HL Deb 10 June 1850 vol 111 cc932-43

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


then moved the Second Reading of this Bill, on the ground that under the Incumbered Estates Act no man owing a single shilling could be certain that his estates would not be swept away from him under the system of confiscation which it sanctioned and established. At the time that Bill passed their Lordships' House it was not intended to let it come into operation unless in those cases wherein the estate was incumbered to half the gross value. But an alteration was made in it by the other House of Parliament, whereby, if any man had a charge upon an estate to the amount of 101l., he could apply to the Court of Chancery for a receiver, and thereby bring the whole estate under the jursidiction of the commissioners. Under this system the owner of an estate, if he were abroad, would have no notice of the proceedings instituted against him until he returned home, and when he returned he might have the satisfaction of finding that his estates were sold, or rather confiscated, during his absence. The commissioners were not content with administering this law in all its severity, but had actually set aside the law of the land in their anxiety to give effect to it. On leases renewable for lives the commissioners were required to give to the tenants six months' notice before they proceeded to sell; but in a recent case, on the estate of Lord Portarlington, they called upon the tenants to come forth within a month, and, if they did not, gave notice that they would foreclose and sell the property. Were experiments of this kind fit to be tried in a country like Ireland? The Irish landlords were treated like dogs—like dogs placed upon the table of the anatomist for anatomical purposes. But such treatment could not be continued with safety; such a burlesque of justice could not be tolerated. It was from a full knowledge of the mischievous operation of the Incumbered Estates Act that he now moved the second reading of this Bill to amend it. Having shown that the existing law had led to the sale of many estates at prices infinitely below their real value, the average price not being more than seven years or seven and a half years' purchase, he proposed to enact by his Bill that "a moderate minimum" of fifteen years' purchase should be fixed as the price below which no estate: could be sold under the authority of this law. He thought that Her Majesty's Ministers ought to accede to such a proposition. If they did not, their object must be confiscation, and nothing else, for the existing law was going in a hand cantor, or, he should rather say, at full gallop, to confiscate all the land of his unfortunate country. He also proposed to introduce a clause into his Bill whereby the owner of any estate which was bought under it would have protection, as was now the case in bankruptcy, until his estate was sold. He could not suppose that any man who cared anything about justice could oppose so reasonable a proposition.


assured the House that Her Majesty's Government was not wanting in sympathy for the landlords of Ireland; but still he must not conceal from it that it was not in the contemplation either of the Government, or, as he believed, of the Legislature, to repeal or dispense with any of the leading provisions of the Incumbered Estates Bill. He would not discuss with the noble Marquess, on that occasion, the policy of the Bill, either as it passed their Lordships, or as it passed the House of Commons, where an Amendment was attached to it very unpalatable, as it appeared, to some of their Lordships. It was very true that some estates had been sold under the Act at not very advantageous prices, but then others had been sold at rates which were considered unexpectedly high. Notwithstanding what had fallen from the noble Marquess, he was quite certain that the commissioners would not allow a man's estate to be sold and swept away from him by surprise. He knew that great abuses, and he might even say great hardships, existed in Ireland owing to the facility with which receivers were appointed to estates where the debts were small; and the mode of remedying those abuses and those hardships was now under the consideration of the Government. That evils had resulted from the operation of the Incumbered Estates Act was not to be denied; but they were not of the aggravated character which the noble Marquess represented them to be. He should therefore discourage the further progress of this Bill.


observed, that when an estate was sold for seven and a half years' purchase, a primâ facie case was established against a law which so ruthlessly took away an estate from a man and his children. If the noble Marquess pushed his Bill to a division, he should certainly vote in favour of it.


