HC Deb 23 June 1865 vol 180 cc752-60

said, that the Report of the Select Committee on the Tenure and Improvement of Land Act of 1860, popularly termed "the Cardwell Act" which had been laid on the table that evening was of extreme importance; and, looking to the fact that this was the last opportunity which Irish Members would have of offering any remarks upon the subject, he wished to say a few words. The Select Committee to which he referred was appointed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) and in moving for it his hon. Friend said that the principle of the Act of 1860, that under no circumstances should a tenant receive compensation without the consent of the landlord, was wrong. He, therefore, asked the House to reconsider the Act for the purpose of amending it. The proceedings of the Committee were published in all the Irish newspapers, special reporters had come over from Ireland to do so, and hon. Gentlemen who had not the honour of being appointed on the Committee attended its sittings, and took the liveliest interest in its proceedings. Members of the Com- mittee wrote long letters to the Irish papers, giving an account of what was being done, and pointing out what would be the ultimate result. Among those letters was one published in the Nation of last Saturday, which stated that it was the intention of the Committee to report only the evidence this year, that it would meet again early next February, and after two months would report, and that in the month of April a Bill was to be brought in, with the support of Her Majesty's Government, which was to give to the Irish tenants compensation for improvements, and those other securities which they deemed of so much importance. The letters which appeared in the papers and the speeches which were made on the subject—and they were many—aroused great interest in the minds of a large class in Ireland. He must say he thought the way in which the organs of Her Majesty's Government availed themselves of the sittings of this Committee to announce the fact that Her Majesty's Government were about to introduce a Bill next Session, was most insidious. Suddenly they now learned that the Committee had brought their labours to a close, for their Report had been laid upon the table. In that Report the Committee stated that, having examined several witnessess on the recommendation of the promoters of the inquiry, they were of opinion, while proposing several modifications, that the principle of the Act of 1860 embodied in the 38th and 40th sections—namely, that compensation to tenants should only be secured on the improvements made with the consent of the landlord, must be maintained. But his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) had said that that Act was practically a dead letter because it was based upon a false principle, and be quoted in his speech—and the same evidence was given before the Committee—the opinion of Judge Longfield, who said that the Act of 1860 must be altered in principle, for everything depended upon so amending it. The Committee also added that several modifications of the provisions of the Act might be made without infringment of its principle, that a lump sum of money might be substituted for a payment from year to year, and the duration of possession might be altered. But these were merely matters of minor detail, the principle of the Act of 1860 being maintained. It was his fortune, with the assistance of his hon. Friend (Mr. Pollard-Urquhart), to have introduced this Session a Bill which had been prepared by the Westmeath Tenant-Right Committee. That Bill embodied the principle which Judge Long-field said was essential, and was in direct variance with the principle of the Act of 1860, hut it had not become law. The expectations of the Irish people had been roused, and the organs of Her Majesty's Government in Ireland had availed themselves of the proceedings of the Committee to recommend the Government to the favour of the people; they stated that the members of the Government were giving the most sedulous attention to the subject, and that in the new Parliament a Tenant-Right Bill would be introduced. Though he differed in toto from the recommendations of the Committee, and deeply regretted them, he thought it was much fairer, on the part of the Committee, to have stated their views than that this should be deferred till after the general election. The Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Robert Peel) and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) were both quoted in favour of this Report; and, therefore, the people of Ireland now knew that nothing would be clone. His hon. Friend (Mr. Maguire) was not responsible for this. It was true he proposed the Committee, but he was not responsible for its nomination and everybody knew how such a Committee was nominated. Directly he saw the names he said, "Here are eleven to six against tenant right," and that was rather a good guess, for it turned out that eleven to six formed the actual division. From the outset he had not the slightest confidence in the Committee, and he regretted that such a Committee should have examined such witnesses as Judge Long-field, and should have come to such a conclusion as they had expressed in their Report.


