§ (1.) On the expiration of a statutory term in a present tenancy the tenancy shall continue a present tenancy subject to the same rent and conditions (including the statutory conditions) as during the statutory term, until the tenancy is determined, or a new statutory term for the holding begins, and an application to fix a fair rent may be made at any time during such continuance of the tenancy; and no objection to such application shall be allowed which could have been but was not taken upon the application for a previous judicial rent, or being then taken was overruled.
§ (2.) Where the Court on application fix a judicial rent for a holding, the judicial rent and statutory term shall begin from the gale day next after the date of the application, or if a preceding statutory term is then current, from any later gale day on which that statutory term expires.
§ (3.) The judicial rent fixed by order of the Court for a holding shall, as from the gale day from which it begins, be the rent payable by 979 the tenant of the holding; and where it differs from the previous rent, whether or not a judicial rent, then in respect of the period which may have elapsed since the gale day from which it "began, the difference, if the judicial rent so fixed is higher than the previous rent, shall be paid by the tenant, and if the judicial rent so fixed is lower, may, if it has been actually paid by the tenant, be deducted from any rent subsequently payable by him to the landlord to whom such difference has been paid, or to his personal representatives, or where the estate of such landlord has determined may be recovered from such landlord or his personal representatives.
* THE CHAIRMAN
ruled that three Amendments which stood on the Paper in the names of Mr. Dillon, Mr. Clancy and Mr. Kilbride could not be moved as a commencement to Clause 1, but might be moved subsequently.
§ MR. THOMAS H. ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
said the Bill would make "present tenancies" and "future tenancies" statutory terms, and it was therefore necessary to have a definition of them. He moved the insertion of the words "as they are defined by the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881."
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
referred to a later clause of the Bill, to show that the Amendment was unnecessary.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *MR. A. H. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, Huntingdon) moved, in Sub-section (1), to omit all the words after "of the tenancy." He said it was an unfair proposal that at the end of the fifteen years a landlord should be unable to get a case reheard when the tenant had had a fair rent fixed and had had the advantage of it for fifteen years. It might be that at first the estate was in the hands of mortgagees, or in the hands of a landlord who was unable to bring forward proper evidence to support his case. It might be that, at the the end of fifteen years, the estate had passed into other hands, and the landlord was in a better financial position than his predecessor, and that he might be anxious to live upon the estate. It might be that the former owner had put into the farm as existing tenant a man who might never have had a right to have had a fair rent fixed at all. It was possible that in many cases fresh evidence might now be procurable which was not discoverable at the time that 980 the fair rent was granted to the tenant. It appeared to be only fair and just that in such a case there should be a right to a rehearing, certainly if fresh evidence could be produced; and a man who had wrongfully had a fair rent fixed ought not to be permanently retained on the holding as a present tenant. As he understood Clause 42, a tenant who had been ruled out of court could apply again if he had fresh evidence; but a landlord who had had a tenant unjustly foisted upon him was to have no means of redress. He and his friends had no desire to obstruct the Bill. They did not like a great deal of it, and they had said so, but they had assented to the Second Reading, and they were anxious to have the Bill passed. They did not want to raise points for discussion unnecessarily; but they did think that, in the interests of landlords, there were a great many points in the Bill which ought to be reconsidered and modified.
§ In answer to Mr. E. CARSON (Dublin University),
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said the object aimed at was to prevent a landlord raising a point which could have been raised by him on the first application, and was not raised; it was not to be competent to him to raise it in order to prevent the fixing of a judicial rent for a second time. He appreciated the spirit in which his right hon. Friend had referred to the attitude of the landlords towards this Bill; he accepted the assurance that it was not the intention of the landlords to treat the Bill in anything like an obstructive manner. The right hon. Gentleman desired that objections which had been raised and overruled should be raised a second time. He believed as the law now stood it would not be possible for a landlord who derived from an original landlord to raise a point which had virtually been decided by the Court in the first instance. There was, perhaps, some doubt whether a landlord who did not directly derive from the first landlord could raise the point, though he thought the answer would be in the same sense. As regarded objections which might have been raised and were not raised, there was something more to be said in favour of the Amendment than as regarded objections 981 which had been overruled; but still, on the whole, it was better to prevent litigation as far as possible.
§ MR. PENROSE FITZGERALD (Cambridge)
desired to put the case of, landlords who were out of the country when the first application was made, and the case of a minor who was not as capable at the time of seeing that justice was done to himself as he was since he came to years of discretion. He thought that in the cases of a minor, or a man who was absent, the Chief Secretary might concede them something, either by a future Amendment or on Report.
MR. T. M. HEALY
said the hon. Member seemed to forget that a rent could not be fixed in the case of a minor.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
thought the Committee would agree that as far as possible there ought to be fair play on both sides. But if they turned to the 42nd Clause, they would find that they did not propose to deal in the same way with the landlord. In that clause they would find these words:—An application to fix a fair rent for a holding shall not be refused on the ground of any previous decision with reference to the holding of any part thereof, whether between the same parties or otherwise.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
It continues:—If such application can be sustained under this Act or any of the Land Law Acts as amended by this Act.He thought that meant that a tenant might have been debarred originally from having a fair rent fixed, yet he might come in and claim it any number of times, while the landlord was to be debarred.
§ MR. CARSON
, referring to what had been said by the hon. Member for North Louth, pointed out that the case of a minor was one of the very cases which they wished to submit to the right hon. Gentleman. He would propose the case of a minor who was served with a fair rent notice—[An HON. MEMBER: "Bad service!"]—but who came in and did not raise the point that it was bad service, was he to be debarred by this 982 section from coming before the Courts and putting forward any matters that might be pertinent? There might be an agent who was in league with the tenant —[loud Nationalist laughter]—there had been cases of agents who had acted dishonourably, and there had been many cases in which lettings by agents had been set aside when minors came of age because they were not fair lettings. Was not a minor in such a case to be allowed to raise any of the points which might not have been raised in the previous hearing?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said the case raised by his right hon. Friend would really be one of fraud. With regard to the point raised by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh, if he looked closely at the subsection of the 42nd Clause which he read, he would find that the important words were the last words. [" Hear, hear!"] As regarded the question of unfairness of treatment between landlord and tenant, he would point out that there was no question in this first section as to whether the applications were made by a landlord or tenant, although, no doubt, applications were, in the great majority of cases, made by the tenant. It would be undesirable that a tenant who had now got a fair rent fixed should be put in the position of having to prove his claim over again, and the Government had no desire to increase litigation.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
said he did not wish to see this matter disposed of on the ground of convenience to the tenant only, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give them some other reasons.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
rose to move to insert after the word "over-ruled," the words:—unless an applicant satisfies the court that in support of such objection he has appeared to give evidence, oral or otherwise, that was not produced in the application for a previous judicial rent.
MR. T. M. HEALY
submitted, on a point of order, that that was exactly the question which had been decided.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY moved in Subsection (2), after the word "fix" to insert "or have fixed." For six years, from 1881 to 1887, in consequence of the block in the Courts, many tenants who then applied did not have their cases decided until 1883, 1884, or even 1885. There were something like 30,000 tenants who, by no fault of their own, but owing to the failure of the Government of the day to appoint a sufficient number of Sub-Commissioners, had been left out in the cold, and would not be able to get their rents reconsidered for years to come. The only objection to the Amendment of which he could conceive was that it would enable 20,000 or 30,000 more tenants to come into Court in the course of the next two or three years. That was true; but was a denial of justice 15 years ago to be made a ground for a further denial of justice in 1896? These tenants acquired the right of going into Court in 1881; indeed, it was part of the policy of the Government of the day to entice and coax them into Court. For that, they put Mr. Parnell in gaol for suggesting that the tenants should not rush into Court; for that, they suppressed the Land League. He hoped the Government would be able to say that where a tenant went into Court before 1887, he should be in no worse a position than a tenant who went in after 1887. Unless his Amendment were accepted, the judicial term would, in many cases, be lengthened to 18, 19, or even 20 years.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
recalled the fact that on the occasion of the First Reading, he stated that the Government objected to allowing the tenants in question to apply to the Court to have a fair rent fixed a second time at the expiration of ten years, principally on two grounds—first, that there seemed to be no justification for breaking a contract entered into with Parliamentary sanction; and, secondly, that a policy of that kind would create extreme difficulty in administration, making it quite impossible to fix fair rents, unless a perfect army of Sub-Commissioners were appointed. He did not deny, however, that there was considerable force in the hon. and learned Gentleman's contention; but, on the other hand, it must be remembered that if the concession asked for were made the number of tenants 984 who would in the next few years demand to have a fair rent re-fixed would be very much increased, and therefore the administrative duties cast on the Commissioners would be correspondingly increased. He was not prepared at the present time to give a definite answer, one way or the other, whether the Government should be prepared to accept the Amendment. If the Procedure Clauses were passed in such a way as to make it reasonably probable that the Commissioners would be able to dispatch their business much faster than at present, he would consider on Report whether it would be possible to adopt either this or a similar Amendment.
