HC Deb 09 July 1856 vol 143 cc530-6

Order for Committee read.


said, he rose to move that the order for going into Committee on this Bill be discharged. Considering the late period of the Session, and following the advice which he had received from various Gentlemen whom he had consulted, he had come to the conclusion that he should not be doing justice to the merits of the question if he were to call upon the House now to go into Committee on the Bill. If the Session, however, had not been so far advanced he should not have been deterred by the singular expedient which the Government appeared to have adopted of calling upon the hon. Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford) to go shares with them in the blame of rejecting the Bill, He had too much reliance on the shrewdness and sagacity of that hon. Gentleman to think for a moment that he would allow himself to be made the cat' spaw of the Treasury Bench in getting rid of a measure which they themselves were "willing to wound, yet afraid to strike." He did not think that the hon. Gentleman was the man to lend himself to helping the Government out of the predicament into which their own intrigues had brought them. The interpolation of the Nawab of Surat Treaty Bill into the private business on two successive Wednesdays had prevented his bringing the Bill on before, and the abridgment of that day's sitting, coupled with the state of business in the House, did not allow the least hope that it could be satisfactorily disposed of during the course of the Session. He should therefore leave the Government in full possession of the advantage which they had so honourably achieved, though it was no great exertion of chivalry or generosity on his part to say that he did not grudge them one particle of the credit which their proceedings in this matter had gained for them in that House and in Ireland. Of the personal explanation which he had been fortunate enough to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman the Irish Secretary it would be superfluous cruelty to say one word, because, though it was most exceptional in tone and temper and was rather offensive than defensive, to attempt to refute it would be something like the undertaking of a well-known alderman "to put down suicide." If the right hon. Gentleman should on any future occasion feel it his duty to oppose any measure of his, he only hoped that he would accompany that opposition with arguments and statements such as those which he had advanced against the Bill now before the House. According to the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman had been ordered by the Government to make, the Government had voted for the second reading of the Bill because they acknowledged the justice of its principle; but they opposed its further progress because they wished to prevent that principle being carried into operation. It might be said that he had no reason to complain of that course, because it was precisely the course which the Government adopted with their own Bills; but, as nobody that he knew of took the slightest interest in their Bills, while a whole people took a deep interest in this Bill of his, he might be permitted to object to the parity of proceeding. The right hon. Gentleman apparently found ample satisfaction for his own intellectual shortcomings in dwelling on the state of destitution to which, he said, the Irish Tenant League had been reduced. Though the Irish Executive might be bankrupt in sense, the right hon. Gentleman found consolation in the fact that the Irish Tenant League was bankrupt in circumstances. That, he apprehended, was not a very strong argument at best, but its strength was very much diminished by the fact that it was unfounded. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman on a former occasion was to the effect that the Tenant League was so bankrupt that six of its members were obliged to club together to guarantee the payment of £6, but he had been misled partly by a typographical blunder, and partly by his own wilful indiscretion. On the death of the Member for Meath (Mr. Lucas) a temporary suspension took place in the operations of the League, and it being found that two sums amounting to £54 and £60 (not £6) were owing, the payment of them was guaranteed by several of the members of the League, but at the next general meeting the whole matter was settled. How the right hon. Gentleman used the argument which he drew from the weakness of the League he could not see. If it was good for anything it was an argument against the second reading, and not in favour of it. The policy which guided the quantula scientia was, that when Tenant League was strong and active the just principles which it advocated must be paltered with, but if it was weak and inactive the principle might be trampled on. It was to be hoped that during the recess the right hon. Gentleman would devote himself to a study of the geography of Ireland and of the habits and wants of the Irish people, of which he seemed at present to be profoundly ignorant, and perhaps in the course of the next Session he would be able to furnish the House with some ideas of his own as to the justice of the principles on which this Bill was founded. Instead, too, of engaging himself in importing into Ireland a scheme of English legislation which was as unacceptable an importation as himself, he might well employ his leisure in devising some scheme for the reformation of those Irish Members by whom he was at once supported and besieged. He should conclude by moving that the Order for the Committal of the Bill be discharged.


said, he felt himself called upon to condemn the anomalous course taken by the Government in respect to their support to the second reading of the Bill; and he would also enter his protest against the proposition that the true sense of the House was taken on that division on the principle of that most objectionable measure. He had been greatly opposed to the Bill, but all those who were in the same circumstances had waited for some exposition of the views of the Government on the subject. The consequence was that the Bill had a majority in its favour on a division taken early in the day in a very small House, when many hon. Members who intended both to speak and vote against the measure were not present. He protested, therefore, against the assumption that the deliberate sense of the House was recorded on that division.


said, he considered there was a deeper and graver question connected with this Bill—namely, whether that House was the proper tribunal to redress an amount of grievance admitted to exist by tourists, writers, Englishmen, and every one who had taken the trouble to look into the question of Irish grievances. It was admitted on all hands that the question of landlord and tenant which had agitated so long the Irish mind ought to be settled. He objected to English and Scotch Members deciding questions which had reference to Irish wants. Was Ireland to be legislated for by Scotch and English ignorance? Were those Members the proper parties to legislate for Ireland? On a previous division there were not fewer than eight Irish Members to one in favour of the measure—that was with regard to the whole division; the majority on the other side being made up of English and Scotch Members. The retrospective clause was also defeated by forty-eight to nineteen Irish Members, the others being English and Scotch Members, the majority against the clause being only thirty-six. It was determined not to give justice to Ireland, lest a precedent should be set of doing justice either in principle or detail, It was high time for the Legislature to interfere, and to say how Ireland's opinion was to be expressed through their representatives the Irish Members.


