Front Page Titles (by Subject) 21.: Chichester Fortescue's Land Bill 17 MAY, 1866 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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21.: Chichester Fortescue’s Land Bill 17 MAY, 1866 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Chichester Fortescue’s Land Bill
Chapters and Speeches on the Irish Land Question (London: Longmans, et al., 1870), 97–107. The speech appears in PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 183, cols. 1087–97. Reported in The Times, 18 May, pp. 7–8, from which variants and responses are taken. Writing to John Elliot Cairnes on 4 December, 1869, Mill says: “The ‘Chapters and Speeches’ will be out shortly. The reports of the speeches are taken from Hansard. The first of the two, that of 1866 [i.e., this speech], was printed verbatim from my MS.” (CW, Vol. XVII, p. 1667.) There are, however, some substantive variants. (For the second speech, see No. 88.) Mill spoke on the second reading of “A Bill Further to Amend the Law Relating to the Tenure and Improvement of Land in Ireland,” 29 Victoria (30 Apr., 1866), PP, 1866, V, 353–64.
it was in an auspicious hour for the futurity of Ireland, and of the Empire of which Ireland is so important a part, that a British Administration has introduced this Bill into Parliament. I venture to express the opinion that nothing which any Government has yet done, or which any Government has yet attempted to do, for Ireland—not even Catholic Emancipation itself—has shown so true a comprehension of Ireland’s real needs, or has aimed so straight at the very heart of Ireland’s discontent and of Ireland’s misery. It is a fulfilment of the promise held out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the beginning of the Session, when, in discharging the painful duty of calling on Parliament to treat Ireland once more—let us hope for the last time—as a disaffected dependency, he declared his purpose, and that of the Government of which he is a Member, to legislate for Ireland according to Irish exigencies, and no longer according to English routine.1 To have no better guide than routine is not a safe thing in any case; but to make the routine of one country our guide in legislating for another, is a mode of conduct which, unless by a happy accident, cannot lead to good. It is a mistake which this country has often made—not perhaps so much from being more liable to it than other countries, as from having more opportunities of committing it: having been so often called on to legislate, and to frame systems of administration, for dependencies very unlike itself. Sir, it is a problem of this sort which we still have before us when we attempt to legislate for Ireland. Not that Ireland is a dependency—those days are over; she is an integral part of a great self-governing nation: but a part, I venture to say, very unlike the remaining parts. I am not going to talk about natural differences, race and the like—the importance of which, I think, is very much exaggerated; but let any honourable gentleman consider what a different history Ireland has had from either England or Scotland, and ask himself whether that history must not have left its impress deeply engraven on Irish character. Consider again how different, even at this day, are the social circumstances of Ireland from those of England or Scotland; and whether such different circumstances must not often require different laws and institutions. (Hear, hear.) People often ask—it has been asked this evening2 —why should that which works well in England not work well in Ireland? or why should anything be needed in Ireland which is not needed in England? Are Irishmen an exception to all the rest of amankinda , that they cannot bear the institutions and practices which reason and experience point out as the best suited to promote national prosperity? Sir, we were eloquently reminded the other night of that double ignorance against which a great philosopher warned his cotemporaries—ignorance of our being ignorant.3 But when we insist on applying the same rules in every respect to Ireland and to England, we show another kind of double ignorance, and at the same time disregard a precept older than Socrates—the precept which was inscribed on the front of the Temple of Delphi: we not only do not know those whom we undertake to govern, but we do not know ourselves.4 (Cheers.) No, Sir, Ireland is not an exceptional country; but England is. Irish circumstances and Irish ideas as to social and agricultural economy are the general ideas and circumstances of the human race; it is English circumstances and English ideas that are peculiar. Ireland is in the main stream of human existence and human feeling and opinion; it is England that is in one of the lateral channels. If any honourable gentleman doubts this, I ask, is there any other country on the face of the earth in which, not merely as an occasional fact, but as a general rule, the land is owned in great estates by one class, and farmed by another class of capitalist farmers at money rents fixed by contract, while the actual cultivators of the soil are hired labourers, wholly detached from the soil, and receiving only day wages? (Cheers.) Parts of other countries may be pointed out where something like this state of things exists bas an exceptional factb , but Great Britain is the only country where it is the general rule. In all other places in which the cultivators have emerged from slavery, and from that modified form of slavery, serfage, and have not risen into the higher position of owning land in their own right, the labourer holds it, as in Ireland, directly from the landowner, and the