§ Order for Committee read; House in Committee.
§ Clause 11 postponed.
§ On the question that Clause 12 be also postponed,
MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
complained that through the noise going on it was really quite impossible to say what was taking place.
§ Clause postponed; as was also Clause 13.
§ Clause 14. (Tenants to be entitled to compensation for improvements made before the passing of this Act if evicted).
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, he would move that after "time" be inserted the words "within twenty years." The object of the Amendment was to limit the period during which a tenant could demand compensation.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 11, line 4, after "time," to insert the words "within twenty years."
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 141; Noes 37: Majority 104.
§ COLONEL GREVILLE
said, he must complain of the introduction of such a limitation as that which had been just carried upon a division. If a farmhouse happened to have been erected twenty-one years ago, and had been maintained in proper repair by the tenant at a yearly outlay, that man was now not to be allowed a shilling for his improvement, simply because he had had the misfortune to make it twelve months too soon. The real way to get at the compensation to which the tenant was entitled was, in his opinion, to look at the value of the holding at the time the tenant was dispossessed. He considered that the clause now before the Committee was the very essence of the Bill, and he would rather that the Bill should not pass than that the clause should be mutilated. He considered it was most desirable that, if possible, for the future all matters between tenants and landlords should be regulated by contracts; but, with respect to the past, it was a very different thing. The tenants had for a number of years been 465 accustomed to make their own improvements, and this was the ground on which they now sought to obtain compensation for them. With respect to this question, his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Serjeant Shee) had only proposed that which had been approved by Mr. Burke and by the Devon Commission; and any restriction as to time would prevent tenants from receiving the compensation justly due to them, and this Bill, instead of being a Tenants' Improvements Compensation Bill, would be a Tenants' Improvement Confiscation Bill. The alterations proposed by the Government would render the Bill worse than useless, and convert it into a shape that would give satisfaction to no party; and it was certainly to have been expected that they would assign their reasons for limiting that compensation to improving tenants, which preceding Administrations had not sought to restrict.
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, that the Government had been perfectly prepared to give explanations as to every Amendment they had to propose, but as the Committee had chosen to go to a division before they had had an opportunity of offering their explanations, the Government surely could not be held responsible on that account. He had been asked to assign his reasons for proposing to limit the claim to compensation. Now, it would be recollected that, on the second reading of the Bill, he distinctly stated the grounds and conditions upon which the Government would take up the measure; and that he then sketched to the House the Amendments which he proposed to insert. The only omission with which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Serjeant Shee) could tax him was, with not having then stated the period of twenty years as the limit that he would propose. Now, although he certainly had not, on the second reading, defined this specific period, he, nevertheless, then explained generally that he considered there must be such a limit as to time, in regard to the improvements for which the tenant should be entitled to compensation, as would enable them to obtain clear and distinct evidence as to their nature and value. Now, it must fairly be confessed, that the precise limit of twenty years was necessarily in a great degree arbitrary, and that no reason could be given for fixing upon that period more than upon twenty-five or thirty years; but then, if twenty-five years had been chosen, it might as justly have been asked why 466 should no compensation he allowed for improvements made twenty-six years ago, as it was now asked why it should not be granted for those effected twenty-one years since? But, further, it was said, "Why should there be a limit placed at all?" Well, such a limitation, he maintained, was justifiable both upon principle and policy, because, without it, there would be no satisfactory means of judging between the past and present condition of the holding, so that uncertainty and, consequently, endless litigation would ensue as to the value of particular improvements. It would, therefore, be prudent to shut the door to disputes, by fixing a limit as to time, and, in the specific period which they had selected, the Government had been guided by what they considered would be fair and just both to the tenant and his landlord, and what they thought would rally round I them the greatest amount of public support, whether in that House or out of it. They had endeavoured to reconcile the conflicting views of those who opposed any limit to retrospective compensation, and those who were hostile to any such compensation whatever, and he hoped the Committee would adopt the proposition they had felt it their duty to make.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHEE
said, he thought that the Government had not dealt fairly with him in the course they had taken. He had introduced the Bill, which was the very identical measure (with the exception of a few words) that the late Government had passed through that House. Its principles received the assent of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman), of the Solicitor General for England, and of the noble Lord the Prime Minister; and he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) was invited on the second reading to allow the Government to take charge of the measure. [Mr. HORSMAN was here understood to dissent.] He (Mr. Serjeant Shee) was only now speaking of what took place publicly in that House. To induce him to give up the Bill to the Government, the Secretary for Ireland sketched the Amendments which he deemed necessary, the most important one of which referred to retrospective compensation. It was absurd to think that he would have consented to allow the Government to take charge of the Bill if he had had the least idea that they intended thus to limit the compensation to houses built within the last twenty