HC Deb 08 July 1859 vol 154 cc894-9

said, he wished to ask the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Whiteside) what course he proposes to take with respect to the Bills for the adjustment of the relations subsisting between Landlords and Tenants in Ireland, of which he gave notice when a law officer of the Crown.


said, that on the eve of the division which had led to the resignation of the late Government he had been asked by a certain hon. Gentleman what course he proposed to take in reference to the subject to which the question which had just been put to him related. His impression was, however, that the hon. Gentleman who had addressed to him that inquiry had already made up his mind as to how he should vote on the impending division. He had, nevertheless, replied to the inquiry in the only manner in which he could consistently with truth, and had stated that the late Government had prepared a Bill, or rather two Bills, on the subject, and that, in accordance with the instructions which he had received, he hoped to be able to lay them within a few days on the table of the House. He had not, however, entered into any discussion as to what was meant by the words "tenant compensation," for probably one of the compensations they would expect would have been compensation for paying their rents. The House was well aware what course that question had taken in Parliament. The settlement of it which had been proposed in 1852 had been rejected. About a year ago a certain number of gentlemen had waited on the Earl of Derby, with a view of ascertaining from him whether his Government was prepared to take the subject into their consideration. He (Mr. Whiteside) was at the time engaged in carrying through the House the important measure which related to the transfer of land in Ireland, and he would then have found it impossible to proceed with Bills for the Amendment of the law of Landlord and Tenant in that country. The answer, therefore, which had been returned to the gentlemen to whom he alluded was that the Government would inquire into the question. The issue was, that he had in the course of last autumn, received from his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge, who at the time was Secretary of State for the Home Department, an authorized statement of that which the Cabinet would be prepared to do in connection with the subject. He (Mr. Whiteside) had as a consequence applied to the gentleman who had written the best account of the result of the inquiry of 1843, in which 40,000 interrogatories were embodied, and Bills were prepared providing for the settlement of the question, when the House was pleased to give that vote which rendered further progress in the matter on the part of the late Government impossible. He believed that in dealing with the question he possessed the confidence of the gentry of Ireland and of the tenant farmers of Ulster, and thinking it was possible to settle it in a satisfactory manner he had devoted his best endeavours to the attainment of that object. Some hon. Gentlemen, to show their great interest in the subject, deemed it their duty, when the new Government was but a few days in office, to ask whether they proposed to introduce a Bill with respect to it, but he should remind them that it was not the most agreeable of all topics for discussion in the month of July, and that it could not advance the views which they proposed in any great degree to put questions to the noble Viscount opposite at the wrong time, and when they must know that no advantage could result, from the inquiry. A small portion of the Irish Members who were known under the designation of the "independent party" had, he thought, been used rather roughly in the matter, because they ventured to support the late Government against the twenty-one Roman Catholic Members who voted on the side of the noble Viscount. They had been charged with giving up the tenant-right question. He, however, could conscientiously state that the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk, the hon. and learned Member for Dungarvan, and he believed the hon. Mem- bers for Meath, had privately sought for the adjustment of the question, stating that they wanted nothing for themselves, but were simply desirous that a subject of great importance to their country should be satisfactorily disposed of. The hon. Member for Dungarvan had even gone so far as to bring under his notice the case of a priest who had been dispossessed of his farm without adequate compensation for the improvements which he had made upon it by a gallant officer who had returned to take possession of his property from the Crimea. That case had come before the Lord Chancellor in Ireland, and it was but just to the gallant gentleman to whom he had referred to state, that when he had become aware of the remarks which the learned Judge had deemed it his duty to make with respect to it, he had at once written to offer to the priest the restoration of the property which he had held. The hon. Member for Dungarvan had asked him whether the measures which he (Mr. White-side) proposed to introduce would meet such a case, and his answer had been that he thought they would. He had simply to add that the late Government had done all in their power to bring about a settlement of the question of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland, but now that they were no longer in a position to deal with it satisfactorily, they were forced to resign it into the hands of those to whom it had been confided by a vote of that House.


said, that this question, which deeply involved the interests of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland, was not a party question, and it no longer stood in the same position as formerly. The more violent promoters had cooled down, and as the principle was admitted on both sides of the House, he saw no reason why a fair settlement could not be made. He was sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken was too patriotic to refuse to lay the Bill which he had prepared upon the table for the benefit of hon. Members and of the present Government.


