Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 48


page break


The state of Ireland at the present moment presents a double problem. One branch is to establish the future government of Ireland on a basis that shall remove discontent, the other is to deal with the Land Question. Although the latter is the most urgent at the moment, it is to a great extent involved in the former; and a few words on the more general question may, therefore, not be out of place.

I. The formula of policy in relation to Ireland adopted by the Liberal party is that we should govern Ireland according to Irish ideas. The expression is of value, as marking an anxiety to approach the question in a spirit of fairness, and with a desire to understand it. Yet it would be difficult to compress into so few words two errors more serious. The truth which we ought to grasp is that it is our duty not to govern Ireland at all, but to let Irishmen govern themselves. And if ever we must interfere, it ought not to be to indulge 'Irish ideas,' but rather, when it may be necessary, to oppose Irish ideas, if at any time party spirit, prejudice, or misconception, should lead Irishmen to adopt a course at variance with principles of justice.

page 4

The maxim that Irishmen ought to be allowed to govern themselves does not, however, in the smallest degree involve the doctrine of Home Rule. So far as we have been given to understand what that proposition means, it is that there should be a House of Commons—I do not know if also a House of Lords—sitting in Dublin, to deal with exclusively Irish questions. The scheme involves a double, and therefore a conflicting, jurisdiction; the division of authority is on its face impracticable, and it is confessed to be impracticable by the fact that its supporters have never presented—because, it may be presumed, they cannot frame—a Bill for carrying it into effect. But, without this form of Home Rule, self-government is very practicable. It is the government actually in force in England and in Scotland. It is compatible with our present joint Legislature, and it needs no Act of Parliament to create it. Like the rest of our Constitution, it works by understandings and by common sense. There is not the smallest reason why the like understanding should not apply to Ireland; and why, if applied, it should not produce the like result of prevailing contentment.

Let us consider the working of the Union as it exists between England and Scotland. England is five or six times the larger, in inhabited area, in population, and in wealth. England might, if she chose, 'govern' Scotland. She could, by an overwhelming majority in both Houses of Parliament sitting at Westminster, establish in Scotland Episcopacy, disendow Presbytery, repeal the Scottish page 5 land laws, assimilate the marriage laws, appoint English barristers to be judges, and send an English Viceroy to represent England at Edinburgh. In point of fact, England did at one time, in something of this fashion, attempt to thus 'govern' Scotland; and when she did Scotland was as disloyal, turbulent, and rebellious as Ireland has ever been. But supposing that England had advanced in Liberalism so far as to grasp the principle, 'We must govern Scotland according to Scottish ideas,' what should we have seen? Still we should have seen an English Viceroy sent down, with the concession that, if procurable, an absentee Scottish peer should be sometimes selected; still we should have committees of English members sitting to inquire whether Scotsmen really cared for extempore prayers, and whether nineteen years' leases were good for them; still we should have English ministers bringing in measures for remodelling Scottish institutions; and still we should have Scotsmen obliged to put themselves under the protection of some English political party when they wanted a change in the law of corporations, or of hypothec, or of bankruptcy. Would Scotland be contented with such a system? Assuredly not. Before ten years were out there would be a smouldering rebellion from one end of the country to the other, and an English official's life would not be safe beyond the radius of a policeman's baton.

But, as matters stand, every point is different. Scotland keeps her own laws, her own courts, her own institutions, her own administrators, her own page 6 systems of religion, education, land law, family law, and mercantile law. If in any point Englishmen think her wrong (as of course they do upon a good many), they leave her in her blunders. If in anything Scotsmen want a change, they ascertain among themselves on what side the majority lies; that majority proposes the change, the minority submits, and English members simply look on. Sometimes English votes may delay or hasten a measure for a few sessions (as in the case of the recent Hypothec Abolition Act), but at most they only turn a wavering scale, and Scottish desire, when clearly manifested, is never resisted. Therefore, Scotland is contented. She has self-government, though she has no Home Rule.

The method by which this system is practically worked out is extremely simple. The Home Secretary is the Parliamentary and responsible head of the government of Scotland, as of the rest of the island, and he is probably (I do not remember any exception) an Englishman. But as he fortunately does not profess to understand Scottish law, his subordinate, the Lord Advocate, is really the Home Secretary for Scotland, alike in respect of administration (including the preservation of order) and of legislation. Now the Lord Advocate is invariably a Scotsman, and a member of the Scottish bar. It is to him that Scottish members apply for whatever they want; it is he who consults Scottish members to know what Scotland requires. The Home Secretary does, indeed, exercise a final discretion in accepting or refusing page 7 what the Lord Advocate suggests. But he is generally wise enough to meddle as little as possible. When he attempts to interfere actively with Scottish business, as Mr. Cross did, the result is, as we lately saw, a rapid approach to revolt among Scottish members. They will submit to the exigencies of Parliamentary struggle, they will bear for a time that general party tactics, or even English prejudices, should be an obstacle to the attainment of their objects, but they will not bear that any English party or any English Home Secretary should attempt to introduce any changes which they do not want. Any tendency in this direction would at once unite Scottish Whigs and Scottish Tories in a solid opposition to the Ministry, no matter of what party.

