§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE,
in rising to move—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that a Royal Commission be appointed to report as to the most effective means of giving to a larger portion of the people of Ireland a permanent proprietary interest in the soil by purchase of their holdings,said, he had hoped, till the beginning of the Session, that it would not have been necessary for a private Member of the House to call attention to the subject the noble Earl the Leader of the House had last year intimated that the Government thought that the Bright Clauses of the Land Act needed revision, and the introduction of an amending Bill was very generally expected; but the speech of the Lord Privy Seal (Lord Carling-ford) in the course of the debate on the Address had placed it beyond doubt that the Government did not now contemplate legislation in that direction. He mentioned this without any desire to complain of the Government. It was natural, certainly, after Parliament had been almost wholly occupied for three Sessions with Irish affairs, that the Government should be reluctant to embark once more on the stormy sea of Irish legislation; but he did think the House 1373 would have some cause to complain if the position taken by the Government with regard to the Bright Clauses were not rather more clearly defined. If the last word of the Government on this subject had been spoken, let it be known, for nothing would retard the operation of these clauses more than a belief that the whole subject remained an open one, and that there was a prospect of a considerable amendment of them. If, however, Her Majesty's Government were of the opinion which they held last year, and still thought that these clauses required revision, his suggestion was that they could not employ the next few months better than in such an investigation of the subject as he recommended. When he spoke of investigation, he wished to guard himself against it being supposed that he meant an investigation of the whole subject; there were portions of it that might be taken as no longer requiring investigation. It might be assumed as conceded that an increase in the number of proprietors of land was a desirable thing. Although the original proposal to this effect proceeded from Mr. Bright, it had been adopted again and again by leading statesmen of both political Parties. If not, why were the Purchase Clauses embodied with general approval in the Acts of 1870 and 1881? If not, why had Notice been given in "another place" by a conspicuous Member of the Opposition of a Motion with precisely the same object that he had in view? If he were to trouble their Lordships with reference to authorities on the subject, he would have to detain them for a long time. But it was not his intention to do so, except to this extent. He wished to refer to an expression of opinion which had fallen from one distinguished statesman, which it appeared to him was entitled to special attention. The Marquess of Hartington, whilst the Land Act of 1881 was under discussion, in the course of a speech made out of Parliament, expressed his opinion that the provisions of the Bill which related to emigration and to an increase in the number of landlords were the provisions most likely to effect a permanent improvement in the condition of Ireland. His Lordship spoke of the Tenure Clauses as designed to provide what was called a modus vivendi in the meantime. And again, in 1374 the present year the noble Marquess, addressing his constituents, spoke of the Act as designed to meet "a period of transition," which "must be passed before a better state of things could arise." These utterances appeared to show that the Bright Clauses were regarded by Lord Hartington not only as a solution, but as the solution of what was commonly called the Irish difficulty.
There was another proposition, which he thought might be taken as conclusively proved. It was, that the existing law, as embodied in the fifth part of the Act of 1881, was not sufficient for the purpose which it was intended by the framers of that Act to achieve. With regard to this, they had the opinion of a Committee of their Lordships' House, presided over by the noble Earl opposite. That Committee reported that all the witnesses examined by them held that the arrangements made to promote the purchase of holdings must be taken to have failed. The Committee proceeded to give reasons for the failure. The first was that the restrictions which the Act imposed upon the investment of the proceeds of the sales by limited owners were such as to make the bargain ruinous to the vendors. The next was that the difficulties arising out of the apportionment of head and quit-rents threw considerable impediments in the way of the carrying out of these transactions. The third was—and the Committee spoke of this as the main obstacle—that there was an absence of sufficient inducement to the tenant to buy his holding or to the landlord to sell it. The Committee recommended that enlarged powers of investment should be given to trustees of estates; that arrangements should be made for the redemption and apportionment of quit-rents; and that there should be a considerable improvement in the terms offered by the State to vendors and purchasers under the Act. These recommendations would be important if they stood alone; but they had since received a most remarkable confirmation at the hands of a body, whose opinions on these matters were entitled to the utmost respect—namely, the Land Commissioners in Dublin. In their annual Report the Land Commissioners said there was reason to believe that a considerable number of landlords were anxious to sell; that purchasers were not forth- 1375 coming; and that the reasons were to be found in the restrictions on the investment of the proceeds of sales, in the difficulties arising out of the apportionment of head-rents, and in the insufficiency of the inducements to landlords to sell and to tenants to buy. The Commissioners added that the tenants were also deterred from buying by a feeling of uncertainty with regard to the amount of their future rents, and also by that which the Commissioners spoke of as a "vague feeling of political disquietude." He would say a word presently about that vague feeling of political disquietude; but in regard to the three main conclusions, the Land Commissioners were absolutely at one with their Lordships' Committee, and those were substantially the conclusions, not only of the Land Commissioners and their Lordships' Committee, but of everyone who had paid attention to the subject. The simple matter of fact was this, that no tenant with a perpetuity of tenure, with the right of the free sale of his holding, and in a position to manage his farm very much as he pleased, was likely to give, in order to place his grandchild, perhaps, in possession of the fee of the farm, a price which any landlord could afford to accept. There was another consideration which was not financial, but which weighed with them all the same. The tenants were reluctant to exchange the landlordism of the landlord, from whom they had nothing to fear, and from whom they might have something to expect, for the considerably sterner control of the State, from which they would have nothing to hope, and might have something to apprehend. These were the reasons which deterred tenants from buying. They were reasons of a permanent character, and as long as the Act remained unamended in certain respects, so long would tenants be unwilling to buy. Mr. Shaw, the hon. Member for Cork County, who was Chairman of the Munster Bank, and who had been selected by the Government as a Member of the Bessborough Commission, ought to be a good judge, and Mr. Shaw had recently told an Ulster audience that if the Act remained unamended, the purchases by tenants in the next 50 years would be very small indeed.
