his planter tenants. I may compare it for a moment to a wasp; it has a sting in it which is meant to stick in its victim. We are told that when a wasp stings it flies away and dies; but this is a more venomous insect, for its sting affects all owners and all planter tenants in Ireland.

As this is an amending Act, I ask your Lordships to consider, for a moment, the Act it amends, and what was said by the noble Earl who leads the House when introducing the Act of last year. The noble Earl then said— This measure, as we fully admit, is only very partially economic and is mainly political. I think that is perfectly true. Two great questions with regard to Ireland have been decided upon and legislated upon—first, the reinstatement of evicted tenants; and, secondly, the protection of planter tenants. The question of the reinstatement of evicted tenants, I may remind your Lordships, originally arose in definite form in Clause 15 of the Irish Land Conference Report, in which it was stated that— Any project for the solution of the Irish Land question should be accompanied by a settlement of the evicted tenants question upon an equitable basis. Clauses 2 and 3 of the Act of 1903 deal with those tenants, but the machinery of that Act regarding evicted tenants did not run, in the opinion of the present Government, quickly enough, and the Evicted Tenants Bill of last year was passed.

The debates on the matter are fresh in your Lordships' memory. The noble Earl the Leader of the House, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill of 1907, said— I need not quote any of the statements of Mr. Wyndham to that effect. They have been quoted in this House before— The noble Earl was refering to the actual merits of the particular evicted tenants. He went on— But your Lordships will remember that he used in this connection the phrase that bygones ought to be bygones, and that it was not wise to stop to inquire from what reason and under what circumstances the evicted, tenants had lost their holdings. The noble Earl disposed of the matter in that graceful manner which one cannot help admiring, though not always agreeing with. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition hit the right nail on the head when he said— We are told—I think the noble Earl used the expression—that bygones should be bygones. Lord Crewe here interrupted the noble Marquess by saying that he had quoted Mr. Wyndham's expression. The noble Marquess continued— I will take it either from the noble Earl or from Mr. Wyndham. It is a good expression. I should like bygones to be bygones, but I want to know a little about some of the bygones with which you are going to deal under this Bill. I have found a quotation which can be aptly applied to this measure. I give it to the noble Earl in charge of the Bill for what it is worth— As we have a conceit of motion coming, as well as bygones; so have we of time which dependeth thereon. The Government, I know, are anxious about the Bill, and desire to get it through quickly.

Now, what are the bygones on the Clanricarde estate? I have heard much regarding them, and have at last ascertained some actual facts. This estate was one of the lowest rented properties in Ireland. At the time of the passing of the Land Act of 1881 the rental was £23,350; it is now £19,000—a reduction of only 16 per cent., which covers voluntary reductions as well as Land Court reductions. The average reduction throughout Ireland by the operation of the 1881 Land Act and the fixing of fair rent for second term was nearly 40 per cent. This is taken from statistics published by the Land Commission. On this estate, rents being low, many tenants declined, and many still decline, to make use of the Land Court. In 1886 the Plan of Campaign was started on this estate. A great number of tenants refused to pay rent, not because they could not, but for other reasons. Two hundred were evicted for non-payment of rent under the Plan of Campaign. But before proceedings were taken, these tenants were offered 20 per cent. abatement on the current year, and anyone who paid one half year's rent was given time. Three hundred tenants on the estate paid on these conditions; sixty-three evicted tenants applied for reinstatement and were accepted, and 140 refused to come in. The owner naturally had to look elsewhere to let these farms and he let them to a number of bona-fide agricultural tenants, who are now called planters. A sum of £2,000, at least, was expended by the owner, and the new or planter tenants, it is said, spent at least £2,000 more. These planter tenants for many years carried on their business in a satisfactory manner, and good relations existed between them and the other tenants. So much for the past.

