HC Deb 16 February 1854 vol 130 cc770-83

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to provide compensation for improvements made by te- nants in Ireland, said that it might not be unnaturally supposed that, after the Bills which had been brought in and sanctioned in all their provisions by this House, and in their principles by the House of Lords, a person asking to introduce another Bill had some intentions to disturb rather than to promote a practical settlement of the question. He was anxious, therefore, that his Object in bringing forward this measure should not be misunderstood. He felt the most implicit confidence in the assurances received on the first night of the Session, from the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, that Her Majesty's Government were not weary of the good work they had so nearly conducted to a successful issue during the last Session of Parliament. If he were asked, then, why he did not wait till the Bills of the Government came down from the House of Lords, his answer was that he did it to prevent disappointment, and because he thought it of the almost importance that, before Parliament and the Government were committed to the provisions of any particular Bill, they should have before them, in precise and definite language, the views of one whom the people of Ireland had entrusted with the expression of their opinions upon the subject. He was not afraid that his views would be considered too extreme for either that House or the House of Lords. His belief was, that the Parliament and the people of England were anxious to see the people of Ireland prosperous, contented, and happy. He differed from the right hon. and learned Gentleman who represented the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) in one respect—namely, that he was not so much afraid of the House of Lords as the right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be. He believed that the House of Lords, equally with the House of Commons and the people of England, would pass any measure proved to be useful, and which would not trench upon those sacred rights of property which were the foundations of all civil society, and the main support of the institutions of the country. Having never in the slightest degree contemplated an entrenchment on the rights of property, he was not afraid of the House of Lords. What he proposed was for the benefit of all classes—landlords, tenants, labourers, shopkeepers, and artisans. It was not his intention to enlarge upon the principle of compensation, as it had been already affirmed by the Bills of different Governments, that of Lord Derby as well as that of Lord Aber- deen. He wished rather, while pointing out the main features of his Bill, to show in what it differed from that passed in the last Session of Parliament. Last Session a Bill had been passed entitled the Land Improvement Bill, enabling proprietors to borrow money for the purpose of improving their estates, and it specified the various classes of improvements which it was most desirable to encourage, enabling landlords to borrow money, and to charge their estates for every 100l. with a rent-charge of 6l. 10s. during a period of twenty-two years. And it contained a clause which authorised the Board of Works, when those improvements were made, to raise the rents upon the tenants of the lands thus improved. Next came the Leasing Powers Bills, which enabled persons of only limited estate to grant leases to their tenants for terms of years varying from 61 to 999 years, according to the nature of the lease, and provided that, such concessions so granted should be binding upon their successors. And it also provided that persons with only limited interests—such as corporations, trustees, &c.—should have power to make agreements without the intervention of a lease, which should be binding upon their successors, authorising tenants, in consideration of compensating periods or money payments, to undertake a variety of improvements. These were, to erect agricultural buildings, to make farm-roads, to execute main and through drainage, the clearing of land from rocks and stones, and the construction of boundary fences. The next Bill, the Tenants' Improvement Compensation, secured for the tenant who should hereafter make, or had already made, certain specified improvements in his holding, compensation, in case of his eviction for other cause than non-payment of rent, or breach of condition contained in a lease or agreement. In a word, the Bill declared that the value of the specified improvements ought to be secured to the holders, and the improvements thus provided for by the Bill were of four kinds—namely, the erection of farm-buildings and farm-houses; the reclamation of waste land, or cut out bog, the making farm-roads, and the making of boundary fences. It was impossible for any one who had read the Bill with an understanding mind, not to acknowledge that it was a vast improvement upon the existing law, or that it was a Bill constructed upon a truly conservative basis, and contained principles which, if carried to their legitimate conclusions, would put an end to that succession of crime and outrage in Ireland which had been so long a scandal to the world. It appeared to him, however, that there were defects in the Bill which must be remedied in order to make it a really useful measure. His object was to effect an alteration in the Bill, so as to do away with those defects. Now, in the first place, the Bill