HC Deb 08 July 1851 vol 118 cc337-49

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.

Clause 22.


begged to draw the attention of the Attorney General for Ireland to an incident connected with the office of the Recorder of the City of Dublin. Up to the year 1841, the Recorder had been elected by the Corporation; but by the provisions of the Irish Municipal Act, the power of appointing him was taken from the Corporation, and vested in the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for the time being. But though the Corporation had been relieved of the patronage, they were still under the obligation of paying a portion of the Recorder's salary; and he now wished to be informed whether there was any intention on the part of the Government to remove that burden from the Corporation of Dublin?


replied that the question alluded to by the hon. Member had nothing whatever to do with the subject of the Bill before the Committee. He believed that, in reference to the grievance complained of by the hon. Member, the people of Dublin had no more reason to complain than every other town in Ireland; and he had no intention, on the part of the Government, of introducing any measure on the subject.


said, that in no instance in Ireland, except that of Dublin, had a Corporation who had parted with its patronage remained subject to the liability to pay a salary.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 73.


begged to move an Amendment of which he had given notice: it was to expunge the words "or under a tenancy from year to year." These words were few in number, but they involved an important principle. For several years past there had been a policy pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, in which he was aided by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, which had now reached its climax. This policy might be termed an anti-tenant policy. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Somerville) came into office pledged to bring in Bills to ameliorate the condition of the tenants in Ireland. He had brought in one or two Bills, which, however, fell far short of what the occasion required. The verdict—the damning verdict of their policy, was to be read in the fact that under the system they had pursued with regard to the land question in Ireland—for he would not mince matters—he charged most distinctly upon the system they had pursued, the damning fact that 2,000,000 of their fellow-countrymen had been either starved to death or banished for life. He should not abuse the English language by calling it emigration. Emigration meant voluntary going out to seek a home elsewhere. But their dealing with Ireland had changed the very meaning of the words exile and home; they had made America the only place an Irishman could think of with respect to home. They had taken away the few securities which remained. There was not a man in Ireland who was not aware of the direful effects of what was called the "quarter-acre" clause. The next step was taken last Session. About this time last year there came a flight of Bills from the other House of Parliament, each of them having for its object the diminution of some one of the remaining securities of the people. The Irish Members stopped these Bills in transitu, and thus unwillingly lengthened the Session two or three weeks; and he had hoped that that lesson would have had some effect on the Government. But there were some people who could neither learn nor unlearn anything. The Committee would be astonished perhaps to find that this was an adjourned debate. The very words of this clause were to be found in the first Clause of a Bill ironically termed a "Bill for Amending the Relations of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland." The first clause of that Bill, which was introduced last year into the House of Lords, was to enable the owners of land to sue by ejectment for recovering the possession of land and tenements in that country by persons holding from year to year. That was the very power which this Bill proposed to give. The right hon. Home Secretary of State, last year, when that Bill came down from the House of Lords, declared that he would not support such a Clause, and it was taken out of the Bill. And yet they had the very same Clause inserted in a Bill which had nothing to do with the immediate relations of landlord and tenant. Had the right hon. Secretary of State changed his mind? Did he think that what was wrong in 1850 was right now? Or did he think there were still too many people in Ireland, and that he must take measures to lessen them? Because that was the question they had to decide. Let him (Mr. T. M'Cullagh) address English Gentlemen. In their fortunate country no landlord had the power to serve an ejectment on a tenant from year to year; and because 2,000,000 of people had been weeded from the face of Ireland, were they prepared to give a power to the proprietary class in Ireland, which they themselves had not? Would their constituents thank them for causing more Irish paupers to come here in their transit to another country? The details of the census were withheld, and withheld without cause; but he believed the analysis of the census would prove that to neither famine nor fever could they attribute one-fourth of the decrease that had taken place. They must find a means of keeping up the life blood of the country. Why, a paper in this city had gravely asked what the number of the population of Ireland was to be, and observed that it had been said that 4,000,000 of people were quite enough for Ireland. Fever and famine had been abroad in the south and west of Ireland, and it was generally supposed that there was their harvest. There they no doubt committed fearful havoc; but famine and fever were, comparatively speaking, unknown in Ulster; and in Leinster the people were, comparatively speaking, well to do. Now, in Ulster, there were 406,000 persons less in 1851 than there were in 1841; and this in a province which the rest of Ireland was taunted with not imitating. How was this illustrated and ex- plained? By the fact that in Ulster there were 63,608 human dwellings less than in 1841. What was the use of industry—what was the use of thrift—what was the use of the mixture of population, which they were so fond of boasting of? What was the use of loyalty and order, which they extolled so much, if the result was, that out of 2,400,000 persons 406,000 were fugitives from the land in which they were horn? In Ulster the tenants had what they called bargains with their landlords, and under these bargains they had got what they called tenant-right—he begged pardon for using that seditious word in that assembly. The mass of these tenants were from year to year, and they proposed to do with regard to these tenants what they would not venture to do in any English county. Then with regard to Leinster, there had been a diminution during the last ten years of 337,000 persons. Was that caused by famine and fever? He did not underrate the sad effects of those causes; but he had reason to believe that if a census had been taken just after 1847, they would have found no such decrease of the population. The diminution was attributable to the extirpation of the peasantry by eviction, and by the demolition of their humble houses. In Leinster there were 42,529 fewer houses in 1851 than there were ten years ago. He believed that the two last harvests would have done much to restore the country had the Government come forward with the Bills which they promised when they took office—had they done, what he believed the late Earl of Besborough would have done had he lived and remained in office. They had abandoned their pledges so far as attempts to realise them were concerned. But the people were gone, the people were going. He asked them in the name of constitutional right, in the name of civilisation, in the name of a merciful God, were they prepared to stimulate a system which he again said had depopulated the country?

