, in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to the Occupation and Ownership of Land in Ireland, said: Twelve months, Sir, have not yet fully passed since it was my duty to submit to this House a measure of the greatest consequence and difficulty with reference to the Church of Ireland. At the time when that measure was introduced we were told from many quarters that the Church was not the subject which really involved the welfare and happiness of the Irish people, or which went closest to the root of the Irish difficulty. Nor did we at any time deny the justice of that representation. We were sensible that behind that heavy labour there remained for us a labour probably heavier still; because it must be one where we should not have the advantage of that definite guidance and support which, in relation to the Church question, we thought and found we should derive from the clear, established, and familiar convictions of the majority of the people. But, Sir, if I refer to this subject now, it is in the hope that those who then thus truly spoke will now approach the consideration of the Irish Land Tenures full of the feelings that they then expressed, and will bring home to themselves the vast importance of a subject which touches the material, the domestic, the daily condition directly, perhaps, of a majority of the population of Ireland, and indirectly of the whole of that population; and which, through the population of Ireland, and through the happy or unhappy results that may flow from our legislation, has a direct and a vital connection with the happiness and the stability of the Empire.
Sir, we must not disguise from ourselves that the difficulties of this weighty question have been greatly aggravated by delay. And it can be no wonder, if we reflect on the nature, the constitution, and the duties of the British Parliament, that it should occasionally fall short of the perfect performance of those duties. The operations of the Parliaments elected under the Reform Act of 1832 were in themselves so remarkable, so searching, so comprehensive, and so beneficial, that I think I shall not be deemed to cast any reflection on them, if I sorrowfully admit 334 that neglect is chargeable upon them in respect to the question of Irish Land Tenure. It is, indeed, Sir, but too true, that in connection with the Constitution of the British Empire, and with the world-wide extension of its concerns, which touched on almost everything affecting the human race in all quarters of the globe, shortcomings must from time to time be found. We have undertaken more, I believe, than any other people in the history of the world ever undertook; and it is no wonder if, under these circumstances, a people overcharged have likewise overtaxed the Parliament, and if the consequences of that overtaxing should be sometimes apparent in legislative neglect. Undoubtedly, that is the case in this instance. It was in 1833, I believe, that Mr. Sharman Crawford first called the attention of the House of Commons to the grievous condition of the occupiers of the soil in Ireland; and when, in 1843, he repeated that representation, so struck was Sir Robert Peel and so struck were his Government with the truth and force of the case, that they appointed a Commission—a well and wisely constituted Commission—to inquire into the subject of the occupation of land in Ireland. In the year 1845 the Commission reported; and it not only reported, but it had accumulated a mass of valuable and important evidence, and it also tendered most weighty recommendations. Now, had those recommendations been acted upon at the time, it is probable that at this moment no Irish land question would be before the House for discussion. I do not say that they would have removed every difficulty, but certainly they would have removed so much of the difficulty that the removal of the remainder would have been easily and promptly accomplished.
And, Sir, the person whose duty it was, on the part of the Government of Sir Robert Peel, to recommend to Parliament in the name of his Colleagues an immediate compliance with the recommendations of the Commission was the late Lord Derby, then a distinguished member of a Conservative Government, and since the brilliant Leader of the Conservative party. In the speech of Lord Derby, delivered by him in 1845, as the organ of the Conservative Government, we have the great repertory from which have since been chiefly drawn the argu- 335 ments of those who have urged upon Parliament the necessity of legislating upon the occupation of land in Ireland. Sir, most unhappy has it been that those recommendations have not been followed. I do not now speak of the amount of blame to be divided as between one party and another, or as between one person and another; probably none of us who have sat in Parliament since that epoch are altogether exempt from responsibility. But what I hope is, that having witnessed the disaster and difficulty which have arisen from this long procrastination, we shall resolve in mind and heart by a manful effort to close and seal up for ever, if it may be, this great question, which so intimately concerns the welfare and happiness of the people of Ireland. If, however, there be additional difficulty arising from delay, undoubtedly there is consolation also to be found in the present state of facts. For we see, from unquestionable signs, that men are prepared—I think most men, I hope all men—on either side of politics, and particularly within the walls of this House—for a settlement of this question. I believe that upon these Benches—and when I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) on Tuesday night, I formed the cheerful and sanguine hope that on those Benches also—Gentlemen are found to be fully sensible of the urgency of the case, and are fully prepared to approach the subject in a just, practical, and conciliatory spirit. I trust that, upon our part, nothing shall be wanted in the avoidance of angry and invidious topics, and in abstinence from the revival of painful recollections. I trust that, by our studying to lay aside all personal feelings and prepossessions, nothing on our part shall occur to intercept the arrival of that happy consummation which I believe we all anxiously desire. Nor, Sir, can any fail to see, or to derive encouragement and comfort from the thought that, not the people of this country only, but the civilized world, look on our efforts with hearty and animating interest. In proof of this, I need but refer to one illustrious instance. The Emperor of the French, himself engaged in a great and arduous task, has noticed, in a solemn manner and in the kindliest phrase, the efforts which he sees this nation and this Parliament is engaged in making to heal the 336 wounds of Ireland. And I am confident, Sir, that I do no more than give faithful utterance to the minds of those who hear me, when I presume to say that the Parliament and the people of this country cordially reciprocate these sentiments of sympathy and feel warmly with him in his attempt and evident desire to extend constitutional liberties to the people of France. We wish him in his efforts that progress and success which he has so becomingly desired on our behalf. And, further, Sir, I should not o do justice to the case if I did not say that over and above those general sentiments of encouragement, assistance—assistance valuable in a greater degree than I can remember in any other instance of the kind—has been given to us by what I may call the recent literature of this great question. I cannot remember a case in which so many gentlemen, governed by the simple motives of patriotism and philanthropy, have devoted their time, thought, and attainments, not to recommend the narrow views of a section, or a party, but to elucidate and clear up the real difficulties of the case. Members of the Bar, to whose name the title of "learned" is not a mere formal appendage; men versed in historic knowledge; men foremost in professional skill and in the knowledge of the principles of agriculture; Members of this House too, I am glad to say, some who were with us in times past, and some who are here to aid us now—gentlemen whose names it might be invidious to enumerate lest I should by chance be guilty of any omission;—have rendered us by the results of their inquiries the most valuable assistance. And I think I may say that no part of the studies which they have made known to the public has escaped our careful scrutiny and consideration.
However, Sir, when I spoke on the question of the Irish Church, I had this great advantage—that the whole matter had been so thoroughly sifted by the nation on the one side and the other, as regarded the general consideration of the policy of the measure to be applied for its solution, that it was quite unnecessary for me to detain the House by preliminaries. I am not now in quite the same position. It is now necessary, Sir, at the very outset, to refer to some of those misapprehensions—for so I must call them—which prevail on this side of 337 the water as to the condition of Ireland; for gladly as the people of Ireland must have seen that this Parliament does not grudge one year, or more years than one, spent in the endeavour to remedy their grievances and relieve their misfortunes, yet undoubtedly there do remain prepossessions adverse to the character of the Irish people, which it is most desirable we should endeavour to remove from the mind of England and the mind of Scotland, in order that the nation at large may come to a full and unprejudiced consideration of the question. I mean prepossessions, some of which I am almost ashamed to mention to this House, but yet such as have not yet lost their root and hold in this country.
Some persons have the idea that the Irish, as being a Celtic race, are, by some perverse ordinance of nature, prone to violence and disorder. Some persons, again, are of opinion that the legal relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland are the same as those in England, and therefore they do not understand why the former do not work in as easy and satisfactory a manner as the latter. Some persons imagine that the Irish, having been in a state, as is supposed, of constant and progressive improvement for the last twenty years, can have—I will not say no justification, but—no occasion, for still exhibiting feelings of discontent or uneasiness. Some think we have been legislating for Ireland for a whole century—that we have done everything the wit of man could devise to ameliorate the condition of the Irish people, and that, on this account, it is strange indeed, and not owing to our default, but to something inherent in the Irish themselves, that national content has not been established in that country. Let me take first the opinion that the reason is to be found in the fact that the people of Ireland are a Celtic race. True, the Irish are, upon the whole, a Celtic race; but I would remind the House that in 1846 Lord Russell broadly laid it down in this House, and laid it down with truth, that eviction and the various evils connected with it were in Ireland the leading cause of agrarian crime. Now, Sir, we have some means of testing this question with respect to the Celtic race. Where is it in Ireland that the ratio of agrarian crime, to the number of evictions, is the highest, and where is it the least? 338 While in Connaught the Celtic race preponderates, in Ulster, as we know, there is the largest infusion of non-Celtic blood. But in Ulster the ratio of agrarian crime to evictions is far higher than in Connaught; indeed, in no part of Ireland is the ratio so low as in those counties where the Celtic blood is almost unmixed. Again, taking the history of the more recent times, you will find that those counties where the disturbance of order has been greatest are not those which have a peculiarly Celtic character; every one of these is excluded from the list. The fact is that the infusion both of English and of Scotish blood has poured into the elements whereof the Irish character is composed a spirit of pride and of ready self-defence—that sentiment which has made England and Scotland over prompt to rise in defence of what the people deliberately believe to be their rights. It is not then the Celtic element in the character of Ireland that has given rise to all the disturbances of recent years; but it is a race even more energetic and massive in character, and determined not to be trodden down, which, having mixed with the Celtic race, has been the foremost to manifest its displeasure and resentment whenever it has been made subject to the suffering which is invariably at the root of agrarian crime. It would be easy to supply proof of my assertions in detail, but time presses, and I must suspense with it for the present.
Again, Sir, it is said that the system of land tenure is the same in Ireland as it is in England, and that if it does not produce the same effects in both countries that must be owing to the fault of the Irish people. It is true that the naked abstract law of the occupation of land in Ireland, as founded upon contract and not upon tenure, may be the same, as in England. In both countries the occupation of the land, as a rule, is founded upon the relation of two persons, one of whom has something that is given him by a written or an unwritten agreement, and the other has all the rest. It may be quite true that that is the law of both countries, but it is only the mere skeletons of the laws of the two countries that bear any resemblance to each other. The flesh and the blood with which the figures are invested are wholly different; all the circumstances, all the associations, 339 and all the accretions that have grown around the naked ideas are different in the one country from what they are in the other. We cannot name a point in which the relation of landlord and tenant in Ireland and in Great Britain are the same, except only in what may be called the abstract and general idea. Down to a late period Ireland has been full of the recollections and the marks of conquest, while in England nothing of the kind has existed for long ages past In Ireland the landlord has commonly differed from the tenant in politics and in religion, whereas in England the landlord and the tenant have commonly been of the same mind in both religion and politics. In Ireland the landlord does not, as a rule, find the capital necessary for the improvement of the soil, although he does so in exceptional and, perhaps, multiplying instances; in England the landlord is the person who does find that capital. In Ireland the landlord is frequently an absentee, and unhappily this has been so during the whole of the 700 years of the connection between the two countries; in England and Scotland complete absenteeism is comparatively rare. In Ireland a great jealousy has prevailed among a large body of the landlords during the last forty years against granting tenures longer than from year to year; whereas in Scotland, on the contrary, the almost universal practice has been to grant much longer terms, and in England there is hardly a quarter to be found where such jealousy on the part of the landlords is to be found. In Ireland, except where tenant-right exists, the law has refused to recognize in any and in every shape the right of the tenant in anything which he has put into the soil; whereas in England there is not, perhaps, a single county where, in one form or another, customs that mitigate the law do not prevail, and greatly abate the force of that law. In Ireland, from the unhappy circumstances of the country—and I have no doubt, as regards the present race of landlords, it is not from their want of will—there has not rested in the hands of the landlords the discharge of that immense mass of public duties, bearing upon every subject of political, social, and moral interest, without fee or reward, which has honourably distinguished for so many generations the landlords of 340 England. This fixed and happy usage I take to be a just relic and a true descendant of the feudal system, a system which never took a real or genuine root in Ireland. And lastly, Sir, whereas in England and in Scotland the idea of holding land by contract is perfectly traditional and familiar to the mind of every man, in it Ireland, on the contrary, where the old Irish ideas and customs were never supplanted except by the rude hand of violence and by laws written in the statute book, but never entering into the heart of the Irish people—the people have not generally embraced the idea of the occupation of land by contract; and the old Irish notion that some interest in the soil adheres to the tenant, even although his contract has expired, is everywhere rooted in the popular mind. If time permitted, it would be easy to give proof of one and all these assertions by a multitude of testimonies from persons who well know the condition of Ireland. Therefore, do not let us suppose or imagine for a moment that resemblance between the Irish and the English law is a reason why there should not be good cause for special legislation on the subject of the occupation of land in Ireland.
