HC Deb 15 June 1860 vol 159 cc544-50

Order for Committee read.

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


said, that since the reprinting of the Bill he found no Amendment in it sufficient to remove his objections to the measure. The first part of the Bill was intended to enable owners of property to raise money for the purpose of improvement; but there was an Act of Parliament already passed that enabled them to do this better than was proposed by the present Bill. The fund from which it was to come was one to be objected to. There was a still greater objection to the machinery by which the Bill was to be carried out, the application for the purpose having to be made to the Board of Works. It was also proposed that loans applied for should be by application to the Chairman of Quarter Sessions; but although he had a great respect for Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, he thought that they were not qualified for the purpose. He was to be a barrister of ten years' standing; but unless he was a resident and knew the country, he could have no adequate local knowledge and no knowledge of land. He would suggest that this first part of the Bill be left out altogether. The Bill also proposed to introduce the provisions of the Montgomery Act; but he did not think this could be effective. He did not think that any man would consent to submit his case to the Chairman of Quarter Sessions, or, if done at all, it should be submitted to the Quarter Sessions itself. With regard to the leasing powers, he thought it would be much better to adopt the Bill on that subject which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. As to the third part of the Bill, which related to tenants' improvements, and for which object alone he believed the Bill was introduced, he thought it ought to depend upon agreement between landlord and tenant. He saw no more reason why they should interfere in contracts between landlord and tenant than in contracts between the owner of a ship and the man who chartered it. His principal objection was that it was sectional legislation. It applied only to Ireland, but he was at a loss to understand why, if it were good for Ireland, it was not equally good for England. He hoped, therefore, that it would be made an Imperial measure.


said, the Secretary for Ireland deserved great credit for having introduced the Bill and shown a desire to settle a question which had been long agitated; and he thought the objections of the hon. Gentleman applied rather to the details than the principle of the measure. Although it did not go so far as he could wish, and did not meet what he considered the justice of the case, he was prepared to go into Committee to give every assistance to the Government and to amend those details which could be amended without endangering the passing of the Bill. It was said that there was great apathy, and that the farmers in Ireland did not call for the measure. The fact was that the farmers were tenants at will, and they were afraid to set themselves in opposition to their landlords lest they should be told they could leave. But what was just eight years ago was just now. It was right that a tenant who had, with the tacit consent of his landlord, made improvements which increased the letable value, and was suitable to the estate, should receive compensation upon eviction. But as Bills with retrospective clauses had failed to pass for the last four or five years, it was not likely that the House would grant such a demand now. There was no chance of passing a retrospective clause, and it was only delaying the Bill to propose it. The same might be said of the provisions which the hon. Member for Tipperary (The O'Donoghue) wished to introduce into the Bill. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman would be content to take what was now in the Bill without endangering its passing into law by proposing Amendments which it was not possible to carry. Contrary to the opinion of the hon. Baronet who opposed the second reading of the Bill, he thought it was of great advantage that all the different branches of the subject were treated in one Bill. If the Bill passed into law, though it would not settle the question so effectively as he could wish, it would still do a great deal of good, and he should therefore support it.


I ask the indulgence of the House for a very few moments, while I refer to a matter of some importance, as well to several hon. Members as to myself. It is well that, as we are now on the eve of the discussion of a measure which is of vital interest to the people of Ireland, there should be no misconception, either in this House, or elsewhere, as to the reasons for the course which was adopted in 1858 by gentlemen with whom I had the honour to act, in reference to what is termed the retrospective principle. I have been specially attacked for the course which we were compelled to adopt in 1858, and I have even been denounced —I admit by a very small and insignificant number of persons—as a traitor to the cause of the tenant. Now what are the real facts of the case? As my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Greville) has stated, the retrospective clause of the Bill of 1855 was negatived by a majority of this House. In 1857, Mr. Moore, then Member for Mayo, introduced his Bill, or the Bill of the League. Mr. Moore, being naturally anxious to push his Bill as far as he possibly could, organized a deputation to the noble Lord who was then as now at the head of the Government. The deputation consisted of 44 or 45 Irish Members, as influential as any who have ever represented any class. Mr. Moore stated his case, and wished to know what course the noble Lord was inclined to take with respect to the further progress of the Bill. The noble Lord expressed strong objection to the Bill, but to one feature—the leading feature—of it in a special degree. That was the provision for retrospective compensation. The noble Lord even refused to permit the Bill to be read a second time and sent into Committee, saying that he would not sanction or affirm the principle of the Bill. Mr. Moore soon after lost his seat, and the Bill was not further proceeded with. What happened in 1858? I, with my hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary, had the honour of re-introducing the same Bill that year. When the discussion took place on the Motion for a second reading, the retrospective principle of the Bill was denounced in the strongest manner by the leaders on both sides of the House, by the noble Lord, the present first Minister and by the noble Lord, the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas), who represented on that occasion the opinions and determination of his party. The result of that condemnation was, that on the division we were beaten by more than three to one—I believe by four to one. And it is the fact, not before stated, that it was only by the persuasion of myself and others that several Irish and several English Members were induced to vote for the second reading, but on the understanding that by so doing they sanctioned the principle of compensation but not the particular application of the principle. Had that not been so we should have been beaten by as many as six to one Well, Sir, what were we to do, after such a division?—what course were we to adopt, after a pronouncement so emphatic, and a majority so overwhelming? Were we to act the part of hypocrites, and continue, for party purposes, to keep up a false cry in the country? Were we to tell a trusting people that a measure embracing retrospective compensation could be carried under the circumstances then existing? I should be ashamed of myself—I should be unworthy of my position, as a Member of this House, if I lent myself to so dishonest and so base an imposture. What did we then do? Some twelve or fourteen Members of us determined to endeavour to effect something for the people we represented, although we could no longer hope to obtain all that we desired to acccomplish. We saw that some legislation was absolutely necessary, we knew that a general feeling of discontent pervaded our people,—we beheld them leaving the country in vast bodies,—we felt that this migration originated in an almost universal sense of insecurity, and in that "hope deferred" which "maketh the heart sick." We waited on the then leader of this House, and through him we urged on the Government—which we had previously supported—supported solely on public grounds — the absolute necessity which existed for legislation on this subject; while at the same time we stated—I certainly did—that we could not ask for the re-introduction of a clause which had been defeated but a few days before by an overwhelming majority, and the re-introduction of which we felt convinced would ensure the immediate rejection of the measure we demanded. We did not insist on that which was no longer possible of obtainment; but we did ask for an honest and comprehensive measure of prospective compensation; and, Sir, if I am called a traitor to the cause of the tenant for the conduct which I have described, I think I need not care much for the judgment of the person who called me such. As to the principle of retrospective compensation, I hold the same opinion with respect to it now that I ever did. I think it as just and as fair as that of prospective compensation; but I find that, although it is a just and right principle, and one which in conscience and equity ought to be maintained, I cannot avoid remembering that this is an assembly with landlord sympathies and landlord instincts; and believing that this assembly will not recognize it, I certainly will not condescend to be a party to perpetuating a mockery and a delusion upon a subject of such grave importance.


