HC Deb 11 June 1860 vol 159 cc282-94

Order read, for resuming Adjourned De- bate on Amendment proposed to Question [15th May], That the Bill be now read a second time:" and which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months.

Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, he assumed that from the time that had elapsed since the last debate on the Bill the House had forgotten its objects. The question was, not what it had been alleged to be, one of insuperable difficulty, and the past failures had had their origin in the want of earnestness and sincerity on the part of Cabinets, or of individual Members, or of the Members of the House generally. It was said, with some truth, that those who were conspicuous in their demands for tenant right had made themselves ridiculous in the country—that they were in the habit of getting up two or three demonstrations on the subject in Ireland in the course of the year, and then letting the matter drop. He confessed that the subject was one which he approached with aversion, because he had an honest conviction that it was not the intention of Parliament to deal with the question in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Irish people. He disbelieved in the professions of the late Government, and the Bill of the present Government he regarded as absolutely worthless. At the same time he would vote for the second reading, in order that in Committee it might, if possible, he converted into a bonâ fide tenant right Bill. If the efforts to make it so failed he would protest against it being considered a settlement of the question, and he would advise all with whom he had influence to desist from agitation on the subject till such an organization was established in Ireland or in Parliament as would give a fair prospect of success. When they spoke of improving the condition of the Irish people they were told that the sure way to do so was to improve the land; but the truth was that in proportion as the land was improved in Ireland the people were destroyed. The landlords in Ireland had the power to make the people happy if they chose; nine out of ten of them could give leases, and they had the power to borrow money to carry out improvements. The present Bill merely enabled the landlords to do these things in a new way; there was nothing in it of a compulsory character—it left everything to the option of the landlord. Whatever were the novelties introduced into the Bill they secured no advantage to the tenant and the people of Ireland were left in exactly the position they were before. Nothing beneficial to the tenants would come from the present Bill. The landowners would only ridicule its provisions and go on, as hitherto, withholding leases and enlarging farms, to be occupied by Scotch or English settlers. The Bill did not contain one provision to mitigate the evils of which the people of Ireland complained. If they were to accept this Bill it would be an admission that they had been the victims of delusion, and that till the present Secretary for Ireland came among them they never knew what the country wanted. What the tenants wanted was some measure that would guarantee to them security for their outlay for improvements—compensation for the capital they laid out—and unless this were done it would be better not to attempt legislation at all. They must also have protection against unjust evictions; for the ancient inhabitants of the country, who were not colonists, held that an eviction was a gross violation of morality. The people of Ireland held that God made the earth for the use of all men, and not for that of the landlord alone. But he regretted to be obliged to say that, in his opinion, there was very little difference between the position of the tenant at-will in that country and the slave in America; for, although it was true the former could not be tied up and flogged, yet he might, if he disputed for a moment the authority of the landlord, be left without a roof to cover his head or a bit to eat. Now he found in the Bill no remedy for the unbridled power of eviction of which he complained, and he thought he was therefore justified in characterizing it as, to a great extent, a useless measure. It was contended, however, that the landlord was, in accordance with the principles of political economy, justified in selling his property to the highest bidder; but was it right, he would ask, to say to the poor man who could not afford to pay a single penny more for his land without exposing himself to irretrievable ruin, that he must not hope to escape the consequences, inasmuch as some stranger from Yorkshire or Inverness would be found ready to pay a higher rent and occupy his place? Such a principle became unjust and iniquitous, when in order to give effect to it, it was necessary to evict the present occupying population, and thus consign them to misery and ruin, and oftentimes to death. Why, if the doctrines of political economy were thus to be carried out to their full extent, Ireland would be depopulated in six months. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) had, in his introductory speech, talked about the prosperity of that country; but he (The O'Donoghue) could not see how she could be regarded as prosperous while discontent prevailed to so large an extent among her people that they were quitting their native shores in thousands. He found from the official returns which had been presented by the Registrar General to both Houses of Parliament, that on the 30th of March, 1851, the population of Ireland had amounted to 6,551,385, and on the 1st of January of the present year to only 5,988,820; while the number of emigrants last year had been 80,599, and the drain from that source continued to show no sign of diminution. Now, what token of prosperity, he should like to know, was to be found in facts which so plainly told their own tale? He might, however, be told that it was not the farmers so much as the labouring class who were leaving the country; but to the justice of that view he must demur, for it was his belief that the farmers and their sons were swelling the tide of emigration in great numbers. The right hon. Gentleman had further, in his introductory speech, stated that the number of evictions was considerably less in Ireland during the present year than it had been ten years ago; but that circumstance only proved that the number of the population had been reduced so low that extermination was no longer held to be necessary to such an extent as before. The right hon. Gentleman had then gone on to point to the action of the Encumbered Estates Court, through the medium of which, he said, £25,000,000 worth of property had been sold, and, for the most part, purchased by Irishmen. What was there to boast of in the Encumbered Estates Court? It only proved that one set of men had been ruined, and that another set had profited by their ruin. That Court only recognized the buyer and seller, and ignored the existence of the tenant. It was a desperate remedy applied to a most disastrous state of things, and it had led to a daily increasing emigration. The people were wretched and miserable, keenly alive to their position; they knew full well that according to law they might be dispossessed in six months, and this power of almost instantaneous eviction was held over them for moral and physical coercion. A Bill which did not apply a remedy to this state of things was not worth acceptance. He would suggest that no landlord, under any circumstances whatever, should be able to evict a tenant unless he held under a twenty-one years' lease; in all cases of dispute as to the fairness of the rent demanded by the landlord, he would send the dispute to be decided before a jury at the assizes or Quarter Sessions, and he would have no appeal from the decision of the Jury. He would allow every occupier to dispose of his interest to any one who offered a fair value, and he would allow him to make any improvements, which, however, should not be chargeable to the landlord if they were not found to improve the letting value of the land. These provisions would remove the feeling of insecurity which was the great source of evil. If adopted, the tide of emigration would be stopped, and the people, who had gone forth in thousands, would be found flowing back to settle in the land of their fathers. He had read an article in The Times which stated that the time might come when an English or Scotch agriculturist who took a farm in Galway or Kerry would be obliged to take over Scotch or English labourers with him. Matters, he feared, had a tendency to realize this prophecy; but he trusted he should never see the day. There was hardly any calamity, except war, that be would not prefer, He thought it would be better for the people of Ireland to live under an autocrat who would secure for them possession of the soil and the right to transmit it to their sons, than to live under a Constitution which only gave them a six months' tenure, and allowed them to be victims of class legislation.


