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Speech at the opening of Parliament contained no allusion to it, and the proposal of the Irish Chief Secretary to embody so important an alteration of the Land Act of 1870 amidst the provisions of the Irish Relief Bill was, to say the least, unfortunate. The measure itself, which has taken the form of the Compensation for Disturbance (Ireland) Bill, is allowed by Mr. Gladstone to be an interference with the rights of property. At the same time he has warmly resented the epithets of 'plunder,' ' robbery,' and 'confiscation,' which have been freely applied to it. We are bound to say that his powerful and comprehensive speech on the second reading of the Bill, and his subsequent explanations, have modified the views we expressed regarding it in our last number. It is one of the greatest merits of a statesman that he is able, both from the amplitude of his knowledge and the natural range of his mind, to elevate the discussion of a great subject, and bring to its vindication a whole repertory of historical facts. A proposal which in its naked view, and as apparently the sudden product of the pressure of the Irish party, seemed to partake dangerously of the character of 'confiscation,' is seen in the light of his elaborate defence, and of the commonsense statements of Lord Hartington and Mr. Forster, to be a necessary practical outcome-if not a logical sequence of the main principles of the Land Act of 1870. Mr. Gladstone did well to commend to Lord Randolph Churchill to temper his natural liveliness and undoubted cleverness by the study of the history of the Irish Land question. But then we fear the liveliness of his facile assaults would disappear under the weight of hard facts and the harsh daylight of a clear knowledge of the traditional relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland.
For all the period of Irish history before the Land Act, these relations were all constituted in favour of the landlord. Everything was for the landlord, and nothing for the tenant.' Wholly exceptional powers of eviction were given to the landlords-powers unknown to the landlords in England and Scotland-and which have often been put in force under circumstances of great cruelty and privation. It is to be remembered in any discussion of the land question in Ireland that the position both of landlords and tenants is exceptional. The former has special agencies at his command to enforce his rights; the latter has special rights in the land. Both these classes of rights are the creation of Parliamentary statute, in the one case dating from the reign of George I., before which anything like eviction for nonpayment of rent by the process so well known in Ireland was unknown to the law;' the latter created by the Land Act of 1870. And it is to be further carefully considered that, whatever may have been the nature of the opposition originally offered to this Act, that its necessity was so well acknowledged at the time that it secured the silent assent of Mr. Disraeli, who, to his signal honour,' as confessed by Mr. Gladstone, sought to save his party from a hopeless opposition to it; while there is no politician of eminence who does not now acknowledge its value, and the benefit it has conferred upon Ireland, and not
least upon the landlords, whose interests were supposed to be injuriously affected by it. Even Lord R. Churchill has nothing to say against it. On the contrary, he expressed his belief that it was necessary and wise in its purposes and beneficial in its operations.'
The real and essential question then comes to be, Is the present legislation of the Government in the line of this beneficent Act? Is it a further necessity in the exceptional circumstances of Ireland? This is the main defence of the measure in the mouth of the Premier and the Chief Secretary. It is its exclusive defence by Lord Hartington. It is irrelevant to raise general questions as to Parliamentary interference with the rights of property. Those rights are vital for the State, and no one can seriously believe that a Government like the present could be disposed arbitrarily to interfere with them. The Duke of Argyll, Lord Granville, Lord Hartington, and others, are not likely to be the willing confiscators of any true property interests. It is their contention that the Compensation for Disturbance Bill is in reality a measure of security. It is designed to secure a distinct interest in his holding given to the Irish tenant by the Land Actthe two great objects of which, as described in this journal last September, were to give security to tenants for improvements made by them on their holdings (in Ireland nearly all improvements are made by the tenants), and to prevent their being capriciously' evicted without compensation-in other words, to give them a definite right or property in their holdings. Mr. Gladstone