HL Deb 24 February 1848 vol 96 cc1249-53

rose to move the Second Reading of the Incumbered Estates (Ireland) Bill, and proceeded to state the object and provisions of the measure. His Lordship was understood to say that, unfortunately for Ireland, the landed property there to a large extent was in a situation not only detrimental to those who had an interest in land, but also most injurious to the community at large; and, therefore, the importance of any measure intended to remedy acknowledged evils in respect to this matter would be admited. The great evil with respect to landed property in Ireland was, that a very largo portion of it was heavily incumbered by mortgages, charges, and other interests, so that the ostensible owner in some cases could hardly be said to have any estate in the land at all. He, consequently, was not in a condition to improve the estate, and find employment at the same time for the population. When a man was really and actually the owner of an estate, he had both the means and the motive for improving it; but it was impossible for a landlord whose income arising from his landed estate was intercepted by mortgages and other charges to perform those duties which a landlord should discharge. This was a most injurious state of things for all classes; and the existing state of the law afforded no sufficient means for removing the difficulty. Scarcely any one who had at any time turned his attention to subjects of this nature would fail to know that the interest paid for money invested in land could not be compared with the interest derived from capital engaged in other pursuits; and it was equally well known that from many estates in Ireland no income whatever was derived—that was to say, the whole proceeds of the estate were absorbed by the incumbrances; yet, if the owners of those estates were enabled to convert them into money, the balance, or residue, coming to such owners would often be of considerable amount, and would, if prudently invested, yield handsome incomes. Of course, no one would wish to see the mortgagors lose their estates; on the contrary, the purpose of the Bill was to enable the owners of encumbered estates to dispose of them to advantage, and to invest the proceeds of those estates in a beneficial manner. By changes of that kind persons of no capital would cease to be the nominal proprietors of land, and the real masters of the soil would then become the ostensible owners. Such persons would not think of purchasing land without possessing capital sufficient for its improvement; and under the altered condition of the relations of landed proprietors towards their tenants, towards each other, and towards the community at large, they would be presented with every temptation to improve the condition of their estates. Although these objects were of great and paramount importance, yet he was as fully aware as any noble Lord in that House could be that it would be impossible to effect the proposed alteration of the law without doing much that might be considered inconsistent with the rights of property. But he would ask, why should the interests of the community at large, as well as the interests of individuals, be disregarded for the sake of maintaining mere abstract rights, which, in the existing state of society in Ireland, led to great practical injustice? In the case of land purchased for the use of railways, no such hesitation was felt—no such injustice was made the subject of complaint. He admitted there was extreme difficulty in carrying into effect all the objects which the framers of the Bill proposed to accomplish. It was true that in the simple case of mortgagor and mortgagee nothing remained to be done but to sell the land, pay the mortgagee, and let the owner of the estate receive the surplus of the purchase-money. But such a condition of affairs formed the exception, not the rule; generally, the condition of an estate presented more complexity; hence extreme difficulty and embarrassment in dealing with the conflicting claims of the various parties interested. In framing the Bill every possible care had been taken to guard against what might be called the absence of parties; and in every possible case provision was made that every person interested in an estate should be entitled to notice respecting any steps that might be taken with a view to its sale; the conduct of the affair being placed in the hands of a Master in Chancery, assisted by a person who should be appointed for that purpose by the Attorney General; and, as he had already said, nothing would be done without full notice to every one concerned, the Master in Chancery and the person appointed by the Attorney General being bound to watch over the interests of all parties. He would repeat that every possible guard had been introduced into the Bill to render it next to impossible that the money paid into court should ever go into wrong hands. The noble and learned Lord went over other provisions of the Bill, and concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time.


