HC Deb 18 July 1855 vol 139 cc1028-34

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

MR. M'MAHON moved, that the House go into committee on that day three months. The object of the Bill was to give greater facilities for evicting cottiers from their dwellings. The law afforded ample facilities for that purpose already, and did not require to be made more stringent. The measure was originally introduced by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Somerville), who, when Secretary for Ireland, was the promoter of some of the most mischievous Bills that were ever passed against the interests of that country.


in seconding the Amendment, said, that in his opinion, the Bill ought to be entitled one for giving facilities of ejectment to landlords, which was a principle that the House ought not to sanction.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.

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


said, he gave full credit to the opponents of the Bill for honesty of purpose, but he avowed that his only object was to improve the condition of the dwellings of the people, which was at present a disgrace, not only to the country, but to humanity. He must also deny that the effects of the measure would be to increase eviction and misery. The present condition of the law was the only cause of the continuance of such a state of things, for such was the delay in recovering possession by the landlord, such the annoyance, the expense, and the uncertainty, that he would not provide a proper description of habitation for his tenants. The first attempt at legislation, in respect to the subject now before the House, was by the insertion of a clause in the Act for the abolition of arrest for debt for sums under 10l., the working of which clause had been most beneficial; and, in reply to certain questions put relative to that clause, Mr. Porter, the chief magistrate of Dublin, had stated that such had been the difficulty experienced by landlords in recovering possession, that large numbers of honest artisans in Dublin had been obliged to sleep in the streets and lanes of that city. There were various modes by which tenants were occasionally got rid of. In some cases landlords, who obtained access to the apartments above, tore up the boards and deluged the rooms with water, while those below broke holes in the ceiling and suffocated the occupants of the rooms above with burning straw. Another communication stated that a landlord who did not wish to incur the expense of a regular eviction intrusted the affair to an agent, who first removed the sashes, but, the tenant still remaining, he then removed the door; still the tenant would not stir, and at length, having put up the shutters and stopped the chimney, he fumigated the room with burning sulphur, and thus got rid of the occupants. Although such practices might not be resorted to in rural districts, the landlords refused to repair the houses, trusting to the tumbling of the roof, or the building becoming a mass of ruins, to get rid of the tenant. The consequence was, that the hovels were in a state of filth, dirt, and degradation, and if the present measure could in any way increase the misery of the poor, he would sooner cut off his right arm than have introduced it. So far from it being a Bill which would give a greater facility to evictions, he believed that its adoption would tend materially to diminish them.


said, that everybody must be satisfied that nothing but motives of humanity, and a desire to extend protection to the labouring classes of Ireland, who were more unprotected, even, than the tenantry, could have influenced the right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Somerville) in the introduction of the measure now before the House. There were, however, several objections to it. The Bill now before the House was based upon that of 1851, commonly called the Summary Jurisdiction Act. Great objections had been brought against the principle of that Bill, but he inclined to think that the chief difficulties in the way might be encountered by giving an appeal to quarter sessions against the decision of the magistrates. Whilst every inducement ought to be given to proprietors to erect a suitable class of dwelling-houses for the labouring poor, provided with the conveniences which were required with a view to social progress, it was at the same time right to give due facilities for proceeding against the tenant, if he abused the opportunities of his position. He considered that it was most desirable to encourage cottier tenantry, but the objection to town tenancies applied a fortiori to country tenancy, and the Bill proposed to place the landlords in the position of Judges in their own cause. That was an objection. He thought also that it would modify the jurisdiction to a right to appeal in all cases at quarter sessions. He had no objection to the extension of the Bill to a new class of tenancies; but he would suggest that the Bill should be applied only to tenancies under 8l. a year, in accordance with the former Bill. With those alterations the Bill would be unobjectionable. He thought, however, that it should be withdrawn, for the purpose of introducing those alterations and reprinting it. He was most anxious to carry out the proposition of the right hon. Baronet.


said, he would admit there were two or three small alterations required, which might easily be made in Committee, but he would support the Bill on the ground of the social benefit which it must produce amongst the peasantry of Ireland. It would be advisable to provide that the magistrates deciding cases arising under it should not be justices interested in the premises. He might, perhaps, think some of the provisions of the Bill he had himself introduced three years ago superior; but he was not inclined to offer any obstruction to the measure on that account. Nothing was of so much importance as to elevate the social condition of the people, and the operation of the Bill would unquestionably be favourable to that object, by securing to the labouring classes some little share of the comforts and decencies of life. The Report of the Earl of Devon's Commission clearly showed what lamentable deficiencies existed in that respect in their present dwellings, and if the Bill passed it might be hoped that they would no longer have the pigs and the children huddled together in the same miserable hovel. The Bill provided that something should be done for the labouring classes. The key to the whole improvement of those classes was express contracts, facilities to make them, and facilities to enforce them on both sides. The Bill substantially effected those objects. He believed it was honestly proposed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Somerville), than whom none understood Ireland better; and he hoped there would be a general desire on the part of the House to promote it. He (Mr. Napier) therefore gave the Bill his most cordial support.


