HL Deb 26 April 1849 vol 104 cc850-6

moved the Second Reading of this Bill. His Lordship explained the nature and object of the measure, but was very indistinctly heard. His Lordship was understood to say, that it would be necessary, for the information of such of their Lordships as were not acquainted with the tenure of laud in Ireland, to explain the nature of the evils arising from it, and the remedy which he proposed to apply to those evils. Nobody could dispute that where a mode of dealing with land was in force which was positively injurious to those who occupied it, it must he productive of a state of things much to be lamented, and very difficult to be remedied. A large part of the land of Ireland was held by a set of men who had nearly all the interest of it in their own hands, not indeed in perpetuity, but by leases for lives renewable for ever. In such eases, where a nominal amount of rent was reserved, the occupier had nearly all the beneficial interest arising from it; for the owner had no real beneficial interest except in the rent reserved to him in the original lease, which was, generally speaking, so small that his interest in the land was very trifling. Great mischiefs had arisen from this mode of tenure in Ireland, which was supposed to have arisen, amongst other reasons, from the desire of all parties in that country to have some connexion, however small, with land; and, therefore, although a proprietor might virtually part with his beneficial interest in the land for the purpose of raising money, still he could not prevail with himself to part with the land itself. Whatever might be its origin, there could be no doubt that the tenure had proved extremely injurious both to the original lessor and to the numerous lessees who held under him. The tenants and occupiers had a covenant in their leases for the perpetual renewal of them on the payment of certain fines; and so long as the land remained in the hands of the original lessee, and so long as the original lessor received the rent reserved to him, no great difficulty occurred. Many cases, however, soon arose in the courts of equity in Ireland, in which tenants were obliged to proceed against their landlords for the renewal of their leases; for it often happened that where some covenant had not been performed by the tenant, or where the tenant had not applied for the renewal of his lease within due time, the renewal had been refused. Whilst Lord Thurlow was Lord Chancellor, a case of that kind came before him, in which he was struck with the hardships which fell upon the tenant, and the result was that a decision was given in this country which very much alarmed those who were interested in this species of property in Ireland. That alarm gave rise to the Act of the 20th of George III., called the Tenancy Act, which, in attempting to remedy one evil, introduced another of much greater magnitude. It provided that the tenant at all times should have a right to apply for the renewal of his lease, but that the original landlord should have at the same time a right to apply to the tenant for the payment of the fine due upon its renewal, and that, after a reasonable time had elapsed after that application, if the fine was not paid, he should not be called upon to renew it as a matter of right. That covenant became the fruitful source of much litigation; for no lessor or lessee could come to a satisfactory conclusion as to what was or what was not "a reasonable time." Such a condition of law prevented the landlord and tenant from arranging matters in a peaceable way, and they were thus compelled to resort to the Court of Chancery in Ireland for the settlement of the difference between them. This, however, formed but a small part of the difficulty dependent upon the tenure of land in Ireland. We had not in England the same system of sub-infeudation in land which prevailed in almost every part of Ireland. In that country it was difficult to know where the first holder of an estate was to be found, as there was always a vast, if not an infinite number of sublet-tings under the original grantor. Such a state of things was profitable to the lawyers, but to no one else, as it was necessary upon every change in the holding to find out who really was the first owner of the property. There was also another difficulty connected with it, which was very oppressive on the landlord. He could only avail himself of any forfeiture of the leases held under him within a reasonable time after a life had dropped; and this again led to expense and litigation. Such were the evils arising from what was intended to be a remedial Act. His Lordship then quoted the opinions of the late Earl of Clare, of the late Lord Redesdale, and the evidence taken under Lord Devon's Commission, to show that under such a state of law all landed property must become depreciated and remain of very precarious value. He had now stated the difficulties arising from the dealings of the landlord with his property; but there were difficulties of another character, but equally injurious to everybody in possession of the land, down even to the lowest lessee. Nobody knew what he got or what he held by his lease; and thus property of very great value became actually of very little value, from the extensive subdivisions to which it was liable. Moreover, the uncertainty of the tenure led to a bad cultivation of the land, and thus injured its value to the proprietors, whoever they might be. The remedy which he proposed to apply to this state of things was to give the tenant, by a compulsory process on the landlord, power to convert these leaseholds renewable for ever into fee-simple by securing to the landlord a fee-farm rent. His Lordship then described the proceedings by which the amount of this fee-farm rent was to be decided. The rent reserved under this system was to he recoverable by the original landlord just in the same manner as any other rent in arrear in Ireland. There were many other details connected with the Bill, which he did not think necessary to explain at that moment, as they were merely technical. He should therefore conclude by recommending their Lordships to read the Bill a second time, as he thought that it would obviate all the evils which he had complained of, and I would tend to the improvement of cultivation by discouraging subletting; for the great subletters were the owners of all these leases renewable for ever.