Under this understanding, therefore, the government of Scotland is government by Scotsmen. None but Scotsmen are appointed to Scottish offices. When inquiries are called for they are made by Scotsmen. If a Royal Commission or a Parliamentary Committee is appointed to examine any question, it is composed of Scotsmen, with at most, and not always, a single Englishman or Irishman upon it to suggest outside ideas. When a question is ripe for decision a Bill is prepared by a Scottish member of Parliament, whether it be a Ministerial or a private measure. In either case, the Lord Advocate probably calls a meeting of the Scottish members to talk it over, to suggest amendments, to come, if possible, to an agreement. If tolerable unanimity is arrived at, the Imperial Legislature sooner or later gives its formal page 8 sanction. If a distinct majority cannot be secured, the question merely stands over till Scotsmen have made up their own minds. Englishmen and Irishmen do not attempt to force their own ideas on Scotland, nor even do they trouble themselves to find out what Scottish ideas are until Scotsmen present them in a shape for adoption.

How utterly unlike this rational system is that pursued in regard to Ireland ! First, we send over a Viceroy—an institution popular, no doubt, among Dublin shopkeepers, and a section of local society, but yet a distinct mark that Ireland is not directly under the Sovereign of Great Britain, but rather a dependency like India or the Isle of Man. Next, we do not make the Home Secretary even nominally Secretary for Ireland, but we appoint a special Irish Secretary. But what is most serious is that these functionaries are not invariably, not even frequently, but only rarely and exceptionally, Irishmen. Whatever ill they do is therefore a fresh example of English tyranny; whatever good they do is not welcome, because it comes from English hands. To the Irish Church it was our custom to appoint an English Archbishop; to the Irish Bench we sent, when convenient, an English Chancellor. When Parliament has to intervene, we do not ask Irishmen to state what they want, and to bring in Bills to enact it; but it is the English Government that makes all proposals, and leaves to the Irish members the privilege of finding fault. Almost invariably the Bills of merely Irish members are rejected. When inquiries are to page 9 precede action, the Committees and Commissions generally contain a majority of English members. When, therefore, a measure is finally passed, it is the expression of English will: and whether that will be more or less benevolent, whether it be more or less an endeavour to govern Ireland according to Irish ideas, it fails to conciliate, because it is the will of foreign rulers, not the development of native wishes.

But is there any reason why we should follow this system in regard to Ireland, instead of adopting that which we pursue in regard to Scotland? Is there, in short, any reason why we cannot let the Irish govern themselves by the action of their own representatives in the Imperial Parliament? I know of none. If it be said that race incapacitates them, the answer is that they are of the same race as the Welsh, the same race as Scotsmen; and that if the Celtic element in Scotland is dashed with Saxon and Norwegian blood, so is it in Ireland also. If it be said that it is religion, the answer is that the same religion prevails in France and Italy, in Swiss cantons and in Belgium, all of which are self-governing, and some of which are Celtic peoples. If it be said that it is disaffection and lawlessness, the answer is that Scotland was as disaffected, and ten times more savagely lawless, when she was governed as Ireland now is. If it be said that it is because Irishmen are divided into such bitterly hostile parties, once again the answer is—Scotland. The last Scottish rebellion was only half a century before the last Irish rebellion. At that date, Scotland was separated into two camps, the Jacobites page 10 and the Hanoverians, the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians. The Highlands followed one king, the Lowlands another, but even in the Lowlands one district was at war with another, and all over Scotland, as a general rule, the owners of the soil were of a religious creed that was detested by the tillers of the soil. What has made the difference that now exists between the two countries is neither race nor religion, neither temperament nor institutions, but simply the men who governed. Scotland had not till 1832 any popular representation in Parliament. She was, in point of fact, ruled by a small oligarchy of place-holders. But from the time of the last rebellion, her administrators were wholly Scotsmen. In Ireland, from the same date, they have been almost wholly English. Hence the difference in history, aggravated at this moment by the difference in Parliamentary management.

The first reform, then, needed in Ireland is to abolish the office of Viceroy, but at the same time to appoint to every Irish post only Irish functionaries. Very likely they will be unpopular with half the country, but their unpopularity will not be reflected on England. It is not difficult to see that if an Irish Secretary is to earn the name of 'Buckshot,' it would be more agreeable all round to hear of Buckshot O'Patrick than of Buckshot Forster. The second reform is to invite the Irish members to bring in their own Bills. It will be much more satisfactory to criticise them than to bring in English Bills for the Irish members to criticise. If they cannot agree, there page 11 is evidence that the question is not ripe. If they do fairly agree there will probably be no particular reason why we should dissent. The third reform, therefore, is that Irish Bills, supported by a great majority of Irish members, should be passed in general as matter of course. If a majority proposes something plainly opposed to reason or fair dealing, there is a proper opportunity for the interposition of English ideas in opposition to Irish. But at least it would seem the obviously natural preliminary that we should ask Irishmen to show us what they do want, and what is the proportion in which the country is divided on propositions brought forward by themselves. The act of self-government of itself engenders a sense of responsibility, and many a wild scheme which sounds like a promise of universal felicity sinks into the limbo of confessed impracticability when its author is invited to present it in the form of an Act of Parliament.

