HC Deb 10 March 1836 vol 32 cc183-9
Mr. Sharman Crawford

rose, to move for leave to bring in his Bill for the Amendment of the Law of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland, The hon. Member presented Petitions from several places in favour of the proposed measure. He had other Petitions, he said, which he should present on a future day. He was at a loss to know how he should proceed in submitting this Question to the consideration of the House at that late hour. He felt he should not do justice to the cause without stating the grounds on which he demanded their assent to the measure he proposed, He felt he could not ask the sanction of the House, with propriety, to that measure, without bringing before them the condition of the Irish peasantry, which rendered such a measure necessary; but, at the same time, he did not wonder the House should be reluctant to hear any lengthened details at that late hour. He would, therefore, submit to their pleasure, whether he should proceed or not. He stood before them to call the attention of the House to a subject to which it had not before been specially directed. He pleaded the cause of the wretched and starving rack-renters of Ireland—of the occupiers and cultivators of the soil, spread over a great portion of the area of that country. He would not detain the House at that hour by a detailed description of their condition—he would merely glance at it. If those circumstances were viewed which denote the condition of any peasantry, their wretchedness would be easily demonstrated. Look to their habitations, and they would be found unfit for human beings—their lands in the most deficient state of cultivation—exhausted and unproductive, from the want of manure, which it was impossible for them to supply, their poverty not permitting them to keep live stock of any description—their clothing unfit to protect them from the inclemency of the weather—willing to work, at the same time destitute of employment, whilst in the most distressed districts, thousands of acres of land, easily reclaim-able, and of the most productive nature, were lying waste and unproductive. What was the cause of all this misery, he asked? He answered, unhesitatingly, the disorganised state of the relationship between landlord and tenant. When we look to the state of that relationship, what do we find? A rack-rent was extorted from the poor tenant, who, from the necessity to have land or starve, was not a free agent in his bargain; a rent which was not only beyond the fair value of the land, but, in many cases, beyond the whole value of the produce of the land—let as it was, without any buildings or improvements made by the landlord, and the tenant having no means to provide these accommodations, except in so far as he could attain them by the sweat of his brow, and the profits of his labour. The tenant was then always in debt, was at all times liable to distresses and ejectments, and was frequently dispossessed, without the smallest compensation for the fruits of his labour, even where that had been productive in the creation of real improvements. Thus he was turned out in perfect destitution, and must either starve or subsist himself by begging or plundering, and thus outrage and violence is created, and the people desire to obtain that redress by their own power, which the laws, or the justice, or even the compassion of the landlords, or their agents deny them. In giving this description, he must be understood as speaking of the most distressed districts. He admitted that there were districts of Ireland which did not come under this description. He especially referred to the province of Ulster; but what was the cause that Ulster was more prosperous than other portions of Ireland? Because the landlords and the occupiers of the soil had a community of interests and a community of feeling. In the troubles of Ireland, the lands of Ulster were not only forfeited, but were colonised. Landlord and tenant came together, and brought with them common feelings of attachment. But in the other parts of Ireland, a new set of proprietors was set over a people whom they despised, whom they considered conquered slaves, and whom it was their object and desire to | keep in degradation of mind and body. This was the cause why Ulster preceded the other parts of Ireland in prosperity and improvement, and confirmed the proposition he started with, that the evils and miseries of the people of Ireland were chiefly attributable to the disordered relationship between the landlord and ten-ant. A reference to all the Reports which had been made at different times to the Lords and Commons would confirm those statements, He would read an Extract from the Report of the Lords' Committee in 1825, which proceeded from a most impartial witness, and one whose testimony would probably make more impression than any thing he could say. It was the examination of Mr. Nimmo, and to be found at pp. 165, 779, and was as follows: —"State your opinion of the state and condition of the peasantry of Ireland?—I conceive the peasantry of Ireland to be, in general, in almost the lowest possible state of existence; their cabins are in the most miserable condition, and their food potatoes, with water, frequently without even salt; and I have frequently met persons that begged of me, on their knees, for the love of God, to give them some promise of employment, that from the credit of that, they might get means of support. To what cuases do you principally attribute this state?