Let us now come to the present. The evicted tenants question was dealt with pretty fully in the Act of last year which is now upon the Statute-book. It became law on 28th August, 1907. The planter tenants on this estate were singled out by agitators and boycotted. The shop-keepers, as is usual in some parts of Ireland, refused to sell them the necessaries of life, and the labourers were circularised not to work for them. Yet we were told that we must pass that Bill in order to heal differences! On 6th October a public meeting was held at Portumna. The chairman was the Rev. Joseph Corcoran, the parish priest, and, to his credit, he deprecated boycotting. But, notwithstanding that, Mr. John Redmond, the leader of the Nationalist Party, spoke these words— I am surprised to hear that any one of them (the planters) would be unwilling to go; and if there is found anyone who is not to go with compensation, that fault will be entirely with the people, and it is absurd to think there can be any peace in the district. I am quite sure the majority of them will agree to go, but whether they agree to go or do not agree, they have to go, and if they do not go it would be absurd for any man to hope that peace could be maintained in that district. If they refuse to go, here, at any rate, the land war will go on, and, indeed, I have no hesitation in saying that, under these circumstances, if there is refusal on their part peace in this district would be a dishonour to Ireland. That is taken from the report of Mr. Redmond's speech which appeared in the Freeman's Journal on 7th October last year.

Naturally, after this, the planter tenants were bullied and put under pressure. They were coerced into giving consent to the Estates Commissioners to quit their holdings; they were strictly boycotted and were also promised by the Estates Commissioners substantial sums to go. Under pressure twenty-one signed consent to go, and this was the real cause of the proceedings in the Irish Courts. On 6th June of this year twenty-one tenants signed saying that they withdrew their consent to go. The paper runs thus— We regret that some of us last year weakly signed papers put hastily before us and under pressure of a threatened impending boycot and with promises of large sums as purchase of our holdings. We declare we withdraw such agreements and refuse to break up our homes. I have every reason to believe that since then six or more of these twenty-one tenants have withdrawn from the declaration. That is the whole story of the Clanri-carde estate. I am not going to make comment upon it whatever. I leave the House to draw its own conclusions. I ask your Lordships whether I was not right when I said that this measure was an instance of political vituperation. If there is anything which shows what political vituperation in Ireland is, it is contained in the speeches of Mr. Redmond. The object of this Bill is to crush Lord Clanricardo and to hit those planter tenants whom Lord Robertson's Amendment last year was designed to protect. They are hit by this Bill through the owner of the property.

I frankly say that I should much like to move the rejection of this Bill; but I know that the two front benches are against me, and before such strength and ability I must bow. But I would submit to your Lordships that, while nominally permissive, this Bill will subject every planter tenant to irresistible pressure to sell his interest; it will result in evicted tenants being restored as purchasers to rented land at prices which would certainly be set up as the standard price which the owner ought to accept from his other tenants. My Lords, I think we have reached the "last phase," or nearly the last phase, of the agrarian agitation and its attendant troubles in Ireland. But when the historian sets down the tale of agrarian agitation and agrarian legislation in that country, when political rancour has been forgotton, has passed away, and is stilled, what must he say of this measure? A landlord, a member of your Lordships' House, sought to protect his planter tenants and his own interests. He appealed to the highest Court in his own country, and that Court granted his appeal. Thirteen days after a Bill was introduced to reverse that decision, and shortly afterwards the House of Lords passed the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, as I have on more than one occasion interested myself particularly in the question which we are debating, and as the noble Earl who leads the House referred the other evening very pointedly to some observations that had fallen from me last year, I may, perhaps, be permitted, before the discussion goes further, to offer your Lordships a few observations upon the Government Bill. I should like, in the first place, to make this preliminary remark. Let us remember that we are not to-night discussing the Evicted Tenants Act which was passed last year. That Act is a part of the law of the land. We accepted it with great reluctance. We made no secret of our objection to the principles which it embodied, but we accepted it, to the best of my belief, for one reason, and for one reason only—because His Majesty's Government represented to us very earnestly indeed that, in their view, the measure formed an integral part of a policy of pacification which they desired to bring about in Ireland, and that, if we took upon ourselves to reject that particular item in their programme of pacification, that programme was destined to failure.

It was upon those representations, and upon the strength of those representations only, that this House agreed to pass the Evicted Tenants Bill. But we made one important Amendment in it. We determined that, whatever hardship might arise to the landlords, whatever violation of principle might be involved by the provisions of the measure, we would make, at least, an effort to protect that particular class of tenant whom we have always described as planter tenants, and not all of those tenants but only such of them as were firmly established in their new holdings, and were treating their land in accordance with the methods of good husbandry.

