HC Deb 07 April 1848 vol 98 cc59-69

SIR W. SOMERVILLE said, in moving that the Bill be read a Second Time, it was not his intention to make any observations. If the House allowed it to be read a second time, it was his intention, in accordance with a very generally expressed wish on the part of the Irish Members, to propose that it be referred to a Select Committee.

MR. OSBORNE wished to say a few words on the Bill before it was read a second time. A Bill had already been brought in, which he must guard himself by saying that he only voted for on the understanding that he should have an unfettered discretion in discussing the clauses in the Committee; and he believed that many other Members had only voted for it with the same intention. No Bill connected with Ireland had ever been looked for with greater anxiety than that for the improvement of the relations between landlord and tenant. It had been well remarked, that the subject was surrounded with difficulties. A measure more calculated to involve Ireland in the meshes of the law—more calculated to create discontent amongst both landlords and tenants, had never been introduced by Her Majesty's Government. What was required in Ireland was a measure to facilitate a free sale in the article of land. The Government should bring in a Bill to allow entailed estates to be sold, and to give security to titles. What was wanted in Ireland was not so much political reform as social regeneration; and unless the Government were prepared to bring in a Bill to "loosen" the land, all their present measures would be labour in vain.

MR. SADLIER said, there were two or three classes of landlords in Ireland. There were those who held by inheritance—a small number probably, not more than 8,000; and amongst those the griping, grinding landlord was the exception and not the rule. Another body, and a much more numerous one, were those who derived their interest under leases for lives renewable for ever; and amongst those the tyrannical landlord was the exception and not the rule. Then there were the middlemen, who held a very precarious tenure; and they were the worst class. He feared that the majority of that class of landlords known in Ireland as middlemen were highly objectionable, and that their example was such as could not, with safety or propriety, be followed. With respect to the Bill now under consideration, he would observe, that he thought it was highly desirable that a special instruction should be given to the Select Committee to whom it was to be referred to consider whether it was not possible to entirely do away with the statutory enactments which at present regulated the relation of landlord and tenant in Ireland, and to substitute in their place a speedy, simple, and economical system, whereby the right of the landlord to the possession of the land, and to the rent which the tenant had contracted to pay him, should be declared and secured.

MR. MONSELL: The Bill having failed in its present state to give satisfaction to any class in Ireland, it was right that the Irish people should be given to understand that the House, in now acceding to the proposal that it be read a second time, did not mean thereby to express their approval of the measure. He, for one, did not hesitate to say that his only reason for consenting to the second reading was, that it was intended to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, by whom, he hoped that it would be so completely altered that its parents should not be able to recognise it when it again made its appearance in that House.