MR. T. M. HEALY
thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he had met the Amendment, and asked leave to withdraw it. He added, however, that his objection to the Procedure Clauses was unalterable. He would rather see no Bill passed than the 13th Section enacted in its present form.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
moved at the end of Sub-section (2), after the word "expires," to insert the words,any statutory term beginning after the passing of this Act in a present tenancy shall be ten years, and in sections 4 and 8 of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881, 'ten' shall, as respects any such term, be substituted for 'fifteen.'(2) "Where a statutory term in the tenancy of a holding is current at the passing of this Act, an agreement or application to fix a fair rent for the holding may be made at any time after the expiration of the ninth year of that term, and the new judicial rent fixed by the Court and the further statutory term shall, notwithstanding that the statutory term current at the passing of this Act has not expired, begin on the gale day on which the tenth year of the current statutory term expires or the gale day next after the application, whichever is latest.As to the general question of shortening the statutory term, there was amongst those who had given any study to the working of the Land Acts practically no difference of opinion. It was a remarkable fact that with one single exception every official witness examined before the recent Committee on the Land Acts, from the Judge of the Land Court downwards, gave evidence that the judicial term was too long. Some favoured a five years' statutory term, others seven, and 985 others ten. As to the proposal that the present statutory term should be so shortened as to allow of all the tenants who had rents fixed before 1886 entering the Land Courts, there was no point in connection with the present Land Bill which excited more interest in Ireland. [Nationalist cheers.] If this part of the Amendment were not agreed to, between 200,000 and 300,000 tenants in Ireland would be absolutely debarred from any benefit under this Bill for some time to come, in a large number of cases ruin would overtake them before they became entitled to the benefit of the Bill. Accounts of the sufferings of Irish farmers were apt to be discounted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, therefore, he would quote an independent authority. He referred to the amended resolutions drafted by the Committee of the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Belfast. Those resolutions did not adequately express the opinion of the great majority of the body, since they were the work of a Committee appointed to draft more moderate resolutions, which would secure unanimous assent, after far stronger resolutions had been passed in the Assembly by sweeping majorities. The prayer of this memorial was entitled to most respectful consideration, especially from Unionists; because those who framed it for the most part were not, as they boasted, Nationalists. The memorial began by expressing deep concern for the present depressed state of agriculture, produced by the continuous fall in prices and the pressure of rents, and declared the conviction that immediate relief was necessary under the alarming conditions. A resolution was unanimously passed by the Assembly approving of the memorial, and, while expressing satisfaction at the production of a Land Bill by the Government, regretting that it had been given such a place in the order of business as to preclude discussion and amendment. The resolution also said:—The General Assembly is strongly of opinion that the rents judicially fixed between 1881 and 1887 are, in the present circumstances, impossible rents [Nationalist cheers], and that no land Bill can be deemed just or satisfactory which does not afford immediate and substantial relief in these cases.986 Those who passed that resolution were entitled to speak of the whole of the Presbyterian and Unionist farmers of Ulster. [Nationalist cheers.] Was the Government going to send back to their faithful friends the answer that, although the rents were impossible, they must be paid? It was idle to answer such contentions by urging the iniquity of breaking contracts. In Ireland that plea had been parted with for ever. Judicial rents were not contracts; and the State, when it fixed those rents, bound itself to see that they were just. Roughly speaking, the 200,000 or 300,000 tenants excluded from the Bill divided themselves into two classes. There were the tenants, numbering about 130,000 whose rents were settled in open Court between 1881 and 1887; and there were the tenants whose rents were fixed largely in the years 1882 to 1885, by private agreement. Could it be doubted that in these cases the rents were excessive? The Report of the Morley Committee stated that the rents fixed by the Courts between 1881 and 1885 had been, since 1886, and were now, materially excessive. The evidence given before the Committee to this effect was overwhelming. Mr. Bailey, Assistant Legal Commissioner, said that he thought the statutory term of 15 years too long, and that seven years would be fairer to all concerned. Mr. Justice Bewley stated that he was decidedly of the opinion that the rents fixed before 1886 were now too high; and lately there had been an opportunity of testing the truth of this evidence. Some first-occasion tenants had come into Court, and the result had been most startling, proving that, if anything, the Morley Committee had understated the case. In Down, the other day, several of these tenants obtained reductions of from 20 to 40 per cent, on the previous judicial rents; and in Waterford one man's rent was reduced from £150 to £104, and another's from £32 to £22. In Kerry there was a case in which the old rent was £110; the judicial rent, fixed in 1881, was £72 5s.; and the new rent was fixed by the Court of Appeal at £49 10s., after having been fixed by Judge Shaw at £40. it was perfectly manifest from these figures that tenants were compelled to pay nearly double what, in the opinion of the Land 987 Courts, was the fair and reasonable rent of their holdings. Nearly 2,000 tenants were being evicted from their holdings every year for non-payment of these rents, which were now admitted on all sides to be grossly excessive. In other cases from Kerry the judicial rents had been reduced from £18 to £10 10s., from £31 to £27, from £28 to £13, from £60 to £25 (which was confirmed on appeal), from £90 to £75, from £78 to £56, and from £130 to £105. He had quoted sufficient cases to show that, roughly speaking, the rents fixed in 1881 were from 25 to 40 and 50 per cent, over what was now recognised to be the value of the land, and those cases which were fixed in 1882, 1883 and 1884 were far worse. ["Hear, hear!"] For in those years a rise had taken place in the standard of value put upon the land by the Commissioners, and he was, therefore, entitled to assume that those tenants, for whom in the Amendment before the House he was seeking relief, were labouring under greater injustice and more grossly excessive rents than those tenants who went into Court in 1881, and who were now able to get relief. ["Hear, hear!"] These cases included 130,000 tenants who were now under rents fixed by the Courts between 1881 and 1887. Before passing away from the cases of these tenants he would refer to a quotation from an article written by the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) which was very important testimony, coming from a man who had all along professed to be most scrupulously just towards the Irish landlords. In that article the hon. Member said:—The British landlord, hard pressed as he often was, does his best to stand by his tenants, and generally aids them in fighting an uphill battle. It was altogether different in Ireland. The Irish landlord, as a rule, stands by the judicial rents. He says, and says truly, you have abolished contract, you have fixed the rents by a State tribunal; it is not my fixing, and what the law gives me I must have.The hon. Member went on to say that Parliament was bound to see that the policy of the Act of 1881 had free scope and fair play. That was the object he had in view in moving his Amendment. He now came to the cases of the 127,000 tenants who held by judicial agreements, who had, subsequently to 1881 agreed to 988 fair rents without going into the Courts. It was provided, most unfortunately, in the Act of 1881, that landlord and tenant might come to an agreement as to the rent outside the Court.