—It is unquestionable that the great cause of the miserable condition and disturbances is the management of the land. There is no means of employment, nor no certainty that the peasant has of existence for another year, or even for another day, but by getting possession of a portion of land, on which he can plant potatoes; and in consequence of the increase of population, the competition for land has attained an appearance of something like the competition for provisions in a besieged town, or in a ship that is out at sea; and as there is no check to the demand which may be made by those who possess the land, it has risen to prices far beyond what it is possible for the poor tenants to extract from it in the way in which they cultivate it, and the landlord has, in the eyes of the peasant, the right to take from him, in a summary way, every thing he has, if he is unable to execute those covenants which he was obliged to enter into from the dread of starvation." Mr. Nimmo stated the practice of distress as the usual expedient to enforce the demands of the landlord. He stated the nature of the term: Irish tenants being always allowed to be from half a year to a year in arrear, the landlord, therefore, could always drive; and this power was applied for all purposes. For example, he said—"I want the people to work for 8d.; they demand l0d. I complain to the landlord, whose interest it is that the work should go on, that the wages might go to the payment of his own rent, and he forces them under the threat of distress. And in like manner I have known notices sent to prevent them working for me." Being asked could he prove this, he said he had written documents that would authenticate all he stated. It occurred both in Kerry and Mayo. "Was it because the people were unwilling to work at all that compulsion was resorted to?—No, it proceeded from a desire to obtain better wages. Do you attribute the distressed state of Ireland to the power which resides in the landlords, and to its abuse? I conceive there is no check to that power; it appears to me that, under colour of law, the landlord may convert that power to any purpose he pleases; the consequence is, that when he wishes he can extract from the peasant every shilling beyond bare existence which can be produced by him from the land. The lower order of peasantry can thus never acquire anything like property; and the landlord, at the least reverse of prices, has it in his power, and does seize his cow, bed, potatoes in the ground, and everything he has, and can dispose of the property at any price." He was prepared to make various other references—to bring before the House at large the arguments in support of the measure he proposed. But, as it was unreasonable to detain the House at that very late hour, he would simply state that his object was to give the tenant some remedy—some means of obtaining compensation for the fruits of his toil and labour, in case of his being ejected from the soil on which he had expended it. He had brought in a Bill last Session with this object; it was read a first time, and printed; but, in consequence of the various important measures under discussion, he refrained from pressing it forward to a farther discussion. That Bill having been in the hands of Members, he should only at present state some alterations which he proposed. Various objections had been made, and he endeavoured, as far as possible, to meet those objections. He proposed, that with reference to all improvements to be made after the passing of this Act, a notice should be served on the landlord, specifying the nature, extent, and expense of such buildings or improvements; that this notice should be registered in a parochial registry, to be kept for the purpose; that the landlord's assent or dissent should also be registered, that compensation should not be given beyond the landlord's consent, except for improvements of a description such as were necessary, and reasonably suitable to the tenant's wants—this point to be decided upon evidence. He was aware many persons differed from him on this part of the subject, but he was of opinion no landlord should be permitted to impede the tenant in improvement of this description—where an actual increase of real value was proved. In such cases, the compensation to be confined to a certain proportion of this increased value, which should not be exceeded. Under these circumstances it was impossible the original value of the fee could be encroached on. He proposed, also, that a certain number of competent valuators should be appointed in every county by the Magistrates and Cess-payers at Sessions, and that out of the persons so appointed, five valuators or arbitrators should be ballotted for in each case. That all decisions should take place before the assistant-barrister at the quarter sessions. That tenants desiring to claim compensation for improvements heretofore made on leases now in existence, and which should expire at the passing of this Act, might forthwith register the same (within a time to be limited.) No claim admissible except for building or improvements of the last-mentioned description. Claims for compensation to be made in cases of ejectment. An agreement for a new lease, or to continue in possession, to be a full acquittance of all claims. He proposed to add clauses to empower the landlord to claim compensation by the same course of proceedings for any act of the tenant which might deteriorate the value, by exhaustion of the land, improper subdivisions, &c. &c. Also to add a clause enabling owners of estates seized in fee-tail, or for life, to make improvements, and charge the amount, to a limited extent, on the estate, on the principle of the Scotch Act for the relief of the heirs of entail in that country. Also to extend the provisions of the Acts of the 21st and 22d of Geo. 3rd ch. 37th, and 25th of Geo. 3rd ch. 35, which permitted persons holding estates in fee-tail, with remainder to their issue, to grant land for building stores in certain counties in Ireland. He proposed to extend this power to lands for buildings erected on the falls of rivers containing machinery of any description. He would not longer trespass on the attention of the House, and would simply move for leave to bring in a Bill for the improvement of the law of landlord and tenant in Ireland.