The EARL of LINCOLN did not mean at that moment to enter into any discussion on the details of the Bill. If the Bill had been proposed for second reading on the customary understanding that its provisions should be subsequently considered in a Committee of the whole House, he should have offered some remarks on it, and pointed out in what respects he believed it to be impracticable, and in what respects inexpedient. However, the proposal which had now emanated front the Government, that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee—a proposal which he believed to be nothing more nor less than a contrivance for decently interring the measure— superseded the necessity of indulging in any such line of observation. He did not pretend to any singular gift of prophecy, but he nevertheless would not hesitate to predict that, if the Bill, with all its various provisions, were referred, as proposed, to a Select Committee, it would never again return to the House of Commons. He felt bound to protest against the course taken by the Government with respect to this question. The Government were not acting fairly by that House or by Ireland in the course they were adopting. He did not know, whether they were acting in conformity with the suggestions of Irish Members; but be that as it might, it was, at all events, certain that they were not doing justice to the vast importance of the question at issue, by referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The proceeding, however, was in strict conformity with the policy theretofore adopted by the Government, who seemed determined to abdicate the functions of their office, and to deliver over all necessary measures of legislation to a body of some fifteen or sixteen Gentlemen. Already the Bank Charter Act, the Estimates, the Budget, and the management of one entire department of the Government, had been referred to Select Committees; and now, because another Government measure affecting a question which had been for years before the House had been disapproved of by all parties, the suggestion was, not to withdraw the obnoxious Bill, but to refer it to a Select Committee. Did the Government intend to adhere to the Bill, or did they not? If they had arrived at the conclusion that it was impracticable, impolitic, and not suited to its purpose, it was due to the House—it was due to Ireland—it was due to the great importance of the question involved—that they should withdraw the measure altogether, and either totally abandon the idea of legislating on the subject, or endeavour to legislate in a new spirit, and according to a new form. If, on the other hand, Government was resolved to persevere with the Bill, being convinced that its provisions were salutary, and that it was in all respects suited to its purpose, instead of sending it to a Select Committee, they ought, according to customary form, to submit it to the consideration of a Committee of the whole House, before whom they ought to maintain its provisions seriatim. It would be in the recollection of the House, how often taunts were thrown out against the Government, of which he had had the honour of being a Member, that they vacillated and hesitated with respect to this question, because the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had been of opinion that it was right to appoint a Commission of five practical and able Irish Gentlemen to inquire into the matter, and to report to that House. They were told that there was no necessity for that Commission, for that the question was quite ripe for legislation. The Commission, however, was appointed. It reported, and as soon as was practicable after the presentation of its report, a measure was brought in by the Government of that day to improve the relation of landlord and tenant in Ireland. That Bill, which was unfortunately laid upon the table of the other House at so late a period that it was not found practicable to proceed with it, was transferred to the new Government, who withdrew it. The whole of last Session had passed away without any legislation on so vital a question having been attempted. The present Government had now been two years in office. They had had ample opportunity of leisure to consider the subject, and to mature their legislation, and the time had now most assuredly arrived when they should either maintain the measure they had introduced, or notify their intention of altogether abandoning the idea of legislating on the matter.

SIR G. GREY: Nobody ought to be a better authority on the difficulty of legislating on such a subject as the present than the noble Lord. He had referred to the Commission which had been appointed by the Government, of which he was himself a Member, to inquire into the whole question of landlord and tenant in Ireland; but the noble Lord should forgive him for expressing a doubt whether, however honest might have been the intention of those who proposed that Commission, any beneficial result whatever had followed from it. All that it appeared to have done was to accumulate and lay before the House a mass of conflicting evidence, which tended rather to bewilder than enlighten those who directed their attention to the subject. The noble Lord had stated, that no sooner was the report of the Commission before Parliament, than with a remarkable promptitude, which he contrasted invidiously with the tardiness of the present Government, there was laid upon the table of the other House a Bill, with respect to which all be could say was, that being presented at a late period of the Session there was not time to consider its provisions. The Bill in question was not presented at so late a period as the noble Lord seemed to imagine; but the fact was, that it had to encounter so decisive an opposition from all sides of the House of Lords, that it became evident to the Government that their only prospect—he would not say of "decently interring the measure," but of disposing of it—was to do what he now condemned the present Government for doing, namely, to refer it to a Select Committee. To a Select Committee it was accordingly referred, and that Committee did most, effectively perform the duty of an undertaker with respect to it; for from that day to this it had never once made its appearance in that House. [Mr. B. OSBORNE: That was Lord Stanley's Bill.] It was Lord Stanley's Bill; but the noble Lord (Lord Lincoln) was the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests in the same Government with Lord Stanley; and when the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Osborne) came to be in a Government, he would find that every Member of the Administration was held responsible for measures introduced under their sanction. He did not impute to the noble Lord an intentional mis-statement of the circumstances to which he had referred, but he thought the noble Lord must have forgotten the circumstances of the case. He knew that the noble Lord was animated by the most friendly feelings towards Ireland, and he was no doubt anxious to promote a really beneficial measure for that country; but, perhaps, he might be permitted to say that the Bill which the late Government brought in the year they left office contained all the clauses which were to be found in the present Bill with regard to arbitration and notices, and all the complicated machinery that constituted the main objections to the present measure. He admitted that there were objections to the Bill, and they were such as he should gladly see avoided. The Bill had undergone the best consideration that could be given to it; but he was perfectly prepared to admit that great difficulties lay in the way of a thorough adjustment of the question. The Government had not adopted the measure till after communications with persons in Ireland best acquainted with the subject, and their advice taken as to what would be most conducive to the object sought to be attained. It was proper, also, he should state that the Lord Lieutenant had expressed an earnest desire that the Bill should be considered by a Select Committee; and it was known to the House that in making the proposal that it be sent to a Committee, the Government were consulting the wishes of the Irish Members. He hoped there was no danger of its being "decently interred" by that Committee, but that it would receive such amendment as would make it acceptable to the House. If the Bill, however, was thought by the Irish Members to be one not suited to the circumstances of the country, the Government would not force it upon them; and but for the wish expressed by them he would have been ready to discuss the Bill on its second reading now, instead of sending it to a Select Committee upstairs.