If these were adopted as the standard rules of administration and of legislation in regard to Ireland, as they have been in regard to Scotland, there is every reason to suppose that in as short a time they would produce the same effect, by simply gratifying the same sentiments. Ireland would feel that she was really self-governed, and having attained this reality it may be believed that she would be indifferent whether the seat of government were Dublin or Westminster.1

1 The policy here advocated was urged in several letters printed in the Daily News in December 1868 and January 1868-December 1869-January 1869.

page 12

II. If, then, the questions relating to Irish land were now to be dealt with permanently, the only rational course would be to invite the Irish members to prepare their Bill. But there are certain circumstances that make it necessary in the present case for Englishmen to do something. For the Irish Land Question is to a great extent of English making, and England must do something now to repair her own past faults. Happily, that which she ought to do is rather in the way of temporary aid than of a permanent settlement. But further, in leaving to the Irish nation to propose its own permanent settlement, we may properly indicate within what bounds we conceive justice to the minority should confine the action of the majority.

In saying that England is responsible for the present state of Ireland, I do not merely mean that she has imposed her own laws on Ireland. If at the period of the conquest she overturned tribalism and introduced feudalism, it was only a step towards that development of property which it would appear the growth of civilization makes necessary, that all nations should at some period reach. Nor is it possible to give credence to those who imagine that the Irishman of the present day traces back his rights in a farm which has passed through a hundred hands to the period when some one who was not his ancestor held it as common land. Neither, again, can we reckon among the chief factors of Irish distress the subtleties of conveyancing which English lawyers have imported. The fictions of settlement and page 13 mortgage (very real in their mischief, however absurd in their explanation) would not have been worse in the case of Ireland than of England had there not been other evils at work. It may also be remembered that if we carried these infections into Ireland, we have also given already an antidote, in the shape of Incumbered Estates Courts, which the land of England is still denied.

But our cruelty to Ireland was deeper and more permanent. It was that when Ireland began to have agriculture and manufactures we deliberately, and for our own selfish profit, stamped them out. It was that when Ireland began to export her own productions, we passed Acts of Parliament to prevent her having a market for them. Agriculturists and manufacturers in England combined together for a whole century to extinguish prosperity in Ireland lest it might hurt their own. There is no blacker record in all history than this. No tyrants have ever done a more cruel wrong, because no act of any tyrant has ever had such a lasting influence on the fate of their subjects. This is the cause that has brought starvation to millions of Irish men, women, and children—not solely in the periods of famine, but by lifelong inanition, by lack of food and clothing from birth to death. This is the cause that has made the Irish peasant hold to the land as the sole means of scanty subsistence. This has impoverished the landlords, and has been one main cause why, unable to do any good, so many have been reckless and negligent; and it is only fair to remember this when we charge page 14 them with being mere bloodsuckers of their tenants. This, too, has created that glut of useless hands which has made the Irishman in his own country the type of all that is reckless and idle—that same Irishman who in other lands does with vigour and steadiness all the hardest work which the world has to do.

This, I repeat, we did for our own profit. And therefore if money can in any degree now aid in remedying the mischief, we are bound to spend it without hesitation, not as a gift, but as a debt and a restoration.

Not that money of itself can undo the evil that is done. It cannot give life to the dead, it cannot even restore the means of livelihood which, had we not destroyed them, might be now nourishing an industrious and contented people. Unwisely spent it might even aggravate and perpetuate existing evils. But what I mean is that if in the process of helping Irishmen to reach a healthier economic position it is necessary to violate any laws of sound investment, if it is necessary to spend without expectation of repayment—that is a burden which we are bound to take upon ourselves. It may be presumed that this much was what was pointed at by Mr. Bright in his speech at Manchester in November last.

In a recent work ('Principles of Property in Land' p. 111) I have argued that interposition by the State to become either the landlord, or the means of transferring the land from one set of landlords to another, cannot in ordinary cases, and certainly would not in England, be economically sound. But in Ireland it page 15 may be wise, and just, and necessary, once for all, to violate the maxims of political economy, within certain definite limits, for the sake of social advantages. If we find that the State can achieve any good end by interposing its purse, we are bound not to haggle in this instance over the cost. The abnormal condition of Ireland may also be found to render the transactions less wasteful than they might be elsewhere.

With this general idea in our minds let us now rapidly glance at the leading circumstances involved in the present emergency.

First of all we must recognise that the misery is not universal, is not even geographically local, but is found on isolated patches. There are many districts of Ireland where agriculture is flourishing, and where the inhabitants are comfortable, orderly, and honest. There are even in the bad districts many estates which are well and liberally managed. It is evident that we must not confound together all landlords in one common condemnation, nor all tenants in indiscriminate commiseration. It is also most vital to remember that we must not apply any remedy which shall counteract the efforts of individuals, and drive the good landlords away by conditions which are necessary only in the case of the bad. And lastly, in endeavouring to improve the position of the tenantry we must not lose sight of the teaching of reason and experience, nor think that we can set aside laws of nature by Acts of Parliament.