The only question really before us tonight is, I conceive, this—Did we by the terms of our Amendment go beyond the necessities of the case and beyond the intentions of your Lordships' Houses? Your Lordships are aware of the interpretation which has been put by the Court of Appeal upon the proviso which we inserted in subsection 3, and, of course, I assume—I think, indeed, it is obvious—that the interpretation of the Court of Appeal is a correct interpretation. We now learn accordingly that the effect of our proviso was not merely to protect the tenant, but to protect the holding from the operation of the compulsory powers which the Act conferred. The result of that is this, that the Act cannot be set in motion against a particular holding unless the consent not only of the tenant but of the landlord also has been obtained. The question I have to ask your Lordships is this—Was that our intention when we adopted Lord Robertson's Amendment last year? The noble and learned Lord will, I daresay, presently tell us what his own view was.

For myself I answer unhesitatingly that it was in my view our purpose not to protect the landlord, but to protect the tenant: and the words which the noble Earl who leads the House quoted the other evening are, I am bound to say, conclusive so far as I am concerned. I endeavoured to show that the number of planters to whom the proviso would apply was a comparatively small number, and I said this— The caretakers, 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. I could not have expressed my own views in more precise language, and I do not think at the time I was challenged by any of those who were listening to me.

Well, my Lords, are there any reasons why this House should now insist upon a view which, as I conceive, would be entirely different from the view which we entertained last year? I have heard it said that it is a grievous injustice to the landlords of these planter tenants that they should be liable to have a planter tenant removed, and a restored tenant put in his place, and put there under conditions which would render his position infinitely superior to that of the ordinary tenants who are his neighbours. That is perfectly true; but it is a grievance which arises under the Evicted Tenants Act. It is a grievance which arises, for example, in the very much stronger case where the evicted tenant is restored, not on land occupied by another tenant, but whore he is replaced upon a farm carved out of the un-tenanted land in the landlord's own occupation—land which belongs absolutely to the landlord, and in the case of which he holds not only the interest of the landlord but the interest of the tenant also. I say that if we have swallowed such a camel as that I do not see how we can strain at the gnat which is embodied in the Bill on the Table.

Then with regard to the hardship which the Bill might occasion to the tenants. My noble friend who spoke just now with much earnestness upon the subject of the Bill pointed out that many of these tenants, although they might profess readiness to go elsewhere, would really not be completely free agents in the matter. He pointed out that bribery and intimidation would probably be used without scruple, and that men who were subject to such influences required that additional support which they might expect from the concurrence of the landlord. But, my Lords, although I am quite sure that my noble friend is right when he tells the House that these men will be subjected to great pressure of different kinds, I do not see how this House can take upon itself to go into the motives by which the tenant is inspired when he gives his consent to the process of removal. You may suspect—you may more than suspect—that influences of this kind have been at work; but, after all, if the tenant wants to go, I do not see what you have to gain by trying to force him to stay. I am almost tempted to suggest that a tenant might, in a case of that kind, find a very simple way of defeating the proviso of last year. If pressure had been put upon him successfully and he really wanted to accept the bribe offered to him to go elsewhere, he might cease to cultivate his land in a proper and husbandlike manner, and thereupon at once his holding would cease to come within the scope of the proviso.

The real question is, do the tenants in question, whatever their inner motives may be, want to give up their farms or not? As to that, I am in possession of a piece of evidence which I think it is my duty to lay before the House. I have received within the last few days a letter from the gentleman to whom my noble friend referred—the Rev. Mr. Corcoran, of Portumna, county Galway, from which I should like to read a few words to the House. He begins by saying— I have no motive in the matter but the peace of the district, which is more or less disturbed for the last twenty years owing to the unfortunate evictions on the above estate, but now I hope there are signs of peace and that the Estates Commissioners will be enabled to carry out their arrangements. All the planters are willing to go; in a couple of cases it is only a matter of compensation"— He means it is only a question of the amount of compensation they will receive— I appeal, then, to your Lordship as a priest and a lover of peace to do all in your power to end this crying grievance by restoring the evicted tenants without any hardship or injustice to landlord, tenant, or planter. The few letters attached show it is only a matter of compensation with the planters. And, as your Lordship knows, the matter would be settled long since if the landlord consented. He encloses with this letter a memorial addressed to myself, which runs as follows— We, the undersigned new tenants on the Clanricarde Estate, county Galway, do most respectfully ask Lord Lansdowne to use his great influence in passing into law the amending clause to the Evicted Tenants Bill introduced by Lord Crewe into the House of Lords, and thus enable us to carry out our arrangements with the Estates Commissioners, viz., to take reasonable compensation or farms of land elsewhere as good as what we now hold. We wish to add that in making those arrangements we were entirely free. Here follow sixteen signatures, and the petition concludes with the postcript— The above represent practically all the planter tenants. A few others were to call and sign, but time presses. The document is dated June 12th, and it is, therefore, I conceive, the most recent document of the series, because I have no doubt my noble friend was right in saying that these unfortunate people have hesitated a good deal, and perhaps have, in some cases, changed their mind more than once. That seems to be really the case for the Government Bill, and it appears to me to be a case which we on this side of the House should not be well advised to withstand.

