HL Deb 03 March 1854 vol 131 cc266-72

My Lords, although I may congratulate the House upon the result of the conversation this evening, by which the assistance of the noble and learned Lord (Lord St. Leonards) has been secured to the Committee appointed to consider and report upon the Irish Land Bills, it is with much regret that I find myself under the necessity of proceeding with the Motion of which I yesterday gave notice for the appointment of certain Irish Representative Peers to serve upon that Committee, there being at present appointed but two out of the twenty-eight who have seats in this House. I had hoped that Her Majesty's Ministers, when I yesterday brought this subject under their notice, would have offered to reconsider the construction of the Committee; but the slight they have put upon the Irish Peerage now appears to have been intentional. The Bills which the Select Committee have to report upon relate exclusively to Ireland, and, in fact, are of no interest to any other part of the empire, provided they do not involve the establishment in Ireland of any new principle in the relations between landlord and tenant that might affect the stability of those laws and customs relating to the tenure of land under which this country and Scotland have attained to so prosperous a condition. On this account, I fully admit that the assistance of some English and Scotch upon the Committee would be of great value and importance. The Committee, as at present composed, I am bound to say, is, in one respect, most satisfactory, including as it does two most eminent law Lords. The noble Lord, late the Lord Chancellor of England, held for many years the Great Seal in Ireland, where his abilities in the discharge of his high functions were not unappreciated; and, as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, he was the landlord of a large number of estates under the guardianship of the Court of Chancery. The Lord Chief Justice of England will bring to the consideration of the amendment of the laws relating to land in Ireland, not only an intimate acquaintance with the law of Scotland, of which he is a native, and of the English law which he is charged with administering, but also of the law of Ireland, where he, too, formerly presided over the Court of Chancery. He has also become of late very practically acquainted with the working of the law of landlord and tenant, having purchased a considerable estate in a remote and most unimproved part of the west of Ireland. Aided by the experience and judgment of these two noble and learned Lords, the Committee could not have the legal element better provided. With respect to the other English and Scotch Peers who are named upon the Committee, I do not for a moment question their high talents and ability to deal with any legislative measures that may be submitted to them; but, I must say, that as the questions to be considered relate exclusively to Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom with which they are but little acquainted, and have no great concern, their number is out of all proportion to that of those who in this House are best entitled to be consulted upon Irish interests—I mean the Representative Peers of Ireland. Looking at the constitution of the Committee, your Lordships will find that of the twenty-one members, there are but two Irish Representative Peers; while of Peers wholly unconnected with Ireland there are no less than eight; of the remaining members of the Committee, five have property in Ireland upon which they do not reside—they are, in fact, absentees, and commonly reside in England, where their property and interests chiefly lie; and six are what may be termed resident Irish landlords. Now, my Lords, I would appeal to your Lordships whether such ought to be the constitution of a Committee for the consideration of Bills relating exclusively to Ireland. I should like to know what the noble Duke the Lord Privy Seal (the Duke of Argyll) would say if, upon interests exclusively Scotch, only eight Scotch Peers were admitted upon a Committee of twenty-one. My Lords, I am far from saying that the marked preponderance of English influence upon this Committee would be exercised otherwise than with the best intentions towards Ireland. I am not disposed to think that any purpose exists of keeping Ireland from rising to her proper level as a civilised and well-ordered country; but past experience does not warrant me in saying that English counsels in Irish affairs are always well directed, however well intended. The condition of Ireland—though, thank God, in some respects improving—is lamentably illustrative of the want of a wise direction in the framing of her laws and institutions, which have all emanated from counsels essentially English. Not to speak in general terms, I may refer to a somewhat recent case in illustration of my argument. At the occurrence of the late famine in Ireland, measures were taken with the best intentions to meet that calamity, but no measures could have been worse devised for such a purpose. They proved most injurious, and, indeed, ruinous to the country; and, instead of lessening, actually aggravated and prolonged the evil of scarcity, by withdrawing from agriculture to work upon the public roads those whose labour was essential to the cultivation of the land. These measures were adopted, my Lords, with the best intentions, but in the face of Irish remonstrance and representations of the course that ought to have been taken, and which, if taken, would have been permanently serviceable to the country. Again, my Lords, I am reminded of another case by the conversation that occurred yesterday in this House relative to the Poor Removal Act. The Irish Poor Law was considerably extended in 1847, securing, as was right, relief to the destitute from whatsoever country they might come; but in the same year was passed the Poor Removal Act, by which any Irish who became destitute in England, are at once shipped off to the nearest Irish seaports. English or Scotch settlers who may become destitute in Ireland, must be supported at the charge of the Irish ratepayer; but the Irishman, who may have spent the best part of his life in England, and given his strength and labour for the augmentation of the wealth of the English manufacturer, and whose family, born and reared in England, he may have considered as naturalised in the country, if from age or accident he becomes helpless and in need of relief, is then driven from the inhospitable shores of England to find refuge with his family in an Irish workhouse. Were Irish Members consulted on this Act? No. I, myself, protested, but in vain, against it in this House. Its glaring and now acknowledged injustice did not prevent its passing; and it still continues in operation. Cases, such as I have noticed, are not calculated to beget confidence in the treatment of Irish interests, when there is an exclusion of those who are constitutionally chosen to represent the interests of Ireland; and, looking at the construction of the Committee, I do not think it much better entitled to the confidence of the country in the consideration of interests wholly Irish, than Her Majesty's present Cabinet. Therefore, whatever respect I feel for English counsels in general, and, however desirable it is that they should have their due weight in what relates to Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, I cannot allow them to have a preponderating weight in the Committee upon the Irish Land Bills, unless the House, by negativing my Motion, should declare that so it must be. To me, it appears that, apart from the valuable assistance the Representative Peers of Ireland could afford upon such a Committee, they ought constitutionally to be placed in the position of accepting the responsibility of such measures as the Committee may ulti- mately recommend; and that their exclusion cannot be justified, let me remind your Lordships of the understanding upon which it was agreed to have these Bills referred to a Committee upstairs. My Lords, at the close of the last Session the Bills were put by upon the express understanding that the consideration of them should be entered upon early this Session, and that, however objectionable any of them might be, your Lordships should acquiesce in the second reading of them, in order that they might be fully discussed in a Committee to be appointed for that purpose. Now, my Lords, I am aware that several Representative Peers did come over expressly to take part in the deliberations upon these Bills, and that, in the discussion upon the second reading, very little was said upon their respective merits, except by my noble Friend who opened the debate, because it was the understanding that the Bills were elsewhere to be debated. Do your Lordships then think that Irish Peers would come all the way from Ireland to attend this House merely to acquiesce in the second reading of the Bills pro formâ? My Lords, if such was their only object, if they had known that the doors of the Committee were to have been closed against them, they might better have stayed away. The course taken in the House of Commons was very different; the Committee was there extended to twenty-eight Members, of whom twenty were Irish representatives, and two were by title and property connected with Ireland, I mean Lord Palmerston and Lord Monck, leaving but six English Members; whereas here it is proposed that the Irish element upon the Committee should be in a very small minority. I think, my Lords, I have made out a case to warrant your Lordships in acceding to my Motion, that the Peers' names set forth in my notice should be added to the list of the Committee. It is not to be a judicial Committee, or one for the purpose of mere inquiry; but it is to be practically a legislative Committee, and, as such, there is no reason why the number to serve on it should be limited to twenty-one. Of the Peers whose names I have to propose, they were, with the exception of the Lord Clonbrock, all present at the debate on Tuesday last. I ventured to propose the name of Lord Clonbrock, although not at present in London, as the Marquess of Sligo has been proposed in his absence by the noble Duke. The Lord Clonbrock has peculiar claims to serve on the Committee, as an excellent landlord intimately acquainted with the relations between landlords and the various classes of tenants in the west of Ireland, and one who has taken a leading interest in the agricultural improvement of Ireland, as one of the founders of the Royal Agricultural Society in that country. Of the Earl of Desart I need hardly say that he, too, has peculiar claims to be upon the Committee. The part he took in the late debate manifested both his desire to serve, and his ability to render valuable service in the consideration of a subject to which he had given much attention; and, besides his qualification as a Representative Peer, the part he so often takes in the proceedings of the House, together with his practical acquaintance with the forms and details of public business, acquired while in office under the late Government, should have at once pointed him out as one who should, of right, have been placed upon the Committee. It only remains for me to move, in the terms of my notice, that the Earl of Desart, the Earl of Glengall, the Lord Clonbrock, the Lord Crofton, and the Lord Castlemaine, being Representative Peers of Ireland, be added to the Select Committee on the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Bills.


