HL Deb 26 June 1845 vol 81 cc1195-205
Lord Stanley

moved the appointment of the Committee on this Bill.

The Marquess of Londonderry

declined to serve on it. He had already expressed his opinion very decidedly on this measure, and maintained, that if the compulsory clause were omitted it would be a dead letter; if inserted, it would be the means of interfering between landlord and tenant in a manner prejudicial in the highest degree, especially in that part of Ireland with which he was connected.

The Earl of Lucan

gave notice, that if this Bill came in its present shape from the Committee, he should move its extension to Scotland and England.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

also begged to be excused from attendance on this Committee. His objections to the principle of the Bill were so extremely strong, that it would be a farce to go into Committee with the view of improving its provisions. The new principle of this measure was not the compensation to tenants, but the appointment of a Government officer in Dublin, with power to interfere between landlord and tenant. The opposition to this Bill had been much misrepresented; for the noble Mover of the Bill, and the noble Earl at the head of the Commission, treated it as if directed against the provision for granting compensation to tenants, and not against the nomination of this new officer in Dublin. Now, he for one must say, that if the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) moved a Resolution or introduced a Bill directing that compensation should be awarded to tenants for improvements effected on estates, he should not only support it, but do all in his power to carry it into effect. He must say, too, that they were mistaken who supposed that this question had been considered solely as a landlord's question; he maintained that this Bill would do no good to the tenants, to whom it professed to give compensation. It had been said, that this measure would not apply to good landlords; that if landlords and tenants agreed well together, and that due consideration was had for the latter, this Bill would not at all interfere with the relations which subsisted between them. But they might be sure that landlords and tenants would come together with very different feelings, if the latter had an opinion that there was a Commissioner in Dublin, to whom on every occasion of dispute they might appeal. How did this Bill operate as against an adverse landlord? Take it as affecting three classes of tenantry—those having leases likely to last for a considerable time, those that would last but for a short time, and those who were tenants at will. Those who had seven or fourteen years of a lease to run would find the occupation infinitely more profitable than any award that might be granted by the Dublin Commissioner. As for the tenant at will, the notice of appeal would be a notice to quit. But it was said that it would be a great thing for the widow, who was often turned out on the death of her husband, if she had an allowance for any improvements that were made. Did or could the landlord turn out a person so situated at present? Take care, however, that if this Bill passed, it would not give a sanction to so harsh an act, and almost compel the landlord to pick and choose from those who would, in such circumstances, stand in a position equally indifferent to him. But there was another unfair provision in the law: it proceeded on the principle that there was to be no change in the value of agricultural produce. Now it was imagined that protection to agriculture in this country increased the value of the land. It was true the price of agricultural produce could never be kept up to the degree calculated upon; for the price, which it was thought protection would ensure, instead of being 63s. or 56s. per quarter, for corn, was now but 47s. But how did this Bill propose to deal with the fluctuations in the value of land? Why, by declaring the landlord should never raise his rent until the whole value of the improvements was paid; and this, though the value of the land by a rise in the price of produce might be greatly increased. It acted as a bar to the landlord and tenant coming to a fair agreement as to the value of the land. These were tenants' and not landlords' arguments against the Bill. But the great argument against it was, that it would excite bad blood between landlord and tenant. The tenant was the weaker party, and if tempted to a struggle he must come off worse. This measure was opposed by every party in Ireland. He had not read the whole of the evidence taken before the Commission. He doubted whether any noble Lord had; but in what he saw of it, he found nothing new. The facts deposed to were brought out over and over again; and he could not help thinking that if, instead of issuing this Commission, they had a year ago referred the whole subject to a Committee up-stairs, there would now be effected a solid improvement in the law. The only authority for the present measure was the noble Earl at the head of the Commission, as he understood that his Col- leagues by no means pledged themselves to such a step. "Who are the supporters of this measure? Remember that one great argument against your legislation made use of by the Repealers is, that you constantly pass laws, not in opposition to one but to all classes in that country. And I say that is a most dangerous state of feeling. Some years ago I had a conversation on this subject with an hon. Gentleman, who has since become a distinguished member of the Repeal Association, but who was then opposed to Repeal. He said to me, 'I have been many years a Member of the British House of Commons, and I have found that on all questions, except those relating to Ireland, I am listened to with attention; but I have often felt that the very fact of my being an Irish Member, lessens my influence on Irish subjects. I am not a Repealer, he said, for I see many objections to such a measure; but if the Legislature proceed in the same course, I do not see what good I can do in a British House of Commons, and must support the proposal of an Irish Parliament for Irish affairs.' I tell your Lordships that is a feeling widely spreading in Ireland. They tell you in their petitions that matters relating to the internal state of the country are not attended to, and that the views and votes of those connected with the country are overruled by those not acquainted with it. Now, I maintain this Bill justifies that description. There was a petition respectfully, firmly, and calmly drawn up, and signed by a number of noble Lords, supporters of the Government. These are men, to whom the Government, having no Irishman in the Cabinet, may be naturally supposed to look for advice; but they reject their advice, they despise their guidance, and force on Parliament a measure opposed to the wishes of every one who understands the subject; for my noble Friends near me (the Marquess of Lansdowne and Marquess of Normanby), though they voted for the second reading, can hardly be reckoned upon as strenuous supporters of the measure. All the authorities out of the House—all the organs of all parties in Ireland, are opposed to this measure. Everybody is favourable to the consideration of the principle which it professes to carry out; but you (the Government) say you will not go into that question, except on an understanding that it is a violation of the rights of property, and which will never be admitted in any part of Great Britain. I move, as an Amendment, that my name be omitted."

