HL Deb 30 August 1831 vol 6 cc863-8

On the Motion that their Lordships resolve themselves into Committee on this Bill,

The Earl of Wicklow rose and said, that before their Lordships went into a Committee on this Act, he was anxious to offer a few observations, which he confessed, would have been appropriately introduced upon the second reading of the Bill; on that occasion, however, it had been his wish to address their Lordships, and he came down with that intention, at ten minutes before five o'clock; but, to his great surprise, he found that, even at this early hour, the Bill had been passed through its second stage, sub silentio. In saying this, however, he did not mean to impute any want of courtesy to the noble Viscount (Melbourne), because he had informed the noble Viscount, that it was not his intention, nor that of any other person as far as he knew, to offer any opposition to the measure. He did not, however, suppose, that the noble Viscount himself would have proposed the second reading of a Bill so important, without addressing some observations to their Lordships; and if he had supposed, that the noble Viscount would have been thus silent, he should, circumstanced as he was, have decidedly felt it incumbent upon him to offer a few remarks, and to lay before them a brief statement concerning the operations of the Act. When the question was brought before the House last Session, he had declared himself decidedly hostile to the Bill introduced to amend the law by the noble Viscount. But he did not entertain the same feeling towards the Bill at present before their Lordships, because, although the title was the same, yet was it completely changed in the principles and in the details. And this simple fact of the noble Viscount's having now brought in a Bill, so different from that against which he (Lord Wicklow) had declared his opposition, was in itself a complete refutation of the assertion of an anonymous and mendacious scribe, who, in a pamphlet, which he presumed to call Friendly Advice to the Peers, but which was really written solely with the purpose to insult and to intimidate their Lordships, had stated that the opposition he had thought it his duty to give to the Bill of the noble Viscount, last Session, was dictated by factious motives, and the desire to thwart his Majesty's Ministers in their proceedings with respect to the measures of Reform. These circumstances, the charge made against him and the clamour directed against this Bill in Ireland, made it necessary that he should offer a few words on the subject, and he considered that its great importance claimed, and indeed demanded, from their Lordships generally, some serious consideration; for it was not enough that their Lordships should themselves be satisfied, that they had honestly and conscientiously legislated upon any particular question; the public also should know, that their Lordships did not legislate, and to the public their Lordships should not appear to legislate, for their own benefit, but for the good of the community. When he stated that clamour had been raised against the Subletting Act in Ireland, he did not mean to say, that this clamour should be disregarded; for he considered that it was necessary to apply a remedy whenever a popular cry was raised with just cause. But he did positively assert, that never was there a case in which clamour was so little the interpreter of public opinion as in respect to this Act. He did most positively assert, that in the bill of 1826, there was not one clause which militated against strict justice. There was not a single clause, which could produce any one of the evils which some would fain attribute to the measure. He declared that the Subletting Act was not only beneficial to the landlord in its operation, as enforcing the obligation to observe the different covenants of the lease, but actually, for the same reason, conducive to the interests of the poor. It was a measure which had been well weighed and well considered. It had emanated from a Committee of the House of Commons, where it had received the most deliberate attention; nor was it afterwards hurried through that House. It was introduced in one Session, and only carried in the next. It was, as he had already remarked, beneficial alike to the landlord and to the poor man; and now he might be asked from whom did the clamour proceed? He conceived that it proceeded from a party who did not themselves possess any landed property, except what they held upon leases, either granted to themselves, as was generally the case, or else inherited from their fathers. These men, then, had taken or inherited farms with certain covenants and agreements, which compelled them to take care of and properly to cultivate these farms. But, preferring to the honest occupation of cultivating the soil, the more idle and more consequential business of country politicians, they, in violation of the covenants of their lease, subdivided the land, and let it to a set of pauper tenants, from whom they extracted the last farthing to maintain the rank which they assumed as landholders and country gentlemen. Having thus, under the pretence of taking their proper position in society, violated their contracts to their landlords, their next step was, to raise a clamour against this Act, as the cause of that misery which, by their false and profligate conduct, they had themselves occasioned. They wrung the last farthing from their wretched tenants, and when distress had reached its height, and the extreme of misery had produced disturbance, these men exclaimed against the law for producing those evils which were of their own creation—evils, to prevent which was the prime object, the almost exclusive intention, of this act of legislation. Those very individuals who had, by their own heartless proceedings, occasioned all the mischief, when it becomes galling almost beyond endurance, denounce their own landlords, the owners of the soil, as the most barbarous men in the world, because there is distress on their estates, although they are by no means to blame for it—some being absent, and others, though present, unable to apply the slightest remedy; and then, as delegates at some illegal assembly, or as, perhaps, leading members of it, the persons who have themselves done all the wrong, alike to the gentleman above and the peasant below them, raise a clamour against the Subletting Act, as the origin of every evil. He positively asserted, in the presence of their Lordships and of the country, that nothing of evil could possibly result from the Subletting Act. The distress prevailing at present amongst the Irish poor, arose from a combination of circumstances. Amongst these he might particularly mention the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, and the view taken by the proprietors of farms of the mode of cultivating them. The proprietors had of late been anxious to disembarrass their land of the crowd of paupers, that before consumed its produce, without any adequate return; and this, he admitted, had to a certain extent been the cause of the distress throughout the country. But that this Bill had been the cause of ejecting a single tenant from his holding, upon the faith of anxious inquiry and full investigation, he positively denied. Yet, whenever a tenant was removed on any cause, be it what it might—expiration of his lease, breach of covenant, or so forth—it was immediately declared by those politicians to whom he had alluded, that the evil arose from the Subletting Act, which was framed for the benefit of the landlord, and which admitted neither protection nor security to the miserable tenant. Of the present Bill he entirely approved, as far as it went, but he thought it ought to be extended a little further. He considered, that as its object was to prevent the subdivision of lands, that protection which it gave to the farms let by the proprietor of the soil, ought to be continued beyond the life of the lessee. According to this Bill, if the lessee died intestate, or if he willed it to his children in any number, that very sub-division would take place which it was the object of the law to prevent. He maintained, too, that this would be no hardship, because, if a man took a farm with a clause absolutely prohibiting sub-division, now or hereafter, or under any circumstances, he could not complain of being compelled to adhere to an engagement into which he had knowingly and willingly entered. He was especially desirous to have this addition made to the Bill, and he was anxious to send it to the other House as free as possible from blemish, knowing the troubled sea on which in its transmission there it was sure to be cast—the clamour with which it would be met, and the desperate opposition it would encounter from certain individuals, and the little chance it had of obtaining from them even a fair hearing.