years; and he had great cause to complain of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and the 467 right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, for not having told him openly at first what was the nature of their proposed Amendment. He thought the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) had done more to obtain justice for the people of Ireland than any man who had preceded or followed him. He certainly did pity the Irish law officers for their share in the matter. Remembering all he had heard them say on this subject, and all he had known them to do, he deeply regretted, for the honour of the profession to which they belonged, that for the sake of place they should have been parties to mutilating the Bill in the manner it had been done. If ever the people of Ireland should raise a pillar on which to record the names of those by whom they had been betrayed, the names of the two hon. and learned Gentlemen would stand high on the list. Remembering how often they had pledged themselves to throw to the winds every prospect of place rather than not secure for the tenantry of Ireland that full measure of justice to which they were entitled, he could not but express his wonder and amazement that they should have consented to such a proposition as this. The least the Government could do now was to restore to him the Bill which, by a contrivance, they had induced him to give up to them. The alteration which they now proposed would completely destroy all the good which the Bill was originally calculated to work. Out of the number of holdings into which the land of Ireland was divided, those under fifty acres were 485,349, those under thirty acres were 432,778, and those under fifteen acres were 293,000. Those fifteen-acre holdings were almost all of them, of the vast majority of them, in the best circumstanced counties in Ireland, and the latter clauses of the Bill, unless they protected the tenants by suitable compensation clauses, would offer a direct encouragement to speculators in land to get rid of small tenants. He would call attention to the right mode of treating those tenants, and then the Committee would see how much it differed from the mode adopted in the Bill as it now stood. He held in his hand an address to the tenants of the Southborough estate from the Directors of the Presbyterian Widows' Fund, and it would be found that the directors were disposed to treat the tenants justly and fairly, thus showing their desire to adopt his recommendation, 468 and affording a strong argument to show that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland would be doing an injustice by the Amendment he proposed. They stated in that address that farms could easily be pointed out for which a respectable occupying tenant would probably pay double or treble the rent rather than give them up, and they hoped the instances that had been given of respect for industry and good conduct would inspire confidence, stimulate exertion, and make every tenant feel that he was labouring for himself and his family. They also stated that the valuation of the land should be made upon the honourable principle of "live, and let live," and they actually declared that they would in no case raise the rent on account of the tenant's improvements. He had before him the cases of some twenty or thirty tenants on one estate in the north of Ireland, showing a state of things precisely the same as was stated by the directors of that property. That was the state of things existing in almost all the counties of Ulster, except Donegal, and they were putting it into the power of an embarrassed, vindictive, or foolish man, to get rid of his tenants, and throw his land into large farms. He had been most anxious that the Bill should pass, and he had not the least wish to raise obstructions in the way of the present Ministers, whom he desired to see remaining in office as long as the war lasted; but the noble Lord at the head of the Government would do infinitely better to abandon the Bill altogether than to pass it mutilated by these Amendments. He trusted that the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin would restate the reasons which induced him in a former Session to object to any limitation of the retrospective clause rather than have a limitation which would give rise to all sorts of uncertainty, and much dissatisfaction.
§ MR. NAPIER
said, he had not the slightest objection to comply with the request of the hon. and learned Gentleman. His reasons for the opinion to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred were the same as those which influenced the Select Committee in recommending—and it would be found in the latter part of the Bill—that where compensation was made with regard to improvements on the soil, there should be no limitation of time. He thought before, and he still thought, that the two parts of the Bill should be 469 consistent in that respect. The clause applied only to improvements on the soil; and the principle was unquestionably a just one, that when a tenant was in possession of his farm, paying his rent, and performing all the conditions and covenants by which he was bound, if he were dispossessed by the mere power of the landlord, he was entitled to the value of any improvements he had made up to the time of his dispossession—not taking an arbitrary period of time as the standard of value, but the actual value at the time of dispossession, having regard to the period of possession, and other circumstances. That was the view by which he had been guided upon the question of compensation. The select Committee had come to the same conclusion, holding that the best period of fixing the value was at the time of dispossession, and he had never heard any satisfactory answer to the reasons which led them to come to that decision. He adhered still to the opinion that the value of the improvements made on the farm, as well as the actual value of the premises, which might be constructed—provided for in the 42nd Clause—things visible and tangible—ought to be fixed on that principle. His great object had always been to do what was just, and at the same time what was practicable on that matter. He had deferred very much to the views of others in endeavouring to arrive at a sound conclusion, but he would never, for the mere sake of popularity, give an opinion that he did not consider favourable to a right settlement of the question. He did not quarrel with the proposal of the Government, who had taken twenty years as the period of possession, but his opinion was in favour of the principle of actual value at the time of dispossession, as it was a consistent and intelligible one. He did not, however, think there was any great difference be-between them.