There is, however, in the public mind at the present moment a strong tendency to apply to all Ireland one page 16 cast-iron remedy. The simplicity of the 'three Fs'—fixity of tenure, fair rents, and freedom of sale of the tenant's interest—has caught the public ear, and for various reasons has seemed to be a panacea for all evils. Let us rapidly glance at the situation to see if this is really the case.

When, ten years ago, legislation was seriously directed to the Irish land question, there was indeed an opportunity for general remedies. The one great mischief at that time was insecurity of tenure, involving uncertainty of return for outlay or for labour. This had been partly remedied in Ulster by the custom under which the tenant might obtain (not from the landlord, but from a purchaser recognised by the landlord) the value of his interest. If in this situation the law had stepped in, not merely to legalise, but to define these tacit equities and contracts, it would have done infinite good. It might have done this by declaring that a tenant should be a creditor of his landlord for his outlay in purchase of the right of entry, made with the landlord's cognisance. So also tenants might justly have been declared entitled to the value of all improvements, executed as they were with the landlord's acquiescence. The law might have gone still further, and declared that in all cases where there was not a written lease extant the tenant should be presumed to hold for twenty or thirty years on the same conditions as he had hitherto held. Rents were at that date, in general, moderate, and such a provision as this would have conferred a quite sufficient fixity of tenure, especially when coupled with page 17 the right to compensation for improvements, to induce a tenant to spend money and exertion in farming to the best of his power. It would have been no hardship on any landlord, for it would have only presumed each to do what his own true interest required. It would have created no conflicting interests between landlord and tenant, and would have permitted and encouraged both to bargain for the profitable employment of their whole capital on the land. In short, it would have given to Ireland the same rules which, when voluntarily entered into, have made Scotland and Norfolk the best farmed districts in Great Britain. Even over-population would have been indirectly met by the creation of a demand for profitable labour. So when these legal leases ran out all parties would have gained, and there would have been a new Ireland, able henceforth to regulate its transactions by ordinary economic laws.

Unfortunately Government took a different course. They also applied three remedies, but they all had the common vice that they were indefinite and imperfect. The Ulster customs were legalised, but were not defined. Landlords elsewhere were not forbidden to evict, but were put under a variable penalty if they did, unless it was for non-payment of rent. Compensation was allowed for improvements, but the principle was stated without being explained. Everything, therefore, was left to be settled by litigation in order to ascertain what the statute intended. But chiefly it erred in creating rights that depended absolutely on the amount of rent, while failing to provide any page 18 means for fixing the rent. For the tenant's rights, whether under the Ulster customs, or under the new penalties on 'disturbance,' were liable to be diminished or entirely extinguished if the landlord raised the rent. To raise the rent in Ulster makes a purchaser give a smaller price for the tenancy. To raise it elsewhere makes a tenant subject to be evicted for nonpayment, in which case his claim for compensation vanishes. Yet the power of fixing the rent was left in the landlord's sole option. Good landlords have recognised the tenant's equity, but bad ones have not, and have been even stimulated by the statute of 1870 to use the means which that statute provided to oust the tenant of the rights which it conferre.1

That statute, then, has complicated the situation by giving to the tenantry a right in the land, amounting to a variable number of years' purchase of the rent; and this right they now feel to be a property as good in equity as the landlord's right to the fee simple. But at the same time it is subject to destruction at the landlord's arbitrary will. The law giving them no redress, they have resorted to the bullet, and hence has grown up the state of anarchy and violence now prevalent where the letter of the law has been used by the landlords to defeat its spirit.

In this situation it is natural that the remedy

1 It has been lately stated that this result was not foreseen, and that the defects of the Act in this respect were due to the House of Lords. But this is incorrect. The defects of the Bill in this very point, and the consequences certain to follow were pointed out while it was still in the House of Commons by myself (among others), in several articles in the Pall Mall Gazette in April 1870.

page 119 sought should be that the law shall fix the rent as between the two parties. Griffith's valuation is claimed as being a just estimate, and if this is objected to, a new valuation by Government authority is demanded. Some few would be content to let the Act of 1870 remain in force with this addition. But many go further and demand that a tenant shall be absolutely free from disturbance so long as he pays the rent fixed by the Government valuer. Among these there is a further division, some consenting that the Government valuation shall be revised from time to time, others insisting that it shall, when once made, be final.