§ MR. DILLON
said it was a most unfortunate Amendment. After some experience of the frightful costs to which they were put by the landlords, who, in the early days of the administration of the Land Acts, appealed in nearly every case with the avowed intention of intimidating their tenants from going into the Courts by piling up costs upon them as punishment, and also from the cruel use which was made of the pressure of arrears which prevailed largely over Ireland, owing to a fatal custom that still existed of keeping arrears hanging over the tenants, the tenants were induced to avail themselves of this agreement clause. The result was that, while in 1882 only 12,000 agreements were entered into, in 1883 there were 36,000, in 1884 24,000, and in 1885 there were only 11,000, which showed the tenants had abandoned that mode of fixing the rents, and in later years there were practically no agreements at all. He thought they were therefore entitled to assume that the argument of the oppressiveness of the rents was far stronger in the case of tenants who had their rents fixed under agreement than in the case of tenants who had their rents fixed in open Court. He then quoted, in support of this view from the evidence of Mr. W. F. Bailey, Legal Sub-Commissioner, before the Lands Acts Committee, with reference to the cases of 50 tenants who within the period from 1882 to 1887, had entered into agreements outside the Courts; but as the landlord's legal adviser had omitted to file the agreements, the tenants found that they were not statutory tenants at all, and that they had still the right to go into Court to have their rents fixed. They did go into Court in 1893 and 1894. The old rents amounted to £790. The reduction made by the agreements was £142, leaving the rents agreed upon £648. When the tenants went into Court, the £648 was further reduced by £168, bringing down the judicial rents to £480. That showed how enormously 989 excessive the rents arrived at by agreement were compared with the rents fixed in the Courts. His Amendment, therefore, raised an issue of enormous and wide-reaching importance, and if it were rejected, it would, in his judgment, go a long way towards destroying the benefits of the Bill for the great mass of the tenants. His language in regard to the Bill had been much discussed. He had always freely admitted that there were many clauses of the Bill which, if they stood alone, would be good clauses, and which would extend the benefits of the Land Act to a large section of the tenants who were now excluded. But what he objected to was that the Bill left out of its provision, and would debar from its benefits, the great majority of the Irish tenants at least for many years to come unless his Amendment were accepted. Before concluding, he would like to have the opinion of the Law Officers as to a legal point which was recently raised in the county Kerry. The question was, whether, in the cases of agreements fixing fair rents not having been filed for some time after the agreement had been signed, the statutory term was to commence from the date of the agreement or from the date on which the agreement was filed.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that the hon. Member for East Mayo had recited from the evidence given by the various sub-Commissioners before the Lands Acts Committee, and stated that with one exception they were in favour of reducing the judicial term. If the House remembered how these Gentlemen were appointed, and the object they had in shortening the judicial term, it would agree that they were not absolutely dispassionate witnesses. ["Hear, hear!" and "Oh, oh!"] It was his first object, and it was in conformity with human nature, that a sub-Commissioner whose lucrative employment depended on the continuance of an influx of business should desire that the term should be shortened, and that the process of establishing fair rents should be begun all over again. ["Hear, hear!"] It must be remembered that the evidence quoted by Mr. Dillon was altogether one-sided evidence; and all evidence on the other side was for some reason or other refused. [Cries of "No!"] All evidence tendered on the part of the landlords was refused 990 by that Committee. [Cries of "No!"] That was an absolute fact that might be denied but could not be refuted. [Laughter.] He hoped the Government would repudiate the principle suggested by the hon. Gentleman's Amendment. He said that contracts in Ireland had absolutely disappeared, and that contracts no longer existed. If an Englishman, a Scotchman, or a Welshman, agreed either with the State or anybody else to do something for 15 years, he was supposed by the morality which existed on this side of the Channel to keep that contract, but according to the hon. Gentleman an Irishman was justified by the morality which existed in his country, if it suited him, to repudiate any contract which he found did not pay. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] He hoped that in the interests of Ireland the Government would absolutely refuse to consent to the supposition that doctrines of that kind obtained in Ireland. He had never found the Irish people more averse to keeping contracts than the people who lived on this side of the Channel. He believed they were as honourable a people as could be found, and he repudiated the idea that they had discarded to the winds all idea of keeping contracts. ["Hear, hear!"] If they wished to permanently destroy all value of property in Ireland, they could not set about it in a better way than by establishing these shortly recurring periods for deciding what property was worth. ["Hear, hear!"] He said deliberately that, if they again broke the contracts into which they had entered in Ireland, they would unsettle the value of property, which was at the present moment rising, and they would prevent their chief commodity attaining that value in the open market which he believed ought at any rate to be one of the sources of wealth in that country. If, under the law as it stood at present, the Irish tenants could by going into court obtain these immense reductions mentioned by Mr. Dillon, he wanted to know what was the necessity for a Land Bill at all? If they could get 20, 30, 40, and 50 per cent, off their rents now, so far as justice to the tenants was concerned, this Bill was absolutely unnecessary. ["Hear, hear!"] How came it that in Ireland at the present day, with these so-called exorbitant rents, enormous 991 prices were paid for tenant right, especially in Ulster? Did they mean to tell him that an Irishman was such a fool as to invest his money in such a hopeless speculation as buying a farm with a rent which at the start he knew it would be absolutely impossible for him to pay? ["Hear, hear!"] He ventured to hope that the Government would not accept Mr. Dillon's proposal, and that they would maintain the contract which the State proposed to make between the landlord and tenant for the period of 15 years; and he believed that in doing so they would confer a benefit, not only on the landlord, but also on the tenant. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
said that one would suppose from his speech that the hon. and gallant Member had entirely forgotten the Act passed by his own political friends in 1887. [Colonel SAUNDERSON: "I mentioned it. I condemned it, and voted against it."] He did not hear his hon. and gallant Friend condemn that Act; but did not the hon. and gallant Gentleman see that in all these questions of contract between landlord and tenant in Ireland the enforcement of contract in relation to land had become a matter not of abstract consideration, but simply and solely of policy and expediency? There was no doubt that the Act of 1887 was passed by the Government of the day most reluctantly, only after the severest pressure both in and out of the House, and upon grounds and considerations of policy. The hon. Member for East Mayo asked the Committee to consider whether this was a politic and expedient Amendment to accept or not? The evidence given before the Committee over which he had the honour to preside, was not, as the hon. Member for East Mayo said, unanimous in favour of shortening the term. The Committee would remember that all the gentlemen who gave evidence were officials. [Ironical cheers.] That might or might not be an error in the conduct of the Inquiry, but it did not affect the validity of the argument or the evidence given. The witnesses were officials without bias as far as he knew, and the fact that they were officials without bias gave to their evidence very great weight indeed. The Chief Secretary would not deny that it was a very serious thing to get all those 992 gentlemen to come before a Committee of the House of Commons, and, with the exception of Mr. Justice Bewley and, perhaps, Mr. Doyle, to say that in their opinion, after experience, the statutory term was too long. Mr. Cunningham, in answer to question 4,595, which was put by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, said:—I consider a term of 15 years a great embarrassment to men engaged in fixing the rent. It involves so much of prophesy, that I have often had, and I know other men have had, great anxiety in deciding whether what has obtained for 15 years shall continue or whether we should hope for a change. If it was only for five or seven years men would feel they could deal more freely with the facts as they exist to-day.In answer to Mr. Sexton, question 4,708, the witness said he considered the rents fixed in 1885 were too high. Mr. Sexton asked,If the present statutory term holds these tenants would not be entitled to have their rents revised until the end of this century—the year 1900;and the witness said, "I suppose that is so." Mr. Macafee, who was undoubtedly one of the ablest lay commissioners who gave evidence, and who was in no way prejudiced in favour of the tenants, was asked what his view was with regard to the 15 years' term, and he said, "I agree with the other witnesses. I think it should be shortened." He was asked upon what ground he formed that view, and his reply was, "On the ground that there is so much fluctuation in prices." Another witness, Mr. Neligan, was a member of the Cowper Commission, and he recommended a reduction of the statutory term not to ten or seven years but actually to five years. Mr. Neligan signed the Report of the Cowper Commission, but he stated he signed that Report upon a sort of understanding that an attempt would be made to have an automatic variation, according to price, made every five years. A County Court Judge of great experience gave it as his opinion that the statutory term ought not to be longer than ten years. He could not suppose the Committee would pass over all that remarkable evidence as if it were of no account. Personally, he thought the Chief Secretary and the Government would be well advised if 993 they faced the difficulties which might arise from making, first of all, an abridgment of the statutory term; and, secondly, making that abridgment retrospective. They had much better face those difficulties than leave behind a deep feeling of resentment and grievance in the minds of some of the best tenants in some of the most orderly parts of Ireland, that the early rents were too high. He did not know what political or party arguments might weigh with the Chief Secretary; but if the right hon. Gentleman regarded the tranquillity and order of Ireland as well as the justice and merits of the case, he could not help assenting to the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Mayo.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
said the hon. Member for East Mayo threw some doubt on the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, that the evidence which was tendered on the part of the landlords was excluded from the purview of the Committee. Speaking accurately, that might be true—[Irish cheers]—but he was a member of the Committee, and if he mistook not the Committee commenced their sittings on May 1st, finished them on July 31st, and it was not until July 30th that they took any evidence on the part of the landlords. If the Committee had been re-appointed as proposed, landlords' evidence might have been heard and many different clauses might have been arrived at.