§ MR. T. KENNEDY
said, the great difficulty in the clause was the endeavour to legislate upon the same system for the past as for the future. There had been very great improvements made by tenants under his own eyes, without any expenditure on the part of the landlords; but if the principle of the clause were to be applied to the past, it would do the greatest injustice to those who had made those improvements. No doubt, an honest landlord would give his tenants compensation for such improvements at present; but in a few years that desire would he forgotten, 470 and the number giving such compensation would be very small indeed. The mistake was, that there were not two distinct schedules in the Bill—one referring to the future, the other to the past. Legislation on the subject of improvements was inevitably retrospective. A large expenditure of labour, which was the capital of the tenant, had been given to those improvements—in some cases the acreage had been doubled by the labour of the tenant. The law, therefore, would be either retrospective justice, or retrospective robbery as regarded those persons. He, therefore, pressed upon the Committee the impropriety of dealing with the past upon the same principle as they proposed to deal with the future. If they adopted that principle they would inflict a lasting injustice upon the tenantry of Ireland.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, he had listened with anxiety to what had fallen from the Secretary for Ireland, in order to ascertain his reason for insisting upon a limitation of twenty years; but the right hon. Gentleman had treated the question sometimes as one of principle, sometimes as one of policy, and he believed that the real ground of the right hon. Gentleman's conduct was official cowardice. The Government were at that moment endeavouring to please Irish Members upon both sides of the House, and the result was, that they were emasculating this measure to such an extent, that even the author of it was obliged to state that it would not satisfy the people of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he fixed the particular period of twenty years because he wanted evidence; but was it not easy to obtain evidence to prove who had erected the solid buildings which stood upon a farm? He would appeal to the two Irish law officers who had sat in solemn conclave at Dublin with other Irish Members to consider the question, rather than to the right hon. Gentleman, who knew nothing whatever of Ireland, and whose every step since he had taken office had been a blunder, from one absurdity to another. The Attorney General and the Solicitor General for Ireland had solemnly declared that they would never take office until they were able to obtain a fair and ample measure for the settlement of the question, and he put it to them to say whether the Bill, after the alterations it had undergone, could be regarded as satisfactory? He was of opinion that it would excite an universal feeling of indignation 471 throughout Ireland, and the Government would again have to turn their attention to such matters as the suppression of monster meetings. Could it have been supposed that the most important Amendment in the Bill would have been proposed without a word of explanation, and that an attempt would have been made to smuggle it through the House? He denounced this mode of proceeding as most unfair to the House and the public. There was no distinction between the circumstances of the south or west of Ireland and those of the north. It was downright robbery and confiscation to say that tenants who had made improvements within a term beyond that fixed by the Bill, were to be deprived of all claim to compensation. A vast quantity of property was now passing from old to new landlords in Ireland, and the interest of the tenant ought to be regarded before that of the proprietor. The amount of money sent last year from the poor Irish exiles in America was 1,730,000l., and not less than 150,000 persons left Ireland for the United States and other parts of the world. The Government, instead of going about the Continent to raise a Foreign Legion, would do well to rely more on the Irish people, and not drive them from their country and the ranks of their Queen. Their great object ought to be to induce the tenant to invest every available shilling, whether in the form of money or labour, in the soil; encouraging him to do so by just prospects of compensation. As it was, the only class which would profit by the Bill would be jobbing land agents and plundering attorneys. He charged the Government with having brought upon us a direful series of miseries and disasters by their in competency in administration, and especially by their misconduct of the war. The Government might say they could not hope to pass the Bill through the other House, but he believed the Bill as brought in by the hon. and learned Serjeant would insure the tranquillity and prosperity of Ireland, and that the Irish landlords themselves would, in a few years, be convinced that the hon. and learned Serjeant was the best friend they ever had.
§ MR. I. BUTT
said, he wished to recall the attention of the Committee to the real question before it. The words "twenty years" were adopted in the 14th Clause almost without discussion; and the real question before the Committee was to leave out the words "any of the classes," and 472 insert "within seven years before the passing of this Act shall have executed improvements," &c. He (Mr. Butt) could understand the adoption of the principle of twenty years, as it was one running through many Acts of Parliament and was adopted as the limits of evidence. But they had applied that principle in a wrong direction; for the tenant was more likely to lose evidence than the landlord, and the hardship would, therefore, be proportionably greater. The clause had nothing to do with compensating periods, and the only question raised was, what length of possession should destroy evidence. He admitted that twenty years was not an unfair term; but he thought the onus of proof should not be thrown upon the tenant.
