HC Deb 02 March 1855 vol 137 cc11-8

having moved that the House at its rising should adjourn until Monday next,


said, he would take that opportunity to call the attention of the House to the position in which Irish busi- ness stood, and the very great injustice which had been done, both to Ireland and her representatives, by the mode in which that business had been neglected. He had no wish to raise any imaginary feeling of injustice done towards Ireland, but he certainly considered that every effort at legislation for that country by independent Members had been most unfairly dealt with by the Government. He had before him a vast number of Bills which had been introduced at different times for the amelioration of the social and commercial condition of Ireland. The first was the Jurors Bill, brought in last Session by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside). The Government at the end of the Session stopped that measure, and said they would prepare a Bill of their own on the subject. They did so, and he found that no less than three-fourths of the provisions of the Government Bill were actually taken from the measure introduced by his hon. and learned Friend. Well, that Bill had been laid on the table, and from week to week up to the present time he had waited to see it proceeded with, but he had waited in vain. Another subject of deep interest to the people of Ireland was the fisheries. Bills on that subject had been brought in during the years 1823, 1824, and 1825, and yet nothing had been done, nor did he know what were the intentions of the Government upon that highly important subject. Then came the Landlord and Tenant Bills; how had the Government acted with respect to them? Two Bills were introduced on the subject last Session, but neither of them was adopted. Those two Bills had this Session been embodied in one measure by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Serjeant Shee). The first part of that Bill had been adopted, but the second part had been rejected. Considering the manner in which these several measures had been treated by the House and by the Government, he said—and said advisedly—that it was hopeless for the people of that country to look to Parliament for justice; he therefore appealed to all the Irish Members to rally together and insist by their combined efforts that measures which had been so carefully prepared and so long desired by the people of Ireland should become law.


said, he was not at all surprised at the appeal which had been made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the hon. Members below the gangway, in order to enlist them under his banner. It was, however, for them to consider how they would answer that appeal. But he thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not dealt fairly by the sense in stating that Ireland was treated less well in their deliberations than any other part of the United Kingdom, and that Irish measures were neglected by the House. He thought he could honestly appeal to hon. Members as to whether the portion of time which was taken up during the last Session by Irish Members upon Irish subjects was, at least, as great as could be reasonably assigned to that part of the United Kingdom. He did not grudge it, but, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would refresh his memory and look back to history, he would find that his complaint was neither just nor well founded. He was sure the House of Commons duly appreciated the importance of Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom; and more especially, in consequence of the circumstance of the present time, he was assured, if the attention of the House were called to any legislative improvement that could be made in the condition of that country, that there was not a Member in it disposed to treat the matter lightly, or to refuse giving due attention to whatever might be brought under the notice of Parliament to promote the interest of Ireland. With regard to the Bills to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had referred, he had, in the first place, made it a grievous complaint that all Irish Bills had been postponed. Now, on that point, he would appeal to the candour of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and ask him whether that postponement might not fairly be attributed to the circumstances under which the Gentlemen who had been sitting on the Ministerial benches for the last month had been placed, when all the legislative functions of the House had been in a state of abeyance? It was impossible that measures of any importance could be submitted to Parliament for discussion unless the Members of the Government who were more immediately responsible for such matters were present to discuss them. He was therefore sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not consider it at all unreasonable that such measures should be postponed until they had a Secretary for Ireland and the law officers for Ireland in the House ready to discuss them. With regard to the Jury Bill, the great complaint on the part of those who originally brought in that Bill was, that the Government had pirated three-fourths of the measure and embodied it in their own Bill. Now, he thought if he had proposed a measure that had not been successful, and any other Gentleman had subsequently introduced a Bill on the same subject and had taken three-fourths of his own, he should rather be disposed to thank him for what he had done than to blame him. It would be an acknowledgment of the good judgment he had evinced in framing his Bill. Then, with regard to the Fisheries Bills, they were not brought in by the present Government, but by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He did not think the mere fact that such Bills had been postponed was a just ground of complaint by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or evinced a disposition on the part of the House to treat the interests of Ireland lightly or with indifference; on the contrary, it was rather a proof that they were disposed to give a liberal consideration to every measure connected with that country, without, in the first instance, prejudging its merits. Now, with regard to the Landlord and Tenant Bill, the great complaint, as he understood, was, that the provisions of that Bill were most dexterously interwoven with those of two other Bills, one of which was and the other was not likely to pass the House, and therefore that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Sergeant Shee), either in connivance with the Government, or actuated by some evil disposition with regard to Ireland, endeavoured to obstruct his own measure by tying to it two Bills, one of which was sure to cause the failure of the other. This, however, was a matter with which the Government had nothing to do. It would be far better for the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, and the hon. and learned Serjeant the Member for Kilkenny, to settle it between themselves, and afterwards the right hon. and learned Gentleman could come before the House and state his complaint. The Government were not responsible for any interruption of public business which had arisen from causes beyond its control, and he thought he was quite justified in asking for the forbearance of Irish Members to allow this measure to stand over until the Irish Government was properly represented in that House.


