§ Mr. O'Connell
rose, pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the Statute 7 George 4th, cap. 29, commonly called the Subletting Act. He pursued this course because he was convinced that, if there were anything objectionable in the Act—and it was admitted on all hands that there was— it would be better to bring in a new Statute at once, than to attempt to patch up the old one. This Statute was the law in Ireland, but it was not the law in England, and he thought he had a right to have a case made out why the law of landlord and tenant should be different in the two countries. This Act had two objects in view, and it might be, for convenience—nay, it ought to be, for convenience,—-divided into two Statutes. The first part of the Act related to existing leases and contracts; the second, to leases and contracts to be hereafter made. The first part of the Act altered the nature of contracts then subsisting, by giving a literal meaning to the words of contracts; whereas a legal meaning, which was a different meaning, attached to those words before. This was an unjust, because an ex post facto law, and the object of it was to strike out of contracts a qualification which was advantageous to the tenants. He knew that some Gentlemen had said that they liked the principle of this Act, though they objected to the details of it. Could any one say, that he liked the principle of this part of the Act—the dishonest principle of an ex post facto law, which violated existing engagements? The second part of the Statute, he admitted, was purely prospective, and that was a legitimate mode of legislating, which the other was not. This part of the Act prohibited the subletting of lands in Ireland, except in three cases. The excepted cases, were, first, lands held on leases for lives renewable for ever; secondly, lands held on a term of ninety-nine years; thirdly, all lands be-longing to the Church. With these three exceptions, the Act operated universally. Why, he should like to know, was the law to interfere between the landlord and the tenant? Why not allow the landlord and the tenant to make what contracts 387 they pleased between themselves? This Act had taken away the freedom of the only trade they had in Ireland,—namely, the trade in land. He might be told, that the Act did not do this in words. He admitted this, but such was, in fact, the operation of the Act. It said, that the landlord should no longer distrain upon the under-tenant, and of course no landlord would consent to lose the remedy of distraining upon the occupied land. The question, after all, came to this—ought the law to interfere between landlord and tenant? He thought not. But it was said that this law was good, because it would enable land-owners to clear their estates. This was the argument of heartless and unfeeling men, who thought it better to support upon an estate a great many beasts, and very few human beings, than a large population. However, let it be understood, that in applying for the repeal of this Act, he did not propose to take away from the landlord the right of clearing his estate. That right would remain with the landlord still, who could exercise it, if he thought proper, in its fullest extent; only it was not, he contended, the part of a considerate and humane Government to make itself the auxiliary of the landlord, to compel him to clear his estate, and thus to take away from the landlord the reproach of inhumanity and hard-heartedness. He was free to confess, that he did not believe this Act to have been an act of the Government. He looked upon it as originating in some political left-handed intrigue of heartless men. From the period of the Union until the present, all the Statutes enacted by the Legislature had had for their object the oppression of the peasantry, and the giving advantages to the landlord. The Statutes which enabled the landlord to distrain growing crops, and which conferred upon him the power of ejecting a tenant at an extremely small expense, were of this description, and had been among the main causes of the evils of the poor in Ireland, and consequently, of the disturbances which had unfortunately taken place in that country. The Statutes first enabled the landlord to ruin his tenant, and then to turn him out cheaply. He might be told, that this Act was made for the purpose of creating large farms, and then there might be repeated to him long dissertations upon the beneficial effects of large farms. If to cause universal mendicity among the pea- 388 santry was to produce a beneficial effect, then, indeed, there would be some truth in these dissertations, and some sense in the pages of evidence which unfeeling men had given in favour of cultivating sheep and cattle instead of human beings. While he was upon this subject, let him mention an act which it gave him the greatest satisfaction to record. So great had been the increase of beggars, that the Mendicity Association of Dublin must have closed its doors if the Duke of Northumberland had not presented it with a donation of 1,000l. He meant a donation not out of the public money, but out of his Grace's private purse. He could state further, that after that sum of 4,000l. was exhausted, the Association had been kept going by the private contributions of a member of his Grace's family—a female, whose name he would not, of course, mention. He knew these facts to be as he had stated them. But to return to this Statute, of which, he repeated, the effect had been, to increase mendicity to an alarming extent, it was a political economy measure, not a Government Act. Its professed object was, to create large farms, and this, the political economist said, was a great good. He would meet these Gentlemen upon the fact—the Act had not created large farms. It prevented labourers being employed, for if the landlord gave the labourer a holding, the labourer might keep it. Unless, therefore, in the neighbourhood of lands excepted from the operation of the Act, no large farms could exist, because the owners would not risk the employment of the number of labourers necessary to cultivate them. To the operation of this Act was to be traced the erroneous notion that there was a superabundance of labour in Ireland. There was no natural superabundance of labour in that country; the superabundance of labour was artificial, and caused by bad laws and bad government. If such a state of things were allowed to continue, he apprehended—however dangerous the admission might appear—a servile war in Ireland of the worst description. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in his Bill.
