§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. J. STUART
said, he was really astonished to hear at so late an hour the Motion that this Bill be then read a second time. The avowed purpose of the Bill was to facilitate the operation of the Act of last Session, for the sale of incumbered estates in Ireland. It recited that Act, and purported to be a Bill for its more effectual operation. He thought nothing could be more plain than that, before they proceeded to carry farther the operation of the Act of last Session, the House should be in pos- 343 session of some information in an authoritative shape to enable the House to judge how far the existing Act had been successful. He (Mr. Stuart) had throughout the entire discussion with reference to the Incumbered Estates (Ireland) Bill, felt that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for England had a right to expect very tender treatment, not only at his (Mr. Stuart's) hands, but also at the hands of the House. He felt it, and the House he doubted not felt it, because that hon. and learned Gentleman was discharging a duty not directly incumbent upon him—because it was properly the duty of the law officers of Ireland to introduce and take charge of measures affecting the administration of the law and the disposal of estates in Ireland. The Irish Solicitor General—for whom he entertained a very high respect—sat there for the purpose of guiding the House in such proceedings by his advice and information. However, they had not heard one word of information from him. Anything more extraordinary, anything more absurd in the course of legislation in that House, was never known or conceived than that an English law officer of the Crown, in presence of an Irish law officer of the Crown, should take the conduct of a measure essentially Irish—and, when asked for information, to enable the House to judge whether the measure were a proper one or not, that that English law officer should confess himself not in possession of the required information. Whether the Irish law officer was in possession of the information remained to be seen. However, lest that hon. and learned Gentleman may not have been aware of what had already taken place in the House this evening, he would repeat to him three questions on the subject which he had already put to his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for England, without being able to obtain any information in reply. The first of these questions was whether any sale—and if any, how many—had been effected under the existing Act? Did the hon. and learned Gentleman know? Could he give any information on the subject? If he could, he hoped he would. Secondly, how many orders had been made by the commissioners for the sale of incumbered estates, but under which orders sales had not been effected? Before putting his third question, he begged to say that the House would hardly believe that this was a Bill which proposed to enable persons to purchase incumbered estates in Ireland, on the terms 344 of paying only half the purchase money; whilst, as to the remaining half, the purchaser was to be under no personal responsibility for the payment. Was ever an agreement for sale of land on such terms heard of? Surely, before so extraordinary a proposal was to pass into law, and before they were called upon to set it down in the Statute-book as regulating property in Ireland, that a man might, under sanction of the commissioners, purchase at any price they might choose to direct the sale to be effected at, and then be bound to pay only one-half of that price, and further, be under no personal responsibility for the remaining half which was to remain merely a charge upon the land; he begged to ask his third question—Had the commissioners been applied to and received any proposal from any person to purchase an estate under their orders on these terms? He paused for a reply to these questions. He also felt he was only doing what was right in asking the House to consider whether they would allow the discussion on the second reading of this Bill to proceed until they were put in possession of some satisfactory information on the points embraced in these three questions. He proposed that the debate should be now adjourned, with the view of its being resumed when the House had sufficient information to enable it properly to understand the present state of matters. He had only to add, in justification of this course, that he had given his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for England, who had taken charge of this Bill, notice that he intended to put these questions; but his hon. and learned Friend, being unable to answer the questions, had put him to move, upon notice, for returns which should give the required information. As a little time must elapse before these returns could be obtained, it was only fair to adjourn this debate for the present.
§ MR. HATCHELL
said, he was so personally referred to that he felt bound to come forward, even at the risk of postponing any information which his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for England might be able to give the hon. and learned Member for Newark. With respect to the fact of his hon. and learned Friend having the conduct of this measure, whatever might have been intended by that allusion on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, he begged to offer this explanation for his own vindication. The Incumbered Estates Bill was originated 345 by his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for England before he (Mr. Hatchell) had the honour of a seat in that House. The subject of that Bill, which was now a statute, was long under the consideration of his hon. and learned Friend, and those with whom he advised in Ireland, at a time when he (Mr. Hatchell) had no expectation of a seat in Parliament. That answer was given on a former night, when the same charge was made from the same quarter, and the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have been contented with that explanation. The particular Bill now before the House, though introduced after he (Mr. Hatchell) obtained a seat, was engrafted on the former one, and was intended to form a portion of the existing law in relation to incumbered estates. Was the hon. and learned Gentleman aware of that fact? Did he not feel its force as hearing on the hon. and learned Gentleman's observations? If not, he (Mr. Hatchell) must excuse his allusion to him. As the hon. and learned Gentleman had put three questions to him so pointedly, he was certainly surprised that he had not bestowed upon him the ordinary courtesy which, during his short experience in that House, he had observed to be extended to other Members when it was intended to put questions to them, in order that they might not be taken by surprise. He had not received that courtesy, and he had been surprised to discover that his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for England had been apprised of the questions, and that he (Mr. Hatchell) was called upon for the explanation. He put it to the House whether such conduct was just towards himself, or fair in a Member of that House? Now the hon. and learned Gentleman had put three questions. First, he had asked how many estates had been sold under the commission? Had he had notice, he could have stated the number, but under the circumstances he really could not say whether it was 5, 7, or 10. He presumed, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman occasionally read a newspaper—and the English as well as the Irish journals had given the information which he required. In reply to the second question, namely, what number of orders had been made, he begged to say that in a newspaper which he believed was sent to every Member of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, the orders had been regularly published. As to the third question—whether any one 346 person had ever offered to buy upon the; terms proposed to be made the law by this Bill, he would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman, who had charged him hypothetically with not having read the Bill, whether he had really ever read it himself, seeing that he could ask such a question? In the first place, how could any person offer to purchase on the terms stated in the Bill before the Bill passed? And as he (Mr. Hatchell) read the Bill, it contained nothing like what the hon. Gentleman had propounded. He said the purchaser of the estate was to pay only half the purchase money. Now, so far from that being the case, the purchaser had to pay the whole of the purchase money into the Bank of Ireland, and he was then at liberty to borrow half of it on the security of the estate. The hon. and learned Gentleman had—whether intentionally or inadvertently, he could not say—put the case in such a manner, that to ordinary hearers it might appear that the owner was to receive only half the purchase money, whereas, in truth, he was to have the whole. He did not know whether or not the hon. and learned Gentleman was satisfied with these answers to his questions; but he trusted that they were satisfactory to the House, and that when the hon. and learned Gentleman again desired information from him, he would be kind enough to give him notice.
