HC Deb 19 June 1860 vol 159 cc665-71

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 10 (Limited Owner entitled to Compensation for Improvements).


said, he rose to move the Amendment of which had given notice—namely, in line 19, to leave out the word "Chairman," and insert the words "one of the Judges of the Landed Estates Court." He had always supported the principle of compensation to the improving tenant, where it could be done consistently with the rights of property. He did not think, however, that the Chairman of the County was the proper person to be intrusted with the large powers that were involved in the Bill. Chairmen of Counties were not at all in the habit of dealing with matters such as were now proposed to be decided by them. The Landed Estates Court on the contrary was daily occupied in the investigation of titles and of documents connected with land. The Judges had power to examine witnesses, and their ability and character were well known, and their decisions were always open to review. The only objection which could be brought against the proposal to make that Court the tribunal to which questions such as the Bill related to ought to be referred, was that of expense. But when the House considered that gentlemen were constantly in the habit of going before the Court to sell small portions of their property, they would see that there could be no great difficulty in requiring them to go before the same Court to make improvements, involving perhaps a much larger money value than the small sales which were frequently effected by its means.

Amendment proposed, in page 3, lines 18 and 19, to leave out the words "the Chairman," in order to insert the words "one of the Judges of the Landed Estates Court,"

—instead thereof.


said, he must oppose the Amendment. So far from being wanting in experience, the Assistant Barristers, who were Chairmen of the county Benches, were peculiarly adapted to the discharge of the duties created by the Bill. They were generally well acquainted with the tenure of the land in their respective districts. Besides that, the expense of putting the Act in operation in the local districts into which Ireland was divided would be very small compared with the large expenses necessarily connected with the bringing of hosts of witnesses to the Landed Estates Court in Dublin. As to the latter Court having given universal satisfaction, he dissented from the assertion. He remembered the reckless manner in which the Encumbered Estates Court originally set to work, when they sold for £15,000,000 encumbered estates of the value of £22,000,000. That he thought was anything but satisfactory.


said, he could congratulate the Committee on the tone of the noble Lord in introducing his Amendment. It augured well for the satisfactory settlement of this vexed question. He thought, however, that the Amendment would involve too much expense, and he would therefore support the clause as it stood.


said, that as the questions to be decided would, in a great measure, be questions of title, the best and safest course would be to place the execution of the Act in the hands of the Judges of the Landed Estates Court, in which sat three well known and good lawyers.


said, he should support the clause as it stood. He did not see why it should be necessary that a man should be a lawyer to enable him to judge of the improvements the land would require, Even if it were decided to be necessary, the result would be the same, for the Judges would not go down and examine the land for themselves, but would rely upon the evidence of surveyors and other persons of that class. Under such circumstances he (Mr. H. A. Herbert) thought the Chairmen of Counties would be fully competent to deal with the questions involved, while they were easily accessible, and the proceedings before them were inexpensive.


said, he preferred a reference of questions like those dealt with by the Bill, affecting alike the interests of the tenant for life and the reversioner or remainder man to the Lauded Estates Court, rather than to the Assistant Barristers, who were Chairmen of Quarter Sessions. He should, therefore, support the Amendment. He likewise thought the Landed Estates Court would be, on the whole, less expensive than the new tribunal which the Bill proposed to create. It would, moreover, be most inconvenient to produce title deeds and family settlements at Sessions Courts, often held on the market and fair day.


expressed his gratification at the desire expressed by the Committee to settle the most important question for Ireland which was dealt with by this Bill. The desire of the Government was to establish a machinery which would be easily accessible, and at small expense; and he saw few questions likely to arise which could not be satisfactorily disposed of by the Chairmen of Counties. But if the Committee preferred that they should be settled by the Landed Estates Courts, the Government would not object.


said, he preferred a reference of the questions to the Landed Estates Court. He did not think the Chairmen of Quarter Sessions were fit to decide who was the limited owner of an estate, and who was entitled to the inheritance. The limited owner would not like to expose the nature of his estate in his own district.


said, the great object was to provide against the evils formerly very common where men obtained advances on account of improvements, and then put the money into their own pockets, without improving the land at all. For these reasons, he preferred the Landed Estates Court.


maintained, that the Commissioners of Public Works would be a better tribunal than either the Landed Estates Court or the Chairmen of Quarter Sessions.


said, the Bill before the Committee was nothing more than an enabling Bill, and the Quarter Sessions Court would be a much better tribunal for carrying out its objects than the Landed Estates Court, which, being confined to Dublin, and, therefore, for the most part, remote from the place where the improvements were to be effected would have to carry on a difficult, expensive, and troublesome investigation. But the very worst tribunal of all would be that suggested by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Hassard). The very worst form of Government for a country was a Government by Boards, and a country more miserably "be-boarded" than Ireland did not exist on the face of the earth. But as for the choice between the Landed Estates Court and the Court of Quarter Sessions, the latter was vastly to be preferred. If the Landed Estates Court had the control, it would be necessary that the whole of the evidence should be carried on by means of affidavits, which was universally admitted to be the very worst mode of taking evidence, and which they were trying by every possible means to get rid of. Distance, expense, and difficulty of access, all would render the Landed Estates Court much less likely to act efficiently than the Quarter Sessions Court. He should, therefore, support the original proposition.