admitted that the object of this Bill was good, but complained that the machinery of it was very complicated. He thought that that full compensation which was due to the lessor would not be given under it. He objected also to the establishment of this fee-farm rent; for it must be fixed upon the whole of the property, and when it was subdivided, how was the fee-farm rent to be apportioned? He would have preferred that the Bill had gone one step farther, and given the tenants in perpetuity the power to purchase upon reasonable terms.


expressed the obligation which he and all the other proprietors of Ireland felt towards his noble and learned Friend, not only for the present measure, but also for various other measures for improving the state of the laws affecting landed property in that country. But though he fully concurred in the principle of the Bill, he felt bound to say that its details should be discussed with great caution and deliberation. The question was one of a very complicated nature, and affected interests to an extent of which no person unacquainted with the state of property in Ireland could form an idea. The origin of perpetual leases was to be attributed to the enormous grants made to landed proprietors in Ireland who lived in another country. A great portion of the land of Ireland, and a great portion of the land on which capital was invested for building purposes, depended upon leases of this description, renewable for ever, and subject to fines upon the dropping of lives. Those leases were, for the most part, granted by English proprietors to Irish tenants, and the courts of law in Ireland had a tendency to support the tenant against the inheritor or owner. He thought, however, if they were to regard the system as one of injustice to the tenant, it would be found otherwise. The question was one which he thought they ought to approach with extreme caution. It would be impossible for them to convert the owners of land into occupiers by this Bill; neither would it be desirable to do so if they could. He hoped the noble and learned Lord would have no objection to allow a little time to intervene before the Bill got to Committee, in order that noble Lords not conversant with the law in Ireland, and the management of land in that country, might have an opportunity of acquiring information. There was nothing unreasonable in this request, and therefore he hoped it would be acceded to. A little delay was the more desirable, in order that the Bill might be made as perfect as possible before it was sent to the other House. He regretted that complaints were sometimes made, and with justice, that Bills were brought into that House and passed in a crude shape and hurried manner, the principle of which was not understood until its injurious tendency began to be felt. As it was extremely desirable that this Bill should be passed in a form as little mutilated as possible, he hoped time would be given to understand its provisions.


thought it desirable that reasonable time should be given; but he hoped his noble and learned Friend would not extend the time to such a length as to endanger the passing of the Bill this Session. It was the duty of the House to make the Bill as perfect as possible; but his noble and learned Friend could not be held responsible for what might happen to it in the other House. For his part he must say he thought the Bill was well intended for the purpose, and well calculated to carry that purpose into effect. As far as he could understand the Bill, he saw no difficulty in carrying its provisions into effect. He wished, however, to add, that, in his opinion, the principle ought to be carried a step further, and power given to the tenant in perpetuity to purchase.


expressed his intention to give his assent to the second reading of the Bill, as he considered that the circumstances of the country required some such enactment. There were, however, some provisions with respect to timber reservations which he could not entirely understand; because he could not see how a man could possess timber on another person's estate. Then there was the saving of royalties, by which no person could affect the rights of the lord of the manor. The effect of this would be that the owner who gave up a fee-simple estate might have a right to kill the game on it. This, he feared, would lead to litigation and inconvenience. He thought also that the measure ought to contain some provision for apportioning between lessors and lessees any increased value that might arise from the change of tenure.


said, that the principle of the Bill was unquestionably a good one, and likely to be useful both to the owner and the occupier. If a tenure of land which was injurious to the lord could be changed, without any loss either to the lord or to the tenant, or to any person having an interest in the land, it would be extremely desirable. There could be no doubt but that the perpetual tenure of land was an extremely mischievous system. It was mischievous to the tenant, and mischievous to the lord, and, if possible, it was of the last importance that it should be reduced to tenure in socage. There was no reason to suppose that any danger would arise to copyhold tenure in England from the measure, because there was no analogy between this tenure in Ireland, and copyhold in England. It had not been shown that any injury would accrue to the lord; but, on the contrary, he believed that the lord would receive an equivalent, which would be more desirable than the right to renew, whilst the interest given to the tenant would be greater. There could not be any difficulty in giving the lord a compensation for his right to renew for ever. This proprietorship of land was merely nominal, for the lord could not get possession of it, and it was, therefore, a mere airy ownership. The present Bill had been very carefully prepared, and he hoped, before long, it would receive the sanction of both Houses of Parliament, the Royal assent, and become the law of the land.

After a few words from the Earl of MOUNTCASHEL and the LORD CHANCELLOR in reply,

Bill read 2a.

House adjourned till To-morrow.

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