§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [15th April], "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD NAAS
said, that this could not be called a party question, and he expressed his regret that he had to oppose a measure promoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General, to whom Irish Members were indebted for much consideration and readiness to attend to their opinions, and whose courtesy had enabled him to conduct so many important measures to a satisfactory conclusion. But this Bill was a step in a wrong direction. It professed to be to permit purchasers, under the Incumbered Estates Act of last year, to borrow to the extent of half the purchase money, securing the borrowed money by a certificate of charge on the lands. He had to object to the Bill, first, because it was a direct infringement on, and contradiction to, the principle the House was asked to support last year; secondly, because the Bill was not likely to effect the ends it was said that it would accomplish; and, thirdly, because it was unjust to the present proprietors of Ireland. As to the first point, the Act of last year was proposed for the purpose of freeing Irish property from encumbrances; and, if it had been thought there was any other intention, he, and many other Members, 807 would have given it their determined opposition. Many Irish Members only supported it as an exceptional measure, warranted by the exigency of the case, and having but one object, namely, that of creating an unembarrased and independent proprietary. The hon. and learned Solicitor General, in introducing the Act on the 26th of April, 1849, said, the Government desired not only "to liberate the land of Ireland from incumbrances," but "to take advantage of its freed state to prevent its being again reduced to its former condition." The noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown, also, expressed himself to the same effect. The very able report on Chancery receivers, understood to be prepared by Mr. Napier, also pointed to "discouraging a system of incumbrance." But here was a Bill which would create incumbrances on the properties sold under the Incumbered Estates Act, and encourage that state of things of which we had had such sad experience. Next, as to the probable effect of the Bill, let the House note what would be the position of a purchaser at I00,000l. of an estate of 5,000l. a year, borrowing 50,000l. of the purchase money, and taking (say) twenty-five years to repay that sum. The first year's instalment of the 50,000l. would be 2,000l.; the year's interest would be 2,500l. at 5 per cent; a small percentage for agency charges, bailiffs' fees, &c., would bring the year's payments up to 4,875l., leaving for the improvement of the property, and to meet the chance of defaulthig tenants, &c., only 125l. Nor would the income in subsequent years increase by more than 100l. in each year. As to the idea of creating a vast number of small fee-simple peasant proprietors, it was perfectly utopian. The feeling of the country was against such a scheme. Its disadvantage would be perceived. The great mass of the people of Ireland were much too shrewd not to know that it would be more for their interest, as it undoubtedly would be eventually for the interest of the united kingdom, that they should live under landlords, than be themselves the proprietors in fee of small patches of land. Gentlemen of good estates, with some reserve of capital, or at least some credit, would participate with their tenants in the losses which times of depression might occasion. The peasantry of Ireland understood their own interest sufficiently well to see that they would place themselves in a 808 situation by no means enviable, if they were to stake their all upon a small patch of land merely for the sake of being proprietors in fee, and were to have no such protection as the care or benevolence of a landlord to fall back on in times of distress and difficulty. It was said, in support of the present measure, that one of its effects would be to enhance the value of land in Ireland. It certainly might at first be productive of such an effect, but very soon one of its consequences would be to bring a great quantity of land into the market, which would otherwise never have been offered for sale; and in that manner the reduction of price would be more than compensated. If the proposed plan of certificates once came into operation, no money would be lent on any other species of security, and the money market would be at once closed against every class of borrowers who had not that kind of security to offer. The measure would drive the country into such a position as that no money could be borrowed on any other guarantee than that of estates sold under the Incumbered Estates Act. It was not, of course, his intention on the present occasion to vindicate the general conduct of the Irish landlords. That was a mode of proceeding not essential to the success of the argument which he proposed to lay before the House. But he should at least say, that the Irish landlords, whatever might be their deserts, did not