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History of the Year 1869 page 3

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Mr. Disraeli's speech, which, clever as it was, struck rather at the exclusion of tenants evicted for non-payment of rent from the benefits of the bill than at the compensation given for eviction on other grounds, was answered both by Mr. Lowe and Mr. Chichester Fortescue. Mr. Lowe called his language a " declaration of war; " and, indeed, an amendment moved by the leader of the Opposition upon a Government bill is seldom anything else Mr. Lowe dwelt upon the " terrible state of Ireland springing from the habit of wholesale eviction; upon the need of sometimes transgressing the strict laws of political economy; upon the happy mean of the Government bill, which verged neither towards the Scylla of Mr. Disraeli nor towards the Charybdis of the advocates of' fixity of tenure. " There is no doubt," he said, " that harsh conduct by the landlord, and evictions in times long past, have popularised murder in Ireland, and have made people look upon a murderer as a man not entirely in the wrong. When this feeling has once been created, observe the progress it makes. It has now passed from the land lord and tenant to the people themselves; outrages which used to be mainly directed against the landlord and per sons in his employ are now directed against others: no injury is too slight - the discarding of a servant, the dismissal of a porter by a railway official, underselling by a tradesman - anything is a sufficient excuse for shedding blood. What is the fountain of bitterness from which these waters first flowed? Has not this demoralising practice sprung up mainly because the law did not give the tenant relief, and the tenant grew to think he was entitled to take the law into his own hands P " Again, what better established rule of political economy was there than that every man should be free to exercise any calling he liked? Yet we had a system of trade licenses - a plain violation of this rule; and other rules might be found similarly violated for purposes of State necessity - the Government monopoly of the Post Office, for instance. And as to the " middle course " of the Government, " we have gone," said Mr. Lowe, " to neither extreme. We have endeavoured, without shaking the foundations of property, to give adequate relief to the tenants; we have entirely repudiated the notion of fixity of tenure; and I think the Irish landlords are very wise in acquiescing. What would be the only result suppose the bill failed? Why, they would be in this most miserable position: they would find themselves in the claws of the right honour able gentleman who would then be at the head of the Government, with a fine working minority in the House. When that time came," said the speaker, in allusion to Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill, and his power of " educating his party" - "when that time came they might indeed tremble. I think I already hear the speech which the right honourable gentleman would make to the House. He would say it was a mockery and a delusion to give compensation to the tenant in case of eviction; such a remedy would fail because it did not go deep enough; and the only panacea for Ireland was fixity of tenure, with a periodical re-valuation of rents."

This gloomy prospect, however, was not to be realised. It was not reserved for Mr. Disraeli to repeat the tactics of 1866 and 1867, and first to turn out a Government on Conservative grounds, and then out-Herod their liberalism by a bill of his own. The debate flowed on. Mr. Hardy was furious with Mr. Lowe, and then went on to denounce the clause: " I say that by doing this you are creating a property that did not exist before. You are giving a man something which he never had before and you cannot give it him without taking it from some body else."

Sir Roundell Palmer, who, on questions of property as on ecclesiastical questions, was always rather Conservative than Liberal, took the opportunity of criticising the whole bill from the point of view of " caution," and suggested many difficulties in the way of the treatment of prospective tenancies. But Mr. Chichester Fortescue, and Mr. Gladstone after him, maintained both the moderate character of the bill generally, and the fact that "this clause was the central and essential part, without which it would not be worth the while of Parliament to pass the bill." Mr. Gladstone's speech was at once temperate and firm. He dwelt upon the fact which Mr. Disraeli had slighted - the fact that the bill was "wholly and absolutely exceptional." He did not attempt an abstract justification of its principles; on the contrary, he admitted fully that such interference with the laws of political economy was only to be justified by stern necessity. In fact, the Government hoped that this measure might soon work such a cure in the Irish temper as to cut away the ground of necessity from under its own feet, in which case it would naturally fall into abeyance. " Twenty years, and thereafter until Parliament shall otherwise determine " - that was to be the limit of the operation of the bill: a limit clearly showing both the conviction of the Government as to its exceptional character, and their hope that it would one day cease to be necessary. But at present no such alteration could be made in it as that which Mr. Disraeli proposed, armed, as it was, against "one of the main pillars of the bill." " One of the grand provisions of the bill was the confirmation of Irish customs. Another grand principle was that improvements made by the tenant were the property of the tenant. And a third principle of the bill, which was by far the most prominent in the lengthened statement it was my duty to inflict upon the House, was that damages for eviction were to be paid to the tenant."

