§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE EARL OF LONGFORD
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said: My Lords, this Bill has come up from the House of Commons. It was not the subject of much public discussion there, but was very closely scrutinised in private conference by the Representatives of both the interests concerned, who arrived at a common agreement. It was not opposed by the Government, and I hope that here it may find favour with your Lordships. The Bill does not open a general review of the Irish Land Act, it refers to a special class of cases only, it has but one operative clause, and its purpose is to set at rest doubts leading to litigation and dispute in certain cases not definitely provided for by that Act. It seems to have been assumed, during the discussions upon the Irish Land 1164 Act, that the Ulster tenant-right custom would attach only to yearly tenancies; but it has been found in practice that tenants, at the expiration of leases, or who hold under lease, have considered themselves in the same position, and entitled to make the same claim to the benefit of the custom, as yearly tenants; in short, the present doubt is, whether the lease overrides the custom, or whether, as the tenants now claim, the custom overrides the lease, in cases where a yearly tenant would have been entitled thereto. The promoters of this Bill, who are landlords, or representatives of landlords, of considerable estates in different counties in Ulster, are of opinion that the claim of the tenants is right, in an equitable view of the 1st clause of the Land Act; and by this Bill they propose to complete what the Land Act has left in doubt, and to declare that where the custom is legalized at the expiration of a yearly tenancy, and in those cases only, it shall be legalized at the expiration of a lease. It is, no doubt, open to tenants to go into Court and establish their claims if they can; but the promoters of this Bill wish to avoid a period of possibly vexatious litigation, and they are ready to bind themselves and others to admit such claims in the cases specified in the Bill. The Bill has been placed in my hands as being unconnected with the district; but I have the general interest shared by all your Lordships in the welfare of the agricultural community in Ireland, and as this Bill has been accepted by what I may call a joint committee of landlords and tenants before it reached your Lordships' House, I think that it may pass here, as it passed there. I am aware that some noble Lords have viewed this measure with suspicion, either under the apprehension that further and objectionable legislation may be founded upon it, or because the landlord's rights may not be sufficiently protected. To the first I would point out that the Bill is of so special and limited an application that it can scarcely be extended to cover other ground, and to meet the views of those who think that the power should be reserved to owners to disprove a claim that may not be well founded. I am quite willing, on the part of the promoters, to introduce an Amendment to secure their position— the Amendment did form part of a for- 1165 mer Bill promoted by the same parties for the same purpose. ["Head!"] A noble Lord who was inclined to object to this Bill has been good enough to communicate with me, and to express himself satisfied; and with this modification, I hope that opposition will not be pressed against a measure that is regarded with some anxiety by those interested.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a" —(The Earl of Longford.)
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
said, that he had given Notice to move the rejection of the Bill; but, after consultation with his noble Friend, he had come to the conclusion that, as far as he was concerned, the Amendment would remove any necessity there previously existed for his moving the rejection of the Bill.
described the Bill as an extraordinary one, and said, that no one had asked for it, and when it was supposed that it had been dropped in that House there was a regular pæan of exultation by the tenant-right party in the North of Ireland. The question involved in the Bill was a vital one for their Lordships' consideration; it was nothing more or less than this—whether what was laid down by Lord Mansfield as a fundamental principle of Common Law— namely, that no custom was to override a covenant should be reversed by Act of Parliament? It had been stated that it was doubtful whether the Land Act settled the question, and the late Lord Chief Justice Monahan actually decided that Parliament had made a great breach in the law, and that custom was to override covenant. The majority of the Judges—and certainly the late Lord Chief Justice Whiteside—said such an evasion of Common Law had never been made before, and now it was proposed to set the matter at rest by another Act of Parliament. "What was the present condition of Ulster tenant-right? Within the last few days there had been a sale of tenant-right in the county from which this Bill had arisen. The tenant-right of 21 acres and 28 perches, held at the annual rent of £23 6s. 6d., was bought for £750, or at the rate of £36 per acre. Forty years' purchase had been charged against the late Lord Leitrim; and, 1166 although it had been proved there had been false swearing in the matter, yet Lord Leitrim's property was saddled to that amount. He would just read to the House a judgment by one of the County Court Judges, which had been reported in the newspapers within the last month. The Judge said—He would value very differently the land of small proprietors, like the person in that case, to what he would do the land of a person who had 1,000 acres. The large proprietor could afford to let his land at a moderate rent, while a man who had only 14 acres was anxious to make as much as possible out of it. Therefore, it would not he fair to give the same amount against the small owner which was given against the owner of thousands of acres; if he did, it would amount to a confiscation of his property.Now, according to that judgment, there was one law for the rich, and another for the poor. He was glad to say the tendency was in favour of the poor; but still he might fairly ask their Lordships whether they would give this power to the Judges, to deal with, and determine, leases in that manner—leases which, perhaps, like most Irish leases, were let at very low rates, on condition that certain works were executed? Or, in other words, the question was—whether they would allow one Irishman to rob another; or whether they would vindicate Lord Mansfield's principle that no custom was to override a covenant? He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now,") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day three months.")—(The Viscount Lifford.)