COLONEL DUNNE said, if there was any fault in recommending that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, he shared in it. This was the recommendation of other Irish Members, and of a deputation sent from Ireland. If the Government, therefore, had taken a blameable course, the majority of the Irish Members partook of the blame. He knew it would be a difficult subject for a Committee.

CAPTAIN JONES said, the right hon. Baronet had admitted the objection he entertained to the Bill, namely, as to its machinery, which would involve parties in endless litigation.

SIR W. VERNER was so convinced that the would not come out of the Committee so deprived of its objectionable parts as to be satisfactory to the people of Ireland, that he should move that it be read a second time that day six months.

MR. KEOGH seconded this Amend- ment. When the Bill was introduced to the House, it was extraordinary that the right hon. Baronet did not express an opinion favourable to the principle of the measure; he plunged at once into the details, but did not say he considered it suited to the emergencies of Ireland. He (Mr. Keogh) thought the Bill, by its machinery, was calculated to inflict upon the country a great amount of evil, and it was because he considered that it would cause so much litigation that he opposed the Bill. He did not think it was dealing fairly to refer the Bill to a Committee. The Bill to which the noble Lord (the Earl of Lincoln) alluded was not referred to a Select Committee. That Bill was proceeded with as far as the noble Lord could; but the present Government did not consider it expedient to go on with that Bill, and promised to introduce another. The hon. Member for Rochdale then introduced his Bill; but the Government said they would bring in a Bill. Two years had passed, and now, at this period of the Session, having promised at the commencement that remedial measures for Ireland should be proposed, and that a Landlord and Tenant Bill should be one, the House was now told that this Bill was similar in principle to the Bill of the noble Lord, and that the Government could do nothing more than refer it to a Select Committee. [Sir G. GREY: That was at the request of the Members for Ireland.] He was sorry that the right hon. Baronet had been led to misapprehend what he had said. He wished it to be understood that, as an Irish Member, he knew of no such representations as had that night been made; he knew of no one entitled to represent himself as representing the Irish Members in that House; but, of course, every Irish representative was entitled to communicate his impression of the state of opinion in the part of the United Kingdom which sent him to that House. Now, he did not believe that the people of Ireland had the least wish for any Bill of this kind. As to sending it before a Select Committee, he saw no reason for taking any such course as that; and he did not doubt that its effect would be to defeat the measure wholly. He could not help remarking, that he had heard no proposition for reading the Bill a second time in the usual way, with a view to its being considered by a Committee of the whole House; and though he was but little acquainted with the forms or the practice of that House, it did strike his mind as extraordinary, that the Chief Secretary for Ireland should lay a Bill upon the table of that House without making any remark whatever. As the House had heard nothing from that right hon. Baronet on the subject, it could not be expected that other Members of that House would be prepared to go into the details of the measure; but whenever the Bill came to be fairly and fully discussed, he should be prepared to show that it was vicious in principle, and so impracticable in its details, that he did not believe it could ever be practically carried out. There was scarcely any intelligent or dispassionate person from one end of the kingdom to the other who did not join in condemning the Bill. The House should remember that this Bill was opposed to the opinions of the men of the north—the most industrious and the most prosperous portion of Ireland; and he would add, too, the most loyal and the most attached to British connexion—men more ready to act than to talk. He again protested against the measure, saying that he should not discharge the duty that he owed to his constituents if he did not thus emphatically oppose the proposed Bill.