intermediate class of well-to-do tenant-farmers has, as a general rule, no existence. Ireland is like the rest of the world, and England is the exceptional country. Then, if we are making rules for the common case, is it reasonable to draw our precedents from the exceptional one? (Hear.) If we are to be guided by experience in legislating for Ireland, it is Continental rather than English experience that we ought to consider, for it is on the Continent, and not in England, that we find anything like similarity of circumstances. And this explains why so much has been said in Ireland about tenant-right and fixity of tenure. For what does Continental experience tell us, as a matter of historical fact? It tells us that where this agricultural economy, in which the actual cultivator holds the land directly from the proprietor, has been found consistent with the good cultivation of the land or with the comfort and prosperity of the cultivators, the rent has not been determined, as it is in Ireland, merely by contract, but the occupier has had the protection of some sort of fixed usage. (Hear, hear.) The custom of the country has determined more or less precisely the rent which he should pay, and guaranteed the permanence of his tenure as long as he paid it. Such a social and agricultural system as exists in Ireland has neverc, or next to never,c succeeded without tenant-right and fixity of tenure. Do I therefore ask you to establish customary rents and fixity of tenure as the rule of occupancy in Ireland? (Hear, hear.) Certainly not. It is perhaps a sufficient reason that I know you will not do it (laughter); but I am also aware that what may be very wholesome when it grows up as a custom, approved and accepted by all parties, would not necessarily have the same success if, without having ever existed as a custom, it were to be enforced as da lawd . (Hear, hear.) Only I warn you of this. Peasant farminge, as a rule,e never answers fanywheref without fixity of tenure. If Ireland is ever to prosper with peasant farming, fixity of tenure is an indispensable condition. But you do not want to perpetuate peasant farming; you want to improve Ireland in another way. You prefer the English agricultural economy, and desire to establish that. The only mode of cultivation which seems to you beneficial is cultivation by well-to-do tenant-farmers and hired labourers. Well, Sir, there is a good deal to be said against this doctrine—it is very disputable, but I am not going to dispute it now. I accept this as the thing you have got to do, and assuming it to be desirable, I ask, how is it to be brought about? This is not the first time that a problem of this sort has been propounded. The French Economists of the eighteenth century—on the whole the most enlightened thinkers of their time—tried to deal with a state of things not unlike what you have to deal with; and they wanted exactly what you want. They had a wretched, down-trodden, half-starved race of peasant cultivators, and they wanted to have, instead of these, comfortable farmers. Some of the more enlightened of the great landlords of France adopted the doctrines of the Economists, and would gladly have carried them into practice; but nothing came of it, and the reform of the agricultural economy of France had to wait for a revolution. (Cheers.) Now, to what do the best writers attribute the failure of these agricultural reformers? To this—that they aimed at putting farmers in the place of the peasants, when they should have aimed at raising the peasants into farmers. If you are going to succeed where they failed, it can only be by avoiding their error. Instead of bringing in capitalist farmers over the heads of the tenants, you have got to take the best of the present tenants, and elevate them into the comfortable farmers you want to have. You cannot evict a whole nation (cheers)—the country would be too hot to hold you and your new tenants if you attempted it. And supposing even that things could be made smooth for the successors of the existing peasantry by means of emigration, are you going to expatriate a whole people? (Cheers.) Would any honourable gentleman desire to do that? Would he endure the thought of doing it? Supposing even that you sought to use the right of landed property for such a purpose, is there any human institution which could have such a strain put upon it and not snap? (Cheers.) Well, then, how are the present tenantry, or the best of them, to be raised into a superior class of farmers? There is but one way, and this Bill which is before you affords the means. Give them what you can of the encouraging influences of ownership. (Cheers.) Give them an interest in improvement. Enable them to be secure of enjoying the fruits of their own labour and outlay. Let their improvements be for their own benefit, and not solely for those whose land they till. There is no parallel problem to be resolved on this side of St. George’s Channel. The system of tenancy in England is found to be at least not incompatible with agricultural improvement. In England and Scotland a large proportion of the landowners either give leases to their tenants which afford them sufficient time for reaping the benefit of whatever improvements they may make, or, when there are no leases, there is generally such a degree of confidence and mutual understanding between landlord and tenant, that they make their improvements in concert; or at all events the tenant, as a general rule, has no fear that the landlord will take an unfair advantage of him, and, by accepting a higher offer over his head, will possess himself without compensation of the increased value which the tenant has given