Mr. Doherty, after claiming the indulgence of the House on account of indisposition, said, that he begged to remind hon. Members, that on the passing of this Act it was admitted on all hands that there was something in the condition of
Ireland which required that the law of landlord and tenant in the two countries should be different. This he thought he could show by authorities of a very high character; but in saying this, let it not be supposed that he was insensible to the propriety of generally assimilating, as nearly as possible, the laws of the two countries. He thought it would have been better if this motion of the hon. and learned Member had been postponed. The noble Lord (the late Secretary for Ireland) had given notice of a measure for the Amendment of this Act in the last Session; and in the present Session his right hon. friend (the present Secretary for Ireland) had given notice of a similar motion. The House must see, therefore, that the Government intended that the Act should not remain as it was; and he thought that much time and discussion might have been saved, if the hon. and learned Member had waited till he had seen how the Act would stand when it should have received the contemplated amendments. However, the hon. and learned Member was opposed to the principle of the Act, and the present was, of course, as convenient a time as any other for discussing that principle. He did not think that, in dealing with the principle of this Act, the hon. and learned Member need have arraigned the whole of the legislative enactments on the subject of landlord and tenant which had passed since the Union; and he must confess that it was with the greatest surprise that he had heard the hon. and learned Member, who had so often boasted himself to be a legal reformer, and an advocate for cheap law, find fault with those Acts which had made law cheap in Ireland. That was the object of some of the Acts which the hon. and learned Member had condemned, and he himself had, on a former occasion, admitted that by one of these Acts the expenses of an ejectment had been diminished from 17l. to 1l. 2s. 6d. Where the landlord had a clear right, it was thought that he might be allowed to seek his remedy in the County Courts, which, in Ireland, were above suspicion. This was a principle which the hon. and learned Member had himself advocated in speaking of legal reform; upon one of which occasions the hon. and learned Gentleman had insisted upon the hardship of making a man send up from a remote part of England to London for a piece of parch-
ment, without which the man could not prosecute his just claims. Was it not quite as great a hardship to make a man send from Cork or from Waterford to Dublin for the like piece of parchment? Applying that principle to the law of ejectment, a worthy and hon. Baronet, whom, he believed, he saw in his place [Sir J. Newport bowed], introduced a bill, by which the County Courts had authority to determine cases of ejectment. That Act might be said to be a boon to the landlord, but it was a gain to the tenant. It was said, indeed, that nothing was to be got from the Irish tenant. Yes, something was to be got—his liberty; for his person might be seized for the costs, which, to gratify his own obstinacy, or in accordance with the artful suggestions of a knavish attorney, he had had the temerity to incur. As to the Act which allowed distress on growing crops in Ireland, that was an assimilation of the law in the two countries; such a law having existed in England since the reign of George 2nd; and as the hon. and learned Member had contended for assimilation, he did not see with what consistency or reason the hon. and learned Member had found fault with that Act. Now, as to the Subletting Act, the subject of the hon. and learned Member's motion, the history of that Act would perhaps furnish the best vindication of it. In 1824 and 1825 two Select Committees were appointed to inquire into the state of Ireland. All the hard-hearted and unfeeling persons, to whom the hon. and learned Member had referred—all the witnesses who had been examined before those committees, and many of them were men of talent and integrity—agreed that the poor of Ireland were sadly and unnaturally depressed: all of them applied their talents and experience to the discovery of the means by which the condition of the peasantry of Ireland might be improved. All of them, too, whatever other differences of opinion there might have been among them, agreed upon this one point; namely, that the chief cause of the evils of the poor of Ireland was the almost unlimited subdivision of property in that country. In that opinion he concurred, and was ready to contend that the infinite subdivision of land in Ireland had been one of the main causes of the evils under which that country laboured. All the witnesses agreed in describing the rooted obstinacy with which the great
body of the people fastened themselves on the land as their sole means of support. Farms that had been let of a size sufficient for good husbandry, and in proportion to the capital a man might be expected to employ on them, had been divided by their first occupants among their sons and daughters, who had subdivided their portions again among their children, till the land was so parcelled out that no one portion of it could possibly supply more than the bare necessaries of life, to its wretched occupant, whose condition was reduced to a level with that of the beasts which perish. That was the opinion universally expressed by the several respectable witnesses examined before the committee on the state of Ireland in 1825. He had thought it his duty to look at their testimony and he found none more touching- or more conclusive than that of the hon. and learned member for Waterford himself. The learned Member, in his evidence before that committee, gave a most appalling description of the miserable and wretched condition to which the Irish peasantry had been reduced; and but that he feared to fatigue the House he would read some of that hon. and learned Member's testimony ["Read, Read."] As it was the wish of the House, he would read a portion of it. He found the following-passages in that hon. Member's evidence before the Committee.
Have you had opportunities of becoming acquainted with the condition of the lower orders of the people of Ireland, in an extensive district of that country?—I may venture to say that I have had many, and long.
Have you observed any great increase of numbers in the districts with which you are acquainted?—Very great; I know many instances, in the remote parts particularly; for example, I know of farms upon which I remember but two dwellings; I speak of two farms that I have on my mind at this moment, upon which there is, I believe, at present, nearly a hundred families.
What, under your observation, is the state of the lower orders with respect to their modes of living?—The state of the lower orders, in my observation, is such, that it is astonishing to me how they preserve health; and, above all, how they preserve cheerfulness under the total privation of anything like comfort, and the existence of a state of things that the inferior animals would scarcely endure, and which they do not endure in this country.