§ MR. STUART
rose to explain. He had given notice of his questions in the early part of the night to the law officer of the Crown who had charge of the Bill, and he had not conceived it possible that he who was in charge of it was uninformed on the subject to which his questions referred. He had meant no discourtesy towards the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland. One word with regard to the point on which he desired information. [Cries of "Spoke!"] He really must explain. The 13th Clause said that the money charged, that is, one-half the purchase money, should not be deemed a debt due from the purchaser.
§ MR. HUME
hoped that, except some very special grounds were shown, the House would not stop the further progress of the Bill, which appeared to him a very beneficial one, the object of it being to assist the purchasers of property, by not enforcing from them the whole amount of the purchase money, but allowing them a portion of it for the purpose of improving the land.
MR. M. J. O'CONNELL
said, that the 347 hon. and learned Member for Newark had only proved to the House that he had read the 13th Clause, for had he read the first he would have seen that the whole of the purchase-money was required to be lodged in the Bank of Ireland. Recently property had been sold at six and a half, ten, and fourteen years' purchase, and this was occasioned by the purchaser being compelled to pay up the whole of the purchase money at once, without being able to resort to the aid which would be afforded by this Bill. If the Bill passed, they would find many persons anxious to purchase who now held aloof. He did not see what bearing any of the returns called for by the hon. and learned Member for Newark had upon the Bill. This measure would induce English capitalists to advance money, when they saw they could get clear and serviceable securities.
§ SIR. J. WALSH
did not rise at that late hour to address himself to the principle of the Bill; but he appealed to the candour and good feeling of Her Majesty's Government as to whether it was discreet and consistent with the general usages of that House to force on at a very late hour a measure which all admitted to be of very great importance, affecting as it did the sister kingdom, and involving the most important consequences. There was a general understanding that important Bills should not be forced on their attention at a late hour. That evening they had been discussing another Bill up to ten minutes past eleven, which was a very different measure from that before the House; it therefore was not possible that adequate attention could be given to this subject, he therefore hoped the Government would give way.
§ MR. ANSTEY
trusted that Her Majesty's Ministers would do no such thing—as this, probably, was the best of the series of measures brought forward by the Government for the good of Ireland—it was to be hoped that they would not postpone it for a night, or even for a single hour. It had been stated, that they could not expect the House then to consider the Bill before it; but the objections appeared to be altogether against its details; and if there were any objections to any particular clause, that was not the time to deal with them. The hon. and learned Member for Newark said, he wished to give an effective security to purchasers. What was the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman last year, when the Incumbered Estates 348 Bill was before the House? He then said, if they required ready money to be paid down for the estates sold under the Act, they would be disposed of for a mere song, and he objected that there was no provision made so as to enable purchasers who might not be possessed of sufficient ready money at the moment to purchase property, to raise it by mortgage; but now, when an attempt was made to do that, the hon. and learned Gentleman said no; let there be no reservation—take care that the whole of the money is paid down. If hon. Gentlemen relied upon their objections of last Session, then they must support this Bill; but if they did not, the course they had pursued was at least—he would not say factious, but very imprudent. The question they had to grapple with at that moment was, whether the measures proposed under this Bill were likely to be simple, clear, and effective. He trusted they would, without delay, read that Bill a second time, and get into Committee within a few days, when it could be fully considered, so that it might pass in as perfect a state as possible.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
hoped, at any rate, the House would not occupy much more time in discussing whether they should proceed with the Bill or not. Unfortunately, they had got into the custom, whenever a Bill of any importance came on at eleven o'clock, to enter into a long debate as to whether it should be proceeded with or not. The question simply was, whether no Bill should be proceeded with after eleven o'clock, for if that course was adopted, there would constantly be a termination of further business after that hour. At any rate, some determination should be come to on the subject. He thought that Bills might advantageously be proceeded with after eleven o'clock; but if the House thought otherwise lot them so determine, but do not go on with a discussion from eleven o'clock to one to decide whether they would proceed with a Bill or not.
