HL Deb 15 February 1850 vol 108 cc815-9

moved for— A Return from the Commissioners of the Court of Incumbered Estates, Ireland, stating the Number of Petitions lodged in their Court to this Date, the Total Rental of the Property in each case proposed to be sold, and the Gross Amount of Incumbrances stated to be chargeable thereon. He considered it most essential that their Lordships should have the information which this return would afford. Last Session an Act was passed, which had been pronounced an arbitrary measure in that House, but which he called unconstitutional, and he had seen no reason to change his opinion of its character. Deep sensation had been created in every part of Ireland at the vast amount of property which this Act had brought under the control of the Commissioners appointed to execute it. No fewer than 420 petitions had already been lodged in the court, involving a rental of nearly 1,500,000l., and the interests of 80,000 creditors. All these interests were, therefore, placed in jeopardy; and when the extreme depreciation of property and produce was taken into consideration, it could not be surprising that the deepest interest was felt in the proceedings of the court. It had been reported, and he wished to be informed if the report was true, that it was the intention of the Commissioners to proceed to sales whatever might be the result of the auction. He had indeed heard that they had declared they would sell any property, provided seven years' purchase was offered. Whether this statement was true or not, he did not pretend to say, but certainly it was so reported; and he had been requested to ask Her Majesty's Government whether such was or was not the decision of the Commissioners. A vast quantity of land was now for sale in Ireland, and if the Commissioners sold for anything like seven, or ten, or twelve years' purchase, it was manifest the owners must be ruined. A sale under such circumstances would, in in point of fact, amount to a direct and wholesale confiscation; and he trusted Her Majesty's Government would not consent to allow such proceedings to take effect. A state of things somewhat similar to the present occurred during the rebellion of 1798, when Lord Clare was Lord Chancellor of Ireland. A great amount of landed property came into the Court of Chancery, and it was proposed to sell it; Lord Clare, however, distinctly refused to make decrees for the sale of those estates, because he knew that a sale under such circumstances would deprive the owners and their creditors of all their property. He, therefore, held the decrees over, and in the course of the following year property resumed its former value, on which the mortgagees, who had been anxious to sell, were perfectly satisfied to allow their money to remain upon the land as before. In common justice, then, he hoped that sales, such as those to which he referred, would not be allowed to proceed; for, he repeated, they amounted to downright robbery. At all events, he hoped no sale would be made until something like a fair value was offered. He wished to ask the noble Marquess whether it was true that the Commissioners had decided that property should be sold for less than seven years' purchase.


, in reply to the question of the noble Earl, begged that he would understand that he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) did not represent the Commissioners of Encumbered Estates, and that he did not feel himself authorised to state the views which they had laid down for their course of action in the exercise of the very large discretion which Parliament had reposed in them last Session. But he had no hesitation in saying, that the Commissioners had not adopted any such rule as the noble Earl had supposed; on the contrary, he should rather say that they had expressly guarded themselves against the adoption of any such rule. He drew this conclusion from the spirit of their proceedings. In conclusion, the noble Marquess said he had no objection to the Motion of the noble Earl, after certain verbal alterations, which he suggested should have been made in it.


reminded their Lordships that when the Encumbered Estates Bill was before them in the last Session, the noble Marquess the President of the Council had stated that great care should be taken that a vast mass of land should not be thrown into the market at one time; but the result of the Bill had been that great quantities of land had been simultaneously thrown into the market, and the price had in consequence been very much reduced. In his opinion, the greatest care should be taken in carrying out the provisions of the Act, that property should not be sacrificed.


explained, that when the Act was under consideration last Session, a hope was expressed in relation to the manner in which the Commissioners would exercise their discretion; but he was not aware of any pledge having been given. He was perfectly assured that the spirit which animated the Commissioners was such as he had endeavoured to describe; and when the noble Earl spoke of land being depreciated by being thrown upon the market, he would only remind him that the operation of the Act would, upon the whole, enhance its value.


was afraid that the Motion of the noble Earl would tend to produce the very evils which he wished to avert. If the returns for which he had moved were produced, they would make it appear to the public that an enormous mass of property was about to he disposed of; and if that knowledge were not accompanied by the information that a rule had been adopted by the court that only a certain quantity of land should be placed in the market at one time, of course the natural impression amongst persons who were inclined to bid would be, that, from the immense quantity of land thus thrown into the market, prices must necessarily be lowered. The public would draw their inferences from the return moved for, and finding these orders of the court for the sale of real property to so large an amount, would not think of competing for the lots about to be put up to auction. Purchasers would bide their time, and speculators calculate on lower prices. There would be no competition. He thought the Motion was, therefore, ill-advised, and dangerous to the value of Irish land. He confessed that he was quite alarmed at the number of petitions which had been already lodged in the Commissioners' Court, and the reported amount of property that would soon be in its hands. Still, notwithstanding that circumstance, he could not imagine that it would be in accordance with a sense of justice, either to the landowners or the puisne creditors, that they should throw all that land into the market at once. No land should be disposed of unless there was competition in the market; for though he knew there were certain grounds for expecting that the price of land would never rise to what it was formerly, he was far from desponding on that subject, and he firmly believed, and if he had time he could show ample reasons for the belief, that the value of land would again rise, if not actually to its former value, yet to something very near that amount, and that would be the case in Ireland as well as in this country. With this conviction on his mind, he trusted the Commissioners would defer sales till such period as the land would reach its fair and proper value. Let it therefore be known that the object of the Act was not to glut the market, and thus bring down the price of land, but to facilitate the transfer, and give the purchaser a good title when the state of the market and the demand for land made it desirable that deeply encumbered estates should be sold.


expressed an earnest hope that the observations of his noble Friend (Lord Beaumont) would be published all over England and Ireland; for, if so, they would have a tendency to raise the price of land in both countries. He reminded their Lordships that these Commissioners were judges, and that they were invested with large discretionary powers. The noble Marquess would not be authorised in stating what they intended to do; but he (Lord Campbell) believed that they would exercise their jurisdiction in such a manner as would prove not only creditable to themselves, but also highly beneficial to the owners of encumbered estates, and to their mortgagees.


believed the Commissioners intended to act with perfect justice; but as they were bound to make a report of their proceedings within one month after the meeting of Parliament, he hoped their report would embrace a copy of all their rules and regulations.


said, the Commissioners knew perfectly well they were entrusted with very large powers; and he believed their discretion would be so exercised as to prevent an undue accumulation of land in the market.

On Question, agreed to.

House adjourned to Monday next.