What is the general state of the habitations of the lower class?—It is impossi-
ble, I think (I express myself strongly), it would be extremely difficult to have anything worse. The houses are not even called houses, and they ought not to be: they are called cabins. They are built of mud, and covered with thatch partly, and partly with a surface which they call scraws, &c.
What sort of furniture have they in those houses?—Nothing that can deserve the name of furniture.
With regard to their bedding, what does it consist of?—Nothing but straw, and very few blankets in the mountain district.
Have they blankets put over the straw, sufficient to cover them?—In general, not.
In another part the hon. and learned Member's answers were equally explicit.
Have circumstances occurred, within your knowledge, of hardship in respect of distraining for rent?—Very many.
Is it a general hardship in the country? —It is a general grievance, very much aggravated by the necessity of sub-letting. There are frequently six or seven between the proprietor of the fee and the actual occupier, and whenever any two of them happen to differ in the state of their accounts, the man who claims more than the other has paid, or is willing to pay, settles the dispute by distraining the actual occupier; and that occurs in many instances where the occupier has paid his own rent to his own landlord.
Then every superior tenant of the subtenants has a right to distress over the actual occupier?—Unquestionably.
Such was the hon. and learned member for Waterford's own description of the state of the Irish peasant in 1825. It clearly established his very miserable condition—it established too the fact of the minute and almost infinite subdivision of land, as well as the vexation and grievance of subjecting the wretched occupant of the soil to be distrained by the many persons who intervened between him and the lord of the soil; and that all the grievances of the peasantry were greatly aggravated by the practice of subletting. He need hardly observe, then, that all these evils did not flow from the Subletting Act, which, at that time, had not only not passed, but was not in contemplation, unless it could be said, that in Ireland effects preceded their cause. It having been established, on indisputable evidence, that such was the miserable condition of the Irish peasantry, he appealed to the heart of every man who heard him, were these things to be suffered so to remain without one effort to ameliorate them? Whatever
might be supposed, things could not remain as they were, for each year brought with it a fresh subdivision of the land, and every subdivision diminished the means of supporting the miserable occupiers. It was then inquired, "If these ills be so clearly attributable to the subdivision and underletting of ground, why do not the landlords of Ireland take measures to prevent it?" The landlords replied, that they had done so, but without effect, for they found that some legal difficulty interposed, which took from them the power to restrain their tenants from underletting. Men of great talent and eminence at the Irish Bar, Serjeant Blackburn, Messrs. Blacker and Bennett, were examined before the committee to explain the nature of this legal difficulty. They attributed it to what was called the doctrine of waiver, and the law which had been established by a long train of decisions upon that subject. It would be his duty, if he could hope that the House would bear with him, to attempt the difficult task of explaining this purely professional and technical point:—He would merely observe, that it had been established by decisions, that if A make a lease of his land to B, upon condition that if B alienate, assign, or underlet it, A may re-enter and possess it; and if afterwards A gave B permission to underlet it to any one individual then B might underlet that land to thousands and A could never avail himself of the condition which he had, by the permission to underlet to one person, what is in law called "waived." That was the result of the law, as established by what was called Dumpar's case. It was abundantly absurd, but it was, nevertheless, the law. Thus, if a man let a farm to another, relying upon his personal skill and integrity, and added a condition that he should forfeit the farm if he let it to another, and was afterwards induced to grant permission to underlet to some one individual, on whom, perhaps, he had an equal reliance, the tenant could thenceforth be at liberty to underlet it to whom he pleased. Besides this, which was termed an express waiver, many other acts of the landlord had been construed by the Courts to amount to implied waivers: the Judges having apparently been disposed to favour subletting, so that between the state of the law, the leaning of Courts, and the prejudices of Juries (more interested as tenants than landlords), it had become practically almost impossi-
ble to restrain tenants from underletting their lands in Ireland. A gentleman, whose name was not unknown to the Members of that House, and whose zeal and activity for the improvement of Ireland was acknowledged, on being examined before that same committee—he alluded to Mr. Blake, the Chief Remembrancer of the Court of Exchequer in Ireland—in the course of his evidence he pointed out the simple, but effectual, remedies which he would apply to the law; and from his suggesttions Lord Plunkett, the then Attorney-general for Ireland, framed this Act of Parliament, which had been so much misunderstood by some, so much reprehended by others, but which, rightly considered, conferred benefits both on the landlord and tenant, and infinitely greater upon the tenant than upon the landlord. On the landlord it conferred the advantage of not having his land underlet without his permission; but it protected the occupier of the soil against an evil, pregnant with ruin and annoyance,—the liability to continued and repeated distrainings, even when he may have paid his rent, for the arrears of all those who might stand betwixt him and the owner of the soil. The first section of the Act provided that no tenant who had covenanted not to underlet should do so without the express permission in writing of his landlord; it did away with the absurdity of implying waivers from acts of the landlord, which never were intended by him so to operate, and it put an end to the still greater absurdity already described as too long established by the rule in Dumpar's case,—a rule, the existence of which the Judges had more than once lamented, though they had left to the Legislature the credit of overruling it. A subsequent section provided, that when the landlord permits his tenant to underlet, the tenant in possession shall be subject only to be distrained by his own immediate landlord; thus affording an invaluable boon to the real occupants of the land. These were the two great principles of the Act; and such, with some enactments of minor importance, calculated to give them effect, would be the Act when amended in the manner proposed by his right hon. friend the Secretary for Ireland. The Act conferred no power whatever on a landlord to dispossess a tenant; it was a confusion, a mistake, or something worse, to say that it did; indeed, he had not, understood the hon. and learned member