There is, however, another false impression which it is necessary should be dissipated, and that is, that there is something extraordinary and strange in the present sensitiveness of Ireland, and in the recent tendency to an increase of agrarian crime. This idea has been founded upon the supposition th[...] condition of Ireland, the condition of its occupiers and the condition of its labourers, has for a score of years been one of continuous and steady improvement. In 1860, my right hon. Friend, now Secretary of State for War (Mr. Cardwell), described in a remarkable passage the various forms and features of improvement that then marked the state of Ireland, and of its occupiers and labourers. He is not a man given to exaggeration, and I believe that every word which he spoke was at the time entirely true. But the ten years which have since elapsed tell a different tale; and I will briefly state to the House some of the circumstances to which that difference is to be attributed. Between 1849 and 1860 there was a great and general increase in the rate of wages throughout Ireland, amounting in some places to 341 30 per cent, in others to 50 per cent. and in parts to even 100 per cent. Since 1860 that rate of wages has not generally advanced. [An hon. Member here made an observation which did not reach the Gallery.] Does the hon. Member mean to say that the rate of wages had in 1860 reached a point beyond which it was not necessary that it should advance? I have a word more to say on that subject of further advance, even if no other circumstance affected the case. But I own that if it had been my lot to earn only 6d. a-day, and if in consequence of an improved state of things I was enabled to make 1s., and I were then to find that the course of improvement was arrested, that the rate was stationary instead of progressive, nay, even that in some districts there was a tendency to go backward instead of forward, I am not sure that my temper would be one of exuberant gratitude. But, Sir, other causes have been in progress affecting unfavourably the Irish labourer. Undoubtedly evictions have been fewer during the later period; but I should be sorry to be driven to an examination of the character which in many cases they have borne. I will merely state that some of the most painful, some of the most indefensible, nay, some of the most guilty of evictions have occurred between the two dates to which I have referred. I think that of the crimes which we have been so recently lamenting no small portion is to be traces to an interference with the fixed [...] of the country, and with what the [...] believed to be their rights, interferences which were in some cases imprudent, and which in others beyond a doubt deserved a much stronger epithet. Another process has also been going forward with great rapidity in Ireland, which has acted very unfavourably upon the prosperity of the labouring classes—I mean the transference, and the rather rapid transference—of land from tillage to pasturage. Between 1860 and 1868 the pasturage of Ireland has increased by about 560,000 acres, and the tillage of Ireland has decreased during that period about 400,000 acres. We are given to understand that, inasmuch as meadow land is reckoned under land in tillage, and has considerably increased, the real decrease of tillage land is greater still. But to bring the matter to a closer test, let us look at the number of those who came under the operation of the Poor Law. 342 Down to 1860 there was a most remarkable decrease in the pressure upon the poor rates, and in that year the number of persons seeking relief, who in 1849 might have been counted, so to speak, by millions, was 170,000, but, in 1868 that number had increased to 289,000. There is another circumstance of wider operation that has also greatly affected the condition of the Irish labourer, and it is this—while, since 1860, upon the whole wages, I will not say have gone back—for I wish to keep strictly within bounds—but have exhibited on the whole a stationary character, the cost of subistence has very considerably increased. I am almost afraid to tell the House in what degree. But let us reflect for a moment. What has free trade done for us? As regards articles of food it has lowered the price of wheat, which has been a great boon to the people of England. But that is not the case in Ireland, where wheat is consumed only to a very limited extent. On the other hand, free trade has raised the price of oats and other agricultural products. By a most legitimate process the price of almost everything, except the great article of wheat, has risen. That is a great boon to the Irish farmer, but to the labourer or the man who is a buyer rather than a grower of produce such a change represents a condition, not of increase, but of stinted and narrowed circumstances. There are other circumstances—such as the gathering of Irish labourers into towns, the loss of the gardens upon which they depended for their comfort and for auxiliary means of subsistence, and the compulsion often imposed upon them of travelling considerable distances to their work—which have also had a very unfavourable effect. But, upon the whole, I am quite sure I have said enough for the present purpose, enough to show that we should be in gross error if we supposed that we had a right to form a sanguine expectation of that temper of general ease and contentment in Ireland which belongs to a progressive state of prosperity, if we take fairly in view what has been the course of affairs in that country between the years 1859–60 and 1860–9.
But then, it is also said, and not unreasonably, nay, with perfect truth so far as the literal sense of the proposition is concerned—"You have legis- 343 lated in favour of Ireland for a century, and yet the people of that country are not, after all, content." Now, Sir, this is a most interesting and most curious chapter of the subject, and I wish to know what it is that we have been doing during that century. If we were believers in astrology, or if we held the opinions of the fatalists, we might, after examining the bearing of much of our re-medial legislation upon Ireland, almost be led to believe that some dark and baleful star brooded over that country, which, as far as the Irish peasantry have been concerned, forbad and intercepted the effects of the most, beneficent legislation. I do not speak without book. Let us consider how this has been in two or three leading cases. In 1793, Parliament passed an Act, the object of which was to enfranchise the Roman Catholics for the purpose of Parliamentary elections. The effect—probably the unforeseen effect—of that Act was that the landlords of Ireland, with a view, and no very unnatural view, to the extension of their political influence, immediately, in a vast number of cases, became the prime promoters of that excessive subdivision of land, with the view to the creation of 40s. freeholds, which ushered in the horrors of the famine of 1847 and 1848. But the Act of 1829 put an end to that inducement by disfranchising the 40s. freeholder. Well, the former Act of 1793 had at least exercised this beneficent effect, that it tended to encourage landlords to give to their tenants something in the nature of relative permanence or stability of tenure, through those leases for lives that were necessary to constitute the condition of the Parliamentary freehold which was to confer the vote. After 1829 that inducement was withdrawn; and, as the Act of 1793 had introduced, or vastly extended, the mischief of the extreme subdivision of land, so the Act of 1829 partly introduced, and beyond all doubt if it did not introduce vastly extended, the mischief, and perhaps, under the circumstances of Ireland, the still greater mischief, of mere yearly tenancy. Then came the Act which was passed, I think, in 1849 or 1850, called the Encumbered Estates Act, which has since passed into the Act for dealing with the sale of landed estates. Well, Sir, what was done by that Act? It had a most benevolent object; it was intended to introduce capital into Ireland, 344 to relieve impoverished proprietors of that country from that which was to them not a privilege, but a burden—the possession of land which they could not rightly use or manage—and to transfer it into the hands of a more vigorous and opulent race of proprietors, with a view to the development of the riches of the soil. In that Act, also, however, there was contained one fatal oversight, so grievous in its operation that it is doubtful at this moment whether Ireland, on the whole, is better or worse for that Act. In 1845 the Commission of Lord Devon and the Government of Sir Robert Peel had recognized the right of the tenant to be invested with a title to improvements. Although the older landlords of Ireland sometimes, no doubt, may have improperly increased the rent, and compelled the tenant to pay an increased amount in respect to the value which he had himself added to the soil, yet in many cases they made no such extortion. The improvements were not theirs in a moral or equitable point of view, and they did not exact a price for them. But when these properties came into the Encumbered Estates Court they sold the estates, precisely as they were. The purchasers bought them as they were, and no distinction was drawn between the soil itself and the improvements made by the tenant. So that the improvements were sold to persons who gave a price for them; sold away from the tenant to whom they ought to have belonged; and the price was paid to the outgoing landlord, who, undoubtedly, ought not to have been entitled to claim the property in them, and would not have been so entitled if the legislation recommended in 1845 had been adopted. Every one of these measures, all of them beneficently intended and for other purposes operating beneficently—the Act of 1793, the Act of 1829, and the Encumbered Estates Act—was attended with consequences most fatal to the best interests of the great mass of the occupiers of Ireland. And it is not too much to say, with regard to the Encumbered Estates Act, that the operations which have been effected under that Act, and the use that has been made, and not unnaturally made, of it by some of those who have come in as new proprietors, may be reckoned as specific causes of those disturbances which have recently disfigured the records 345 of our intelligence from that country. Thus it seems that in our very remedies we have failed. We passed the Poor Law Bill for Ireland; and it was a great act of Christian charity and humanity when we consider it as applying to that portion of the community who have fallen into a state of incapacity to maintain themselves by their own labour. But if we have a peasantry endowed with vigorous arms, possessed of both the ability and will to earn their own subsistence, and if we encourage a system under which that peasantry is expected to labour with only a precarious title to occupation, and ever liable to be evicted without fault or neglect of any kind, and if we then think it enough to say—"Although you are evicted, still the doors of the poor-house are open to receive you," my answer is, that this is not an operation by which you can bring about the existence of national content.
Then there is another remedy, emigration, which landlords have in many instances been sedulous to promote. Emigration, Sir, when it is voluntary and free, is the process which the Almighty has ordained for covering and cultivating the waste places of the earth. But that is when the emigrant is out whose wish it is to go. When, on the other hand, he is one whose wish it is to stay, who is truly, strongly, passionately attached—and no people ever were more passionately attached to the soil on which they were born and on which they have grown than the Irish—then to say,—"We cannot insure to you the possession of your holding—we cannot even give you a reasonable probability that you will be able to exercise your industry with confidence; but there is the way across the Atlantic, and there are the wide plains of America open to receive you"—do not let us conceal from ourselves that, under such circumstances, emigration is another word for banishment, and that the country whose laws inflict that punishment and cause that banishment cannot expect, and does not deserve, the affection of the people. I would desire, Sir, in the discussion of this subject, to avoid anything like paradox; and yet I cannot help asking the simple question of the House which I have asked myself, and with regard to which I confess I doubt as to the reply to be given. It is true 346 that now for ninety-eight years—I may say for a century—we have been legislating in favour of Ireland. During that time we have destroyed the odious fabric of the Penal Laws. We have conferred, one by one, every political privilege upon our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen. They now enjoy in that respect the perfect and absolute equality which is their undoubted right. And lastly, we have, and at no small sacrifice of feeling to large portions of the community, extended, I rejoice to say, the principle of equality to the religious condition and circumstances of Ireland. Yet, notwithstanding all these things, I doubt whether at this moment, so far as the law is concerned, the condition of the Irish peasant is materially better, or even better at all, than it was before the mitigation of the Penal Laws. Certainly this is a most startling proposition; but ask yourselves what have you done for the Irish occupier, and what have you done against him? One thing undoubtedly you have done for the people of Ireland, and it is an enormous boon to the mass. You have educated them. But when you educate a people and give them an emancipated mind, with a free Press, and do not at the same time remove other causes of complaint and grievance, I ask you whether, so far from giving a motive for content, you do not take the very course that is sure to end in the augmentation of every difficulty with which you have to contend. Certainly you have compounded or commuted the tithes, and abolished the Church cess. You have built the work-houses in which the impotent, the able-bodied, and the helpless may be received. But I greatly doubt whether, on the other hand, the effect of other laws has not greatly overbalanced the benefits which these measures have conferred. I refer in part to the effect of the Encumbered Estates Act, which, although nothing could be further from the intention of Parliament, did operate as a confiscation, in a vast number of cases, of the improvements executed by the tenant. But you have done another thing of the greatest importance, and which has not been sufficiently kept in the view of the British Parliament. You have altered the whole law with respect to the defence which protected the Irish occupier in his holding. You have brought in to play new statutes of eviction. 347 And what do those statutes of eviction say? A gentleman whose name is very well known in Ireland as a professor of somewhat strong opinions, Father Lavelle, has quoted in a volume he has written a statement of great legal authority from a pamphlet published by Mr. O'Connell in 1843. The statement fully details changes in the law which had completely altered the position of the Irish occupier in the interest of the landlord. I will refer to only one of those Acts of Parliament—that of 1816, which was passed at a period when the high prices of the war began to be felt and the high rents could no longer be paid. Parliament was appealed to, under these circumstances, to grant facilities for eviction which had not previously existed. Do not let us suppose, therefore, that this is a case in which Parliament is called upon for the first time to interfere with the tenure of land in Ireland. The history of Parliament tells us of a series of interferences in this respect. In many instances these interferences have been unhappy to the occupier, and in some they have been something more than unhappy; I cannot but fear that they have partaken of injustice. The Act of 1816, 56 Geo. III. c. 18, recites in its Preamble that such were the expenses and delays of ejectment that it was absolutely and entirely impracticable as a remedy. But, if it were entirely, or in a great degree, impracticable as a remedy, look at the effect of the change. See what a defence that state of the law was to the Irish occupier in the possession of his holding. All that defence we have altered. All that shelter we have stripped away. We have simplified the law against him. We have made ejectments cheap and easy, and notices to quit have descended on the people like snow flakes. All these things have I been done by Parliament, and no compensation has been made to the Irish tenant. And I do not hesitate to say that while, with regard to the higher, classes of the Roman Catholics, Parliament has proceeded in one unbroken course of beneficent legislation, by no means the same thing can be said with regard to the tillers and occupiers of the soil. As it is said in the solemn words of Scripture, the things which should have been for their wealth became unto them an occasion of falling, so much that was intended for the benefit 348 of Ireland has acted unhappily on the Irish people, and Parliament has sometimes, without sufficient cause, acted against the tiller of the soil. I will not inflict upon the House the numerous references that could be made in support of this allegation. Were I to do so the task before me would extend beyond all bounds. I will therefore pass on.