deserve the treatment which they were about to receive from the authors of the Bill now before the House; and he professed himself unable to understand how it was that the Government seemed so willing to assist the new purchasers, to the total disregard of the old proprietors. Knowing the state of Ireland as the Government must be presumed to do, he wished to have it explained to him what possible advantage it would be to exchange one set of incumbered proprietors for another—so deeply incumbered that they would not be able to improve their estates, still less to cherish their tenants—so deeply incumbered that, at three months' notice, any one of them might be evicted? On the whole, he did not hesitate to say, that the measure which then engaged their attention was merely an attempt to prop up the Incumbered Estates Bill of last year, which had excited expectations that could never be realised. Upon a very moderate calculation it might be assumed that the effect of the Encumbered Estates Act would be to bring into 809 the market land probably of the value of 14,000,000l. Now, he would ask, had the operation of that measure been so satisfactory as to induce the House to perpetuate and extend its action? It was well known to every one acquainted with the state of Ireland, that most extraordinary transactions had taken place in that country under the provisions of that Act. Estates, as might be seen from the Times newspaper of that morning, had been sold nominally for twenty years' purchase, which did not realise 8½ years' purchase upon rents offered in the year 1845. In some cases, perhaps, thirteen years' purchase might have been obtained; but, looking at the sales which had been effected recently, he would ask the House to say were they prepared to continue and foster such a measure as the Encumbered Estates Act by means of a Bill like the present? In the proceedings before the commissioners under the Encumbered Estates Act, it appeared that in those parts of the country where it was thought most desirable to introduce a new body of proprietors, the difficulty of obtaining purchasers was the greatest, and that fact seemed to present the most enormous objection to the working of the Bill. By the operation of this Act the tenants of the old proprietor were always liable, to him, or to his representatives, for the arrears owed by them at the period of sale: the new proprietors, therefore, could not dare to improve, lest the value of these improvements should be seized to satisfy the claims of the late proprietor. He had been informed, on the best authority, that such properties could not be sold unless the seller was prepared to go through the horrible task of ejecting every one of the tenantry for the purpose of bringing in a new race of men in their stead. Such a state of things was now actually in operation on the Connemara estate. He did not hesitate, then, to say, that he had never before—at least, in the history of this country—met with any parallel to the present scheme of the Government. It happened, however, that in a neighbouring country there had been something very similar to it. In the year 1790 the French Government of that day, pressed by want of money, came to the determination of confiscating the whole of the landed estates of the Church, they being of about the value of 16,000,000l., not much larger than the amount of Irish property now likely to be brought into the market; but a sufficiency of capital for 810 making such purchases was not to be found. The land was then sold to purchasers who paid down half the values, and, concurrently with that operation, assignats were issued, just as certificates were now to be sent forth, and the stimulus of a vicious paper currency was given to the whole of those transactions. Now, that was ominously like the contemplated proceedings under the Bill at present before the House. He should not on this subject occupy the attention of the House with any prophecies of his own, but rather read to them the following passage from Mr. Burke's celebrated Reflections upon the French Revolution:—In the course of all these operations at length comes out the grand arcanum—that in reality, and in a fair sense, the lands of the Church are not to be sold at all. By the late resolutions of the National Assembly, they are indeed to be delivered to the highest bidder; but it is to be observed that a certain portion only of the purchase-money is to be laid down. A period of twelve years is to be given for the payment of the rest. The philosophic purchasers are, therefore, on payment of a sort of fine, to be put instantly into possession of the estate. It becomes, in some respect, a sort of gift to them, to be held on the feudal tenure of zeal to the new establishment. This project is evidently to let in a body of purchasers without money. The consequence will be that those purchasers, or rather guarantees, will pay, not only from the rents as they accrue (which might as well be received by the State), but from the spoil of the material of buildings, from waste in woods, and from whatever money, by hands habituated to the gripings of