Conservatives vs Liberals Land Question

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Conservatives vs Liberals Land Question

By | April 2013
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CIs it true to say that the Conservative Party did more to solve the ‘Land Question’ in Ireland in the period 1870-1903 than the Liberals?

In order to answer this question it is first necessary to define the ‘Land Question’. The ‘Land Question’ entailed the relationship between the landlord and the tenant, the ownership of the land, farm size and poor quality produce. Both the liberals and the Conservatives parties brought about various changes in the issue of the “Land Question’ during the period 1870-1903.

The relationship between the landlord and the tenant was strained especially at times of economic downturn as rents were unaffordable and eviction rates were high. Tenants could be ‘tenants at will’ which meant that they could be evicted even if their rents was paid, a lessee, which entitled them to some rights provided their rents were paid or have the ‘Ulster custom’ which stated that there would be a fair rent, fixity of tenure and freedom of sale. At a time when agriculture was the sole source of income for most of the population, the landlords held most of the power. In 1870 Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party, brought about a land act which legalised the Ulster Custom in places where it had already existed. It also contained a clause called the ‘Bright Clause’, which stated that if a tenant could afford one third of the cost of his farm, the British Government would pay the other two thirds. Although this act as a failure, only 800 tenants purchased their farms, the Bright Clause was hugely important in providing a stepping stone to greater reform.

In 1881, Gladstone passed a second land act. In this the Ulster Custom was legalised everywhere and land courts were established to set fair rents. There was another provision for tenants to buy their land, whereby they had to provide one quarter of the cost of their farms. However this act excluded tenants with arrears and leases. This act did not do much to change the state of affairs as the...