for Waterford to assert, in his place that night, that any such effect could be attributed to it, as that hon. Member knew full well that no tenant had been, that no tenant could be, dispossessed by means of this Act. Long before it was passed, the landlords of Ireland began to discover the folly, not to say the disgrace, of having the peasantry on their estates in the most miserable condition, such as had been described; and from time to time, as their farms fell out of lease, they made efforts to consolidate and enlarge them. This led to the dispossessing of many persons, though he trusted it had been nowhere done with a harsh and hasty hand, but in the most kind and considerate manner. It had been necessarily productive, as he admitted, of great suffering, but surely it was not fair to attribute that to the then unpassed Subletting Act. It was painful, God knew, to have to strike a balance as to the amount of rival and conflicting suffering, but one must see, that the misery of the peasantry, while they were left to increase and multiply upon the land, was a misery without a prospect of diminution, or rather with a certainty of increase; but whatever might be the present sufferings of the expelled population (and he was far from undervaluing them) beyond the black cloud that now pressed heavily upon the country, there was opening the brighter prospect of a comfortable, substantial, and contented peasantry. No man who heard him make that observation would attribute to him a callousness to present suffering, or any want of cordial co-operation for its alleviation. He would willingly forego every pursuit of interest or ambition, if he thought that, by the devotion of his time, he could devise any mode of diminishing the present suffering of the Irish peasantry. In the very valuable Report which had been just laid on the Table, which supplied a rich fund to draw on for future measures adapted for the improvement of Ireland, a distinguished Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, Dr. Doyle, after coinciding with the views he had laid before the House, as to the wretched condition of the Irish peasantry, as to the ills inseparable from the subdivision and subletting of lands, and expressing his conviction that the misery of the people must, under that system, continue to increase, gave his decided approbation to the principle of the Subletting Act; but added, that it should have been accom-
panied by some measure to afford employment or support to the population. He felt deeply the urgent necessity of turning immediate attention to the various proposals which had been made for the employment or support of the Irish poor. From the very moment that the adjustment of that question of paramount importance—the emancipation of the Catholics—left the Irish, without distinction of" sect or party, at liberty to co-operate cordially together—there had been an anxious desire to investigate the state and condition of the poorer classes in Ireland, with a view to ameliorate and relieve their present distress. No man who considered the important and extensive nature of the suggested measures would recommend a precipitate decision, or the adoption of rash or hasty legislative measures in advancing towards that from which, when once reached, no retreat remained. He would encourage the fullest investigation of the merits of all the various measures which had been suggested; but, without undervaluing them, he might be permitted to say, that he looked with great confidence for an amelioration of the condition of the Irish peasantry to the feeling and the disposition which had grown up among the Irish landlords. They had no longer contented themselves with calling on the Government and the Legislature to correct ills which were peculiarly within their own power; they no longer resembled the waggoner whose wheel stuck fast in the rut, and who called on Hercules to extricate it; but aware of the answer which he received, they had altogether put their own shoulders to the wheel, and from their exertions he confidently anticipated an amelioration in the condition of the Irish peasantry. They would, he was persuaded, knit and strengthen those ties which had for a time unfortunately been broken— they would perfect that graduated scale which, in these countries, ought to exist in close and continued contact, from the highest to the lowest, and they would accomplish this, not merely by raising the tenant to meet the landlord, but, when it might be necessary to do so, by the landlord coming down to meet the tenant. In conclusion, he would venture to implore the hon. and learned Member to reconsider this Statute,—to reflect how erroneously the dispossessing of any part of the tenantry had been attributed to it,—to remember that it was introduced into this
House, and supported by some of the best and ablest friends of Ireland, and to believe that it was eminently calculated for the protection and improvement of the Irish peasant. If the result of further consideration should lead the hon. and learned Member to concur in this view of it, he hoped that he would promulgate his altered opinion; by doing so, he would confer a greater benefit on his country than he could ever hope to be able to achieve for it by other means.
Mr. Villiers Stewart
recommended a medium course on this occasion. The law required amendment, but he was against its total repeal. He approved of its principle but some of its details required revision. He conceived that much of the excitement that prevailed in Ireland would be allayed, if this law were not to operate upon leases made prior to its enactment; and it appeared to him, that it was better that the landlord should suffer from the imperfect wording of the old law, than that the tenant should suffer from the ex post facto operation of a new law. So far he agreed with the hon. and learned member for Waterford; he wished also to add, that all lands and tenements situated in towns, ought to be exempted from the operation of the Act. That part of the Act which related to devises should undoubtedly be repealed, and if these points were attended to, he conceived there would be no further objection to which the law could be justly obnoxious. In principle, this Act was perfectly equitable both as regarded landlord and tenant. In the Act itself, he saw little grounds for the clamour which had been raised against it. It. had been described as an act to facilitate the depopulation of Irish estates, a character it by no means deserved. It warned the tenant that he should receive no benefit from the infringement of his contracts, and it did nothing more than enforce the observance of contracts on both the landlord and tenant. The landlord always had a right to eject his tenant if he thought fit, and the alteration made in the law by this Act was beneficial not injurious to the tenant. It certainly prevented subletting, but that was very beneficial, and he had seen many instances of great advantages resulting from the occupier holding directly of the owner of the soil. The system of infinite and complicated distresses in Ireland, arising out of the subdivision of lands, bad been productive of misery, injustice, 398 and outrage, and yet they were called upon to-night to repeal an Act which was framed to put an end to the recurrence of such monstrous evils. If the Subletting Act afforded to the landlords security against fraud; on the part of the tenants, it afforded to the tenants a defence against injustice and extortion.