Amendment proposed, line 15, to leave out the words "or under a tenancy from year to year."


said, he should not go into the general questions which the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk had introduced. The hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to him to have totally mistaken the import and meaning of the proposed Clause. He had alleged that the effect of the Clause was to enable landlords in Ireland to clear their estates. Now, although a tenant from year to year held the land only at the will of the landlord, he was entitled to a notice, and that arrangement of the law was not sought to be disturbed by this Bill. It had nothing at all to do with the question of title, or with the ejectment of tenants who were prepared to abide by their contracts. The Clause only provided that in case a tenant from year to year should owe a year's rent, and would not pay it, the landlord should be at liberty to resort to a proceeding to compel the tenant to pay that rent. If a man went to an owner of land and said, "I will take 50 acres of land of you at 50l. a year," and the landlord said, "I will let it you," and they put those seven or eight words down in writing, the landlord would then have the remedy which it was proposed by this Bill to give in the case of tenants regarding whose holdings there was no written agreement. The hon. and learned Member for Dundalk had been pleased to say that he (Mr. Hatchell) was an advocate of anti-tenant legislation. Now, as he viewed this clause, it would have quite a contrary effect to that which was predicated by the hon. and learned Gentleman. At present, if a tenant owed a year's rent, the landlord could not enforce it except by giving a six months' notice to quit, which must expire at the end of the year, so that by that time there would be two years' rent in arrear, and then another half-year expired before the landlord could get his ejectment. That was an anomaly in the law, and it was to meet that anomaly the present Clause was introduced. If there had been a contract in writing, the landlord would have been enabled to have obtained an ejectment without giving notice. The evidence before the Devon Commission showed the necessity of an alteration in the law to the effect now proposed. At present the landlord gave his notice to quit, and that caused irritation in the mind of the tenant, who went to his quarter-sessions' attorney, and if he could discover a mistake in the date, or any other flaw, the tenant set his landlord at defiance, and a state of war between landlord and tenant arose. A lawsuit followed, and the result was an eviction, the tenant all this time spending his substance in resisting the landlord, instead of honestly exerting his industry to pay his rent and fulfil the contract he had entered into. In consequence of the present state of the law, the landlord was compelled to serve his tenants with notices half-yearly, not for the purpose of getting rid of the tenants, but to enable him to recover the rent. Possession was the condition on which the rent was to be paid; but if Gentlemen said that the tenant was to hold possession and pay no rent, then he had no more to say.