If, then, it were conceded that it was desirable to obtain an increase in the 1376 number of proprietors, and if the existing facilities were not sufficient for the purpose, there only remained the question—could they afford to wait for a settlement of this matter? He would endeavour to show that it was not desirable that they should wait. If these clauses were necessary when they were inserted in the Act of 1870, if they were necessary in the Act of 1881, could they be said to be less necessary now? He remembered reading an admirable Report of a Committee of the House of Commons, appointed in 1878 to inquire into this subject, and presided over by Mr. Shaw Lefevre. The language used in that Report was to the effect that a substantial increase in the number of proprietors of land in Ireland was necessary in order to promote thrift and industry among the Irish peasantry, and to give stability to the social system of that country. It seemed to him that the social system in Ireland was never more in need of increased stability than it was at the present time. He did not wish to underrate the improvement which had taken place in many districts, or the fact, of which he had had agreeable experience, that the conduct of some of the people had been exemplary in the face of great temptation; but, looking below the surface, what was the condition of Ireland? Was it one out of which social stability was likely to arise? Were they really nearer to a solution of the Irish Question than they were three years ago? He feared that of the old sources of mischief the worst and most deep-seated still survived. But the elements of future trouble had been intensified and strengthened by the events of the last few years. They still had in Ireland an agricultural community without capital and without industries; but capital had never been more effectually frightened away from Ireland than it was at the present time. They still had, on the one hand, a mere handful of owners, and on the other half-a-million of occupiers; but the owners were smarting under the bitter experiences of the last two or three years, and the occupiers had been taught in every village throughout the country the terrible lesson inculcated by the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies (the Earl of Derby), who had had the courage to place it on record, that "fixity of tenure was the direct 1377 result of Irish outrage and Party obstruction." As for the labourers, they were still worse housed and worse paid than any labourers in the United Kingdom; but they were now in too many cases, tainted by sedition and full of bitter resentment at the illusory advantages which the Land Act had dangled before their eyes. The agriculture of Ireland was still more thriftless and ignorant than the agriculture of almost any other country. Were these, he asked, conditions under which social stability was likely to arise? He was aware that rents had been largely reduced, and that this was in itself an immense boon to the occupiers of land; but of the tenants, probably about one-half were in a position in which the question of rent was really not a material one at all. When their Lordships looked at the West of Ireland, and had regard to the condition of the population in those densely-inhabited regions, could they fail to discover that these poor people, no matter whether their rents were raised or lowered, must still be in a position of chronic insolvency, and, therefore, of chronic discontent? The soil was exhausted, the cultivation miserable in the extreme, the staple crop rapidly degenerating. What was the Chief Secretary's description of the people of one of these Western Unions? He said the population was in a state of social and financial crisis. It was true that an Act passed last year contained some very well-conceived clauses intended to promote emigration from those Western districts; but emigration must be very gradual and slow in its operations. We could not take these people suddenly by the thousand from their miserable homes, and throw them pell-mell across the Atlantic. Emigration was a relief which could only come after the lapse of a considerable number of years. Was it proposed, then, he might be asked, to turn these Western cottiers into proprietors of their holdings? It might seem a paradox to say so, but he owned that he would sooner see these poor people brought face to face with the hard exigencies of their position, and made entirely responsible for their own and their families' sustenance, than he would leave them as they were at present, relying first upon their landlords, then upon the rates paid by their neighbours, who 1378 were on the brink of insolvency themselves, and finally clamouring for public works or relief out of the Public Exchequer. Be that as it might, could there be any doubt that it would be desirable to establish, as a counterpoise to these miserable Western populations, a body of men owning the farms which they cultivated, and placed in a position which rendered them independent and self-reliant, and naturally opposed to agitation and crime?
There was another reason which made him anxious to see a measure of this kind effectually carried out. There was the question of local government. They were given to understand that the Government had no present intention of formulating a scheme upon that subject, but they were pledged to deal with it sooner or later. His own opinion was that, although the defects in the Irish system of local government had been very much exaggerated, and though they were probably less than in England, still they were such as must be removed. Parliament would not be going far wrong if it endeavoured, by prudent and moderate legislation, to set matters right in this respect, instead of waiting till a fresh clamour arose for ill-considered and reckless remedial legislation. When the time came for dealing with this question of local government, would they be in a worse or in a better position if there were scattered over the face of Ireland a number of small proprietors interested in an honest and economical administration of rural government, instead of having the rates mainly paid by the landlords, and spent by the tenants for the tenants in public works and indiscriminate outdoor relief?
It might be urged, perhaps, that a fair trial should be given to the Tenure Clauses of the Land Act. It appeared to him, however, having paid some attention to those clauses, that they abounded in elements which were likely to lead to future complications and troubles. He would venture briefly to refer to two of these. In the first place, there was the restriction of the tenant's saleable interest in his holding. Out of Ulster, whenever a tenant applied to the Court to have a judicial rent fixed, the Court might simultaneously fix at a specified sum the value of the tenant right. Similarly, even where the holding was sub- 1379 ject to the Ulster Custom, the landlord might, whenever the tenant sought to sell, exercise his right of pre-emption at what the Court might determine to be the "true value" of the occupier's interest, just as out of Ulster he would be allowed to buy at the "specified value" fixed by the Court. The landlord's right of pre-emption at the "specified value" was his only security against the incoming tenant paying a preposterous price for the tenant right, and being, therefore, practically rack-rented, in spite of the lowness of his rent. The landlord must, therefore, either accept a rack-rented tenant, or he would be obliged to say to the vendor—"It is true that you are able to get £200 for your interest in the farm; but I require you to sell it to me for £100 or £150." He entertained no doubt that this right of pre-emption would be a very fertile source of discontent and trouble between landlord and tenant; and he was convinced of the great importance of settling these matters, once for all, in as many cases as possible. He would pass to another source of future trouble and agitation. We were told to congratulate ourselves upon the rapidity with which the Sub-Commissioners were getting through the task of fixing judicial rents. One was almost tempted to say, in the words of Macbeth—If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere wellIt were done quickly.But in reality it was not done, because the rent was fixed for only 15 years. He understood that applications which had now, for the first time, been brought before the Courts could probably not be dealt with till 1885 or 1886. There would, therefore, be at the outside a period of 10 years, between 1886 and 1896, during which the land would have peace from litigation of this kind, and at the end of that period the whole question of the rental of Ireland would once more be re-opened. That was a very serious prospect. If prices had fallen in the interim every tenant in Ireland would be looking for a reduction. If they had risen every landlord would be hoping for a rise. In any case he feared that the temptation to the tenant to put a poor face upon his holding on the chance of getting something off his rent would be irresistible. Then there was 1380 another matter to be considered. The present race of Sub-Commissioners, most of whom held office for a brief term, would have disappeared by that time; and there would be clamour, intrigues, and agitation for and against the appointment of particular persons to seats upon the new Commission. The difficulty would be bad enough if the present Government remained in power; but if the Party on the other side of the House happened to be in Office at that time, under what condition would they approach the difficult task of filling up these appointments? Supposing that the appointments of 1896 were conferred upon men whose antecedents rendered them a little less acceptable to the tenants than their predecessors, there would be almost a rebellion. In Ireland there was no such thing as a colourless politician. Everyone, unfortunately, belonged either to the landlords' camp or to the tenants' camp; and the consequence would be that whatever might be the antecedents of the men to whom Sub-Commissionerships might be given, yet if they were nominated by the Party opposite their awards would not command the confidence of the tenants of Ireland. This, he begged to say, was no mere bugbear of his own imagination. When the Solicitor General for Ireland was canvassing his constituents, he put it thus to them—"Supposing you had a Cabinet composed of Lord Salisbury, Sir Stafford Northcote, Mr. Gibson, and others, to administer the Land Act, what would that Act be worth? If a Conservative was returned for Londonderry, and if the Land Act came to be worked by a Conservative Party and Conservative Officers, what would become of it?" It was, he feared, the inevitable result that when a temporary tribunal was set up, the members of which were to be appointed by the Party in power, it should come to be believed that that Party would utilize it for its own purposes. This, then, was another serious source of danger in the future; and he wished to impress upon the House how desirable it was to take as large a number of the tenants as possible out of the reach of that danger, and to put them in a position in which their rents should not be variable at the will of a Sub-Commissioner, but fixed once and for all, and payable to the Government, the payments representing an annually- 1381 diminishing debt and an annually-increasing progress in the direction of absolute proprietorship.
