HL Deb 05 May 1870 vol 201 cc265-8

asked Her Majesty's Ministers, Whether their attention has been called to the attempted sale of an estate in the county of Roscommon in the "Landed Estates Court" of Ireland on the 21st April, when the Judge, while stating that intimidation was used against an intending purchaser, overruled the objections made by the owner to a compulsory sale under the circumstances; Also whether, if the facts as stated by the public Press are correct, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to take steps to prevent the sacrifice of property resulting from compulsory sales in the present disturbed state of Ireland? Now that the conditions under which property was held in Ireland were in course of alteration, arising from various causes, he thought, the present a suitable time for calling the attention of their Lordships to a new and very strange species of agrarian intimidation which was practised in that country. As he could best explain the circumstances of the case by reading a paragraph which had appeared in the newspapers, he would adopt that means of bringing the matter before the attention of Her Majesty's Ministers, especially as he had ascertained that the report, which was similar in all the papers he had read, was a substantially correct statement of what actually occurred. The statement was, that an episode had occurred in the Landed Estates Court recently which afforded a strange example of the intimidation which was practised in some parts of the country. An estate in the county of Roscommon was put up for sale, and one lot was knocked down to a solicitor named Fry, as the highest bidder, at 13½ years' purchase; but the buyer subsequently refused to have the property, alleging that there was a higher bidder, and that he had received a letter cautioning him not to buy it. The order for the sale was eventually cancelled by the Judge. Now, the Judge was, he thought, fully justified in adopting the course which he had taken in that instance. No sale, therefore, having taken place, no harm followed. But passing from that episode, as it was called, which was even much more strange in its true particulars than it was as reported, he would venture to ask their Lordships whether grievous injury might not result from the forced sale of property in certain districts in Ireland? A large amount of land was constantly being disposed of in the Landed Estates Court in that country, and it might well happen that in certain districts of it, it would be found almost impossible to find a purchaser who would give anything like a fair value for property thus sold. Under these circumstances, it was a question well deserving consideration, whether there ought not to be some legislation on the subject? The Judge of the Court was placed in a position of great difficulty. It might occur to him that, under the present circumstances of Ireland, it might be desirable that property should be withdrawn from the Court; but no one would say whether those circumstances were normal or not. The price for which an estate might be sold might involve, in many instances, the comfort and absolute ruin of the members of a family, and the matter was one, therefore, which, in his opinion, demanded the attention of the Government. He wished, also, to view the question in connection with the contemplated legislation with respect to the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland, and he confessed it appeared to him that, in justice to the buyer, as well as the seller of property in that country, there ought to be a suspension of the sales in the Encumbered Estates Court for a time. The Parliamentary title which it gave to the purchaser was now held to be good against all the world; and how would it, he would ask, be fair or honourable on the part of Parliament to profess to give an indefeasible title, while it was about, at the same time, to hand over to others a portion of those rights which the buyers of property now possessed?


said, the distinction which had been drawn by his noble Friend between the alleged circumstances of the case to which he had referred and the real facts was a sufficient indication in itself that it was not on that case he meant to found the latter portion of his remarks. And although it was sometimes inconvenient to refer to proceedings which might have occurred in a Court without having before one the official account of those proceedings, he thought he might venture to say that although it was perfectly true that, from time to time, some influences were brought to bear upon an intending purchaser, which might be classed under the head of intimidation, yet those influences sometimes proceeded from other sources than those to which they were attributed. In this particular case the intimidation towards the intended purchaser came from a member of the family. It was stated that he was encountered by the muzzle of a blunderbuss protruding from a window of the mansion; but, however that might be, the learned Judge of the Landed Estates Court—a gentleman who was entitled to the confidence of all those who had had occasion to submit their property to his arbitrament—expressed his opinion that the intimidation was not of a nature which ought in the slightest degree to stop the sale. The property had been bought by the representative of one of the daughters of the gentleman to whom the estate belonged; but should she fail to pay the purchase money within the time specified the late purchaser would be then declared to be the legitimate owner of the property. His noble Friend had further asked Her Majesty's Government to bring forward a Suspensory Act to prevent any sales in that Court for the present; but he (Lord Dufferin) would venture to remind his noble Friend of the position in which that would place those unfortunate persons who, being mortgagees of property, would be unable to receive either principal or interest. Indeed, he believed that in the very case to which his noble Friend had referred all the creditors except one had been unable to obtain a single shilling of the interest on their money. He was sure his noble Friend would not desire an indefinite number of years to roll by without their being able to get any remedy whatever in the Landed Estates Court. There was in his opinion no reason whatever for placing those persons who might in the future be in the habit of purchasing in the Landed Estates Court in a different position from those who had already purchased in that Court.