HC Deb 25 March 1868 vol 191 cc209-16

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move the second reading of this Bill said, it was a measure which would be received in Ireland with a great deal of gratitude. Its object was to oblige Irish landlords to contribute directly to the county cess; to effect an equitable distribution of it between the landlord and the tenant; and to give the occupiers some control over the expenditure, by fuller representation of the cess payers at the presentment sessions. At present all the cess was paid by the occupiers, and the landlords paid none of it, or only paid the cess on any tenements they held in their own hands; though the improvements effected by the expenditure of the cess in the formation of roads increased the value of their property. As Grand Juries were at present constituted, the cesspayers had really no voice in the determination of the amount of cess to be levied.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Stacpoole.)


said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stacpoole) would not press the second reading, as the whole question of the Grand Jury Laws, which involved the subject dealt with by the Bill, had been referred to a Select Committee at the instance of the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon (Colonel French). The House, having taken that step, would not think it right to express any opinion upon the subject till the result of the labours of the Committee should be known. The county cess was not wholly paid by the occupier. The proprietors paid their proportion of it. It was, in fact, a charge upon the land, and it came eventually out of the landlord's pocket. It might be a subject for the Committee to inquire into whether, in reference to future lettings, the incidence of the county cess should not be assimilated to that of the poor rates; but existing contracts could not be disturbed without inflicting great injustice. He begged to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(The Earl of Mayo.)


agreed with the noble Earl in thinking, that while the Select Committee was sitting it would not be expedient to go on with the present Bill; but he suggested that the Bill might be read a second time on the understanding that it would not be pressed further on at present. If, as the noble Earl had stated, the landlord in reality paid the cess ultimately, that fact would constitute a strong argument in favour of the Bill, as the landlord could suffer no wrong in being required to pay directly what he at present paid indirectly.


hoped the hon. Member in charge of the Bill would agree to the suggestion of the noble Earl, and postpone the second reading. He was not prepared altogether to oppose a measure of the kind; but he thought that the present time, when a Select Committee was taking into consideration the whole question of the Grand Jury laws, was inopportune for the discussion of the Bill.


joined in requesting his hon. Friend not to press the second reading at present. In Ireland there were many tenants-at-will who held their lands upon an understanding that their rents should not be increased; but if this Bill should be passed in its present shape he feared these rents would be increased, and that, in consequence, much heartburning would be created in Ireland.


said, the Select Committee had been arranged since this Bill was brought in by his hon. Friend, and therefore he did not think it would be fair to stop its progress in a peremptory manner. He would suggest that the second reading should be agreed to, upon the understanding that the Committee should be postponed till after the Report of the Select Committee.


said, it appeared to him that the principle of the Bill was not objected to, and he would therefore suggest that, after the second reading, it should be referred to the Select Committee of the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon.


