HC Deb 25 July 1866 vol 184 cc1456-8

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that at this period of the Session it would be idle for him to attempt to proceed further with a Bill of this magnitude; but in the absence of the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen), who had drawn the Bill, he hoped he would be allowed to make a few observations respecting its objects, with a view to their being considered by all those who took an interest in the subject during the approaching recess. The Bill proceeded upon the principle that in order to encourage the application of capital and labour to the cultivation of the land in Ireland it was expedient to give tenants a more secure occupation of their holdings than a mere tenancy at will or one from year to year, and its object was to discourage, as far as possible, such holdings, and to hold out inducements to landlords to give leases to their tenants. It proposed—as had been proposed in the Bill of the late Chief Secretary for Ireland—that in every case where there was no written contract between the landlord and tenant, the law should presume that there was an agreement for a lease. In other words, it was proposed that for the future a tenancy of agricultural land from year to year could only be created by an agreement in writing. In the case of the absence of any such written contract any tenancy of agricultural land created after the passing of the Bill should be deemed and taken to be a tenancy under an agreement for twenty-one years. In order to induce landlords to give these leases, discouragements to a certain degree were thrown in the way of the continuance of this system of yearly tenancy. For example, it was proposed that any such tenancy created after the passing of the Bill should entitle the tenant to deduct from his rent one-half of the county cess. It was further laid down in the Bill that in respect to yearly tenancies the landlord should not be entitled to distrain for rent. But the great point on which the Bill turned was to be found in the 11th clause, which enacted that in case the landlord should eject his tenant for any other cause than that of the nonpayment of rent the tenant should be entitled to compensation. That was no new principle, inasmuch as it was one that had always been recognized in the compensations paid by railway companies, who not only paid the landlord for the property in fee, but also compensated the tenant when it was necessary to take land or premises occupied by the latter. Those were the main provisions of the Bill. It should also be remarked that all these provisions were prospective. On the other hand, in order to avoid any confusion or litigation that might arise from extending this Bill to every kind of minute holding, it was proposed to exempt from its operation all occupations under £4 a year. Now, this measure was intended to apply to a state of things which in his opinion did not exist in any other country that could be called civilized. In Prussia there was no such thing known as yearly tenancies or tenancies at will. All the land there was held under leases of longer or shorter duration. In England there were no doubt a large number of tenancies at will; but those holdings were upon a totally different foundation to what they were in Ireland. If a landlord in England evicted his tenant the latter suffered no wrong in respect to improvements, inasmuch as they were generally made by the landlord himself. The reverse, as a rule, was the case in Ireland, where the tenants, at the cost of their own labour and money, effected improvements on their land. There they were frequently evicted from their own improvements, to which their landlords had not contributed probably one farthing. Amongst the many measures introduced from time to time for the advantage of Ireland none had proved more beneficial than the Incumbered Estates Court. This Court had had the effect of introducing a new and solvent proprietary to replace the old insolvent class that formed a considerable portion of the landlords of Ireland. By this there was effected great improvement in the general condition of the country. But as far as the condition of the tenantry of Ireland was concerned the operation of the Incumbered Estates Court tended not to improve it. Though the old proprietors were often of a needy and spend-thrift character their sympathies and interests were more or less identified with their tenants; whereas the new proprietors having purchased their estates in those Courts in the way of mercantile transactions had no particular attachment to or sympathy with the old tenantry. They immediately set about raising their rents, consolidating their farms, without any regard to the long standing or exertions of the existing tenants. He believed that this insecurity of tenure in Ireland was detrimental to the landlord himself, in tending to lower the value of the land, and to create agrarian outrages throughout the country. It encouraged the demand for fixity of tenure and compulsory valuation. It confirmed the occupying tenant in his belief of possessing an inherent right to the soil of which the law unjustly deprived him; and it was precisely in the case of properties where tenants had held in undisturbed possession from generation to generation on tenancies at will, that this right to the soil was believed in, and actually pleaded in Courts of Justice. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Clare had framed this measure with no idea whatever of superseding the Bill of the late Chief Secretary for Ireland; but as for his (Mr. Gregory's) motives for allowing his name to be put on the back of the Bill, he had done so for the very purpose of superseding that Bill. He was afraid that the Bill of his right hon. Friend, if passed, would have been productive of an endless amount of litigation and ill-feeling between landlords and tenants. The provisions of this Bill would be free from that objection. He had not proceeded in this matter from a mere desire of popularity, but had introduced it solely for the benefit of the country. Everything he had was derived from land in Ireland. He moved to discharge the Order for the second reading of the Bill, with the distinct pledge on the part of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Clare and himself that it would be introduced next Session at the earliest possible moment.

Motion agreed to.

Order discharged: Bill withdrawn.