I will only notice one other argument, and I think it was used also by my noble friend behind me. What he suggested to your Lordships was something of this kind—that there had been a kind of compact over this matter, and that because the Nationalist Party had disregarded the terms of that compact and had not allowed bygones to be bygones, but had threatened and intimidated these particular farmers, we were therefore free to reconsider our position and to deal with it in a spirit different from that in which we might have approached it last year. All that I can say in regard to that is that I should be very sorry if this House were to deal with a proposal of this kind in a spirit of retaliation. If it is true, and I am afraid it is true, that the other side have not fulfilled the undertaking they gave to the public that bygones should be bygones, I trust that, at any rate, the House of Lords will scrupulously fulfil the arrangement to which it was a party last year, and for these reasons I shall give my support to the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, there is no doubt, as the noble Marquess has said, that the Amendment which your Lordships inserted in the Evicted Tenants Bill last year, on the Motion of Lord Robertson, was intended solely for the protection of the planter who was a bona-fide farmer, and who wished to remain on the land, and that those who were prepared to accept the inducements offered, and leave, need not be considered, as it might be assumed they were going willingly. Later on in the year it was remarked to me from several quarters that we had omitted to take into consideration the existing state of the country, and that the agitation which was then advancing, owing to the very feeble efforts made by His Majesty's Government to check it, was making such headway that it would be exceedingly doubtful whether anyone giving up his land was doing so of his own free will. Now, in many parts of Ireland, free will has entirely ceased to exist as regards anything connected with land. A man cannot buy or sell, let or hire, according to his own free will; he must follow the dictates of the party of agitation. Therefore it is idle to attach any importance to the stipulation in this Bill with regard to the written consent of the tenant. A written consent is worth absolutely nothing if it is given by a man with a pistol at his head; and this is not a mere figure of speech, it may represent an actual fact. That extreme pressure will be exorcised is, I think, clear from the words used by Mr. Redmond at Portumna, when he said that peace in that district would be a dishonour to Ireland. I dislike the Bill, just as I objected strongly to the Act of last year, for I regard it as not only unjust to the landlord, but opposed to all principles of public morality that a man who has joined an illegal and immoral conspiracy, and lost his farm in consequence, should not only be reinstated in it but placed in a more favourable position than he formerly occupied. For the purchase instalment which he will have to pay is less than his former rent. But the principle was accepted last year by your Lordships' House and there is no question, therefore, of opposing the Second Reading. I hope, however, that some Amendment will be introduced in Committee to make sure that the written consent of the tenant is not an idle form.


My Lords, as I took some part in the debate last year, it may be right that I should say a few words. I have examined this Bill in a critical, and, perhaps I may say, a, sceptical spirit, and having done so, I am bound to say that I think it is not merely consistent with what was done last year, but it carries out what was done last year. Therefore I add my advice to my noble friends from Ireland, with whose general politics I so thoroughly sympathise, that this Second Reading should be given.

What we contended for last year was individual freedom, not the less because it was the freedom of brave men. Our cause was the liberty of the individual to choose to go or to stay. We desired to protect, and we did protect, those who desired to stay, We are asked to-night merely to give effect to the wish of those who desire to go, and it seems to me that we should be defeating our own principle if, merely from anticipating dangers in the district, we did not assent to what is a manifest and plain proposition of justice. We have been told that consent in this part of the country is not consent. I daresay that, to a certain extent, there is some truth in that. On the other hand, we are asked by the responsible Government to pass a Bill which speaks of the written consent of the person concerned. The alternative suggested is that we should supersede this individual and require the consent of a third party, who was not in our consideration at all during the debates last year. That I decline to do, and I decline to do so although I have my conjecture that there may be abuse of this provision.