proposed that there should be compensation for only a certain class of improvements. In this respect the Bill seemed to him to be wholly insufficient; for it omitted one class of improvements that had never been omitted in any of the Bills of Mr. Sharman Crawford, Lord Lincoln, Lord Stanley, and Sir William Somerville—namely, the important improvements of main and through drainage. What was the use of promoting the improvement of land in Ireland if the most important description of improvement was to be excluded? Such an omission was not to be found in the Bill of the right hon. and learned Gentleman below him (Mr. Napier), for it contained a provision compensating the tenant not only for all main and through drainage to be executed, but for that executed already. It contained also a provision for the improvement of the land by clearing away rocks and stones. Indeed, the Legislature had already evinced its idea of the importance it attached to works of this kind, when it authorised, by the 9 & 10 Vict. c. 101, the public money to be lent for such a purpose. As to the utility of encouraging such improvements, abundant information would be found in the Work on the "Tenure and Occupation of Land in Ireland," by Messrs. Vance and Fergusson, both members of the Irish bar, and who were very well known to the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Napier). Sir Robert Kane also stated that, between the years 1842 and 1844 no less than 48,000 acres of land had been drained, at an expense of 120,000l., out of which 95,000l. had been expended in labour. He had with him letters from nine Irish tenants in the County Down, men of character, which proved that this idea of the value of such improvements was not a mere theory, put forth by scientific men, but that it existed among the farming classes themselves. It was, then, exceedingly unwise to exclude from the Bill such a class of improvements; and the same objection was to be urged against its non-admission of clearing away rocks and stones as an improvement, for it was very well known that there were large tracts of land in Ireland, of otherwise a very valuable character, so encumbered with rocks and stones that it was impossible to undertake in their regard the operations of sub-soiling or trenching. And he saw no reason why all other improvements which increased the annual letting value of the estate—such as embanking from the sea or tidal waters, the repair of fences or drains, streams, or water-courses—should not be admitted. He had also a very serious objection against clause 10, and here he believed he had ground for quarrel with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, for he believed it might be attributed to him. The clause declared that there ought not to be any compensation for improvements made with the capital of the tenant unless he was evicted for other cause than the non-payment of rent or breach of condition. He believed that this was placing too great a power in the hands of the landlord. The forfeiture of the lease was sufficient protection for the landlord against a breach by the tenant of its conditions. The landlord was entitled by the 13th clause to set off against any claim which the tenant might make for compensation,—claims for dilapidation, waste, or want of repair in the improvements which the tenant might have made with his own capital, arrears of rent, or any damage arising from breach of condition or non-payment of rates and taxes; surely this was enough. Was it reasonable that where the tenant fell into arrear the landlord should have the power of evicting him, and thus, to use a local phrase, "rob him of his improvements?" There might be cases where the tenant was only 100l. in arrear, and his improvements had cost 300l. Under this clause he would thus lose 200l., of which the landlord would have the immediate benefit by letting the farm at a higher rent to another tenant. The Bill compelled the tenant to lay out money up to the last day of his tenancy in keeping his own improvements in repair. It was therefore unreasonable that the landlord should have the power of taking away the tenant's whole property in his improvements. It would be quite sufficient to give the landlord the power of deducting the arrears due to him from the value of the tenant's improvements. It was not generally true that the improvements of the tenant were made at a time when, instead of spending his money on them, he ought to have paid his rent; that objection was to be met simply by a denial of the fact. In Scotland, every man who let a farm let it with a warrandice that it was fit for the purposes for which it was let. He was supposed to have provided all that was necessary for those purposes, and if he had not done so the tenant was entitled to do so himself, and charge the expense of it to his landlord. In Ireland no such law existed. In all parts of the world except Ireland, if the landlord did not provide what was called the proper instrumenta for the farm, the tenant had the right to do so, and if a landlord, as the right hon. Gentleman supposes, said to an improving tenant, "You have done this with my capital," the answer was, "You ought to have done it yourself; it was impossible for me to pay you the rent without its being done." There was a work published lately by Mr. Gisborne, an eminent agriculturist, in which he stated that it would be impossible for any tenant to carry on agriculture upon his farm with advantage to himself or his