HL Deb 31 July 1854 vol 135 cc952-5

rose to ask the intentions of Her Majesty's Government as to the renewal of the Act under which the Incumbered Estates Court in Ireland was established. The noble Marquess argued that it was advisable that the present anomalous state of the law with regard to property in Ireland should not continue, but that there should be one permanent law applicable to all landed estates, and by means of which the same facilities, which he admitted had worked advantageously, for the sale of real property should be given as was afforded temporarily by the Incumbered Estates Act, while at the same time such extensive and summary powers were not vested in the Court. He begged to know whether the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack could tell him what course the Government intended to pursue, and whether he would give any promise that early next Session any plan would be brought forward for the improvement of the law of the country generally, which would enable them to do away with the Incumbered Estates Court, and improve generally the existing state of the equity courts.


said, their Lordships were aware that by the law as it now exists under the Act of last Session, the Incumbered Estates Court had one year to endure, the Act providing that they should continue till July, 1855, and that after that a further period should be allowed for winding up any suits that were pending. His noble Friend asked what were the intentions of the Government with regard to continuing that Court, or whether it was intended to unite it with the Court of Chancery, or to make any other modification in the Court as it now existed. He would not complain at such a question being asked, but he wished to explain to his noble Friend why he was unable to give him a distinct answer now. Last Session the Government had introduced into this House a Bill for facilitating the transfer of land by means of a system of registration, but which, when it went to the other House, was not sanctioned by that House, but was referred to a Select Committee. That Committee reported that the plan was not entitled to favour, but that a Commission should issue to inquire into the best plan for facilitating the transfer of land, and by which such transfer, although not so readily effected as the sale of a horse or a watch, should be made comparatively easy. He felt it his duty to issue such a Commission, which was directed to gentlemen connected not only with this country, but to gentlemen connected with Ireland. He had recently been in communication with the Commissioners, and one of them had informed him that they had held constant meetings, and they were satisfied that they had before them one or two plans which would be a great improvement on the present law, and greatly facilitate the transfer of land. He would not give any opinion as to whether the Commissioners would be able to arrive at the result they hoped for; but he should be ready to consider any plan which would render the question of the continuance of the Incumbered Estates Court unimportant, and by which the exceptional legislation in relation to that Court would be removed. But unless some such plan was brought forward, the Government did not think it would be advisable to remove the Incumbered Estates Court, for the advantages which continued to be derived from that Court appeared to be very great indeed. Since last year (as it appeared from returns made by the Commissioners), that is, from the 1st of August to the 9th of June in the present year, there had been 400 new applications to the Court, which, practically speaking, was the same amount of applications as had taken place in the previous two years. At the same time the Commissioners, with great caution and propriety, stated that, although the number of applications was as great, the amount of property dealt with was less, as, the applications related to smaller estates. When, therefore, the Government saw that the number of applications to the Court continued so great, unless some other satisfactory plan was found in relation to this subject, they thought they would not be warranted in depriving that country of the advantages which had been derived from the existence of the Court.


declared that the most disgraceful transactions that ever had been known since courts had been invented had taken place in that Court. In many instances there had been in it the greatest jobbery that it was possible to imagine. There was a set of professional schemers in Dublin, who, by their myrmidons and agents, sent through the country to all the attorneys in the land to get cases into the Court; and the result was, that there was a system of plunder, going on that was perfectly unexampled. At least one-fourth of the cases that had been brought into that Court had been brought into it by means of one firm in Dublin and their associates—their brother schemers. He should like to know exactly what amount of the property purchased in that Court had been purchased by money which had been raised by mortgage on it by the parties who purchased it. It could be proved by a vast number of highly respectable men that hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of the money had been raised by mortgage on the property purchased, and the property having now risen in value to the extent of some eight or nine years' purchase, the parties were making a very considerable profit by it. The property of some of his friends had been sold for nine or ten years' purchase, and it was now worth twenty-five years' purchase, the property having been sold when the country was ground down by famine and disease. The estates were incumbered by those purchasers as much as they ever had been before, and they were selling those properties again. One man made a regular trade of it—an attorney in the West of Ireland made a regular trade of it. Two of the Commissioners of the Court were Irish, and four or five barristers, their relatives, had the practice of the Court, which was so very far away from the law courts that the barristers practising in the regular courts could not go up there.


said, that the first part of the reply of his noble and learned Friend was satisfactory, but the latter part was not equally satisfactory. He again urged the necessity of doing away with the anomaly of two existing codes of law in reference to landed property in Ireland. If the law was so good as it was represented to be, it ought to be extended to this country as well as to Ireland.