said, he could not tell with what object his hon. Friend had introduced this subject to the House. The Report had not been read by hon. Members, the evidence was not before the House, and save from hearsay his hon. Friend must be quite ignorant of all the transactions. It would be most impolitic at so late a period of the Session to discuss so grave and important a subject. His hon. Friend had referred to a letter which appeared in an Irish paper which held out a promise that the Government would bring in a Bill next year. Now, he was the writer of that letter, and he wrote it because applications to be examined came from all parts of Ireland, and not having time to answer them personally he sought the medium of the press for that purpose. He was led to imagine at that time that the evidence would alone be reported this year, and that in all probability the Committee would be reappointed next year. He therefore said, that the case on the part of the Irish tenantry might occupy a certain time in the beginning of next year, that then there should be an opportunity given for the examination of witnesses on behalf of the landlord class, and that ample time would thus be afforded for the introduction of a Bill which might be brought in some time in April. This was the substance of the letter. It would be wrong of him in the peculiar position which he occupied to force a discussion upon this subject prematurely. His hon. Friend, for some object of his own, which he could not understand, ignored the fact that while the principle of Mr. Cardwell's Bill was enforced and adhered to, the Committee suggested that important modifications might be introduced into that Act with advantage. If his hon. Friend had heard the evidence of Mr. Curling, one of the best witnesses he had ever seen in the the witness-chair, his hon. Friend would have treated with disdain the most important part of the recommendations of the Committee. Mr. Curling had shown better than any man had ever shown what was the real character of the Irish people when they were well treated. He was a man of great experience. For sixteen years he had had the management of a large property in England, and for seventeen years he had had the management of the Devon property in Ireland. Before he came to the management of the property, many an agrarian outrage was committed there. Eleven hundred tenants were in occupation of it, and there were between 6,000 and 7,000 people dependent on it. This tenantry had been well treated, encouraged to improve their holdings, and felt that their improvements were secured to them, and the result was, that though half the population had not a quartern loaf on their table, and hardly tasted meat in the whole year, not a single crime or outrage had been committed there for the last seventeen years. Mr. Curling gave evidence in support of the views of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell), but the rest of his suggestions were important and valuable. I the Government did not bring in a Bill, embodying these suggestions, the Members of the Committee must do so, and ask the House to take it up. He did not disdain the Report of the Committee, and he thought it bad policy on the part of Irish Members to treat with scorn and contempt the statement that important amendments would be made, by which he trusted a better state of things in Ireland would be brought about. He hoped it would not be thought that he had entered unduly into this question. The Committee was of his moving; he hoped he had shown temper and prudence as its chairman, and he must submit to whatever decision they arrived at; but though the principle of the Act of 1860 was affirmed by the Report, he believed that the suggestions for amending it which had been made would, if carried out, change the face of the country.


said, he thought it was somewhat irregular to discuss a Report not yet in the hands of Members, and evidence which was not yet printed; but as a Member of the Committee he completely bore out the statement of his hon. Friend (Mr. Maguire) respecting the letter referred to, which was thought the most convenient mode of notifying to persons wishing to be examined what it was supposed would be the course taken by the Committee. He regretted that the Committee had not pursued that course—reporting the evidence without any expression of opinion, and leaving a future Parliament to take what steps it pleased in the matter. The Committee received valuable evidence, on which a measure might be founded in a future Session, with the view of amending the Act which was the subject of investigation. In such case great benefit would result to the land tenantry of Ireland.


said, he thought the Committee had, under the circumstances, pursued the best and most honest course. The Committee had examined many witnesses, and propositions emanated from many of them which would never be accepted by Parliament—namely, that compensation should be given to tenants for improvements made contrary to or without the sanction of the landlords. Considering that this was the end of the Session, he thought the Committee had done wisely in expressing a decided opinion on that important point. With regard to the other portions of the Act, there was no indisposition on the part of the Committee to avoid considering the details of the measure with a view to their improvement and to the better working of the Act. But so much misconception existed that he thought the Committee had performed an important public duty in announcing their opinion that no proposition was likely to be entertained by Parliament which would interfere with the rights of property, and which laid down the principle that tenants might deal with the property of their landlords in a mode which the landlords did not think conducive to their interests. He could not but think that when this opinion was entertained by men of all parties it would got rid of the delusion which prevailed, and lead men to consider whether an alteration might not be made which would be entirely consistent with the rights of property and the improvement of the land in Ireland, by facilitating those contracts between landlord and tenant which were the only means of effecting real improvements. He was ready to accept his share of responsibility for the course taken by the Committee. The Government entirely concurred in it, and he did not think any advantage could arise from discussing the matter at the present time. The question was so important that it was beyond the range of party politics. It was whether the House could or could not encourage the improvement of land in Ireland, and whether they would or would not adhere to the rights of property, in the maintenance of which the tenants were as much interested as the landlords.


said, he must express his belief that the Report of the Committee would be received with dissatisfaction and disappointment in Ireland.


said, he thought that the House was under obligation to the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) for calling attention to the Report of the Committee. It was the most important topic, as far as Ireland was concerned, that could be brought before the House. The Resolutions of the Committee were substantially what he expected they would be, and instead of sanctioning a measure of tenant-right the Committee produced this abortion of a suggestion—that the Bill of 1860 should be amended. Therefore, the principle announced by the Committee was that no improvement could be made in Ireland without the consent of the landlord. This showed clearly the folly of the course pursued by the tenantry of Ireland in reducing their claims from day to day till the whole question of tenant-right was frittered away, and nothing but the name remained.