I avail myself, Sir, of the earliest opportunity that has occurred since the change of Government, to express my regret that a party vote should have had the effect of delaying, and perhaps of defeating for some years to come, the settlement of this important question, I confess I have heard with surprise that some hon. Members have expressed a doubt as to the bonâ fide intentions of the late Ministers on the subject. Nothing, it seems to me, could have been more explicit than the promise made by the late Government. The bonâ fide nature of that promise was rendered evident (if indeed any extrinsic proof was necessary) by the antecedents of the Government, by the nature of certain attacks made upon them in organs of the Liberal party, and by their conduct subsequent to that promise. The friends of Tenant Right now universally acknowledge that the Bill introduced by Lord Derby's Administration in 1852 was in every respect an admirable Bill, and even the present Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Serjeant Deasy) has expressed his regret that it had not been carried. Many Members will doubtless recollect that it was a large body of Irish Liberal Members, headed by the late Mr. John Sadleir, who succeeded in defeating that Bill. Although Lord Derby's Government was overthrown, the Members of that Government did not give up the question. An eminent Member of the late Cabinet, Lord Donoughmore, brought in two Bills on the subject in February, 1854. Of course Lord Donoughmore's Tenant Right Bill contained compensation clauses. Objection was taken to it on that very ground. A Member of the present Cabinet, no less a personage than the Lord Chancellor, objected to any sort of compensation whatever. That learned Lord distinctly declared that "even prospective improvements were a fit subject for contract, and not of legislation." Another Liberal Lord Chancellor (Lord Cranworth) also declared that, in his opinion, "the noble Earl's measure went a great deal beyond what was just." When Lord Derby's Government was again restored to office, a, deputation waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to urge upon him the necessity of a Tenant Right Bill. The conversation which the Members of the deputation had the honour of holding with the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion was directed altogether to the subject of compensation for improvements. Referring to that conversation, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer stated, in a few days after, that the Government were determined to settle the question in a manner which would be satisfactory to the Irish people. On the hustings of the University of Dublin the late Attorney General for Ireland referred to the Bill which Lord Derby's Cabinet had sanctioned. He stated distinctly that when the Bill became law it would have the effect of preventing a recurrence of cases such as those to which reference has already been made, where tenants are evicted and are refused compensation for their improvements. He actually described—as an example of the action of the Bill in this respect—a case in which a priest was refused compensation for his outlay on land, and he stated that the Bill would provide a remedy for all such cases. The organs of the liberal party in the press assailed the late Government for their Tenant Right sympathies. The Saturday Review said, that "Lord Derby's Government was the only Government that ever had the audacity to sanction Tenant Right." Such was the position of the case when Parliament met. Hardly had the House assembled when the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the Irish Members that the very first Bill to be introduced after the financial statement were the Irish Tenant Right Bill, Surely under such circumstances it was not unnatural that Gentlemen from Ireland who had at heart the interests of the Irish tenant, and who indeed value those interests more than they value the party interests in this House, should have given the late Government some support on a vote of want of confidence, taken as an Amendment to the Address. What was the result of that party move? I have heard with deep regret the answer which the right hon. Gentleman, the present Attorney General for Ireland, has given on this subject. The late Government had a Cabinet measure prepared. The present Government are not even ready to promise a Bill of any kind this Session. We are now informed that the subject will be carefully considered by the Irish branch of the Administration after the present Session has closed. If they determine on a Bill, they will report their deliberations to the Cabinet. The Cabinet will then proceed to consider the subject; and it is possible that the Government may be in a position to promise a measure of some sort or another next Session. The Tenant Right question is by far the most important in relation to Irish interests which has been agitated for many years. I earnestly hope the present Government will deal with it more speedily than they appear at present to think expedient. I can assure them it is a question, the urgency of which cannot be overrated. But, whatever course Her Majesty's present advisers may adopt, I feel confident of this, that when the people of Ireland know what has occurred, they will feel grateful to those Irish Members who voted a few nights ago in favour of the late Government.