to the land. This is the case in England: but how is it in Ireland? The reverse in all respects. (Oh, oh!) There are few leases, except old and expiring ones, and no confidence at all between landlords and tenants. g(Oh, oh!) Well, at least one-halfg of the landlords, or some other proportion of them, do not deserve confidence, and the consequence is that the tenants dare not trust the other half. (Hear, hear, and laughter.) If a tenant does trust his landlord, he does not trust, for he does not know, the next heir, or the stranger who may buy the property in the Landed Estates Court. The extent to which this want of confidence reaches is really one of the most remarkable facts in all history. There have been incontestable proofs of late years that the tenant farmers of Ireland often possess a considerable amount of savings. Where do these savings go to? They go into banks of deposit; they go into the English funds; they go under the thatch; everywhere but to their natural investment, the farm. (Hear, hear.) There is something, to my mind, almost tragical in this state of things. For the fact is decidedly honourable to Irish landlords that these savings have been made by their tenants; it exculpates a large proportion of them from the indiscriminate charges often brought against the entire hclassh (hear, hear); it proves that a much greater number of them than has often been supposed are neither greedy nor grasping, do not rack-rent their tenants, or take the last farthing in payment of rent; and in spite of this, the tenants are so absolutely without confidence in them, that even the sums which the landlord’s forbearance has enabled them to accumulate are sent away everywhere—are employed for any purpose—except the most obvious and natural purpose, the improvement of their farms. (Hear, hear.) Now, are you going to let this state of things continue? If we all deplore it—if we all are ashamed of it—what remedy is there but one? Give the tenant compensation, awarded by an impartial tribunal, for whatever increased value—and only for the increased value—he has given to the land. Do not use the fruits of his labour or of his outlay without paying for them, or without giving him assurance of being paid for them. (Hear.) The Bill appoints an impartial tribunal. When the parties do not agree, the case is to be adjudged by authorities who even in Ireland deserve and possess the confidence alike of landlords and tenants. Valuers appointed by the Government Board of Works will decide in the first instance, and the assistant barrister, the stipendiary Chairman of Quarter Sessions, is the Judge in appeal.5 I believe no one doubts that such arbitrators as these would be impartial, and would be trusted by the Irish people. But the right honourable gentleman who spoke last (Mr. Lowe) said it was not so much the giving compensation he objected to, as to the fact that improvements might be made under the Bill, to which the consent of the landlord had not been previously obtained.6 That provision, however, if we consider the matter, is the very essence of the Bill, and is indispensable to its operation. If improvements are only to be made by the landlord’s permission, and on his voluntary promise of an indemnity, that can be done now; saving, indeed, some insufficiency in the legal power of a limited owner to bind his successors. But experience proves that when there is a want of confidence between landlords and tenants, improvements which require the previous consent of the landlord are not made at all. The tenant is afraid to serve a notice on his landlord. He is afraid to announce before hand to the landlord that he is in a condition to make improvements, lest, being mostly a tenant-at-will, he should be thought to be also in a condition to pay a higher rent. Or he fears that the landlord will do what some landlords have been known to do—withhold his assent, on the speculation that the tenant may make the improvement notwithstanding, and the landlord may be able to profit by it without paying any indemnity. (Hear, hear.) Or he thinks that the landlord may dislike an improving tenant, from a mere wish to keep his tenantry in a state of dependence. And what does the landlord sacrifice by renouncing the condition of previous consent? Nothing whatever but the power of taking for himself the fruits of the labour of others. (Hear, hear.) He will still be free to improve the estate himself, if he can and will. But if he does not, and his tenant does, he will be prevented from appropriating the value which the tenant has created, without paying him an equivalent. What he will have to pay, will be determined not by the outlay of the tenant, but by ithei value actually added to the farm by the tenant’s labour or outlay, in the opinion of an impartial tribunal. It is of no consequence how much the tenant may have expended; unless he has made the land worth more money to the landlord for the landlord’s uses, he will receive nothing. Even in such a case as that to which the right honourable gentleman alluded, and to which reference was frequently made before the Committee7 —the case of a landlord wishing to consolidate his farms, and the buildings erected by the tenant not being required when such consolidation takes place—this circumstance would be taken into consideration by the valuer, and the tenant would have to bear the loss. Indeed, in no case would the landlord sustain any pecuniary loss. He would simply have to pay for value received. The objection is what would be called on almost any subject but the present, a purely abstract objection. The Bill is thought to violate a certain abstract right of property in land. I call it