It is proper, however, to notice a suggestion for a self-regulating valuation, without Government interference, has been made by the high authority of Judge Longfield in the 'Fortnightly Review' for August last. His proposal is that all tenants shall be declared to be entitled to seven years' rent on the cessation of the tenancy. If the cessation is by the act of the tenant, the sum he is to receive is to be computed at the rent which he has paid, or offered to pay, so that if that has been too low he gets the less. If the cessation is by act of the landlord the sum he is to pay is to be computed at the rent he has demanded, so that if that has been too high he pays the more. This is exceedingly ingenious, but there are one or two palpable objections to it. It must apply to all landlords and to all tenants, without reference to their previous conduct or character, and it operates as a universal transfer of one-third of the page 20 value of the estate (taking the full value at twenty-one years' rent) to the existing tenants. Now, if a landlord has fairly and diligently performed his own duties, if he has provided proper buildings, drains, fences, roads, by which at his sole cost the value of the estate has been augmented, it is contrary to all justice that he should be mulcted of one-third of his outlay in favour of the very men whom such outlay has already made prosperous. Again, if a tenant has been worthless and idle, there is no fairness in giving to him exactly the same benefit as to one who has been diligent and enterprising. Nor is it reasonable that a tenant who may have entered last year on a farm should receive precisely the same gift as one who has occupied his farm all his life. Lastly, in all bad seasons (or in cases of individual loss) it would tend to drive the tenantry into the hands of money-lenders—a far harder bondage than that of landlords. For the tenant could not venture to ask or even to accept an abatement of his rent, since that would be a virtual destruction of so much of his own interest, which is reckoned at seven years' rent. He would therefore struggle to pay, and if he had not the means he would borrow, but when he once began to borrow his seven years' interest would be quickly swallowed up. It cannot be deemed a boon to tenantry to place them in a position in which a landlord's kindness will do them mischief, and in which self-interest dictates that rather than pay at a lower rate they must run into debt when times are bad.

But beyond all minor objections there is the great. page 21 inherent evil in every scheme (including that of the Act of 1870) for giving a permanently divided interest in land, that it is hostile to good cultivation. Improvement requires outlay, and neither party will spend if the land and any capital invested in it is to be shared with the other in proportions prescribed by law, instead of by mutual agreement. This is so obvious that in every scheme for securing fixity of tenure there is always added the proviso that in calculating rent the value of tenants' improvements are to be excluded from the computation. Such a condition is just. But it involves the very serious consequence that a permanent tenant will neither ask nor permit his landlord to effect improvements, since he will prefer that they should be executed by himself alone, and thus yield to himself the whole profit. Therefore, neither by law nor by agreement will there for the future be any inducement, or indeed possibility, for a landlord to employ his capital in the improvement of his own estates. He will henceforth be a mere incumbrancer, drawing his quota of income, whether fixed in perpetuity, or liable to a rise or fall according to the change of prices, but not capable of being increased by any act or exertion of his own. Even if resident, he will have no motive to lay out a single farthing of this income for the benefit of the estate, the tenants, or the labourers. He will be as an alien, though he may be at home; but in all probability he will soon become a permanent absentee from the property, and from Ireland, investing his capital and spending his rental in other countries.

page 22

Now it is unhappily the case that in Ireland, even more than in England, most landlords have done far too little for their land. But what is wanted in Ireland even more than in England is the investment of capital in permanent improvements, as the necessary preliminary to good farming. Can it, then, be for the advantage of Ireland to thrust away from the land the whole fund of landlords' capital? If it be too true that there are many landlords who do not improve their estates, shall we benefit the country by prohibiting all landlords from improving? Shall we help production by driving away a vast fund of capital from the spot where, above all things, capital is needed? Shall we help progress by driving away all the persons who are most capable of aiding progress? Every good landlord—and even in Ireland there are many—is a centre of progress to his neighbourhood. By teaching, by example, by aid, by kindly interest, he helps his tenants and his neighbours to advance in sound knowledge, morality, comfort, independence, prosperity. Is it well to extinguish every light of this sort, and to leave the darkness to grope helplessly for its own illumination with no other help than 'fixity of tenure' and 'free sale'?

There is in history no precedent or parallel for such an operation as this. Metairie, to which the proposed system has been likened, differs fundamentally, in the fact that it is generally not the metayer but the proprietor of the land who furnishes the capital, often even the seed and the stocking, and that he consequently closely superintends the working of the page 23 farm and the division of the produce of each crop. The Stein and Hardenberg legislation in Prussia assigned to the tenant two-thirds of the lord's land in perpetuity, but restored to the lord in absolute ownership a third of what the tenant had hitherto held. Copyholders in England were created out of the surplus of the lord's estates, and when their title became permanent the lord still retained the unconditional fee-simple of the great bulk of his land. There is no example yet of the whole owners of land being by a stroke divested of every interest in it except that of drawing a fixed rent-charge. We may well pause before we institute so novel and gigantic an experiment, and ask whether we are sure there is a gain to balance so prodigious a loss.

The consequences to the rest of the community arising out of this encouragement to absenteeism must also not be overlooked. It is no doubt an error to state the whole rental of absentee landlords as a loss to the country. Whatever portion would in any case be spent on imported products does not constitute a loss to the country. Nor does that portion which would be spent in products that are exported constitute a loss if the export price is as high as would be paid at home. It matters nothing to a farmer whether his landlord buys his beef and butter in London or in Cork, if in either case the price is the same. But the local shopkeepers lose their profits on the local expenditure, not only of landlords but of their servants, when they leave the country, and though this forms only a small fraction page 24 of the total rental, yet if all the rental of Ireland is to become payable to absentees, it must have a considerable effect on the general prosperity.