Viscount Melbourne

explained, that it was not from any want of courtesy he had had the Bill read a second time, at so early an hour, He had declined speaking on it, because he understood it was to be suffered to pass without opposition, and because he did not, under these circumstances, wish to enter upon a statement of technical details. He entirely concurred with the noble Lord in all the statements he had made, and all the opinions he professed, excepting that which led the noble Lord to wish for an additional clause to restrict the lessee from willing the farm to his children, or from its being divided, if he died intestate. He could not agree to a measure so forcible—he could not, however anxious he was to carry into effect the principle of the Bill, interfere with what were considered and regarded as the just rights of all men. This would be paying too dearly for any advantage which might be acquired by the clause. He entirely agreed with the noble Lord as to the nature of the clamour which had been raised, and as to the falsehood of attributing any portion of the distress and disturbance which prevailed, to the Sub-letting Act. He admitted, that the Bill now before their Lordships differed, in many respects, from the last; and this he accounted for, by the fact of his having given the subject more consideration, and from his being animated with the desire to make it as perfect as possible.

The Earl of Westmeath

observed, that great clamour had existed on the subject, a clamour raised for the most abominable objects.

Lord Plunkett

observed, that the object of the measure had been so fully explained by the noble Earl opposite, that it left him little to say. As, however, he had been the instrument of bringing in the Subletting Act, he might observe, that it was true, that a senseless clamour had been raised against it, but it had proceeded from those who concealed their private interests under the mask of affording protection to the lower classes. The great object of the Bill was, to give the landlord that protection to which he was entitled from the nature of his contract with his tenant. It was also intended to prevent the party who might become a sub-tenant, from being harassed by the distress of two or three landlords instead of one. The case they had to provide for was, to give the landlord the power to go over all his property for his rent, and he could exercise it in all cases except those where he might himself have given permission to his tenant to devise The former bill proceeded on the presumption, that he had given that power, in all cases where he had not expressly reserved it; but, in this, all the benefits of his covenants were reserved to him, unless where he had given written permission to his tenant to sub-let. Where he had not given that authority, he could go to the subtenant, and his receipt was valid against he claims of any intermediate landlord, for all power of distress was, in such circumstances, taken away. He would further maintain, that if the proposition of the noble Earl, to take away the power of devising in portions, were adopted, it would destroy the effect of the Bill; and, instead of rendering it, as the noble Earl imagined, more palatable elsewhere, would have a directly contrary effect. He should feel it his duty, therefore, to oppose any such proposition.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, the eighth clause allowed the lands of a bankrupt or insolvent, to be passed to his assignees.

Lord Plunkett

In that case, they would be liable to all the covenants in the original lease.

Bill went through the Committee, and reported.