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REFUSAL OF REDRESS
As year by year the league was thus ceasing to be a power with which English politicians had to reckon, its principles, having nothing but their own merits to recommend them, could not make way. The details of the story, which we have somewhat anticipated, may be hurried over. In 1853 the select committee to which the Bills had been referred rejected that of Mr. Shee, and reported in favour of those of Mr. Napier with some alterations. The Napier Bills passed through the House of Commons, which thus formally sanctioned the principle of retrospective compensation. In the House of Lords they were read a second time, and then, on account of the opposition which they excited, abandoned for the session. Lord Roden expressed the utmost indignation that the Tenants' Compensation Bill should have passed the House of Commons; and the Marquis of Clanricarde implored the Government, for the sake of their own character, not to force the Bills through Parliament so late in the session. “ He ventured to assert " — the passage is interesting, as showing what an Irish landlord thought of his fellow-landlords—“that if the Bills passed, the tenantry of Ireland would be kept in many places under a notice to quit from quarter to quarter, and the hanging gale would be always hung in terrorem over their heads, for fear that they should take advantage of the clauses of this Bill.” It is a sad commentary on the scrupulous care which was thus shown for the rights of property that the Crime and Outrage (Ireland) Bill of this year appears to have passed through the House of Lords without a word of discussion, although the Irish secretary had in the other House offered his congratulations on the peace, prosperity, and general condition of Ireland,
embracing every point except the existence of Ribbonism. The only other matter of interest in the Parliamentary history of the year was the extension of the income-tax to Ireland in the face of the strong opposition of most of the Irish members, who maintained that their country already contributed more than a fair proportion of the revenue.
Amid the clouds of war gathering from the east of Europe, the prospect of ever seeing a tenant-right measure carried grew fainter still in 1854. A select committee of the House of Lords reported in favour of three of the Napier Bills, and against the Tenants Compensation Bill; and, the most offensive part of the code being out of the way, the House of Lords amended and accepted the other measures. The Government, however, decided that it was inexpedient to proceed further, and the whole question again dropped for the session. For the future, little hope was held out, Lord John Russell repeating what he had said again and again, that the most useful measure that could be provided would be a measure giving power and force to voluntary contracts and a simple remedy for the breach of these contracts.
But although the tenant-right cause made no advance in 1854, the debates of the year may very usefully be studied in order to appreciate the dead weight of prejudice against which the tenants’ friends had to contend. Lord Monteagle, for instance, told his fellow-peers that they might as well take the foundation of legislation on the subject from Domesday Book as from the Devon Report ; and gave his opinion that in the whole history of legislation there was scarcely any violation of principle like that presented by the Bills before the House. Referring to a clause which, with many restrictions, would have given tenants
1 “It appears from Parliamentary papers that the gross revenue collected within Ireland was, in the year ended January 5, 1853, £4,414,413, 3s. 2d. ; in the year ended March 31, 1857, £7,008,555, gs. 8d. ; and in the year ended March 31, 1862, £6,781,08 16s. 8d. ; and, taking the receipts of ordinary revenue of Great Britain and Ireland respectively, in the five years ended March 31, 1862, the proportion of Irish Revenue to British was one-ninth (Thom's “ Directory," 1888, p. 673). A comparison for the same five years of the annual values assessed under all the income and property tax schedules in Great Britain and Ireland respectively gives a proportion of about 131 to 1.
1854] THE LAND BILLS IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS 451 compensation for their improvements in certain cases, the Marquis of Bath declared that it would destroy the only ground upon which a stand could be made against radicalism and socialism. Even on the part of those who assented to the Bills, we seldom find any clear recognition or admission of the justice of the tenants' case.