Observe, again, how little it is proposed really to give to the tenants. By bestowing 'fixity of tenure' at full rents you do not give them the capital which you make the landlords withdraw. Whether they held hitherto under a good or bad landlord, they are henceforth thrown on their own resources. The poorest among them are thus put in possession of land as yet unfitted for cultivation, land in a far worse state than if it were in the uncleared wilds of America. But while an emigrant never goes out without some little capital to buy stock, implements, food, and clothing, for at least a year in advance, the poverty-stricken Irish tenant has none. While the emigrant gets his land as a free grant, the Irish tenant is to pay a 'fixed rent' calculated at the full value, and exigible no matter how bad the crops or seasons. Having therefore left to them only the barest possibility of a subsistence from crop to crop, how are they to get means to improve their position? They have their own labour, but nothing more, and labour alone without proper implements, without manure, without buildings, cannot make land produce its fair returns; least of all, when by bad culture it is already worn out. Land reformers who know only political economy or legal rules are apt to forget the inexorable laws of nature. Every farmer, great or small, must nowadays compete with all the world. His competitors have the aid of scientific knowledge, and of outlay page 25 of capital in draining, building, machinery, improved stock, imported manures, and feeding stuffs. To meet the competition the like helps are necessary even in the smallest scale of culture. If a peasant proprietor is so poor that he can only buy a lame horse, a misshapen ox, a starved cow or pig, all the industry in the world will not make him prosper. Or if, buying better animals, he has not fit food to give them, fit sheds to keep them in, fit implements to cultivate with, or means sufficient to enable him to hold his produce till markets are good, ruin is the inevitable consequence. How much the more if all the time he is mortgaged up to the ears, by being bound to pay a rent which expresses the full value of the land!

Such is the effect of perpetuity of tenure, with nothing more, on the poorer cultivators. As to the large cultivators, they may be supposed to possess capital for proper farming. But what particular social gain is there in turning the tenant of a large farm into its owner, subject to a perpetual rent? He only becomes one more landlord, and an encumbered one. But he may now sublet to anyone who will offer him a higher rate; he may become an absentee in his turn, and employ an agent, and evict his tenants at will, and call for troops to protect his bailiffs. The sum total of the change, therefore, would be that there would be very many more landlords than now drawing everything from the land and putting nothing into it.

There are two facts which it is of the utmost importance to keep in mind in connection with this page 26 matter. The first is that one of the causes of the present disorder is that the actual tenants are at war, not with the landlords only, but also with all who wish to be tenants. They complain of high rents, but they also complain of the competition for land which causes high rents. The action of the Land League, and the outrages of cowardly assassins who shoot unarmed men from behind walls, are directed equally against the landlord who evicts and against the new tenant, who is always eager to take the place of the evicted one. Now, to bestow perpetuity of tenure upon all present tenants will do nothing for those who wish to become tenants. That vast army of competitors for the land will still be as eager as hitherto to obtain land. Therefore every mischief which now flows from the excessive competition will continue in full operation. The present tenants, acquiring power to sublet, will be able to screw increased rents out of the labourers who will become their subtenants, because the social conditions which make the land the sole resource of a (locally) redundant population will remain absolutely unaffected. So the last state will be worse than the first.

The second consideration to be remembered is that 'free sale' of a tenant's interest means a constant process of abstraction of tenant's capital from cultivation, just as 'fixity of tenure' implies the permanent abstraction of the landlord's capital. Every time that a tenant sells his interest, he will take out, not only all the capital he brought, but a large proportion of the succeeding tenant's capital. Competition here page 27 also is proposed to be allowed full swing, and as the retiring tenant will have no further interest in the land or its improvement, he will naturally sell to the person who offers him most cash down. Thus the new tenant enters under the penalty of losing a large proportion of that capital which is absolutely essential to good culture and improvement. Sometimes it is argued that this is an advantage, as excluding all who have not capital; but the advantage vanishes when the very process involves its loss. No doubt the system has hitherto worked well, by comparison, in Ulster. But it has been under the check of the landlord's approval of the new tenant, and of his power to limit the price to be paid, both of which it is now proposed to remove. And lot it be remembered that the Ulster system, though popular with tenants because it gives them a species of security, and with landlords because it is a lazy way of evading obligations and escaping risks, is one that grows in mischief with every succeeding year, because each step in progress augments the amount which a new tenant must pay before he can begin to farm.

For myself, I have elsewhere argued strongly in favour of subdivision of property down to peasant holdings, wherever natural laws of profit can bring it to pass. I have seen in many different countries peasant owners and peasant farmers prosperous and progressive. But I have never seen an instance in which, either as tenant or as owner, a man has been prosperous if he began farming without a capital proportionate to his acreage, and without knowledge page 28 of modern conditions of farming. And unfortunately the Irish cottiers who most need our sympathy have neither, nor would get either by mere fixity of tenure. Nor, again, in the case of the more wealthy can I say that I have known more than some rare and exceptional instances where owners have redeemed themselves from a load of debt, of which the interest represents the fee-simple value of the land, which is the case of tenants holding at fixed rents. Sooner or later comes the bad season, which a landlord enables a tenant to tide over by remitting his rent or giving him time—but which if he must pay a fixed sum, be it called interest or rent, crushes him. He is sold up and disappears.

