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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 54

The Land Grievance Not Cured

The Land Grievance Not Cured.

It is said the land grievance has been cured; that Mr. Gladstone's Bill has cured it. Now I deny that Mr. Gladstone's Bill has done anything of the kind. I do not say that it was not a grand step; I do not say that it was not a courageous march in advance. page 37 I believe it was. I do not deny the might of Mr. Gladstone's heroism in proposing such a measure as this; but what I say is this, that it would have been far better to have faced the difficulty thoroughly than to have made a compromise which neutralised the effect of the Bill he was bringing. I propose to show you what I think Mr. Gladstone should have done, what I think may yet be done, and what I think, if done, would do something to remedy existing evils. We have heard a great deal in our country of landed rights, but of all people Irish landlords ought to talk the least about them, for there is hardly a family that has held land for more than five or six generations but got it either by direct theft or indirect theft; by direct lying or indirect lying, sometimes accompanied by perjury, and sometimes—occasionally—varied with murder. These have been the most legitimate ways in which large estates have been secured. Now for these people to talk of the rights of land is about as mild a thing in philosophy as anybody could possibly imagine. But let us examine the rights of land. I urge that in every country the rights of land are subordinate to the rights of life. I urge that when the rights of land conflict with the rights of life, landed rights must give way, and flesh and blood rights must assume their sway. (Motion of dissent by some one in the audience.) I can understand that gentlemen who never heard of flesh and blood rights, and who may have many parchment deeds, may think that this is a horrible doctrine. I am afraid that such gentlemen wrap their hearts in parchment, and forget the outside flesh and blood. But I am open to objection; I am open to answer; I shall be only too glad to hear that I have mistaken the matter that I am dealing with. I urge that in every country—I care not where—here as well as anywhere else, any holding of land must be subordinate to the welfare of the nation in which it is held. There can be no freehold right which conflicts with the welfare of the nation. There can be no man who by force of arms, or writ, or power of purchase by money, has the right to say that "this is my freehold, and although this freehold is destructive to the nation, I will hold it". I will say that here the welfare of the State becomes stronger than freehold right, and freehold right must give way to it.

You recognise it in your legislation. You do not page 38 permit poison manufactories in the midst of your cities. (Applause.) You say, "We won't permit you to store powder between two houses that may blow the inhabitants away". You have no right to say, "This is my freehold, I will do as I will with it". The rights of society, the rights of humanity, those you come in contact with, have claims upon you, and your power and your freehold right must give way to the public will.