So far he had rested his case on public convenience; but he should not be speaking frankly to the House if he did not express his conviction that the measure which he advocated was required not only by public convenience, but as a matter of simple justice to individuals. What was the position of owners of landed property in Ireland? They were owners of a kind of property of which only one class of customer was at all likely to become the purchaser, a class which recent legislation had effectually deterred from purchasing. A measure such as he had suggested was, therefore, necessary in order to do something to re-establish the value of landed property in Ireland. It was not merely a question of rent; he wished to avoid entirely the question of the action of the Courts in reducing rents. If not a single rent had been reduced, or even if Justice herself had a seat on the Land Commission, the value of land would not the less have been enormously depreciated by the legislation of the last two years. The value of landed property was made up of a number of incidents, the value of which was cumulative; and if any of those incidents were taken away the value of the remainder was diminished. But not only would nobody buy land in Ireland, but nobody would lend upon it. What had been the consequence? A number of the smaller landowners found themselves deprived of 40 or 50 per cent, perhaps more, of their available income, and were on the verge of ruin, unable to meet the charges on their property, to sell or to emancipate themselves from the miserable position in which they found themselves. It would be a public scandal if those men were allowed—many of them having purchased their property on the security of a Government title from the Landed Estates Court—to be ruined by the legislation of the year before last. His noble Friend (Lord Carlingford) might say that that was the result, not of legislation, but of the agitation which existed in Ireland.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
said, he was glad to learn that he was right in his anticipation. He admitted 1382 that such an agitation as that which had recently disturbed society in Ireland could not fail to have some effect upon the value of all property in that country; and it was not easy, when two causes had been at work, to assign the effect with precise accuracy to its cause. He, at any rate, believed that the effects of legislation which were universal and permanent were more serious than those of an agitation which, after all, was local and transitory; but, be that as it might, there was a very simple mode of testing the Lord Privy Seal's theory that the fall in the value of land was due solely to agitation. Let them imagine for a moment what the effect would be if the legislation which had been applied to Ireland were applied to England and Scotland. Was it not beyond question that in such a case the value of land in England and Scotland would at once have been enormously depreciated? There could be no doubt upon the point. It was, in fact, the case that the prophecy of Mr. Fottrell, late Solicitor to the Land Commission, was being fulfilled to the letter. In that famous pamphlet which had been so often referred to, Mr. Fottrell told the tenants of Ireland—That the landlord who is wise will re member that he has now no probable purchasers but his tenants.…The landlords must sell to them or not at all.The condition of affairs was therefore this—that the tenants at this moment not being likely to buy, the landlord found himself saddled with estates from which it was absolutely impossible for him to divest himself. He did not desire to conceal his own opinion, that no owners of any other kind of property could have been treated in this way without, at least, a full examination of their claim to be compensated for the loss which they had sustained. He had always regretted that that was a matter which had not received fuller consideration. He occasionally read the speeches and letters of Ministers to their constituents, discussing the Licensing Laws; and he observed that they were always extremely careful to point out that no interference would take place with the existing rights of the licensed victuallers without compensation being made. But, unfortunately, Irish landlords were only Irish landlords, and could not expect the 1383 treatment to which the licensed victuallers were to be entitled. They might, however, surely ask that what the Government in the Act of 1881 proposed to do should be made a reality and not a sham, and that the clauses in the Act to which he had directed attention should not remain on the Statute Book as a record of disappointed expectations and abortive legislation. It was under these circumstances that he asked their Lordships to agree to the Motion on the Paper. He did not take upon himself to say what course an inquiry of that kind should take. But there were four matters which required special investigation. In the first place, they should endeavour to ascertain what were the impediments which had stood in the way of the operation of the clauses; secondly, they should seek to discover what additional inducements were necessary in order to lead the landlords to sell and the tenants to buy; thirdly, it was desirable to determine whether the rent-charge due by the purchasers could be collected by some local agency, and not by the Central Government; and, fourthly, whether, in certain circumstances, one of the parties should not be allowed to require the other to purchase from him, whether that other wished to do so or not.
He was aware that those proposals were regarded in some quarters with considerable misgiving, and he would like to notice, before he sat down, one or two of the principal objections which had been raised to them. He had heard it stated that if the Purchase Clauses were carried out on an extensive scale they would get rid of the landlords altogether, and that this was undesirable. He was sure he might say, as an Irish landlord, that they felt grateful to those who desired to retain them in existence. It was comforting to know that if ever they were obliterated their obituary notice would be conceived in friendly terms. But what he wished to impress on their Lordships was his conviction that his proposals would have precisely the opposite result. There would be more resident landlords in Ireland, and not fewer. Those who never went near their estates and took no interest in them would disappear, and, perhaps, nobody would regret it. But those who did take an interest in and intended to live on their estates 1384 would find it easier and better to do so under the new order of things which would arise. They would probably get rid of the outlying portion of their properties, retaining only their homes—to which, let him say, Irish landlords were as deeply attached as their English and Scotch brethren—and such a portion of their estates as they could either keep in their own hands or manage much in the same fashion as that in which English estates were managed. Men who acted thus would consult their interests better, and would be more useful and happier members of society, than the nominal owner of a whole barony who came into contact with his tenants only through the medium of their periodical visits to the rent office.
He believed, therefore, that this objection was not one which rested on any good ground. There was, however, another which was felt by many persons, especially by the noble Earl at the Table, who spoke upon the subject the other evening—namely, that if a large number of these tenants were allowed to purchase their holdings, there would be some risk of a general repudiation of their debt to the State, and an extensive conflict between the Government and the tenants. He did not believe that the objection was a valid one. He would, in the first place, point out that whether the tenants purchased their holdings or not, the Executive Government would not escape the liability of being called upon to enforce the payment of rent. If the rents were once pronounced fair and just, the landlords would expect the whole force of the Executive Government to back them in their endeavour to enforce punctual payment. The noble Earl on the Woolsack had himself stated that "if you adjust the rents you must secure the rents you adjust." Therefore the enforcement of the law as to payment of rent in Ireland was a duty from which the Government could not extricate itself; he believed, however, the risk of repudiation to be an imaginary one. He never met anyone conversant with the Irish people who did not believe that if, in lieu of rent payable to the landlord, an annual and terminable rent-charge were payable to the State that rent-charge would be punctually paid. The "no rent" policy had at first been successful because of the weakness 1385 of the landlords, and he was afraid he must say also because of the reluctant support which they had received from the Government. They might, however, rely upon it that the tenants would be slow to engage in an unequal struggle against the forces which the Executive would have at its command, and that these obligations would not be repudiated. The fact that throughout the recent agitation those tenants who had purchased their holdings under the Irish Church Act paid their instalments with complete punctuality went far to confirm this view. It was very remarkable that in the case of these tenants the influence of the Land League had been exerted against, and not in favour of, repudiation. There was, besides, another consideration which ought not to be lost sight of. Year by year and step by step these purchasing tenants would be advancing on the road leading to the absolute ownership of their farms. They would be slow to take any action which might jeopardize the interest which they had already acquired in them. And it must not be forgotten that not only would each year bring them one stage nearer to the goal of complete ownership, but that each year the rate of their advance would become more rapid. He would recommend to the attention of those interested in this branch of the subject a very interesting table published, with a paper written upon it, by Mr. Shaw Lefevre. It appeared from that table that if the annual payment due by the purchasing tenant to the State were divided as between the interest payable to the State on the sum advanced, and the amount available in each year for the reduction of the principal debt, the calculation would stand, roughly speaking, as follows:—At the beginning of the fifth year—assuming that the whole debt was to be paid off in 35 years—two-thirds of the sum paid by the tenant would be charged as interest and one-third as repayment of principal. In the 15th year the whole sum would be equally divided between payment of interest and repayment of principal. But in the 25th year one-third only would be due for interest, and the whole of the remainder would be available in diminution of the principal. The financial position of the tenant would therefore improve with increasing rapidity year by year, and in the face of 1386 that he had very little fear of repudiation. At any rate, the risk would tend to diminish with great rapidity.