THE EARL OF LIMERICK
would like to give some of his reasons for voting for the Amendment just moved by his noble Friend. In the first place, the Bill was very deceptive in its drawing. It had been described as a very small matter; but a careful examination of its provisions would show that it went a great deal farther than might be inferred from the speech of his noble Friend who had moved the second reading (the Earl of Longford). The Preamble said the Bill was to remove doubts as to the legal effect of certain leases in the Province of Ulster; but as it was drawn, the Bill not only affected Ulster, but the whole of Ireland; and, in his opinion, the Bill was unnecessary, 1167 for the question had not been overlooked when the Land Act was passed. The Bill, as it stood, simply provided that wherever there was any usage included in the Ulster, or analogous customs, such usage might be brought forward at the termination of the lease, unless this was prevented by the lease itself. In fact, the Bill created a custom, but in no way explained the original Act, or removed the doubts relating to it. "Where, on any estate the custom held good, even at the termination of a lease, that special usage might, and ought, to be proved under the original Act, like any other usage comprised in the Ulster tenant-right custom, and without such proof by the tenant, the landlord should not be compelled by a new Act to give the benefit of the custom to a tenant who might, perhaps, merely have purchased the remainder of a lease. Under the Bill, a partial custom would be made a general custom, affecting all holdings in Ireland on which there were any usages analogous to the Ulster tenant-right custom, and anyone acquiring the remainder of a lease would, at the same time, acquire the right. That would certainly increase the hardship with which the Land Act pressed upon the landlord. The Amendment which his noble Friend was ready to accept provided that a landlord might go into Court and prove that a property was not subject to this custom; but why should the onus of proof be thrown on the landlord? The Bill, to his mind, was not a measure of justice. So far as he knew, there had not been any strong agitation in Ireland in favour of the Bill; and he did not think the proposed change would satisfy the tenant-righters, or place the landlords on a safe footing for the future. He felt constrained, therefore, to vote against the second reading.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Although this is a Bill which the Government, as a Government, neither promote nor oppose, I should like to say a few words upon it, seeing that considerable interest is always felt in legislation on this subject. I cannot help feeling that it would not be right to judge of the merits or demerits of the measure with reference to the considerations put forward by the noble Viscount who sits on the cross Benches (Viscount Lifford). The noble Viscount found fault with a 1168 decision which had been come to by the tribunals in Ulster, but that can have no bearing upon the merits of the present Bill. No doubt these sales of tenant-rights in Ulster surprise us all; but this Bill will not make the sums larger or smaller. I agree that there are some words in the 2nd clause which might have been carried further. The clauses in the original Act which spoke of customs other than the Ulster, always appeared to me to be of the vaguest description, and I think this Bill, should it meet with the approbation of the House, ought to be limited to the Ulster tenant-right, and ought not to extend to any indefinite custom which may be included in the words "usages analogous thereto." Now, as regards Ulster, this Bill is certainly one which is recommended by those who have the largest possible stake in the property in the province, and, as I understand, it is supported by all the Members from Ulster in the other House. It appears doubtful to me whether the 2nd clause carries the enactment further than does the present law; whatever may be thought of the Act of 1870, there it stands. That Act did not exclude leases. It is as general as it can be, and declares that wherever the Ulster custom exists, there it shall be legal. According to the present law, a tenant might come forward and say—"I have got this holding; the lease has expired; but it has been the custom on this property to allow tenant-right at the expiration of a lease." In fact, this is very common in Ulster, and your Lordships will find, from the Report of Lord Devon's Committee, that even at that time it was well-known that tenant-right in Ulster was allowed at the expiration of a lease. That being so, the Act of 1870 says it shall be legal. Doubts, however, have arisen, and I believe the matter has not been finally decided. Your Lordships should observe that this Bill does not propose to throw upon the landlord a burden of proof which is not thrown upon him in any other case. In the first place, the tenant would have to prove that the custom prevailed on the property; but if the Amendment before us were agreed to, the landlord would be able to show, as a defence against the claim of the tenant, that although on the estate generally the Ulster tenant custom prevails, yet there was an ex- 1169 ception to the rule in that part of the estate where this particular holding was situated. Now, when, that is the fact, the landlord can easily prove it, because it must appear on the records of the property. The question is, whether this measure, which is promoted by those interested in the matter in Ulster, is fair in its provisions, or whether it unduly stretches the legislation of 1870? In my opinion, it would be a matter of regret if the Bill does not pass, especially considering the qualifications which have been inserted.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD
remarked, that originally there seemed to have been a pretty quarrel in regard to the Bill between noble Lords on the other side of the House; but afterwards it seemed as if a "compromise had broken out" on the subject. It now appeared, however, that this was not the case, and that the House would have to go to a division on the Bill. He was not frightened at the speech in which the rejection of the Bill had been moved; because his noble Friend's statements, even if they were well founded, had nothing to do with the merits of the measure. Much misconception prevailed as to the alarming sums sometimes given for tenant-right in the province of Ulster, especially that part of it with which the noble Viscount himself was connected. No doubt, owing to great competition, the tenant-right did run up to extravagant sums; but the figures were generally very misleading, because one important fact was not taken into account. To estimate the real value of the holding they must take, not only the rent, but the value of the holding, and the buildings upon it at the time. The only way to judge of the extravagance, or otherwise, of a price paid for tenant-right was first to inquire what was the condition of the holding, whether it had been reclaimed and made valuable from the mountain-side or the bog, and what buildings had been put upon it by the industry of the tenant? One of the principles of the Land Act was that the value put into and upon a holding by the tenant should be his property, and not that of the landlord. He was prepared to vote for the second reading for the reasons given by the noble and learned Lord on the subject. He had no fear that injustice would be done to the landlord by it; his only doubt was 1170 whether the Bill was at all necessary. Their Lordships must bear in mind that the words of the Land Act did not exclude a holding upon which a lease existed, and it would be strange if they did. The framers of the Bill satisfied themselves that under the general and ordinary rule prevailing in the province of Ulster, the existence or non-existence of a lease made no difference. That was made clear by the famous Devon Commission, and was conformed by inquiries that were made before the Land Bill was drawn. The present Bill simply laid it down that the presumption should be in favour of the tenant, if he could show that the custom applied to his holding, and that in the expiring lease there was no express stipulation against it. That presumption, however, might, of course, be set aside by evidence on the part of the landlord that a variety of the custom that existed on his estate was different to that which obtained in Ulster generally. He could not take upon himself to oppose the second reading of a Bill which might bring increased peace and security to Ulster tenants without inflicting injustice on Ulster landlords.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
intended to vote for the Bill, though without any admiration of it. He quite agreed with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that the Bill simply affirmed what was the clear law of the land. His only objection to the Bill was that it was unnecessary. He did not think that a great and important Statute, which worked almost a revolution in society, should be decided upon without full and careful consideration; but, on the other hand, if the Bill were to be rejected, it might tend to create a doubt as to what the law really was. So far as the landed proprietors were concerned, there was evidence of the strongest character that they desired it; in fact, as he understood it, there was no opposition whatever. The Bill was the outcome of a conference of landlords and tenants in which they mutually agreed as to what was for the benefit of their respective interests, and for that reason, then, he felt that he ought to vote for the Bill.
THE EARL OF ANNESLEY
remarked that a great injustice would have been inflicted under the Bill had his noble Friend not consented to introduce the Amendment to which he had referred.
§ On question that ("now") stand part of the Motion? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 8; Not-Contents 25: Majority 17.
§ Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a this day three months.
|Cairns, (L. (L. Chancellor.)||Carlingford, L.|
|Denman, L. [Teller.]|
|Richmond, D.||Silchester, L. (E. Longford.) [Teller.]|
|Belper, L.||Waveney, L.|
|Manchester, D.||Crofton, L.|
|de Ros, L.|
|Bantry, E.||Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.) [Teller.]|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Gormanston, L. (V. Gormanston.|
|Fortescue, E.||Harlech, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Leconfield, L.|
|Redesdale, E.||Monson, L.|
|Clancarty, V. (E. Clancarty.)||Norton, L.|
|Hawarden, V.||Seaton, L.|
|Lifford, V. [Teller.]||Templemore, L.|
|Melville, V.||Ventry, L.|