HC Deb 11 July 1854 vol 135 cc33-40

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


said, his object, in moving that the Chairman should report progress, was to endeavour to induce the Government and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) to defer all legislation upon these important Bills until the next Session, because, at that late period of the Session, it was utterly impossible to do justice to those measures. Ireland was at the present time in a greater state of prosperity than it had enjoyed for a long period; and there was not that immediate urgency for passing a measure of this description this year, which undoubtedly there appeared to have been some years ago. They could, therefore, afford to wait for some time, to have the measures gravely considered and matured; and it was far better to adopt that course than to take up the worse part of the code introduced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and pass it into a law this Session. To show that it was utterly impossible to pass those Bills at present, he might mention that the hon. and learned Member for the county of Wexford (Mr. M'Mahon) had thirty-four Amendments to move to the Landlord and Tenant Bill, and that the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin had given notice of 156 Amendments. And on the Leasing Powers Bill there were forty-five Amendments to be moved by its original proposer. The notices of these Amendments had been only given on the preceding day, and there was not sufficient time to give them the consideration they absolutely required. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin had brought forward those Land Bills, he made a prayer to Almighty God at the end of his speech, as he often did, for the success of the whole; and he (Serjeant Shee) did not see how the right hon. and learned Gentleman could now come forward and ask the House to pass the Landlord and Tenant Bill, and Leasing Powers Bill, without the Tenants' Compensation Bill. A Committee had been appointed on the subject last Session, and though he would not say it was an unfair Committee, he would have preferred a Committee of English and Scotch gentlemen who understood what the just rights of the people were, and, above all, who detested the idea of a potato estate with mud cabins for their tenantry. The Bill sanctioned by the Government last Session to afford compensation to tenants for improvements contained a sound principle, which would have been capable of future extension; but unfortunately the House of Lords had thrown out the Tenants' Improvements Compensation Bill in a House of only twenty-five Members, eleven or twelve of whom were short-sighted Irish landlords, directly interested in the question. It was not endurable, and was calculated to bring the Constitution of the country into contempt, that a few Irish landlords in another House should thus set aside the deliberate opinion of that House and of the leading statesmen of the country; and now the Committee were asked to pass the stringent clauses of these two Bills now before it without the compensating clauses of the Tenants' Improvements Compensation Bill. He hoped, however, that the Government would not weary in well-doing, and would not be deterred from bringing in or supporting a measure embodying the same principle of justice to tenants by the obstinacy of those who resisted such a fair principle. He believed that if the Government only passed a Leasing Powers Bill and a Landlord and Tenant Bill, without accompanying them by a tenants' compensation measure, they could never satisfactorily settle the vexed question of the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland, whilst they would incur public odium and contempt by legislating for the benefit of the landlords, and entirely neglecting the interests and just claims of the tenants of Ireland. He therefore hoped that the whole of the Bills on this subject now before the House would be deferred till next Session, when they would have proper time to consider them, and to deal with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's (Mr. Napier's) numerous Amendments. [The hon. and learned Gentleman then proceeded to examine the various provisions of the two Bills under consideration, contending that they were all liable to fatal objection by their failure to recognise the principle of just compensation and protection to tenants.] The fixture clause of the Leasing Powers Bill was, in his opinion, most inadequate to protect the interest of the occupier. The advocates of these Bills professed to be desirous of encouraging agricultural improvement; but they introduced no provisions really calculated to attain that end. As to the Leasing Powers Bill, though there was much in the Bill that was good, the notion that it would afford a remedy for the improvement of land in Ireland was the most preposterous that ever was entertained. When he first went to Ireland, at about twenty years of age, he was surprised at the difference between the residences of the country gentlemen and the squalor and misery about them. He thought he was not wrong in stating that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in influencing a noble Lord of great ability and promise in the other House (Lord Donoughmore) to introduce the Landlord and Tenant Bill in opposition to the measure introduced by Government last year, had done his best to strangle the Tenants' Improvement Compensation Bill. He would oppose the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition to the utmost, and he trusted the Government would not lend its assistance to a project which was inconsistent with the whole tenor of their lives as public men, and inconsistent with the course they thought proper to pursue last year. If the Bills were agreed to, it would be the most absurd piece of legislation which had ever insulted the good sense and liberty of the subject, and he called upon Government and the House to join with him in preventing the passing of such a measure.


said, he should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Serjeant, for he considered that it was impossible, with the slightest justice to the tenants of Ireland, to legislate at the present moment on this question. He trusted that Government would not go on with these Bills this Session.


said, there were fifteen or sixteen pages of Amendments which were proposed to be made in these Bills, and it was impossible for the House fully to consider them this Session. Moreover, the people of Ireland had not had time to consider the Bills. Under these circumstances he thought it would be better to postpone them.


said, he thought it would be convenient if Government would now state the course they intended to pursue with regard to these Bills.


said, he agreed with the hon. and learned Serjeant that it would be better that there should be no legislation than to have these two Bills; but he deeply deplored that there was to be no efficient legislation this Session. The good crops which were now on the land would be used by the tenants as the means of emigrating, so that the country would lose more of its people and capital. He implored Government not to commit themselves to these Bills. The Bills of last Session contained many good provisions, and if Government had stood by those Bills they would have done much to settle this question. He would also appeal to the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin and the Irish Conservative Members not to attempt to proceed with the Bills, seeing that they would not settle the question.