observed, that the principle of this Act was the protection of the landlord against the frauds of his tenantry, and in his opinion no one had a right to interfere with a landlord in the distribution of his property. This Act enabled landlords to deal with their land, in a manner most advantageous for all parties. He maintained, that the great misery of the tenants was occasioned by the middle-men, who threw all the blame of their own fault on the landlords. He must beg leave of the House to take that opportunity of defending his noble relative (Lord Beresford) and his agent, from the attacks made upon them out of doors by the learned Member opposite.
§ Mr. O'Connell
rose and said, that he could not well agree to the hon. Gentleman's replying to what he had said out of doors, unless he was to be allowed to satisfy the House of the authority upon which he had made his statement.
said, that he could not yield to the learned Gentleman's proposition, and must beg leave of the House to proceed in his statement. [Here the hon. Member read several observations that had been made upon the agent of Lord Beresford by Mr. O'Connell. The substance of them was, that Lord Beresford and his agent had hunted poor people out of their tenements, and had turned their ' holdings' into pasture lands for four-footed animals, to be shipped to England to support his Lordship in greater luxury whilst he was an absentee] He (Colonel Beresford) had authority to deny every particle of that charge. What Lord Beresford's agent had done had been at his own loss. He had let the lands to tenants without distinction of religious or political opinions. His farms averaged from forty to sixty-acres each. Dr. Doyle had borne testimony to the good conduct of this agent; and he could say, that there was not a tenant about to leave the estate who was not two years' rent in arrear.
Mr. A. Dawson, in reply to the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, must remind the House that the Subletting Act
had nothing whatever to do with tenants at the termination of their leases. The evils which it was pretended that the Subletting Act removed could be remedied much better by other means, and particularly by the vigilance and care of landlords. The conduct of landlords, however, was not of any consequence to that House, and it was a breach of all principle for the Legislature to interpose a law between landlords and tenants, and to affect their contracts, unless the case were pointed out by public utility. The less the Legislature interfered between landlord and tenant the better. No necessity for such an interferrence existed, for the wretchedness of the people had no necessary connexion with the subletting of land. It arose from other causes. During the war the barrel of wheat which now sold for 30s. had sold for 5l., and consequently there had been a very great competition for land, which had been let and sublet through many hands. The fall of prices had ruined this latter class of persons, and not the subletting, which was generally the result more of family arrangements and exigencies than of trading in leases. If a farmer's children married, it was natural that he should let them have a portion of the land he held on a beneficial lease. But at all events it was a most glaring violation of principle to pass such a law for Ireland, and not for England. This was dissimilating the laws of the two countries, and the population driven from Ireland by the Subletting Act would naturally come over to England: they would not stop in Ireland to perish. It was not, however, to the policy or impolicy of the law that he would direct his opposition, for he objected to it entirely upon principle. He would remind Gentlemen of what the poet had said upon the subject of the poor man's occupation of land—
A time there was ere England's griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintained its man.''
In his opinion, if every man was put upon his rood of land, no person would be miserable.
