HL Deb 20 April 1847 vol 91 cc1039-47

then moved the second reading of the Bill which had been introduced by him, the object of which was to prevent waste of land in Ireland, and to prevent the commission of those acts which were at present unlawful, but which, in consequence of the excessive difficulty which was experienced in applying to the Court of Chancery to prevent them, were suffered to be inflicted on estates in Ireland almost with impunity. He had endeavoured to frame the Bill in such a shape as to meet any possible objection that might be raised against it; in fact, this Bill was neither more nor less than a copy, word for word, of the 9th George IV., c. 56, which had been passed with the view of affording protection to landed property in Great Britain. He was most anxious to have the principle of that law applied to the soil of Ireland. Everybody who was conversant with the proceedings in the Court of Chancery was aware that where any waste to landed property was suspected, the party likely to be injured might apply to that court, and obtain what was called the common injunction on his making out his case to the satisfaction of the court. In Scotland, if any injury to land were apprehended, a remedy was easily to be obtained by application to the sheriff, who immediately restrained the party suspected to be about to effect the injury. But when their Lordships would consider the peculiar circumstances in which Ireland was placed, he thought it would hardly be necessary for him to say more than that the greatest sufferings were now endured in all parts of Ireland, in consequence of the subdivision of land. The only objection which could be raised against this Bill was, that it was calculated to reduce the fees of some of the officers of the Court of Chancery in Ireland; but he did not apprehend that any noble Lord who was connected with the law would rise in that House and oppose the Bill on that ground. At the present time the landlords of Ireland were almost gibbeted by the public odium, on account of their attempts to clear their estates from a number of those incumbrances which had settled upon their estates without their permission or knowledge. Such attempts subjected them to imputations of want of charity, want of intelligence, want of energy, and, in fact, of all the duties which they were bound to discharge towards their tenants. A meeting was held in Dublin in the month of January last, which was attended by the majority of the landed proprietors of Ireland, the object of which was to take into consideration the state of the country. A resolution was passed, against which there was not a dissentient voice; indeed there was not a dissentient voice against any of the resolutions adopted. Men of all politics and creeds in Ireland were present at that meeting; but everything which could cause dissension was forgotten, and their only object appeared to be to relieve Ireland, as far as they possibly could, from the wreck which had befallen her. The resolution to which he referred was proposed by Sir George Hodgson, and seconded by Charles Tottenham, Esq., high sheriff of Wicklow, and was as follows:— That amongst the most prominent evils of the present land system, is a want of a cheap and simple mode of checking waste, and therefore we are of opinion that measures should be taken to remedy this evil. He did not blame Her Majesty's Government in the least for not having taken up seriatim all the suggestions which might have come from any meeting of that nature; but he would say this, that if an individual Member of Parliament came from Ireland conversant as he was, and had been for nearly forty years, with the mode of occupying land there, he did think that nothing but valid reasons should induce Her Majesty's Government to oppose any plan which he might deem it his duty to propose for the remedy of the evils of that system. He had stated in that House, many years ago, the evils which were then in progress in Ireland in connexion with the land system; and this was not the first time that attempts had been made to remove those evils. He held in his hand a Bill which was introduced in the House of Commons in the year 1835, by the late Mr. Lynch, one of the Masters in Chancery, and Mr. M. J. O'Connell, which was very similar to that on which he had now the honour of addressing their Lordships; the object of both being to enable assistant barristers to remedy the grievance, upon application being made to them. That, however, would have been insufficient, because the assistant barristers held their sittings in their several localities only every three months. Now, let them take the case of old grazing land. Every one knew that once the plough was run through a rich old pasture, there was an end of it for many years. It could hardly be restored to what it had been before within the life of a man. How then could the Court of Chancery be able to interfere to prevent such a waste? The mischief would be done before the very application to the court to prevent it could be made. Under such a system, property might be made ducks and drakes of before the landlord could interfere. The rule appeared to be—"law enough, if you please, in Ireland, but no justice." If such a measure were necessary in England, it would be passed through Parliament in five minutes. He could not believe, and he did not believe, that any opposition upon reasonable grounds could be given to the Bill. He rested upon their Lordships' good sense, and begged to move that it be read a second time.