§ COLONEL WARING
admitted that the evidence was official evidence, but when the Committee commenced their sittings it was understood they were to take the evidence of practitioners and of disinterested persons on both sides. The hon. and gallant Member for Mid Armagh had referred to the enormous value which the tenants in Ireland attached to the possession of the land, even with the so-called "impossible rents." He would give a case or two illustrative of this. A few days since a farm of eight and a half acres in Antrim was put up to auction. The old rent was£8 and it had been reduced judicially to £7 5s. 9d. There were five or six persons seeking to buy it. The bidding was started at £150, but eventually 994 £710, exclusive of auction fees, was given for it, or a price at the rate of 98 years' purchase of the rent. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "Who bought it?"] The purchaser was a lady [Nationalist laughter]; but ladies in Ireland were quite as shrewd in those matters as men. A week or two ago a price at the rate of 25 years' purchase was given for a farm of 25 acres in the county of Longford; and very recently in another county £10 a statute acre was paid for a piece of bog-land and 10s. an acre for future tenancy. It could hardly be supposed that the shrewd tenant-farmers of Ireland would pay such prices as those unless they placed a very different value on the land to hon. Gentlemen opposite and the Court valuers. ["Hear, hear!"] He had called attention to those facts in order that English Members might see that there was another side to the question as stated by the Nationalist Members. ["Hear, hear!" and Nationalist laughter.]
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said the Amendment embraced two distinct questions—the abridgment of the term in future, and the abridgment of the current term to ten years. On neither of those points could the Government give way. [Cheers.] His attention had been called by the hon. Member for East Mayo and the right hon. Member for Montrose to the evidence given before the Committee which sat in 1894. He did not for a moment deny that that evidence carried great weight; but he would remind those hon. Gentlemen that Judge Bewley, a very important witness, did not concur with the majority of the official witnesses in thinking that the term should be shortened. ["Hear, hear!"] It was easy to perceive why the official witnesses in general should have desired to see the term shortened. The fixing of fair rent was their business, and it must be obvious to anybody who gave the matter a moment's consideration that a valuer would have greater confidence in fixing rents for ten years than he would have in fixing them for 15 years. He thought the right hon. Gentleman might have called the attention of the Committee more decisively to the circumstance that many, if not the majority, of the valuers preferred the term of seven years to ten years; and, if this was the opinion of the official witnesses, he presumed the right 995 hon. Gentleman himself must have had some good reason in accepting, not the seven, but the ten years. He must have perceived and admitted that there were very important considerations to be set on the other side. ["Hear, hear!"] However, if the period which was judicially arrived at was to be reduced to even ten years, the inevitable effect would be to largely increase the cost both to the State and the parties. It would undoubtedly lead to a great increase of litigation, and that additional litigation would increase the friction between landlords and tenants—a condition of things which they all desired to avoid. ["Hear, hear!"] Another point, and not an unimportant one, to be considered was that, if there was refixing of rents at short intervals, the attention of the tenants would be distracted from the proper cultivation of their farms. ["Hear, hear!"] There had been a tendency, even if it were not so at the present time, on the part of tenants to let down the cultivation of their farms towards the end of the fixed period in order that the Commissioners, seeing the state of the farms when they came to fix the rents, would put the rents at a lower figure than they would otherwise do. He did not say this was the practice of the Commissioners, but undoubtedly the shortening of the intervals for the refixing of the rents had a tendency to lessen the interest of the tenants in the cultivation of their farms towards the end of the period. ["Hear, hear!"] Those considerations had weighed with the Government, and, although they had fully taken into account what had been said on the other side, they held that the balance was distinctly in favour of the 15 years' rather than of the ten years' term. [Cheers.] No doubt, if, by some cheap and easy method, and without litigation, they could have shorter intervals for the revision of rents, that, in the opinion of everybody, would be the preferable system to adopt. He had put before the Committee a plan for achieving that object, but the difficulties in the matter were such that he was bound to make it voluntary in its operation. That plan would have necessitated a five years' term, but without litigation, without expense between the parties, and without additional cost to the State. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for East Mayo had read a Resolution which had 996 been passed by the Presbyterian Assembly in Ireland a few days since, and he said, no doubt justly, that that Resolution represented the earnest desire of the tenants. Of course it was the earnest desire of the tenants that they should be enabled to enter the Courts earlier than in the ordinary course, because it was admitted that if they entered the Courts again their rents would in all probability be fixed lower than in the first instance. ["Hear, hear"! from the, Nationalist Members.] But the House had to consider not merely the desire and interests of the tenants, but also what was fair between the parties, and also whether, by adopting the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Mayo, it would not be setting up a very evil precedent. The hon. Member had quoted from the resolutions of the Presbyterian Assembly the words "impossible rents" as applied to the present rents. Those rents doubtless would be "impossible rents" if they were to be continued indefinitely, but no one entertained that idea, for under an arrangement made by Parliament in 1881 the tenants would be entitled to come into Court in due course for the refixing of their rents. A Parliamentary contract had thus been entered into between landlord and tenant; and the tenants by going into Court acquiesced in the arrangement Parliament made in their behalf. The terms fixed by Parliament were voluntarily entered into between landlord and tenant, and in the interests of public morality the arrangement ought to be adhered to. [Cheers.] Let them consider for moment to what the contention of the hon. Member for East Mayo would lead. The hon. Member said that rent should be fair rent. Well, the State entered into an undertaking to settle the rents between landlord and tenants at intervals of 15 years. The State did not engage to rearrange the terms in the interval between the fixing of the rent and the conclusion of the term, however much the circumstances might change. If the State entered into an arrangement of that kind it would have been necessary whenever there was a fall in prices, or again, whenever there was a rise in prices, year by year to refix the rents. The arrangement was simply that for 15 years rents 997 should remain unaltered, and when the right hon. Gentleman opposite said it was not a question of principle, but one of policy and expediency, he thought he might fairly urge as against that that principle was not necessarily inconsistent with policy. ["Hear, hear!"] It was a matter of principle and of policy and of expediency. The right hon. Gentleman took an opposite view, but he could not help falling back on the view he had himself expressed when, in the closing words of his speech, he appealed to them to judge of the question on the justice and merits of the case. Therefore, according to the right hon. Gentleman himself, it was not merely a question of policy and expediency as distinguished from principle, if that distinction was legitimate and proper. Speaking on behalf of the Government, he could not be a party to allowing this arrangement, deliberately entered into, to be brought to an end simply because it so happened that circumstances had been unfavourable to the tenant. Nobody supposed that there would have been any plausibility in setting up a claim on behalf of the landlords for refixing the rents if prices had risen and circumstances had been more favourable to the tenant. He could not himself see that there was any justice or expediency at the present time—though, no doubt, it might gain the Government a certain transient popularity in Ireland—in making the concession which was now demanded. Reference had been made to the Act of 1887, and they were asked if they did not break a Parliamentary contract at that time. Undoubtedly they did, but everybody recognised that there was the greatest objection to doing so, and had they foreseen in 1887 that in 1896 they would be asked to do exactly the same thing over again he thought they would probably have stiffened their backs and refused to do it then. [Derisive Irish cheer.]