expressed a hope that the Chief Secretary for Ireland would consent to the second reading, in order that the Bill, might then he referred to the Select Committee on Grand Juries, lately appointed. The principle contained in the Bill was a very important one; and if the noble Earl would not yield to the appeal made to him by so many Members, he hoped his gallant Friend would go to a division, so that those who, like himself, considered the present system an unjust and impolitic one, would have an opportunity of recording their protest against it. Hon. Members opposite had stated that when a tenant took a farm, he knew he was to pay all the Grand Jury rate, and that he got his land for less in consequence. No doubt the tenant did know he was to pay all this rate, but he never could calculate what it would amount to; and then it was pretty certain that there was little abatement in the rent in consequence of the landlord not having to contribute a portion of the tax. The anomalies connected with the levying and expenditure of county cess were remarkable. One of the great principles of the Constitution, which says there shall be no taxation without representation, was flagrantly violated. The man who paid the tax, with few exceptions had no voice whatever in appointing those who were to expend it; and, practically, he had no control over that expenditure, no matter how extravagant it might be. To speak of the associated ratepayers was absurd—they were the nominees of the Grand Jury, and even if a few of them would venture to act independently, they could be overborne by the magistrates associated with them. As the law stood, the landlord had every inducement to heap as much cess on the tenant as he could. For if, by the contributions of the latter, better roads and bridges and other works of utility were constructed near his property, the latter would be enhanced in value, and the poor tenant, as often occurred, would find that the only result to him of paying heavy rates would be to enhance the value of his farm for the benefit of his landlord, and then to have the alternative of paying an increased rent or suffer eviction. If the landlord paid half the rate, he would be more economical in the expenditure, and the tenant would be in less danger of suffering, as now, in consequence of improvements made with his money. A very striking injustice to the occupier was the obligation he was under for the entire support of pauper lunatics, whilst he only paid for half the maintenance of those who were sane. At the town he (Mr. Blake) represented the poorhouse and lunatic asylum were nearly opposite to each other. So long as a pauper retained his senses, the farmer contributed only a moiety to his support; but the moment he lost them, and was sent across the road to be locked up, the unfortunate farmer had not only to pay all the expenses, but the cost was doubled as well, owing to the larger expenses attendant on the care of the insane; so that the occupier was mulcted to four times the extent he paid before, and so continued to be unless the lunatic recovered or became an idiot, in which event he crossed the road again to the workhouse, was maintained at half the cost as before, and the landlord had to commence again to contribute his quota. Now, surely that state of things called for amendment. The hon. Baronet the Member for Coleraine had complained of the constitution of the Committee, and that some Members on it had never served on Grand Juries. Even if they had not, they might make very good judges of the reform required. But he never doubted if there was a single Gentleman on it who had not been at some time a grand juror. He (Mr. Blake) could not boast of being an important county man, or possessing much influence, but there were few who had given more attention to the question of Grand Jury reform. Pie had framed Bills to effect that object, and brought them forward for two years in succession; and though he did not pass them, he ventured to think he did something towards calling attention to the subject, and for that reason, he presumed, he had been placed on the Committee.


thought the Bill ought not to be pressed forward without further consideration.


observed, that if the Bill were now read a second time its principles would be sanctioned. Now, the Bill, although plausible, was most delusive. So far from being beneficial, it would be highly injurious. It would unsettle the relations between landlord and tenant, and create discontent where it did not now exist. It would also throw difficulties in the way of the Select Committee on the Grand Jury Laws of Ireland.


said, he wished to add his earnest appeal to the noble Earl (the Earl of Mayo) to withdraw his opposition to the second reading of this Bill; and he did so, encouraged by the fact that with the exception of his hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Roscommon (Colonel French), every Member who had addressed the House, including the noble Earl himself, had expressed assent to the principles of the Bill. ["No, no!"] He (Mr. O'Beirne) repeated his statement; it was so. The only objections taken were that the whole question was now under consideration by the Committee recently appointed, who had but just commenced their sittings, and that it would be a discourtesy to that Committee if the House expressed any opinion upon one branch of a subject, the entire of which had been so referred. Another objection offered was that the second reading of the Bill would be something like pre-judging the question which had been sent to the Committee to discuss; but not a syllable of dissent from the main object of his hon. and gallant Friend's Bill was uttered. Now he (Mr. O'Beirne) believed that there was some very palpable misapprehension on the part of hon. Members who took this view. The only effect that reading this Bill a second time could possibly have, would be to express the views of the House subject to the inquiry of the Committee; and the Committee would have the fullest power to do what they pleased with the Bill, to report in favour of, or to reject it, or to embrace the principle it advocated in a new Bill. In fact, all that could follow a second reading would be the expression of opinion by the House in favour of the principles enunciated, without in the least interfering with the power given to the tribunal up stairs. If then that be so, why should there be any hesitation in permitting the Bill to proceed. He hoped, therefore, that this useless, and be thought ill-judged, opposition would be withdrawn.