MR. MORGAN J. O'CONNELL said, that the speech which the House had just heard seemed to him a specimen of nisi Prius pleading. Considered as an attempt against the Bill, he regarded the speech of his hon. and learned Friend as a complete failure. It was impossible for any one who spoke after him not to call the attention of the House to the fact that his hon. Friend never once stated any principle on which the Bill had been objected to. He told the House of its unpopularity; but he did not tell them anything about the grounds of its unpopularity, or whether he did or did not concur in the views of his opponents. His hon. and learned Friend seemed to object to all legislation on the subject. As to his own view of the question, he did not want to see compensation granted for mere occupancy; but he thought it ought to be received by a tenant on account of substantial improvements. It was to be regretted that the Bill, which had been prepared some time ago on the subject, had been delayed by the illness of Lord Besborough, and eventually abandoned in consequence of the fatal and much lamented termination of that illness; and he hoped, whatever legislation there might be on the subject, that it would be brought to maturity as little as possible under the influence of members of the legal profession. He hoped the House would not agree to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh, for he believed that nothing would have a greater tendency to disturb the peace of Ireland than the summary rejection of this measure.

The EARL of LINCOLN observed, that on the same ground on which he opposed the reference of this Bill to a Select Committee, he would feel bound to oppose the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir W. Verner). He opposed the reference of this Bill to a Select Committee, because he sincerely wished to see good legislation on this important subject; and on the same ground he would oppose the Motion for the postponing the second reading, because he considered that if they did not legislate on the question during this Session, the probability was that they would never legislate upon it at all. He maintained, notwithstanding the taunts of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir G. Grey), that the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee would be a virtual abandonment of the measure. He (the Earl of Lincoln) had himself introduced a measure on this subject; and he candidly admitted the truth of the statement which had been made, that the machinery by which he had proposed to carry out that measure was in some respects objectionable. But he only objected to those provisions of the Bill now before the House which were entirely new; he did not complain of those provisions which had been taken from his own Bill, and, therefore, his opposition to this measure was perfectly consistent. His object was to protect the rights of property, and to simplify the machinery by which it was proposed to carry out the provisions of this Bill.

MR. AGLIONBY said, that though he doubted the expediency of such a measure as that before the House, he should not oppose the second reading of the Bill, because he believed the Government had brought it forward in accordance with what they believed to be the wishes of the great majority of the Irish Members. He must say, however, that he thought the Bill in its present shape proposed very mischievous interference between landlords and tenants; and he considered it most desirable that it should be referred to a Select Committee.

MR. GROGAN was opposed to the Bill. He thought it unjust to Ireland to intro- duce there a system of interference with the contracts between landlord and tenant that was not applicable and found to work in this country. He was anxious to see the question involved in this Bill fairly and finally settled by well-considered legislation; he was quite against this eternal tampering with the relation between landlord and tenant; but he did not think the mode proposed was right. If the Bill must go to a Committee at all, he should prefer a Select Committee.

MR. G. A. HAMILTON said, he hoped his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir W. Verner) would not press his Amendment to a division: the question before the House, on the second reading, was the principle of the Bill only, and the principle was to be found in the preamble. The preamble states, that "it is expedient to amend the law of landlord and tenant, and to provide compensation for tenants making permanent improvement." Now, although, in his opinion, there was much that was objectionable in the Bill, and though he would be unwilling, in any way, to pledge himself to its details, yet several Bills having been introduced on the subject, and all of them having been read a second time, he thought it would be neither fair, nor just, nor expedient, to reject this Bill on the second reading. No one knew better than he (Mr. Hamilton) did the difficulties connected with any attempt at legislation on this subject; and, perhaps, it was impossible to frame any measure which could be free from those difficulties. But he thought, on the whole, it would be better to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; and after it came from that Committee, they would have the opportunity of considering its details in a Committee of the whole House. At all events, he felt sure that the time was come when they should either legislate on the subject, or else all attempts at legislation should be abandoned.

Amendment withdrawn.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered to be referred to a Select Committee.

House adjourned at a quarter-past One o'clock.