said, he scarcely agreed with one single observation of his hon. Friend who had just spoken, except when he said that a clause limiting the power of eviction to tenants holding leases for twenty-one years, would stop the tide of emigration. That was quite true, for such a clause would induce a tide of immigration to the favoured land, where tenants would be placed in the position of owners. He certainly did not know any position that would be preferable to that of an Irish tenant if he were not obliged, except as a matter of honour, to pay rent unless he had a twenty-one years' lease. He certainly had expected some remarks upon the merits of the Bill, but he had not been prepared for a disquisition upon extermination and the cruelty of landlords. His own experience, which was greater than that of the hon. Gentleman, enabled him to say that the evictions which had taken place were not simple arbitrary acts on the part of the landlord, and that a better feeling was rapidly springing up between landlords and tenants in Ireland. He denied that the tenants were emigrating because of those evictions, for the cause of the emigration now going on was quite different; it was a desire on the part of the young, intelligent, and energetic, to better themselves. Landlords now cherished their tenants, and tenants respected their landlords. To prove his statement, he could appeal to statistics as well as to experience. Were the pauper lists increasing? Were not the prices of stock and agricultural produce rising? Was there not an improvement in the dwellings, the clothing, and the general condition of the people of Ireland? But those facts would not induce him to refuse to pass a Bill which would tend to ameliorate the relations between landlord and tenant. The great cause of the difference between the state of things in Ireland, and that which prevailed in England, was the want of security. The principles of this Bill were threefold—to enable the tenant for life to improve land and to charge the estate as against his successors, to enable the tenants themselves to improve under certain circumstances, and to charge against the owners; and, lastly, to encourage the granting of leases. All those principles wore most useful. The Bill would not give a fee simple to the tenant, but it would enable him to make a fair bargain with his landlord. At the same time he did not think the Bill was effectual in its machinery, or even in its principle, and unless it was greatly altered it would not work at all. He had spoken to many assistant barristers upon the subject, and they all admitted that they did not consider themselves a proper tribunal for the settlement of such questions. These gentlemen, however, were also unanimous in thinking that if those duties should be imposed upon them their salaries should be increased. With respect to the power of charging the estate by the tenant for life, he thought the terms offered by the Bill might be improved, but still he thought the arrangement was sound in principle. With respect to leasing powers, that pro- vision would also be useful; but caution would be necessary in dealing with it, and he thought the powers to be given to the yearly tenant to improve might be more extensive. It was from legislation cautiously and prudently applied that he looked for improvement in the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland, not from Utopian schemes which were only fit for the hustings, and which were certain to be rejected.