has defined the two main principles of the Act in almost identical language. The right or interest thus secured to the tenant in his holding is as distinct a property as that of the landlord, and as deserving of protection by the State. The exceptional distress of Ireland has endangered the existence of this property, and put it in the power of landlords to recover their lands without any compensation to the tenants. The plea of the landlord, of course, is that he has received no rent-and non-payment of rent was especially allowed by the legislation of 1870 to be a good plea for disturbance. A tenant who did or would not pay his rent was liable to eviction without any compensation. In all ordinary circumstances this is an absolutely fair rule between landlord and tenant. Whatever property the latter may have in his holding, it is clear that the landlord has no less his right to the rent, and a tenant could never be entitled to withhold the landlord's due while remaining undisturbed in his own. With these general and indefeasible principles of the law of property the Government say they do not mean to meddle. It is only unwarranted suspicion that they do so which has given rise to the idea of 'confiscation.' All that they propose is to meet a highly exceptional state of affairs by an exceptional and temporary remedy. If the right of the landlord is sacred and deserving of protection, so is the right of the tenant. It is, no doubt, a dreadful thing to touch rent; but rent is, after all, only one kind of property. The property of the tenant is, or ought to be, as
indefeasible; and the absolute failure of the crops in the West of Ireland during last season has rendered for the time the payment of rent impossible. This has happened through no fault of the tenant, but by the act of God. Is the tenant to be sacrificed in the circumstances, and his right or property in his holding to be permanently lost, because he has been subjected to this exceptional calamity? Is, in other words, the intention of the Land Act to be defeated because a temporary exigency has given landlords a power to defeat it? This the State cannot permit, but is bound to prevent. Exceptional legislation is demanded in the face of exceptional circumstances.
It has been said that to represent the Land Act of 1870 as conferring on the Irish tenants any property in their holdings, is to misrepresent the true meaning of the Act and to mislead Parliament. A landlord in Ireland, as elsewhere, purchases his land, and with it purchases his right to the rent which it produces. A tenant, on the contrary, purchases nothing.' This is not at all true, as everyone knows, of the Ulster tenant, and is only partially true of any Irish tenant. The Land Act, if it does not give any direct property to the Irish tenantry in their holdings, vests in them a clear interest in their own improvements, and protects them against eviction at the mere will of the landlord. Both these undoubted rights are of the nature of property, and in the opinion of the Government, both are endangered at present by circumstances over which the tenants have no control. These circumstances have rendered payment of rent for the time impracticable; and so the contingent interests which the tenants have in their holdings, through no fault of their own, are liable to spoliation. Where is the injustice of protecting them for a time against such spoliation? The landlord is not deprived of his rent. All his powers are reserved except the arbitrary power of eviction in an emergency, apart from which this power would never have arisen. It is still imperative on the tenant to pay his rent-only for a time the landlord cannot evict him on account of non-payment. If it be true that bad seasons have prevented the payment of rents, and if it be further true that the enforcement of the power of eviction in the circumstances is dangerous to the peace and social order of Ireland-and these are the allegations of the Government for the truth of which we are bound to give them credit-then they seem not only justified, but much to be commended for their resolute effort to deal with so great an evil. The laws of political economy have little application to such a state of things. These laws in fact were already violated in the offer of loans to the landlords at 1 per cent. and nothing said about it. The Compensation for Disturbance Bill, as Mr. Gladstone has repeated with emphasis, is a temporary measure to meet a temporary exigency. It is a measure of security not merely for the tenant but for the landlord-as the Land Act has proved itself to be, because it is impossible to separate the true interests of tenant and landlord; and in Ireland
especially, whatever endangers the tenancy of land and places it at the arbitrary disposal of mere force, lowers its value, and unsettles all the social and other interests arising out of it.
