HC Deb 13 June 1871 vol 206 cc1978-82

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If his attention has been called to the judgments of the Lord Chancellor and of the Lord Justice of Appeal, delivered on Friday the 9th instant in the Court of Chancery Appeal, Ireland; and, if so, whether it is his intention to propose whatever legislative measures a review of these judgments may show to be necessary to give validity and effect to the Tenant Right of Ulster, which the Land Act of 1870 purports to legalize and enforce?


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If his attention has been directed to a judgment delivered by Lord Justice Christian, on Friday last, in the Court of Appeal in Chancery in Ireland, seriously affecting the legal validity of the Tenant Right customs of Ulster; and, whether he will at once give instructions to have the shorthand writer's note of the judgments delivered on that occasion by Lord O'Hagan and Lord Justice Christian procured; or, in case no authentic report can be obtained of these judgments through a shorthand writer, whether he will cause instant application to be made to the learned judges themselves, requesting them to supply authentic copies of their judgments, so as to have them laid upon the Table of the House without delay?


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether his attention has been called to the judgment lately delivered in Dublin by the Lord Justice of Appeal, in the case of the Estate of the Marquis of Waterford, in which his Lordship is reported to have given his opinion that the "Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act, 1870," had "failed in giving a legal efficiency" to the Ulster Tenant Right; that the Landed Estates Court ought not to recognize the existence of tenant right by setting it out in the rental; and that "after the conveyance" to the purchaser "all claims for tenant right would be utterly destroyed unless the Legislature once more interfered for the tenant's protection;" and, whether he is prepared to put an end to the state of uncertainty which must result from this judgment given by the Lord Justice of Appeal, by introducing without delay a Bill to give legal effect to the intentions of Parliament in passing the Land Act of 1870?


Sir, I am very glad that upon a question of so much importance hon. Members of influence representing Irish constituencies have been so vigilant and so prompt in calling attention to circumstances which are undoubtedly of a character calculated to create uneasiness. I say it not by way of complaint, rather indeed by way of apology for myself; but, in consequence of this promptitude on the part of the hon. Members, I have not been able to make the full and careful inquiries into the subject that would have enabled me, had I had sufficient time to have made them, to give that minute and particular answer to the Questions of the hon. Members that I could wish to give them, and therefore I can only give a substantial answer to them. In the first place, I think I ought to mention that I have received from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) a note enclosing a letter to him from Lord Justice Christian, in which the latter states that he entirely disclaims and declines to be bound by the report which has appeared in the newspapers, which he alleges to be very far indeed from representing the real tenour of his remarks. Of course, I give no opinion upon this matter, further than to observe that the assertion of Lord Justice Christian himself as to his intention in delivering the judgment in question is a circumstance which it was my duty to mention—and I do so with pleasure and satisfaction—to the House. At the same time, the note of Lord Justice Christian does not purport to give an account of the opinions which he really intended to give on the subject, and, consequently, this part of the matter is not at present clear. In reply to the Questions that have been put to me, I have to say that what I believe to be the case is this—no official record, strictly speaking, of the reasons which a Judge may give for his decision exists, and I have not been able to learn that it has been usual to apply, on the part of the Executive Government, to a Judge to make a statement of such reasons with a view to their being laid before Parliament. Although I speak with some reserve in consequence of my inquiries having been hasty, I believe I am justified in stating that the notes of the shorthand writers, where there were any, have been produced and laid before Parliament; but in the present case the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Dowse) is under the impression that there is no report of that character, and, consequently, I am not in a position to give a satisfactory answer to the Question whether I am prepared to lay such a report of the judgment upon the Table of the House. We shall, however, look further into the matter, and if it be in our power to ascertain with precision what were the decisions given by a personage so important as the Lord Justice of Appeal in Ireland we shall do our best to get to the bottom of it, and to lay the whole matter before this House, provided we can do so with propriety. But, quite apart from this matter, there remains something more important, which we have to consider—namely, the opinions which have justly or unjustly been attributed to Lord Justice Christian in the reports that have appeared of his judgment. I have to state with regard to those opinions, so attributed to him, that they are at variance with the opinions of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, another Judge of Appeal of the highest rank; that they are at variance with the opinions of the two Judges of the Landed Estates Court, from whose decision the appeal came; that they are also, as I am advised, at variance from the decision of several of the Chairmen of Counties, and of the most distinguished Judges of Appeal in the Lands Courts; while they are certainly at variance, as I am informed by the Law Officers for Ireland, with the construction put upon the Land Act by the various legal commentators and by the legal profession generally in Ireland. To this, I may add that this House is not insufficiently furnished with legal learning, and that no Act having ever attracted greater legal attention than the Land Act, it would be most extraordinary if the acute and accomplished minds that were constantly directed to the consideration of that Act had so grossly failed in effecting their object, as, from the opinions contained in the report which appeared in the newspapers as the judgment of Lord Justice Christian, would appear to be the case. Under these circumstances I own, for myself and for the Government, that we do not feel any great uneasiness upon the subject, and I should be glad if that feeling of confidence could be communicated to the minds, not only of the hon. Members—who, however, have only done their duty in raising the question—but to those of the numerous class who are profoundly interested in this matter in Ireland. I am by no means convinced that it will be necessary for us to propose any further legislation consequent upon a statement of this kind. But what I wish to convey absolutely and unconditionally to the hon. Members and to all who may be interested in the subject is this—that, whether there be need for legislation or not, the Government will not, as far as depends upon them, suffer the plain and manifest intention of Parliament in passing the Land Bill with regard to the Ulster Tenant Right to be defeated. These are our intentions in the matter, and although I hope that there may be no occasion for any new measure to be brought in in order that the intention of Parliament may be carried into effect, still, whether there be or be not such occasion, those who are interested in this matter may be assured that the Government will not fail to do whatever may be requisite in order to give full effect to the intentions which Parliament has expressed, and to what, under the circumstances, must morally be considered in the nature of a covenant entered into with the people of Ireland.