The Motion I am about to make assumes that it is desirable we should interfere for the purpose of "amending the law relating to occupation and ownership of land in Ireland." At this first stage I do not suppose much scruple will be felt, because up to a certain point the law, in the nature of the case, must always interfere. It must interfere—namely, with reference to the cases in which parties make no contract for themselves; and the law now is that where there is no special contract tenure shall be understood to be from year to year. We do not propose to reverse this assumption. But we propose, looking at the condition of Ireland, not to leave it to parties without the interposition of law to make the contracts which they may be willing to make; and this it is which at first sight may appear to be harsh. No persons value more highly than we the freedom of contracts; it lies at the root of every healthy condition of society. But even in those conditions of society which we recognize as healthy it is not possible to allow perfect freedom of contract. English legislation is full of such interferences; and Parliament has shown a very decided tendency of late to multiply them. You will not allow the man who has a factory to contract with the persons whom he employs on terms which may suit their inclinations, but which you have forbidden; and you will not allow the shipmaster to carry the emigrant across the seas on terms on which he desires to carry and the emigrant desires to go. These are cases that justify interference; but much stronger is the case for Ireland, because in substance these contracts, though nominally free, have not been really free under the peculiar conditions of life which that country offers. Even where the law has left the Irishman free his circumstances have deprived him of freedom, and it has thus become our duty and our necessity to interpose, within limits cautiously and strictly guarded, for the 349 purpose of repressing that evil. In an agricultural country, in a country where the population has been such as to cause a demand for land always in excess of the supply, and where the excess of this demand has recently been met and aggravated by the tendency to carry land in large quantities out of tillage into pasture, and thereby to diminish agricultural holdings and employment; and, again, by a desire to consolidate farms, and thereby once more to narrow the means of supplying the demand for land; lastly, in a country which is almost exclusively agricultural, and does not offer to the adult Irishman that choice of professions and occupations which he can easily find in a land where mining and manufacturing industry prevails, there history has but too well supported the proposition that the freedom of contract which the Irish peasant possesses is but a nominal freedom. It may be necessary, therefore, to prescribe by law in certain respects the terms and conditions on which land shall be held in Ireland.
Strict freedom of contract, then, having proved to be a great evil, what is the precise nature of that evil? The Devon Commission has pointed it out. It is insecurity of tenure. It is that insecurity of tenure which not only abridges the comforts of the cultivator of the soil, but which limits and paralyzes his industry, and, at the same time, vitiates his relations in a vast number of cases with the landlord, and in a still greater number with the law under which and the society in which he lives. Sir, the sun of hope has recently dawned upon Ireland! It is not impossible that the Irish people, when they witnessed the devotion of the Session of 1869 to Irish affairs, and when they knew that in 1870 Parliament was to apply itself with a similar heart-stirring zeal to the adjustment of the Land Question—it is not impossible that they should think the day of hope had, at length, returned with regard to this great question of the tenure of land; and, after so long a period of depression and despondency, I cannot, for one moment, be surprised that, in some cases where this hope has been revived, it has in the minds of some been such as to exhibit elements of a riotous exuberance. But, on the whole, I do not think there is much to complain of in this respect.
350 There is, however, a proposition which has been made, and which, in my opinion, deserves to be treated with serious attention. As I have said, insecurity of tenure is the great mischief we have to face; and I will now consider the forms in which proposals for a remedy are made. Sometimes we hear the remedy described by perpetuity, sometimes by fixity, sometimes by security, sometimes by certainty, and sometimes by stability of tenure. All these five words express in different forms the different shapes which it is desired the remedy should assume. As among these, I shall regard the word "fixity" as meaning perpetuity, or approaching to perpetuity, and I shall consider stability, certainty, and security as mutually corresponding, expressing a somewhat different idea. They express the idea of a tenure which would enable a man to pursue his industry without fear of loss from any change that may happen to him on the part of the landlord; they do not express the transference to him of the essential right of property in the soil. Now, the evil is so great that I, for one, am prepared to say that I can hardly conceive of any alternative which would not be better than the continuance of the present state of things; and I do not think that anything dishonourable, anything that intends an injury to another, has been projected by those who have set up perpetuity of tenure for the Irish occupier as their favourite scheme, because we have not a doubt that they have seen that inasmuch as perpetuity of tenure on the part of the occupier is virtually expropriation of the landlord, and as a mere readjustment of rent according to the price of produce can by no means dispose of all contingencies the future may produce in his favour, compensation would have to be paid to the landlord for the rights of which he would be deprived. I have no doubt that they have taken this circumstance into their view; but, at the same time, while this proposition is to be indisputable, I hold that the plan is attended with the greatest practical difficulty, oven were it on this ground alone. Because the question will be, by whom is that compensation to be paid? It must either be paid by our old familiar friend, the Consolidated Fund—to which it appears to me that the people of England and Scotland would certainly have a word to say—or else it must be paid by an immedi- 351 ate increase of the rents now payable in Ireland, in order to compensate, by a positive augmentation at the moment, the landlords of Ireland for the loss of their chances in the future. Now, I do not know how a measure is to be framed either upon the one basis or on the other. But suppose for a moment that we put the financial difficulty out of view, what would be the effect of perpetuity of tenure upon the tenant? As I understand it, the scheme itself amounts to this—that each and every occupier, as long as he pays the rent that he is now paying, or else some rent to be fixed by a public tribunal charged with the duty of valuation, is to be secured, for himself and his heirs, in the occupation of the land that he holds, without limit of time. He will be subject only to this condition—somewhat in the nature of the Commutation of Tithe Act—that with a variation in the value of produce the rent may vary, but it will be slightly, and at somewhat distant periods. The effect of that provision will be that the landlord will become a pensioner and rentcharger upon what is now his own estate. The Legislature has, no doubt, the perfect right to reduce him to that condition, giving him proper compensation for any loss he may sustain in money; the State has a perfect right to deal with his social status, and to reduce him to that condition, if it thinks fit. But then it is bound not so to think fit unless it is shown that this is for the public good. Now is it for the public good that the landlords of Ireland, in a body, should be reduced by an Act of Parliament to the condition practically of fundholders, entitled to apply on a certain day from year to year for a certain sum of money, but entitled to nothing more? Are you prepared to denude them of their interest in the land; and, what is more, are you prepared to absolve them from their duties with regard to the land? I, for one, confess that I am not; nor is that the sentiment of my Colleagues. We think, on the contrary, that we ought to look forward with hope and expectation to bringing about a state of things in which the landlords of Ireland may assume, or may more generally assume, the position which is happily held, as a class, by landlords in this country—a position marked by residence, by personal familiarity and by sympathy 352 with the people among whom they live, by long traditional connection handed on from generation to generation and marked by a constant discharge of duty in every form that can be suggested—be it as to the administration of justice, be it as to the defence of the country, be it as to the supply of social, or spiritual, or moral, or educational wants—be it for any purpose whatever that is recognised as good and beneficial in a civilized society. Although, as I have said, nothing would induce me voluntarily to acquiesco in the continuance of such a state of things as has prevailed, and still, to a great extent, prevails in Ireland—it would, I own, be a most melancholy conclusion were we to find that we could not rectify that which is now wrong in the land tenures of that country without undertaking a social revolution, a social revolution in which the main characteristics would be the absolution of wealth and property from the performance of duty, and an addition to that lounging class—unfortunately too abundant in this country—who are possessed of money and of nothing else, and who seem to have no object in life but to teach us how to multiply our wants and to raise the standard of our luxuries, even when we have not yet solved the problem, or got to the heart of the secret how we are to relieve the destitution which is pining at our doors.
Again, perpetuity of tenure must, I think, be further considered from this point of view. If the land is to be bought, it should be bought by and for the State, and that which is so purchased should be distributed among, or applied for the benefit of, the whole nation. But the occupiers of land in Ireland, though they of themselves constitute something near a moiety of the people of the country, yet are not the whole people And it would, I think, be difficult to show why, in favour of these particular persons being occupiers, the whole essence of proprietary right should be carried over from the class that now possesses it to that which, though infinitely larger, is still a class, is not the whole people of the country. But consider again how this plan is to work. Let me suppose myself an Irish occupier invested by an Act of Parliament with perpetuity of tenure. If I want to let the property which I have thus acquired, am I to be allowed to let it to a tenant—a mere 353 tenant—or am I not to be allowed to let it to anybody but a perpetuity-man like myself? If I am only to let it to a perpetuity-man, I can only let it to that class of men who are prepared both, to cultivate the soil and to pay me the price of the permanent estate. The strange position in which we should then find ourselves would be that all that active and energetic class which does not require any permanent estate in the land, but exists by the intelligent and profitable application of capital to farming purposes, would be absolutely proscribed; you would not anywhere let a man in to put a spade or plough into the ground unless he was able to purchase the perpetual estate. But, on the other hand, if I am told—"You, a perpetuity-man, will be allowed to deal with the land as you choose—to let it from year to year, to create yearly or any other form of tenancies which you think proper"—then I say the Act of Parliament would contain within it the seeds of its own destruction; nay, not the germs only, but the body and substance of provisions which would soon generate the very mischiefs which you proposed to extinguish. We should still have landlords and tenants with relations as ill-regulated as ever. At first they would be small landlords, but not long. The wealth of this country would go forth once more into the market and accumulate great estates, so that—not we, perhaps, but, at any rate, our children, should again have to assemble within these walls, and to deal afresh with the difficulties of the Irish Land Question.
There is another point which, I think, deserves serious attention. I cannot help pointing out that if perpetuity of tenure were really good for Ireland, it could not be very bad either for England or Scotland. There are, indeed, peculiar features in the condition of Ireland, that, in our judgment, justify and demand peculiar legislation; but I am aware of none of those features that could by any man be held to extend to recommending perpetuity of tenure in Ireland which would not also be applicable to England or to Scotland. If perpetuity of right is to be transferred from one class to another, that would not be a bit more or loss expedient on this side of the water than on the other; and accordingly in that view of the matter this with which we have now to deal is not an Irish Land Question, but an United Kingdom 354 Land Question. Lastly, I must put yet one other point. These tenures, which partake of the character of perpetuity, or approximate to it, already to some extent exist in Ireland. I do not say that it would be a sufficient argument in favour of the plan—I rather think it would not—if you had proof that this perpetuity of tenure was good for the people themselves who had been the recipients of that mode of treatment; but this I must say, having endeavoured to examine, as well as we can, the evidence with regard to the agricultural condition of those portions of Ireland which are at present held upon tenures of perpetuity without proprietorship, or which approximate to those tenures, that we do not feel the result to be such as to assure us that this class of tenure would in Ireland attain the object which we greatly prize—namely, the object of enlarging the wealth of the soil and of developing a powerful and flourishing agriculture. Having urged these arguments, to which I am aware of no reply, I may, for the present at any rate, quit this part of my subject. I therefore cast aside perpetuity of tenure, as being a mode and form of remedy that we are not prepared to entertain or propose.