said, that the Act now in operation amounted to nothing less than downright plunder and robbery of the most infamous description. He could tell their Lordships that if the law as it stood was not altered, and that speedily, the people of Ireland would meet in Dublin and redress their wrongs themselves. They would not submit to have their property confiscated for the sake of a dirty theory got up by the Manchester school. He would remind their Lordships of the difference which had been made in the Bill after it left their Lordships, and that when it received its final assent at the hands of their Lordships there were not above twenty Peers present. This was the way in which this scandalous Bill became law, and it would be a disgrace to their Lordships as long as it remained on the Statute-book. Estates—he did not talk of house property, but land—had been sold at from one and a half to fourteen years' purchase. The noble Earl at the head of the Woods and Forests had told their Lordships that some of the estates sold well; and this statement was no doubt corroborated by the letters of the Irish correspondent of the principal newspaper of this town. But the letters in question conveyed false impressions; they were written according to order, and in them the whole truth was not told. He could assure their Lordships that, upon an average, landed property had been sold at from eight to nine years' purchase. Let their Lordships consider what was the value of the property being dealt with under the Act in question. There were now in the hands of the commissioners upwards of 15,000,000l. worth of landed property to be dealt with in the manner favoured by these gentlemen. The commissioners paid the purchase-money into the Bank of Ireland. The creditors were then obliged to go into the Court of Chancery to prove their titles. The consequence was that years might elapse before the creditors could receive their money, whilst the owners were sometimes cast out within a few days upon the road-side. He knew one case of a gentleman whoso estate was ordered to be sold. He sent his son over with 6,000l. to purchase it; but he could not got into the room when the sale was going on, and the estate was actually sold for 1,450l. Such a state of things was unendurable. They were disgusted with Manchester theories, and they would not have them tried upon them any longer. One gentleman's estate had been sold for another man's debt. He defied the Government to carry the Incumbered Estates Act into full effect. They would have a rebellion in Ireland if they attempted it; and they would deserve it. Charles I. and James II. had lost their thrones and their crowns for a less cause: and Strafford's case was nothing to the villany that was exercised upon those proprietors whose estates were brought within the operation of the Act. The Amendment made by the House of Commons in the Bill after it had left their Lordships' House was a mere swindle. It was brought back to their Lordships' House just at the close of the Session, and there were only three or four Peers present—not one of them an Irish Peer—when it was agreed to. Until the Act should have been repealed, there would be no end to the injustice done in Ireland.


had risen only for one purpose, that of entreating his noble Friend not to use language such as their Lordships had just heard—language which in Ireland, at the present time, might be attended with consequences of a very fatal description. He implored him not to talk about the people of Ireland meeting in Dublin to resist the laws by force. He (the Marquess of Londonderry) trusted that the loyal spirit of the Irish people would rise up against any attempt to resist the laws by violence. But when their Lordships heard a noble Lord possessed of large property complaining of the effects of a certain law, and giving as proofs of its unjust operation such facts as estates of value being sold for seven and a half years' purchase, they surely would not refuse to give lawful redress. For his own part he felt assured that if the Government went on with the measure, there would soon be not one man in Ireland who would not complain of injustice.


explained how the Bill had been amended by the Commons, and subsequently passed by their Lordships, and said, one would suppose, from what had occurred in the debate of that evening, that this Bill was intended to repeal the Incumbered Estates Act; but that was not so; the carrying of this poor paltry Bill would not repeal more than one or two of the clauses of that Act, and would by no means satisfy those who thought it necessary to hold meetings at Dublin, and resist by force the tyranny of the Imperial Parliament. This very slender and inexpedient Bill would not repeal the act of legislation of which those persons complained, but only a small and inconsiderable portion of it. It did not even touch the question whether the test should be applied to the gross, rather than to the net, value of the estate. It merely exempted from the jurisdiction of the commissioners those estates which were subject to receivers, or were in the hands of incumbrancers.


said, that his noble Friend (Lord Campbell) had made a very excellent speech to a different purpose from that which he had intended; for he had attacked the noble Marquess's Bill because it did not attempt to repeal altogether the Incumbered Estates Act; and, after acknowleding that there were hardships existing under that Act, he refused to allow a Bill to be entertained which would go far to redress these hardships without entrenching upon those great principles of the original measure which his noble and learned Friend supported so strongly. He said that the change proposed to be made was so small, that it was not worth making. The House of Lords had originally confined those estates which were to be liable to the operation of the Act, to those which were incumbered to the amount of one-half of the "gross" value. The House of Commons altered it to one-half the "net" value. But the noble Marquess assured the House that there were estates brought under the operation of the Act in which neither of these conditions were fulfilled; but that a receiver having been appointed under the Court of Chancery, over a portion of any estate, an attempt was made to bring such estate forthwith under the operation of the Act, doing away thereby with the precautionary effect of the clause relating to the value. Now, under such circumstances, although his noble and learned Friend seemed to think that no one would support the Bill of the noble Marquess, he (Earl Fitzwilliam) would most certainly give him the benefit of his vote, if their Lordships went to a division.