said, that so far from looking upon this question simply as a landlords' question, without taking into account the question of justice to the tenantry, he had always been disinclined to give his assent to any measure, from whatever quarter it emanated, that was not based on full justice to the tenant class. He regretted that the Government of the Earl of Derby had not had an opportunity afforded them of settling the question, convinced as he was that they were sincere and honest in their desire to effect that object. Indeed, he believed that, if they had the same chance allowed them which had been given to their successors through two Sessions of Parliament, they would have brought it to a settlement ere this. And he thought he was entitled to ask the Government to explain how it was that at the end of a second Session of Parliament they found themselves as far as ever from a satisfactory solution of the question? The tenantry of Ireland had a right to expect legislation with regard to it; so also, in short, had every other interest in that country. But what was the course which the Government had adopted? He charged them with acting neither fairly nor honestly. They first pledged themselves to deal with the question last year, but they allowed the Bills to remain in Committee upstairs and on the table of that House until the end of the Session had nearly arrived, and then it became impossible to proceed further with them. A similar course had been pursued this year. Was there a Government or was there not? Could any private Member of that House attempt to take up a question of this importance with any hope of conducting it to a successful issue? Certainly not. There were many private Members who would be glad to do so if they saw any chance of success; but the only persons who had it in their power were the Government of the day, and they had attempted nothing of the sort. The responsibility of doing it lay upon the Government, and the Government of the Earl of Derby had acknowledged that responsibility, and applied themselves on the earliest occasion to the endeavour satisfactorily to discharge it. But the Government of Gentlemen sitting opposite were chargeable with the grossest and most censurable neglect. He now called upon them to tell the Committee frankly, did they support these Bills or did they not? Would they go on with them, or was it their intention to shelve them, and so put off the settlement of the question to a future that might never arrive? He condemned their conduct as trifling with the House and the country, as well as with the great and important interests that were at stake.


said, he must contend that the Committee to whom the Bills had been referred had faithfully performed their duty, and any delay that had occurred was not attributable to that House, or to the Government, but to another place. He maintained that these were not Government Bills, but the Bills of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Napier). They all hoped that the present Session would cone to an early close, and it was utterly impossible to discuss Bills which came down in such a mutilated shape, and with compensating clauses that were a delusion. He would recommend that the Bills should be withdrawn, and that the duty and responsibility of future legislation on this subject should attach to the Government. It was abdicating the functions of Government to leave such highly important Bills in the hands of private Members. He trusted that next Session the Government would bring in measures on this subject upon their own responsibility.


said, he must deny that the Bills were now those of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Napier). True, their substantive matter was first introduced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to whom the credit was due for what little good remained in them; but in the mutilated condition in which they appeared before the Committee, he utterly denied that they were the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Bills. The Duke of Argyll was the man who, in another place, moved the third reading of the Bills; and if they were not now Government Bills, at least by adoption, he could not understand what Government Bills were.


said, that if these Bills had been Government Bills, he did not scruple to say that they would not have been proposed for the consideration of the House at that period of the Session. He could assure hon. Members opposite that nothing could have been fairer than the course taken by the Government upon these Bills, or more courteous to the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier). The Bills undoubtedly originated in that right hon. and learned Gentleman's skill and ability, and when he (Sir J. Young) came into office, he took them up and forwarded them by every means in his power; but he had never claimed the merit to himself of having prepared them. During the last Session of Parliament a Committee was appointed to consider the Bills, and they were fairly and fully discussed in that Committee. Late in the Session they were sent up to the other House, where they were taken charge of by the Duke of Newcastle; but it was found impossible to carry them in the course of that Session. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members cried "hear." The Bills he alluded to were the Landlord and Tenant Bill, the Leasing Powers, and also, be it remembered, the Tenants' Compensation Bill. Having been read a second time in the House of Lords, it was then resolved by that House to send them to a Select Committee at the commencement of the present Session. The result was, that two new Bills were produced—the Landlord and Tenant Bill, and the Leasing Powers Bill—both bearing a great resemblance to the Bills of last Session, but unaccompanied by any Tenants' Compensation Bill; and he was bound to admit that these two Bills by themselves would be unsatisfactory to the people of Ireland in case they were not accompanied by a Compensation Bill. As far as the Bills went they were good. He believed the Landlord and Tenant Bill was a good consolidation of the law. The Leasing Powers Bill also was a very good measure, and, taken by itself, would be a great improvement on the existing law. But was he to take these for a whole code? Should they legislate on a part of the question only? Would that be acceptable to the people of Ireland? He thought it would not. As far as he knew, every Irish Member who supported the Government in that House had come to him and expressed a wish that the Bills should not proceed further during the present Session. What he had done was this: he had endeavoured to obtain from his noble Friend who regulated the business of the Government in that House such precedence for the consideration of these Bills as would enable the right hon. and learned Gentleman to go on with them; and when the noble Lord the Member for Coleraine (Lord Naas) asked him to say what were the intentions of the Government, surely those intentions were sufficiently explained by the fact that Government had given up this morning to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to press forward the Bills, which he contended were still in his hands. If there were no hope of carrying them during the present Session, he did not think it would be fair or right to press them on the House. [The right hon. Baronet was proceeding to speak of Mr. Serjeant Shee's Tenant Right Bill, of which he said he had never been the supporter, when his attention was directed by the Irish Solicitor General to the clock, which indicated the near approach of the hour of four, the time appointed for the suspension of the morning sitting. He thereupon abruptly resumed his seat; and Mr. NAPIER rose to address the Committee.]


protested that he had not completed his speech, and had sat down merely because he understood the hour for adjournment had arrived.


said, that it was a matter of the most vital importance to the people of Ireland that the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Young) should be allowed to finish his remarks.


held, however, that Mr. Napier was in possession of the House.


then rose and said, he must express his surprise at the decision come to by Government after the course they had previously taken with regard to these Bills. It was then for the first time that he had heard the intention of the Government not to proceed with them. They had been taken out of his hands entirely, and had gone up to the House of Lords as Government Bills.

[At this point in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's address, four o'clock, having arrived, Mr. BOUVERIE vacated the chair.]

House resumed.

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