said, he was glad to see so many Gentlemen from England present on this occasion, as it would be only necessary to make them properly understand the principle which was involved, to ensure their coming to a fair decision on the question. There was no doubt but that these proceedings were mere patchwork legislation, and that a better opportunity never offered for dealing comprehensively with the great question of landlord and tenant than at the present moment; but the Government had missed the opportunity, and it seemed to him that it was lost for ever. There was the In-cumbered Estates Court transferring the property of Ireland into stranger hands; and, in fact, many matters conspired to render the present a most favourable time for the introduction of some well-considered measure on that subject. There was no doubt but that the present question affected the great bulk of the tenantry of Ireland. The evidence taken upon the Devon Commission was so much useless lumber, for no measure had ever been framed upon it. Two learned friends of his at the Bar had written a book with a view to show how the marrow of the report of that Commission could be applied to the existing law in Ireland; and they said that they thought it would be an improvement in the law if the present system of notices to quit, which this Clause went to abolish, was so abolished. The complexity of the question of the law of landlord and tenant in Ireland would he known from the fact, that in the reign of George III. sixty Acts of Parliament had reference to that subject, and the law of distress occupied thirty Acts, and no attempt had ever been made to condense and systematise that great body of enactments, and the lawyer had to grope his way through all those Acts to know what the law was. Both landlord and tenant in Ireland were oppressed by the number and complexity of the laws; and the greatest boon that House could confer on the country would be to condense and systematise them. Although he (Mr. Whiteside) had voted against those Clauses in the Bill relating to landlord and tenant in the Committee upstairs, he would not vote for their being now expunged. He wished, however, to state that this was in fact the County Courts Bill for Ireland. In England the principle on which the new County Courts were framed was that of uniformity, but the local courts in Ireland he had heard called "schools for perjury." It would be a wise reform to abolish those old local courts, in Ireland, as they had been abolished in England, and to assimilate the law in the two countries. In conclusion, he had only to express a hope that the Judges of the proposed courts would be selected for their own merits, totally irrespective of political party or family influences, and thereby secure the due administration of the law, by placing it in the hands of learned and properly qualified persons.


was astonished how the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Enniskillen, who had so eloquently opposed the 73rd; Clause in the Committee upstairs, could have so marvellously changed his mind on the subject. But if his speech on the present occasion was good for anything, it ought to persuade the Committee to reject the Bill. The speech of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland seemed to him also most extraordinary. If it had been delivered immediately after the Devon Commission, he could have understood it; but in the year 1851, after the quarter-acre clause and the poor-law had worked out their sums of mortality, and the law of ejectment, too, had been strained to the maximum power of oppression, he confessed he could not understand such a speech. He would just call the attention of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland to the number of Civil Bill ejectments which had been brought in one county in Ireland—he meant the county of Tipperary, to show how the work of estate clearing had gone on. In 1844, the number had been 27,000; in 1845, 37,000; in 1846, 42,000; in 1847, 142,000; in 1848, when the calamities of Ireland had commenced, they had fallen to 82,000; in 1849, to 34,000; and in 1850, when the process of ejectment had done its work, the number had been only 24,000. The people by that period were in their graves, in the workhouses, or across the broad Atlantic. In the year 1851 the population ought to have increased to 9,000,000 and some odd thousands. It was rapidly increasing until 1847, and now it was reduced to 6,500,000, and, deducting this from the 9,000,000, at which the population ought to stand, there was a blank of 2,500,000 of human life to fill up. The great organ of public opinion in this country, the Times, had estimated that within a given period 1,000,000 of persons had emigrated to America. He believed that estimate was exaggerated; but taking the figures as correct, and deducting that 1,000,000 from the deficiency of 2,500,000, there was the appalling fact that 1,500,000 persons had been, in four years, sent to untimely graves for the want of the necessaries of life. He maintained that the Clause of the Bill before them was totally at variance with the title. But if a notice to quit was to be supposed a relief to the tenants of Ireland, he would pray that they should be protected from such mercy. He maintained that it was a landlord's Clause, and as such he should offer his most strenuous opposition to it. He had moved for papers relative to the Kilrush and Ennistymon workhouses last April, but they had not yet been furnished, to enable him to bring that case before Parliament. However he would take a future opportunity of doing so. He could tell the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland, that when those representatives who really felt compassion for the sufferings of the people returned to their constituents, a rally would be made to put an end for ever to such patchwork legislation as the present, which was intended only still further to strengthen the hands of the landlords. However the proposed Bill might be on the whole a useful one, he was prepared to endanger its passing sooner than allow such a clause to remain in it.