said, he wished, as an Irish Member, to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland. He from the first had lamented that a private Member should have brought forward such an important measure. His hon. Friend was fully justified in bringing in the Bill, though he knew there was no possible chance of succeeding in even carrying it through that House. Such important measures brought in by private Members were only a sham, as every one knew they could not be carried by private interest. He would tell the Scotch Members that they had as great an interest in this measure as the Irish themselves, for the national weal could not be promoted without Ireland was made happy by just and wise legislation. It was admitted on all hands that this measure was essentially necessary, and he would advise the Irish Members to press on the Government the necessity of making it a Government measure, and announcing in the Royal Address at the opening of Parliament that some such measure would be immediately brought forward. He implored the right hon. Gentleman to give a promise to introduce such a Bill early next Session, so that the Irish people should not be driven from the country to seek foreign shores, as had been the case for years past. At the time this country was embroiling itself with Russia, thousands and tens of thousands of Irishmen were leaving their country. He entreated the right hon. Gentleman not to drive the people of Ireland to despair, as they almost despaired of justice being done in this direction, but to redeem the pledge which he had virtually given to see justice done in this case. The right hon. Gentleman had met with many mishaps in the course of the Session; but he would forget all the right hon. Gentleman's shortcomings, and many that were to come, if he would promise to lay on the table a measure early next Session that should deal equitably with the question. He wished to preserve the people of Ireland to the empire; for he believed if the Irish people were retained in their own land, they would do more to recruit the national army than all the Foreign Enlistment Bills that could be projected.


said, the question of landlord and tenant was a question of life and death in Ireland, inasmuch as it was a question of self-preservation. He warned the Government that, when a new election took place it was not unlikely that the Members who would be sent to that House would be Members pledged to an equitable settlement of the question. The Bill was only a compromise, and he trusted, when a new Bill was introduced, it would be based on sounder principles of political economy, such as fixity of tenure and value in corn rent.


said, he must deny that the entire of the Irish Members were in favour of such a Bill, and if the Irish electors did, as the hon. and learned Member suggested, study political economy, he was sure they would never vote for such a Bill, which, in fact, was originally only got up for an election cry. He had no objection to a measure being introduced that would consider contracts between landlord and tenant; but if such a Bill was carried as was advocated by Mr. Sharman Crawford, the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. G. H. Moore), and other Irish Members, the only result would be to unsettle property and contracts, and to create business for lawyers.


said, it was his belief that the support given to the Bill was sincere. In all countries where tranquillity was enjoyed the tenants had received some security for their tenures, the only exception being Ireland. It was, however, more essential that that security should be given to Ireland, in consequence of difference of religion and other social estrangements, which were well known and admitted to exist. Whiteboys, oakboys, peep-of-day-boys, ribbon societies, and Orange societies, might all be traced to the want of security to tenants, and the anomalous state of the law between landlords and tenants. He would appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench to consider how the question would affect the representation if the people returned Members pledged to this question and open to every other question. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had obtained great fame as the statesman who had been the first to stem Russian aggression; but would it not be as well for him to augment his reputation and his laurels by securing a measure of justice for the Irish people?


Sir, the course which Her Majesty's Government have to pursue in regard to this question is, I think, sufficiently clear. My own opinion on the relations between landlord and tenant has never been concealed; it was plainly expressed in the Committee of which I was a Member some years ago, and it has also been fully expressed in this House on former occasions. On general principles I think it undesirable, and indeed highly objectionable, that Parliament should interfere with the transactions between parties who may make bargains with each other. There can, I imagine, hardly be two opinions on the proposition, that it is most hurtful for the law to interpose between landlords and tenants, or between buyers and sellers of any description, and prescribe to either on what conditions their mutual contracts shall be based. But Her Majesty's Government have felt and have avowed that, in the very peculiar position in which Ireland stands in regard to the relations between landlord and tenant, an exception might be made to that general and just principle. On that ground, dealing with this matter as an exceptional case, we last year undertook the charge of a Bill which—although we might not approve in the abstract all the arrangements it proposed—we were still led to believe would, if passed into law, put an end to those local disputes which have disturbed the tranquillity of the country and prevented that harmony which ought to prevail between different classes in the sister kingdom. We did our best to settle this question last Session, but we were disappointed in our expectations. Owing to the conflict of opinion between different parties as to the provisions of the measure, that Bill failed. We come, then, to the Bill now under discussion, which is certainly very different in its character and scope from the measure which we declared our intention last year to support. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland did not deem it his duty to oppose the second reading, in order that ample opportunity might be afforded for a full expression of the opinion of the House on the Bill; but I cannot regard the measure as one which ought to be passed into law, and, as we have now arrived at another stage of its progress, I shall certainly feel it right to—[MR. HORSMAN: The Bill has been withdrawn.] I was not aware of what occurred earlier in the discussion, having been detained elsewhere by other business; but, as I learn that the Bill has been abandoned, of course the debate upon it ought to close. The proposers of the measure are entitled to insist on the observance of the maxim, "De mortuis ml nisi bonum." If it is dead, let us be silent on the subject. One word as to the intentions of the Government respecting this question in the next Session. I have already stated our opinion on the general question; and although we do not think that in the present temper of Parliament there is any likelihood of any Bill on this subject passing which we might be disposed to bring in, we shall of course feel it our duty to give the most respectful consideration to any measure which any independent Member may introduce.

Order discharged.