said, the Bill did little or nothing to meet the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) had pointed out so clearly in his speech. It only enabled landlords, who had limited interests, to do that which their marriage settlements or other family arrangements now rendered impossible. That, no doubt, was a useful provision, so far as it went; but it conferred no special advantage on the tenant. He hoped, however, that the warnings of the hon. Baronet (Sir John Walsh) would prevent no English Members from voting for a Bill which in Committee might have engrafted upon it clauses of real advantage to the Irish tenants, and which might thus assist in settling a question of vast importance to the welfare of Ireland.


said, his objection to the Bill was that it would never become law. He quite appreciated what had fallen from hon. Gentlemen interested on behalf of a section of the peasantry of Ireland, but he denied that the hon. Member for Tipperary (the O'Donoghue) was correct in stating that he represented the sentiments of the people of Ireland generally, because a large class were directly opposed to the opinions of the hon. Gentleman on this very question. No doubt the events which were now passing in Ireland could not fail to make a deep impression on every thoughtful mind, but their causes were not what the hon. Member represented. If a return could be presented of the ejectments from any Irish county he did not believe that any facts would appear to justify the exaggerated picture drawn by the hon. Member, and even in Tipperarary itself he doubted whether there ever were so few ejectments as at the present moment. It was not true, therefore, that the emigration now going on was to be fairly ascribed to the measures pursued by "exterminating landlords." The fact that Irishmen could find £25,000,000 to lay out in the purchase of land, and that the land had fetched so high a price went far to upset the visionary statements indulged in by the hon. Gentleman. He agreed that the operation of the Encumbered Estates Act had been unjust in its commencement in consequence of its giving no right of appeal; but this Bill would do still greater injustice. The Secretary for Ireland had declared that his object in bringing forward this measure was to deal with the law of landlord and tenant. But the first part of the measure had nothing to do with that question. The right hon. Gentleman from his residence in Ireland must surely have acquired some of the peculiarities of the country. The title of the first part of the Bill was a misnomer. It had nothing to do with landlord and tenant—the parties to whom it referred were only limited owners. It was also irrelevant, and ought to be expunged. Moreover, if any measure of the kind was to be passed at all, it ought to be applicable alike to England and Ireland. The criminal Bills they had previously discussed that night were designed to consolidate the statute law of both countries. They were also to have a Bill introduced for England, carrying out the principles of the Irish Encumbered Estates Court Act. But in this case the Chief Secretary was proposing to make the difference between the law of the two countries greater than it was already. Professing to be a measure to improve the law of landlord and tenant, this Bill began by dealing with that which had no connection with the subject. It gave certain powers over estates to limited owners. He maintained that to do that was quite unnecessary, because by a series of Acts, commencing with the 13th and 14th Victoria, they had given to limited owners, of a different class and a higher status than those contemplated by this Bill, the power of working out those improvements of the soil which it was the right hon. Gentleman's object to encourage. By an Act passed the other day, facilities had also been afforded for the erection of labourers' dwellings. The second part of this Bill related to leasing power. It aimed at a useful object; but the contrivances by which it sought to accomplish it were such as would never receive the assent of the other House. The noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston), himself an Irish landlord, could never sanction the mode in which the power of making leases was to be given to limited owners. The entire machinery of that part of the Bill would produce continual litigation. The assistant barristers of the different counties could not now decide on the price of a poor man's pig without there being an appeal to a Judge of Assize. But under this Bill those learned gentlemen, who might never have had a foot of land, and knew nothing of its value, were to fix the rent under improving leases; and when their sanction was once given to such arrangements it was to be conclusive, both at law and in equity, unless the amount was £100 a year or upwards. That was a most objectionable principle. If a lease was honestly entered into, it should stand. If it was a fraudulent lease, it should be left to the action of the ordinary tribunals to set it aside. The noble Viscount could never have read the third part of the Bill, relating to tenants' improvements. The word tenant was defined as meaning a "tenant from year to year;" and "landlord" as "the person for the time being entitled to the rent payable by the tenant from year to year." The effect of this would be that the middleman of Ireland, who had no interest at all in the land, and the tenant, who had as little, would have the power of making a contract which would have the effect of charging the land with an annuity in respect of any "improvements" they might agree to between them. The Bill he had himself introduced gave leasing powers and the power to make contracts to the person who ought to have them, and established proper limitations, he objected to the Bill introduced by the Government, because the first part of it was irrelevant, the second part was unwise and inexpedient, and the third part allowed two persons who had the least interest in the property to charge it with an annuity. It was a Bill that never could become part of the law of England.


