HL Deb 03 May 1847 vol 92 cc299-304

The MARQUESS of WESTMEATH moved the following resolution:— That the existing Laws of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland are not calculated to regulate equitably the Duties, reciprocal Obligations, and Interests of the Parties in those Relations in that Country, and, under actual Circumstances, require immediate Revision and Amendment; and that the Imposition of increased Burthens and new Responsibilities on Land render such Revision and Amendment urgent and indispensable. He believed it was usual for a noble Lord who brought forward a resolution of this nature to accompany it with a Bill, for the purpose of carrying out his views; but he had not done so, for if he proved, as he had no doubt he should be able to do, that the existing relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland were in a most unsatisfactory state, then the subject, in his opinion, was one which could only be adequately dealt with by the Government. He had now had forty years' experience of the condition of Ireland, and before a Com- mittee in 1824, and again in 1844, and before Lord Devon's Commission, he had expressed his opinion, that the mode of occupation of the soil in Ireland must be altered by law. On the latter occasion, he stated that if some great alteration were not made, the most disastrous consequences would fall on Ireland; and in a short time the State would have to support a great majority of the people of that country. Had not that opinion been verified? Was he not entitled to be heard with some attention on this subject? He was surprised that the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack had objected to his Bill for the prevention of waste in Ireland. It was a measure imperatively called for by the state of that country, as tenants there were in the constant habit of so cultivating the soil as to completely exhaust it. On this point he was confirmed by Mr. Campbell Foster, the "Times' Commissioner," in his able and impartial letters on the condition of Ireland. As regarded the interests both of landlords and tenants, he thought it would be found, if they were properly understood, that the interest of the tenant was also affected by the operation of the law. Let it not for one moment be supposed that he wished any measure should pass Parliament, which should not, if they pleased it, in the first instance, provide for the interest of the tenants; they were the most numerous, and, if they pleased, they might place them first; but he should certainly be unwilling to admit some principles of improvement which might be stated as due by the landlord to the tenant—for one thing, he would not consider the making of a hole in the roof of a cabin, to let the smoke out of it, would be an improvement. He thought no one would say that the owners of landed property in Ireland were not entitled to the same consideration as the owners of landed property in this country; that is, if a man let his land, the law ought to provide that he should receive his rent, or be entitled to get back his land; for their Lordships well knew that the land was in many cases liable to heavy engagements, which could not be answered unless the engagements entered into by the lord of the soil were fulfilled by him; and if they were not fulfilled, the Court of Chancery was ready at hand to oust him of possession of his property, and that on very short notice. He conceived that means should be provided by which the clauses in leases should be observed; and in cases where lands were held by tenants at will, if the necessary obligations were not performed by the parties who held them, the land should be surrendered to the owner. He would call their Lordships' attention to the evidence of Mr. Leahy before his noble Friend's (the Earl of Devon's) Commission, with reference to proceedings by ejectment in Ireland, from which it appeared that from the period at which a landlord was entitled to get possession, two years and ten months might, in some cases, elapse before he could, by means of ejectment proceedings, obtain possession of the land; and he (the Marquess of Westmeath) asked, was that consistent with the usages of a civilized country? The law of ejectment in Ireland ought to be put upon the same footing as in England. If a man in Ireland wished to get rid of a yearly tenant by the civil-bill process, he must give a description of every lodger and every inhabitant of a cabin, and every part of the premises must be set forth. How could any one get this information except by inspiration? Then the notice must be served upon some one in the house, but most frequently there was no one there; and if the commencement of the tenancy was uncertain, it was necessary the notice to quit should run twelve months. The difficulty of proving a holding was so great that it was often necessary to enforce a distress merely for the purpose of attempting that proof. The Civil Bill Ejectment Act was intended to give a remedy in cases of small tenancy; but it was liable to the same chicanery and delay as the proceedings in the superior courts. Even a pauper, who had nothing beyond the clothes on his back, might put forward a defence to the landlord's claim, although he had nothing whatever to do with the tenancy. Suppose a tenant entered upon a farm in May, and that the landlord discovered on the 2nd of November that he had been burning his land, or otherwise injuring it, he could not recover possession for at least twenty-one months afterwards, because he had not served notice to the tenant by the 1st of November; and very often the matter was still further prolonged by a vexatious defence being set up, as the law permitted a pauper—a man who had not a sixpence—to be put forward as the defendant. He related an instance which was told to him by the late Lord Guillamore, of a poor man who had sub-let a piece of land to a widow, and afterwards, finding that she did not fulfil the conditions she had undertaken, he gave her notice to quit; but through some informal technicality, he lost his case. In an evil hour he joined a party of White-boys, who went to the old woman's cottage, and swore her to quit the land. He was afterwards identified; and as the crime of Whiteboyism was at that time very prevalent in that district, he was executed; so that in this case—to use Lord Guillamore's expression—the tenant hanged her landlord. The noble Marquess said, he was at a loss to understand why, in the case of a yearly tenant, there should be any necessity for a notice to quit at all, if the rent was not paid or the other conditions were not fulfilled. Surely the very fact of the failure to perform the obligation ought to annul the contract. In the Local Courts Bill of England, these formalities were dispensed with; and he was at a loss to understand why this Act was not extended to Ireland—why the Irish should be the only persons that, besides suffering from the inflictions of Providence, should also be called upon to endure the inconveniences of this state of the law? In the case of a distraint for rent, the distrainer was obliged to employ persons to watch the premises night and day for a fortnight, otherwise he could not be sure of having any property to distrain. The noble Marquess then related the history of a contest which was carried on between the Commissioners for some Crown property in Ireland, and fifty-two tenants located upon it, which continued for nine years altogether; and at the end of that time the Crown was obliged to rest satisfied with the terms which the tenants had offered in the first instance, and to leave them unmolested. For he wished to impress upon their Lordships, that whoever had to deal with the Irish must understand this, that if they treated the people justly, they would be respected; if they were kind to them, they would win their attachment; but if they allowed themselves to be cajoled, they would be sure to be despised. The noble Marquess then adverted to the articles which had been written on several occasions upon Irish landlords in the Times newspaper, stating that that journal was most pertinacious and constant, though able, in its opposition to that class. He also read an extract from Lord John Russell's speech on the 19th of March last, referring to the necessity of steps being taken for the adoption of a higher and more scientific system of agriculture in Ireland, in order to meet the changes that were in progress in the social condition of the people of that country, and asked how it was possible the land could be improved by the landlords, unless they were allowed greater facilities than they now enjoyed for getting it under their own management? He brought forward his resolution after a great deal of experience as an Irish landlord; and his object in doing so was, if possible, to bring about an improvement in the law, as he thought that the law ought to be made for the benefit of mankind, instead of mankind appearing to exist only for the benefit of the law. He would implore Her Majesty's Government to take the subject into their serious consideration; and for his part he would give them all the assistance in his power in bringing about a better state of things. If they did so, he could assure them that the Irish landlords would be found anxious to carry out the other measures that were now proposed for Ireland; and to meet the wishes of the people of this country, by the manner in which they would discharge the duties which devolved on them as owners of property. The noble Marquess concluded by moving the adoption of his resolution.