hoped that the noble Marquess would not persist in pressing his Motion. He had stated that the provisions of the Bill were taken verbatim from an English Act of Parliament, and he had grounded upon that fact one of his arguments in its favour. But he (the Lord Chancellor) found upon referring to the Act, that its provisions were enacted to be confined to Ireland, and not to be extended to England or Scotland. [The Marquess of WESTMEATH inquired to what Act the noble and learned Lord referred?] To the Act 9th Geo. IV., c. 56. He would read the preamble of that Act to the House, and their Lordships could judge, His Lordship accordingly read the preamble, and also the clause providing that anything contained in the Act should be construed as extending to Ireland only, and not to England or Scotland. Now, that Act contained provisions for preventing the waste of property by the pulling down of houses. But the noble Marquess thought it an excellent precedent for passing an Act against the building of houses. The former Act provided that if there should be reason to suppose the parties intended to demolish houses, an inquiry should be instituted in order to prevent the committal of a waste which could not be easily remedied. But the noble Marquess would have a sufficient remedy as the law stood for the building of a house, because he would only have to order it to be pulled down again. But there was another provision in the Bill to prevent the letting of land to what are called "cottier tenants." Now, it might be very reasonable and proper to prevent the subdividing of property, and the letting it go into the hands of persons of very small means, and with very small occupations. He did not think, however, that the Bill was calculated for such a purpose, but that it was rather directed to the interests of the landlords. He had every desire to see the landlords of Ireland, or any others, protected in their rights; but he thought it very extraordinary that the noble Marquess should extend the provisions of his Bill to those persons who least of all required to be legislated against—he meant the tenants from year to year, and tenants at will. What necessity could there be for making special provisions against such persons, when there was nothing to be done by the landlord but to determine the tenancy? Now, the Bill proposed to prevent not only persons so circumstanced from building, but to prevent any person from letting off any portion of their land to "cottiers." Here a term was used unknown in this country. The Imperial Parliament legislated always in words that were common to the three kingdoms; and it would be necessary they should know what was the meaning attached to the word "cottier." If the noble Marquess could make any other suggestion by which the object of the Bill could be obtained, without injustice, there would be no objection to its adoption; but it was impossible to assent to the present measure.