an abstract right, meaning that it is of no value to the possessor though it is hurtful to other people. Of what earthly use to any landed proprietor is the right of preventing improvement? (Hear, hear.) It is the right of the dog in the manger. Yet, wonderful to relate, even this the Bill does not take away; it leaves to the landlord the power of preventing the tenant’s improvements by a previous stipulation. But it does this in the confidence—I believe the well-grounded confidence—that the power will seldom be used, except when there is something to justify it in the special circumstances of the case. The framers of the Bill place a just reliance in the influence of a sound moral principle when once embodied in the law. They know that there is a great difference between requiring the tenant to ask permission from the landlord to make improvements, and throwing the onus on the landlord of prohibiting by anticipation a public benefit (hear), which the law, if this Bill passes, will have declared its purpose of encouraging. I maintain, Sir, that the claim of the improver to the value of his improvements, so far from conflicting with the right of property in land, is a right of the very same description as landed property, and rests on the same foundation. What is the ground and justification of landed property? I am afraid some honourable Members think that I am going to give utterance to some grave heresy on this subject. At least, those honourable gentlemen who have been so obliging as to advertise my writings on an unexampled scale, and entirely free of expense either to myself or jto myj publisher (a laugh), seemed to be much scandalized by some passages they had discovered, to the effect that landed property must be more limited in its nature than other proprietary rights, because no man made the land.8 Well, Sir, did any man make the land? If not, did any man acquire it by gift, or by bequest, or by inheritance, or by purchase, from the maker of it? These, I apprehend, are the foundations of the right to other property. Then what is the foundation of the right to property in land? The answer commonly made to this question is enough for me, and I agree in it. Though no man made the land, men, by their industry, made the valuable qualities of it; they reclaimed it from the waste, they brought it under cultivation, they made it useful to man, and so acquired as just a title to it as men have to what they have themselves made. Very well: I have nothing to say against this. But why, I ask, is this right, which is acquired by improving the land, to be for ever confined to the person who first improved it? If it requires improving again, and some one does improve it again, does not this new improver acquire a kind of right akin to that of the original improver? Of course I do not pretend that when one person has acquired a right to land by improving it, another, by improving it again, can oust the first man of his right. But neither do I admit that the man who has once improved a piece of land, acquires thereby an indefeasible right to prevent any one else from improving it for the whole remainder of eternity (hear, hear); or a right to profit, without cost to himself, by improvements which some one else has made. Landed property in its origin had nothing to rest upon but the moral claim of the improver to the value of his improvement; and unless we recognise on the same ground a kindred claim in the temporary occupier, we give up the moral basis on which landed property rests, and leave it without any justification but that of actual possession—a title which can be pleaded for every possible abuse. We have heard a good deal lately about “thoughtful Reformers” kwho seemed to be held in some sort of contempt of late (a laugh)k . It seems there are a great many thoughtful Reformers in this House—some of them very thoughtful ones indeed. I wish there were as many thoughtful Conservatives; but I am afraid they keep most of their thoughtfulness for Reform. However, we know there are thoughtful Conservatives, and they cannot be all on this side of the House. Let me remind them of a writer with whose works they must all of them be familiar—the most thoughtful mind that ever tried to give a philosophic basis to English Conservatism—the late Mr. Coleridge. In his second Lay Sermon, this eminent Conservative propounds a theory of property in land, compared with which anything which I ever hinted at is the merest milk and water.9 (A laugh.) His idea of landed property is, that it is a kind of public function—a trust rather than a property—which the owner is morally justified in using for his own advantage, only after certain great social ends, connected with the cultivation of the country and the well-being of its inhabitants, have been amply fulfilled. I am not claiming anything comparable to this. All I ask is, that the improvement of the country and the well-being of the people may be attended to, when they are proved not to be inconsistent with the pecuniary interest of the landowners. This modest demand is the only one I make; because I believe, and because it is believed by those who are better judges of the condition of Ireland than I can pretend to be, that no more than this is necessary to cure the existing evils. Sir, the House has now a golden opportunity. When I think how small a thing it is which is now asked of us, and when I hear, as I have heard, Members of this House, usually classed as of extreme opinions—men who are Irish of the Irish, who have the full confidence of what is called the National party—when such men assure us that the tenantry, who have been scarcely touched by any of the things you