§ MR. VINCENT SCULLY
said, it was open to the Committee to decide how the principle of twenty years should be applied; whether to roads and fences, or whether to farm buildings? They had decided upon the term of twenty years, but not as to the class of improvements to which that term should apply. With respect to the retrospective principle, the onus of proof was to rest with the tenant; if he could bring no proof, of course he could make out no case of compensation. In the Bill, a large number of proofs were required to be made out, some of which were of an almost impossible character. He thought, if the retrospective principle was to be admitted at all, there should be no limits placed on it.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 12, after the word "otherwise," to insert the words
§ "except for non-payment of rent."
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 136; Noes 49: Majority 87.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHEE
said, he wished to move the omission, after line 25, of certain words which provided that, in giving the tenant compensation for improvements, due regard should be had to the length of time during which he might have enjoyed such improvements.
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, he thought that it was immaterial to retain the words objected to, and he would therefore assent to the Amendment.
said, he differed from the right hon. Gentleman, for he believed that it was very material, that the clause should remain as it stood at present.
§ MR. CAIRNS
said, he agreed with the 473 hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington that the question was one that ought not to be treated lightly. It was most important, in giving a tenant compensation for improvements made before the passing of the Bill that due regard should be had to the length of time during which such improvements had been enjoyed.
§ Question put "That the word proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 116; Majority 40.
§ On the announcement of the numbers,
§ MR. MALINS
said, he wished to call the attention of the Chairman to the fact that three hon. Members who had voted in the majority were not in the House when the question was put. (Cries of "Name!") The right hon. Gentleman, the principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, was one of the Gentlemen in question.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he hardly knew what was to be understood as being within the House. He was in the lobby immediately adjoining the House when the doors were opened, and if that was not within the House he was quite willing that his vote should be struck off.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he had heard the Chairman putting the question, but, as he happened to be in conversation with the Solicitor General at the time, if he were called upon to state what the question was he could not say.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, that if an hon. Member was within the House it should be assumed that he heard the question put, but if he was not within the House then he was not entitled to vote.
§ MR. MALINS
said, he thought that within the four walls of the House should be presumed to be "within the House," and not the lobbies.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he wished to ask how it would be possible to make the objection if it were irregular to discuss the question after the division was over?
§ MR. GROGAN
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Malins) called attention to the fact before the Chairman announced the numbers.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he was willing to admit he was not in the House, and that his vote should be struck off, but hoped it would be understood that in future no Member could vote unless he was actually in the House when the question was put.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, there were means, of course, of ascertaining whether the doors were unlocked or not by examining witnesses at the bar. But one thing was certain, that the objection was taken, by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Malins) before the doors could possibly be unlocked. The single vote was of no importance on the present occasion, but there were certain rules—the result of the experience of those who had preceded them in that House—to which they ought always to adhere. There might be occasions when a single vote might be of the utmost importance—the Act of Settlement, for instance, was carried only by a majority of one—and therefore it was desirable to adhere strictly to the rule.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the important points were—first, what were the rules of the House; and, next, had those rules been departed from? He thought it was unadvisable to carry to a conclusion the debate which had arisen, and would suggest that it would be better by common consent to refer the matter with reference to future proceedings to that high authority to whose decisions they were accustomed to yield.
§ MR. M'CANN
said, that it had been decided last year that a Member behind the chair was actually in the House.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he apprehended there were two points—first, whether his right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey) was within the House when the question was put; and, next, whether a Member who was within the House when the question was put must necessarily have heard the question which was put?
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he thought the matter was become one of some gravity. They were now advanced into July, and every one desired that business should be conducted as rapidly as possible, but if the principle was to be laid down that no 475 one should vote unless he heard the question which was put, there would be little prospect of that speedy conclusion of the Session in which they had been indulging. He could not agree with the noble Lord that there were two points under discussion. There was only one question—Was the right hon. Member, whose vote was impugned, within the House or not when the question was put? It could not be allowed to become a matter of controversy whether every Member who voted heard the question put.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he accepted the solution of the right hon. Gentleman to the second question. The only question which remained was, whether the spot in which his right hon. Friend was when the question was put was within the House or not?
§ MR. MALINS
said, he would refer to the process of "counting the House," in which the Speaker only noticed those Members who were within the doors of the House itself.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he was willing to allow his vote to be struck off, if it could be done without deciding hastily upon the question which had been raised. He did not dispute that a Member in order to vote, must be within the folding doors of the House; but he thought, before laying down a general rule, it would be better to take Mr. Speaker's opinion. He (Sir G. Grey) had been of opinion that any Member who was within the precincts of the House was entitled to vote.