Lastly, when we speak of encouraging the conversion of tenancy into ownership, let us beware lest we bring a worse thing than tenancy to take its place—I mean indebtedness. The Bright clauses have already shown us how near this danger lies. They require that a tenant who wishes to purchase shall deposit one-third of the price. That is very well if he has it. But if he has not, and borrows on the security of his purchase, he puts the money-lender in the position of being his actual landlord, and then he holds at will under the hardest of possible landlords. Mr. Tuke, in his article in the 'Nineteenth Century' for August last, has mentioned several cases among those he inquired into in which this has occurred, and in which, in consequence, the tenant was in process of being ruined.

The miserable state of those peasant proprietors page 29 in France and Germany, whose eagerness to acquire land has led them to borrow for the purpose, and the fruitless struggles of even the American farmer of 100 or 200 acres when he has once begun to get into like difficulties, give us a serious warning that to encourage purchase with borrowed money is a fatal gift to the most industrious cultivator.

Let it be also kept in mind that a rent fixed by Government, or by its Courts, will be deemed on both sides a Government guarantee. When the bad seasons come, as come they will, the tenant will say: 'You have fixed on me a burden which I cannot pay; you must not suffer me to be turned out for not doing impossibilities.' The landlord will say: 'You have taken every power to help myself out of my hands; you must pay me what I have been forced to accept at your hands.' No professions in advance that Government is not to be responsible will prevent the real responsibility it has assumed from being felt. Interference with free contract involves guarantee of compulsory contracts.

These considerations, which here I can only roughly indicate, lead us to some clear conclusions. The chief is that there is no simple principle or method which can with advantage be applied to solve the Irish problem. It is not desirable to oust good landlords, for they are the invaluable guides of progress, wherever their sphere of influence extends. It is not desirable to impede the investment of landlords' capital, for capital is indispensable, and the tenants have it not. It is not desirable to extend page 30 further a system which divides the ownership into shares. It is not desirable to create peasant proprietors under circumstances which would involve their starvation. Therefore, it follows that neither the Ulster custom, nor the extension of protection against 'disturbance by the landlord,' nor the Bright clauses of the Act of 1870, however amended, can furnish the remedy. Every one of these would, if carried out, further intensify the mischief which, in some respects, they have already caused.

But if we can limit our gaze to the actual needs of the present hour we may be able to see what would be practically useful.

First of all, we have a certain number of estates in different districts, in which rents have been forced up to a point that makes existence impossible. Some of these estates are large, some small, some belong to absentees, some (and these among the worst) to native owners and recent purchasers. It is these estates that have given just rise to a discontent which has reached almost to rebellion, and which has unfortunately, but naturally, spread its influence to those districts where there is no substantial grievance.

Secondly, there are certain localities where there may be (but not always) an exorbitant rent exacted, but in which, at all events, the holdings are too small to permit a subsistence to be obtained; where, in short, the population is too dense for the means of its maintenance.

These are the plague-spots which must be eradi- page 31 cated by swift, sharp cut, if we would not have the poison they generate infect the whole social body,

I propose, then, that a Royal Commission, composed almost entirely of Irishmen of all parties, should be created to take charge of the work. That wherever there is distress or disaffection it should send valuers to ascertain the fair worth of the land as it stands, the rentals exacted, and the extent of the holdings. That where the rents are exorbitant, or the holdings too minute, the Government should take possession of the estates, paying to the dispossessed owner the value at the rate of twenty-five years' purchase, not of the nominal rents, but of the fair annual worth as estimated by the valuers.

The average rate of purchase in Ireland having been (previous to the late disorders) twenty-one to twenty-two year's rental, it is evident that the proposal would involve a gift to the dispossessed landlords of three or four years' rent, by way of compensation for enforced sale. But it should be most clearly understood that the estimate would be based, not on what the rents nominally are, or even on what have been paid, but strictly on what they ought to be, considering the state of the land, the outlay upon it by the landlord alone, and all other circumstances affecting the fair value.

There is no hardship to anyone in giving him the full worth of his mismanaged property, even if it is his own neglect that has made the worth small.

But because these terms would be to many owners an actual boon, and it would not be just to page 32 give a boon only to the negligent, the Royal Commission should be empowered to take all estates that are offered to them on such terms, provided that there are no arrears of rent due upon them. This condition will prevent tenants from withholding rent for the purpose of forcing the landlord to sell to Government.

Lastly, it should be declared that mortgages shall not be valid as against other creditors after a certain number of years. This will compel encumbered owners to sell enough to clear their debts. For such portions of their estates they will get what price they can; if they can do no better they will get the Government valuation and price. Also it will prevent persons from purchasing by means of borrowed money.