landlord, without a series of improvements which he enumerated, and for which improvements it was but common justice that the tenant should be entitled to claim compensation. But, further, the measure introduced by the Government in the last Session deprived the tenant of all claim for compensation for improvements, except in the case of his eviction. He (Mr. Serjeant Shee) wanted to know why only on eviction? It should be recollected that the farms in Ireland, generally speaking, were let to the tenants from year to year. The tenant could always leave his farm by giving six months' notice to quit. The tenant under this limitation could not exercise his right of giving notice to quit, except at the sacrifice of all his property invested in the land. The Government Bill proceeded upon the supposition that the tenant was the man to improve. If that be so, why did they not give the tenant every inducement to improve? The inducement they had given him was by no means sufficient. The landlords of Ireland were to a considerable extent English as well as Irish. It was remarkable that the English landlords improved their estates in England, while they neglected to improve their estates in Ireland. The fact was, that a custom had grown up which exempted the proprietors of land in Ireland from the responsibility of their neglect in this respect, and no disgrace attached to it. After all, to the tenant they must look for improving the agricultural condition of Ireland. The average size of the farms in Galway was thirty-five acres; in Mayo, twenty-nine acres; in Roscommon, twenty-two acres; in Clare, thirty acres; in Kerry, forty-six acres; in Cork, thirty-nine acres; in Down, nineteen acres; and in Armagh, thirteen acres: the two last-mentioned counties being the most prosperous in Ireland. On farms of this size none but the tenants could be expected to make improvements. He was assured that in one Joint-Stock Company in Ireland there was no less a sum than 1500,000l. deposits, the property of small farmers, and in another 1,300,000l. belonging to the same class. All this would be invested in the soil, if security was provided for it by the law. In Ulster, where a tenant-right custom existed, it was calculated that there was an amount of tenant improvements to the extent of 14,000,000l. or 15,000,000l., being property that was regularly made the subject of family settlement, bequest, and sale with the knowledge and sanction of the landlords. Some few years ago Lord Caledon wished to throw some of the land that was in the occupation of his tenants into his own park. The land was held by tenants from year to year. His Lordship positively paid those tenants 12l. an acre for such land, and threw it into his own park. Surely, if a tenant died, and left a family after him, his representatives should have the power of claiming compensation for the improvements he had made. Again, if the tenant should find himself in difficulties, he ought to be permitted, before a large arrear of rent has accumulated upon him, to sell his improvements and apply time proceeds of them to the benefit of all his creditors. A difficulty was suggested as to how arrangements for securing compensation to tenants for their permanent improvements could be adopted with justice to the landlord. The tenant's claim might be made at a time of great depression, when the value of a permanent improvement was, for the moment, dependent on that which was the most variable of all things—the value of agricultural produce. At the rents agreed upon when prices were high, permission to sell or assign would be of no benefit to him; and the same reason which prevented the tenant from assigning advantageously, would deprive the landlord of all chance, of reimbursement—should he make the compensation—from an incoming tenant. If the tenant have a right to call for compensation under such circumstances, the landlord should have the right of answering him in this way—"Well, then, let the land be fairly and properly valued—let it be valued, if you please, according to the terms of the General Valuation Act, and I will be willing, if you can find a tenant to take it at the valued rent, after allowing for the annual permanent increase of value arising from your improvements, to accept him as a substitute for you; but I stipulate that all arrears of rent shall be first paid, and that when prices rise, my rent shall rise with them." What could be fairer than such an arrangement? I would amount to nothing more than adopting the principle of corn-rents, as practised in Scotland, and sanctioned by the Tithe Composition and Church Temporalities Acts. It is impossible to read the General Valuation Act without at once seeing how easily the object which all have in view, the promotion of improvement with justice to both landlords and tenants, would be secured by it. He should not ask the House to entertain his Bill in any other stage than the first reading until the Government measure had come down from the other House. Then he should be afforded an opportunity of asking them to proceed with the second reading of the Bill, or of moving that certain Amendments, in conformity with the views which he advocated, should be introduced into the measure of the Government. He should, therefore, merely ask the House to assent to the introduction of the Bill, in order that it might be printed and circulated among hon. Members, and that they thus might be enabled to consider more maturely the provision which it contained.