SIR FRANCIS BARING
said, he also thought it would be best to take Mr. Speaker's opinion. He did not concur that Members who had been outside the door when the question was put were not entitled to vote. If the doors had been locked, any Member found in the gallery might be compelled to vote, of which he had known several instances.
§ MR. MALINS
said, he would withdraw his former Motion, and move that the Chairman report progress and ask leave to sit again forthwith, in order that Mr. Speaker might take the Chair and explain the rule to the House.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, that the old rule was that nobody could vote who was not within the four walls. In the old House nobody could doubt what was meant by "the four walls," but the present difficulty arose from the double wall caused by the division lobbies. By the strict rule 476 nobody could vote who wan not within the four walls limiting the room in which they were.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he thought it probable that, if the hon. and learned Member would wait a little time, the question would be satisfactorily settled.
§ [The division bell was then rung, and the Chairman was about to put the question, when—]
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, that he understood the opinion of Mr. Speaker was that the Committee should proceed, and that when the Chairman left the Chair he should report the circumstance to him, and he would then state the rule.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, he could confirm the statement of the noble Lord. He had that moment left Mr. Speaker, who informed the Gentlemen who had waited upon him in consequence of the present discussion, that the vote, if an improper one, might be struck off even on the following day.
§ MR. DISRAELI.
We reserve to ourselves, however, the right to strike off the votes of any other hon. Members given under similar circumstances.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, he would now move an Amendment in line 29 limiting the amount of compensation to a sum not exceeding four years of the net rent paid by the tenant for his holding.
said he should oppose the Amendment, and would suggest, as the term "rent" was a very uncertain one, that the words to be introduced, if any such were necessary, should be "four years' net value of the land," instead of "four years' net rent."
§ MR. SERJEANT SHEE
said, he also opposed the Amendment, because, taking in connection with the alterations which had been already made in the Bill, its effect would be to deprive the tenants of all compensation whatever.
§ Question put "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 180; Noes 54; Majority 126.
§ On the Motion that the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill,477
§ MR. J. G. PHILLIMORE
said, he should move its omission. In his opinion the clause was a wanton violation of principles which even the most despotic Governments held to be sacred; and although the present Bill was confined to Ireland, the principle involved in the present clause was well worthy of the attention of English Members. In opposing the clause he was actuated by the desire of preventing the addition to the Statute Book of an absurdity, resembling too many others by which it was disgraced. In his opinion, no law ought to interfere with private judgment, for if such a principle was once admitted, where would it stop? It might even extend to compelling Irish merchants to take the opinion of Parliament as to the employment of their capital. What could be a greater violation of the principles of justice than, after inviting persons to make a purchase, to come down upon them and compel them to pay an additional sum. The proposal was one which, after all, would be of no great advantage to the tenant, and that he would impress upon hon. Gentlemen for whose precarious support the Government had consented to adopt the present Bill. If a great principle must be violated, let it be done for a great object. (Laughter.) He repeated that opinion, for it was founded upon a maxim of Burke, that, if you murder, rob also; and, if a great principle of justice was to be violated, it should only be done for a great public object. All retrospective legislation, except in cases where persons had unwittingly incurred penalties, was, in his opinion, unjust; but if the present clause were agreed to, the tendency of it would be to prevent the wholesome system of voluntary agreement which was daily being brought more into operation between landlords and tenants in Ireland. It would instil the principle of not depending upon voluntary contract, but upon an Act of the Legislature. Whether he looked to the codes of other nations or to our own law, he could find no precedent for a provision so unjustifiable as that contained in the present clause—a provision which, under the name of law, violated all law; which, professing to be for the benefit of the tenant, would exeite dissension between him and his landlord; which professed to advance the cause of civilisation, but which destroyed the rights of property upon which civilisation itself depended for its advancement.
§ MR. POLLARD-URQUHART
said, he felt he should not be doing justice to his constituents, who had sent him to that House to defend their property, if he did not support the clause. He believed that the Bill without the clause would be worse than useless. He thought that there were two points to be considered—first, whether it was just that the tenant should have the benefit of improvements made with his own capital, or by his own labour; and, secondly, if just that he should, ought he to be debarred from that benefit—and he used the word "debarred" advisedly—because he was a poor man? With regard to the first point there was no difference of opinion, nor could much exist with regard to the second. If a Bill were passed saying that for all improvements made after the year 1855 the tenant should be allowed compensation it would be equivalent to giving to landlords all improvements which had been made by tenants before that year, and would, in point of fact, be a mere act of confiscation. How could they expect the tenants of Ireland to he well affected towards the Government of this country if they did not fulfil one of the primary duties of a Government towards them? He hoped the Committee would decide in this case upon considerations of equity and justice, and that they would not be influenced by any rhetoric whatever to disregard the claim of the tenants to compensation for their own property.