The Marquess of Londonderry

I rise to correct a mistake into which the noble Marquess has fallen. He says there is no Irishman in the Cabinet. Now, there is the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) at the head of the Government. Besides, there are two distinguished men, who, though not Irishmen, have filled the office of Secretary in Ireland, and to whose opinions in general I should readily bow, though I conscientiously differ from them on this occasion.

Lord Stanley

considered it was a singular proceeding on the part of the noble Marquess—on a Motion for appointing a Select Committee—that he should have taken such an opportunity of entering into a full discussion of the merits of a Bill which had already been fully discussed at the proper stages. He hoped the noble Marquess would acquit him of disrespect and discourtesy if he declined to follow him into any arguments he had brought forward. With respect to the objections raised to acting on the Committee, he believed there were precedents for noble Lords serving on Committees against the object of which they had strong objections. He could not, however, but admit the validity of the objections of the noble Marquess; and though he should regret his absence, he should not press for his name as one of the Members. His object in forming this Committee had not been to place on it the names only of those who were supporters of the Bill, and on whom, therefore, Government might rely for a favourable verdict; his object had been to have the opinions and the decisions of noble Lords in this Committee most likely to carry the greatest weight with the public—be those opinions and decisions in favour or against the measure—because the public would then be satisfied that whichever way the verdict went, the question before the Committee had been tried fully and fairly. He could not have reconciled the proceeding to himself, had he omitted the names of noble Lords who had so great a stake in Ireland as the noble Lords who had raised objections to serve on the Committee. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde) had stated there was a disadvantage felt by Irishmen, in Her Majesty's Government legislating for Ireland. Now, he had been anxious respecting this Committee, to submit the question only to those who were best acquainted with its bearings, and most deeply interested in its results. Out of twenty-one names forming the list, no less than fourteen were directly interested and personally connected by property with Ireland, and out of this number no less than seven were constant residents in Ireland. He had taken names from both sides of the House indiscriminately; his only wish was to submit the question to an impartial consideration, and his only aim, not to select parties merely because they were favourable to Government. In fact, he believed the majority of them on the list had expressed themselves doubtfully with respect to portions of the measure. He repeated, his sole and single view in forming the Committee was to obtain the best and most impartial tribunal to which to submit the question; and this being so, though he should regret the absence of the noble Lords, still he could not press them to let their names remain on the list. The two noble Marquesses opposite were both opponents of the measure. The removal of their names would reduce the number to nineteen; but if their Lordships should wish to substitute for them the names of any two other noble Lords known to be opposed to the Bill, he could only say he would readily accede to their nomination, or that of any other noble Lords who might be offered as substitutes.