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that was his opinion. Over and above that, he should just like to lay this before the Committee. When they spoke of 1887 and said that possibly the circumstances of the time might have justified the course they took, they were immediately met by the argument that when there 998 was agitation they gave in [Irish cheers], and that when Ireland was quiet they declined to do so. [Renewed Irish cheers.] He ventured to say that the circumstances of the present time were entirely different from those of 1887. No doubt there was a heavy fall of prices then, as there was now, but that was not the only matter that had to be taken into consideration. In 1887 Ireland was, quite apart from any political question, in a desperate condition. Credit was almost at an end; seasons had, for many years in succession, been exceedingly bad; and the Cowper Commission, on whose Report the Act of 1887 was based, urged as a reason for adopting the policy they did, not merely the fall in prices, but the total disorganisation of credit in Ireland and the succession of bad seasons, which had reduced the yield to a minimum. He should admit there was some analogy between 1887 and the present time if Ireland was in that miserable condition now, but that was not the case. He could assure the Committee that at the present time rents were paid, he would not say without the slightest difficulty, but thoroughly well—[cheers]—and the farmers, as compared with 1887, were in a contented and prosperous state. If he were asked the reason for that, seeing that the fall in prices was quite as heavy now as in 1887, he would say—and he believed it to be the true reason—that since that date farmers had paid more attention to the cultivation of their farms and less attention to politics—[cheers and Irish laughter]—with the natural result that they were able to make more off their farms than they were then. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman opposite only perfunctorily referred to one important point—that of the administrative difficulty which would be created if Parliament was now to retrospectively reduce the term to ten years. He would remind the Committee of the figures he put before the House on the First Reading. He calculated that the suggested change would create 238,000 applications. As an assistant legal Commissioner could only dispose of 2,400 cases a year, the Committee could easily calculate how many assistant Commissioners it would be necessary to appoint to dispose of this enormous number of cases in one year, or even in three, four, or five years. He 999 estimated that of these 238,000 cases 200,000 would have to be disposed of, and he calculated that it would require 83 legal assistant Commissioners and 664 lay assistant Commissioners to do so in one year, while to dispose of them in five years would require 16 legal and 133 lay assistant Commissioners. If these cases were to be disposed of even in two years it would be necessary to appoint such a number of sub-Commissioners that he unhesitatingly said it would be practically impossible to find men who were really adequate to the work. This was a most serious difficulty, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite had not told them how it might be got over. No doubt something might be done by an improved form of procedure, and in the Bill he proposed a form of procedure which he was given to understood by the Land Commission would enable them to dispose of cases about twice as quickly as they did now. [Irish laughter.] But then the hon. and learned Member for Louth told them that if that proposal were adopted he would oppose the Bill through thick and thin. In these circumstances he thought they had a right to ask the representative of the late Government, who must have had this problem before him, how he proposed it should be solved. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. MORLEY
said the Bill of the late Government abridged the term and made that change retrospective. He did not carry in his mind all the figures connected with Irish administration, but he did know that he consulted those whom he supposed the Chief Secretary had consulted, and that he was never led to suppose that the administrative difficulties to which he had called their attention were insuperable. He quite agreed that the figures of the right hon. Gentleman were extraordinarily formidable, but he could only say that he was not led to suppose at that time that these difficulties were insuperable.
MR. T. M. HEALY
said the answer to the Chief Secretary was that where there was a will there was a way. He would also point out that all the rents did not require to be fixed in one year, for the new rent, whenever fixed, would date back to the gale day after the application, and the tenant would he entitled to the return of any money that was found to be overpaid. ["Hear, hear!"] How 1000 miserable must be the case of Scotland, where the term was only seven years! Where were the administrative difficulties in the operation of the Scotch Crofters Act? ["Hear, hear!"]
MR. T. M. HEALY
said the right hon. Gentleman was a Scotchman and ought to know. [Laughter.] He found the same Commissioners going about to all the same crofting parishes, and giving, in almost every case, a substantial reduction even on the rent fixed only seven years ago. In Scotland, too, tenants had had their arrears wiped out by the Crofting Commission, so that they had not to stagger under a burden of debt as the Irish tenants had. Furthermore, there had been an Adams and Dunseath point in Scotland under the Crofters Act, but there it was decided in favour of the tenant, because under the Act the presumption with regard to improvements was in favour of the tenant. [Irish cheers.] There was this further remarkable fact, that when the Crofters Act was brought forward in 1886 the term of 15 years was reduced to one of seven years at the instance of Mr. Chance, then an Irish Member of that House, and that was done in consequence of the Irish experience. It was not the Irish Papists the Chief Secretary was now attacking. It was the whole of the Presbyterian divines of Ulster, who, when they came the other day to the conclusion that rents should be reduced, were practically attacking their own incomes, because they were largely derived from investments in Irish land. When a body of learned men, met for the consideration, not of lay but of ecclesiastical affairs, deemed it their duty to come to a unanimous conclusion of this sort, then it was a matter in which Irishmen might say if they had a Parliament in College-green they would legislate in accordance with the opinions thus expressed by this Presbyterian body. The Chief Secretary said that these were binding contracts, and that the tenants having invoked the law were bound by it. Considering that the Irish Members, as a body, protested against the fixing of rents for a term of 15 years in the Act of 1881, he did not think any law of that kind could be given the term of a binding contract. ["Hear, hear!"] He declared that 1001 this clause, unless amended, would inflict a new feeling of injustice upon the tenants. It was utterly untrue to say there was any Parliamentary contract in the matter. The Irish Members did not vote for the Act of 1881; their advice was rejected, and it was, therefore, absurd to say they were bound by what Parliament had done against their will. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not wish to say anything to accentuate the position of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who must be suffering considerable unhappiness, not wholly assuaged by the fact that his salary was paid quarterly. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman very fairly supported the Bill of last year.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL) Tyrone, S.
I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I speak in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who, I think, will bear me out when I say I opposed the proposal in the Select Committee.
§ MR. RUSSELL
It is the retrospective part I am dealing with, and I opposed it, as did also the right hon. Gentleman. So far as the Committee was concerned this proposal was thrown out. When it appeared in the Bill I stated in my speech on the Second Reading the difficulties on both sides of the Question, and said that I could not actually support such a proposal, but that, if Parliament sanctioned it, of course, I should acquiesce in it. I never gave any active support to a proposal of this kind, neither in the House, in the Committee upstairs, nor in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"]
MR. T. M.HEALY
had been under the impression that the hon. Gentleman had declared in favour of such a proposal in Ireland; but, as that was not the case, he withdrew what he had said, and asked the hon. Gentleman to accept his respectful apology. ["Hear, hear!"] They had, at any rate, the important fact that a large body of opinion in Ireland which the hon. Member would admit represented Ulster—namely, the Presbyterian divines, had unanimously passed the Resolutions to 1002 which reference had been made. He reminded English Members that the late Government brought in a Bill shortening the term which unanimously passed this House on the Second Reading, that Irish opinion in the South went in a similar direction, that the Ulster Members who wore returned by the farmers took a similar view, and that the Presbyterian Assembly had declared that the rents fixed from 1881 to 1887 were unjust. The latter fact alone ought sufficiently to weigh with any Government which had Irish opinion, at heart, and was an adequate reason for supporting an Amendment of this kind. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)
did not desire to take up time at any length for if the Government had made up their mind not to give way, nothing he could say would persuade them in an opposite direction. There were two branches of this question, one retrospective and the other future. As to the retrospective branch the right hon. Gentleman had promised to give attention to the Amendment which stood in the name of the hon. Member for North Louth, and if on Report of the Bill he could accept that Amendment, it would do away with some of the injustice with regard to the retrospective portion of the 10 years. With regard to the other part of the question the Chief Secretary was not, perhaps, aware how greatly opinion had changed in this matter. In 1881 public opinion was all for lengthening the term. He had himself at that time, an Amendment down to make the term 31 years, and three or four other Gentlemen representing Ulster Liberal opinion had tabled similar proposals to extend the tenure. The term of 15 years was ultimately accepted, but the tendency of public opinion in Ireland was undoubtedly in favour of shortening the period of tenure. He thought that 10 years would be much more acceptable to general public opinion than 15 years and he intended to vote for the shorter term.