The division which followed upon this debate was perhaps the most important of the session, and it was a great triumph for the Government. The Ayes were 220; the Noes, 296; so that by a majority of 76 the new principle, which did most undoubtedly confer a new property upon the Irish tenant, was affirmed by the house of Commons. With this great victory the success of the Government bill became assured; and the frequent divisions upon the later clauses, and upon amendments moved from both sides of the House, were one and all Government successes. The next night to that on which Mr. Disraeli's amendment was lost, Mr. Gladstone carried his own amendment, inserting after the word "compensation," the words, "for the loss which the Court shall find to have been sustained by him in quitting his holding," by a majority of 111. The further alteration which the clause underwent, was that all tenants of holdings at 50 a year and upwards were placed in the class of those with whose freedom of contract the bill did not interfere, - a different thing from excluding them. altogether from the right to claim damages for eviction in the absence of contract. The former amendment was consented to by Mr. Gladstone, although unwillingly; the latter, proposed by Mr. W. Fowler, was lost by a majority of 32. But there is no necessity for us to follow the bill through every little stage of its progress through committee. On the 30th of May it appeared in its amended shape, waiting for the third reading; and it passed without a division, amid murmurs of protest from the Conservative benches, and articulate protest from Mr. Hardy, who confessed that he looked to the Lords to assert themselves in the interest of landed property, and remedy the injustice of "damages for eviction." Mr. Gladstone knew his strength, and said little on that point. He only appealed to the consciences of the Irish landlords. " If," he said, " we were to put to the Irish landlords, categorically, the question, Will you take the bill as it is, or will you have it lost? ' I may be wrong, but my firm conviction is, that the cry of those landlords would be, 'Let the bill pass into law! ' " And, so far as the House of Commons was concerned, it did pass into law that night.

There remained the House of Lords. The second reading was moved by Lord Granville, who had, of course, a much less difficult task to perform than Mr. Gladstone had had on the first introduction of the bill in the House of Commons. The subject had been so long before the public, the discussion of it had been so full, that not only did the Lords know the details of the bill already, but their own opinions of it were pretty well known to one another. Lord Granville did not expect much opposition to the main outlines of the bill, nor did he meet with much. The Duke of Richmond, the Conservative leader, fixed mainly upon the duration of the leases specified by the bill, and wanted to shorten the length of those leases which would exempt parties from its operation from thirty-one to twenty-one years. When this was the chief objection made by the leader of the Opposition, it was evident that the bill would not be seriously imperilled, though Lord Salisbury might " condemn with his whole heart " the principle of compensation for eviction; though Lord Leitrim might object to " every part of it, from the title downwards; " and though Lord Clancarty might cry out that " it was a bill of pains and penalties against the Irish landlord." The second reading passed without a division, though the Opposition declared their intention of making serious alterations in committee. Committee, indeed, is the proper battle-ground - the only possible battle-ground - for a bill of this nature. A bill may be rejected on the second reading when it is a bill of one principle, definite and unmistakable; but the Irish Land Bill had three principles at least, according to Mr. Glad stone's enumeration; and according to the Lord Chancellor's, it had six. To reject it on the second reading, therefore, would have been to reject not one principle, but three, or even six, which, as the House of Commons was not composed entirely of Mr. Henleys, nor the House of Lords of Lord Leitrims, was hardly possible.

In committee the Duke of Richmond appeared much more hostile than he had appeared on the second reading. He carried, by 92 to 71 - not large numbers, considering the importance of the question and the number of the Peers who actually compose the House - a most important amendment, reducing the scale of compensation for eviction. He demanded that the full scale of seven years' rent should only be awarded in the case of holdings under 4 a year - not under 10, as the Government figure stood; and the rest of the compensation clause was altered by him in a similar spirit. Of the other amendments carried by him, the most notable were - one which forbade a tenant to claim compensation if he had " assigned," i.e. let, his farm to another, without the land lord's approval; another, which aroused a feeling of indignation in many hearts, forbade a tenant to let gardens to his labourers under penalty of losing the protection of the Act; another was the same as that which he had given notice of at the time of the second reading. Two other amendments of great importance were also carried - one, by Lord Salisbury, fixing 50, instead of 100, as the maximum rental under which a tenant might claim compensation for eviction; and one, by Lord Clanricarde, re moving the legal presumption which the bill had declared was to be in favour of the tenant, and providing that all claims for compensation for improvements should be proved by actual evidence. But before the bill was finally sent down to the Commons, the chances of a collision between the two Houses, which seemed threatening, were very much lessened by the spontaneous reversal by the Lords of many of their own amendments. In particular, that of Lord Salisbury - which he had carried in defiance of the nominal chief of his party; and which, if persisted in, would have robbed the. measure of half its force - was withdrawn. In the end, the only one of the Lords' amendments which was allowed to remain in the bill was that which assured to the landlord a modified veto on his tenant's right to assign; and with this alteration the bill was read for the third time. It received the royal assent on the 1st of August - a memorably day in the history of emancipation; and thus this measure, so novel in principle, so bold and yet so temperate in design, took its place among the laws of the United Kingdom. To say that it had much immediate effect in quieting the temper of the Irish people would be untrue; but it must be remembered that the bitterness of centuries is not cured in a year.

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