observed that his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack (Lord Campbell) had either never read the Bill of the noble Marquess, or else he did not understand it. The noble and learned Lord had led the House to believe that, by passing this Bill, those estates to which receivers were appointed would be exempted from its operation. But that was not the fact. The case of the noble Marquess, as stated in his Bill, was this: By reciting certain extracts from the various Acts relating to this subject, he showed that where there were very large estates, with very small encumbrances affecting only a portion of them, then the estates could be sold under the operation of the existing law. Now, this had not been the intention of the Legislature. The object of the Legislature was to relieve estates seriously incumbered; and that there might not be an improper use made of the law, it was provided by their Lordships that no estate could be sold unless it was incumbered to half its gross value. An Amendment was made in the House of Commons, whereby it was provided that no estate could be sold unless it was incumbered to half its net value; and that Amendment was not repealed by the present Bill. Another Amendment, however, had been made in the House of Commons, which enacted that any estate or landed property could be sold, on which, or on any part of which, a receiver had been obtained, no matter how small the portion on which such receiver had been placed, and no matter how small the incumbrance on the whole estate might be. This was the enactment which the present Bill sought to repeal: that was the length and breath of the measure. He thought that their Lordships could not by any possibility refuse their assent to a Bill like the present, which was not only an act of justice in itself, but was well calculated to facilitate the working of the Incumbered Estates Act. At present nearly all the land in Ireland might be brought under the jurisdiction of the commissioners, if there were such a facility in procuring the appointment of receivers as they had just heard of. The competition of estates to be sold in the land market, would be such as to reduce prices to a mere nominal sum, the glut would be excessive, and a sufficient number of bidders could not by any possibility be found. If a receiver could be so easily obtained, the enactment of their Lordships was entirely evaded, and all the land of Ireland might immediately be sold. The plain mode of amending the Act would be by reinserting the original clause of their Lordships; but he was afraid that there was no chance of doing that at present. The next best thing which they could do would be to accept this Bill, for the whole extent of it was simply this—it prevented the sale of large estates smally incumbered. He asked the Government whether, when they passed the Incumbered Estates Bill, they wished all the land in Ireland to be sold? If the Government had no such wish, it was bound in principle to pass this Bill. He should certainly give it his support: first, because he believed that it was never the intention of the Legislature to bring all the estates of Ireland under the Incumbered Estates Act; next, because he believed that it would facilitate the working of that Act; and, thirdly, because it was required by common justice. He regretted the noble Lords (the Marquess of Westmeath and the Earl of Glengall) should have strayed away so entirely from the Bill, and should have used such strong language, and he trusted they would see the necessity of withdrawing expressions of so violent a nature.


explained. If his noble Friend meant to say that the Incumbered Estates Act subjected and required—


"Subjects"—not requires.


Subjected and required all lands in Ireland, under receivers, to be sold, he certainly misunderstood the Act altogether, and also the effects of the present Bill. At present, in a case where there were receivers appointed by the Court of Chancery over an estate, the commissioners might inquire whether the circumstances were such as that it might or might not be sold. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, such was the fact. But surely the commissioners would be most unfit to be entrusted with the great powers which they possessed, if they did not, before ordering a sale, first inquire whether their power ought in such a case to be exercised or not. Was it to be supposed that if a receiver were appointed over a small portion of a largo estate, that it would be at once sold by the commissioners without any inquiry into the circumstances? It was only where the receiver swept away all the profits, that the commissioners interfered and ordered a