§ MR. D. KILBRIDE (Galway, N.)
observed that the Chief Secretary had based his refusal to accept the Amendment on three grounds. The first of these was that the shortening of the term for judicial rents would create friction between landlord and tenant, 1003 the second that if the term was shortened, admittedly the so-called judicial rents would be reduced, and the third reason the right hon. Gentleman advanced was that rents were now being paid. It struck him that some of the reasons given by the Chief Secretary were rather unfortunate; and, apparently, the lesson the Irish tenant-farmer had to learn was that so long as he paid his rent so long would he get no redress. The Government stated that the term of 15 years fixed by the Act of 1881 was a sacred contract, and could not be disturbed. But in 1887 a Conservative Government brought in a Land Act which dealt with existing contracts, and reduced the rents very considerably. If the amount could be reduced, why not the term of years also? The Chief Secretary had defended the introduction of the Bill of 1887 on the ground that in that year the price of agricultural produce was extremely low, and the previous season of 1886 was one of the worst that had ever been experienced. But were the prices of agricultural produce better now than they were in 1887? They certainly had not materially—if at all—improved since 1887, and in some instances were even lower. As to the objection that the Government did not like to create friction between landlord and tenant by shortening the term, that was really a strong argument in favour of land purchase and of doing away with the present system of dual ownership. He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether in his opinion the refusal of the Government to accept this Amendment would not create friction between the landlords and the tenants in Ireland. Each Land Act that had been passed had resulted in a reduction of rent being made of 25 to 30 per cent. on the average, and therefore the tenant-farmers in Ireland would come to the conclusion that the Government had refused to accept the Amendment in the interest of the landlords. The right hon. Gentleman had said that one of the reasons that had induced the Government to refuse to accept the Amendment was because of the great difficulty there would be in setting up a sufficient machinery and of obtaining a sufficient number of competent men to act as assistant Commissioners. But how many 1004 applications for such posts were now in the pockets of hon. Members opposite who represented the north of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone had been followed, and pestered, and worried by gentlemen from the North of Ireland who were not Nationalists, but were tenant-farmers fully competent to discharge the duties of assistant Commissioners, for such appointments. He did not believe therefore that any difficulty would be found in obtaining the necessary number of competent men to fill those positions. Neither was it a very difficult thing to find in Dublin a sufficient number of gentlemen connected with the law to preside over the Land Courts. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh had said that national politics only flourished when Ireland was in hot water, but of course the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not desire that any politics should flourish but his own. He would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether in his cooler and calmer moments the present policy of Her Majesty's Government was not calculated to bring Ireland into hot water. He believed that before this time 12 months he state of affairs in Ireland would show considerable friction between the landlords and tenants owing to the refusal of the Government to accept this Amendment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had also given as a reason why the rents were not unfair the fact that tenants were obtaining in particular instances 20 or 30 years' purchase for their holdings. But Judge Madden had stated from the Treasury Bench in 1891 that the interest of the tenant in the holding was as great as that of the landlord. In that case, what was there surprising in the fact that the tenant obtained 20 years' purchase for his share in the holding? What the tenant sold was his share of the co-partnership in the land. Hon. Members opposite might contend that the tenant was not a co-partner in the land, but the Land Acts had established the fact that he was. He should very much like to see this Amendment accepted, because it had been admitted by all who were qualified to judge of the state of things in Ireland that it was perfectly impossible for the tenant-farmers to pay their rent out of the profits derived from the land. It was 1005 true that the rents had been paid, but they had been paid either out of capital or out of money that ought to have gone to the shopkeepers and tradesmen for the necessaries of life, and for goods supplied by them to the tenants. That could not long continue, and would bring about a state of things which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary himself had admitted had led to the passing of the Land Act of 1887. ["Hear, hear"]
§ MR. J. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
said that he was going to vote in favour of the Amendment, and with the permission of the Committee he would state the reasons that led him to take that course. When the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary rose to say that he would not accept the Amendment, he gave his reasons for not doing so, and had the right hon. Gentleman been able to furnish any good reasons which he could have believed or understood, ho should have voted with the Party with which he usually acted. One of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman was that a 10 years' limit would increase friction between the landlords and the tenants of Ireland. But what would happen under a 15 years' limit, if, at the end of 10 years, the tenant was unable to pay his rent? A revision of rents every year, instead of leading to friction, would, he contended, have the opposite result. The Chief Secretary seemed to think the refixing of rents would largely increase legal costs. If that were proved, it would be a strong argument against the 10 years' limit. He was always willing to see legal costs diminished. He referred rather to solicitors' costs and not barristers' fees. He had received a very large number of letters from candidates in his constituency for Land Commissionerships, but not one of the writers would make a capable Land Commissioner. [Cheers.] He was obliged to inform each gentleman that if he did not succeed in obtaining a Land Commissionership it was because so many thousands had applied. He had not heard the name of any gentleman outside his own constituency who had applied for a Land Commissionership who was not fairly fitted, so that argument, to those who knew the country districts of Ireland, went for absolutely nothing. He should vote in favour of the Amend- 1006 ment with the entire approval of the Chief Secretary. His position was that last year this question came up before the people of Ulster. He addressed several meetings in his constituency upon it, and in all parts of the division he said he understood that the 10 years' limit was to be in the Bill to be brought forward, and that he would support the 10 years limit. No Member of his Party charged him with committing himself to anything he ought not, and it seemed to be thought that without harm to himself or his Party he could vote for the 10 years' limit. The Bill containing the limit passed the Second Reading. Little opposition was given on the Conservative side to the limit proposed. The opposition was connected with other Members. He was elected pledged to vote for the limit, and how could he possibly change his view because his Party happened to be in power? He felt obliged to support the Amendment. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh spoke of the high prices given by farmers in purchasing farms, and he asked if they would be such fools as to take farms at prices they could not pay and undertake obligations they could not fulfil. The hon. and gallant Member thought this proved that rents were not too high and the obligations were not too great. It was not conclusive proof at all. Would they be such fools? Yes, they would. Other men were equally foolish in the same direction. He was himself a tenant in the Temple. A large number of men took holdings there who were never able to pay their rents at all. Their rents were paid by their relatives. Because tenants in Ireland gave high prices for farms, that was conclusive proof that the terms were low. He wished the tenants could be prevented from undertaking obligations they could not fulfil. His hon. Friend the Member for North Armagh said he was not returned by the tenant-farmers. That was not the case with him. He could not be a Poor Law Guardian in county Down but for the tenant-farmers' vote.
§ MR. RENTOUL
Certainly, every man of intelligence would vote for you. [Laughter.] But my gallant Friend 1007 does not depend on the tenant-farmers for his return. I, a faithful follower of his, was returned by the tenant-farmers. Continuing, Mr. Rentoul, said he had just received something by way of proof of his statement—a lengthy memorial signed by 1,000 people from the barony of Lakale in East Down. They were men of the highest intelligence. [Laughter.] In the first place they were Unionists to a man; secondly, he might only delicately refer to the gentleman whom they returned to represent them. [Laughter.] The substance of the memorial was that, in consequence of the extraordinary decline in the price of all kinds of agricultural produce which, in the last 10 years alone, had fallen on an average one-third, it was impossible to pay the existing judicial rents. There seemed to be no prospect of an arrest in the direction of lowering prices, and, unless an immediate reduction of all agricultural rents be obtained, ruin threatened an industrious and deserving class of tenant-farmers, who desired to live, as they had always done, in peace. These men undoubtedly gave themselves an excellent character, but it would be given to them by all who knew them. He was backed up on the vote he was about to give by those whom he represented, and he must vote on this occasion just as he voted last year.
§ SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
assured the Chief Secretary that there was no point connected with the Bill in which the tenants in Ireland were so vitally interested as in this question of 10 years. Anyone who had read the Irish newspapers since the Bill was printed must be aware that meetings of tenant-farmers had been held in every part of Ireland. They had been held in county Down, in Derry, in Antrim, and Tyrone, and at all the meetings resolutions were passed, and foremost among them was one that, unless some Measure shortening the term and giving relief to a tenant whose rents were fixed between 1881 and 1886 was carried by the House, legislation would be useless. Unquestionably that, was one vital point in the present Bill. He was in the same position as the hon. and learned Member who spoke last. He, too, pledged himself to his constituents that he would do his utmost to have the Bill read a Second time and carried into law 1008 which contained this provision. The hon. Member for South Tyrone would admit his accuracy when he said that he himself, in addressing his constituents, expressed general approval of the Bill read a Second time last year, and one of the first clauses in the Bill was about the 10 years' limit.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that if the hon. and learned Member could not, perhaps he would read the words of his right hon. Friend in connection with the Amendment he put on the Paper to that Bill.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
said he could not make these nice distinctions. He quoted the hon. Member as a high authority on the Irish Land Question. The main objection to this change seemed to be that it involved what was called a breach of Parliamentary contract. He did not understand what was meant by that. An Act of Parliament was passed making 15 years the term, but that Act, like any other Act, required to be revised according to circumstances. That argument ought to carry no weight in view of the strong feeling that, unless something was done to shelter the tenants of Ireland from the improvident contracts they had entered into, ruin must come upon, the country. The whole Code of the land law involved more or less an interference with contract, commencing with the Act of 1870. There was no magic in the statutory term of 15 years fixed by the Act of 1881. It was admitted that in principle this Amendment was right, and the only reason given against it was that some inconvenience would be entailed by the alteration. He did not think such an answer was worthy of the House of Commons. Was there no precedent for this? When the tithe rent-charge was fixed under the Tithe Rent-Charge Act in Ireland, which was a great interference with the tithe owners, there was a provision made that it should be revised every seven years; and in the still more modern Act, the Crofters Act of Scotland, the rents were only fixed for seven years. He, for one, could not give a silent vote on this occasion. He trusted the 1009 Amendment would be pressed to a Division, for he thought the responsibility of refusing this reasonable demand of the Irish tenants should be cast on the right shoulders.
§ MR. DILLON
said he had hoped that, after the remarkable speeches of the hon. Members for South Derry and East Down, the Government would have reconsidered their position. The Member for East Down told the Government that even if he wished to follow them into the Lobby he dared not do so as an honest representative of his constituency. He thought the Government must feel they were taking a very serious step in resisting the unanimous demand of the Unionist farmers of Ulster. The Chief Secretary had admitted that the fall in prices this year was as heavy as in 1887, and the only reason he gave for refusing this reasonable and just demand was, in the first place, that friction might be created between landlord and tenant; secondly, that it would entail a large amount of expense; and, thirdly, the old objection that the shortening of the term might lead the farmers to deteroriate their land with a view of getting their rent reduced. The real reason came at the end of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, when he said that the farmers of Ireland were paying their rents and beginning to pay more attention to business. That was a very interesting reason, and the Committee now knew that if there had been a plan of campaign or violent agitation in Ireland last winter this Amendment would have been accepted.
§ * SIR J. COLOMB
said that anyone who had given any regard to the Irish agrarian question, looked to the ultimate settlement of it to purchase. It was quite obvious that if the arrangements between landlord and tenant were continually being thrown into the melting pot, the road to arrangements by purchase must be blocked. Certain offers had been made to the tenants of Ireland, which were withheld from Great Britain, for the most part out of British money—
§ * SIR J. COLOMB
said he did not in the least see the point of that observation. He was not approaching the discussion of this Bill in any hostile spirit. 1010 He was putting the matter before the House as an English Member, and he repeated that offers of British money—of money of the United Kingdom, if hon. Members preferred it to be put in that way—had been made to the Irish tenants which had not been made to the tenants of Great Britain. Those offers having been made in the desire that they should be effective, the point was, would continual alterations in the terms of judicial rent encourage or discourage purchase. Obviously they must discourage it. If there was one continual agitation for a reduction of rent, purchase must be deferred. The great evil and the great danger before Ireland was the steady deterioration of the land, and the present system was pushing forward instead of retarding deterioration. He knew a property in the richest part of Ireland, in the county of Limerick, on which the landlord expended a considerable sum in drainage works. Down to the Act of 1881 the tenants regularly cleared the watercourses, and the land was kept in good condition. After 1881 the watercourses were not cleared, and he drew the attention of the tenants to the fact that they were choked. They replied,—Why on earth should we clear the watercourses? If they are left choked the rushes will grow and the land will deteriorate, and then we shall go into the Land Court and have the rents reduced.["Oh, oh!" and "Shame."] If hon. Members meant shame on the tenants, he agreed with them. It was undeniable tenants were fast getting it into their heads that they should look to Parliament and not to their own exertions. ["What about your own tenants?"] Well, they held the common opinion that the predatory instinct in human beings was strong in both landlords and tenants, and required to be checked. [Laughter.] Parliament was attempting to do what it had never done with success—namely, to fix prices, instead of leaving them to free contract. The late Mr. Parnell and other Irish leaders had been in favour of fixing rents for long periods. Now Irish Members came forward against their leader in a former period and pleaded for a reduction of the term which Mr. Parnell would not have supported—["Oh, oh!"]—at all events, he had left it on record what his 1011 opinions were. The late Mr. Litton, a man of vast experience, also declared against short periods. It was the present Lord Chief Justice of England who proposed to substitute 15 for 31 years; why should it be altered now? Having fixed 15 years in 1881, why should the House alter the term in 1896? If 10 years were adopted now, why should not the term be reduced to five years in 1898? ["Make it five now."] That ejaculation proved that you must adopt an average as a fair term and stick to it. You could adduce no more reason on commercial grounds for making it 10 than you could for making it nine, and no more for nine than for eight. Therefore he was delighted to hear that the Government were not going to give way. The Amendment would work retrospectively; it would affect men who had paid their rents according to the scale fixed 15 years ago; and thus it would completely upset the existing arrangements with many tenants throughout Ireland. It was not in the interests of the country to alter the term.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said he recognised that the time had arrived for the Committee to come to a decision. As to the difficulty of finding the right time when rents should be fixed, he could state what it was in a sentence; they ought to be fixed whenever it was palpable that revision was required by justice. The Chief Secretary had made a most important admission; he said it was very likely that the rents would be reduced if they were refixed now. That meant the Government admitted to the Irish people that even in the opinion of the Government the rants were such that if the cases were reheard the rents would in all probability be reduced; it was telling the Irish people that they must rely for redress of grievances, not upon any feeling of justice in this House, but upon their own exertions. [Cheers.] In 1866 Mr. Parnell did exactly what the Irish Members were doing now; he warned the Government that the people would find it impossible to pay judicial rents. The Government refused to listen to him; but afterwards they were obliged to do what he asked them to do and what at first they refused to do. History was repeating itself; it was the old 1012 story, Measures of relief deferred and not passed gracefully and in good time. To plead as an excuse that rents were being paid was to tell the people to resort to a no-rent agitation. He appealed to hon. Members opposite who were going to vote against the rehearing of these cases, to consider the effect upon the tenants of the declaration of the Chief Secretary that their rents would probably be reduced if their cases were reheard. Was it likely these tenants would continue to pay rents which they knew were too high? If he was a tenant-farmer and read the startling admission of the Chief Secretary, he certainly would refuse to pay rent until his case had been reheard or his rent had been reduced. If a number of English tenant-farmers were told they were paying rents which would be reduced if justice was done, they would soon act so as to compel the House to pass the necessary legislation. He regretted that the Chief Secretary had not acted boldly and wisely, and consented to do at once what he or his successor would be compelled to do.