said, he was anxious to go into Committee on the Bill, and deprecated further discussion at the present moment.


never knew a Bill that had so little in it, and considered that it was even a greater sham than the Reform Bill. The Conservatives, for that reason, liked the Bill, and would not oppose the Motion to go into Committee, because they did not object to swallow this harmless "bread pill," as it had been called. The Bill introduced by Lord Derby's Government contained a very strong retrospective clause. It was carried in 1853 by a large majority, when the late Solicitor General for England (Sir Hugh Cairns) voted, as he had always done, for the retrospective clause. The noble Lord at the head of the present Government also voted for it, and agreed in 1855 to support the principle. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, representing extreme tenant league views, were then loud in their support of a retrospective clause, and urged that the Bill must be rejected if it were not retained. It was monstrous, therefore, for them now to get up and oppose and denounce a retrospective clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.

Mr. MASSEY in the Chair.

Clause 1, agreed to.

Clause 2 (Application of Act).


objected to the pro posed title inasmuch as it limited by anticipation the operation of the Act to Ireland. He moved that the clause be postponed.


said, there was no precedent for the insertion of an interpretation clause at the beginning of a Bill.


said, he should have thought it was a matter of the greatest possible indifference whether the clause was placed in the early or the latter part of the Bill. It was put in the early part, in order that the Committee might have notice of the subject-matter with which it had to deal, which, in his opinion, was a great advantage.


apologized to Irish Members for interfering in the discussion, but objected to the Motion for the postponement of the clause as informal, and thought it ought not to have been received by the Chairman. A clause could be postponed by consent on the suggestion of the Gentleman having charge of the Bill, but in no other way. There could not be two questions before the Committee, and the question in Committee was always upon some Amendment, or that the clause should stand part of the Bill, a question interposed that a clause be postponed, was a Previous Question, and in Committee the undoubted rule was, that the Previous Question could not be put. Such had been the invariable practice of his predecessor and successor in the office of Chairman of Committees as to Motions for postponement, and such was the principle on which he himself had acted during his tenure of that office; otherwise their discussions in Committee would be interminably protracted.


, in reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, said he understood the practice was different from that stated by the right hon. Gentleman. It was undoubtedly a rule of the House that a Motion to postpone a Vote in Committee of Supply could not be put, because there was no period to which the Tote could be postponed; but it was quite competent to any Gentleman to move the postponement of a clause in Committee on a Bill, because the arrangement of the clauses was a matter over which the Committee had control. A Motion to that effect on the part of the Minister or the Gentleman introducing the Bill was constantly agreed to, and it certainly would not have been competent for him to refuse to put the Motion.


rejoiced at the decision which had just been made, that in Committee the House was at liberty to consider which portions of a Bill it deemed most important to discuss; and believed that it would facilitate their future deliberations. The practice of introducing an interpretation clause at the beginning of a Bill was certainly a departure from the usual practice, but it was a convenient course, and one which, if generally adopted, would prevent the inconsiderate extension of measures to a part of the United Kingdom for which they were not intended.


withdrew his Motion.

Clause agreed to; as was also Clause 3.

Clause 4 (Clerk of the Peace).


submitted that the Bill could be better carried out by the Landed Estates Court and the Valuation Office than by the Quarter Sessions.


said, this question was most important, but it would be best raised upon the 10th clause.


accepted this suggestion; and thereupon the clause was agreed to.

Clauses 5 to 9 were also agreed to.

The House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Tuesday next, at Twelve of the clock.

House adjourned at One o'clock till Monday next.