§ MR. MALINS
said, he still retained the opinion that the clause was opposed to all the rights of property, and was fraught with dangers of every kind. It was said that there was a distinction between the case of the landlords and tenants in Ireland, and the case of landlords and tenants in England; but he could understand no such distinction. The laws of the two countries were the same, and the two classes had in each case to appeal to the same tribunals. By the law, as it at present stood, the owners of property were only bound by certain written contracts, and on the faith of that law English capital to a large amount had recently been invested in the purchase of land in Ireland [Cries of "No, no!"] He believed that those gentlemen who cried "No, no!" must he very oblivious of what had of late years taken place in the Irish Encumbered Estates Court. But it made no difference in his argument whether the capital recently invested in the purchase of land in 479 Ireland was English or Irish. There could be no doubt that property to a vast amount had of late years changed hands in Ireland. It should be assumed that the purchasers of that property had examined the leases on which it was held, in order that they might ascertain on what terms they were to hold it; and if that Bill were passed, a new obligation would he introduced into every lease against the landlord, and without his consent. Such a principle would be fraught with danger to all property, for if it were adopted in Ireland, there could be no reason why it should not be extended to England. It was a sacred principle in the English as well as in all other laws that there must be two parties to a contract, and if you threw upon the landlord an obligation to make to the tenant a compensation which he had never engaged to take upon himself, you violated the rights of property. He should like to know from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, whether be was fully cognizant of and sanctioned such a principle as that there should be forced upon the landlord of England and Ireland—for he would not look upon this solely as an Irish question—an obligation into which he had never entered, and which, if he had thought it would be cast upon him, would have induced him never to grant the lease? If the principle were a good one, he did not object to their making this a prospective Bill, which would then be applicable, unless the parties by contract provided to the contrary; but he did object strongly to its retrospective action. He begged, in conclusion, to impress on the minds of English landlords that, if they were misled by the idea that this was merely a question of Irish legislation, and that one principle could be acted on with regard to Ireland and another with regard to England—if they were misled by this idea, they would only have themselves to blame, if, next year a Bill should be introduced, throwing upon them the same obligations which they now attempted to place upon the landlords of Ireland.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, that the present clause was similar to that which was contained in the Bill of 1853, with this difference, that the Amendments introduced by the Government in the present clause rendered it milder and more limited in its form. He was, under these circumstances, surprised to find that hon. Members who had voted in favour of the clause in the Bill of 1853 had changed 480 their opinions, and now opposed it. With respect to the retrospective operation of the clause, he felt convinced that, as a mere question of justice, more could be said in favour of its retrospective than of its prospective effects, and that it would only by law do that which was already done by every just landlord in Ireland.
§ MR. M'CANN
said, the hon. Member had expressed his surprise that hon. Members who supported the clause in 1853 should oppose it now; he would, however, frankly state the reason—it was because in 1853 large meetings were held in Ireland with respect to this question, but that now there were none.
§ MR. NAPIER
said, he thought that the question most to be considered with regard to a clause of this kind was, whether it would meet the cases of the bonâ fide tenant and of the fraudulent tenant? There was a part of the clause to which he had always been opposed, and that was the proviso at the end of it, requiring that every tenant who might by any possibility have a claim against his landlord should register his claim within twelve months after the passing of the Bill. The effect of that would be to make Ireland one scene of hostility and litigation. If they passed the clause, could they expect that it would be passed by the other House; especially as their Lordships had rejected it on a former occasion, and had last week passed the General Consolidation Bill, in which they had adopted the fixture clauses providing for all the cases of buildings within twenty-one years, which were included in the present clause?
