HC Deb 18 February 1850 vol 108 cc1021-4

said, he had to move for leave to bring in a Bill to provide compensation to tenants for improvements effected by them in certain cases, and to amend the law of landlord and tenant in Ireland. Important as the subject was, and although it had been on three separate occasions introduced into Parliament, it was, nevertheless, true that no Government Bill had ever undergone a complete discussion in that House. Bills had been introduced in 1845 and 1846 into that and the other House of Parliament; but the Bill brought into the Upper House had never come down to the House of Commons, and the Bill introduced into the House of Commons was never read a second time. In 1848 he had the honour to introduce a third Bill, which was read a second time, but only with a view of referring it to a Select Committee, in which it received many improvements. That Bill So amended by the Select Committee was returned to the House; but the Session was then so far advanced that it was impossible to proceed with it, and the Bill was thereupon dropped, without having undergone a fill and complete discussion in the House. That Bill, he was bound to admit, did not meet with any great favour, on account of the complicated machinery by which it was proposed to carry its provisions into effect. Under the Bill each party would appoint an arbitrator, and they were to appoint an umpire. The Select Committee, instead of an umpire, thought it would be better to nominate an inspector of improvements who should act as umpire when the arbitrators could not agree. Now, he had thought that if it were advisable to do away with the umpire, and substitute an inspector of improvements, it would be better to leave the entire decision with the latter functionary, and to do away altogether with the arbitrators. The whole machinery then became more simplified. This was the principal alteration made in the Bill of 1848, the other details being not sufficiently different or important to warrant him in taking up the time of the House in describing them. He thought that the Bill, as now laid on the table, was of all the measures yet proposed the most simple, the most easy of comprehension, and of being carried out. He had not altered the terms or the amount of compensation, of the Bill of 1848; but having received many letters, both from landlords and tenants, he was afraid that the present measure would not be satisfactory to all parties. It was certain that if both those who advocated the cause of the landlords, and those who took the side of the tenants, held out on each side for their extreme opinions, his belief was that nothing would be done. But he trusted that a wiser and more moderate course would be taken. Every suggestion made by the House should have his best consideration, and he trusted that, with the aid of the improvements which the Bill might receive in its passage through Parliament, it might receive the assent of the Legislature during the present Session.


was anxious to know whether the operation of the Bill with respect to compensation for improvement was to be retrospective? [Sir W. SOMERVILLE said that it was not.] For any measure which should take away the tenant-right of Ulster would be regarded by the people of that province with feelings of hostility. He should not be disposed to give his assent to any measure which withheld compensation either for past or existing improvements. This question of tenant-right had taken a deep root in the county of Down, although agitation was not observed in the neighbouring counties of Antrim and Louth. It was painful to find that the Presbyterian clergy had taken the lead in this agitation. At a meeting held in the county of Down on the 28th of January last, there were present sixteen clergymen belonging to the General Assembly or Synod of Ulster, and only one Roman Catholic clergyman. One of this number, the Rev. Mr. Rutherford, addressing the meeting in the character of a minister of the gospel, thought it not unbecoming in him to indulge in such laaguage as the following:—The rev. gentleman said that the whole difference between the value of the land in its present state of cultivation and in its primeval state 250 years ago was, beyond all contradiction, the inalienable property of the tenant-farmers of Ulster. The rev. gentleman also cautioned the tenants not to receive any money for drainage, because the landlords, knowing the tenants had a bonâ fide property in the soil, desired to neutralise their claim by investing a sum of their own in improvements. Now, although he was not a landlord himself, he was perfectly certain the altered circumstances of the country demanded a revision of rents. At the same time, he entirely discountenanced a reduction of rents on all property belonging to a landlord, not discriminating between the good tenant and the bad tenant. He must also advert to another meeting, held at Comber, where another Presbyterian clergyman declared, that "God not only made his own people farmers, but gave them their farms in perpetuity: he gave them fixity of tenure, on which the success and prosperity of the farmers depended. God had permitted the present depression, in order to show the hollowness of the relation between landlord and tenant." The same rev. gentleman also gave a history of an estate belonging to a noble relative of his Lordship, the substance of which was, that the Comber estate was purchased by its present owners during the latter half of the last century for 30,000l.; that the rent-roll at the time of the purchase was between 3,000l. and 4,000l.; that it now amounted to 24,000l. The rev. gentleman then asked who had caused this increase? to which the meeting responded by cries of "the tenants;" and then he informed his auditory that the legal interest of 30,000l., the amount of the purchase money, at 5 per cent, was 1,500l. He also, apparently by way of moral to his narrative, concluded by professing that he did not want spoliation or robbery, but said the farmer's requital for toiling and sweating to enrich the rent-roll of the landlord was the impoverishment and ruin of himself and family. He (Viscount Castlereagh) expressed a hope that the rev. gentlemen would be taught, from the unanimous verdict of public opinion, that it was better for them to attend to the spiritual interests of their flocks, than to become political agitators of the character he had described, and made some quotations from the language of several dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, to show that their Presbyterian brethren might advantageously take a lesson from them in inculcating universal peace and charity, and in standing aloof from political strife.


was glad the right hon. Baronet had brought forward this measure, as nothing was more wanted in Ireland than an Act clearly defining the duties of both landlord and tenant.


said, that many Irish Members would shortly be obliged to go home to attend the assizes, and it was, therefore, most desirable that the discussion on this important measure should be fixed for a period when as many Irish Members as possible could be present.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir William Somerville, Sir George Grey, and Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Twelve o'clock.