The Solicitor General
thought that, standing in his situation, it might be desirable for him to express his sentiments on this law, and in doing so, he could assure the House that he had no other wish than to assimilate, as much as possible, the laws of property in the two countries. It was well known that he had never spared any toil or trouble in his efforts to extend 400 the beneficial laws of England to Ireland. He might advert to one proof—his extension of the Contempt Act to Ireland. He always had felt; and he now entertained the same favourable feelings towards every measure that could tend to the benefitting of Ireland. The hon. and learned member for Waterford must be convinced, even from the full attendance of Members on this occasion, that the House participated in these feelings; and if that hon. Member could make out that the law in its present state really oppressed Ireland, he would be one of the first to exert himself in modifying or changing it. The law appeared to depend upon its general principle, and upon its particular provisions. The learned member for Waterford had taken this arrangement in discussing the measure. In addressing himself to the principal provisions of the law, he had omitted, though he well knew the fact, that it was not, and never had been, the intention of Government to continue the provisions of the law as they now stood. Ministers were desirous of softening the provisions of the law, and to adapt them to those exigencies which could alone justify the continuance of the law at all. He would acknowledge that Government was responsible for continuing the law and that they ought to repeal it if it pressed upon the Irish people. The law, he thought, was founded upon public utility, and nothing but public utility would make him maintain a law which introduced an anomaly into the system of the two countries. But still he must deny that this had ever been a Government measure. The Bill had been proposed and framed by gentlemen of Ireland, who had as much the interest of their country at heart as the hon. and learned member for Waterford; for, whatever were the high pretensions and merits of that hon. Member, he could not possibly wish to be thought of more integrity or benevolence, or to have a greater love towards his country, than those gentlemen of Ireland who had thought, and still did think, well of this law. He (the Solicitor General) always found himself in opposition to the learned member for Waterford, but yet he had never entered into any discussions with him under the influence of personal feelings; and after what had occurred that evening he hoped to witness no more personalities; they would be totally unjustifiable unless new provocations were given, and if provocations were 401 given, he trusted that the House would strongly express its feelings against either party using them. The principle of the Bill was, to prevent the introducing of tenants new to the landlord, and in opposition to his interests, and to the meaning of the lease he had given. He declared he was utterly incapable of conceiving how any question on the words of this law could have arisen, or how it could have the operation assigned to it by the hon. and learned member for Waterford. In the first part of that hon. Gentleman's speech he had said, that the law caused the evils he complained of; but it was utterly impossible that the law should cause any evils of the sort. The law could not turn any man out of that in which he had been in possession when the law was passed. The hon. and learned Member had asked, if persons were removed from an estate, or turned out of possession, where were they to go to? This was a question of a different nature, but there could be no difficulty in answering it. If the Church property, and property held for ninety-nine years, bore such a large proportion to the land of Ireland as the hon. Member asserted, let the people go there. The hon. and learned Member had stated that the first clause of the Act had been construed to have an ex post facto effect. His opinion was totally different on the subject. It had not an ex post facto effect, as all waivers were spoken of as prospective. This was the intention of the Legislature, and the Act had been introduced for this purpose. If there were any ambiguity upon this point, the Government would remove it. Upon the next clause the learned Gentleman had said that a future release would not enable the tenant to alienate, unless the lease expressly gave the power to do so. If this were the case, it was obvious that the effect of the law was only to put the Irish tenant on his guard, and to make him careful to stipulate for the power to sublet. Next the learned Gentleman had said, that the Legislature had taken it out of the power of the landlord to give his consent. It had done no such thing. But the landlord could not distrain if he gave his consent. It ought to be known to all England and Ireland, that this part of the law was one of the greatest boons ever given to a tenantry. If the tenant paid the rent, neither the immediate nor the superior landlord could distrain, and this 402 removed the evil of the middle men. The hon. and learned member for Waterford, appeared to complain, that the expense by which a landlord could eject a tenant, had been reduced by the Subletting Act from 17l. 2s. 6d. to 1l. 2s. 6d., and that the process of dispossession was in this manner rendered more easy to the landlord. But had not landlords rights to be protected as well as tenants? and did the hon. and learned Gentleman wish to enable the latter to set the former at defiance? If the hon. and learned Gentleman were to run the landlord's expense of ejectment up to a large sum—be it 17l. or 70l. or 7001. or 7,000l.— then the landlord's remedy would be destroyed—in point of fact, the tenant would become the landlord, his protection against dispossession being rendered complete. How inconsistent was the hon. and learned Gentleman, who professed a wish to afford cheap law in England at the door of every man's cottage, but was at the same time adverse to the extension of the same principle in Ireland to the landlord. It was the hon. and learned Member who wished for unequal law, and it was he (the Solicitor General) who was friendly to equal laws. Although he would not consent to abandon the right of the landlord, yet would he not sacrifice the poorest and humblest tenant to the most powerful landlord in the country. Equal law, equally administered to rich and poor, was what he wished to promote. Let the poor know that the law was alike accessible to all— that they had rights as well ascertained as those of the greatest landlords—that there would be a fair distribution of privileges among the different classes of society;— let this be the case and let it be universally known, and he felt certain that much dissatisfaction would be removed.
§ Mr. Grattan
complained, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, so far from proposing any Amendment of the Subletting Act, had denominated that measure a boon to the Irish peasantry. He (Mr. Grattan) did not contemplate it in that light, and if the question came to a division (which he rather deprecated), he should certainly support the motion of the hon. and learned member for Waterford. Without going the length of condemning the act in toto, he must be allowed to assert that it required amendment. He believed such to be the conviction of all who had impartially watched its operation. Earl Fitz- 403 William's agent in Wicklow, Mr. Challoner (a gentleman, by the way, who had never turned two tenants off his Lordship's estates), told him (Mr. Grattan) that great difficulties had been experienced under the act, and his own experience fully justified the statement The question was, could a landlord let a farm to a middle-man under this act, and oblige him to turn out the under-tenants—or could he let it to the middle-man, with liberty to sub-let, depriving himself of all remedy against the sub-tenants? Here was one of the main difficulties of the case. He believed that a recurrence to high prices would again produce sub-letting, which the bill was framed to prevent. Since 1823, however, in consequence of the fall of prices, it had been the object of landlords to weed out the sub-tenants from their farms, and he thought it was injudicious to pass an act in 1826, the act in question, which accelerated and aggravated the operation. The disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders had been attended with similar consequences. That strengthened the motives which landlords had for diminishing the number of their tenants, and had deprived a vast portion of the population of subsistence. He was for taking away from the middle-man the power of distress, and would let. that power rest in the hands of the head landlord, a course which he considered preferable to that authorized by the present law. In conclusion, the hon. Gentleman expressed his anxious desire that the subject should be set at rest, and the defects of the existing system as far as possible remedied by an amended bill.