usury, they can wring from the unhappy peasant.He need scarcely remind the House how wonderfully those prophecies were realised. Now, looking to the present state of Ireland, he asked the House if they could anticipate any other result by selling these encumbered estates, and handing them over to men who had no connexion with the country, but were merely land jobbers? He asked them whether the consequences would not be the same as those which took place in France, and which were prophesied by Mr. Burke? Although he intended to move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, yet he should not, perhaps, divide the House, if the Government would agree to give the same advantages to the ancient proprietors of the soil as they proposed by the Bill to confer upon the new purchasers; but certainly, unless the Government promised to take the matter into their consideration, he should feel bound to press his Amendment.
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. F. FRENCH
The statement of my noble Friend who has just sat down is so fully borne out by facts, that there cannot he any grounds whatever for treating this as a party question. It is a question of vast importance to Ireland, and in its discussion I cannot but express my regret to observe how empty the benches are. But, Sir, this is almost universally the ease whenever any subject connected with Ireland, not of a party character, is brought under the attention of the House. In seconding the Motion of my noble Friend, that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, I shall not merely confine myself to the reasons which led me to feel so strongly the inexpediency of the measure; but I shall venture to lay before the House one or two plans well deserving the serious consideration of the Government, if they are really desirous that Ireland, now in a prostrate condition, should be upon an equality with this prosperous section of the kingdom. I am perfectly ready to give every credit not only to my right hon. Friend the Solicitor General for England, but to Her Majesty's Government generally for a most anxious and ardent desire to promote the welfare of Ireland. I regret exceedingly, however, that hitherto their measures have not proved equal to their intentions. But, on the other hand, I claim for us who oppose the present Bill the same indulgent opinion as to our views, and at least an equally sincere desire to promote the prosperity and welfare of Ireland. We cannot but be anxious for the prosperity of Ireland. We are as deeply interested for its happiness as any persons in this House possibly can be; and, I am sure, there has not been a single measure which we conscientiously believed would advance the one or promote the other, that has not, and would not again find us ranked among its most firm supporters. But will the Bill now before the House effect either the one or the other? This is a question that should be dispassionately considered; and I ask, will the Bill now upon the table, either carry out the objects for which the Incumbered Estates Act was passed, or in any way advance the prosperity of the country? My opinion, Sir, is, that it will not; and, in 812 endeavouring to show you that it will not, I shall first ask the House to consider the extent and the value of the property affected by the original Bill, and the additional extent which will be dragged into the vortex of destruction if the present measure be adopted. The rental of Ireland has been put down at somewhere about 12,000,000l. per annum; but from this amount there are considerable deductions to be made. The repeal of the corn laws, the increase of poor-rates, and other matters which had materially lessened the value of property, lead us to calculate that the present rental net is about 9,000,000l. About one-ninth of that amount, l,000,000l. a year, is all that we have any reason to believe will come under the operation of the original Act for the sale of incumbered estates. By that Act no estate, unless incumbered to the extent of one-half its value, can be brought before the court by the creditors. We may, therefore, fairly assume that about 20,000,000l. would be the value of the land which will be brought under the operation of that statute. According to the evidence of Mr. Mahony, a very intelligent solicitor, who has given great attention to the subject, the landed property of Ireland was, on an average of thirty sales, changing hands at the rate of 2,000,000l. a year. Now, the immediate operation of the Incumbered Estates Bill will be to force property to the value of 20,000,000l. into the market in one year. The interest on this was about l,000,000l. a year; but the entire sum payable on judgments to mortgages in Ireland annually, was estimated at 3,000,000l. You would, by passing the present Bill, cause the principal on which this interest was payable to be called in, and for its discharge land to the value of 60,000,000l. would be forced to sale. Was it necessary to tell his right hon. Friend that overstocking the market must bring down the price which land would otherwise command. Encumbrances to the extent of 