have hitherto done for the benefit of Ireland, will, as they hope, and as they think there is ground to believe, be reconciled to their lot (hear, hear), and changed from a discontented, if not disloyal, to a hopeful and satisfied part of the nation, by so moderate—I had almost said so minute—a concession as that which is now proposed;10 I confess I am amazed that those who have suffered so long and so bitterly are able to be conciliated or calmed by so small a gift (hear); and deplorable would it indeed be if so small a gift were refused to them. Even if we ourselves had not full confidence in this remedy, there is nothing in it so alarming that we need be afraid to try, as an experiment, what is so ardently wished for by a country to which we owe so much reparation that she ought to be the spoilt child of this country for a generation to come—to be treated not only with justice but with generous indulgence. (Cheers.) I am speaking in the presence of many who listened, like myself, to that touching speech which was delivered on the last night of the Reform debate, by the honourable Member for Tralee (The O’Donoghue)—when he, who is so well entitled to speak in the name of the Irish people, and of that portion of them of whom we have had the hardest thoughts, and who have had the hardest thoughts of us, held out his hand to us and declared that if there is even one party in this House and in this country who reciprocate the feeling he then showed, and really regard the Irish as fellow-countrymen, they will be fellow-countrymen to us—they will labour and contend by our side, have the same objects with us, look forward to the same and not to a different future, and let the dream of a separate nationality remain a dream.11 Many, I am sure, must have felt as I felt while I listened to his eloquent and feeling words, that if this House only wills it, that speech is the beginning of a new era. Let us not fling away in want of thought—for it is not want of heart—the reconciliation so frankly tendered. History will not say that we of the present generation are unwilling to lgovern Ireland as she ought to be governed:—let us not go down to posterity with the contemptible reputation of being unable to do sol . Let it not be said of us that, with the best possible intentions towards Ireland, no length of time or abundance of experience could teach us to understand her—whether it is insular narrowness, making us incapable of imagining that Ireland’s exigencies could be in any way different from England’s; mor because the religious respect we cherish for everything which has the smallest savour of a right of property, has degenerated, as is sometimes the case with other religions,m into a superstition. Let us show that our principles of government are not a mere generalization from English facts; but that in legislating for Ireland we can take into account Irish circumstances: and that our care for landed property is an intelligent regard for its essentials, and for the ends it fulfils, and not a servile prostration before its mere name. (Loud cheers.)
[After further debate on 25 July the Bill was withdrawn.]
[1 ]Gladstone, Speech on the Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill, Ireland (17 Feb., 1866), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 181, cols. 721–2.
[2 ]Lowe, Speech on the Tenure and Improvement of Land Bill, Ireland (17 May), ibid., Vol. 183, col. 1086.
[a-a]TT the English race
[3 ]Disraeli, in his Speech on the Redistribution of Seats Bill (14 May), ibid., col. 899, referred to the argument ascribed to Socrates (469–399 ) by Plato; see Apology, in Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus (Greek and English), trans. H.N. Fowler (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914), p. 106 (29b).
[4 ]Plato, Protagoras, in Laches, Protagoras, Meno, Euthydemus (Greek and English), trans. W.R.M. Lamb (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914), p. 196 (343b).
[b-b]PD,TT in an exceptional fashion
[d-d]TT an act of positive legislation
[g-g]PD] TT (Oh, oh!) Well, at all events, half] CS One-half
[5 ]See “A Bill Further to Amend the Law Relating to the Tenure and Improvement of Land in Ireland,” pp. 360–2.
[6 ]Lowe, cols. 1077–8.
[i-i]+PD] TT the fair
[7 ]Lowe, col. 1083; “Report from the Select Committee on Tenure and Improvement of Land (Ireland) Act” (23 June, 1865), PP, 1865, XI, pp. 405 and 509, for example.
[j-j]PD] CS,TT the
[8 ]A phrase used in several places by Mill, but most significantly in his Principles of Political Economy (Bk. II, Chap. ii, Sect. 6), CW, Vol. II, p. 230. Both his supporters and opponents quoted much from the Principles and Mill’s other works during his parliamentary career.
[9 ]Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Second Lay Sermon, in On the Condition of Church and State, and Lay Sermons (London: Pickering, 1839), esp. pp. 413–18.
[10 ]For example, Fulke Southwell Greville Nugent (1821–83), also known as Colonel Greville, M.P. for Longford, Speech on the Tenure and Improvement of Land Bill, Ireland (30 Apr., 1866), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 183, cols. 225–6. Cf. other speeches on the occasion by the Irish members Jonathan Pim (cols. 228–9), John Francis Maguire (cols. 230–1), and Edward Sullivan (col. 230).
[11 ]Daniel O’Donoghue (d. 1889), then M.P. for Tralee, Speech on the Representation of the People Bill (27 Apr., 1866), ibid., col. 42.
[l-l]TT treat Ireland in a spirit of kindness, fairness, and generosity
[m-m]TT let it not be said that they regarded Irish affairs with the aspect of religious prejudice, for if they viewed them in this light their religion would degenerate