said, he gave the measure his most hearty support. He had witnessed some of the most grievous cases of oppressive ejectments made under the present law in times of great distress, for which it was absolutely necessary to provide a remedy.


said, he thought the measure open to so many objections that it would involve the necessity of redrawing it with a great number of alterations. He should, therefore, support the Amendment for going into Committee on the Bill that day three months.


said, he had heard no sufficient objections offered to the principle of the Bill, which he thought a valuable one—that of giving to a landlord who made an improved class of dwellings for his labourers the means of gaining repossession of his property. There could be no greater obstacle to the social and moral improvement of the labouring classes in Ireland than the present state of the law on that subject. The last Report of the Poor Law Commissioners bore testimony to a great improvement in the food and clothing of the lower classes, and also to an advance in the rate of wages, but stated at the same time that there were no signs of any improvement in their dwellings. At present the labourer erected a miserable mud cabin, which it was lamentable to contemplate as a place for the abode of human beings. That was the result of the present system. He earnestly hoped that the House would go into Committee on the Bill, and where the objections to it might be removed by an alteration of details, and the result would doubtless be an efficient improvement on what now existed.


said, he thought the period at which they had arrived was too late for making effective progress with the Bill, and that the best course would be for the right hon. Baronet to adopt the suggestion made to him for the withdrawal of it. The question was of too great importance to the welfare of the labouring classes of Ireland, to be disposed of in a summary way, and ought to be settled by a Bill introduced by the Government. The present measure was open to many objections, and, in his opinion, had no chance of reaching the House of Lords.


said, he believed the Bill to be one highly conducive to the interests of the poorer classes of Ireland, and he hoped the Irish Members would not interpose to prevent its passing. There was a general want of the conveniences which the Bill proposed to provide in the houses of the labouring classes in Ireland, and it would, therefore, be a great advantage to them that it should become law.


said, he objected to such a vast power of removing tenants as that conferred by the Bill being given to the landlords at the present period of the Session. It would be to promote a gipsy population in the country; and he should, therefore, oppose the measure by every means in his power.


said, the great danger of the Bill was to those holders of the franchise in counties who were resident in country towns. The Bill gave the landlord the power to remove them from their tenancy on three months' notice, which would, in fact, enable the landlord to regulate and control the franchise whenever a county election came on.


said, he could not avoid expressing his regret that they were about to go to a division. The right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Somerville) was entitled to great credit for the effort he had made to improve the existing law, but his measure was open to some objections. The first was, that the Bill should not apply to that class of tenements conferring the elective franchise. The next was, that it should confer a right of appeal to quarter sessions. Were those objections removed, they must all concur in the object of the right hon. Baronet, but if he intended that they should go into Committee with the view of pressing the Bill in its present shape, he must decidedly object to their doing so. He earnestly hoped that his right hon. Friend would acquiesce in the suggestion made by his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for Ireland.


said, it would be useless to assent to any proposal which he thought would defeat the object of the Bill. He should have preferred going into Committee on the Bill, and seeing its clauses discussed. A single instance of the operation of the Summary Jurisdiction Act was not known as regarded the elective franchise. The objection to the Bill, therefore, on that ground was idle.


said, two objections had been raised to the Bill; but he would ask whether both those objections were not objections most proper to be discussed in Committee? He was satisfied that the feeling of the House would require the insertion of the provisions in question.


said, he very much admired the conduct of Government throughout the progress of the measure, which was just and equitable, and deserved support. If, however, the important Amendments sketched by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland were not inserted, there could be no hope of the Bill passing that Session. He approved of the objects of the Bill, but unless the propositions of Government were acceded to, he must vote against it going into Committee.


said, he did not wholly approve of the conduct of Government, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland was so mysterious that it was impossible to collect what his vote would be. He believed the Bill likely to contribute to the comfort and happiness of the labouring classes of Ireland, and that it was therefore desirable that it should be passed as soon as possible. He thought it would be quite easy to discuss in Committee the Amendments which it was desired to introduce into it.


said, he thought it would be better that the Bill should be withdrawn now, and be reintroduced in a more perfect form next Session.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 124; Noes 68: Majority 56.

Main Question put, and agreed to; Bill considered in Committee.

House resumed; Committee report progress.

The House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock.