§ On the Order of the Day for the Consideration of the Commons' Amendments to the Lords' Amendments, and their Reasons, read.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, he had to propose that their Lordships do agree to the Amendments of the House of Commons to their Lordships' Amendments to this Bill. The Government were of opinion that these Amendments ought to be adopted by their Lordships, with a view to the Bill being passed during the present Session. He thought their Lordships would be of opinion that there had been manifested by the House of Commons a great and anxious desire to meet the views of their Lordships; and he hoped that the liberal spirit of concession exhibited by the other House in deference to the views of their Lordships on this measure, would meet with a corresponding feeling of conciliation and forbearance on the part of that House. With respect to the most important and most questionable of the provisions of the Bill, namely, the enactment (for the first time, and on grounds admitted to be exceptional) establishing a maximum rate both in electoral divisions and in unions, clauses were introduced into the Bill by the Government which had been the subject of much discussion both in the other House, where these clauses were carried, and in their Lordships' House, where they were negatived. With respect to these clauses, the other House had waived considerations that usually had the greatest weight with them, and had carried, almost to an extreme, the desire to accept the Bill with their Lordships' Amendments. The other House had, be thought, wisely acted herein, and were entitled to the thanks of the country for the disposition they had shown, which he trusted would be mot by a corresponding feeling on the part of their Lordships. Without wishing to revive the discussion upon these clauses, which had been proposed by the Government in the desire to give encouragement to the investment of capital in Ireland, and the omission of which by their Lordships had amounted to a breach of the privileges of the Lower House, the Bill had come back to their Lordships with 1121 both these clauses omitted, the other House having waived their privileges and forborne to insist on the re-insertion of these clauses. The House of Commons had agreed to many of the Amendments suggested by their Lordships. They had made large concessions in a very liberal spirit; and, looking to the value of the Bill in the present state of Ireland, he would urge the expediency of their Lordships agreeing to the Amendments made by the other House to their Lordships' Amendments.
admitted, that the manner in which the House of Commons dealt with this measure, which had been sent up to them with extensive Amendments, and more especially the manner in which they had foreborne insisting on their extreme privileges, which they considered to be involved in the first and second clauses, entitled their views to a respectful consideration; and on that account, however much he regretted some of the Amendments made by the House of Commons, he thought they ought to sacrifice their own opinions to a certain extent, and accept the Amendments made by the House of Commons. There was only one question of dispute likely to arise, but that was one which was looked upon by those who had most carefully considered the subject, to be of vital importance to the owners of property in Ireland. He alluded to the proceedings in the superior courts in Ireland. He regretted that the 17th, 18th, and 19th Clauses, which related to the recovery of the arrears of rate and the removal of the civil-bill decree from the assistant barristers to the superior courts, and which were part of the original Bill, but which had been expunged by their Lordships, had been reintroduced by the House of Commons. With the exception of these clauses, he believed there was no difference of opinion, and that they would be ready to adopt the Amendments of the House of Commons on all other points. But if these clauses were insisted on, he thought they ought to disagree to these Amendments.
§ On the Amendments relating to these clauses being read.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
entirely agreed with his noble friends that the manner in which the House of Commons had dealt with this Bill, required on their part the greatest possible forbearance, and a readiness to sacrifice their indi- 1122 vidual opinions as far as possible; and, therefore, whatever might be his regret that the other House disagreed with their Lordships on some minor points, nevertheless he admitted that their Lordships should show themselves willing to defer as far as possible to those who evinced a similar spirit. But he had felt it his duty to appeal to their Lordships against the late period of the Session at which so important a measure had been submitted to their consideration, when they were prevented, by the circumstances of the Session, and the calamities of the country, from having the assistance of most of the representative Peers of Ireland in the discussion of a Bill so deeply involving the interests of that part of the united kingdom; and he had now to ask their Lordships to adhere to the judgment they had come to in Committee, when they struck out the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th Clauses of this Bill; and in so doing he was only asking them to do what their own Committee upstairs had unanimously recommended, viz., that in future the mode of recovering the poor-rates should be by civil-bill process before the assistant barrister, and by distress warrant from the magistrate. He would not now repeat the arguments that he had formerly urged on their Lordships, but he must explain that the present state of the law gave the power of a remedy in the superior courts; but Parliament never dreamt, when it gave that power, of doing more than confining its operation to persons who were out of the jurisdiction of the inferior courts. But it had been lately discovered, for the first time, that by the process in the superior court a judgment might be obtained that would become a lien on the whole real estate of the party affected by the judgment. This was not done by direct enactment; it was merely an incident of the existing law in certain cases; but the effect of the clauses originally in this Bill, and now proposed to be reinstated in it, would be directly to extend this power to all cases whatever, and to apply it in a manner most objectionable; for it was now sought for the first time to apply the rule, not only in cases where there was an immediate lessor, who might not be reached except by the superior courts, but the power of proceeding was given in all cases, although the party might be within the jurisdiction of the inferior courts, and capable of being proceeded against in the ordinary way. Again, 1123 when his noble Friend introduced the power of proceeding by the superior courts of law into this Bill, he inserted a proviso that no such proceeding in the superior courts could be instituted except by the consent of the Poor Law Commissioners; but under the present Bill no such consent was necessary, and every civil-bill decree might be removed from the assistant barrister without either asking or obtaining the consent of the commissioners. In this Bill, therefore, all the checks and safeguards placed upon the boards of guardians by the existing law were done away with. And when a judgment was once obtained for arrears of poor-rate, it took priority of every other charge on the estate in question, except an obligation or debt due to the Crown. These clauses were objectionable upon every principle of justice; they were altogether unexampled by the state of the law in England; and if they were adopted he was convinced they would raise up unprecedented difficulties in the way of the collection of the poor-rates in Ireland, where, notwithstanding the unparalleled distress that had afflicted the country, the poor-rates had been levied on the whole as well as they had been levied in any country. On these grounds he should move—" To insist on one of the Amendments made by this House to the said Bill."