agreed with the noble and learned Lord that the great evil with which they now sought to deal would not be met by this Bill; its provisions were too loose and its application too undefined; but the House ought not, on that account, to lose sight of the object the proposed measure professed to have in view. The question now mooted lay at the very root of the misery which overwhelmed Ireland. Unless some steps were taken to place on a sound footing the relations between landlord and tenant, he despaired of any permanent good result from any attempt to legislate for that unfortunate country. They could not plead ignorance of the subject, for the most minute details respecting the management of certain estates were now open to their inspection. They might now see how the most powerful landlord in Ireland, assisted by the most powerful agents, and employing the most able stewards, managed his property and dealt with the tenantry on it. He had long known the little influence the owner exercised in the distribution of his farms; but he had thought that the cause was, partly at least, want of energy in his agents. He had heard much about hard landlords and ejected tenants; but he now knew who were meant by the former, and what were the merits of the latter. He had only become thoroughly acquainted during the last few days with the manner in which the landlords did their duty in that country. His information was derived from the papers which had been laid before their Lordships; and he would ask, if such a landlord as he to whom those documents referred, with such agents at his disposal, could not effect more good in the management of his land than was detailed, what could they expect from the individual man, possessed of but ordinary means, and whose every step in the maintenance of his position was attended with risk and danger to his life? The landlord to whom he alluded was the Crown; the agents to whom he alluded were the Board of Woods and Forests. He would briefly relate how they had managed their land, and enumerate the difficulties to which they had been exposed, and their Lordships might then indeed despair of succeeding in any effort to effect a good understanding between landlord and tenant. The Crown was the proprietor of land in Ballykilcline, in the county of Roscommon, consisting of 602 acres, the whole of which was managed by the Board of Woods and Forests, as part of the Crown property. The tenants were all tenants at will, and the aggregate rent of this land was set down at 411l. In 1835, there were seventy-four distinct tenancies, but none holding under any lease. In 1836, there was experienced great difficulty in collecting the rents, and in consequence the Board determined to serve notices to quit on every tenant. They did so in 1837, and the result was curious. Fifty-two of the tenants agreed to give up possession, and they became, with the consent of the Crown, caretakers of the property. The remaining tenants refused to quit, to enter into any compromise, or to pay one sixpence of the rent. The caretakers were subsequently asked to give up possession; but, though by the arrangement into which they had entered, they had admitted the right of the Crown and their own defalcation, they also held out, and would not leave the premises, nor, on the other hand, pay a farthing of rent. They said they were determined to remain there in spite of the Crown; and so they did. The Board then sent an agent over to try if he could get some portion of rent; the agent called the police in; but the police were not strong enough, and not one farthing was obtained. Some time after, in 1842, the cleric of quit rents, by the direction of the Board, visited the estate; he found 463 subdivisions, he served notices on all the tenants to meet him on a certain day: two only came. He investigated the case of some of the defaulters; one (Fitzmaurice) had sold his interest, in the holding of which he was only tenant-at-will, for a considerable sum of money, and had gone to America without paying a sixpence rent: many were in good circumstances, and had money, but refused either to pay rent or quit. Processes were served, but not without great difficulty, against eight occupiers, against whom an information of intrusion had been filed, while the rents due from the other tenants were put in charge of the collector of exise. He, however, collected none. The eight never appeared to the writs. Attachments were issued for non-appearance. They could not be executed; the process-server was attacked; a squadron of cavalry was called into requisition, but all to no purpose. The Board then commenced proceedings against the sheriff for not having done his duty in enforcing the processes. The unfortunate sheriff was in great distress; he redoubled his exertions; and having stayed out for several nights, at last was so far successful as to take two out of a great number of tenants into custody. In 1844, by means of cavalry, infantry, and police, possession of four tenancies was taken by the sheriff; but those who had been ejected went back again, broke the bolts, and retook possession. A gentleman of the name of Knox was then appointed to the situation of bailiff, and he declared that he could not discharge his functions without a police station in the near neighbourhood. He proceeded against three of the parties who had unlawfully taken possession, and, in consequence, was assaulted. His bailiffs were nearly murdered, and he himself threatened, and his property destroyed. He, however, resolutely instituted proceedings against the parties for an assault, and for recovery of possession. Here occurred a tragic scene in this strange and eventful drama. One of the witnesses who was subpœnaed was barbarously murdered, and when the trials came on, there was an acquittal in the case of the assault, and a verdict was returned for the defendants in the case of the men who had been ejected and had afterwards returned. The Board then no longer thought of obtaining justice in the ordinary way. They, therefore, next adopted proceedings by information in equity, and in 1846 a decree in favour of the Crown was obtained. The tenants, however, were not to be beaten so easily. They kept a paid attorney, who was to propose terms to the Crown. A memorial was forwarded from the tenants; an arrangement for a decision of the dispute was then negotiated; a day was fixed when the agent of the Board and a deputation from the tenants should meet; and not one of them kept the appointment. Delay was their object, and that object they gained. Not one sixpence had been received in the way of rent by the Crown from 1837 to this day. The tenants were still there, free of rent and fear. They had multiplied on the land and subdivided, and they now lived in security. They had beaten the police, the cavalry, the infantry, the bailiff, and the Woods and Forests, and they enjoyed their triumph. The Crown had incurred heavy expenses in endeavouring to assert its right. Its law expenses alone were 468l. All it had gained, therefore, was, as he might say, a loss. And if this was the manner in which the Crown was set at defiance, when in the capacity of landlord in Ireland, what could they expect from the ordinary proprietor? Let them hear no more of the landlords not doing their duty. They could not do their duty if they were not allowed their rights; the fulfilment of their duties in many cases depended on the exorcise of their rights. The landlords could no more be charged, as if it were a crime, with ejecting their tenants; it was now proved that, with all its power, the Board of Woods and Forests had been compelled, as a last resourse, to adopt the system. Let the House consider the manner in which the two juries had been intimidated; the dangers both the agent and the sheriff were exposed to, as well as the arguments in favour of the lawless occupiers used by their attorney; and they would see the necessity of some more stringent law. There was a large surplus population, which would be better relieved by a poor law, than by being absorbed into the mass of the labouring classes. In either case it would fall on the land; but in one the relief would be arranged upon some system, in the other it would depend on accidental circumstances. It was useless, however, to legislate either for relieving the poor by rates, or finding them labour by loans to the landlords, if the land was not brought under the more direct control of the rightful owners. He hoped that the Government would introduce some measure that would enable the landlords to exercise their rights; and when that was done, he would be as strong as any of their Lordships in condemning those landlords who should, at the same time, neglect to fulfil their duties.