said, he thought the Committee had acted wisely and honestly according to their rights, and beneficially, also, to their country, in making the Report they had done. He had not gone through the evidence, hut he was much struck by one thing. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Cloyne had said he thought there were only two courses to be pursued on that question—the one being to give a large and ample measure of tenant-right, and the other being to put an end to the subject altogether. The Committee had adopted the last of these two courses. It had made its Report in a way that would put an end to the question of tenant-right for ever. It would be the guide to Parliamentary legislation for this generation, and would prevent the tenants from looking to tenant-right as a sort of panacea which was to make them rich and happy. In his opinion, the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) deserved credit lather than censure for calling the attention of the House and the country to the matter. The country would now know what they had to expect, and could make their arrangements accordingly, and though he might not agree with the Report if it only put an end to futile hopes of legislation by future Parliaments, he believed it would do good service to the public.


said, he could not approve the manner in which that matter had been brought forward that evening, because the Report had only been agreed upon that afternoon, and the House had had no opportunity of seeing the evidence or the various propositions which had come before the Committee. The hon. Member for Mallow thought it an advantage that the Report had been brought forward on that occasion, because it would put an end to the questions raised in the Committee; but although the Report represented the opinion of the majority of the Committee, yet it had been only agreed to that day by a majority of three. There had been a strong expression of dissent in the Committee, and the matter was one which must be discussed in the next Session of Parliament.


Sir, before this discussion closes, I wish to say a very few words. Whether this discussion will be very useful, seeing that it has been brought on without notice, and that the evidence is not before the House, so that few hon. Members are able to judge as to the course taken by the Committee, is a point which may admit of some difference of opinion. But I am exceedingly glad that we are not about to separate under the imputation of having given an uncertain sound upon this question. Whatever may have been the reasons for this discussion, I think that, at any rate, we should be open to grave reprehension if we permitted the impression to go forth to Ireland that we are at all uncertain about the rights of property in that country. I wish to express my individual opinion that, by whatever name it may be called, compulsory compensation for improvements effected against the will of the landlord is not a principle which is consistent with the rights of property. I express no opinion except my own; but it is my belief that this House of Parliament will not consent to a settlement of this question which assumes as a basis a principle which is at variance with the rights of property. Having had the task intrusted to me of bringing in the measure which has been the subject of discussion, I am most desirous that there should be the most full and free inquiry into that measure, and that every means should be taken for removing any obstacle to its efficient working, and making it, if possible, acceptable and valuable to the people of Ireland. I think that the spirit in which the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Maguire) has from first to last conducted the inquiry is such as entitled him to credit and respect. He does not agree with me in the opinion which I have expressed, and he has never concealed that disagreement; but both in I860 and now he has been ready to meet those who do entertain that opinion, and to say, "Well, if you do insist that compulsory compensation is not to be given for improvements effected against the will of the landlord, that is no reason why we should not inquire what improvements can be made consistently with the principle for which you contend." I am glad that the Committee has not separated without expressing its opinion distinctly on the questions which have been raised, and I do hope that every effort will be made in all future time, when measures for encouraging the improvement of land in Ireland are brought forward, to give every legitimate facility for such improvements. I wish it may he distinctly understood that only such facilities as are legitimate and as do not interfere with the rights of property will be sanctioned by Parliament. I am convinced that it is more in accordance with the feeling of a high-spirited people that they should be spoken to in plain terms; and I have that opinion of the Irish people that I do not think they would approve an insincere and uncertain course on an important subject like this, or that they would at all thank the Committee for giving an ambiguous opinion upon it.


said, he hoped it would not go forth to the country that the House had attempted that night to discuss the Report of the Committee or the questions which had been referred to it. For himself, he did not know its precise nature. He only knew that it had been laid on the table, and that the manner in which the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) had conducted the inquiry had been in the highest degree creditable to him. When the Report was printed, and in the hands of Members, it could be discussed; to do so then was premature. He had seen a letter in an Irish newspaper from the Chairman of the Committee, stating that it was not intended to present the Report this year, owing to the inquiry not having been completed, but that the re-appointment of the Committee would be moved next Session, with a view to resume the inquiry. What, then, was his surprise to find that the Report had been laid on the table that day. He had had no opportunity of reading the Report, and he must say he could not approve the course which had been taken by the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy).

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.