regretted that the arguments of those who were in favour of the measure had been rather against the Incumbered Estates Bill. He was very much in favour of the Incumbered Estates Bill. He pressed the Government to bring forward a measure of the kind, and nothing that had since occurred had lessened his opinion in favour of that Bill. But it had come into operation at a most unfavourable time. He believed that if the Act had passed three or four years ago, its operations would have been highly beneficial; but coming into operation last year, when land in all parts of the united kingdom, but especially in Ireland, was depreciated in value, it was not so beneficial. He should oppose any measure for the repeal of that Act. But he had heard, with an astonishment he could not express, the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice. He it was who appointed a Committee of their Lordships' House to investigate this subject. They went through a careful inquiry, and yet, in the various enactments that were proposed, it never for one moment suggested itself to the mind of the noble Lord to propose any such provision as that which it was the intention of his noble Friend now to enact. It was well known that the noble Lord opposite introduced a clause which was considered by many to be a great improvement of the Bill, that estates should not be sold unless they were incumbered to half their gross value. The other House altered it to the net value. A compromise was come to between the Government and the other House, and this extraordinary amendment was agreed to, of which none of their Lordships had any idea, that if any estate was put into the hands of a receiver, it should not be exempt from the provisions of the Bill. However, if Her Majesty's Ministers would assure him that the Bill which the noble President of the Council said the other night was likely to be brought into the House of Commons should contain a provision for the removal of this anomaly, he should at once advise his noble Friend to withdraw this Bill; but if they would not give that assurance, he should give his conscientious support to this Bill.


said, he had certainly thought it his duty to call their Lordships' attention to the adjustment that took place last Session respecting the amendments of the Incumbered Estates Bill; and bearing in mind the circumstances of that adjustment, he certainly did think it would be a loss of time for the Legislature to attempt to disturb it. When he mentioned that adjustment, he could not admit that there was any breach of contract; there was no contract, there could have been none. After the Bill left their Lordships' House, it was well known it was a matter of doubt whether the Com- mons would consent to exempt all the estates on which the incumbrances did not amount to one-half. Being at liberty to reject it, they were, of course, at liberty to amend it. When the Bill came back, he was not aware there was any surprise. He believed the amendments were printed; there was a discussion on them, and though their Lordships did not approve of the amendments, yet they did not think them so objectionable as to reject them. He had stated that he believed it was a loss of time to attempt to disturb that adjustment; but, having heard from so many of their Lordships, especially from those who had property in Ireland, the strong opinion entertained that this very slight alteration of the Incumbered Estates Act should be adopted; having himself admitted the inconvenience which attended the appointment of receivers in many cases in Ireland, he did not feel himself called upon, having made no Motion, to divide against the Bill; and he was willing that it should go down to the House of Commons, there to be discussed, in conjunction with other measures, for the appointment of receivers, and that the whole question should be considered.


was much gratified by the concession the noble Lord had made. He held in his hand a notice given to the tenants of an estate, from which it appeared the commissioners had taken upon themselves to set aside the law, and stated their intention to proceed to the sale of an estate on a notice of one month, although the law for the protection of individuals required six. The noble Marquess then read the notice in question, which was dated the 1st of June, which directed the tenants to pay up their rents and to take out renewals of their respective leases on or before the 1st of July next, and in default of their so doing the commissioners would proceed to sell. Was that confiscation or was it not? Hero were commissioners doing that in one month which the law required should be done in six months, and yet they were upheld by Her Majesty's Government. The noble Earl (the Earl of Wicklow) thought that his speech was against the Incumbered Estates Act, and that he wished it repealed. He had no such intention. But the noble Lord (Lord Campbell) had described what that Act was, that it gave the commissioners power to determine whether such or such a man should be sold up or not, that was to say, they were judge and jury, and had power given them to masticate the landlords, and thus fill their political stomachs.


, concurring entirely in the propriety of the very considerate course of his noble Friend (the Earl of Carlisle), wished at the same time to have it distinctly understood he did not in the least admit that the slightest imputation rested on the Incumbered Estates Commissioners. The last allegations made by the noble Marquess who had just spoken were not in the slightest degree connected with the Bill, and contained a grave charge against the commissioners, which he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) believed to be utterly unfounded. If the Bill of the noble Marquess in any way convoyed that charge, he would have divided against it; but because it did not necessarily imply any such charge, and because he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) admitted it might be expedient that the whole of the subject should be reviewed and compared together—that subject being the propriety of selling an estate where a receiver was appointed, and where the incumbrances amounted to one-half the value—he had no objection to the Bill being sent to the other House.