begged to explain that the reason why he had opposed the Clauses in the Committee upstairs was, that they were misplaced in the present Bill.


thought, although the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) had considered the present question was likely to be decided by English Members, that he might be disappointed, and that it would be decided, as it ought to be, by Irish Members. He could not understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman voted one way in the Committee upstairs, and on the present occasion he intended voting directly contrary. The system of legislation which was adopted towards Ire-laud might have a good object, but it was all in the wrong way.


said, that this Clause attempted to do that which the Bill of last year tried to do, and which had been defeated. If this were so, what new light had been thrown on the subject? The tendency of the policy of Parliament ought to be to compel the landlords to give leases to their tenants. The right hon. hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland said the present system led to war between landlord and tenant, which ended by eviction; but this clause would enable them to begin by eviction. He thought it a lasting disgrace to the statesmanship of that House that no measure had been brought forward and carried which would settle this question on a just basis. Until it was settled there never would and never could be peace in Ireland. He did not expect that it would ever be his fortune to address the House again, and he could not avoid taking that opportunity of reminding them of broken promises and pledges unfulfilled. He foretold the result of their policy last Session, and he told them it was not then too late to retrace their steps, to deal kindly with the people of Ireland, and to do them justice; but instead of that they were going on in the same partial system of legislation, which could do no good, but must cause an increase of misery in the country.


wanted to know what they were all talking about? They had heard a great deal of the census, and now they had had a farewell speech from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick, which certainly appeared to him to have nothing to do with the present Bill. As far as he understood it, when a tenant held under a lease, a landlord in Ireland had the power of ejectment, and it was proposed that in case of tenant from year to year, if the tenant was a year in arrear of his rent, the landlord should have the same summary process. It was apparently a question whether an arrear of rent of one year should not be equivalent to a six months' notice. Now he could not very well understand that putting out a man who was in arrear was the highest possible injustice; but if a man were in arrear a whole year's rent, he did not see, for the honest and fair protection of the tenant, that anything more was required. He must know that he was in arrear, and he was not taken by surprise; and that being so, he should like to hear the arguments of hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite, who knew most about the country. Irish Bills were always to him a matter of astonishment. Here was a sort of omnium gatherum. He fancied that this was a Bill for the regulation of certain courts of law; but, in this Bill, which was to regulate procedure, here was a Clause which changed the substance of the law. He entreated the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland to deal with this matter in a systematic manner. If they were to deal with procedure, let them have procedure only; and when they were dealing with the substance of the law, let them have the substance of the law only.


said, it was impossible to discuss this question properly without going into the general state of Ireland. One of the greatest evils of that country, no doubt, was the unsatisfactory state of the law of landlord and tenant. But this was an attempt to legislate so as to increase the power of the landlords; and he contended that it was unfair to introduce a Clause having such an effect in such a Bill. The decrease in the population of Ireland was in a great measure owing to evictions; the proof of which was in the fact that it was in the rural districts only that the decrease had taken place. Great Britain increased from 1821 to 1831 in population 15 per cent, whilst Ireland in the same period increased 14½ per cent. During this period Connaught increased 22 per cent, Munster 14 per cent, whilst from 1841 to 1851, Ireland has decreased 20 per cent. Connaught, which increased, from 1821 to 1831, 22 per cent, has now since 1841 decreased 28 six-tenth per cent; and Munster, which before increased 14 per cent, has now decreased 23 five-tenth per cent. In the cities there had been an increase. Forty-three per cent had been the increase of towns, and 20 per cent the decrease of counties. Then in houses the decrease had been 20,068. In the same time the population had decreased by 1,659,330, or a number very nearly equal to the whole population of Switzerland twenty years ago. Another proof was in the fact that there are now 268,000 houses less in Ireland than there were in 1841.