The measure must be judged really by its tendency to affect the social civilisation of Ireland. If it were likely to strengthen and justify the anti-rent agitation, and those who, like Mr. Parnell, seek political capital in this agitation, it would be open to all the abuse which has been lavished upon it. But the Government have at length so guarded the Bill as to make it clear that it is only designed to meet cases in which a harsh landlord would not hesitate to take advantage of the exceptional distress for his own benefit and the injury of his tenant. If such cases of injustice and cruelty can be prevented it is surely right to prevent them. It is very little to the point to make out that there were not so many actual evictions as originally reported to Mr. Gladstone, and related by him to the House of Commons. So many families as he pictured may not have been turned to the roadside, nor so many constables employed in enforcing the law in the disturbed districts. Exaggerations are sure to prevail on any Irish question on one side and the other, and we are not concerned to defend the Government, either in all its statements of facts, or as to the manner in which it has handled the Bill. Unfortunate in its original introduction as a side clause of the Irish Relief Bill, it has been equally unfortunate in the frequent changes which have been made upon its wording. The episode of the Irish Attorney-General's clause was especially miscalculated, as it has necessarily provoked much comment, and been a distinct cause of delay in the prosecution of the measure. But the very modifications which have been made upon the Bill, if they reflect upon its official mananagement, yet prove the sincerity of the Government, and their anxiety on the one hand to meet the case of the poorer Irish tenants, whose property is alone at stake, and at the same time to interfere with the rights of landlords as little as possible. This, of course, is not Mr. Parnell's object. He and other Irish members have virtually shown that no legislation will satisfy them which does not place the landlords at the mercy of the tenants. In the poisoned state of the political atmosphere in Ireland this may be the popular expectation engendered by the very nature of such a Bill. The Government were bound to have considered all this seriously before they adventured on such legislation at all, and whether it would not have been better to have left it alone. But we are bound to credit them with the recognition of a State exigency of no ordinary kind. The Bill is only justifiable on such a ground; and having been called for, as we are willing to believe, under an urgent political and social necessity, it is incumbent on the Government to persevere with it. It would have been ignominious to have been beaten by the persistency of the Parnellites, or the dashing assaults of Lord Randolph Churchill and his friends. It will be disastrous even to have the Bill thrown out in the House of Lords. If there is State exigency
of a pressing and extraordinary kind, the House of Lords should consider well before it gives a summary coup-de-grâce to a measure designed to meet such an exigency.
That the Bill will not pass without some struggle is evident. The resignations of Lord Lansdowne and Lord Zetland may not be much in themselves; but they are feathers that show the way the wind is blowing in certain higher regions. We should be sorry to see an increase of the political gale in such quarters. It would lead to no good, at least for the present. There is no danger in the meantime that the due interests of land will suffer at the hands of a British Parliament. These interests are far too ramified and solid to be lightly moved; and it would be a special misfortune for the moderate Liberal party to become tremulous on this subject. We do not say that there are not elements in our political condition fitted to create anxiety on the part of thoughtful minds. Fraser' has sufficiently indicated its opinion of certain sections of our modern Radicalism-lacking alike in comprehension and in conduct, in intelligence of the past and appreciation of the true conditions of progress in the future. . We are not likely to be accused of any sympathy with projects savouring of Communism or revolution. We confess to some indignant astonishment at the suggestion in a well-known organ-which has too rapidly passed from the red of Jingoism to a Radical red quite as flagrant and untempered-that the true remedy for our legislative difficulties in the Irish Land question, as in other things, is the conversion of the House of Commons into a still more popular assembly than it is, with the exclusion of its plutocratic and aristocratic elements. This would accelerate the working of the political machine with a vengeance-to carry the mob within the House of Commonsstill enfeebled by the presence of men of wealth and property! Surely most wise men have been thinking-in view of recent occurrencesthat the mob was near enough our legislative chambers. And plutocracy and aristocracy after all-big words for bad things as they may be-may claim to be represented as well as shopocracy and democracy. Lord Randolph Churchill and Mr. Chaplin may not be apostles of political wisdom; but they have a claim to be heard alongside of Mr. Bradlaugh and Mr. Biggar.
No one can suppose that we sympathise with a tone of this kind on the land question or on any other question. The apprehensions of Whig noblemen and of other Liberals, even should they prove mistaken, are deserving of all respect. We may be sure at least that they are not selfish apprehensions. No party has ever given greater pledges of its self-sacrificing devotion to the cause of liberty and good government than the great Whig party, which is now a favourite butt with every witling on the Radical and Conservative side alike. If the Liberalism of England ever loses the strong fibre of its sober and well-regulated freedom, it will lose much. It will lose above all the comprehension which has so honourably distinguished it from many forms of continental Liberalism, and run like