Again, I say, the evil with which we have to contend is insecurity of tenure. How does this insecurity manifest itself? Chiefly, as far as my knowledge goes, in these four forms—Sometimes it is in the shape of the withdrawal by the landlord of privileges customarily enjoyed by the tenant. There have been painful cases of this kind at no very distant date. Unfortunately, in the annals of Ireland it is indisputably recorded that it was from the withdrawal of privileges of this kind—the privilege, especially, of pasturage—that Whiteboyism first took its origin. And Whiteboyism and the various forms of agrarian outrage and crime by which it has been followed go far to justify an expression used, I think, when prescription is talked of by Mr. Butt and by some others, that in connection with the present state of the land laws in Ireland, it must be remembered that the people of Ireland, to the best of their power, have made war upon these land laws. The first form of suffering entailed upon the people by insecurity of tenure was the withdrawal of customary privileges; the 355 second was by the lavish and pitiless use of notices to quit. These notices to quit, though in many instances they are not followed by the acute miseries of eviction, yet do produce the chronic suffering and the other chronic social mischiefs attendant upon absolute uncertainly of condition. The third form of evil has been direct eviction; and the fourth has appeared when demands for increased rent have been made upon the tenant founded solely upon the value which he, by his labour and his capital, has added to the soil. That power of demanding an increased rent is entirely dependent on the ultima ratio of eviction; and, treading sometimes but too closely upon the heels of that power, there has been the ultima ratio itself; which, as I have shown, within the last half century has been made far more formidable by the direct action of Parliament than ever it had been before.
Well, now, let us look closely at the case of Ireland, and see whether, in good faith, without injury to any class, we can provide a remedy for these evils. There is one spot, at least, in Ireland which is instructive on this portion of the subject, and that is the Province of Ulster. I am far from saying that it would be desirable or possible to reproduce all over Ireland the exact state of things which prevails there as regards the occupation of land; but the state of the Province of Ulster I hold to be perfectly and demonstrably available for the present argument up to this point—that you can apply a remedy to this profound and fatal evil of insecurity of tenure, and yet that such a remedy can be found and applied without shaking the foundation of property. Sir, that proposition—that such a remedy can be discovered and applied without shaking the foundation of property—is so important that I must ask the House to consider for a few moments what is the condition of Ulster. In general, security of tenure there prevails. Is property shaken? Now it is curious to compare the movement of rents in Ireland in relation to the movement of rents in England and Scotland; and also to compare the movement of rents in Ulster with that of Ireland in general. This can be done with sufficient approach to precision for practical purposes. In 1779 Arthur Young estimated the rents of Ireland at £6,000,000 sterling; in 1869, ninety years after, 356 the rents of Ireland were returned, in round numbers, at £12,000,000. They may amount to a little more—I dare say the figures I have cited are under rather than over the mark; but we may take it as at least near the truth that in Ireland, as a whole, where the tenure of the cultivator has been generally insecure, ninety years have just doubled the rent received by the landlords. Now, in England we have not laboured under this evil of the insecurity of tenure, because confidence has supplied that which was wanting in the mere letter of the law. But in England in 1771—not very far from the period taken by Arthur Young for Ireland—the rents were £16,000,000; in 1869 they were £48,000,000—so that in very nearly the same period in England, where the tenure of the cultivator is more secure, the rents have trebled; while in Ireland, where the power of the landlord is more absolute and more frequently put into use, the rents have only doubled. But now I pass from England to Scotland, where the tenure of the cultivator is still more secure than in England, because it is tied and bound in the main by leases. And what is the case with Scotland? In Scotland in 1770 the rents were £1,200,000, and in 1869 they were £7,200,000. That is, where the tenure of the cultivator is most secure, and the landlord exercises the smallest amount of arbitrary jurisdiction, the rents have been sextupled nearly in the same time that they have been doubled in Ireland. I own that these facts appear to me full of instruction.
But now let us compare Ireland with Ulster—because in Ulster the tenure is more secure than it is in the rest of Ireland, and in fact Ulster may be said to enjoy practical security. Well, Arthur Young, fortunately for us, distinguishes between the rents of the eight counties where the Ulster custom prevails—which may be conveniently called tenant-right counties—and the rest of Ireland; and the case is this—The rental of the eight counties where security or stability of tenure prevails was in 1779, £990,000; in 1869 it was £2,830,000. That is, the rental has more than trebled, and that under a system, I admit, in some respects defective, and in some extravagant, but which still gives practical security. The rest of 357 Ireland minus Ulster is what we must compare with the eight counties. Well, Sir, the rest of Ireland, minus Ulster, in 1779, according to Arthur Young, had a rental of £5,000,000; and in 1869 that rental was £9,200,000. That is to say, in the provinces where the power of the landlord is greatest and the tenure is least secure, the rents did less than double themselves, whereas, where the power of the landlord is least and the tenant is most secure, namely—in Ulster—the rental has increased more than three-fold. But, again, it may be said that in Ulster you have the influence of manufactures, and that manufactures tend powerfully to increase rents. Well, Sir, but Ulster had manufactures in 1770. I am not aware that the manufacturing character of a certain part of Ulster dates from any period later than 1770. Whether its manufactures relatively to agriculture stand differently in amount now from what they did then I do not know, but it is certainly correct to say that Ulster had the advantage—and the great advantage—of manufactures in 1770 as well as in 1869. But there is another point which we shall do well to notice as to manufactures. Manufactures do not tend directly in the neighbourhood of their own immediate seats to produce good agriculture. Manufactures, by stimulating prices, produce good agriculture in a country generally; but the great manufacturing counties of England are not those most distinguished for good agriculture. I am sorry to confess that in Lancashire, for instance, where I was born, a county which has certainly achieved some celebrity for manufactures, and around Liverpool, though the district is much favoured by the neighbourhood of great estates, such as those of Lord Derby and Lord Sefton, yet agriculture till a late period was, I will not say exactly the opprobrium, but certainly it was by no moans the glory of the country. Take again the county of Northumberland. In general it is most famous for agriculture, but not in the neighbourhood of Newcastle; and I remember very well having learned at Newcastle that to improve the state of agriculture in that district a number of Norfolk ploughmen had been introduced. The reason of this is not far to seek. It is that where there is competition between agriculture and manufactures, or be- 358 tween agriculture and mining industry, those pursuits which pay the best wages get the best workmen, and it is to the weakest and least intelligent part of the population that the pursuit of the least remunerative—namely, agriculture—is committed. Again, Sir, the results of an examination of the produce of Ulster will be found not a little remarkable. It is admitted on all hands that Ulster is greatly poorer in natural resources than any of the other three Provinces of Ireland. But what are its products? Its products may not be thought very extraordinary, perhaps, until I illustrate them by finding a measure of the natural producing power of the soil of Ireland in its different Provinces. The rateable product of Ulster is now somewhat higher than that of the rest of Ireland. The land under crop in Ulster is £6 3s. per acre; in the rest of Ireland it is £5 18s. In land under tillage it is for Ulster £1 12s. 8d.; for the rest of Ireland it is £1 11s. 6d. You may say that this is no very great difference; but consider the difference of natural fertility; and we have a remarkable test of this natural fertility, because there was a period when a very careful valuation—as I may almost call it—of the respective fertility of the four Provinces of Ireland was made by the Parliament of this country, which was most closely sifted and tested by individuals who had a peculiar interest in arriving at the truth. At the time of the Great Rebellion the Parliament organized an army to send into Ireland. For that purpose it was necessary to raise money. It was obtained from a body of persons called Adventurers, who were to supply the necessary funds, and were to be paid by lands taken at certain prices, and these prices were to be different according as the lands were in one or another Province of Ireland. They were to have lands in Ulster at the price of £200 per 1,000 acres; they were to have lands in Con-naught at the price of £300 per 1,000 acres; they were to have lands in Minister at the price of £450 per 1,000 acres; and they were to have lands in Leinster at the price of £600 per 1,000 acres. I strike out Leinster; because, though it was in part Irish, both English tenure and English blood, and something of an old civilization, might be said to prevail there at the time. I have no doubt that it was by far the richest Province 359 at that day; but the other three Provinces may, I conceive, betaken as fairly representing the relative fertility of the soil. Indeed, if anything, the comparison is rather too favourable for Ulster, for it was thirty years after the settlement of James the First had been effected. On the whole, at least, it is no unfair statement if we follow this classification, and say that the natural producing power of the ordinary soil of Ulster appears to be little more than one-half the producing power of Minister and Connaught; and yet under the state of things as it exists the actual produce of the soil is greater in Ulster than in the rest of the three Provinces. So, then Sir, I think I make good my proposition that Ulster shows us, at any rate, as much as this; it is possible to find a remedy for this deadly evil of insecurity of tenure, and yet at the same time not to shake the stability of property.
Well, now, in considering what the remedy should be I may venture to say we have cast aside altogether any guidance from the false lights of theory. We do not intend to approach legislation on the land tenure of Ireland with the view to give effect to this or that doctrine as to the mode in which the land is to be managed or cultivated. The question as to whether the properties into which a country is divided should be large or small; the question whether the holdings should be large or small; the question whether the tenancy should be yearly or for a longer term; the question whether improvements should be made by the landlord or by the tenant;—all these are matters on which, in my judgment, there is room for an immense variety of opinion, according to time, place, and circumstances. We wish to be guided, as far as can be, by experience. We wish to take the facts and circumstances of Ireland as we find them, and to apply them in the best manner we are able to the Bill which I have now to lay before you. This is a "Bill to amend the law relating to the Acquisition and Occupation of Land in Ireland." First of all I will dispose of that part which has reference to the acquisition of land, and which is the simplest portion of the measure. And here, Sir, let me say that I deeply regret the absence and the cause of the absence of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, and I regret yet more deeply—as is natural—the absence 360 and the cause of the absence of another Member of this House, the only one, perhaps, who can vie with him in distinction, I mean my right hon. Colleague, the President of the Board of Trade, who is so deeply interested in the whole of this subject, and who has made those portions of it which relate to the acquisition of land in no small degree a special and favourite study. I will ask leave to read a few lines which he wrote to me on being seized with his recent indisposition. He uses the following words:—I cannot tell you how much I am disappointed at being absent from the meeting of Parliament, but I have distinct warnings of an attack something like that from which I suffered 14 years ago, and I dare not disregard them. I am quite unable to work, and must leave London for a time. I regret deeply that I cannot be at your side to vote and plead for the Irish Land Bill.After making reference to the varieties of opinion as to the Bill which, may possibly be entertained, Mr. Bright proceeds—I think it a just and comprehensive measure, and I hope the moderation and patriotism of Parliament will enable it soon to become law.The measures, Sir, which we propose with respect to the ownership of land for the consideration of Parliament during the present Session, should Parliament adopt our view, are not exclusively those comprehended within the present Bill: other features will be included in other Bills, and I will presently notice them, for they do not apply to Ireland alone, but to some other parts of the United Kingdom. Among them will be a measure which I hope will be of immense benefit to the possessors of land in this country—a Bill for facilitating the transfer of land. Another will deal with the succession to real estate in cases of intestacy, and will give greater ease, freedom, and, I should add, justice to the play of the law than in its present case it can be said to possess. It is possible that there may be some other provisions analogous to these, which we may deal with during the present Session, and which will be applicable, not to Ireland alone, but beyond its limits also; because in reference to them we consider the circumstances of other portions of the United Kingdom to be so analogous as to warrant our dealing with them together. However, everything I am now about to say is confined, exclusively to Ireland, and, in conformity with 361 the language of the Speech from the Throne, the Bill relating to the tenure of land in Ireland will be "adapted to the peculiar circumstances of that country."