MR. J. D. FITZGERALD
said, he was surprised to find the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, attempting by a sort of special pleading to wriggle out of the support of a clause which was much milder in its character than the corresponding provision of the measure which he had himself introduced. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's clause was retrospective without limit as to time, whereas the present one contained such a limit, and, in addition, protected the landlord by requiring the tenant to give him notice, within, twelve months after the passing of the Bill, of his intention to claim compensation. Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman made the insertion of that very necessary proviso the excuse for his now opposing the clause altogether. Now, no doubt, retrospective legislation was unsound in principle, but the exceptional 481 circumstances of Ireland, in one important part of which tenant-right prevailed, justified its adoption, on the present occasion, fenced as it was by such safeguards as would effectually prevent its working any injustice. Moreover, without this clause, the Bill would be valueless. He had been exposed to taunt and insult on account of his conduct in regard to this question. It was true that he had supported the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Bill in 1853, and he had never since altered any opinion that he then expressed. His votes on this subject, he admitted, might have been different, but he would tell the Committee why they were so. In 1853 they passed a Bill more liberal than the present one, but it was rejected by the other House; and therefore it was much better that they should content themselves with proposing a measure which, although somewhat limited in its benefits, was likely to become law, than to prolong a struggle in behalf of a more extensive Bill, which they could have no reasonable prospect of carrying for an indefinite period.
§ MR. CAIRNS
said, it was his intention to support the clause, and he wished to state his reasons for doing so. The Committee should remember that that House passed a Bill in 1853, containing a wider clause than the one under discussion; and in the same year the other House, which was said to have a greater respect for the rights of property, carried a general Landlord and Tenant Bill, comprising a retrospective fixture clause, providing that any house built or other improvement made twenty-one years before the passing of the Bill might, at the expiration of the lease, be wholly removed by the tenant, unless the landlord paid him for it according to a valuation. Therefore, when the present clause was denounced as a violation of property and of the principles of justice, it should be borne in mind that the same character would equally attach to provisions which had already obtained the deliberate sanction of both branches of the Legislature. The argument of the injustice which the clause would do to purchasers of estates in the Encumbered Estates Court had weighed much with him; but, on mature consideration, he had come to the conclusion that it was not an argument which ought to prevail in opposition to the clause. The proviso was certainly objectionable, and he was of opinion that it ought to be amended as suggested by the hon. and learned Member 482 for Kilkenny (Mr. Sergeant Shee), so that the notice should not require to be delivered in within the twelve months, unless the landlord demanded it in writing.
MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, I he must deny that the present was a question which concerned land only. If that precedent were once made, every species of property, whether agricultural or commercial, would be affected by it. The principle on which the Bill was justified, if once admitted, must be extended to all kinds of property, and Parliament must interfere to remedy all grievances connected with property of every kind—such, for instance, as the exemption from poor rates possessed by funded property. The Solicitor-General for Ireland had attempted to induce the Committee to consent to the clause by arguing that the privilege given to the tenant was so fenced round, that it could not do any possible harm; but what was the meaning of that? Simply, that the largest sacrifice of principle was made, and the least possible good derived from it. The hon. and learned Gentleman talked, too, of the present measure being a settlement of the question; but it was his opinion, that he was very much mistaken if he thought so. Not a party in Ireland interested in the subject was satisfied with the Bill. From the north to the south, there was a universal cry of opposition to the Bill, which the hon. and learned Gentleman affected to call a settlement of the question. It would actually put the tenants in the north in a worse position than they were at present; for, in future, instead of enjoying the rights or privileges which custom now conferred on them, the landlords would insist on confining them to the strict letter of the Act of Parliament. So that the Bill, while in the south it took away the property of the landlord and gave it to the tenant, in the north it took away the property of the tenant and gave it to the landlord. The noble Lord at the head of the Government admitted, that this was exceptional legislation, arguing, however, that it was necessary. But why was it necessary? Because, all legislation for Ireland for many years past had been exceptional. The evil was that everything connected with Ireland was made exceptional, and therefore he urged the House to insist on the maintenance of those honest principles in accordance with which alone legislation could safely proceed.
§ Question put, "That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.483
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 102; Noes 138: Majority 36.