It was prudent to exhibit a conciliatory disposition, especially as it could not be denied that there had been cases of hardship; and on that account a good many cautious men like Lord Campbell refrained from opposition, but washed their hands of all responsibility. In breadth of view and open-mindedness one speech stood out in remarkable relief, and deserves the more to be remembered that in later years the speaker came more often to be quoted for his criticisms than for his modified approval of tenant-right. A single passage may be quoted, so very justly does it describe the essential features of the question: "The argument, then, which I would venture to urge in support of the tenants' claim for legislative interference is simply this,” said Lord Dufferin; “ from circumstances over which the tenantry of Ireland had no control, and for which they were not responsible, it became necessary for them to execute improvements on their farms of a permanent character without being able previously to protect themselves by any adequate contract. To a certain extent, however, a degree of security almost tantamount to that guaranteed by a contract was afforded to them by an understanding or custom which, though differing in its modus operandi in different parts of Ireland, was nevertheless, in one shape or another, almost universally prevalent. Latterly, however, in consequence of the great revolution, and the breaking-up of the old state of things which has taken place, these semi-feudal and ill-defined understandings which once existed between a former race of landlords and their tenants are no longer found to give the necessary security, and the tenantry are therefore anxious to substitute for an equitable right under an uncertain custom a legal right under a definite law."1' This is a calm statement of the case, based, as most people will now admit, upon plain fact. But, for all the impression which he produced, Lord Dufferin might as well have been pleading for the whole programme of the league. The majority of his fellow-landlords were as far from accepting his view as he himself was in 1867 from accepting Mr. Butt's.
1 Hansard, February 28, 1854. The speech is summarised in Barry O'Brien, “ Fifty Years of Concessions to Ireland,” vol. ii. pp. 283-287.
Disestablishment, or even a large measure of Church reform in Ireland, seemed even more remote than a land settlement. In 1853 Lord John Russell declared that the Government had no intention of introducing any measure relating to the Irish Church except in respect of ministers' money. This was a tax amounting to about £12,500 levied on the occupiers of Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Kilkenny, Drogheda, Clonmel, and Kinsale, for the support of Protestantism in these towns, and on account both of its purpose and of the fact that it was levied on old valuations, and was therefore most unequal in its incidence, it had long been a cause of great irritation. With considerable difficulty, the Bill for its abolition was carried in 1854. In the same year Mr. Shee raised the larger question in a Bill for the suspension of 395 benefices, with few or no Church adherents, and for transferring part of the funds of the Church to the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians. The Bill was rejected by a large majority. English feeling went wholly against any interference with a Church “the merits of which," said Mr. Newdegate boldly, "were daily acknowledged by the accession to it of hundreds of thousands of the people.” After the rejection of Mr. Shee's Bill, the question was left untouched till the census of 1861 dispelled a great many delusions, and called attention to the indignity which the Establishment placed upon the Irish people. In the intervening years, indeed, Mr. Spooner and Mr. Newdegate, by an annual motion for an inquiry into the working of Maynooth College, and by speeches of heated Protestantism, did their best to keep the religious controversy alive. A royal commission had been appointed in 1853, and in 1855, after collecting a great mass of evidence, it reported against interference with the arrangement of 1845. Mr. Spooner
453 and his friends treated the inquiry as “a mockery, a delusion,
" and a snare," and demanded that in the interest of " this great, because Protestant, country," the grant should be discontinued. It is creditable to English ministers that they gave no countenance to a demand urged in so narrow a spirit.
The years between 1854 and 1861 may be passed over quickly; as regards Ireland their Parliamentary history is barren and dreary. In 1855, when Lucas died, and Duffy
. threw up his seat in despair, some members of Lord Palmerston's new Government went so far as to express a theoretical approval of the tenants' claims. Sir R. Bethell, the solicitor-general, defended the principle of retrospective compensation as one well established in Roman law, and even in the law of England; and Lord Palmerston himself, who had not yet found the maxim that tenant-right is landlord wrong, agreed to accept the principle, provided a limit of twenty years should be adopted. But again nothing was done, and Mr. Napier gave the true reason when he said that “it is notorious that the House of Lords will pass no such measure, and that for a Government to propose it to them, or pretend to support it, is an imposture and a sham.” In 1856 the Tenant League, which still met from time to time, resolved, after their Bill had failed for the year, to clear it of its most objectionable clauses—those legalising the Ulster custom, the valuation clauses, the O'Connell clause providing that improvements should be presumed to be the tenant's till the contrary was proved, and others which were likely to be resisted. It is needless to say that they gained nothing by this half-hearted move. The mutilated Bill met with even less respect than its predecessors had done, and the question of tenant-right almost ceased to excite any political interest. There could hardly be stronger proof of this than that in the letters written to his Bradford constituents in 1857 by General Perronet Thompson, one of the few men of that time who was not blinded by a belief in the general righteousness of English policy, there is only a single short reference to the question of tenant-right in
1 Lord, “Digest of the Maynooth Commission Report,” pp. 239, 244.