He would notice one more criticism frequently passed upon proposals such as these. He might be told that an increase in the number of owners of land was an admirable thing, but that their artificial creation was undesirable, and that the change should be left to be effected by natural laws. It appeared to him that those who made use of this argument were too ready to forget the facts of the case. If natural laws were being left to operate, or had ever been left to operate in Ireland, he should be very much disposed to rely on them still. But, in point of fact, Ireland had never been left to the operation of natural laws; she was the product of artificial legislation in the past, just as she was the playground of artificial legislation in the present. The laws with regard to the possession of land by Roman Catholics, the laws regulating the franchise, the laws affecting the transfer of landed property, all these had tended to keep the soil of Ireland in the hands of a few persons. The land legislation of the last 12 years had stereotyped the evil by rendering it impossible for those persons to extricate themselves from their position. He therefore submitted that we could not, in these circumstances, trust to natural laws, but that we must seek to remedy a purely artificial condition of things by artificial means. A wisely-conceived measure would terminate the confusion of interests which he had pointed out, would strengthen the bases of society in Ireland, and would do something to accelerate the advent of that "better state of things" to which Lord Hartington looked forward, but which was as yet undiscernible in the troubled distance of the future of Ireland.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN,
in seconding the Motion, said, that, whatever opinion might be held as to the advisability of appointing the Royal Commission, there could be no doubt whatever as to the great importance of the subject which the noble Marquess had brought before the House. With the exception of the more immediately pressing question of distress, it was the most important question connected with Ireland. He himself did not see in what way a Royal Commission could 1387 throw much additional light upon the subject. In the Report of the Committee on the working of the Land Act of their Lordships' House, and in the Evidence taken before that Committee, a great deal of information would be found; much valuable information was available also from other sources. It seemed to him that what was necessary to be done in order to enable the present occupiers in Ireland to buy their holdings was perfectly understood already. Everyone knew that tenants would not buy unless the instalments they had to pay to Government were less in value than the rents they at present paid to their landlords. One reason why tenants were so reluctant to buy was that, having already forced such great concessions from the Government, they hoped in the future to extort more from them. They would not be inclined to avail themselves of Purchase Clauses as long as they thought they could obtain further benefits by agitation. He should have thought, therefore, that this was a question for the Government to decide. A question for the House of Commons and the country to determine was, what amount of money they were willing to devote to the purpose, and for the Government to put forward their views as to the terms on which this money should be advanced. There could be no question about the fact that, whether the people of Ireland were to be assisted by means of loans from the State or not, some means must be found, and ought to be found, as soon as possible, of extricating Ireland from the condition in which she was now placed. The system of land tenure they had imposed upon her rendered it impossible for the country to improve, or even to maintain, the position she had now arrived at. On no country in the world had been imposed such a system of land tenure, and no country could get on under such a system. The noble Marquess quoted Lord Hartington to the effect that, it would be well for Ireland to look forward with hope to a time when she could emerge into a better state of things and enjoy a better system of tenure. He believed the Prime Minister, on introducing the Bill into the other House of Parliament, said that the most considerable benefit would be derived from freedom of contract in Ireland if the social condition of the country admitted of it. But whether the social 1388 condition of the country was improvable or not, there was no provision in the Land Act whereby Ireland could ever emerge from the extraordinary system placed upon her. There was nothing to look forward to but an endless vista of agitation for the reduction of rents and endless contention. It appeared to him now that in this idea of peasant proprietary lay the only possible solution of the difficulty. He had expressed in that House before his objections to peasant proprietary; but he confessed his views were somewhat modified and changed. Still, he did not look with any great favour upon such a system. There were two manifest objections clear to everybody. The tenants and occupiers must be, for a considerable number of years, in the position of tenants of the State; and circumstances might arise to place the State in great difficulty, on account of a long period of distress, making it impossible, or very difficult, for a largo number of people to pay. Another objection was that, undoubtedly, in the natural course of events, many small owners would be unable to maintain themselves. They would get into debt, fall into the hands of usurers, money-lenders, and shopkeepers, and a class of landlords would arise that would not be beneficial to the country. These were two strong objections that arose in his mind as to peasant proprietorship. But, after all, it was a question of choosing the least of two evils. The difficulties that might be produced in Ireland under a system of peasant proprietorship would be less than those that must follow if the present condition of affairs was allowed to continue. Tenants were just as likely to get into the power of money-lenders now as they would be if they had complete ownership. The difference was that creditors would be much loss likely to turn them out and take possession now than if they could, by so doing, obtain complete ownership of the land. As it was, the occupiers would become the absolute slaves of their creditors; they would be kept in a state of wretched poverty, and would not be allowed enough money to support themselves in decency or comfort, or even to till the land properly; but they would not be sold up. It would be far better for them and the country that they should be sold up altogether, and that would be more likely to occur under a 1389 system of peasant proprietary than under the present system. Moreover, by becoming the absolute owners of their little properties, the tenant would be more likely to become thrifty and prudent, and less likely to become hopelessly involved in debt than at present. The sense of real ownership would act beneficially on the character of the people; and under a system of small ownership they would be more likely to maintain their position in the country than under the system of judicial leases now existing. Those were the advantages and disadvantages which he could see in peasant proprietorship; but what weighed with him was the absolute necessity of finding some way out of the present condition of affairs. It was absolutely impossible to suppose that Ireland, or any other country, could go on with the whole soil of the country held in perpetual solution, with no man owning it. Real ownership of some kind there must be. Either the land must belong to the State, according to the theory of Mr. George, or it must belong to private owners, large or small. But a tenure under which land belonged to no one was a condition of affairs that could not last long. No sooner would rents have been settled for one term of 15 years than another re-valuation for another term of 15 years would have commenced. The condition of Ireland would be one of incessant grumbling at the way rents had been fixed, and of incessant agitations for fresh reductions. The condition of Ireland was a transitory condition. It was one the people could not possibly remain in; and he submitted that the only way out of the difficulty was to complete the revolution as soon as practicable, and to take the ownership of the land from its late owners and put it in the hands of the present occupiers. A final settlement of the Land Question in the direction contemplated by the noble Marquess was desirable for Ireland, and it was equally desirable for England also. A great deal had been done to weaken the loyalty of many Irishmen. He did not so much mean that many men who were loyal two years ago had become less loyal; but the loyal classes throughout the country, with the exception of the North of Ireland, had completely lost all the influence and power they 1390 formerly