said, he objected to the Clause, as being inserted in a place to which it did not belong. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) was right in describing it as a Bill of procedure. It contained no less than twenty-five Clauses relating to that most important subject, the tenure of land ed property in Ireland, and Clauses of that nature ought not to be introduced into such a measure. He also objected to the proposed Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk(Mr. T. M'Cullagh),for the same reasons as those slated by the right hon and learned Attorney General for Ireland. He would ask the Government, lest that subject might be taken up as a means of disturbing the people of Ireland, to strike all the Clauses out of the Bill which affected that part of the subject, until next year, when they might bring in a more comprehensive and satisfactory measure. As they had waited for ten years without doing anything, they might easily wait for six months longer.


said, that if the Clause were struck out, similar clauses would remain in twenty other Bills. The only question which the Committee had now to consider was, whether the words proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. T. M'Cullagh) were an improvement to the Bill or not. He assured the Committee that his motive in supporting the Clause was to improve the condition of both landlords and tenants. He believed that the Clause, so far from being a landlord's Clause, was a tenant's Clause, framed to act beneficially for both parties. It was a mere begging of the question to refer to the census and to the drains of emigration, when hon. Gentlemen representing Irish constituencies would not endeavour to amend the law. His desire was to get rid of the harassing system of six monthly notices to quit. He believed that nothing could be conceived to set landlord and tenant by the ears more effectually than those periodical notices to quit. He knew of an estate in the north of Ireland where the regular custom was to append a notice to quit to every receipt given for rent. This Bill was directed to improve the relations of landlord and tenant, and not to complicate them further. By the present system, the landlord was compelled to torment the tenant, and to unsettle him in his holding; while, in case of ejectments, the landlord lost eighteen months' rent. Surely it was not unreasonable to give the landlord possession of his land at the loss of a year and a half's rent. He spoke as an Irish landlord, who had lived the greater part of his life in Ireland, and he unhesitatingly declared his conviction that the tendency of this clause would be materially to improve the relations between landlord and tenant.


said, the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last had somewhat perplexed him. The right hon. Gentleman said the tenant was harassed, and was prevented from exerting himself by having notices to quit continually served upon him. He could understand the force of that argument; but the right hon. Gentleman went further, and, by way of curing this evil, he proposed to give the landlord more power than he already had, and that was what he could not understand. The right hon. Gentleman said this was a most important subject. If so, why was it that the right hon. Gentleman did not bring in a Bill to deal with it, and not in a Bill professing to regulate procedure, introduce a Clause which altered the substance of the law?


said, he could enable the hon. and learned Gentleman to understand it. If this Bill passed, there would be no necessity to be continually giving notices to quit.


said, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland had fully confirmed what had been said by himself and others on that side of the House as to the tyrannical power exercised by many landlords in Ireland. Certainly nothing could be more tyrannical than with a receipt for rent giving a tenant notice to quit, and keeping him in a continual state of degradation. He objected to this Clause because, among other evils, it would create a discouragement to the granting of leases. It was this want of security that caused the people to emigrate. He deeply regretted that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) was not present, for if he were in the House, he (Mr. S. Crawford) would have asked him whether public faith had not been broken with the Irish people by the non-production of some comprehensive measure directed to this subject. They had lately given the tenant at will the privilege of the franchise, but now they were introducing a Bill which would place the tenant still more in the power of the landlord. He had waited in vain for the Government to introduce some Bill on the subject of the law of landlord and tenant, but in vain, and he now gave notice that he would himself do so during the next Session.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 55; Noes 24: Majority 31.

Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 20: Majority 36.

Remaining Clauses, and the Schedules, agreed to.

House resumed; Bill reported as amended.

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