§ MR. DISRAELI
thought with the noble Lord that they ought to proceed with Bills of importance, but there were circumstances which modified that proceeding. This was a question of great importance, on which the noble Lord behind him, the Member for Kildare, had already given a notice. There were many Gentlemen in the House, having connexions in Ireland, who had a right to offer their opinion. There was a general impression that tonight this discussion could not possibly 349 come on. He was unwilling to enter into a series of divisions to prevent the progress of a Government measure. If the noble Member for Kildare made the statement which he was prepared to make, it would lead to a debate till four o'clock in the morning. He hoped that before the debate was adjourned, the House would not fail to notice what had been stated to-night by the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland, that they might fully understand the measure before them when they next came to discuss it; because the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated distinctly that the reason he had not charge of the Bill was, that it was part and parcel of the Incumbered Estates Bill. Let the House recollect the pretence and the ground on which that Bill was taken through Parliament. It was a Bill unexceptionable in many respects, but it was passed through Parliament on the express ground of giving the people of Ireland the means of dealing with land which was not incumbered; therefore, they were dealing violently with property. What had they done this year? They had now passed this year a Bill called a Judgment Bill. By that Bill they had exempted future purchasers of land in Ireland from antecedent judgments. The effect of the Bills would be to do vast injury to the puisne creditors, while the debtor would remain in the same position as if he had done nothing. If that were the case, how could it be expected that these creditors could have any respect for the rights of property? Under the operation of these three Bills, how would the honest man be able to borrow money, having an objection to walk through the court? They had a right to consider the case of the honest man, and he did not think that in this case the Government were acting rightly towards him. He would not go further into the subject, and he would not have made those remarks, but for the purpose of showing the House what the effect of these three Bills taken conjointly would be.
§ MR. HENLEY
hoped the House would not pass without notice the statement made that night by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, in order that they might fully understand the measure now before them when they arrived at the next discussion. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated distinctly that this Bill was part and parcel of the Incumbered Estates Bill of last year. That Bill dealt, at all events, suddenly with landed property, and this 350 year a Bill called the Judgment Bill had been passed, which must be considered in connexion with these two Bills before the drift of the whole could be understood. These three Bills would enable a man to petition to sell his estate, and throw his creditors overboard. If the Government meant to sanction such a principle, he asked them what respect they considered that these creditors in their turn would pay to the rights of property when in other hands than their own? Would they be very; choice about the national credit? Under the operation of these three Bills, what chance had any man in Ireland who did not wish to put his estate through this court and cheat his creditors? How would he be able to borrow money if he wanted it? The case of such a man who wanted some assistance ought to be considered. He did not think that the Government was acting justly to that part of the community of Ireland which, by way of contradistinction, he would call the honest part. However, let the House mark the statement of the hon. and learned Solicitor General, I that this Bill was part and parcel of the former Bill.
SIR. G. GREY
wished to remark that one of two things should be done—they should either discuss the question of adjournment or the merits of the Bill. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire had made a speech on the merits of the Bill, and he would now only wish the House not to take that hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Bill as the correct one, and to postpone their opinion on the merits of the Bills until they came to their discussion. The hon. Gentleman appeared to charge the Government with offering opposition to the wishes of the Irish Members in wishing to press on the second reading of this Bill. But not a single Irish Member had asked for the postponement of the question. The hon. and learned Member for Newark took from the noble Lord at the head of the Government the chance of addressing his opinions to the House on the subject, which might have enabled them to get through the second reading that night. But now, as it was after 12 o'clock, if it was the wish of the Irish Members or the other Members of the House that they should adjourn the debate on the second reading, of course the Government would yield. The opportunity of carrying through was not lost by the act of the Government, but by the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Newark.
MR. M. J. O'CONNELL
said, that he was sorry that the Government were obliged to yield to an adjournment of the question. He wished, however, to remark that there could be nothing more unfair than the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, that Irishmen who were inclined to play the rogue would be sewed by this Bill. The class whom this Bill would serve was that of the puisne creditors, who would be in a hopeless position if the Bill was not passed, and the honest men who wished to have full control over their property called loudly for the passing of the Bill.
§ LORD NAAS
had intended to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, but he was glad that he had yielded to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newark, who had made some 'important observations with regard to it. At that late hour he hoped the House would not ask him to go on with his statement, which would probably lead to some discussion; and he must appeal to the Government to postpone the measure till some future day, when he might have an opportunity of addressing the House when it was less weary than at present.
§ COLONEL DUNNE
said, that he came down to the House prepared to support the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Kildare; but having heard the objections of the hon. and learned Member for Newark to their going on with the question that night, he thought it would be better to postpone it. In his opinion, the Bill, instead of raising the value of landed estates, would tend to depress it.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he was prepared to leave it to the House whether the debate should be adjourned.
§ SIR L. O'BRIEN
suggested that an order should be sent to Ireland to suspend the sale of incumbered estates until the fate of the Bill was determined,
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday next.