The Earl of Lucan

said, the noble Lord took great credit to himself for the impartiality with which he had selected the Committee; whereas out of twenty-one noble Lords there were only five nominated who had voted against the second reading of the Bill, while the other sixteen had all voted for it, or were known to be supporters of it. He thought it his duty to call previous attention to the constitution of this unfair and prejudiced Committee.

The Marquess of Normanby

The state of his health would not allow him to remain more than a few days longer in that House; but if he saw any prospect of coming to a satisfactory conclusion as to this Bill, there was no amount of personal inconvenience which he would not undergo for the sake of arriving at such a result. He had waited for the second reading, not because he approved of the whole measure, but because he was unwilling to take on himself the responsibility (seeing the division was a very close one) of refusing the Government an opportunity of stating their case. He had since looked at the Bill more attentively; and he was bound to say he did not see the most remote pro- bability of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion with it. He spoke as one unlearned in the law; but it struck him as one of the worst drawn-up Bill she had ever seen. He should move that his name be also omitted.

The Earl of Roden

After the statement made as to the composition of the Committee, he thought it would be fruitless for those opposed to the principle of the measure to serve on it. He must, therefore, move that his name be withdrawn.

Lord Brougham

must be allowed to say that, however plausible the reasons given for declining to serve on this Committee, they had, in his opinion, no validity whatever. Details were constantly discussed in that House, when they differed on the principle. If noble Lords failed in improving this measure, they could vote against it in Committee of the whole House, or on the Report; but they would do good service to their country if they improved in any way the relation between landlord and tenant, even though they might not succeed in altering this Bill as much as they desired.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that on looking over the names, his impression was directly the reverse of that of his noble Friend (Lord Lucan) as to a preponderance of Peers in favour of the Bill. He hoped his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) would persevere, seeing that he admitted the other night, that if every objection then urged to the Bill was acceded to, a good measure might still remain for their decision.

The Marquess of Londonderry

observed, that as to the noble and learned Lord's (Lord Brougham's) dictation, given in so decided a manner, he could not submit to it. He could not sit on the Committee; for he was directly opposed to the principle of the Bill. He predicted, that in the course of a few weeks, petitions would be presented from all the tenantry of Ulster against this Bill.

The Earl of Lucan

thought the propositions of the proposed Committee were unfair and unjust, consisting as they did of sixteen to five. The list only contained two names of the Peers who had signed the remonstrance against the Bill read the other night. Indeed, he could not help saying that the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) deserved praise for the ingenuity with which, not to say it harshly, he had packed the Committee.

Lord Stanley

said, that the noble Earl behind him ought not to be the person to complain of strong expressions; for when he first rose he charged him (Lord Stanley) with having selected an unfair and partial Committee, and he now improved upon that language by calling it a packed Committee. He said, that sixteen of its Members were in favour of the Bill, and only five opposed to it. Now he (Lord Stanley) would come to names, and he thought that he could show the House that though it was certainly true that there was a majority of Peers proposed to be placed on this Committee who had voted in favour of the second reading of the Bill, yet if they would examine the list with reference to one of the most material principles of the measure, the compulsory clause, they would find that there were certainly nine—he believed ten—of the twenty-one who had expressed themselves adverse to that principle, and only eight—if, indeed, there were so many—who had spoken in its favour. Four Members of the Committee had expressed no opinion on the subject; and upon his honour as a gentleman, he had no idea of the view which they would be inclined to take of it. Now there voted against the second reading the Marquess of Hertford, the Earl of Roden, the Marquess of Clanricarde, the Earl of Rosse, the Marquess of Londonderry, and Lord Monteagle. All these voted against the principle of the Bill, and against its being read a second time. Again, the Marquess of Lansdowne, the Marquess of Normanby, and the Marquess of Salisbury condemned in the strongest terms the compulsory clause. Therefore, in this so-called packed Committee, consisting of twenty-one Members, there were no less than nine (and he believed, although he was not certain of it, he might add to that number the name of a noble Duke upon the cross benches)—at all events, there were at least nine—who had declared themselves decidedly opposed to the compulsory clause of the Bill. Then there were favourable to that clause the Lord President, the Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Devon, Earl Fortescue, the Earl of Wicklow, the Earl of St. Germans, the Earl of Besborough, and Lord Stanley—in all eight. Thus seventeen of the twenty-one were accounted for. He did not know the opinions of the Duke of Cleveland, of Earl Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Chichester, or of Lord Ashburton. Thus there were four of the proposed Members of the Committee of whose opinions he was ignorant. Eight were in favour of one of the most important clauses, and nine had declared their hostility to it. Such was the composition of the Committee, which the noble Earl thought he was justified in pronouncing as an unfair, a prejudiced, and packed tribunal. He had laid, he confessed, some stress upon the subject, as he felt it to be one touching his personal character and honour. Moreover, the statement of the noble Earl appeared to have made some impression upon the mind of another noble Earl near him, for whose good opinion and respect he must always have the greatest regard, and upon which he must always set the highest value. He would be allowed to say, in conclusion, that he attached more importance to their Lordships being satisfied that there had been no attempt at unfairness or partiality in the composition of the Committee, than he did to the result to which the labours of that Committee might lead, vitally important to Ireland, as he believed the measure to be to which their attention was to be directed.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, he was convinced the noble Earl who had criticised somewhat warmly the constitution of the Committee, did not intend to throw any imputation upon the noble Lord who had just sat down. It would be absurd for him (the Marquess of Clanricarde) to attend this Committee; for, though he agreed—in common, he believed, with all their Lordships—that it was desirable compensation should be afforded to tenants for permanent improvements, he strongly objected to the appointment of a Commissioner in Dublin, and he would feel it his duty to divide the Committee upon that point. He considered that the statutory law of the land ought to give tenants a right to compensation for improvements; but if he were a Member of this Committee, and his Motion for expunging the clause for the appointment of the Commissioner should be successful, the whole Bill would fall to the ground; for there was not a single clause in the Bill—except that which limited its operation to Ireland — which did not more or less refer to the Commissioner.