possessed. That being so, they could not by any possibility restore it; all they could do was to try and build up, by degrees, another class of loyal men in their place. It was well known that small owners were very Conservative in their tendencies, in the larger sense of the word; and he had no doubt that such a class would be in favour of law and order, and either from a sense of gratitude, or from knowledge of the stability of this country, would be in favour of maintaining the Union between the two countries. England had always acted foolishly towards the loyal element in Ireland. She persecuted the class that was really the backbone of the country in former days, and had driven thousands of Presbyterians across the Atlantic, men who took no mean part in the struggle that lost us our North American Colonies. The Government had lately done all they could to discourage the loyal classes in Ireland. Those classes could never recover the power they once held; and the wisest thing England could do was to endeavour to repair that loss by raising up loyal men in their stead. It seemed to him also very necessary that those measures should be undertaken to do ordinary justice to the landowning classes in Ireland. He did not think that any class had ever suffered more severely or so severely on account of their adherence to a principle believed in and upheld by the Government than the landowning class in Ireland at the hands of that Government. They had lost about one-fourth of their property, and what many valued still more, a great deal of the affection and love of the people among whom they dwelt. They had also lost all their influence and power for good. For the future they knew that they were powerless. They would have to see poverty around them without the ability of alleviating it. They would not be able to consolidate their farms, or to encourage a better state of agriculture, but would have to sit by and see the country gradually going to ruin before their eyes. And all this was lost by their adhesion to the principles of the Union. Her Majesty's Government had an extraordinarily fatal tendency to be always in error in making any statements with regard to Ireland. He could recall no statement 1391 made by the present Government with regard to Ireland which had not turned out to be absolutely false and wrong. From the very beginning the Prime Minister's estimate of Ireland was as absurdly wrong as anything could possibly be. The letter written by the late Lord Beaconsfield to the noble Duke the then Lord Lieutenant (the Duke of Marlborough) had proved to be absolutely correct, although that letter was greatly animadverted upon at the time. The present Prime Minister then described Ireland as being in almost a beatific state. In the same way, the Government estimate of the working of the Land Act had not been justified. Mr. Bright said that in nine cases out of ten there would be no change of rent, and yet changes had been made in all, or, at least, in 99 out of 100 cases. Then, again, they were told that the reductions would not affect the great estates; but experience had shown that the large estates had been affected. They were informed that the worst cases would come first, and that reductions would cease after a time; that had not been the case. Every statement of that kind that the Government had made with regard to the probable action of their own Bill and the condition of the country had proved incorrect. The greatest mistake of all that the Government had made with regard to Ireland was in their estimate of the agitation in that country. They considered that the agitation was against landlordism, and against rent being too high. The leader of the agitation told them the object was separation from England. Everybody in Ireland who knew anything of the country, the police, the stipendiary, and the unpaid magistrates pointed out the same thing. But Her Majesty's Government insisted that they were all wrong, and that it was a very proper agitation directed against excessive rent. Over and over again the Government had declared that separation—Home Rule—was a matter not even to be discussed in Parliament; and, if that were the ease, he could not conceive why, at the same time, an agitation with that object out-of-doors could be legitimate. He could not understand the Government saying that Home Rule was a matter they could not discuss in Parliament, and, at the same 1392 time, permitting an agitation with that object to be promoted out-of-doors. He did not mean to say as far as he was concerned that Home Rule was not a fit subject for Parliamentary discussion; but if it was not, then neither was it fit to be the object of an agitation out-of-doors. Agitation meant one of two things, either a direct threat of an appeal to physical force, or an endeavour by the people to express opinions in order to influence their Representatives in Parliament. Nothing could be more absurd than to say to the people—"You are ruled under a representative form of government, but we will not allow the one thing you want—Home Rule—to be discussed by your Representatives in Parliament without saying, at the same time, that any agitation for the purpose outside is illegitimate and will not be allowed." But Her Majesty's Government did act in this way. They allowed an agitation to be conducted throughout the country for an object they would not allow to be discussed in Parliament. The agitation was consequently forced in, and concentrated against, the loyal classes. The consequence of the mistake of the Government had been that the Irish landowners, being loyal men, had suffered loss in their property, in the affection and love of the people among whom they lived, and in their influence and power in the country. He did not mean to suggest that compensation could be offered for those losses; they could not compensate men for the loss of affection and influence; but they could and ought to be compensated for the direct loss of their property. At any rate, the proposition of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would afford them some way of leaving the country, and of extricating themselves with as little loss as possible from a difficult, perhaps an intolerable position. A peasant proprietary ought not to be established on a large scale very suddenly; it should only be introduced gradually. But there was no danger that it would grow up too quickly. Whatever inducement there might be to tenants to buy their holdings, there was no reason to suppose that the landlords would rush into the market in a great body to sell. Some landlords would remain in the country, either from affection to the soil or from the hope of being able to do 1393 some good to the country. A great number would also be unable to leave from various causes; but a good many would go because, by getting a fair price for their property, they could free themselves from the money embarrassments from which they were at present suffering most severely; and some would go out of a natural preference for some country where the rights of property were still regarded, where a man might hope to do some good by his time and his labour, where honesty was not punished by an unwritten law, and where loyalty to the British Crown was not criminal. Something must be done to get Ireland out of the unfortunate condition in which she now found herself. It was coincident with—he did not say in consequence of, but coincident with—the legislation of the last 10 years that the condition of the country was getting worse and worse. Land was going out of cultivation with great rapidity, and the live stock of the country was diminishing also. If the live stock of the country had increased in proportion as land went out of cultivation it would not be so bad; but when they saw both processes going on together it was impossible to give stronger evidence of the deplorable condition of the country. Landlords could not lay out money; they could not be expected to do so, and to whom were they to look for the improvement of the country? They must endeavour to raise up a class which would take that necessary function out of the hands of the landlord class. It appeared mere common sense to say that true statesmanship would endeavour to hold out the greatest inducements to occupiers of land in Ireland to lay out their capital upon it. There could be no doubt that a man who was the owner of his land was more likely to develop his property by the employment of money or labour than the man who held it under any other system of tenure. Though he could not look forward with very bright anticipation to the formation of a large class of peasant proprietors, he saw in the formation of such a class the only possible way in which the country could extricate itself from the difficulties caused by an impossible land tenure; the only way in which a strong Conservative and loyal class could be created in Ireland; and the only way in which some justice could 1394 be done to those who were at present supposed to hold the land of the country.
§ Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that a Royal Commission may be appointed to report as to the most effective means of giving to a larger portion of the people of Ireland a permanent proprietary interest in the soil by purchase of their holdings."—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRIVY SEAL)
My Lords, the speech of the noble Earl (the Earl of Dunraven), to which we have just listened, is a good, and, at the same time, a curious illustration of a practice to which we have become accustomed in this House. I mean that, whenever the name of Ireland is mentioned, every possible Irish subject is thought germane to the question immediately under discussion, and is dragged into the debate. Every observation that has been made 100 times before on the history of Ireland during the last few years is revived, and that, too, with very little relation to the subject immediately before the House. [Laughter, and "Hear, hear!"] My noble Friend was especially severe on the Government for the untrue—that was, mistaken statements he said they were always making on the subject of Ireland; and he made a number of statements, to which I should be inclined to apply the same terms which my noble Friend has applied to the statements of Her Majesty's Government. I cannot remember them all, but I wish to make a remark on two of those statements, which I confess have rather surprised me. My noble Friend said it was notorious that the amount of reduction on Irish rents now being made in the Land Courts throughout Ireland was not only not less than it had been during the earlier operation of the Courts, as it was thought would have been the case, but that it had even been greater. The notorious fact is precisely the reverse of what my noble Friend has stated. The fact is that the amount of reductions found necessary by the Commissioners has been gradually diminishing, and the percentage of reduction during the last few months has been considerably lower than at the time of the earlier operations of the Court. Then my noble Friend said that it was notorious that, contrary to our expectations and predictions, the largest estates in Ireland have been most 1395 severely dealt with. My noble Friend must have forgotten some of the most important parts of the evidence given before the Committee of this House, of which he was a Member, which sat on this subject last year. If he will refresh his memory, he will find the Commissioners, Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Vernon, both stated that, while the amount of rack-renting was greater than they had expected, and, consequently, in many eases, the reduction on what they fully admitted to be excessive rent, the large estates had been scarcely touched by the operation of the Courts. They also said that their experience of excessive rents was in the main, or to a very large extent, confined to the smallest class of estates. My noble Friend has, I think, treated the House to the gloomiest and most morbid view of the Irish situation that I have ever yet heard even in this House. I can only hope that your Lordships will not be influenced by any view so evidently exaggerated and so evidently morbid as that taken by my noble Friend. I now come to the Resolution proposed by the noble Marquess behind me (the Marquess of Lansdowne). My noble Friend on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Dunraven) stated that peasant proprietorship was very objectionable, but that the present tenure of land in Ireland was still more so, and that, consequently, he preferred the former. The noble Marquess, on the other hand, has adduced reasons of a much more substantial kind in support of his proposal than that. I must say I entirely agree with his mode of stating the object which the Government, as well as he, have in view—namely—Giving to a larger portion of the people of Ireland a permanent proprietary interest in the soil by the purchase of their holdings.The Government have in no way changed their opinion in favour of that object. They believe, as they have often said in Parliament, that that object is a highly desirable one in the interests of all classes in Ireland, and they have not abandoned the hope of attaining it. But the question which the Government have had to put to themselves, and which I have to put to the House, is a practical one—namely, whether an inquiry by way of Royal Commission, as proposed by the noble Marquess, is likely to tend to the promotion of that 1396 object; and whether, also, in the circumstances of the case, it would be wise to set on foot now a new formal inquiry into the working of this important part of the Land Act of 1881. I did not gather from the observations of my noble Friend that he brought this Motion forward with the intention of pressing for legislation during the present Session. There is nothing in his speech which gives that idea; and if it is so, the Government and my noble Friend are agreed to that extent. My noble Friend referred to the opinions of the Irish Land Commissioners, and I also should like to refer to them. Last summer the Land Commissioners informed the Government and the Committee of your Lordships' House, in the same terms, that, in their belief, nothing effectual could be done at present in connection with the Purchase Clauses. They told the Government that the minds of the Irish tenants were fixed upon obtaining a settlement of their rents, whether in or out of Court, and had not as yet been turned at all to the question of purchasing their holdings. The Commissioners laid down then, very strongly, that there was nothing useful to be done in connection with the subject of purchase, and that is the opinion which they still entertain. That is also the view of the Government, founded upon all the information we can obtain. The Government feel that in this matter, if they wait for the present, they will, before long, be in a far better position to judge as to what are the necessities of the case that call for legislation, and what amount of change will make these Purchase Clauses available for the Irish tenant and induce him to make use of them. But that time has not yet come. Great progress is being made in the settlement of rents in Ireland, and we have good reason to believe that the minds of the mass of Irish tenants are settling down in a way which, compared with the last two or three years, is highly satisfactory and full of hope. When that process has gone further, as it is now going, we are convinced that it will be far easier to decide what the shortcomings in the Purchase Clauses of the Irish Land Act are, and in what way those clauses ought to be dealt with, so as to make them effective for the object in view. Until then, our belief is that there is nothing 1397 which can usefully or effectively be done; and I am not at all sure that my noble Friend the noble Marquess would not agree that the subject does not call for immediate legislation. But my noble Friend may say—"Though this may not be the moment for legislation, you may make use of the interval for the purpose of inquiring with a view to coming legislation." Upon that point I have two observations to make. First of all, the Government do not think that this is a case in which a fresh public inquiry would help them in their task. There has been a large amount of inquiring, investigating, and reporting upon this subject already. It has been inquired into and reported upon by two Royal Commissions before the passing of the Irish Land Act, and we have that information and those opinions before us. We also have, and shall have, the advantage of the experience of the Irish Land Commission. There is also the evidence taken by the Committee of your Lordships' House, and the Report of that Committee, which will be one of the materials of judging when the matter comes to be dealt with. Remember what the aim of such an inquiry as this must be. It is not to inquire whether the object is a desirable one or not; upon that we are all agreed. It would not even be an inquiry into the general mode of attaining that object—it would be an inquiry into the details of the process, into the machinery by which the object is to be gained, and especially it would be an inquiry which would greatly concern the financial duties and responsibilities of the Government, and the safeguards which it would be necessary to adopt, in case a large number of tenants were to come into debtor and creditor relations with the Treasury of this country. The Government are convinced that such a work would be better done by the Executive Government itself than by any Royal Commission that could be appointed. But, in the second place, they are convinced that while a careful investigation into this question of machinery, and into questions relating to the financial responsibilities of the Government on the one hand, and the interest of Irish landlords and Irish tenants on the other, would be much more safely and wisely dealt with by the Government itself, they think that, by now once more 1398 opening a new public inquiry into this large branch of the Irish Land Act of 1881, an unsettling effect would be produced upon the minds of people in Ireland. These are the grounds upon which the Government are not able to come to the conclusion that the proposal made by my noble Friend would tend to the better attainment of the object which he and they both have in view; while, at the same time, they believe it would be liable to many disadvantages in the process. I should be sorry to say one word which might give the utterly false idea that I, on the part of the Government, intend to throw any cold water on the object which the noble Marquess has in view; but I submit to the House, and I trust the House will share the view of the Government, that the mode of action proposed would not promote that object, while, at the same time, it would, in the opinion of the Government, seriously interfere with that responsibility of their own of which they cannot divest themselves.
§ THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
said, that he regretted the Government had not accepted the Motion. He, for one, did not wonder at the passion which had been shown by Irish landlords in the course of these debates, because no class of men had ever been treated as Irish landlords had been treated by their Lordships' House. He could not understand how the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal could say that the figures quoted by his noble Friend who had seconded the Motion (the Earl of Dunraven) were incorrect, when it had been proved, over and over again, that the figures of the Commissioners were incorrect. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal had stated that the reductions in rent in the Land Courts were not now so large as they formerly were; but the impression in Ireland was general that these reductions were going on upon very much the same scale as before, and in some cases upon a greater scale. He knew himself a case where two estates were reduced, one 20 per cent, and the other 40 per cent, and they were exactly the same class of land. As to the large estates not being touched, why the estate of the noble Duke (the Duke of Abercorn) had been very largely touched.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRIVY SEAL)
said, that Mr. Justice O'Hagan, in his evidence before the Committee of 1399 their Lordships' House, had stated that the large estates had been but slightly touched.
§ THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
said, that, when Mr. Justice O'Hagan gave that evidence, the Land Commission was only beginning its work, and the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal himself said that they ought not to have an inquiry, because there were such few cases. Everybody knew that the great estates had been just as much reduced as the small ones, and that the reductions had been made upon rents that had been fixed for many years. He was glad to hear that the Government favoured the working of the Purchase Clauses; for he (the Marquess of Waterford), with others, had been inclined to believe that the Government wished for delay. Did they wish to delay until the value of the landlords' property was so depreciated that they could buy it for a trifle? As a Member of the Select Committee of their Lordships' House, he wished to say a word on that point. The Land Act had absolutely prevented the sale of land in Ireland, and many properties had been put up for sale in the Encumbered Estates Court without a single bidder. At the same time, while the fee-simple of the estate was not saleable, the tenants' interest fetched a great deal more than it had ever done before. The noble Lord might suppose that that was owing to the agitations, or the agricultural distress; but the facts did not bear out that view. No doubt the difficulties the tenants had in borrowing the purchase-money was one of the greatest impediments in the way of purchase. But when the tenants had something almost as good as fixity of tenure, and knew that they could not get a better occupation by purchase than they had already, and that they would even lose by purchase, it was not to be wondered at that they did not come forward and purchase the landlords' estates. The Treasury had thrown every obstacle in the way of working these clauses. They had refused, or almost refused, to advance money at all. They had done everything in their power to prevent them working; and if the fountain head was against the working of those clauses, he did not see how it was possible for them to be worked. Then the Land Court, overburdened by work as it was, could not possibly be 1400 expected to work those clauses properly. That Court, which had to assess the value of the rents, could not be expected to act fairly by the landlord and tenant in the matter of purchase, because it was natural that they should be inclined to a further reduction of rent. There was a Court in existence, however, a Court with all the necessary machinery, with officers perfectly acquainted with the value of land, and with power to give a title to property—he alluded to the Encumbered Estates Court—and he ventured to say that if the properties to be purchased passed through the hands of that Court the result would be satisfactory. The adoption of that suggestion would certainly save expense, and would greatly facilitate the working of the clauses in question. He could not wonder that these clauses of the Act had been much more a dead letter than they were under the Act of 1870. Landlords were now obliged to retain their properties, whether they would or not, and possibly for the benefit of the mortgagees alone. Immense stress had been laid upon the working of the Bright Clauses. When the Act of 1870 was passed, the Government at that time believed that if a peasant proprietary could be established throughout the length of Ireland it would add enormously to the loyalty of the population, and that the agitators would not have the hold upon the people which they had had up to the present time. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had alluded to some remarkable words which were made use of in a speech of Lord Hartington, and which were to the same effect. But if that view of the case were true, why was it the Government did not take steps to have those statements carried out? They knew perfectly well that the Purchase Clauses were a dead letter, and yet they sat quiet and asked for delay. Many considerations seemed to mark out the course proposed as being a proper one to pursue. The landlord of the future would be no more than, and only a rent-charger. He could not lay out any money for improvements, because he knew very well that his money might be confiscated and sold by the tenant the next moment; and he had, in fact, no interest in his estate. He would probably be an absentee, and from time immemorial absentees had been looked upon as a curse to 1401 Ireland. It was said that the absentee landlords had done nothing for the tenants, that they had drawn the rents out of the country and spent them elsewhere; and lately they had heard—he did not know how true it was—that a great part of the cause of the agricultural distress in this country was due to the fact that the land was held by so few persons. He would, at any rate, be one of the too few owners of the land to whose exclusive ownership much of the agricultural distress had been often attributed. The Act of 1881 would tend to perpetuate and to aggravate all these unfortunate social and economic conditions. It would have the effect of turning the great bulk of the landlords of Ireland into absentees, and, at the same time, of keeping the proprietorships in the hands of a few; because, however ready they might be to sell, they would not be able to dispose of a single acre. It came to this, then—that those who believed that the land of England was held by too few persons had succeeded in passing for Ireland a measure which kept the land in the hands of a few, for it forced the landlords to retain their property, and prevented them from developing its resources; while, at the same time, rendering them practically useless members of society. His own belief was that the Purchase Clauses might be made operative very speedily, and without any loss to the State, if the Government could only be persuaded that there was not the slightest risk in advancing the whole of the purchase money to the tenants. A certain sum of money might be set apart for this purpose every year, and the result would be that while the second or third batch of tenants were borrowing the money the first batch would have repaid it. He entirely agreed with what the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) said on that point. He believed that the instalments which would have to be paid to the Government would be looked upon by the tenants as so much of an investment; and if he repudiated it he would lose, in addition to his farm, all the money he had paid up to the time he ceased, payment. He (the Marquess of Waterford) could not see, therefore, that there would be the slightest danger of the State advancing the whole of the money to the 1402 tenants; and he was quite satisfied that it would have such a beneficial result upon Ireland, that, even if there was a risk of its costing the State any money, it would be amply repaid in the improved state of things which would follow. They must do something to render land saleable again, for as things were, land in Ireland was simply unsaleable at any price. Properties must change hands; but, at the present time, they could not be sold, because buyers had been frightened away, not by the depreciation of the value of the property, but by Imperial legislation and nothing else. He therefore thought, under these circumstances, it was incumbent upon the Government to take steps to give effect to the Purchase Clauses of the Act, which promised to be most effectually remedial. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal had said that the Government was as anxious as he was that the Purchase Clauses should be worked. If that was so, what was the difficulty in the way of its being done? He knew it was believed that, if that were done, every tenant in Ireland would at once become a proprietor; but if the Government had any doubt upon that, could they not moderate the use of the clauses by an annual grant of so much? By so doing, the first lot of tenants would almost have paid the first instalment, before the latter part had received any money at all. Of course, not every tenant in Ireland could become a proprietor, and not every landlord would wish to sell. He knew, however, that in Ulster the tenants were more anxious to buy than in the other parts of Ireland, and that there they were looking with the greatest interest to the Motion of the noble Marquess, and he had received a telegram from an influential meeting there, praying the House to accede to the noble Marquess's Motion. They were most anxious to purchase their holdings in Ulster; indeed, no landlord could be more deeply interested in the question than the Ulster tenants, and he believed that before long they would have both landlord and tenant in Ireland anxiously agitating for a change that would render those clauses really workable. He sincerely wished Her Majesty's Government had acceded to the appointment of the Royal Commission, for though the Irish Land Question had been the 1403 subject of many inquiries, most of the information had been obtained before the passing of the Land Act, and the state of things had been completely changed since that time. An inquiry now, at any rate, would show the country that Her Majesty's Government were really anxious that the Purchase Clauses should be rendered workable; and that they were anxious in some manner to mitigate the evils which had followed the violent change in the Land Laws—of that which they had seen—evils which he believed would increase in volume every day that they remained unremedied.