said, the argument of those who supported the proposal to vest the necessary powers in the Local Courts was that they were the more easy of access. For that very reason he was opposed to the clause, because it would give facilities for encumbering estates, which, he believed, would be extremely detrimental to future inheritors of the land.


said, he was opposed to the original clause on the ground of the great expense it would render necessary, and also because it proposed to throw into the hands of the assistant barristers a quantity of business with which they were not only too much occupied, but were utterly incompetent to deal. He much preferred the Landed Estates Court as a cheaper and far more satisfactory tribunal to have the decision of these questions. At the same time he would give them all the assistance that could be obtained, both from the Commissioners of Works and the Chairmen of Counties.


said, he considered the local courts very unfit, from their ambulatory character, to investigate titles. He wished to see a good practical working measure passed; and if he thought all the business would really be done by the chairman of the county, he would at once vote for the Bill. He had, however, conversed with many of the chairmen on this point, and they one and all agreed that they were unfitted for the duty; though some of them added that they should put in a claim for increased salary if this extra work were given them. He, therefore, preferred the Landed Estates Court. If the expense of the latter were found too great a reduced scale of fees might be instituted; but if the court were then found not to work well, the business could be transferred to the Commissioners of Public Works.


said, he believed that the Landed Estates Court would be the most efficient tribunal to prevent jobbery at the expense of the successor to an estate; and he considered that that court might be easily made available for all purposes under the Bill.


said, the question was how were they to frame an act which would be used by the country. In former times the allegation was that the tenants would defraud the landlords, but now it was that the man in possession would defraud his successor. If they followed out the lawyer's plan of encumbering the Act with checks, they would spend a long time in framing an Act which would never be used in Ireland. He believed the people of Ireland would never resort to the Landed Estates Court. The Quarter Sessions Courts had always performed their business cheaply and well, and if these courts were to carry out the enactments of the Bill, it would be easy to produce the necessary evidence before them in all cases.


said, he entirely concurred in the observations made by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Deasy), when he spoke of that portion of the Bill as principally the landlord's portion. He therefore felt himself compelled to consider it as it presented itself to the majority of the landlords of Ireland. His noble Friend (Lord Fermoy), and other high authorities, had confirmed the reasoning which had induced his right hon. Friend and himself to frame the clause. It had been framed after full consideration of the powers of the Barristers' Courts in Ireland, and upon the Montgomery Act in operation in Scotland, though he did not believe himself that either the one tribunal or the other would entail any very serious expense upon the landlord or the limited owner, since practically the provisions of the Act would be carried into effect by the aid of local agents. His own feeling was certainly in favour of giving the jurisdiction to the local tribunal. But he was bound to acknowledge that upon the whole the vast preponderance of opinion seemed to be on the other side. Seeing, therefore, that it was the landlords' part of the Bill, and that the Government had been met by a most general desire of carrying the measure into effect in an efficient shape, and that if the unanimity were not disturbed by any difference of opinion they should be the more likely to obtain the sanction of the united Legislsture. He was willing, if it appeared to be the opinion of the Committee, to defer to the prevailing view, and acquiesce in the proposed change.


expressed opinions in favour of the clause as it stood.


supported the Amendment.


said, it should not be forgotten that the Landed Estates Court sat nearly throughout the year, whereas the Courts of the Assistant Barristers sat only a few times in the year. He must complain of the course threatened by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Fermoy), because the Government had thought it better not to oppose the Amendment.


said, the responsibility of the division should not rest solely on the noble Lord. If necessary, he (Mr. Butt) would divide the Committee, because the measure would be considered nugatory by providing that the reference should be made to the Landed Estates Court.


said, he was sorry that the Government had given way on the question; but he should certainly not consent to the alteration in the clause without taking the sense of the Committee upon it.


said, he regretted that the Government had not stood firmly by the clause, and he approved of the course pursued by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 51; Noes 127: Majority 76.


said, that in the absence of his hon. Friend who had given the notice (Mr. Hassard), he would move an Amendment, enabling tenants for life to make improvements upon lands, and charge the outlay upon the estate to an extent not exceeding four years' rent, in the manner provided by the Montgomery Act for Scotland.


said, he hoped the Committee would adhere to the plan of charging all improvements upon the land by way of annuity.


said, he would take that opportunity of drawing attention to a provision in the Bill, by which it was provided that the portion of the estate adjacent to the lands improved should be saddled with the expense of improvements.


said, the lands adjacent might participate in the benefit of the improvements, and, therefore, should be liable to a part of the expense; but no abuse could occur, for there was a tribunal to decide whether such lands would be properly chargeable with such expense.


said, he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to Amendments of which he had given notice. One was that while the Landed Estates Court should be the ultimate tribunal it should be empowered to avail itself of some local machinery, such as that of the General Valuation Office of Ireland, or the Board of Works. He suggested for the consideration of the Government whether it would not be well to place those establishments under the control of, and in the same department as, the Landed Estates Court. The clauses which he proposed to insert also would have the effect of empowering the Landed Estates Court, where necessary, to avail itself of the powers and decision of the assistant barristers. He added that if the Government opposed his Amendments he would not press them, but declared that if they were not adopted, the value of the Bill would be greatly impaired.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clauses 12 to 20 inclusive agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress: to sit again on Thursday next, at Twelve of the clock.

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