HC Deb 27 May 1823 vol 9 cc560-3
Mr. Dominick Browne,

in rising to move the committal of this bill, admitted that the task lay upon him to prove Joint Tenancy injurious, though it was notoriously so, as the object of the bill was to discourage that tenure.—The system of joint tenancy was, he said, very ancient in Ireland, and very fit perhaps to protect clans of husbandmen against wild beasts, or more barbarous clans of hunting savages, but totally unlit for people emerged from a primitive state of society, living Under fixed laws and institutions in an integral part of the British empire. Under this system, from ten to five hundred acres were let to from two tenants to one hundred jointly; every one of whom was responsible for the rent of all the rest, as well as his own. They held the land in common, making a new division of the arable every year or two. The pasture was always undivided. They generally paid a rack-rent, and after they had built their huts without mortar, chimney, or window, all swore to 40s profit on registering their freeholds arising from a joint lease for one or more lives. The uniform results of this system were, the naked squalid beggary of the whole—extreme indolence, the necessary consequence of the industrious paying for the idle and profligate—each tenant tried merely to preserve his existence and that of his family. Any effort at improvement was out of the question. Their life was reduced to that of brutes: amongst themselves there was constant disunion and petty litigation; against all others, there was continual union for every bad purpose. They resisted the ordinary process of law together, they distilled illegally; they fought together against other clans at fairs and markets. Sedition and disease spread like wildfire among them. They were at once in a state of savage licentiousness and abject slavery to their landlords. Being all bound for each other, he could at any moment ruin any one though worth far more than his own proportion of rent, by distraining him for the rent of all the joint-tenants. In short the landlord had every power over them, save that of life and death. He could strip any one of his whole property, including his miserable food. Even where joint-tenants were in the best circumstances, much of their time was lost in watching the proper application of their common funds. They all attended whenever money was to be received or paid for the general account. This system contributed more than any thing else, to the multiplying of a beggarly population. From persons never valuing a common right like an individual one, joint-tenants readily admitted into their partnership all their sons and frequently their sons-in-law. Under such circumstances, was it extraordinary that the greater part of them could hardly get a sufficiency of potatoes to keep them from starving? He knew many instances of this kind. In one case, he knew of a large farm let to sixteen joint-tenants in 1784: in 1817 they had increased to 59.—It would be asked, if this system was so injurious, why did not the interests of tenants and landlords abolish it without legislative interference? The reason was simply this—it afforded a great facility of giving qualifications to dependent freeholders. Under this system, the whole male population of a property was registered as freeholders. This in itself was one of its greatest vices. By it, the whole people were demoralized by constant perjury. The bill removed this bounty on joint-tenancy, and placed it the other way on separate tenures.—It had been objected to this bill, that it would disfranchise many freeholders. He would reply to this, that it had no retrospective effect. It would certainly prevent freeholders being created by new joint leases. That it would check fictitious freeholds he would admit; but the number of bonâ fide voters would be increased: and they would be infinitely less dependent, as the landlord could have no further power over them, than the demand for the rent of each tenant, for which alone he could be responsible.

Mr. R. Martin

opposed the bill, the object of which is to prevent joint-tenants, in Ireland, from voting for freeholds in which they had severally less than a 40s. interest, on the ground, that it would deprive the Catholics, who were the mass of the small freeholders and joint-tenants, of the influence which they at present enjoyed.

Colonel Trench

thought the principle of the bill most excellent. One of the great evils of Ireland was the splitting the land into so many small divisions for the purpose of creating votes. The great number of electors, which was a blessing in this country, was a curse in Ireland; for it only exposed the peasantry, in many large districts, to bribery and corruption, to drunkenness and to every kind of disorder. His only objection to the bill would be, that it did not go far enough. He wished for the introduction of a clause by which leases in common might be entirely put an end to.

Sir J. Newport

fully concurred in the opinion of the hon. member who spoke last. Nothing had brought greater misery upon Ireland than the subdivision of land among such a multitude of tenants.

After a few words from Mr. L. White, which were inaudible in the gallery,

Mr. T. Ellis

expressed his concurrence in the principle of the bill. He mentioned an instance in which a farm of the value of 15l. was subdivided among 40 tenants, all of whom voted as freeholders.

Mr. J. Daly

denied that the measure would have the effect of diminishing the number of Catholic voters, and pointed out the evils arising from the system of joint-tenancy in Ireland.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that nothing could be further from his intention than countenancing the system of fictitious voters in Ireland. He would go as far as any member to prevent such an abuse; but he must object to the bringing on of such a question in the then thin state of the House, where there were not more than a dozen Irish members present. The measure embraced a principle calculated to excite great discontent in Ireland. He should have no objection to the bill going into the committee. There let his hon. friend make it as perfect as he could; but after that, he would wish it to remain over till the next session, to give the several counties of Ireland an opportunity of considering it in all its bearings.

Sir G. Hill

approved of the bill, but the suggestion of the hon. member for Cork was so fair, that he could not but concur with it.

Mr. Grattan

did not think that the bill went to disqualify any part of the Roman Catholics, but to establish the system of election by bonâ fide freeholders.

Mr. R. Martin

said, that if the hon. member did not intend to press the bill this session, he would not object to going into the committee; but if he did intend to press it, he would divide the House.

The question being put, "That the Speaker do now leave the chair," the House divided: Ayes 54; Noes None. Teller, Mr. It. Martin.

The House then went into the committee.