adverted to what he described as the uncalled-for attack made by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) on a previous occasion upon the landlords of Ireland; and observed that he had hoped that the old system of denouncing the landlord class, or any particular class, had been abandoned. He regarded another Bill relating to landlord and tenant which was among the Orders of the Day, and which had been prepared by an Irish landlord, as far better than the present measure; but he trusted that in Committee some practical and useful provisions would be introduced into the Bill of the Government.


said, he would not at that late hour trespass many minutes on the patience of the House; but as representing an earnest tenant right constituency, he did not wish the debate to close without appealing to the Chief Secretary for Ireland to consider, before the Bill went into Committee, the representations which had been made to him in favour of making the measure which he had introduced more useful to that class whose just requirements and expectations had so long remained unfulfilled. As the Bill stood, the great mass of the cultivators of the soil would be left in just as bad a condition as before; as any one acquainted with Ireland would agree with him that, judging of the future by the past and present, that the great majority of the landlords would prefer taking chance to come in for the benefit of the tenant's improvements than undertaking to compensate for them; and the consequence would be that, so far as the tenant-at-will was concerned, that the same state of insecurity would prevail—the land would not be properly cultivated, and neither owner or occupier would be benefited. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, appeared to dwell with peculiar satisfaction on the fact of the great increase of fat cattle in the country; but he quite forgot to mention the fearful decrease of human beings in a land capable of supporting twice as many; and he would seriously recommend him to ponder on these lines— Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where bullocks fatten, but men decay. It was not a fact that the emigration from Ireland was composed of the labouring population of Ireland. He represented one of the ports that was a great point of departure, and he could positively say that there were quite as much of the farming classes went away as any other, and latterly the vast majority of the exiles consisted of those who constituted the flower, and strength, and hope of every country—persons from fifteen to thirty-five years of age. He did not expect that the House of Commons would grant much to Ireland merely for the sake of justice, and he would not, therefore, appeal to them on the ground of the benefit Ireland would derive from a just settlement of the land question; but he addressed himself to the English and Scotch portion of the House, if they valued the safely and prosperity of the Empire, not to delay, before it came too late, conceding to the Irish peasant what was asked for him. The hon. Member for Tipperary had shown the fearful decrease of population since 1851. According to the usual ratio of population, Ireland ought to have increased 2,000,000 since that period; but, instead, it had diminished some hundreds of thousands, and this was not caused by famine or disease, but by the people flying from the country. As Imperialists, he asked them to consider the effect of all this. He was sorry the hon. Member for Birmingham was not in his place that night, as he would tell him a fact that would make him a tenant-righter. It was calculated that each person in Ireland consumed, on an average, three pounds worth a year of British manufacture. Now, with two millions of people gone to a land which did not consume much English goods, there was six millions of money every year out of the pocket of the British trader, for which he might thank the Irish landlords, and the Government which combined with them against their best customers. Then, when war threatened and they wanted men, they could not get them in Ireland, though it was once their best recruiting ground. Even the militia regiments that remained at home could hardly complete half their complements. Take the Waterford Artillery as an example—the pay was good, the employment light, the officers popular—and yet he would appeal to the hon. and gallant Member for the County Waterford, who sat opposite, and was one of the most deservedly popular officers in the regiment, whether he ever saw more than 400 men paraded, whilst they ought to have mustered 800 bayonets at least, and such was the case with a great many other corps nearly as distinguished. Every man who left the country carried in his breast a deep feeling of hatred against the Government, whose disregard for the welfare of his country obliged him to exile himself from the land of his birth, which an Irishman loves so well, and the feeling of those who remained behind was just as embittered, and with cause too. They felt it was utterly useless to appeal to the English Parliament to enable them to live by even hard labour on their native soil—and the consequence was that they were looking elsewhere and trusting to other means to obtain that justice which their own Government denied them. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen appeared to doubt that. Then, why did they not trust the Irish people with arms and enrol them as volunteers? Because they knew well that they had disregarded their grievances, and could hardly expect them to fight for the maintenance of a power under which they became every day poorer and less indepen- dent. Before he sat down he would tell them another truth, and he addressed it to them as a solemn warning and not in an exulting spirit, because he regretted the deplorable state of things which he depicted, and earnestly wished that there was a cordial union between England and Ireland, founded on mutual interest and the desire to maintain and help each other—they were afraid of a French invasion. ["No, no!"] No doubt they were, or else why all the talking and aiming, and other precautions against it? Well, he could tell them, from his knowledge of Ireland, that if they allowed things to go on as at present, and confirmed the Irish peasant in the belief which he now very strongly entertained, that nothing would be done to secure to him the fruits of his toil, that if a French invading force landed in the country, of even thirty thousand men, that the British flag would not be dying in any part of the island in a fortnight afterwards. ["Hear, hear," and derisive cheers!] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but let them take care that his prediction would not some day be realized; they had it in their power to prevent it; they might by a simple act of justice make Ireland happy, prosperous, and loyal, instead of being as she was a reproach and a cause of dread in the hour of danger; they then had an opportunity of doing a gracious act without the appearance of being coerced into it, and he implored them to avail themselves of it, and they might rely, by so doing, they would benefit every interest in Ireland, strengthen the hands of Government, and add to the strength, security, and greatness of their mighty empire.