tendered the noble Lord his sincere thanks for the pains which he had taken in the framing of the present Bill, and for its introduction to the House. The property of Ireland would never be able to support the poor, unless the landed proprietors were put in a position to get rid of the incumbrances which pressed upon them, and in many instances eat up nearly the whole of their income. In his opinion, the present measure would give them an opportunity of becoming real owners instead of being nominally the proprietors of four, five, or ten thousand a year, without really being in possession of as many hundreds. He was acquainted with one noble Friend of his, whose poor-rate for four months amounted to 1,250l., on an estate from which he did not receive 3,000l. a year; and supposing that poor-rate was levied for a whole year, it would amount to 3,600l., being 600l. above its receipts. This was only one instance; there were many similar. He trusted such a measure would be passed as would enable persons to sell their estates, creating a class of real owners instead of men nominally possessing thousands a year while they were almost paupers. He trusted the exertions of his noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant to give security and peace to the country would be assisted by spreading through the country a class of purchasers who would be able to perform the duties of proprietors. He thanked the noble and learned Lord for the attention he had given to the subject.


concurred in the opinion, that a measure of this kind was very desirable; but at the same time he thought it right to guard the House, and, through the House, the country, against any exaggerated expectations of the benefit to be derived from this Bill. He could hardly say he did not approve of the measure; he thought it a right and proper one; nor had he ever been able to understand why it should be confined to Ireland, since in many respects it was very applicable to England. It had been proposed as a measure calculated to enable the land of Ire- land to support the poor; but it could only do so in those cases where it was brought into actual operation. He apprehended the number of those cases would be remarkably small; the operation of the Bill would also be very slow; first, because its provisions were to be carried out by the Court of Chancery, and because persons were long in coming to a conviction of the necessity of selling their estates. He feared, in the expectation of any great or immediate results from the measure, they would be disappointed. The noble Earl complained of the imperfect information afforded by the return just made of the "extent of incumbrances affecting landed property in Ireland," for the last ten years, from the office for the registration of deeds in Ireland.


agreed with the noble Earl that the return was very imperfect. With regard to the measure, he concurred with those who thought the evil to be remedied one of great and overwhelming magnitude in Ireland. The position of those landlords in Ireland who nominally had 10,000l. or 12,000l. a year, while they did not really possess more than so many hundreds, was very pernicious. In consequence of the inability of those proprietors to perform their duties, very erroneous ideas had been formed of their disposition to do it. He was not personally interested in the measure; but he anticipated considerable difficulties in carrying part of it into effect. The noble and learned Lord had doubtless paid great attention to the provisions by which the powers of the Bill were guarded; but he hoped some time would be allowed to elapse before they were called on to agree to the details. There would be great difficulty in dealing with estates that were divided. Incumbrances on Irish estates were often created without the consent of the owner; all these incumbrances were to be referred to the master; the expense was not thrown on the parties demanding the proceedings, but on the estate itself.


said a few words in explanation.


said, that one great object of the Bill was to cheapen and shorten the proceedings in the Court of Chancery. One of the sections gave a sort of Parliamentary title to purchasers of estates which would be a great advantage. Titles in Ireland were in a most deplorable condition. There was not there, as in England, a class of lawyers who de- voted themselves to the law of real property. Most able lawyers there were in Ireland, but no conveyancers, who looked specially into titles. Although he was a great friend to registration, in Ireland the registers were exceedingly bad, and, instead of clearing up titles and making them more certain, often involved them in inextricable confusion. This Bill would give titles that would be good against all the world, and the purchasers of estates under this Bill would have a title which nothing could affect. He hoped the Bill would meet with their Lordships' approbation, for he was satisfied that it would prove of great benefit to the part of the United Kingdom for which it was intended.


said, that so far from the principle of this Bill being objected to by the landed proprietors in Ireland, it met with their entire approval. But there was an inconvenience which would arise from the Bill in its present state which, he thought, required consideration, and might be remedied without violating the principle of the measure. It did not prevent a middleman who held land with a condition against subletting or dividing the land, putting a charge upon it for children, and upon his death the children became incumbrances, and the result might be that the middleman's interest would be split into parts, and the object of the Bill defeated. He was glad to learn that the object of the Bill was to cheapen and curtail proceedings in Chancery; but, unless something was done to reform the proceedings in the Master's office, sufficient relief would not be afforded.

Bill read 2a.

House adjourned.