Colonel Conolly

thought, that as this Bill was thrown out last Session, he was perfectly justified even in that stage in giving it his opposition. The Bill of last year proposed an interference between landlord and tenant, which was altogether unprecedented and unjustifiable.

Lord Morpeth

observed, that the gallant Officer was in error in supposing that the Bill of his hon. Friend had been thrown out last Session. His hon. Friend obtained leave to bring it in, but did not press the measure. He agreed with his hon. Friend in the principle of a measure for placing the landlord and tenant in Ireland on a more just footing; but he also agreed with the gallant Officer that there was much difficulty in the application of a remedy to the evil complained of.— However, as his hon. Friend had last year obtained leave to bring in a Bill on this subject, he was quite willing that the House should now have an opportunity both of discussing the principle of such a measure, and of considering the alterations which his hon. Friend proposed making in the provisions of the Bill of last Session.

Mr. Shaw

would not, as he was conscious of the laudable industry and perseverance which the hon. Member (Mr. S. Crawford) had displayed in regard to this measure, oppose the introduction of such a Bill, however unwilling he was to promise it his support.

Colonel Perceval

regarded the measure as a monstrous interference between landlord and tenant; and should it proceed to a second stage, if, for no other reason than that he might gain over to it the opposition of the representatives of those countries, would move its extension to England and Scotland. His knowledge of the condition of Ireland so fully assured him it was calculated to do much mischief, without producing any counteracting advantage, that he did not hesitate to take upon himself the unpopularity of opposing the measure in limine.

Mr. Finn

felt strongly that it would be a great blessing to Ireland to excite a better feeling and better understanding between landlord and tenant, and would willingly support any measure tending to effect that object. He owned he apprehended much difficulty attended the question under consideration, but even though he entertained a fear that the proposed measure was not calculated to meet that difficulty, he did not feel justified in opposing its production.

Mr. Lefroy

felt assured the Bill could not advance a step beyond the first stage; and with a view of saving the time of the House, he would oppose even its introduction. Should leave be given to bring it in, he confidently expected that the Attorney-General for England, and the Lord Advocate of Scotland, would feel themselves called upon to resist its farther progress.

The Attorney-General

observed, that when the Bill was brought in he would give it his best consideration, and should he then find it a good measure, he certainly should have no hesitation in proposing its extension to England or Scotland.

Mr. Poulett Scrope

thought it should be recollected that the poorer classes of Ireland were much worse used than those of England or Scotland, and that there was considerably more necessity for legislation, as regarded them, in the former than in the latter countries. If with no other view than to bring clearly before the House the relative position of landlord and tenant in Ireland, he would support the introduction of the measure.

Mr. W. S. O'Brien

thought it at all events the duty of the House to receive the Bill, even though, at a subsequent stage, it might be thought necessary to reject or alter it.

Leave given to bring in the Bill.