§ On the Motion that the Chairman report progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHEE
said, it was his belief that the noble Lord at the head of the Government would not surely go on with the Bill now. A farce was a very good thing now and then, but such an utter farce as proceeding with the Bill after the last division would ho discreditable to the Government of the noble Lord. He had considerable doubts whether the noble Lord ever meant to pass the Bill in any shape, because, remembering that the noble Lord, when Home Secretary, assented to a really good Bill, he could not understand how the noble Lord could be sincere then, and likewise sincere now. He therefore entreated the noble Lord not to pass the Bill in its present shape, after the very little good which the noble Lord was willing to leave in it had been taken out. It had been stated by the Solicitor General for Ireland that his motive for mutilating the Bill was, because it would have no chance of passing in another place without such mutilations. That was the hon. and learned Gentleman's reason for voting in direct opposition to the course he took last year. Now, he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) had no such distrust of the House of Lords. He had never known an instance of any reform, political, commercial, or financial, which the House of Lords had not been willing to entertain, and, finally, if it were a real improvement on the existing law, to adopt; and he had not the slightest doubt that, if the Bill had been properly submitted to the House of Lords by Lord Aberdeen's Government, it would have obtained a better position than it had obtained in the House of Commons during the present year. But he firmly believed that no honest attempt was made to pass it. He trusted the noble Lord would do the people of Ireland the justice not to mock them with a Bill which could be of no possible utility to anybody in that country.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I must say, Sir, the course pursued by the hon. and learned Gentleman is somewhat extraordinary and eccentric. The hon. and learned Gentleman brings a Bill into this House. He then earnestly entreats me to take charge of his own offspring, promising every support to carry it through the House; and in every stage of the Bill, from that moment to this, the hon. and learned Gentleman has opposed everything 484 that we suggested with regard to it. All the obstacles that we have experienced in our endeavours to frame the Bill in such a manner as to make it likely that it would pass into a law have been brought forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and that at the utmost length; and, when he says the Bill fails for want of explanation, I am sure that is a plea which cannot be applied to his suggestions, for they have not been negatived from any want of explanation on his part. This Bill has been discussed in all its parts, and if I am asked what the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes I am utterly at a loss to say. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman wish the question to be settled or does he not? Will he have the goodness to answer that question? Does he wish the Bill to be sent to the Upper House in a shape in which it is likely to pass into a law, with concessions on the part of those who hold extreme opinions whether for or against the measure, so that it may be made satisfactory to the majority of the people of Ireland? Or does the hon. and learned Gentleman wish to retain a grievance which may be the subject of a hustings' speech? Does he wish to represent to the much-injured tenants of Ireland how we have prevented them obtaining any redress; and, while he has been the instrument of that wrong, that he may also have the merit of standing forth on the hustings as their champion? What we intend to do in the meantime with the Bill is to fix it for Thursday next, and then the House will be prepared to say what ought to be done regarding it.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHEE
The noble Lord, Sir, has put a question to me which I shall answer. The noble Lord wants to know whether I wish to keep this question unsettled, so that I may be enabled to stand on the hustings as the champion of the Irish tenantry. I am astonished that the noble Lord, considering his own conduct on this measure, should have the presumption to make a charge of that kind against me. I brought in a Bill last year, at the instigation of the majority of the representatives of Ireland, which was referred to a Select Committee, and considered by them with great care. They brought in a Report, and afterwards the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and a Member of the Government who acted under him, brought down a Bill to this House. The noble Lord, in his heart, disapproved the Bill. He did not go upon the hustings, for he kept his place, and 485 his office, and his salary. The noble Lord had declared distinctly in the Committee that he disapproved the Bill, and when the Committee went against him he left it, and never appeared again, leaving his subordinate (Sir John Young, the then Secretary for Ireland) to do what he would not do himself. Yet he kept his place, as, indeed, he has hardly been out of place for forty years. Indeed, there is hardly any humiliation of any kind that he has not subjected himself to in order to keep in place. And then, when an independent Member of this House adopts the very Bill which his Government approved, and introduced, and carried by large majorities, all the Members of the Cabinet voting for it except himself—he keeping his place, not with standing—he has now the presumption to stand up in his place and taunt the man who brought in the Bill, and who, by so doing, has lost nearly all his popularity in Ireland by what he has done; he has the presumption to attack that man for having an unworthy object in view upon the hustings. I feel perfectly safe with respect to the noble Lord, and I think he will be a little more careful before he attacks me again. The noble Lord lives in a glass house. He has found his way to a high place in this House and in the Government; but there are many men of his rank who would not arrive there by the same means. I am as free from imputation as the noble Lord can be, and I will only further remind him that he is among the last men in this House in a position to throw stones at others.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I shall be guilty of the presumption of attacking the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman whenever I think proper. There are few Members who are more open to change than the hon. and learned Gentleman has shown himself to be. As to the course which I took last year with respect to the Bill to which he alludes, it was perfectly plain and undisguised. I said in the Committee that I disapproved, on principle, the foundation on which the Bill rested. I repeated that statement in my place in this House, and observed that, disapproving in the abstract the principle on which a part of the Bill was founded. I nevertheless thought that, in the existing condition of Ireland, some concession of principle should be made—that there were circumstances connected with the tenantry of Ireland that rendered it necessary to make some sacrifice of abstract principle, 486 in order to remedy practical evils. I say again, Sir, that I cannot understand how any man who sincerely desires to have this question settled should insist on inserting in the Bill provisions that he must know would prevent it from passing in the House of Lords, and which have prevented part of it from receiving the sanction of this House.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ The House resumed; Committee report progress.