Lord F. L. Gower
thought that it was hardly proper on the present occasion to enter into the details of the bill, for if the House should determine with the hon. member for Waterford against the principle of the measure, it would be unnecessary to discuss the details; and if the House should decide differently, the proper time for discussing them would be when a measure similar to that he had introduced last year, should be introduced by his right hon. and gallant colleague, the present Secretary for Ireland. The reason why he had proposed to amend the bill last Session was to be found in the existence of doubts and ambiguity as to the meaning and effect of the existing law. These doubts he had attempted to remove by a measure which he believed 404 his right hon. colleague intended shortly to revive. One object of any law like the present should be, to enable landlords and tenants mutually to make contracts and enforce them, and no object could be more important. Of course, if the act failed in accomplishing this object, it was useless. He thought there was one evil attaching to the act for which none of them were answerable—the act had been passed fifty years too late; and while, by the lapse of time, it had become more wanted, it, unfortunately, was less efficacious.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
begged leave to state, that it was his intention to-morrow to move for leave to bring in a bill to explain and amend the statute 7 Geo. 4. c. 29., commonly called the sub-letting act. His measure would resemble, as nearly as possible, the bill introduced by his hon. friend (Lord F. L. Gower) last year. A question had been raised as to whether if a lease did not contain a contract against subletting the tenant should be supposed to have violated his agreement by underletting, a part of his holding. As the law stood, if the tenant under-let, even although there was no clause in his lease against sub-letting, he was held to have violated his contract. This was the case in Ireland, but it was not the law in England. Was it fair that such a distinction should exist? Generally speaking, a tenant was less instructed than his landlord, who had more power and information to enforce his wishes, and should specify them. It would be for the House to remedy the defect in the existing law if it should think proper. It would be extremely desirable that individuals ejected by the present law should be enabled to find employment and subsistence elsewhere, and not be encouraged to flock into towns, where they presented objects of distress and misery. It was possible when the result of the committee on the state of the poor in Ireland came before the House, that means might be discovered of employing the industrious classes, or affording relief by emigration and other measures. The hon. member for Water-ford was in the habit when in Ireland of attributing all the evils that afflicted the country to the sub-letting act. He was glad that the hon. Member did not attempt to press the point in that manner in the House. If he had he could have been immediately refuted. In the report of 405 the committee of which the hon. member for Limerick was chairman, to inquire into the propriety of giving poor-laws to Ire-land, it was distinctly stated by Dr. Doyle and others, that it was not to the sub-letting act that the miseries of the peasantry were to be attributed. He would beg leave to quote a brief passage of the report: "After the peace, the great decline of agricultural produce prevented many of the middle-men from paying their rents, and a general impression was produced in the minds of all persons that a pauper population spread over the country would go on increasing, and the value of the land, at the same time, diminishing, till the produce would become insufficient to maintain the resident population. The evils became so obvious," continues Dr. Doyle, "that the proprietors thought some remedy ought to be applied; and they did accordingly apply remedies, of the principle of which I highly approve." For his own part he was of opinion that the principle of the sub-letting act was a most useful one for Ireland. The difficulty was, what to do with the individuals who might be ousted under the act. For this difficulty he trusted a remedy might be provided. It afforded him great pleasure to be able to say, that Ireland was in a state of improvement—that commerce and steam navigation were gradually operating to ameliorate the condition of the people, who were better clad than formerly—that more wheaten bread was consumed—and that crime had diminished. There was the best evidence to show, that Ireland was in a progressive state—indeed, that she was advancing faster than Scotland, or even England at former periods. With respect to the motion of the hon. member for Waterford, (to which he could not of course assent), he entertained no doubt that many of his objections would be obviated in the committee upon the bill, which he should ask leave to introduce to-morrow.