thought the measure calculated to aggravate all the evils it professed to remedy; if the noble Marquess intended to withdraw the Bill, he would not make any observations upon it.


would not concede that the noble and learned Lord knew more of the state of Ireland than he did.


did not question the right of the noble Marquess to bring forward the Bill, and imagined all that was necessary to form an opinion of it was a little plain common sense. The noble Marquess was wholly mistaken in supposing there was any such law as this in England or Scotland. He would give every justice of the peace in Ireland, both county and borough justices, the power of issuing an injunction for erecting and taking down buildings. If such a power were given to magistrates in England, it would cause the greatest possible mischief. The law was entirely new, and it was proposed to introduce it for the first time in Ireland. Most of the evils of Ireland arose from the continued parcelment of the land, by which a population was created without employment or sufficient food. That was a tremendous evil; but the measure of the noble Marquess did not meet it. The inconveniences and evils of Chancery administration were complained of in England; but the noble Marquess proposed to open 500 courts of chancery in Ireland. Giving the noble Marquess credit for excellent intentions in bringing the measure forward, he thought he had mistaken the course. If the Bill were not withdrawn, he should feel it his duty to move that it be read a second time that day six months.


urged the noble Marquess not to press his Bill to a division; he objected to it that the individuals who would be invested with its powers must be, in their own persons or by the class to which they belonged, parties as well as judges in the case. Still, the question involved was one of the most pressing necessity; the operation of the law had been impeded, even when it was enforced on behalf of the Crown by the Board of Woods and Forests. The noble Marquess deserved credit for bringing in the Bill; he should be sorry to see it prejudiced by forcing it to a division; but if it were rejected, the Government were bound to provide a remedy. Much was said of the harsh conduct of the landlords; the law should protect the landlords against the acts of their tenants, and make such harsh conduct unnecessary. There were circumstances connected with the land in Ireland, even under the very best management, which exposed individuals to unmerited obloquy.


said, that the purport of his Bill had been entirely misunderstood. He regretted that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had used so puerile and miserable a weapon as ridicule against a Bill brought forward with an honest intention of remedying the difficulty Irish landlords laboured under. And then, when, bowed down by their obligations and the chains that fettered them, they came to Parliament for a measure to rid themselves of the disadvantages which obsolete laws and modern blunders had placed them under, they were held up to ridicule by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, instead of his saying, honestly and justly, "The Bill will not work; but I will frame a measure on the subject, if you will supply me with facts." The sheriffs in Scotland had an equitable jurisdiction in such cases; and it was the defect in Ireland that the assistant barristers had no such powers. If a tenant was about to do an act that would be manifestly injurious to the land, they were obliged to apply to a Court of Chancery, perhaps two hundred miles off. He should withdraw the Bill; and, though it was done ungenerously, yet the noble and learned Lords who opposed it had acknowledged the evil, and he considered them bound to provide the remedy.

Bill withdrawn.

House adjourned.