HC Deb 06 February 1844 vol 72 cc326-30

On the main question being again put,

Mr. Wakley

said, that he had a question to put to the right hon. Baronet, the First Lord of the Treasury, respecting the Landlord and Tenant Commission. It was not his object to enter into any remarks upon the general question of the subject into which the Commission was constituted to inquire, but he wished to put the question of which he had given notice, observing that the House had been on a late occasion somewhat startled on hearing the right hon. Baronet observe, that the Commission was entirely composed of Irish landlords. The other statements made by the right hon. Baronet, were gratifying. The means which he stated had been submitted to the disposal of the Commission for the due accomplishment of their object, as well as what had been stated with reference to the appointment of a secretary, were all gratifying; but he did believe that it was impossible that the Commission could accomplish its object if it consisted merely of proprietors of land in Ireland. The discussion which had lately taken place with respect to the appointment of gentlemen on the railway committee, who were either railway directors or proprietors, had shown clearly, that the sense of the House was against submitting to any investigation carried on by persons themselves interested parties. He did not for a moment mean to deny, that the Gentlemen constituting the Commission were men of the highest character, and most scrupulous honour; he did not so far cast any reproach upon the constitution of the Commission; but if the investigation was to accomplish its object, and if it was to satisfy the public, and particularly the aggrieved party, it should consist of tenants as well as landlords; and he was sure, that in this House, where there were so many farmers' friends, if the matter was put to the vote, the landlords would not vote against adding tenants to the Commission. The complaint was, that the grievances were inflicted by the landlords—there were very few complaints against the tenants. Now, if it was true, that the landlords were the aggressors, he would ask, if it appeared sound in principle that they should select from that class those who were to constitute the Commission? He could not believe that it was proper to adopt such a method, and he hoped that the right hon. Baronet opposite would have no objection to introduce the names of some tenants into the Commission. An Irish Member had remarked to him that he did not know any tenants who were competent to aid in the inquiry. If this were true, it was certainly a most extraordinary fact. For, himself, he could not believe the statement; but if it were actually correct there would, he thought, be no difficulty in finding plenty of tenants in this country who would be able and willing to aid in the investigation. Let it be recollected that it was the tenant who was the persecuted party—the oppressed individual—he who expended labour and skill and anxiety—it was upon him that the burden chiefly fell, and the public would not be satisfied with the investigations of the Commission as now constituted. He trusted, that there would be no objection to the adoption of his proposal.

Sir R. Peel

said, that there was one of the proposals of the hon. Gentleman which he certainly could not adopt—that of placing English tenantry in the Landlord and Tenant Commission for Ireland. If he entertained such a proposal he must as- sume that he could find no occupying tenants in Ireland capable of taking a part in the inquiry. Now, if he had taken that course, he could anticipate the observations which would have been made upon the proceedings of the Government—the charges which would have been levelled against them of an intention to insult Ireland. He certainly did not agree with the Irish Member alluded to by the hon. Member; but he very much doubted whether, by selecting Irish tenants as members of the Commission, they would be adding much to the benefit of the great body of small tenure holders of the country. The question was, of whom the Commission was composed, and what was the disposition which they had shown? It was not his fault that there were not some names on the Commission of gentlemen who were the greatest ornaments to the peculiar classes to which they belonged. The first person he applied to to be a member of the Commission was Mr. More O'Ferrall. Now, why did he select that hon. Gentleman? Not on account of his great knowledge of the subject, but on account of the sympathy which he had so often manifested with the occupying tenantry. To show how little they had been disposed to mix up with the subject, the question of religious differences, he had also applied to Sir Patrick Bellew to be a member of the Commission. He wished to make the House aware of the animus of Government in appointing the Commission, for upon the character of the gentlemen composing it, on the manner in which they had been in the habit of managing their estates, on the estimation in which they were held by, and the sympathy which they had shown to the occupying tenants, would depend the claims to public confidence of the Commission, and not upon the particular classes from which the gentlemen composing it were taken. The commissioners had addressed themselves to the Poor-law guardians in every union throughout Ireland. These guardians were the representatives of the tenants, and the Commission would be disposed to listen fully and attentively to their evidence. The Commission had met with a cordial response from these guardians, and, therefore, the occupying tenants of all classes would have full opportunity of stating their cases to the Commission, while the character of the gentlemen composing it was a sufficient guarantee that their representations would be in every respect attended to. The Commission had to present to the House a report, and also the evidence upon which that report would be founded. They had shown the most anxious desire to make both as comprehensive as possible. If he thought it would add to public confidence in the Commission, he would willingly accede to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, but he did not believe that such would be the case; and he hoped that the public in general would not be of opinion, that it would be a wise action to alter the constitution of the Commission.

Mr. Sharman Crawford

wished to state, without casting any imputation upon the Commission, that there was a general feeling in Ireland of dissatisfaction that the Commission was wholly composed of landlords. People would have greater confidence in the decision of the Commission, if some other persons than landlords were members of it. The object of the Commission was to inquire into how the interests of holders of small tenures could be best secured. Now, the larger tenant was competent to take care of himself; and he felt bound to say that there was no description of persons by whom the smaller tenants were more oppressed than by large holders or middle men. Although he was not disposed to acquit the landlord of all blame, by that class of middle men were the small tenants most oppressed; and, therefore, it would not be any protection to the great mass of the small farmers, to place middle men or large holders upon the Commission; but he did contend that it would be desirable that there should be one or two men of high character, who were neither landlords or tenants, but who, without being either, would take an interest in the investigation, and suggest such a Course of inquiry as might be most advantageous for the elucidation of the objects of the inquiry.