13,000,000l., were already in progress of recovery before the Commissioners. The land sold by them had been at prices ruinously low—property to the value of upwards of 6,000l. a year had been disposed of for about 50,000l. The estates of 17 proprietors had been sacrificed. Mr. Balfe, in 1845, refused 8,500l. for an estate which the Commissioners sold for 3,500l. Part of Mr. M'Naughten's property went for 1½ years' purchase. Mr. Darcy's 700 acres, for which he had refused 813 16,000l., was knocked down for 6,000l. Mr. Prat's, Mr. Insties', Mr. Sorle's, brought from six to nine years' purchase. What was the object of the original Bill? Why, it professed to secure for Ireland proprietors who should be enabled to devote the profits of the estates to the improvement of the land and the employment of the people. It was declared to be so necessary for the purpose of the public welfare that such proprietors should be established in Ireland that the rights of the existing proprietors in reference to legal claims, which might be in abeyance, were all swept ruthlessly away; and I am sure the opposition given to the measure in the other House by the law Lords on this ground cannot yet be forgotten. In vain we called on them not to supersede the constitutional tribunals of the country, and not to place the landed property of Ireland at the mercy of three men unrestricted by precedent, form or law, uncontrolled even by an appellate jurisdiction: the answer was, no matter how unconstitutional the machinery—how great the sacrifice of property—how wide-spreading the individual ruin may be—we must, we will have, an unincumbered proprietary. Scarcely have they established their tribunal, when they come to ask for a measure to ensure that this transfer of property shall be not to unincumbered proprietors, but to merely nominal buyers who shall pledge their newly purchased-estates to money-lenders or joint-stock companies for half the nominal price at which they just bought them. The Bill at present before the House professes to amend the original Act. It is brought in for the purpose of amending that measure; and I maintain that it utterly defeats its own object. It replaces incumbered proprietors already existing by proprietors equally incumbered. It heaps, as my noble Friend justly said, contradiction upon contradiction. The original Bill lays down the principle that when an estate is incumbered to the extent of one-half its value, and the proprietor cannot be in a condition to discharge his functions as a private gentleman—that under these circumstances the estate shall be brought to an immediate and peremptory sale; whereas this Bill takes that amount of value (half its value) as the precise point to which it is advisable and expedient that facilities should be given for the purchase of incumbered estates. If that is not a contradiction of purposes, I confess I cannot understand 814 what contradiction is. The Bill was brought in avowedly and confessedly to enhance the value of land; but my noble Friend has shown very clearly that it must force so many sellers into the market, that it will not only not raise the price of land, but considerably depress it. It will force into the market three or four times the number of sellers and the amount of land that could by any possibility have come in under the operation of the original Bill. Now, if you bring so much land into the market with so many sellers, and allow them to be bought with paper, it is clear you must drive bonâ fide purchasers away from it, for would any man with capital come to compete with your assignats? But, then, it is said this is a measure to give confidence to landed proprietors. ["Hear!" and a laugh.] Why I tell my right hon. Friend that there never was a measure introduced into this House which has created more considerable alarm among proprietors in Ireland than this very Bill. On this subject I shall take the liberty of reading some passages from a few letters I have received respecting it. The first is from a gentleman resident in the north of Ireland, a very intelligent and honourable individual; and he says—The Bill of the Solicitor General, only dealing with estates which come under the incumbered estates commission, plainly shows that it is intended exclusively to facilitate the operations of the English speculator, and I trust, unless all the advantages proposed under it are extended to those proprietors who are incumbered in a lesser degree, it will not be suffered to proceed.Then he adds, in which I cordially concur, "Believe me this is of vital importance to the great body of the owners of land in Ireland." Then he comments upon an official announcement in a Sunday paper. I call it "official," because the paper would not have published anything of the kind unless ordered from authority. At all events the statement which that journal published must be considered demi-official. He says—A statement apparently authorised appears in the Observer, that at the expiration of the second year, the debentures proposed to be created begin to be paid off, which is to be done in the ten succeeding years. See, then, how