said, that when the House went into Committee on the Bill he should be able to discuss at greater length than at present the various objections which had been raised to the provisions of the measure. The right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University had charged him with having introduced a Bill applicable only to Ireland, which, it seemed, was retrogressive legislation, since all measures ought to be applicable to England, as well as to Ireland. Why, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had himself upon a former occasion brought in a Landed Estates Bill applicable only to Ireland, and at that moment he had two measures before the House which were limited in the same way to the sister kingdom. The right hon. and learned Member said that the first part of the Bill relating to landlords was irrelevant:—but the House would not deal with the measure if it dealt exclusively with the tenant; the landlord must be included. He had also stated that the first part of the present Bill—that relating to landlord's improvements, contained a mass of novelties and new ideas which had never been heard of before. Now, the truth was that the clauses thus characterized by the right hon. and learned Gentleman were nothing more nor less than an attempt to give practical effect in Ireland to an Act of the United Kingdom, passed in 1845, enabling landlords to mortgage their estates for the improvement of their land, and to the Montgomery Act, which, as the House had been told, had converted Scotland from a wilderness into a smiling garden. Hitherto, in consequence of the Act of 1845 being worked through the instrumentality of the Court of Chancery there had not been a single application under it in Ireland; and hence his wish to invoke it from a sleep of death and give it life and vitality. In like manner the Settled Estates Act of 1855 was the basis of the second, or leasing, part of the present Bill. That Act also operated through the instrumentality of the Court of Chancery, and consequently was a dead letter, or nearly so, in Ireland. By the third part of the Bill he did not seek to give compulsory or retrospective legislation as against the landlord, but simply established the principle that where a tenant, with the knowledge and approbation of his landlord, had expended his capital or his labour upon the improvement of the road, he should not be liable to be disappointed of his just expectations, but the harvest should return to the bosom of him who sowed the seed. Such a principle he thought could not fail to facilitate and stimulate the improvement of land in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by expressing his obligations to Mr. Sharman Crawford, not only for his valuable labours on behalf of the tenants of Ireland, but also for the candid and friendly spirit in which he had spoken of the present Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed; considered in Committee, and reported; to be printed as amended [Bill 172]; re-committed for Friday.

House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.