said, it was true that this Bill contained no imputation upon the conduct of the commissioners, though it did propose that, in a certain degree, the discretion of the commissioners should be limited. He had risen to say, that he hoped the noble Marquess would not consider the House precluded, by adopting the principle of this Bill, from considering the expediency of a still further limitation of the powers of the commissioners. Last year, when the Bill was under consideration, they had two objects to attend to: first, as to the circumstances which ought to bring an estate under the operation of the Act; and, next, whether it was expedient to limit the discretion of the commissioners with regard to the price which should be sot upon estates. It was clear that the object of the Bill was, in the first place, to satisfy the claims of the creditor; and next that the proprietor should be in the same condition as nearly as possible as if the claims of his creditors were discharged in the ordinary manner, for if that were not done, they would be inflicting a grievous wrong upon the party. If, for instance, they were to sell an estate worth 2,000l. a year, on which there was an incumbrance of 10,000l., at the rate of ten or twelve years' purchase, they would sat- isfy no doubt the demands of the incumbrancers, but they would leave the owner almost without a shilling. When these points were urged last year, it was stated that the discretion of the commissioners would be sufficient to guide the prices—that it was not to be supposed they would permit estates to be brought forward in such a way as to glut the market, or to allow the estates to to be sold for anything below a fair and reasonable amount of purchase money. Now, what was a fair and reasonable amount of purchase money? Would any of their Lordships say that ten, eight, seven, or even, as in one case, one and a half year's rent would be a fair and reasonable amount of purchase money for their estates? He wished, therefore, to say, without imputing any corrupt motive, that the commissioners had not exercised that discretion which last year they were led to expect from them; and as this was a serious matter, he wished to know from Her Majesty's Government whether they would have any objection to lay upon the table of the House an account of the different estates sold, the estimate of their annual income, together with the actual amount of such income, and the number of years' rental at which each estate had been sold. He believed if that paper were produced it would show that the average purchase money of all the estates—he did not speak of chief rents, such as one of 150l. charged upon an estate of 8,000l. a year, the security for the payment of which was as good as it could be in any quarter of the world, and which he was aware had sold, not, as might have been expected, for 30 years, but for 18, 20, and in some instances for 22 years' purchase. He was speaking only of freehold estates, and with respect to them, he believed it would be found that they had been sold for 10 or 12 years' purchase of the actual annual rent. He would ask their Lordships with what feelings they would view the provisions of a Bill which, because one-fifth of their property was under mortgage, should force the whole of their estates into the market, and sell them at 10 years' purchase. He asked for the papers he had alluded to, in order to see if the commissioners had exercised a proper discretion in the matter; and if it should be proved that they had sold various estates at from eight to ten years' purchase, then it would be the duty of Parliament, unless indeed they had given in their sanction to the principle of confiscation—it would be the bounden duty of Parliament to place some further restriction upon a discretion which was so exercised.


said, the Government had no wish to preclude any noble Lord from proposing any further restrictions that he might think proper. But if it were intended to lay down the principle that no sale should take place except for a certain number of years' purchase, then noble Lords must first come forward and define what year's purchase meant, because otherwise such a restriction would be about the most inconvenient, the most impracticable, and the most unjust limitation that could be enacted. Every person acquainted with the sale of estates in Ireland, knew that an estate sold nominally for 15 years' purchase, might often be of less value than an estate sold for 10 years' purchase; and with regard to the information which the noble Lord opposite sought to obtain, he must say that much more information would be necessary before a proper opinion could be formed of the propriety of the sale of each individual estate: such as the way in which it was cultivated, the amount of rent, the state of the poor-law, the number of paupers on the estate, and the amount of capital possessed by the farmers. When these particulars were obtained, then, perhaps, they would be in a condition to judge of the conduct of the commissioners.


said, nothing was more likely to swamp the information he wished to obtain, than to overload it by a mass of matter which was wholly irrelevant. He presumed that the annual rent of each estate was mentioned when it was put up to auction, and all he wished to know in each case was the name of the estate, the extent of incumbrances, the annual rental, and the number of years' annual rental at which it was sold; and he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would have no objection to furnish this information.


Let the noble Lord make a Motion, and we shall consider it.

On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative.

Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Friday next.

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