HC Deb 03 March 1885 vol 294 cc2004-13

in moving— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the tenure on which Houses and Holdings are held in or near towns in Ireland, and the manner in which the improvements of tenants in or near towns are affected by the existing Laws, and if any changes in the existing Law could be now beneficially made, said, although this question was one of extreme importance, he would promise not to make a long speech upon it; he only intended, in fact, addressing the House for a few minutes. That the subject was one of vast importance to Ireland, and one which excited the greatest interest amongst the people of that country, was abundantly shown by the fact of so many Irish Members, of different shades of opinion, remaining in the House at that late hour—1.15 A.M.—to hear the matter discussed. A great many Irish towns were in a most dilapidated state; in fact, their condition was disgraceful. From Returns which had been presented showing the manner in which dwellings were built and held in other parts of Europe, hon. Members would see that nowhere else was the Irish system adopted. In France, Germany, Austria, Russia, and Italy, persons could build their own houses, and make their own improvements; but that was not the case in Ireland. Where there were good landlords the Irish towns were kept in good order, no doubt; but there were a great many more towns where a different state of things prevailed, owing to the present defective condition of the law. He might remind the House that a Bill had been brought forward in the House some time ago to remedy the law, and that the measure was only defeated by eight, a very small majority. Since the discussion of that Bill the subject had been ventilated in nearly every town in Ireland; letters had been written to the newspapers upon it; and it had been mentioned at every election. Would the House, under these circumstances, say it would not allow the Irish Members to inquire into the law which secured the tenure of house property in the Irish towns—would it say that the Irish people should not be permitted to get up this legal agitation? They had done all they could to bring the subject to the fore, without attempting anything illegal. No damage had been done; nobody had been shot; and all that was asked was that an inquiry should be permitted into the matter. The English Members would not be asked to take part in the inquiry unless they desired to do so, for, of course, the Irish Representatives would welcome the assistance of English Members if they were desirous of taking part in the investigation. Without saying more, he would move the Motion on the Paper.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the tenure on which Houses and Holdings are held in or near towns in Ireland, and the manner in which the improvements of tenants in or near towns are affected by the existing Laws, and if any changes in the existing Law could be now beneficially made."—(Colonel Nolan.)


said, he sympathized with the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but felt great difficulty in dealing with the part regarding houses. It did not affect them in the North of Ireland as much as it did the people of the South; but he would prefer that the hon. and gallant Member should eliminate from his Motion what referred to houses, and would confine his proposal to town parks. ["No, no!"] Well, he believed the question of dealing with houses in towns was so important, difficult, and intricate, that, in his opinion, nothing practical could result from the passing of the Motion this Session. It would be better to refer that question to the reformed Parliament, and to keep to the question of town parks. He would read what the Prime Minister had said during the passing of the Land Act, in order to show what the right hon. Gentleman's opinion was in 1881. The Prime Minister said— I am not prepared to admit that the present law bearing on this subject— that was, the subject of town parks— is satisfactory. We regard the question as open to consideration, and we may find it our duty to investigate it during the Recess. On March 6, 1882, the Prime Minister, when questioned by the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Marum), replied— That some legislation might be desirable with regard to town parks; but he was obliged to say that, viewing the present condition of affairs, and the pressure on the time of the House of Commons, he did not think the period had arrived when the Government could ask Parliament to entertain the subject."—(3 Hansard, [267] 187.) Having put before the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) what the opinion of the Prime Minister was with regard to town parks during the passing of the Land Act in 1881, and the opinion expressed by him since then in 1882, he (Mr. Dickson), in order to arrive at something practical, would ask the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan) to omit from his Motion the reference to houses, and to deal solely with town parks. The question of town parks was a vital one in Ulster and the North of Ireland. A great deal of feeling had been excited on the matter since the passing of the Land Act; the holders of town parks conceiving it a grievance that they should be excluded from the benefits of that Act. He should be glad, if he had the opportunity, of proposing— That a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the tenure on which town parks were held in Ireland, how they were affected by the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881, and to report whether any changes in the existing laws could be beneficially made. At present, however, he would ask the hon. and gallant Member to omit the words "Houses and" from his Motion, to leave that matter to be dealt with by the reformed Parliament, and to be content with obtaining this Session a settlement of the town parks' question.