said, he would offer but a very few words in reply to the noble Marquess, as he did not think he was called upon to follow the noble Marquess through the great variety of subjects to which he had alluded in connexion with the state of the law of landlord and tenant; seeing that he had no means of knowing under what circumstances the cases had arisen. The objection which he had to the Motion was, that it was an abstract Motion, pronouncing a sentence of general censure on the law as it now existed between landlord and tenant in Ireland, without distinctly stating what remedies should be substituted. The question would be incidentally raised on many measures which would come before their Lordships from the other House of Parliament; and he had only to observe, that in considering the question of the rights of the landlords, they should not overlook the rights of the tenants. A Bill on the subject of the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland had been introduced in the other House of Parliament; and should it come before their Lordships, they would have ample opportunity of considering the whole state of the law on the subject. As to the case to which allusion had been made, of land held by the Crown in Ire-land, it should not be regarded as a general instance of the state of the country. A most unfounded delusion got into the minds of the tenantry, that the Crown had no right to the rents; but in that very same part of the country there were three or four other Crown properties administered without the least difficulty, and in which the rents were most punctually paid. He believed that in Ireland generally, it was not much more difficult to collect rents than in this country; at least, in parts of Ireland he was sure it was not more difficult. He would not deny but that there might be good grounds for entering into a view of the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland, with a view to enact better remedies for the protection of the rights both of landlord and tenant; but he could not think their Lordships would act wisely in laying it down as a principle that the present state of the law was defective, while they were not prepared to substitute other measures. He might remind their Lordships that when a Bill on this subject was before their Lordships' House three years ago, very great difficulty was found in dealing with it in the Select Committee to which it had been referred. He could only say, that any Bill on the subject would meet with the greatest attention both from him and from his noble and learned Friends in that House, and who were so much better qualified than he was to consider the question. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the noble Marquess would not press his Motion; and he should, therefore, beg to move that the other Orders of the Day be read.


said, after the observations which had fallen from the noble Marquess, and the assurance that the question would be taken into consideration by the Government, he should not press his Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House adjourned.

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