seconded the Motion. He said that, three or four years ago, the question involved in this Bill had been brought forward as a subject for popular agitation; but that was no longer the case, and whatever the Government might now consent to do would be concession, not to agitation, but to reason. The Government had the opportunity of dealing with a vital and momentous question, and he trusted that it would not be thrown away upon them. Recent events in Ireland had shown that the popular party there were not opposed to the present Government. Many of them though that the Government were prepared in bonâ fide spirit to redress the grievance of which they complained, and they were inclined, therefore, to give them a fair trial. He sincerely hoped that the Go- vernment would not disappoint the expectations of their friends. If there should be no higher motive, he trusted that the Government would bear in mind how valuable a source the cottier population of Ireland was whence to raise levies in the event of war, and that they would be induced to do justice to the small cultivators of the land in that country, who were now being driven from its shores in hundreds. He looked on Ireland as a country with great undeveloped resources, and, instead of considering the emigration going on as a reason for not improving the law, he thought that emigration to be deplored, and he attributed it to the operation of those bad laws. A sense of expediency, if not of justice, should be sufficient to induce the Government to deal in a liberal and comprehensive spirit with this question.


said, he must congratulate both the House and the country upon the altered tone which had pervaded the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Serjeant Shee) that evening, as compared with that by which his introduction of topics connected with the relations of landlord and tenant had last Session been characterised. The hon. and learned Member had upon that occasion—as he had done in the speech which he has just delivered—stated that he had no intention of asking the House to assent to a single provision which could be said to have for its object the destruction of the rights of property in Ireland. He (Mr. George) had, however, been obliged last Session to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman Whether the perpetuity of tenure clause, and the compulsory valuation clause—two clauses which the hon. and learned Member had introduced into his Bill, for they were not in Mr. Sharman Crawford's measure—would not, if they had passed into law, have proved to be in their operation utterly destructive of property in Ireland and its rights? Such in his (Mr. George's) opinion would have been their tendency. He, therefore, had listened on the present occasion with some doubt and hesitation to the assertion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that this Bill which the hon. and learned Gentleman had just introduced did not interfere with property. He most sincerely hoped that existing interests were not sought to be disturbed by that measure, and that no retrospective legislation upon the subject of the relations between landlord and tenant was contemplated by its supporters. The hon. and learned Member had presented to the House a sad picture of the amount of crime and destitution which he said prevailed in Ireland, and which he had attributed to the absence of legislation of a character similar to that which he has just called upon the House to sanction. He (Mr. George) was, however, happy to be enabled to state that the condition of Ireland had of late become greatly altered for the better. Population and labour now bore a more just proportion to one another in that country than had hitherto been the case. The employer had to seek for the labourer, not the labourer for the employer, and the rate of wages had been considerably increased. It was to these circumstances, and to the more abundant harvests, that, in his opinion, the improvement which now manifested itself in every quarter of the island was to be attributed. He should like to see this better state of things allowed to develope itself gradually, and deemed it unwise, by too much hot-bed legislation, to endeavour to push too far the increasing prosperity, to which it afforded him so much gratification to be enabled to bear evidence. In those cases in which compensation could be made to the tenant without prejudice to existing contracts he should have no objection to see it granted; but it was his opinion that in general, to leave the landlord and the tenants to regulate their own affairs was a mode of proceeding preferable to the enactment of any law upon the subject. At all events he trusted that no measure affecting different interests would be passed so far as Ireland was concerned, which hon. Members would not be prepared to advocate for England.


said, he could assure the hon. Member who had just sat down that he should certainly not have given his support to the measure of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kilkenny had he been of opinion that it was calculated to operate injuriously upon the rights of property; and he should be ready to give his favourable consideration to any alterations in that measure which hon. Members might deem it desirable to introduce.


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had brought the subject under their consideration had announced his intention not to proceed with his measure until the decision of the House of Lords should be taken on a Bill upon the same subject which had been submitted to them; and under these circumstances there could be no objection on the part of the Government to the Motion that the hon. and learned Gentleman should be allowed to lay his Bill on the table. But the Government, in assenting to that Motion, did not pledge themselves in any way to give any facilities or any support to the measure at any future time. Until the House of Lords should have decided on the Bill under their consideration, and which had received the approval of the Government, it would be a manifest waste of time to continue any further debate on the question.