By these processes large tracts of land and many thousands of tenants will come under control of the Royal Commission. These tracts will include much that is poor, much that is uncultivated—many occupants that are poverty-stricken, and many whose holdings are too small for a livelihood. What to do with the land and with the people?

First of all, let each district of convenient size be put under charge of a manager, whom we may call the collector, who shall both collect rents and superintend improvements, who shall, in fact, be acting landlord, subject to supervision by the Royal Commission.

Secondly, let every tenant continue to hold his present holding at the fair valuation that was made page 33 on occasion of its purchase. Let there, therefore, be no compulsory eviction or even transplantation.

Thirdly, to provide the tenants with a means of acquiring capital, and to suggest renunciation of unprofitable holdings, let all improvable lands now uncultivated, and all works of main drainage, road-making, &c., in both cultivated and uncultivated districts, be set about by Government to the extent to which they will evidently be remunerative, paying for the labour the wages an Irish navvy would make in England, and giving the preference of employment to the tenants of holdings and labourers under the Royal Commission. Let the cost be defrayed by a rate on the holdings benefited, so far as, but not beyond, the actual benefit.

Fourthly, let all lands thus reclaimed from waste be divided into proper holdings at fair rents, and offered firstly to those tenants of too small holdings elsewhere who have been employed in the execution of the works, thus enabling the minute holdings to be consolidated.

Fifthly, to enable the Royal Commission to work itself gradually clear, by transferring the ownership, let it act as the banker of its tenants, receiving from each such deposits as he may from time to time be able to make towards the ultimate payment of the full price, valued at twenty-five years' rent, after which he will receive a conveyance in fee-simple. The deposits meantime to bear interest.

Sixthly, to encourage this process, let every tenant be at once credited in the books of the Commission page 34 (acting through its collectors) with an instalment equal to five years' rent, or one-fifth of the purchase money, but not bearing interest. But let this, as well as all further deposits he may himself make, be deemed a guarantee fund of his future rents, so that if in any year he makes default the amount will be taken from the fund standing at his credit. On such conditions there will be every motive to pay rents punctually.

Seventhly. As it is desirable to consolidate small holdings, or rearrange them in some cases, do not let them be assignable to a stranger, but let the tenant be entitled at any time to surrender them to the Royal Commission, receiving the value standing at his credit in the books, and also the value of any permanent improvement executed by himself. This will be a fund to help him in emigration or otherwise.

A measure embracing the provisions thus generally sketched would at once meet and relieve the most pressing cases of suffering, by a process essentially recuperatory. It would gradually embrace in its operation a considerable portion of other districts. Wherever it took effect it would gradually convert the tenantry into unencumbered owners. But it would do this only where the landlords had either failed in their duty or desired to sell. It would neither cripple an energetic and generous owner nor evict a single tenant.

No fixing of rent over Ireland generally, nor any interference whatever with actual contracts, would be involved. The check on excessive rents would consist in the liability that any estate which, on applica- page 35 tion to the Royal Commission, was found to be overrented should be taken possession of by it. This liability would be abundantly sufficient to prevent either a large or small landowner from demanding more than the Government valuer would be likely to approve, since the consequence of excess would be loss of the property. But within this limit the utmost latitude would be allowed for freedom of contract, for healthy competition (and within just limits competition is healthy), and for every variety of arrangement by which landlords' capital may be invested, and tenants' industry may be fostered.

Fixity of tenure there would not be. But security of tenure would come by the gradual recognition of the fact that the more secure the tenure, the better rent can be paid. Further, a Government valuer would estimate at a higher rate the fair rental under a lease than under a tenancy-at-will, and thus a landlord who desired to retain his estate would have a motive to grant leases.

At this stage the action of Government may for the present well stop. Undoubtedly other reforms in the land laws are necessary in Ireland as in England. But the proposal for these should come from the Irish people, and should be debated among them and reduced to a distinct proposal by them before the Imperial Government has anything to do with it. Let us leave, at last, Irishmen to manage their own affairs. Our concern is not to do anything for them, but only to undo what mischief we ourselves have done.

page 36

It cannot be denied that what has here been pro posed involves cost, labour, and risk. But the cost is within limits; for it is, firstly, restricted to the purchase of land at what it is now worth, and, secondly, to the giving the tenants a credit for one-fifth of the sum so paid. Moreover, this would to a great extent be recouped by the higher value accruing from the works of reclamation and improvement. The labour would be that of anxious and careful organization and superintendence. The risk would be that of jobbery. But surely at the present day, with our Indian experience, with the light of the Press, with the use of Irish knowledge, the benefit of wholesome British criticism, it must be deemed not beyond possibility to carry out a great social redemption without inordinate jobbery.

To the present panic in Ireland I do not here refer. It is largely fictitious; manufactured for the purpose of forcing from Government a transfer of property from one class to another. What in it has a basis of real grievance would be appeased by the measures above indicated; what is artificial would at once collapse on the firm declaration that violence will procure nothing more. A people who demand self-government ought to be able of themselves to deal with any disorders which may then survive.

London: Printed by Spottiswoode and co., New-Street Square and Parliament Street