The Earl of St. Germans

said, that every noble Lord who spoke on this Bill the other night, admitted that compensation was due to tenants in Ireland, who effected permanent improvements on the land they occupied. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) stated the other evening, that he did not consider the machinery of the Bill as constituting any part of its principle; and he also said that he did not consider the compulsory clause strictly essential to the efficiency of the measure. A better system of machinery than that proposed by the Bill might be devised in Committee; and he could not but express his surprise that noble Lords who admitted the principle of compensation refused to serve on the Committee, which would place them in a position to modify or improve the provisions of the measure. He hoped the noble Marquess (Clanricade), and other noble Lords, would reconsider the matter, and that they would not allow it to go forth to the people of Ireland, that the Members of that House were indisposed to enter upon the consideration of measures calculated to benefit that country.

Earl Fortescue

said, that when he found that his name was proposed to be put upon the Committee, it was his intention to have applied to their Lordships for permission to have it withdrawn, on the score of the great personal inconvenience which, it so happened, serving on the Committee would cause him. But under present circumstances, and feeling strongly the importance of the Bill, he felt he would not be satisfying his own conscience unless he consented to give what aid he could to the Committee. At the same time, if any arrangement could be made in the nature of a pair, by withdrawing his name and that of a noble Peer of opposite sentiments, he would not object to such a plan.

The Earl of Roden

said, he considered that the remarks of the noble Earl behind him (the Earl of Lucan) relative to the constitution of this Committee were couched in very strong language; for it was impossible to conceive that the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) would act, either in that House or elsewhere, in a manner which was not entirely honourable. He entertained very strong objections to the appointment of a Commissioner in Dublin, and on that ground he felt bound to oppose the Bill; but if it was the wish of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) he would consent to serve on the Committee.

The Marquess of Londonderry

suggested that, as the noble Earl had consented to serve, the names of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde) and the noble Earl (Earl Fortescue) might be mutually withdrawn.

The Earl of Devon,

in an almost inaudible tone, observed that the Commission had found great difficulty with respect to the subject of compulsory compensation; but after full consideration, they had come to the conclusion that the Bill now before their Lordships would effect the desired object in the cheapest and most efficient manner.

The Earl of Charleville

said a few words in explanation as to the noble Peer alleged to have been shut in at the division on the second reading.

After a short broken conversation on the subject,

The Duke of Richmond

said, that the matter was not worth going into, and the conversation dropped.

Committee appointed, with the substitution of the Earl of Charleville's name for that of the Marquess of Clanricarde.