said, that in answer to his noble Friend, he would confine himself to the Amendments on which his noble Friend meant to insist. If he understood his noble Friend rightly, he objected to two points: first, that there should be a power of bringing any action whatever for rates in the superior courts; and, secondly, that the decrees of the assistant barrister should be enforced by the superior courts in the manner proposed by the Bill before their Lordships had made their Amendments upon it. He would confine his explanation to these two points, and he hoped to be able to induce their Lordships to agree to the Amendments proposed by the other House of Parliament. He would show that the Bill, so far from extending, limited liability. A great hardship had formerly existed, the landlord being indefinitely liable for rates in arrear when he might not have been in possession, and might not have been in receipt of any rent. Subsequently this liability had been limited to two years, and this principle was recognised by the 28th Clause of this Bill. None of the other enactments extended the 1124 liability of the landlord, for where the annual value was under 4l, he was primarily liable; and in cases where the amount was large, the remedy by civil-bill process was the best that could be applied, and was in reality mercy to the parties concerned. The general jurisdiction of the assistant barrister being confined to sums of 20l., it was necessary that the commissioners should have authority to direct actions in the superior courts, where the sum to be recovered was large, and where nice legal questions were involved. In a recent case (Dr. Bonner's), where an action was brought for arrears of rates, the defendant pleaded that the rate was claimed under an Act which the Legislature had no right to pass, because it was contrary to the articles of the legislative Union. Such questions as those could not conveniently be entertained in the assistant barristers' courts; and though an appeal lay from their decisions, it was to the next assizes, and in the meantime what became of the poor? On these grounds, the propriety of giving a right of action in the superior courts could not be doubted. It had always been considered that poor-rates due formed the first claim on the land. Such was the law at present; the Masters in Chancery in Dublin had unanimously promulgated a rule requiring the receivers of rents to pay all the rates due without any rule or order to that effect. Previous to this, it had been customary to apply to the Lord Chancellor for an order in each particular case; but, by the rule above noticed, the guardians had the power of making the rates due the first claim on the land. It was proposed by this Bill to enable them to commence actions, and thus become judgment creditors; but then they would only come in with other judgment creditors. What injustice was there in this? The law was the same in England, with regard to judgment debts; and in Scotland it was enforced with greater rigour. There was no injustice in allowing actions to be brought, nor in the means given of enforcing the judgments in the absence of personal property.
said, he dissented from both these propositions. They were not discussing the Bill as a whole, but considering whether the particular clauses before them had the effect of mitigating or increasing the severity of the law. The partial limitation of the landlords' liability to two years was not due to the Government, but was given by a Bill introduced 1125 in the other House by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. At present, the con sent of the commissioners was necessary to registering a decree of the assistant barrister in the superior courts; it was admitted that this authority had been much abused; but the present Bill rendered such permission wholly unnecessary, though it was said to be a power that ought to be exercised with great caution. The noble Lord paid a poor compliment to the assist ant barristers of Ireland, in supposing they were such egregious blockheads as to be puzzled by a plea of the nature he had described; but if this was so, it was a strong argument against giving them the additional powers contained in this Bill. Not only was full power given to the assistant barrister, but the appeal was taken away, and a decree, or a dozen decrees, might be registered immediately on their being passed. The noble Marquess opposite had himself admitted that these clauses might make one man liable for the debts of another; a stronger testimony could not be borne to their injustice. Not only was The personal property, but the land, made liable—not alone for a debt contracted by a man's predecessor, but by his predecessor's tenant, whom his predecessor had no power to eject. He did not deny that the poor-rates were a primary charge on the proceeds of the land; but to make the land itself, despite of all entails or charges, liable for arrears of rates, was a principle wholly irreconcilable to English ideas of justice, and wholly unknown to the English law. No single witness had stated this power to be necessary for collecting the rates; and its effect would be to check The improvement of land in Ireland, and to prevent the investment of fresh capital. Let the House beware of imposing any unnecessary burden on the land of Ireland, or sanctioning the principle of making one man liable for the debts of another.