With regard to the important object of facilitating acquisition of land by those who do not now possess it, we propose, in the first place, arrangements for increasing the powers of owners. The manner I do not stop to explain, because time will not permit me; but I may say the arrangements will present a relaxation of the fetters which now confine the action of the owners of land. With respect to those who may desire the acquisition of land, we propose that loans of public money shall be granted to occupiers desirous to purchase from their landlords any cultivated lands now occupied by themselves; and this arrangement will be so framed as not to restrict the loans to cases of private contract, but to extend them also to those cases where the proprietor, attracted by the advantages of a Parliamentary title, thinks proper to carry his estate into the Encumbered Estates Court. This assistance will only be given to occupiers who are willing to buy where the landlord is willing to sell. They will be required to pay down not less than 25 per cent, and the re-payment of the loan will be arranged upon the basis of the Drainage Acts. I am not one of those who are disposed to take the most sanguine view of the extent to which a provision of this kind is likely to be acted upon; but I received a few days ago—not with reference to this Bill—a printed paper which shows that it is likely to be appreciated. Mr. Canning used to say that whoever prints publishes, and, independently of that dictum, this document bears no mark on it that it is private, and therefore I may advert to it. It is a statement of the tenants on the Marquess of Waterford's estate, in the county of Derry, and it appeals for a loan to assist them in the purchase of the estate. The case presents extraordinary features. The estate is not a small one—on the contrary, as I understand, the rental is £14,300, with several outgoings, leaving a net rental of more than £13,000 a-year; yet here are a body of tenants who declare their readiness, if assisted by a loan, to organize a company for the purpose of purchasing the estate; prompted by the desire, no doubt, to save the sums they have paid for the tenant-right of their 362 farms, and by a fear, perhaps, lest the estate should fall into the hands of an owner who would not respect the custom which had prevailed with regard to the tenure of land. This instance is calculated to show that provisions for the acquisition of land by the tenants may be more likely to be acted upon than many, and I confess myself to have been among the number, had exclusively imagined. Further, Sir, we mean to relax the rule that these loans should be made to occupiers in a special case—namely, when a landlord is only willing to sell in block, and where the tenants combining find means, with or without assistance from the Exchequer, for the purchase of a large portion of the estate, though not of the whole—say to the extent of four-fifths. In these cases it is proposed that assistance should be given to others, although not the occupiers, for the purchase of the remaining one-fifth. With regard, again, to waste land, it is proposed to give loans to the owners, under this Act, for the purpose of preparing the waste land for occupation—by making roads, for instance, and by the erection of the necessary buildings; and by other operations not absolutely belonging to the reclamation of the land strictly so called, but such as to make them desirable objects for purchase by those who are to undertake the operation of reclaiming, and who may be able to fulfil the conditions. It is also proposed, when a landlord after reclaiming waste land, may be desirous of selling it, to assist the purchaser, provided he can pay down a large portion of the price, and provided the landlord is willing to become joint security to the Government for the money—or that other security, satisfactory in its nature, can be had. It is unnecessary for me to go into detail at the present moment respecting the manner in which these transactions will be managed. Suffice it to say that they will be under the direction of the Board of Works in Dublin; but the point to which the Gorvernment mainly look is first, that the conditions shall be primâ facie reasonable, and, secondly, that the security shall in all cases be sufficient; and the mode of repayment will be by the system of annuity, of which we have already had ample experience under the Drainage and other Acts, and which has been found to work so well. With regard to the ownership of laud, I quit the subject 363 with the remark that even those who do not think that any great subdivision of land is likely to arise from those propositions may be of opinion that, under the circumstances of Ireland, it is eminently to be desired that Parliament should be far from showing any jealousy of the ownership of the soil by the Irish people, but, on the contrary, should testify its readiness by all allowable means, oven if they involve some extension of ordinary rules, to promote the attainment of that object.
Now, Sir, having dealt with the subject of the acquisition of land, I come to the clauses which relate to the still greater and more urgent subject of the occupation of land. Our first proposal which I will name under this head—the proposal which, for the sake of convenience, I detach from all the rest—relates to the instrument by which the new law is to be administered. We propose to supply, as most necessary under the circumstances, a distinct and appropriate judicial machinery for the purpose of the Bill. That machinery will be two-fold. It will be either a Court of Arbitration or a Civil Bills Court, as they are respectively named in the measure. The Court of Arbitration will be a tribunal constituted in a simple manner by the voluntary choice of the parties; but it is necessary that its awards should, when once made, have the force the law. We are desirous of giving every encouragement for the settlement of matters arising under the measure by means of arbitration; and for these plain and simple reasons—first, because it is the cheapest and most direct method, and next, because it appears to be, according to the best evidence, a practice deeply engrained in the habits and dispositions of the people of Ireland. When matters arising out of the operation of this Bill shall be settled by arbitration, there will be no appeal; but when parties desire to proceed before a tribunal invested directly with public authority they will go to the Civil Bills Court—that is to say, to the Civil side of the Court of Quarter Sessions—in which the Assistant Barrister acts alone as judge of the court. The Assistant Barrister will adjudicate the case and dispose of it under the following conditions:—In the first place, if he thinks the matter too important for his own action, he may reserve a case for the decision of a higher tribunal; in the 364 second place, if the parties are willing, he may give them an amicable and voluntary hearing in his own room in lieu of a contentious proceeding in court; and in the third place, whatever he decides he will decide subject to an appeal to a higher tribunal. This appellate tribunal will consist of the two Judges of Assize. If it should be found necessary for the purpose of quickening the process of appeal, it is proposed that three instead of two assizes shall be held in Ireland, so as to shorten the period intervening between each assize; and the appeal to the Judges will be final. At the same time, if they find the matter submitted to them to be one which they cannot take the responsibility of deciding, they will have authority to reserve a case for a Court in Dublin, which in the Bill is called the Court for Land Cases; and this Court, which will be called into being for the purpose of receiving and disposing of those references, will be composed of existing Judges, in part of equity and in part of common law. This is the nature of the tribunal to be erected. I will not enter into the provisions of the Bill with regard to the appointment of valuators and assessors: these are subaltern and subsidiary to those particulars which I have mentioned. But I wish to say a word with regard to the jurisdiction of this Court. Every one must feel that, in order to meet an unlimited variety of circumstances such as must arise, in the cases coming before it, this Court must be invested with considerable discretionary power; on the other hand, the Government have felt that it would be neither just nor expedient to impose upon the Court the business of discovering the principles upon which land tenure should be regulated. We have, therefore, endeavoured to insert in the Bill everything which Parliament could usefully specify in the shape of positive provisions, and we have left the application of them to the discretion of the Court, taking care as well as we can to enlarge this discretion by a clause which will best explain itself, and which now stands as Clause 14. It is called the Equities Clause, and its purpose is to enable the Court in all cases to consider the equity as well as the law of the case. It runs as follows:—On the hearing of any dispute between landlord and tenant in respect of compensation under 365 this Act, either party may make any claim, urge any objection to the claim of the other, or plead any set-off such party may think fit … and the Court shall take into consideration any one claim, objection, or set-off, also any such default or unreasonable conduct of either party as may appear to the Court to affect any matter in dispute between the parties, and shall admit, reduce, or disallow altogether any such claim, objection, or set-off made or pleaded on behalf of either party as the Court thinks just, giving judgment on the case with regard to all its circumstances, including such consideration of conduct as aforesaid.The general aim of the Bill, therefore, will be to lay clown clear and distinct propositions of law for the guidance of the Court, but to allow the Court to take into its view all that variety of considerations and circumstances by which the application of the rules ought to be affected.
Having now, Sir, disposed of all preliminary and all collateral matter, I proceed to say that with respect to the legislation itself upon the tenure of land, there are four descriptions of holdings in Ireland which we have thought it our duty to keep specially in view. The first of these is the class of holdings which now exists under the Ulster custom. The second is the class that exists under other customs analogous, more or less, to that of Ulster, prevailing irregularly and variously over a large part of the surface of Ireland, but not having that definite existence and that weight of tradition and authority which belong to the Ulster custom. The third class is that residue of yearly tenancies which have not practically enjoyed hitherto any protection whatever from any custom, either such as that of Ulster or such as may be found in other parts of Ireland. In the fourth place, we have thought it right to keep in view that class of estates the landlords of which, already sensible of the mischiefs that prevail, have sought to apply a remedy by the voluntary introduction of a system of leases, and of leases in two forms—either, in the first place, leases after the Scotch and English fashion, under which a farm is delivered over with all its appliances, generally speaking, into the hands of the tenant for the purpose of effective cultivation, those appliances having been furnished by the landlord; and secondly, leases of the Irish character, somewhat longer generally in duration, but not usually attended with the same conditions on the part of the landlord in respect either of finding or assisting to find the buildings 366 and other improvements necessary for the proper cultivation of the farm.
First then, the question is how we are to deal with those holdings in Ireland which are under the Ulster custom.
The Bill will be limited in the strictest manner to agricultural holdings; it will not touch any persons except those who are pursuing agriculture as an industry and a trade. I will here also say in order to disembarrass myself of that part of the question, that there will be certain exceptions running through the Bill which it would be difficult now to describe in detail; those exceptions will include, for instance, the gardens of such labourers as are the servants of the farmer or of the landlord, the lands held as demesne land, and the lands of miscellaneous character which were described in a former Bill as taken for special or temporary purposes. The House will perhaps for the present be good enough to take for granted that such matters have been considered and practically provided for by a series of exceptions to the general operation of the Bill. I am now to speak generally and broadly of all holdings that are held for agricultural purposes in the common sense of agriculture pursued as a trade.
How, then, are we to deal with the Ulster custom? and what is the essential character of that custom? The view we take of it is that it includes two elements—it includes compensation for improvements and it includes the price of good-will. It is not necessary at present to investigate the history of the Ulster custom; whether it represents the ancient Irish ideas derived from the period of tribal possession; whether it represents the covenants which were inserted by James I. in the charters granted to the settlers in that Province; whether it has grown out of the happy political relations subsisting, for the most part, in Ulster between the landlords and the occupiers, which have induced landlords to view favourably the growth of such an usage; or whether, lastly, it represents the payment of a kind of insurance for the safety of the incoming tenant when he obtains that possession of land which is so prized and valued in that country. Be that as it may, and without examining into these questions, we are content to take the Ulster custom as a matter of fact; we say that it prevails, that it is admitted, 367 that it is recognized by the landlords—not by each man as his individual act, but in deference rather to the authoritative traditions of the district; that where it is impaired by the action of one landlord, or destroyed by the action of another, that action is against the authoritative tradition of the district, and that the consent which Ulster generally has given to the continued prevalence of this custom, on the part of the landlords as well as on the part of the tenants, amounts to a virtual covenant between the parties. Viewing it as a covenant, we propose to take it such as it is, to convert it into a law, and allow it to be examined into as a simple question of fact in all cases where dispute arises by the Courts that will be constituted under this Bill. They will have nothing to do but to examine questions of fact, and to give effect to the custom with the binding authority of law. This part of the Bill is very simple; we do not attempt to modify the custom; we do not inquire into its varieties (it is well known to vary within certain limits); we do not attempt to improve it or to qualify it; we leave it to be examined as a matter of fact, and when it shall have been so ascertained, the Judge will have nothing to do but to enforce it. There are but two subsidiary provisions that must be added in order to explain this portion of the Bill. First, where a landlord has by a deliberate arrangement in the nature of purchase with the occupier of the farm abrogated the Ulster custom, there it shall not be pleaded against him, but the land shall fall within the general scope of those provisions of the Bill which will be applicable to land tenures apart from custom. Secondly, where the tenant has proved the existence of the Ulster custom, and has obtained compensation accordingly, whether from the landlord or from the incoming tenant (as the custom may cause it to be) under the clause relating to it, he shall not be entitled to compensation under any other clauses of the Bill. The Equities Clause which I have just read will of course apply to adjudications under the Ulster custom as well as to all others. But the House will please to understand that, speaking generally, this clause with regard to the Ulster custom, where it prevails, is an isolated clause. It provides separately and completely for all that class of holdings, and that consequently they do not as a rule fall within 368 the provisions of the Bill generally, which have reference to occupations and holdings not under the Ulster custom. So much with regard to the Ulster custom.