said, he had great pleasure in supporting the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member. There was great truth in what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Dickson) had said as to the desirability of having town parks dealt with; but the hon. Member's proposal was beyond the present question altogether. They all knew the great interest taken in this question all over Ireland. Everyone who knew the country towns in Ireland knew that from time to time the hard earnings of the working classes, the artizans, and the shopkeepers, were spent in the building of houses; and they knew how many families had been enriched, and how many families, at the same time, impoverished, by the confiscation of those houses. The Land Act was a great measure of relief; but it only affected the rural districts. An Act was wanted for the towns, for, owing to the want of legislation, many towns were decaying. The families who owned the houses were not content with the rent they got in the first instance; but 50 or 60 years after the building of the houses the successor of the original landlord came in, and confiscated the whole of the hard earnings and savings of the artizan, or shopkeeper, or whoever he might be. He hoped the House would not refuse the reasonable request made by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway County, for a Committee to inquire into the state of facts concerning the tenure on which houses were held in or near towns in Ireland. No doubt town parks formed a good subject of inquiry; but let the two things be kept separate. Let houses be dealt with now, and town parks in a separate Motion or Bill. He hoped the Government would not be so unreasonable as to refuse a simple inquiry. That was all the hon. and gallant Member asked for; and if, at the conclusion of that inquiry, no case had been made out, and there was not sufficient evidence to warrant the Government in bringing in a Bill on the subject, he was sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would withdraw from the subject altogether.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would consent to the appointment of the Committee. The question proposed for inquiry was one of the most important questions which could possibly be brought before the House; and, numerically speaking, it concerned a most important section of the people of Ireland. It was a question which must be looked at from a similar point of view, and dealt with on the same lines as the Irish labourers' question. If anything was to be done for the labouring classes in Ireland, the movement should be followed by the measure of relief now indicated, if, indeed, the two movements did not go side by side—pari passu—in the interests of the labouring class and the artizan class in towns. This was, perhaps, the most important question in Ireland at the present moment. He could not agree that justice had been done to it—that, considering its importance, it had been brought sufficiently before the public. He was sure that in the reformed Parliament it would form one of the most important matters with which they would be called upon to deal. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Dickson), he could not flatter the hon. Gentleman that he saw much in his argument. The town park question seemed to him (Mr. Moore) to be a very simple one. It appeared to him to be a question for Parliamentary pressivre—for Parliamentary insistance and arrangement. There was no reason why town parks could not be put on the same footing as other tenancies in Ireland. If the lands were more valuable than was at present assumed, it should be easy to assess their true value in a Court of Law. In fact, he did not know what there was to inquire about in the matter of town parks. The law, he believed, left in considerable doubt the question as to what town parks were. He questioned whether such things really existed at all; but, if they did exist, he submitted that Parliamentary pressure should be brought to bear on the question in order to bring them within the scope of the Land Act. He could not see what further inquiry was needed. To his mind what was wanted was action, and not inquiry. They re- quired something to induce the shop-keeping and artizan classes to build houses—some adequate protection which would induce them to invest their earnings in this manner. At present there was no such security for invested money, and no means by which a man could safely procure a house for himself. The question was net only an Irish one—it was important for England as well as Ireland. It would be settled in England, and some 10 years afterwards, perhaps, Ireland might expect to have it settled. The Irish Members, however, wished Ireland to be placed on a footing of equality with England in this matter as early as possible. They wished Ireland to be as far advanced in the race as England. Whilst hon. Members were turning over in their minds some plan for improving the condition of the labouring and artizan classes in England by enabling them to invest their hard earnings in well-secured property and in other ways, he sincerely hoped that the claims of the Irish people for similar consideration would not be overlooked.


said, it was surely not reasonable to limit inquiry to a special matter in which some hon. Members took an interest, and to endeavour to withhold inquiry into a subject which other hon. Members in that House took an interest in. He said that sedulous and careful inquiry into the condition of the law in regard to the holdings of shops and houses in towns in Ireland had become a matter of absolute necessity and importance. The case of Ireland in this respect was entirely different to that of Great Britain, inasmuch as in the latter there was an increasing and thriving agricultural population, the consequence of which was that the towns were growing in extent, the shops were always let, and if a tenant found his relations with the landlord disagreeable he could easily obtain another residence. In Ireland, however, the towns were either stationary or retrograde, and the population increasing faster than the accommodation in the towns, if a man lost his house he had no chance of getting another; and it was upon that view that the supporters of the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend based the claim for inquiry. He did not say that the grievance was so great as that which had led to the alteration of the Land Law in Ireland; but it was a question which had been coming to the front, and must be regarded as one of great importance. His hon. and gallant Friend had taken, as was his custom always, the most Constitutional and proper course with reference to this question; he did not ask the House to commit itself to any principle with regard to it, but merely asked for an inquiry; and he (Mr. Sexton) would point out that if the Government would not seriously take the initiative of inquiring into the hardship complained of and providing a remedy for the grievance, hon. Members on those Benches would be compelled to press it upon the House in a more disagreeable manner.