§ EARL GREY
observed that whatever changes with respect to liability this Bill introduced, were in the landlord's favour. It was a great security to the landlord that 1126 the arrears of rates should be limited to two years. It was of infinite importance, also, that the means of recovery should be as simple, cheap, and stringent as possible. To make those means stringent, it might be necessary to come upon the land ii there was nothing else to distrain upon.
§ LORD WHARNCLIFFE
was understood to contend that the cases in which application could be at present made to the superior courts, were entirely different from the cases contemplated by the clause of his noble Friend. He denied the analogy sought to be drawn between both cases, but at the same time he could not vote with his noble Friend, as the passing of the measure would thus be endangered.
said, he felt in rather an awkward predicament after the speech of his noble Friend who had just sat down. He felt coerced by his noble Friend's argument to vote one way, while his noble Friend was himself going to vote the other way.
§ The EARL of ST. GERMANS
said, he agreed with his noble Friend on the cross bench (Lord Wharncliffe), that the Amendment was better than the clause sent up by the House of Commons; but that was not the question to be decided. He believed that there was no ground whatever to suppose that the Commons would adopt the Amendment of his noble Friend. The Commons had the question fully before them—had acted in a conciliatory spirit towards their Lordships, having waived the undoubted privileges of their House, and adopted Amendments made by their Lordships which he, for one, never thought they would have agreed to. Therefore, viewing the matter in the light of a compromise, he could not consent to the loss of the measure by voting with his noble Friend.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
said, that with regard to the fact alluded to by his noble Friend, of the House of Commons having yielded their privileges, it was clear that their Lordships could not interfere in any questions of local taxation unless these privileges were waived, and therefore the concession to which his noble Friend alluded was a matter of absolute necessity. He should feel bound, under the circumstances, to press for a division.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, as there were many noble Lords present on the benches opposite who had not heard the commencement of the debate, it was right to repeat to them that the effect of the Amendment being carried would be 1127 fatal to the Bill. Many of the other clauses were considered valuable by both Houses. The House of Commons had made great concessions, and the Bill as it now stood had received the support of the Irish Members, and of Members of all parties in the House. It had come back to their Lordships with hardly any opposition; and if the Bill were now thrown out, it would be by an opposition on the part of their Lordships' House, not to any particular party in the House of Commons, but to a considerable majority of all the Members attending the proceedings of the House. Whether this were a wise course to pursue at the present time, or whether it would tend to induce the House of Commons to waive their privileges in future, was a matter for their Lordships to decide. He would only remind them, in addition, that by leaving the law as it at present stood, they would leave both the landowner and the land liable to worse consequences than any that were apprehended from the Bill.
said, it was not by the House of Commons, but by the Government, that the Bill would be rejected. His noble Friend who had just sat down could not speak for the House of Commons, though he could speak for the Government, and he ought not therefore to have thrown out as a throat a probable course of proceeding on the part of the other House.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, he did not use the intimation he had thrown out as a threat, but he spoke from his knowledge of the difficulty of inducing the House of Commons to alter their recent decision. He spoke on behalf of the House of Commons, and not of the Government, when he said that the Members who had been induced unwillingly and against their opinions to accede to some of the Amendments, in order that the Bill might pass into a law, would, there could be no reason to doubt, revert to their own opinions if the Bill did not pass as it now stood.
begged to explain that he did not mean to impute to his noble Friend the charge of using the word "threat" invidiously.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that great weight was to be attached to the observations of his noble Friend, speaking either on the part of the Government, or of the House of Commons; and, therefore, while he protested against the clause as it now stood, he could not reconcile it to his con- 1128 science to reject the Bill altogether, seeing that it contained such clauses as the limitation of the liability to two years, and the arrangement by which more than half the poor-rate can never be deducted by the tenant, and also the Amendment with regard to valuation for improvements.
said, that he also should regret much to see the measure altogether fail in consequence of the Amendment of his noble Friend being persevered in. He would, therefore, strongly recommend his noble Friend not to press his Motion to a division.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
under those circumstances yielded; but in doing so, begged to notice how inconvenient it would be if such a practice were to be frequent. He thought their Lordships ought to do what they deemed right, and leave others to act as they pleased. He looked upon this measure as the accomplishment of a system of legislation against which they had often been warned—a system which had cost this country millions, and which had done more to injure Ireland within the last few years than the fifty years' previous legislation had benefited her. Those who had considered Mr. Labouchere's measures—the relief system and the present system of poor-laws—would consider this Act as one inoperative for good, but prominently effective for mischief. He was happy to say, that in making the proposition he had, he was justified by the support of every Irish representative Peer not connected with the Government, which had been accorded to him when he first moved the Amendment. After the statement of the noble Marquess, however, he should not feel justified in pressing for a division, and under the circumstances, and with this explanation, he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ On Question, resolved in the negative.
§ The other Amendments made by the Commons agreed to.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.