§ Mr. Wyse
had heard with pleasure the intention expressed by the right hon. and gallant Secretary to introduce a measure for the amendment of an act which, whatever were its merits, or demerits, had produced a vast deal of dissatisfaction in Ireland. He would not go into the legal question involved in the bill, but as a representative of an Irish county, and being sensible how much the sub-letting act affected the agricultural population of 406 Ireland, he felt, that he should be guilty of a dereliction of his duty if he did not express his opinion on the subject. The whole of the discussion appeared to be simply this—whether the old bill should be amended as proposed by the right hon. Secretary, or whether it should be thrown aside and a new bill substituted, in accordance with the motion of the hon. member for Waterford. As he was for simplicity in legislation, he felt disposed to follow the second plan. It having been assumed or ascertained that great inconvenience was experienced in Ireland from the minute sub-division of land, the sub-letting act was adopted—a bill which could not be carried into effect without the expulsion of a part of the population from their holdings. Sure he was, that the measure was not adopted, as had been injudiciously and falsely said, for the purpose of giving power to one class of citizens over another, not to arm landlords against tenants; the Legislature had in view to check the growth of the superabundant population of the country—superabundant in reference to the resources of the State that were brought into action. The question with every good government was, how best to raise the amount of capital in due proportion with the amount of population; and if a government were wise and powerful, and identified with the interests of the people, it would not be long till it discovered the means of effecting this object: but if a government were imbecile, dishonest, and disposed to palter with the happiness of the nation, it would more easily find means to reduce population to the level of capital than, to raise the latter in proportion to the growth of population. He did not say that such was the object of the sub-letting act. The object of that act was to prevent the minute sub-division of land. Now he was not one of those who praised small or large farms abstractedly considered: the advantage of small or large farms depended upon various considerations. The present law saw in the middle-man principally the cause of all the disasters of Ireland. But the middleman was not always mischievous. Ireland was at one period in a situation to require middle-men. She was in the situation of a conquered country, with absentee proprietors, and gladly availed herself of a class of men to take their places. The middle-man of that day constituted the only link between the two orders of the 407 State—almost the only link between the two countries. But another class of middle-men was generated by the high war-price of corn, and the result was too great a division of land in Ireland, and too high a price for land. When the war ceased, prices fell, and the alteration from a state of war with high prices, to a state of peace with low prices, was accompanied by great inconveniences. A similar effect was produced in Scotland after the Union, according to Fletcher of Saltoun, in England in the reigns of James and Elizabeth, and might be now observed in Westphalia. He did not maintain that the sub-letting act had produced all the evil, but he was of opinion that it had caused a considerable part of it, especially as no reservoir was provided for the people ejected in consequence of it. The evil, however occasioned, still stared the Legislature in the face, and would continue to do so till some effectual means of amelioration were adopted. He strongly recommended the right hon. and gallant Secretary not to bring in the bill of which he had given notice unaccompanied by some of the other great measures of amelioration to which he had alluded. As to emigration, he did not approve of it as a remedial measure. He did not like to send away a portion of our population which, judiciously treated at home, might add to instead of diminishing our resources. He did not like to dismiss them to some distant colony, where they might eventually turn and sting us, as was the case with America, He disapproved of sending away the flower of our population—the muscle and mind of the whole—leaving behind the lees and dregs of the lower orders of the community. If asked for his remedial measures, he answered, he would remove the impediments of commerce—for instance, he would set free the coal trade, he would break down all monopolies, whether of grand juries or corporations, which would give an impulse to industry and enterprise, and that he would enforce by loans and other salutary means.
Sir J. Bourke
thought that the Subletting Act tended to prevent the improvement of waste lands in Ireland; because in cases where large portions of bog and other waste land were held by an individual, the immediate tenant was restricted from underletting parts of those wastes to persons who, if they could obtain posses- 408 sion of them in moderate quantities, would undertake to reclaim them. He therefore thought the present Act injurious in its effects, however good were the intentions of its framers. He should be happy to give his assistance to the right hon. Secretary for Ireland in his endeavours to amend the bill, provided the motion of the hon. and learned member for Waterford were lost, though, in the first instance, he should certainly vote for that.
said, he should vote against the motion of the hon. member for Water-ford, not that he approved of the Subletting Act, which, he must say, was very unpopular in Ireland, but because, after the statement of the right hon. Secretary, he thought it his duty to wait for the amended bill.
§ Mr. Ruthven
expressed his satisfaction at what had been said by the Secretary for Ireland, of his intention to introduce a bill to amend this Act, which had already produced so much mischief; but, at the same time as he highly disapproved of the Subletting Act, which was a restriction both on landlords and tenants, he would vote for the motion of the hon. member for Waterford.
§ Mr. O'Connell, in reply, said, that in the speech to which the hon. Member (Colonel Beresford) referred, he had not used the words attributed to him. The speech was taken by the reporters, who attended in the open air, and without any accommodations, hence it was very inaccurately given. He had said nothing whatever which he was not prepared by documents to prove. With respect to the Motion before the House, one thing at least would give satisfaction to the people of Ireland; namely, the very patient attention with which it was discussed by the House. Another source of satisfaction to them would be found in the professions of hon. Members, of good dispositions to that country. He feared, however, that many of them would be found to be only professions. The rejection of his Motion would, on the other hand, produce great dissatisfaction, as the feeling was universal in the country against the Subletting Act. The hon. and learned Solicitor General, in opposing this Motion, had said, that the time was not yet arrived in Ireland when the occupiers of the soil were to become the masters of its owners. It was true it was not, and not likely to be; but in England something like this seemed not far distant, for in some counties, not 409 far from London, some of the labourers seemed to be disposed to dictate to the land-owners the rates at which they ought to hold their lands. The hon. and learned Member concluded by saying, that whatever might be the fate of his Motion, he had the satisfaction of having done his duty.
§ The House divided—For the Motion 24; Against it 150—Majority 126.
|List of the Minority.|
|Brabazon, Lord||Leader, N. P.|
|Brown, Hon. Wm.||Lambert, J. S.|
|Bourke, Sir J.||Macnamara, Major|
|Bunbury, Sir Henry E.||Osborne, Lord Fran.|
|Dawson, Alex.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|Denman, Thos.||O'Tarrell, Moor|
|Fitzgibbon, Colonel||O'Connor, Don|
|Grattan, James||O'Grady, Colonel|
|Howard, Ralph||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Howard, Philip||Wyse, Thos.|
|Jephson, C. D. O.||TELLERS.|
|Johnson, Jas.||Hume, Joseph|
|Killeen, Lord||O'Connell, Daniel|