§ Question put: "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 91; Noes, 132.—(Division List, No. 239.)
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
moved in Sub-section (3), after the words "or to his," to insert the words "heirs, assigns, or," so as to provide that over-payments by tenants might be recovered by them from their landlords' heirs and assigns. The clause, he explained, only provided for recovery from the landlord himself or his personal representatives. Let them suppose a case in which it took them three years to fix a fair rent. Provision was made in this clause for the protection of the tenant's interest if the landlord should die in that period, or if his estate should determine; but no provision was made for the tenant's protection in case the landord should assign or convey his interest. Then the tenant's right of recovering an over-payment in the case of the death of his landlord was limited to recovery from the deceased's personal representatives. But in many cases it happened that a landlord had no personal representatives, and in those cir- 1013 cumstances the tenant ought to be entitled to recover from the heir. There being no privity of estate between a tenant for life and a remainderman, he recognised that it might be unfair to give a landlord the right to deduct the amount that he had overpaid a tenant for life from the rent payable to the remainderman. The case was different where the estate passed by descent to the landlord's heir. The heir ought to be placed in no better position than the person from whom he derived the estate; he ought to take the estate subject to all equitable burdens.
After the usual interval, Mr. STUART-WORTLEY took the Chair.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
said his hon. Friend's Amendment was very moderate. This sub-section proposed to alter the existing law to the detriment of the tenant. It was an iniquitous and fraudulent provision. The 5th Section of the Act of 1887 provided that the tenant might deduct from any future rent the excess rent paid between the date of application and the fixing of the fair rent. Under the Bill the tenant was to find out the personal representatives of the person to whom the excess rent had been paid, and sue them for repayment. Suppose a rent of £3 or £4 a year reduced by £1, and a return of 15s. to be due to the tenant after the fixing of the new rent. How long would he be in getting that 15s. by process of law? The Government had deliberately altered the law as provided in Section 5 of the Act of 1887, in order to enable the poor tenant to be cheated.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)
said that the date of application by the tenant was to be the determining point as to when the new rent was to begin; but until the new rent was fixed, the old rent had to be paid. The clause provided that if the new rent were higher than the old, the landlord might recover the arrears due from the date of application, and he had the tenant-right in the holding as a security. The Amendment simply asked that the tenant, on the other hand, when his rent was reduced by the Court, should also have a security in the holding for the recovery of the excess rent paid by him. The clause gave him no such security, but compelled 1014 him to go into court against the landlord or his personal representatives. The law compelled the tenant to pay the old rent till the new one was fixed, and therefore the law ought to protect him in the recovery of any excess so paid. It would be perfectly easy to give the successors of the old landlord, who had received the excess, a right of recovery against him; but the tenant ought not to be obliged to go outside his holding.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. ATKINSON,) Londonderry
said that the effect of the argument for the Amendment was that a man should pay a debt which he did not owe. The purpose of the clause was to make a man who owed a debt pay it, and to relieve the man who did not owe it. In the interval between the application of a tenant and the fixing of his rent, the tenant might have paid more than he ought, owing to the backward operation of the Order. But that excess had been paid to a particular person, and the clause provided that that person, or his personal representatives, should repay the money. It would be inequitable to require that the heir or asignee, who had never had the money, should have to repay it. The clause provided that, if the estate of a landord had determined, the tenant could deduct from the landlord so long as the man who continued to be landlord was the same individual who got the overplus.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND
said the tenant would probably be entitled to set the overplus off against the rent. The clause gave the tenant the right to deduct it from the landlord who was overpaid so long as that landlord continued to receive the rent, and also from the personal representative in the case of the death of the landlord, if the personal representative happened to be the person who was entitled to receive the rent. But they did not think it right that the tenant should be able to deduct it from the heir or the assignee.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
said the difficulty would be avoided if the clause in the Land Bill of 1894, which was read a second time in the House, dealing with this question, were adopted.
MR. T. M. HEALY
said that if this was the spirit in which reasonable Amendments were accepted, he doubted whether any rapid progress could be made with the Bill. It would be easy to demonstrate the hollowness and absurdity of the argument of the Attorney General for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said that the clause was a clause to prevent a man being made liable for money which he did not owe. That was an attack upon the law of the land which had existed for nine years, or since the Act of 1887 had been passed. For nine years the state of the law had been in harmony with justice; and the Act of 1887, which had brought the law into harmony with justice, had been passed by a Conservative Government. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not fair that the successor of the landlord should pay. But what happened if, in a like case the tenant died? Could his successor say: "It was my father—you did not have from me." There were estates constantly passing through the Courts. Take the O'Hara estate in Clare. O'Hara sold his estate to a scoundrel named Dwyer, who had seven policemen as a bodyguard, and who was costing the country £500 per annum for police protection. The tenants could not recover from Dwyer if their rents were reduced; they would have to look to O'Hara, and goodness only knew where O'Hara was. This provision did not hit the existing landlord at all, it only hit a possible assignee. Whatever the Government might say in regard to the case of the heir, the case of the assignee stood in a different position. To say that there was any other mode by which the tenant could recover from the landlord except by deduction was an absurdity. It was the desire of the Government to protect the landlords, but they wished to plunge the tenants into a lawsuit in order to get a pound or two reduction, and to file a suit in Chancery. He did not hesitate to characterise it as scandalous. [Cries of "Order!"]
MR. T. M. HEALY
said he was not referring to the right hon. Gentleman in his official capacity, but to the scandalous conduct of the Government. He hoped that future Governments might so act 1016 that they should never be called scandalous again.
§ MR. CARSON
did not think much would be gained by debating the matter; it was a very small Amendment. The hon. and learned Member had said that the Act of 1887 practically created the same state of law as by this Amendment it was desired to bring about. But, as he understood it, the object of this Bill was not to extend either the Act of 1881 or 1887 in favour either of a landlord or a tenant, but to remedy any injustices which might have been done. What they really had to do in the present case was to see whether the proposal in this Bill was just, and to examine it on its merits. It occurred to him that the assignee stood in a somewhat different position to the heir. He must, or ought to be aware of the condition in which any obligation for rents stood in regard to the tenantry over whom he was about to become the landlord, and he thought it was his duty to inquire whether the tenants were judicial tenants or not. The assignee would purchase with full notice of the claims that might be made against the estate. He would suggest that a fair way out of the difficulty would be to accept the words "his assigns" without accepting the word "heirs."
§ MR. CALDWELL
supported the Amendment. He understood the right hon. Gentleman had no objection to the new landlord pocketing an increased rent.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND
said that, under the clause as it stood, the tenantry had a right to deduct the rent even from an assignee whose assignment was not made until after the rent was fixed, and he would suggest as a compromise that a right should be given to recover against the assignee. If the Amendment was withdrawn, he should be quite willing before the Report stage to make an Amendment to the Act to that effect.
§ Mr. MAURICE HEALY
said the case of the heir was a stronger case than that of the assignee. Surely it was stronger to have notice that the rent had been actually reduced than to have notice that action was pending.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said they had listened to a more elaborate and technical discussion than had taken place for some time. He was prepared to 1017 accept the suggestion of the hon. Member, and they would consider the whole subject before the Report stage.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
said it was very necessary to amend the clause in this respect. There was the case not only of the heir and of the assignee, but of the remainderman and the mortgagee. It appeared to him that the adoption of the clause either of the Act of 1887 or of the Bill of 1894 would answer the purpose.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
said that, having regard to the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman, he would ask leave to withdraw his Amnendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. DILLON
asked what would be the effect of the delay if a tenant, by oversight, forgot to file an agreement for three or four years.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND
said the point had been decided by the Lord Chief Baron. The agreement was not valid until it was filed, and, when it was filed, it operated from the date of the agreement.
§ Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2,—