HC Deb 25 February 1828 vol 18 cc651-5
Mr. Hume

presented a Petition, signed by the principal noblemen and leading Roman Catholics of Ireland, complaining oft he operation, and praying a modification, of the Landlord and Tenant bill, which had recently passed into a law.

Lord Milton

expressed a hope that, whatever alterations it might be found necessary to make in the details, the House would not lose sight of the principle of the measure, as it was calculated to produce the most beneficial effects in Ireland.

Mr. Brownlow

also defended the principle of the bill, and contended, that it was calculated to put an end to the great evils produced by the pernicious practice of sub- letting land in Ireland. In consequence of the present system, the occupying tenant was often distrained three times, through the insolvency of the superior landlords through whom he held the land. These evils were of daily occurrence, and could not be borne patiently. The number of the people made them dangerous, and tyranny and poverty would render them formidable. These were the weapons before which, in the event of the present system urging them to despair, must ultimately fall the wealth, the education, and the greatness, of this country. By the present mode of government, instead of the people of Ireland being united in love and affection, a spirit of hostility was introduced between them. Let the parliament of this country yield the Catholic question, and they would hear nothing more about the management of property; but until that measure was conceded, its refusal would aggravate the amount of every grievance.

Mr. G. Dawson

observed, that he felt it his duty to say a few words on the injustice of a petition, which had for its object the making a complaint against that part of the law known by the name of the Subletting Act in Ireland. When that act was about to be brought into parliament, the nature of its enactments were carefully made known throughout Ireland. No objection was made to it; and it was not until other circumstances had called up the Catholics in opposition to the act, that one word had been said about its supposed evils. The present petition was not from the landlords or tenantry of Ireland, but from the Catholic Association. There was hardly the name of one occupying tenant affixed to it; and he would venture to say that it was the petition of the real oppressors of Ireland—he meant her middlemen. In proof of this he would read from it a sentence, in which would be found words to this effect—" Can you, we ask with all deference and respect—can a Christian legislature contemplate two millions of murders, without horror and affright? We know that they are Irishmen, and poor Irishmen, but is not their blood of price in the sight of the Almighty." He would not comment further on such expressions; but he would ask whether, if the sentiments contained in the petition were those of the tenantry of Ireland, the table of the House would not have been crowded with them before now? The truth was, that the tenantry of Ireland were protected by this act; and while that protection was afforded them, he trusted the House would not be carried away by warmth of language, but would stay for proof of injury, before they made up their minds to condemn an act which had been so long in operation without complaint. This act afforded the only remedy against the miseries which the system of subletting had introduced. Instead of Ireland being a garden, as it ought to be, it was any thing but a garden: and instead of exhibiting that high degree of cultivation which it ought, its agriculture was in a state that was a reproach to any country calling itself agricultural. He did not mean to say that the bill was faultless; but he recommended the House to adhere to its principle, and to introduce such amendments as might appear necessary in its details. With such amendments it would be one of the greatest benefits they could confer upon Ireland.

Mr. North

approved of the principle of the bill, and thought there was not one man who really felt for the evils of Ireland that did not approve of it. He did not concur with all its provisions, as they at present stood. He thought the clause which provided that a tenant who possessed land under a lease should be precluded from devising his farm to more than one person ought to be repealed, as it compelled the testator either to sacrifice his children, and vest the property exclusively in his wife, or to mark out one favourite child to the exclusion of the wife and of the other sons and daughters. He thought, too, that some limitation of the periods of time mentioned in the act ought to be provided; and that the guardian of an infant or lunatic should be empowered to give his consent to an assignment proposed by the tenant.

Mr. F. Lewis

was also in favour of the principle of the bill, the tendency of which, he thought, was to assimilate tenures of land in Ireland to those in England. In consequence of the dissimilarity which now existed in these tenures, the appearance of the land in Ireland was very different from that in England. The same difference existed between the appearance of the men and of their habitations; and whoever had passed through Ireland, must have remarked the want of those comfortable homesteads which distinguished the counties of England. It had been said, that the grievance of Ireland was non-residence; and the best remedy was, he thought, to create a numerous, honest, and independent body of occupying tenantry. The grievance of non-residence existed equally in Wales; but the great difference between Wales and Ireland was, that the former possessed a respectable body of occupying tenantry, of which the latter was in want. Though, in the reign of James, the operation of gavelkind tenures was put an end to by parliament, yet that tenure still, in fact, existed in the leases of Ireland. He appealed to the House, whether the attempt to intimidate them by the picture of the miseries of Ireland, and of their consequences, was calculated to produce a beneficial effect. He knew it had been said in a distinguished speech, delivered in a certain place, that the Catholics of Ireland had risen in strength, like the Jews of old; but he trusted no such language would be repeated, with the vain idea of intimidation. Let the House steadily adopt measures tending to improve the condition of the tenantry of Ireland—to secure them from that worst of all misfortunes, that of being driven for rent, when their rent had already been paid; and then, whatever might be the other evils of Ireland, the House would have done much towards lessening their effects.

Mr. R. Colborne

suggested that the discussion had already gone far enough, as they would soon have an opportunity of debating the question when it came properly before the House.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, from what had fallen from his right hon. friend, the Irish Secretary, the other night, he seemed to be prepared to submit a proposition, for the amendment of this bill, to their consideration. Under these circumstances, the best course would be, to wait until the proposed amendment came distinctly before them. He would not more immediately refer to the terms of the petition, or to the object of those who presented it, than by saying, that the most dignified revenge the House could adopt was, to pass such amendments as they conceived would afford the best remedy to the evils that were admitted to be in the bill.

Mr. H. Grattan

thought that if members passed over the petition, without attempting to protect the petitioners from the effects of the bill, they would not discharge their duty. He differed from the hon. member who proposed to apply the same laws to the two countries; and he objected to the act, as he thought it was passed against the interests of the tenant, whose property was rendered almost valueless by the impossibility of assignment. He denied that the petition had originated with the Catholic Association, as he had last session presented several petitions from landholders to a similar effect.

Ordered to lie on the table.