said, he had listened with close attention to the noble Lord, but had failed to discover the slightest argument in favour of the course adopted. His right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin never charged the House of Commons with not having attended to Irish business, for he believed there never was a body more favourably inclined to consider questions affecting the interests of Ireland. What he complained of was, that every Irish Member was kept in a state of doubt, uncertainty, and inextricable confusion with respect to what was to take place, or what the Government intended to do for Ireland. Irish Members were sometimes accused of drawing upon their imaginations, but he thought the noble Lord had drawn upon his imagination when he stated that last Session the House had been day after day occupied with the consideration of Irish measures or the discussion of Irish questions. What measures—what questions, he would ask? He knew of none which had so engrossed the attention of the House. At present, through the operation of the Incumbered Estates Court, an enormous quantity of land was daily changing hands in Ireland, but the Landlord and Tenant Bill had a retrospective clause, the effect of which would be that persons buying such estates would be liable to burdens which they did not at present contemplate; and, therefore, he thought his right hon. and learned Friend was quite justified in calling upon the Government for explanations, which, however, he was sorry he had not been able to obtain. As to his right hon. and learned Friend applying for assistance below the gangway, he thought hon. Members who occupied that position were likely to find the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) much more squeezable than Lord Derby, for when the fate of Lord Derby's Ministry depended on supporting the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny's Bill, he said he would not do so, and the fate of his Ministry was decided by that answer. It was of the last consequence to know what the Government intended to do, but, perhaps, his right hon. and learned Friend was too pressing in asking the noble Lord to explain his intentions when he, perhaps, had not yet formed them.


said, he would, in a few words, explain the course which he had thought it right to pursue, and he must be allowed to say that he thought the noble Lord had acted very wisely in giving no answer to the hostile question of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier). He certainly was surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland under Lord Derby's Government should get up in the presence of his right hon. and learned Friend and blame him (Mr. Serjeant Shee) and the Government for having sanctioned the Tenants' Compensation Bill containing retrospective clauses. The Government of Lord Derby was composed of some of the most eminent lawyers who had ever held office in this or any other country—Mr. Blackburne, Lord St. Leonards, and the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin; when it was probable they could keep their places by so doing—and after they had even permitted their Attorney General to charge those who supported the Landlord and Tenant Bill, containing retrospective clauses, with confiscation—they themselves brought in Bills containing retrospective clauses. [An hon. Member: No, no!] Did the hon. Member deny it? He would read a passage from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin, in proof of his assertion. That right hon. and learned Gentleman would not deny it. [Mr. NAPIER was understood to say that he did not.] That admission was enough, and would save him the trouble of reading the extract which he held in his hand. Nothing could be more distinct than the recognition of retrospective compensation by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. What happened afterwards in respect of these Bills? They were referred to a Select Committee, and discussed for two or three months, and the result was that the Government of Lord Aberdeen proposed a modification of the Bill of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, providing that compensation should be limited to those improvements which were visible on the surface of the soil, and also that every tenant who made improvements should be entitled on eviction to compensation by money payment. The Bills went to the House of Lords in that shape. A correspondence then took place between the right hon. and learned Gentleman and Lord Donoughmore, and the result was, that the House of Lords passed all the Bills sent up except one, and then the right hon. and learned Gentleman endeavoured to persuade the House of Commons to pass the other Bills without it. When the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell) was appealed to on the subject, he said, I intended to pass Bills which should be good for the landlord and good for the tenant; but if they send down that which is good for the landlord, and refuse to pass that which is good for the tenant, I will have nothing to do with them. What had been done during the present Session? Last Session he had proposed a Bill, founded upon one which had been frequently introduced by Mr. Sharman Crawford. That Bill was lost, and in order that he might not in future be called unreasonable, he gave notice on the last day of the Session that he should propose the adoption of the very Bills which the country had approved of. He took the Compensation Bill and the Leasing Powers Bill, and put them together. He would not allow the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin to get only one Bill passed, and that the Landlord Bill, without taking any notice of the Tenant Bill. To avoid this, he had put the two Bills together, but he had taken care that the Tenant Bill should go first, and the Landlord Bill next, on the same principle by which children were told that, if they would take their rhubarb, they should have a lump of sugar afterwards. The noble Lord at the head of the Government wanted a strong Government, but he would not have it until he had the liberal Irish party with him, and he would not have their support until he settled the Irish landed question. He hoped that the noble Lord would be able to make a unanimous and a strong Government which could settle this question at once and for ever.


said, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had faithfully followed the advice of the noble Lord, who had advised the Irish Members to fight out their quarrels among themselves. The hon. and learned Gentleman had made, for some unknown reason, a violent attack upon the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, and had further attacked, or rather threatened, the noble Lord himself. He (Mr. French) did not see why the noble Lord should express surprise at the question which had been put to him, for Irish Members had always complained of the periods selected for the transaction of Irish business. Not only were Irish Bills brought forward at inconvenient times, but they were generally unintelligible. That arose from the fact that there was no person conversant with Irish law spe- cially employed to prepare these Bills. The Lord Advocate of Scotland was assisted by a Parliamentary draughtsman well acquainted with Scotch law, and the consequence of that arrangement was that Scotch Bills were usually well received by all parties. He certainly was of opinion that Irish Members might postpone their questions until the Government representatives of that country were present, but he would submit to the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether it would not be advantageous to give the Secretary for Ireland the assistance of some person well acquainted with Irish law in the preparation of Bills connected with that country.


said, that some hon. Gentlemen appeared to be seeking to make political capital out of this question. He thought it was not unreasonable that Irish Members should defer their questions till the Secretary for Ireland was in his place, but it was singular to find that the Government had placed on the orders of the day an Irish Bill—the Lunatic Asylums (Ireland) Advances Bill—for second reading. That Bill should certainly stand over till the Secretary for Ireland was in the House; and, moreover, Members ought to be told when the business relating to Ireland would be taken.

Motion for the adjournment of the House until Monday, agreed to.