The Ulster custom, as I have said, does not absolutely overspread the whole of Ulster; but it is confined to Ulster, in no case passing beyond its limits. When we come to the case of other customs that prevail outside Ulster these form a subject-matter more difficult to deal with. Undoubtedly our conclusion is that there is a very large amount of Irish usage by which payment is made from an incoming to an outgoing tenant; in some cases it is made with the consent of the landlord directly, in some others indirectly; but it is nowhere to our knowledge established as the fixed and authoritative tradition of a district. I may perhaps say that in many cases it is winked at by the landlord, in many other cases it is opposed, and in some it is repressed by the landlords, who view it with a greater or less degree of aversion. We have thought that, provided we did no injustice, it would be wise to found our Bill upon custom so far as it would carry us. This is an Irish usage and the Bill deals with the circumstances of Ireland; wherever there is a peculiarity in the circumstances of Ireland it is well to adopt that peculiarity as the foundation of our provisions, because the Irish people will fall more easily into the regular operation of a Bill which conforms to their own peculiar modes of action than they will into the working of a Bill which lays down modes of action altogether new to them. We have, therefore, thought, with reference to the condition of Ireland, that these are payments to which the Court should have regard, and which it may fairly take as an indication of the amount of loss and damage that a tenant suffers by eviction from his holding. We have stopped short of saying that which we propose to say in the case of the Ulster custom, that it shall be made absolutely and in all cases binding upon the landlord, for this reason—that it does not bear with the same unmistakeable clearness the character of a virtual covenant authenticated by a long and wide-spread practice. We propose that these other customs, where their existence is established either by the landlord or by the tenant, shall be legalized; but we propose also to subject them to some re- 369 strictions which will not apply to the Ulstercustom. In the first place, the tenant may claim as an absolute right a customary payment, out of Ulster, only in cases where he is disturbed in his tenancy by the act of his landlord. In Ulster, I believe, it makes no difference whether a man is a retiring or an evicted tenant. With regard to these customs out of Ulster we propose to limit their binding and absolute operation to cases where the tenant is disturbed by the act of the landlord. We propose that the tenant shall not be allowed to take the benefit of these customs if he is evicted for non-payment of rent. Thirdly, we propose that he shall not have the benefit of the custom if he sublets or subdivides his holding, after the passing of the Act, without the consent of the landlord, except it be for a purpose strictly defined in the Bill with regard to cottages and gardens held by the labourers required for the cultivation of the farm—an exception the necessity of which will be obvious. The fourth condition which we attach to the application of these customs is that not only arrears of rent but damages done by the tenant to the farm may be pleaded by the landlord as a set-off. And the fifth condition is one which I will explain more fully by-and-by. It is this—that the landlord may, if he thinks proper, bar the pleading of any such custom if he chooses to give his tenant a lease for not loss than thirty-one years, attended with terms and conditions which I shall have occasion presently to describe.
We have, therefore, got thus far. The Ulster custom is absolutely recognized in Ulster. Outside the limits of Ulster these less binding customs are recognized, but subject to the five conditions which I have just enumerated.
But there are a good many cases where no such customs may be found, and where, at the same time, the tenant is not protected by any lease, and feels in its full force that tremendous evil of insecurity of tenure, which may at present be said to be the monster evil of Ireland. We propose to deal with these cases by establishing a scale of damages for eviction, This scale of damages is, of course, subject to limitations. In the first place, it is subject to all the limitations that I have just described as applying to customs other than the Ulster custom; it can only be applied when the landlord 370 disturbs the tenant in his holding; it cannot be applied if the tenant sublets or subdivides his holding, or if he be evicted for non-payment of rent; arrears of rent and damage to the farm may be set off against it; and it may be barred by a length of lease of thirty-one years or upwards. It is also provided that in case of holdings above £50 parties may "contract themselves out" of this provision of the Act—what I call the scale section, the section for scale of damages—provided they receive a lease for at least twenty-one years, and if by that lease the landlord contracts to execute the improvements necessary in order to cultivate the soil in the due manner of husbandry. It is likewise provided that in farms of a certain size, the parties may, if they please, "contract themselves out" of this provision of the Act, as I believe some lawyers term it. Our reason for here introducing this liberty is as follows:—Our desire is to interfere with freedom of contract as little as possible. We are about to interfere with it in regard to the terms on which minor tenancies may be taken, because we say that in the circumstances of Ireland the tenant is not free; but as we move upwards in the scale of the value of holdings, at last, undoubtedly, we reach a point where the tenant may be said to be free. No one would say, for instance, that a tenant of £500 a-year in Ireland was not substantially and for the most part as free as a farmer of the corresponding class in England. Therefore, we propose to provide, with regard to the scale of damages for eviction, that persons having a farm not rented but valued in the public valuation at £100 and upwards, may, if they think fit, contract themselves out of this section of the Act. Now as to the scale of damages itself, which I will explain to the House as clearly as I can. In applying this scale the Judge is required by the Act to have regard to two tilings—first, the improvements which have been executed by the tenant upon the farm; and secondly, the loss which the occupier is about to sustain by being ejected from his holding. These are the two main elements which the judge will be required to take into view. The scale, therefore, includes in part compensation for improvements. It includes compensation for the minor and more ordinary improvements—for manures and tillages, 371 for fencing, and for some other matters. But there are some improvements of so special a character that we have felt that the tenant ought to be entitled to claim his compensation for them—assuming him be entitled to ask for such a compensation—irrespective of the claim for damages by eviction; and these are improvements falling under the two heads, firstly, of permanent buildings, and, secondly, of the reclamation of land. I must own it was a matter of surprise to me when I found it was a common practice in Ireland—it is not so, as far as my knowledge goes, in England—to value buildings on a farm apart from the farm itself. But it does appear to be a common practice; the people seem to have adapted themselves to it, and there may be a greater facility in dealing with permanent buildings apart from the rest of the Act on account of that practice, as on the other hand there is a facility in dealing with the reclamation of land apart from the rest of the claim, because it is an operation separate from the general operations of the farm. Subject, then, to a further compensation for permanent buildings and for reclamation of land, and likewise subject to all the conditions that I stated as embodied in "the Equities Clause," and elsewhere, the Judge will, or may, award to the tenant according to a varying scale This scale has reference to holdings of different value. If the holding is not valued in the public valuation at over £10 the Judge may award to the tenant a sum which is not to exceed seven years' rent: if the holding is between £10 and £50 he may award a sum not exceeding five years' rent; if between £50 and £100, a sum not exceeding three years' rent; and if over £100, a sum not exceeding two years' rent. And over and above the award upon that scale, the Judge will have to deal separately with the question of permanent buildings and the reclamation of land. Now what, as I take it, will usually happen will be this—This sum, which cannot be exceeded, is the sum which the Judge will set before himself at the outset as a standard. It will be then open to the landlord to come in and to put in proof any matter that he may think proper, of such a nature as, in his opinion, ought to go in diminution of the claims; and some of these 372 matters are very palpable. For instance, suppose the case of a landlord, the value of whose land has, from circumstances, undergone a real increase otherwise than from the labour of the tenant. That landlord is entitled to a fair increase of rent. But suppose the tenant refuses to pay any increase whatever, and says—"Evict me if you dare"—trusting to the scale of damages. The landlord evicts. The case comes before the Judge. The landlord may say—"It is true I have evicted this man, but I have done so because he only pays me 15s. an acre, and I will show you that the land is worth a great deal more; it is a case for an augmentation of rent, and I called upon him to pay 20s. an acre, but he claims to remain at his present rent." That will be a matter for the Judge to take fairly into consideration, and he will make deductions from the tenant's claim on that account. Or take another case. Suppose the landlord, desiring, for a particular reason, to obtain possession of a particular holding, offers to the tenant a holding of the same kind, or a better one, on his own property, so that, in point of fact, the tenant probably sustains neither damage nor inconvenience. The landlord ought to be able to plead this, and to show it to the Judge; and when he does so, and shows that he has only evicted the tenant on account of the tenant's unreasonable conduct, the Judge will make a deduction in consequence from the amount of damages which the landlord would be otherwise liable to pay. In truth, the Equities Clause will enable the Judge to take fully into view, and weigh in his own mind, all those points which affect the real merits of the case, by lowering the amount of compensation, or even, should the case warrant it, by refusing compensation altogether, although the landlord may have been driven to evict the tenant. In the ordinary case of eviction for non-payment of rent, or for subdividing the land, the House will understand that the scale does not apply at all.
So far, I have covered that portion of the ground which belongs to the three cases of the Ulster custom, the customs variously prevailing outside Ulster, and the holdings which are comprised under neither of those heads, but which are held either by the year or for short terms of years. Now, notwithstanding all I have said, and although it is is quite ob- 373 vious that wherever payment is made on the ground of custom, that payment will include the value of the improvements, yet it is necessary for us to have separate legislation in regard to those improvements, because by this separate legislation will be governed the case of the tenant who wishes to retire. It would not be fair that, upon his expressing his wish to quit his farm, his landlord should be called on to pay him money for any loss he may suffer by his departure; but, upon the other hand, it would be perfectly fair that the retiring tenant should be able to claim the value of his improvements, the value of which would accrue to the landlord. Take, again, the case of a man evicted for the non-payment of rent. We do not, in this case, speaking generally, allow for the damage caused by eviction; but we do not see why, because he has failed to pay his rent, possibly from misfortune rather than by his wilful fault, he ought to forfeit all the value of his improvements. That being so, we propose, over and above the legislation I have already detailed, to legislate on the subject of improvements. But what is an improvement? That, Sir, is a question which has cost us some trouble. Indeed, I am bound to say, a great many things in this Bill might warrant the same remark, for the subject is one of great complexity and difficulty, and I am much mistaken if the House will not find it to be so before its task shall have been completed. With the utmost goodwill and zeal, they will, I fear, have to spend a considerable amount of time upon the Bill in the endeavour to bring it as nearly as possible to perfection. We have, however, I think, determined upon a very fair definition of what ought to be held as constituting an "improvement." In the first place, it must add to the letting value of the land; in the second place, it must be suitable to the nature of the holding. If the tenant, unfortunately for himself, chooses to lay out money on improvements which do not improve, and do not add to the letting value of the holding, that is his affair, and not the landlord's. If, on the other hand, he chooses to lay out his money in making additions to his holding, which do add to the letting value, but which are not suitable for the purposes of agriculture, the landlord is not to be bound to pay for such an improve- 374 ment, because it does not come within the proper scope of the tenancy. A case which has been mentioned to me, for instance, is that of a farm abutting on the seashore, on which the tenant chose to build a bathing-house. It is very probable that this bathing-house may add to the letting value of the farm, but evidently the tenant ought not to be entitled to payment for it as an improvement. That, undoubtedly, is not a sort of improvement which will come within the meaning of this Bill, for it must be something not only adding to the letting value of the land, but also suitable to the nature of the holding. Thus understanding the word "improvement," what we propose to do is exactly to reverse the presumption of the present law. The law, as it stands, absolutely gives the improvements to the landlord and presumes them to be his work. We propose to presume them to be the work of the tenant, and to leave to the landlord the business of showing, if he can, that such is not the case. If they are the work of the tenant, they will, according to our Bill, be his property, and it will be for the landlord to show that they are not the work of the tenant if he disputes his claim to compensation. The justice of this provision, that the burden of proof should be thrown on the landlord, is, I think, obvious. For how does the case stand? The occupier is in most instances a poor man, who has no agents, no legal adviser, no representative, who may be here to-day and gone to-morrow. For him to give proof with regard to improvements, and especially with regard to improvements which might have been executed by those predecessors from whom he might have derived his title, would be almost impossible. The landlord, on the other hand, possesses all the machinery connected with the management of his estate; he has the necessary books and records, which he can without difficulty produce, and he can probably command a continuous chain of evidence; and we therefore cast the burden of proof on him who is able to bear it, and relieve from the burden the man who is not in that position. This great and important change in the law will, of course, be subject to certain limitations.
The House will, however, have observed that we do not limit the ope- 375 ration, of the new law to future improvements. It is absolutely necessary that it should extend to those already made. Had we thought fit, or had we happily been enabled a quarter of a century ago, in 1845, to deal with this question of improvements, it might have been satisfactory from some points of view, and sufficient for public purposes, to provide for the cases of future improvements alone. But, having, unfortunately, adjourned for so long a time the day of settlement of the question, and that day having now arrived, it is quite plain, in the view of the Government—and I do not expect, from all I can see of public opinion, that it will be disputed in any quarter—that any legislation as to improvements must in principle embrace retrospective improvements. Still, it is necessary to impose, some special limitations on these retrospective claims; and the limitations which we ask the House to impose specially upon them are these, in the justice of which I think most persons will be disposed to agree. We propose, first of all, that no claim is to be allowed for any improvement made more than twenty years before the passing of the Act, unless it be in the nature of a permanent building or of reclamation of land. In the second place, such claim may not be made by the tenant under any lease or contract now existing, if it be excluded by the terms of the lease or contract. It is, in the third place, provided with respect to past improvements that the Court may take into consideration the time for which and the terms on which they have already been enjoyed by the tenant. This provision I look upon as one required by the circumstances of the case, for if it were not adopted we should be making a law to bear with comparative severity on the best landlords, while we should be showing the greater favour towards the worst. The landlord who had closely followed up every improvement made by his tenant with an increase of rent would, unless we introduced into our Bill some such provision, be placed exactly on the same footing with the man who had respected the property of his tenant, and allowed him to continue on easy terms, having reference only to the prior value of a farm, and not to the increased value imparted by the tenant's capital and labour. That is, I think, a 376 sufficient justification of this particular provision. Then there are other limitations, such, namely, as apply generally to all improvements. One of these is that no claim may be made in respect of an improvement which is contrary to any contract hereafter voluntarily entered into by the tenant, and which is not required for the due cultivation of the soil. The House will here observe the operation of the principle which I have laid down—that, speaking generally, we do not allow parties to "contract themselves out" of the Act. We are reluctant to allow parties by contract to divest themselves of all right to make improvements. We fear that under the circumstances of Ireland, an ostensible freedom in this respect might in reality nullify the effect of our legislation. We, therefore, absolutely reserve to the tenant, whether he will or not, the right to make all the improvements which may be required for the due cultivation of his farm, and we give him no discretion with respect to renouncing his right to improve, except in regard to improvements lying beyond the range of this definition. There is here a subsidiary proposition, to the effect that for the space of two years from the passing of the Act, or during the residue of any unexpired contract, the landlord may prohibit an improvement on the ground that it would be injurious to his estate, but subject to the condition that the Land Court agrees with him in that view. This is a provision which hon. Gentlemen will understand better when they see it as stated in the Bill. The object of the provision is to prevent the risk that unfair advantage might be taken of the period of transition and that the landlord might be damnified by operations which might be effected before a new contract could be entered into. There is yet another class of improvements also which are excluded from the provisions of the Bill; I allude to improvements executed by the tenant in cases where the landlord has let a farm under the condition that he will himself execute such improvements. For improvements which are the subject of such a covenant on the landlord's part, no claim can be made unless the landlord has failed in his undertaking. It is impossible, as we think, to deny that the first right to improve the soil belongs to the owner. We, therefore, 377 give the landlord the right to undertake improvements, and we exclude the tenant from any interference with that right, until his landlord shall have shown that he does not intend to fulfil his obligation Lastly, there is another limitation in regard to claims for improvements. It is a limitation which arises under leases, and with this I will presently proceed to deal.
Thus far, Sir, I have mentioned four main provisions with respect to the occupation of land in Ireland; but I have also to deal with the case of land under lease, with respect to which it is necessary to make some separate provision. Many landlords may say that they do not object to granting security or stability of tenure, but that they prefer to do it by the method of lease rather than in the shape of compensation for eviction from yearly or other short tenancies. Where a lease is of competent length, we consider that the parties to it must be understood to be perfectly cognizant of the relations into which they enter; and we consider it to be found by experience that the more definite those relations the greater will be the exertion of the farmer, the more fully will he develop the agricultural resources of the country, and the more complete will be, as a general rule, the satisfaction of all concerned. Therefore we think the Bill should be framed, on the one hand, so as not to compel leases, but that it should, on the other hand, be so framed as in no way to discourage them. We therefore say to the landlord by the Bill—"If you have heretofore adopted the system of leases, we are unwilling to do anything to drive you out of it; but if you are disposed to adopt for the first time the system of leases rather than to allow customs of a somewhat indefinite character to prevail, or to allow yourself to fall under the scale of damages for eviction, we will lay down the conditions under which you may do it." A landlord, then, may, according to the 16th clause, exempt his lands from being subject to any custom, except the Ulster custom, or from being subject to the scale of damages, provided he agrees to give the tenant a lease such as I will now describe. First, it must be for thirty-one years; and, secondly, it must leave to the tenant at the end of those thirty-one years a right to claim compensation under three heads—first, the head of 378 tillages and manures—and it is as much for the interest of the landlord as of the tenant that the latter should retain that right, as otherwise the ground would run out with the lease; secondly, for permanent buildings; and thirdly, for the reclamation of land. But besides this, the lease must be in regard to rent, and to covenants, approved by the Court. The House will at once see why we are reluctantly obliged to make the Court in this particular instance the arbiter of the prospective arrangement between the tenant and his landlord. And the reason is this. By the Bill the tenant is invested with a certain title in his holding—a title to claim for improvements absolutely if he retire, and a title to claim for customary payment, or for damages and for certain improvements, if he be evicted. Thus the actual tenant is put in possession of an inchoate or presumptive right. Now, we are going to allow the landlord by leases to bar that claim on the part of the tenant and to substitute for it the conditions and incidents of leasehold tenure. If, however, we do that, it is evident we cannot leave it to the landlord to dictate absolutely the rent he might demand, or the conditions he might insert in the lease, for that would enable him absolutely to nullify the whole interest we have created on behalf of the tenant. Therefore, to have the effect of barring good-will or customary payment, a lease must be not only one for a term of thirty-one years and one reserving certain rights to the tenant at the end of that term, but it must also be in terms subject to the approval of the Court. So much for the leasing power at the present moment. But we have also the future to consider. And the idea we have is this—We wish to grant to the landlord the permanent power, if he think fit, of keeping the general claim for good-will off his estate. This cannot, of course, be done by one lease. It can be done by one lease as far as the particular term and the particular person is concerned, and that lease would be for thirty-one years independently of any landlord's improvements, or might alternatively be for twenty-one years if the improvements are to be made by the landlord and if the farm be of a certain value. But the situation of the parties at the end of that term will be altered. If the landlord, after the land has been 379 held on one of these statutory leases, does not think fit to continue the system of leases, good-will will immediately grow up as a plant grows from the ground. If he gets a yearly tenant, or allows his lessee to become a yearly tenant, or a tenant at a short term of years, the new tenant, or his lessee, as the case may be, will be invested with a title to good-will: but the landlord may, if he think fit, follow up the thirty-one years' lease with a second lease; and if he chooses to keep up a series of these leases he may hold his land under lease perfectly free both from the intervention of any claim for good-will and from any further intervention of the Court. The intervention of the Court is necessary up to this time because the lease is to bar the presumptive right which the Act would give to the tenant; but at the expiration of the first lease, the transaction, as far as the tenant is concerned, will be wound up, and the landlord will be under no obligation to anybody except to give a lease conformably to the conditions enacted by the Act. He may take the lease into the open market, and give it to the best bidder; but if he cannot find anybody to take it, and if the land falls under an inferior description of tenure, he will be liable to good-will just as if he had never given any lease at all. I have here used the phrase good-will as equivalent for the payments to be made either under what the Bill terms other custom, or under the Scale Clause.
We have been very anxious to avoid by this Bill any interference of a public authority with any existing rent; but when we look at the case of Ireland we are compelled to admit that of late years especially there may have grown up in certain cases contracts for rent of a character most extravagant, which it is totally impossible for the tenant to pay and at the same time to live upon his holding. I will mention a case which was told me by the proprietor of an estate in Ireland. He said, in substance—"There is an estate adjoining mine, which was sold in the Encumbered Estates Court. The land on both sides of the border is of exactly the same quality. My land is rented at 15s. an acre, and I consider it rather moderately rented; no doubt if I tried I could get 18s. an acre for it; but not more with any kind of justice or moderation. The moment the land adjoining mine was sold in the Encumbered Es- 380 tates Court a demand was made on the tenant for 32s. an acre. This was refused. But the rent was actually raised to 24s. an acre." It was absolutely impossible for a tenant to pay that amount of rent and live upon the land, but, under the pressure of this deadly necessity, which we say—not in all cases, but very often practically impairs—and which, in some cases, really destroys freedom of contract on the part of Irish occupiers, they have been compelled, as a question of dear life, to enter into agreements which they cannot fulfil with any justice to themselves. The Bill will proceed upon the principle—and my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) who has taken so laudable an interest in this subject, cannot understand me too clearly on this point—that from the moment the measure is passed every Irishman, small and great, must be absolutely responsible for every contract into which he enters. By the Bill we endeavour to establish a fair and equitable state of reciprocal rights and duties, and having done this we ought to embody in it nothing that can encourage any man to tamper with good faith, or to disparage or undervalue in any shape security and solidity of contracts. But we do feel that in certain cases there is a given amount of difficulty as to some of those contracts now in existence, which may have been made under what we admit to have been an unfair and inequitable state of circumstances. Now, the provision we have made to meet the peculiar class of cases I have described is this. The case supposed is that such a man as I have just sketched to the House may find himself unable in good faith to pay the rent, or to make out of the land what every tenant ought to make in proportion to the rent he pays. We provide by the Bill that, as a general rule, eviction for non-payment of rent shall be held to be an absolute bar to any claim upon the landlord except for improvement; but with regard to those cases where the Court upon its responsibility and in its discretion finds special circumstances, we allow it in the exercise of its discretion to allow damages even though the eviction be for non-payment of rent. The clause runs as follows:—For the purposes of this Act ejectment for non-payment of rent shall not be deemed disturbance of the tenant by the act of the landlord.And with regard to all prospective con- 381 tracts it is absolutely necessary that if the landlord evict for non-payment of rent that should not be in the sense of the Bill a disturbance of the tenant by the landlord, for the tenant will disturb himself by non-payment of the rent. But as respects present holdings, we add the following qualification:—Unless the Court decide on special grounds that it ought to be deemed a disturbance in the case of a person claiming compensation on such determination of a tenancy existing at the time of the passing of this Act.Consequently in one of these cruel cases where there is really a gross inequality to redress, supposing the man to make a fair offer of full and competent rent and to decline to be responsible for the excess, and supposing also that he was ejected from his holding for being unable to pay, that would be a matter for the jurisdiction of the Court, which might award to a man thus disturbed by the act of the landlord something in regard to the destitute condition into which he would be thrown and the injury he may be held to have suffered. Another provision of some importance, and one which will ease the working of the Bill, is that where the incoming tenant, even out of Ulster, has paid a sum of money to the outgoing tenant with the consent of the landlord, then if the landlord will not allow him to dispose of his interest to an incoming tenant, we provide that the Court shall have discretion to make an award against the landlord in respect of the sum so paid. I adverted some time ago to the notice to quit as an instrument through which in some cases, but I hope and believe not in many, most grievous suffering has been systematically inflicted. Now, as we have endeavoured to load eviction with conditions which may prevent its being used as an engine of arbitrary power, we think it also necessary to clog the action of those notices to quit. A notice to quit must, according to the Bill, be a notice for twelve months, instead of six; the term of notice must commence from the last gale day of the current year; and finally, every notice to quit must bear a stamp duty of 2s. 6d. It is said that there are some landlords in Ireland who entertain themselves from year to year by printing notices to quit on the back of their receipts for rent; and if is certainly intended, if they should feel it necessary for their own purposes to 382 prosecute that amusement hereafter, that they shall find it more expensive than it has been herertofore.
Then there is another provision which I must mention, although I have already so long taxed the patience of the House; and it has relation to the county cess. We think that this Bill affords a convenient opportunity for dealing with the question of county cess. The House is aware of the recommendation made by a Committee of this House that the county cess should be placed upon the same footing as the poor's rates, with regard to its relation to the owner and occupier. We propose to assimilate it to the poor rate; but we hesitate to effect the change at once in regard to all holdings whatsoever. We therefore propose the following two-fold enactment. In the first place, in all new tenancies one moiety of the county cess shall be paid by the landlord and the other moiety by the tenant, according to the mode in which the payment of the poor's rates is now regulated; and in every old tenancy under £4 in value the occupier shall at once be relieved of it. We think that every landlord in Ireland would be disposed to say, with regard to these small holdings, where the sum is insignificant, that the change had better be made at once; but this plan could not be followed in the case of the larger holdings without causing probable disturbance to existing arrangements of rent, and this would be a disturbance which, particularly at the present moment, we should be very sorry to bring about.