§ EARL COWPER
said, he deeply regretted that the Government had not assented to inquiry in respect to this matter. He was rather sorry that everybody who had advocated that inquiry had coupled his remarks, more or less, with observations derogatory to the Land Act. He thought it would be a pity that it should be supposed that the two things were in antagonism, or that an inquiry was to be vindicated only on the ground of its repairing an injustice done by that Act. He considered the Land Act had materially reduced the grievances of the Irish people, which the Purchase Clauses by themselves would not have done. That Act, in his opinion, was certainly a good and just measure, but it had one drawback. They know that although the improvements on holdings, as a rule, had been made by the tenants, there were some landlords who did make improvements themselves, and they felt that the Act had had the effect of causing landlords to stop making those improvements. The consequence was that the tenants carried out all those improvements, and landlords would undoubtedly more and more, year after year, get into the condition of mere rent-chargers; and what he said was that those mere rent-chargers should, if they chose, be allowed and even encouraged to sell their estates, and that the tenants now who had made all the improvements in the land should have the additional responsibility of ownership. One objection to the scheme put forward for placing the tenant in the position of an owner was that the State must, for a certain number of years, itself become the landlord. He did not, however, see any objection to such a system of tenancy, and there would not be any 1404 difficulty in collecting the rents, as the Government had the power to enforce them. It was, however, said that would excite odium against the Government, but he did not share in that opinion. On the contrary, he thought they would incur less odium in enforcing their own rights than they did in enforcing the rights of others, and certainly would find it much easier to do so. His noble Friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had stated that the Government had acted with reluctance in enforcing the payment of rent to the landlords; whereas the fact was, there was no one occasion on which they had not helped them. If a landlord wrote to Dublin Castle to say he wanted such assistance, a force of military and of police were sent to help to enforce his rights; but sometimes when they had gone long distances they found when they got to their journey's end there was no occasion for their services, for arrangements had been made at the last moment by the landlord, agent, or bailiff, and the men had to march back again. There was want of joint action on the part of the landlords; for if they had only agreed among themselves in any locality where they might require assistance, the Government could have afforded it them more easily. The work was done sporadically. It had been impossible for the authorities to render the assistance they might have done if they could have dealt with a county or a district at a time. There would have been great advantages if the Government had had the whole power of collecting the rent; and the Government could scarcely have incurred more odium in enforcing its own rights than it had incurred in enforcing those of other people. He was very sorry that the Government had announced that it was not their intention to grant the Commission asked for. He thought that if they stated it was their intention to make sufficient inquiries on the subject, it would answer the objects of the Resolution. It would have been much more satisfactory if the Government had undertaken inquiry with the view of settling all the details that could possibly be settled as to the number of years over which payment for a loan should be spread, the Court which was to carry out the scheme, and all matters which needed so much inquiry. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said it would be hotter to allow things to 1405 settle down. He (Earl Cowper) doubted very much whether, if there was a postponement and there was a marked change in the country in the way of improvement, the English people would be inclined to re-open the question until it was again forced on their attention. There were many reasons why the Bright Clauses should be made more workable. He must repeat that he regretted very much that the Government did not consider it necessary to make inquiries. There was no more proper time to make those inquiries than at the present moment, when the landlords were anxious to sell. It would be a boon to them, and the tenants would buy cheaply; and, for that reason, he did not see why the Purchase Clauses should not at once be made workable.
§ LORD WAVENEY,
after reading a Petition from the Ulster Tenant Eight Association, praying that their Lordships would accede to the Motion of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne), and also quoting several resolutions passed at meetings in Ireland, in its favour, said, he heartily joined in the regret that had been expressed by several speakers that the Government had signified its intention of not offering any assistance in the matter, as he believed it to be of the greatest moment that the fullest light should be thrown upon a subject of such vast importance to the future of Ireland. He contended that it was urgently needed to supply Government with data for supervising the new legislation, which was designed to effect a revolution in the economical condition of the country. In his opinion, the best arrangement that could be made in the circumstances would be one by which the farms would be transferred to a peasant proprietary, with a modified reduction of their interest that would be equivalent to the copyhold system of this country. Such an arrangement was especially required as regarded the tenants in Ulster.
said, he would refer their Lordships to his Protests put upon the Journals of the House at the time of the passing of the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881, in which he had foreshadowed many of the difficulties which had since arisen respecting it, and had predicted that the purchase of holdings would cause disputes between the purchasers of a valueless tenant right and those who 1406 entered farms at the end of the first or second 15 years' lease. He had a farm which, in 1817, paid £120 yearly rent; this was reduced, first, to £90, and latterly by his father, in consultation with him, to £60; but, the land being exhausted from the tenant's acting as a carrier of lime, that rent could not be paid, on which he (Lord Denman) cultivated the farm, and the son of the tenant, in 1817, was his caretaker. It now was in good condition. Bearing this in mind, and referring to his Protests, he did not think that the present Motion of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would lead to any good result.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE,
in reply, said, he wished, in the first place, to explain with regard to the remarks made by the noble Earl the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Earl Cowper), that when he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) said the Government had reluctantly supported landlords in enforcing the payment of rent, he did not intend to apply the words to the action of the Executive in Ireland. He had rather in his mind the fact—which he still believed to be a fact—that the Government did not, at first, clearly apprehend the character of the struggle which was going on between landlords and tenants in Ireland, and that the moral support which landlords received was not of a very cordial character. That was evident from the fact that in 1880, immediately after their accession to Office, they introduced a Bill imposing heavy penalties upon landlords who attempted to enforce their undoubted rights by eviction. He could not regard the reply of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal as being in every respect satisfactory; but, nevertheless, those who were interested in this question might gather some crumbs of comfort from what was said by the noble Lord. He understood the noble Lord to state that Her Majesty's Government were still in favour of an effectual measure for increasing the number of proprietors in Ireland, but that they reserved to themselves the duty of revising the shortcomings of the Land Act, and that they would do so at the proper time. If the noble Lord had said that the Government would bring in a Bill next year, his answer would have been entirely satisfactory. His (the Marquess 1407 of Lansdowne's) contention was that indefinite delay was unfortunate—first, because nothing with regard to the operation of the Purchase Clauses was so prejudicial as uncertainty as to the extent to which they were to be amended; and, secondly, because there were many owners of land in Ireland who were not able to wait for an indefinite time. These men, if not extricated from the embarrassing position in which they stood, would before long be in a state of absolute ruin. He did not, of course, intend to press his Motion, because an inquiry of this sort, if forced upon the Government, would lead to no useful results. He would only beg the Government to address themselves seriously to the consideration of this matter, and to do so with as little delay as possible. In conclusion, he begged to withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn).
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.