But I make this appeal to His Majesty's Government. We are about to pass a Bill which, in its provision with reference to a man's consent in writing, uses the language of civilised legislation; and we have a right to ask that the Government should provide civilised administration. Accordingly, I hope it will be borne in mind, from this moment onwards, that in passing this measure we take the Government as giving us a pledge that, as the Legislature speaks to them in the language of civilised legislation, they will reply in the language of civilised administration. One word more. I suppose it may be assumed that in one way or another many of those planters will go. I hope some of them will stay. But, even supposing many of them do go, I do not think this House has any reason to regret this chapter of legislation. These were brave men who stood to their guns in bad times. We have recognised that stoutness and valour of that kind is a thing to be kept in view by this branch of Legislature, at all events, when we are considering questions of this kind; and I believe that our action to-night, in passing the Second Reading of this Bill, will merely confirm the conviction that the House of Lords may be relied upon to stand by the principle of individual freedom, whether for good or for evil.


My Lords, with one observation which fell from the noble Earl who initiated this discussion we shall all be in cordial agreement. I refer to his statement that political vituperation was not altogether unknown in Ireland. We have many of us been the subject of it in our time, and I do not know that we are to any great extent the worse. But when the noble Earl speaks of this Bill as an instance of political vituperation, I must say I never saw a Bill drawn in more calm and peaceable terms; and I think, in fact, that what he meant was something a little different. What he intended to convey, and no doubt it was true, was that this Bill was intended to deal with a particular state of things which has arisen in regard to a particular individual.

I do not propose to follow the noble Earl into the history of the Clanricarde estate. The rent statistics of that estate are not really relevant to this particular purpose, nor is the whole management of that estate. What we really have to consider is how far this Bill carries out the intentions of your Lordships' House as expressed in the Act of last year. The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition and the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down stated, in the fullest and most candid manner, that in their opinion the intention of the Amendment, inserted on the motion of Lord Robertson, with regard to the bona-fide tenant is carried out in the Bill which I am asking your Lordships to read a second time. It is, I think, common ground that the intention of that Amendment was to do what we all wish to do—to protect the tenant who, for some purpose of his own, desired to remain, provided that he was a genuine and bona-fide farmer; but it was not intended to give the landlord or anybody else a veto upon his departure on terms, supposing he found those terms acceptable.

More than that, it is not only a question of the landlord's consent, but the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Ireland absolutely strikes these holdings out of the purview of the Act altogether; and it appears to me that it would be open to anybody, not merely to the land lord, to object to any bona fide farmer coming under this particular clause—a result absolutely foreign to the intention of your Lordships' House. Lord Mayo stated that very strong pressure has been placed upon these planter tenants to go, and he spoke of them as having been boycotted. I do not know what warrant the noble Earl has for that statement. I do not think it is accurate to state that those tenants have appeared in the boycotting returns, but, at any rate, as far as the evicted tenants are concerned, I am given to understand that they have behaved with the utmost patience and in a perfectly law-abiding manner, and have not attempted to interfere with those at present occupying the farms. I think I ought to state in regard to the action of the Government in this matter, that this particular result was to some extent foreseen last year by the Chief Secretary when the matter was being discussed in the House of Commons. He said that he saw great difficulty in accepting the clause as it went down from your Lordships' House very much on the grounds which the Court of Appeal have since taken. He, I think, foresaw, although probably not to the fullest extent, that this very question might be raised, and that it was possible that a Court of law would interpret the terms of the clause in the manner in which it ultimately did.

I have now only to thank your Lordships for the manner in which you have received this Bill. Nothing, if I may venture to say so, could have been more absolutely candid than the speeches which have been made with regard to it, and I quite admit, as the noble Lord who has just sat down observed, that the fact that your Lordships are prepared to pass the Second Reading of this measure will be taken as showing that you are anxious to carry out that peaceful policy in which we consider the Evicted Tenants Act of last year to play a considerable part. The noble and learned Lord said he hoped that we, in our turn, would adopt methods of civilised administration. My Lords, it is the absolute desire of my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary to administer the law fairly. Everybody knows who has had anything to do with Ireland that there are certain forms of illegality there with which it is extremely difficult to deal by law. Everybody who has bad to do with the administration of Ireland knows that there are forms of boycotting which, I will not say it is impossible, but on the very verge of impossible, to check by the operations of any Act of Parliament; but I am quite certain that my right hon. friend desires to do everything he can to keep those parts of Ireland—not a very wide area—which are in a disturbed condition, as peaceful as he can by all possible methods, relying, as we have said, as long as he can, and if possible always, on the operations of the ordinary law.

On question, agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.