said, there could be no doubt that the grievance referred to had been reasonably pointed out by hon. Members who had spoken on the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway. The hon. and gallant Member wished Her Majesty's Government to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into two classes of tenures; one, that of shops and houses; the other, that of holdings in or near towns in Ireland. They were told that in many of the towns in Ireland there might be great hardships inflicted upon tenants in consequence of the tendency of houses and shops to go up in value. He quite admitted that; but the case was the same in England and in Scotland, and the Government considered the question was one which should be dealt with upon general principles, and not upon principles applicable only to Ireland. The question relating to land in Ireland was in a different position from that relating to land in the rest of the Kingdom; the circumstances were different; and it had, therefore, been dealt with in an exceptional way. But the same facts did not apply to houses and shops in towns in Ireland; and if inquiry were necessary—and he was not prepared to say it was not—into the whole of the circumstances under which houses and shops were held by tenants in towns in Ireland, with the view, if possible, of securing for the poorer classes of the community greater privileges than they now enjoyed, the Government thought that it ought to proceed upon general, and not upon purely Irish, principles. An hon. Member opposite had said that it was a very easy and simple matter to appoint a Committee. So it was; and it was also a very useful thing to appoint a Committee; but what would be the effect of doing so? It would probably raise some special and peculiar expectations, which it would not be possible to satisfy at the present time; and the Government, not being prepared to admit that there was any special reason for it in Ireland, would not be prepared to agree to what the Committee might recommend. The hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Moore) had admitted, in his speech, that this was not an Irish question only; he said it was an English question as well; and, therefore, putting it on that ground, it would not be proper for the Government to assent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the tenure of houses. But the question with regard to holdings, in or near towns in Ireland, was another matter altogether. Reference had been made to certain words of the Prime Minister with reference to town parks. No one could say that the state of the law with regard to them was quite satisfactory; and if the hon. and gallant Member for Galway would accept it as an installment, the Government were quite ready to agree to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into that subject. The Committee would inquire as to whether the present state of things was satisfactory; but whether any of the principles of the Land Act of 1881 should be applied to town parks was a matter that would have to remain open.


said, he attributed the statement of the hon. Gentleman, that this was not purely an Irish grievance, to the fact that he did not know much about Ireland. It was peculiarly an Irish question, and presented an entirely different aspect to that relating to houses and shops in English towns. To begin with, the soil of Ireland was owned by absentees; the soil of England was not. It was known that those absentees had been proved to be thieves—persons who took money out of the pockets of the Irish people, and that they absolutely refused to give land in towns for building purposes. Take the town of Bantry, for instance. The people there were refused land lately, on which to put up Gas Works to light the town, which contained 20,000 inhabitants. Where in England could a savage be found to refuse land for such a purpose? Why, even in Scotland, a man who should refuse a little bit of ground for the building of Gas Works would be hunted with the dogs at his heels. Take another case which occurred a short time ago in a country town. The lease held by a gentleman who carried on a large business there dropped, and his landlord would not renew it, or allow him to occupy a house in the place, and would not give a plot of ground on which he could build one, and the result was that the man was driven from his native place. Take another place—Carrickmacross. On one side of the road there was the Shirley estate, and on the other the estate of the Marquess of Bath. There was £20,000 worth of property, and for all that there was no security for the tenants; the landlords in question could turn out any shopkeeper they pleased. British law did not prevent that. He was bound to say that of all the inhuman savages by whom a country was ever cursed the worst were the men who were allowed to rob the people of the fruits of their toil. In the towns in Ireland no one in trade could enjoy a moment of quiet tenure; even if they wanted to extend their premises for the purposes of business, the lord of the soil refused them permission to do so. Why did this state of things exist? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland came forward and dogmatized about this being an Imperial question. The right hon. Gentleman simply knew nothing of the subject he had spoken about; and he (Mr. Healy) said that with regard to no other country but Ireland would the Government have put forward anyone to dogmatize on a question of this kind after he had been only six weeks in the country. The right hon. Gentleman came down and told Irish Members, who knew the country, who suffered for the country, and who lived in the country, that this was a grievance which they suffered from in common with the rest of the Kingdom. But there was no parallel between the two countries in that respect. The Government would, probably, hear more about the rights of the tenant shopkeepers in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said that the appointment of a Committee might lead to the raising of expectations which could not be realized. But let not the right hon. Gentleman imagine that the people of Ireland were to be deluded with, false expectations. They expected no more from this country than what they could drag out of it. The Prime Minister had promised a Committee to inquire into the subject of town parks.


I do not think he promised a Committee. He promised to inquire, but not to appoint a Committee.


A Government inquiry; to be conducted, he supposed, up in a balloon. Well, the Government has promised an inquiry by microscope from this side of the Channel, and that promise had not been kept. The right hon. Gentleman now said they would be willing to grant that inquiry. There was no harm in granting that inquiry; but he said that the people would be a great deal more deluded by the inquiry offered by the Government than by that asked for by his hon. and gallant Friend. It would simply give the holders of land in and near towns in Ireland the idea, which would not be realized, of getting an amendment of the Land Act; but as they belonged to a body not large enough to commit a sufficient number of outrages to induce that House to work, the Government could afford to trample on them.


said, the statements of the hon. Member who had just spoken were so contrary to his own experience with regard to every town he was acquainted with in Ireland that it was difficult to give very great credence to them.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 32; Noes 33: Majority 1.—(Div. List, No. 39.)