considered that nothing would be more mischievous than to read this Bill a second time with a view to immediate legislation. It appeared to him that the Bill contained as much mischief as any that had been introduced for some time past. The tendency of the measure was to tell the occupying tenants that they were suffering under a grievance, for which he believed there was no foundation; the Grand Jury cess being a charge upon the land apportioned justly among all classes. More than half the land in Ireland was held under tenancies from year to year; and as the Bill proposed the immediate application of the new law to all these tenancies, the result would be to create a vast amount of discontent between landlord and tenant, and to oblige landlords in self-defence to put an end to existing contracts with their tenants. He did not acquiesce in the principle that it was desirable that the Grand Jury cess should be apportioned between landlord and tenant, but he admitted that the subject was one deserving of inquiry before a Committee. It was against the practice of the House to affirm the principle of a Bill, when that very principle was to be one of the matters referred to a Select Committee.


said, that the Bill would not interfere with existing arrangements between landlords and tenants; for all existing contracts were specially excepted from the operation of the Bill. There could be no hope of preserving good-will between landlord and tenant—as the opponents of the measure professed to wish—if Bills founded like this on just principles were to be rejected. It was now declared that a simple act of justice would produce ill-will between landlord and tenant. What could be fairer than that the person who possessed the permanent interest in the soil should pay his portion of the burden, instead of the whole being thrown upon the shoulders of the tenant? The House was asked to read the Bill a second time; not for the purpose of immediate legislation, but that the Select Committee might have official cognizance of its provisions. There was nothing more common than to give instructions to Committees as to the manner in which they should conduct their inquiries.


contended that the tenants had a serious grievance of long standing in the payment of the county cess. It was loudly and universally complained of, that the occupying tenant should pay the whole of a tax which went substantially to improve the property of the landlords. The Bill would not create discontent; for discontent in connection with this question, was of long standing. Why should it not be put on the same footing as the poor-rate? It was only reasonable and fair that the charge should be shared by the landlord. He entered his protest against the statement of the Attorney General for Ireland, and declared his belief that those who defended the present system did not understand the subject, or the feelings which existed among the tenant class of Ireland.


thought it most proper that the whole subject should be discussed and maturely considered by the Committee upstairs; but it would be contrary to the practice of the House, and not very courteous to the Committee, to sanction the principle of a Bill by reading it a second time, and thus endeavour to dictate to them the mode in which the question should be settled. The Committee had full powers to inquire into the whole subject; and he trusted the House would not fetter them by the reference proposed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Murphy). Although he could not admit the grievance alleged by the hon. and learned Member for Mallow (Mr. Sullivan), he did not deny that some changes in the present system might be desirable. Exemptions similar to those made in the case of poor rates would, no doubt, be beneficial; but he had represented for thirty years a large agricultural population in Ireland, of all classes and creeds, and had never heard of this long standing grievance which pressed for immediate legislation. He looked to the Committee for useful suggestions, and hoped that beneficial legislation would follow.


said, he was in favour of apportioning the county cess between landlord and tenant as was already done in the matter of poor rates. There had not been a single objection advanced against the principle of the Bill. It was true they had been told that an interference with the relations of landlord and tenant might excite discontent among the people of Ireland, but there was no possible measure connected with land in Ireland to which the same observation did not apply. The only desire of its promoters was to make a fair and equitable arrangement, and the noble Earl would do a graceful act if he allowed the second reading to pass with a view to the reference of the measure to the Select Committee.


said, the Gentlemen composing the Select Committee would form an excellent Committee, thoroughly representing all the interests of Ireland, and there was only one Gentleman among them who had not been on the Grand Jury. He (Mr. Maguire) thought it might be useful to read the Bill a second time, and refer it to them. The right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Warren) laboured under a great misconception if he believed there was no grievance involved in the existing condition of the law. Those who were acquainted with the feelings of the people knew that a grievance did exist, and that it was felt very strongly. He had himself seen a petition, signed by 6,000 occupiers in the South of Ireland, complaining of the grievance; and if the noble Earl opposite would refer to the occupiers of his own county, he would find there were not more than ten in a thousand who would not be in favour of a division of the burden between landlord and tenant. But no improvement was ever attempted to be made in that House for Ireland without the parrot cry being raised that dissensions and divisions would be created between the landlords and tenants. That was, however, all nonsense. Hon. Members came here to improve the law. Good will, not ill feeling naturally arose from improvements. He hoped the second reading would be agreed to.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 70: Majority 13.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.