said, that it was always invidious to make any objection to the addition of names to a Committee, and he was sure their Lordships would acquit him of being influenced by any personal objections to any of the noble Lords whom it was now proposed to place on the Committee; but he thought that the number of the members of the Committee should not be increased beyond what the forms of the House sanctioned; indeed, he only doubted whether the Committee was not even now too large for the investigation of such a subject. There was no foundation for any charge of unfairness in the selection of the Committee, because the names had been submitted to and approved by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Donoughmore), who had charge of some of the Bills referring to it. The noble Earl had said that only two of the Irish Representative Peers were placed upon the Committee; but surely he did not mean to say that the fact of a noble Lord being a Representative Peer rendered him more able to discuss questions of this kind than any other Member of their Lordships' House connected with Ireland? And how, then, did the case stand with respect to the selection of Peers who were connected with Ireland? Out of the twenty-one members of the Committee, thirteen were connected with the land of Ireland; and when the noble Earl objected to having eight English and Scotch Peers there, he (the Duke of Newcastle) must reply that he considered it absolutely necessary to have there men who had given attention to cognate subjects to those embraced in the Committee's inquiries, but whose personal interests were not involved in the decision that might be arrived at. His only fear was, not that the English and Scotch element in the Committee was too large, but that it was not large enough; and he could not therefore assent to the Motion of the noble Earl.


said, that the Committee appeared to him to have been remarkably well and fairly chosen. At the same time he thought it would be very unwise to allow the people of Ireland to suppose otherwise; and therefore, after the observations of the noble Earl, he would suggest to the Government, that they should either add to the Committee two out of the five Irish Peers whose names had been mentioned, or should substitute them for two of the English or Scotch Peers at present nominated.


said, that he found no fault whatever with the selection of the Committee; but, though he considered that Ireland was fairly represented upon it, he might observe that, as there were twenty-eight legitimate representatives of that country in the House, it would only be paying proper respect to them if they were asked to assist in deliberations which so materially concerned the interests of Ireland. He hoped the noble Lord would not press his Motion, but he agreed in the suggestion of the noble Earl who had just spoken, as to the addition of two of the Peers who had been proposed.


appealed to the noble Earl not to press his Motion, which, he observed, was obviously opposed to the feelings of both sides of the House.

On Question, Resolved in the negative.