said, he thought the course proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman very inconvenient, of laying a Bill on the table of that House, which was not to be proceeded with until a Committee of the House of Lords should come to a decision with respect to another Bill. He considered that it would have been better to have waited until the other Bill, with such modifications as the House of Lords might think necessary, should come down from that House. Besides that objection, the amendments of the hon. and learned Gentleman were negatived in a Select Committee of the House of Commons last year. He was very anxious that this question should be settled this year, for the uncertainty which prevailed tended very much to the depreciation of property in Ireland, and he knew of instances in which sales had been prevented in consequence of that uncertainty. In the conduct of the measures of which he had charge during the last Session, he was bound to say, that those who more particularly represented the interests of the tenantry had offered no obstruction of which he had reason to complain, but had assisted him very fairly. The House would recollect that he proposed three Bills. There was also a fourth Bill—the Land Improvement Bill—to enable a tenant for life, and persons having a limited interest, to do with private money what they would have been able to do out of a public loan. The three Bills to which he referred, were the Landlord and Tenant Consolidation Bill, the Leasing Powers Bill, and the Tenant Compensation Bill. The latter Bill contained a clause relating to draining, subsoiling, and other matters which were omitted from the Bill which passed the House. The Select Committee were of opinion, that all that kind of improvement should be done under express contract, and he felt bound to surrender his private opinion to men of greater experience. Another decision of the Committee made Tenant. Compensation Bill to a certain degree nugatory, because it cut out improvements in the soil, and he, therefore, thought the better course was to take the fixture clause and transfer it to the Landlord and Tenant Bill, and he must say, he considered that clause one of very great benefit to the tenant, for it covered cases of building, gates, &c., on the soil, and did as much with regard to existing improvements as could be done consistently with the decision, of the Select Committee. With regard to the future, the Leasing Powers Bill, passed last year, enabled all persons having landed estates in hand to make beneficial leases, and contracts for all classes of improvements on the soil and in the soil. With respect to the Compensation Bill, when it was in the House last year, he felt it to be his duty to take an independent part, from a sincere and earnest desire to have this question settled; and he could assure the House he would continue to apply his mind and judgment to it, to the best of his ability. But he hoped that the House would endeavour this Session to bring the question to a conclusion; and he would earnestly advise those who were honestly anxious for the improvement of Ireland, that there must be a little "give and take" in this matter; and whatever law might ultimately be passed, that it should be accepted in a friendly spirit by those who were the subjects of it. Some concession ought to be made on both sides, and they ought to take what was practicable and what was agreed to by all parties; but he did hope to see such a Bill passed as would do substantial good to Ireland, and he would advise all parties to accept a moderate and a practical settlement of a question which had created a good deal of angry dissension, and, to a certain extent, disturbed the welfare and prosperity of the country.


said, he should not have ventured to address the House on the present occasion had it not been for an observation of his hon. colleague (Mr. George) with respect to the effect of Mr. Sharman Crawford's clause in conferring perpetuity of tenure. He (Mr. M'Mahon) felt convinced that that clause was essential to the security of property. Nothing could be worse, in his opinion, than the operation of the existing laws. They did not answer the landlord's purpose, for the landlord did not escape from difficulties; and they did not serve the tenant, because tenants were flying, and their lands lying waste. The result, therefore, of the legislation of this wise and politic nation on this subject was the greatest political error that could possibly be committed—that of keeping the land waste, and giving away their labour. Land and labour were the great elements of national prosperity, and yet we had a magnificent country, one-third of which they kept waste. Within the last seven years they had got rid of between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 of the population of Ireland; and although they might not be rated any higher than mere cattle, and speaking in the sense of the merest political economy, they were the most valuable and costly articles that could be produced; and the Americans well knew this, for they valued every adult emigrant who landed on their shores at 1,000 dollars, or 208l. At this rate, the value of those who had left Ireland for America was 400,000,000l.—the value of the fee simple of the whole rental of Ireland at forty years' purchase. If that were true, it was clear that they were worth as much to ourselves, if we only knew how to make them valuable to us. We might, for instance, make them till the lands of Ireland instead of those of America; but we should not succeed if we drove them away, injuring the prosperity of the country, and perilling, to a certain extent, the progress of European liberty. Every nation that pursued this policy evidenced symptoms of great national decay. What had they been doing for the last two centuries but making laws against tenants? They had constructed 260 statutes, all of which were inimical to the occupier of the land. This question would never be settled until Parliament considered what were the rights given to the landlords of Ireland by the common law of the country. There was no other country in the world where these things could be done. They could not be done in Belgium, France, Italy, Sardinia, or anywhere else. Let the Government inform themselves upon what terms land was held in foreign countries, and then a basis might be found for a plain and satisfactory settlement of the question. He did not mean a "blue book," but a plain and intelligible digest of the laws of other countries; for until this was done, the existing laws would remain a stumbling-block in the way of the advancement of the Ireland.


begged to offer his thanks to the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Serjeant Shee) on the spirit and temper he had evinced in bringing this question under the consideration of the House, and in attempting to do that which had been recommended by the Committee which sat on this subject. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Napier) had also boldly, courageously, and ably entered upon the consideration of the question—a circumstance which would always greatly redound to his credit. It appeared that this Bill was not to be proceeded with further until the other measure came down from the House of Lords. He thought that a very good arrangement, but he would beg to press on the Government the importance of not allowing this subject to rest or be delayed in the other House. This was a question of vital importance to Ireland. He believed a great deal of the emigration which had gone on there was caused by the unsatisfactory state of the law of landlord and tenant. But, putting aside the two questions of the relations of landlord and tenant and emigration, which were but cause and effect, their real, social, and practical business in that House, with respect to Ireland, was the applying themselves to the final settlement of this vexed question.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Serjeant Shee and Mr. Pollard-Urquhart.

The House adjourned at half after Eleven o'clock.