Now, I think I have completed my very imperfect statement of the provisions of this great and necessarily complex measure. There are subjects of importance to which I have not adverted at all, and there are others on which I have but slightly touched, because I know that there are limits to the capacity of human attention, and I feel that those limits have been reached. We have toiled hard in the construction of this measure, but we are far from believing it to be perfect; and we invite, in unreserved good faith, the co-operation of all parties and of all Members of this House. Our desire is that when it has received the sanction of the Legislature it may become a great gift to Ireland, and may put an end to the grievances and sufferings which have so long accompanied the tenure of land in that country. We found it necessary 383 to propose a Bill which, in our judgment, should be adequate. We sought to give security of tenure to the occupiers of the soil; and this we found it impossible to do by any less operative measure than that of, firstly, by attaching to evictions such conditions as would render them impolitic and difficult on the part of the landlord, unless there existed strong and most legitimate reasons why he should resort to this extremest remedy; and, secondly, of securing the evicted tenant, if he had fulfilled his contract, from the danger and the fear of being thrown out upon the world without carrying with him a fair and reasonable compensation—not only for the improvements which he had effected, but also for the deprivation of those moans of livelihood which had been afforded him by the occupation of the land from which he was evicted. But we have not knowingly at least proceeded in any spirit of partizanship, and as we have afforded the occupier improved security of tenure, so also have we afforded the landlord improved security for his rent, and improved security, as we think, for the better cultivation of his land; indeed we have, I hope not unwisely, given him powers against the unauthorized subletting and subdividing of his property which he does not now enjoy; for the tenant, if he choose to resort to such a practice, will lose some of the greatest advantages offered him by this Bill. In addition to this we have likewise given to the landlord free scope to intercept by means of leases if he thinks fit the more exceptional operation of the Bill.
I may now, perhaps, be asked what we have done for the Irish labourer. For him we have done what the case will permit. We have allowed the tenant to subdivide and sublet for cottages and gardens, to be let to the labourers employed upon the holding; and, in offering from the public funds facilities for the acquisition of land, we have been careful not to exclude the acquisition of land in small quantities. But the only great boon—and it is a great boon—which it is in the power of the Legislature to give to the agricultural labourer in Ireland is to increase the demand for his labour, and, by imparting a stimulus to the agriculture of that country, to insure its requiring more strong arms to carry it on, and thereby to bring more bidders into the market for those arms, and raise the 384 natural and legitimate price of their labour. Unless we are mistaken, one of the specific evils which has arisen from the practice of exacting an increased rent in proportion to an increased produce is, that many a small occupier is, out of fear of having to pay more for his holding, led to convert his tillage into pasture, or to keep land in pasture which ought to be converted into tillage. By either course of proceeding he lessens the demand for agricultural labour. But, if we can only convince every man that from the time this Act passes he will be able to prosecute his industry in security, and in the manner most advantageous to himself, so that all the land that is fit for tillage may be devoted to tillage, and that in a word the noble pursuit of agriculture shall be practically as well as theoretically free, we, in so doing, shall confer upon the agricultural labourer the greatest boon which it is in our power to bestow.
But, I may be asked why I think this Bill will be accepted, and what we believe will be its effect. Well, Sir, I reply that in our judgment the first effect of this Bill will be to render the landlords liable to charges which they do not at the present moment incur; but in landlords—speaking of them as a class—I repose so much of confidence that they will consent to bear the heavy responsibilities which attach to that species of property. I have known heretofore, and within the walls of this House, appeals made to the possessors of this great and primary form of property in this country to come forward freely for the general advantage—in which, of course, their own advantage is ultimately involved—and to bear burdens not hitherto laid upon them; and I have seen such an appeal freely and readily responded to. Of course, the general effect of this measure is to impose the possibility of an immediate loss upon the landlord. The landlord will absolutely lose his claim to many improvements heretofore made by his tenant, and if he evicts he will be subject to customary payment, or to payment under the scale of damages. But I am not prepared to admit that in the operation of this Bill, if it be in truth a well-devised measure for its end, the landlord will be ultimately a loser. It is my firm belief that he will be an ultimate gainer. In this matter it does not follow that what you take from one party 385 you give to another, even though it be possible that there may be a loss in the first effort at rectifying their relations. With regard to the controversy whether Ireland is rented high or low—my belief is that if you look on the one hand to the quality and capacity of the soil of Ireland, and on the other hand to the condition of those who own and cultivate it, the land is rented low for the most part with relation to what the landlord receives, and yet in very many cases high as regards that share of the produce which the tenant obtains; and in now endeavouring to secure increased prosperity for the tenant we are pursuing this design by giving him encouragement and facility to extract it from the soil, and not by taking a single farthing from the pockets of the landlord. There is, as I believe, a huge fund of national wealth in the soil, as yet undeveloped. Every traveller in Ireland tells you that there is abundant wealth in the soil if you had but a better system of tenure, find that were the people but encouraged to use more freely their great energies in their agricultural pursuits we should speedily witness a great increase in the produce of the land. That increase some place at 30, some at 40, and others at 50 per cent; some even do not scruple to carry it to a still higher figure. But any of these estimates—and I believe the lowest to be much within the mark—represents a fund which does not now exist for any practical purpose, but which this Act will probably call into active and prolific existence—a fund which will be available primarily for the benefit of the tenant, but ultimately, without doubt, also for the benefit of the landlord. If, however, this proposition should be questioned, I ask you to fall back in mind to the figures I have given you in connection with Ulster, and to look to the security of rent and the larger produce in that Province as compared with the other Provinces of Ireland. I am persuaded, Sir, that if only we have the assistance of this House in adjusting the provisions of the Bill no long time will elapse before the landlord will have cause to rejoice not less than the tenant in the adoption of the measure by the Legislature. And if, on the other hand, I am asked why I believe the Bill will be accepted by the tenant, I will say that, though it does not profess to transfer to others the rights of the landlord 386 in the soil, I still believe it will be accepted, and I found this belief upon a firm conviction of the truth of that remarkable declaration which was made two centuries and a half ago by one of the most acute observers of his day. Sir John Davies, the Attorney General of James I., whoso writings upon Ireland are even now full of interest and instruction. In those writings are contained these memorable words—"There is no nation of people under the sun that doth love equal and indifferent justice better than the Irish." That was true in the 17th century, and nothing that has since happened has tended, in my mind, to shake its truth. The Irish people, as lovers of justice, while demanding justice for themselves will desire justice for others. Justice for themselves will have been obtained when they are able to pursue their industry in peace and confidence, with a certainty of reaping its fruits. More than that they will not ask; and as the whole aim of this Bill is to secure for them those great advantages, I am persuaded that they will accept it as a just and valuable boon. And if, again, I am asked what I hope to effect by this Bill, I certainly hope we shall effect a great change in Ireland; but I hope also—and confidently believe—that this change will be accomplished by gentle means. Every line of the measure has been studied with the keenest desire that it shall import as little as possible of shock or violent alteration into any single arrangement now existing between landlord and tenant in Ireland. There is, no doubt, much to be undone—there is, no doubt, much to be improved—but what we desire is that the work of this Bill should be like the work of Nature herself when on the face of a desolated land she restores what has been laid waste by the wild and savage hand of man. Its operations, we believe, will be quiet and gradual. We wish to alarm none; we wish to injure no one. What we wish is that where there has been despondency there shall be hope; where there has been mistrust there shall be confidence; where there has been alienation and hate there shall, however gradually, be woven the ties of a strong attachment between man and man. This we know cannot be done in a day. The measure has reference to evils which have been long at work, 387 their roots strike far back into bygone centuries; and it is against the ordinance of Providence, as it is against the interest of man, that immediate reparation should in such cases be possible; for one of the main restraints of misdoing would be removed if the consequences of misdoing could in a moment receive a remedy. For such reparation and such effects it is that we look from this Bill; and we reckon on them not less surely and not less confidently because we know they must be gradual and slow; and because we are likewise aware that if it be poisoned by the malignant agency of angry or of bitter passions, it cannot do its proper work. In order that there may be a hope of its entire success it must be passed—not as a triumph of party over party, or class over class; not as the lifting up of an ensign to record the downfall of that which has once been great and powerful—but as a common work of common love and goodwill to the common good of our common country. With such objects and in such a spirit as that, this House will address itself to the work, and sustain the feeble efforts of the Government. And my hope, at least, is high and ardent that we shall live to see our work prosper in our hand, and that in that Ireland which we desire to unite to England and Scotland by the only enduring ties, those of free will and free affection, peace, order, and a settled and cheerful industry, will diffuse their blessings from year to year, and from day to day, over a smiling land.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
I join very heartily in the regret which was expressed by the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) was not in his place to hoar the remarkable speech which has just been addressed to the House, and the details of the measure which we are hereafter to consider. But I think it is only due to the right hon. Gentleman who has so addressed us that we should wait to see in the printed Bill the details which he has with great skill brought before us, but which, at the same time, there are but few in the House that have been able to follow to their full consequences and effects. I am sure there is no one in this House who would wish at such a stage to enter upon a discussion which would be only desultory and load to no 388 result. Therefore I have risen at once to recommend my Friends at least and I trust the whole House, not to enter now upon any discussion. We on this side would desire not to pledge ourselves to the causes and consequences which have been referred to in the early part of the explanation, or to the details of the Bill; but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, on the part of those for whom I speak, that we will approach the consideration of the measure in that spirit which he has advocated, with an intense desire to realize to the full the results which he anticipated at the conclusion of his speech, and to make it, if it should pass, to use his own words, a measure just, practical, and conciliatory. And though we may maintain strong opinions in reference to what we call the rights of property, we are not indifferent to the duties of those who possess it; and with regard to landlords, tenants, and labourers of Ireland we have a keen sense of the evils which exist among them at present, though we may disagree with hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the causes; but if by this or by any other way we can redress them, we shall cordially lend our hand to do so. If I would comment at this moment on one part of the Bill it is because I fear it may lead to a misconception—I allude to the Courts which the right hon. Gentleman has described, What was said by the right hon. Gentleman with respect to them might lead to the impression that Ireland was about to become a scene of continual litigation. In introducing these various Courts for a particular purpose I hope he does not suppose that there will be an extensive use made of them, but that by the fact of their existence they will check litigation. I fear the impression may be made that that which was intended to be a boon to the landlords, tenants, and peasantry of Ireland will really be a boon to the lawyers of Ireland. I should be sorry that such an idea should go forth without remark. I hope the printed measure will be shortly in our hands. [Mr. GLADSTONE: On Thursday morning.] As to the day when the second reading of the Bill will come on, I trust that there will be sufficient time for everyone in the House, and everyone outside the House who is interested in the measure, to become acquainted with its details. I am informed that 389 great numbers of the Irish Members are absent from the House on business of importance. I hope, therefore, that some reasonable time will be allowed before we proceed to the next stage of the Bill.
My anxiety is on the one hand to meet the convenience of hon. Gentlemen absent in Ireland from reasonable causes, and on the other to give effect to our great desire to dedicate a sufficient time before Easter—Easter being rather late this year—to enable us to dispose of the early portions of the Bill, such as the Occupation Clauses. If we were to hare the second reading in such time that we could go into Committee on the 21st of March that would be quite sufficient. As to the precise day for the second reading we are quite willing to meet the convenience of Gentlemen opposite, provided the time be not encroached upon which would be necessary for progress. If the Occupation Clauses were postponed until after Easter, it would be extremely inconvenient for the business of the Session. I think Monday, the 7th of March, would do very well for the second reading, if it would meet with the approval of hon. Gentlemen.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
As far as I can learn from my Friends generally there would be no objection to the 7th of March. A Friend of mine, however, has received a telegram from Ireland according to which some who are over there wish for a later day. As to the 21st of March for Committee, it is not our object to interpose any unnecessary delay, but it is quite evident that the Bill must be mainly discussed in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he does not wish it to be considered as in any way a perfect measure, but that it should be discussed in Committee as fully as possible.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that so far as he could then understand the Bill, while the rights of the landlords to the money value of their property were to be respected, the other rights, the rights of disposal of the property, were from the very beginning of the Bill interfered with, and would, he very much feared, be altogether abrogated. He would not detain the House further than to protest against his being considered individually committed to the principle of the Bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill to amend the Law relating to the Occupation and Ownership of Land in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Mr. GLADSTONE, Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE, and Mr. JOHN BRIGHT.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 29.]