this Bill stands. For the first two years, the purchaser will receive interest for his own money, half the value, but after that the produce of the estate will not be sufficient for the payment of the instalments without allowing one sixpence for improvements, or the employment of the people, or even for the support of the proprietor, whose purchase will again, probably, come to the hammer.Then he gives me the statement of a particular 815 case. The rental of a certain estate was 32,000l. a year; deduct 5,000l a year for poor-rate, agency, and tithes, the rental would be reduced to 27,000l per annum, which, he calculates would be well sold at 500,000l. In this case, should the purchaser find half the money, the first year of repayment he would have to provide 18,000l. for interest, and 20,000l. for the instalment, making 43,000l out of a rental of 27,000l. And before that instalment was paid, he would have to provide 180,000l. from sources quite independent of the estate. Now I ask the House whether it is probable that any person venturing upon the purchase of that property could be placed in a condition, under such circumstances, for promoting improvement and encouraging employment? The next letter is from a gentleman who was formerly a Member of this House, and he says—Sir J. Romilly's Bill is of serious import to those proprietors whose estates are incumbered to one-fourth or one-fifth of their value, the interest paid on which is 4½ or 6 per cent, and who may fairly he considered in independent circumstances, paying their Interest regularly, and leaving an overplus of two-thirds of their income to spend. The result of this measure will be fatal to those estates. As a matter of course all persons having mortgages or judgments on them will call in their money for the purpose of obtaining the learned Gentleman's advanced interest of 6 per cent. It will not be possible, as Ireland now is situated, to get money on any terms, and consequently these properties will have to be sold at a time when land is a complete drug in the market.The writer goes on to say—From the frying-pan, with a vengeance, the right hon. Gentleman pitches Ireland into the fire. Under a pretence to raise the value of those estates which would be sold under the Bill, and which, at the ordinary rate of purchase, may amount to 20,000,000l., he is now about to involve in the ruin an additional amount of property to three times that amount, and utterly to annihilate the resident proprietors of our unfortunate country.The last letter I shall read is from an extremely able man, who has great practical knowledge. It is of considerable length, but I hope the House will indulge me by patiently listening to it. The writer (it is, addressed to myself) says—As I observe you have taken a part in securing an opportunity for discussion of the Reincumbrancing Bill now before the House of Commons, I take the liberty of troubling you with a few remarks, such as unfortunately a practical experience in incumbrances enables me to make upon that measure. I need scarcely tell you, or any one else acquainted with Ireland, but it would be very well that you should tell the English Ministry and the English House of Commons, that a 816 very large part of the liens that now hamper Irish estates, were imposed under the operation of measures almost identical with that now proposed by Sir John Romilly. The Irish gentry and successful traders of former years were not free from that inordinate desire of acquiring territorial influence, the destructive result of which, even in England, has been recently exemplified in the ruin of one of its noblest houses. Excited by that desire many Irishmen bought lands for which they could not pay; and the Irish Parliament and lawyers (both English and Irish) aided them in their mad speculations by creating those facilities for the borrowing of money which the law and practice of judgment obligations in Ireland are so well calculated to give. I have little hesitation in affirming that a sufficient inquiry into the matter would show that at least three-fourths of the existing incumbrances upon Irish property have originated in the borrowing of money to complete purchases. That money was usually lent on the security of bonds and judgments, which, to use the metaphor of an Irish lawyer, have ever since 'hovered over the lands, like birds of evil omen, preventing its profitable use by owner, occupier, or the public' It was, in fact, this evil of judgments which the Incumbered Estates Commission was called into existence to combat with. Land so fettered by law and debt that no one either owned or could alienate it, was found to be both a public and a private nuisance; and it was (as I think rightly) determined to set it free, even at the cost of some violation of ancient ideas of vested rights. One year after this has been determined upon, and while the intent is being carried into practice. Sir John Romilly comes in to establish a new succession of judgment debts scarcely differing from the former in any essential particulars, except that they are to leave the person of the debtor free. Now, what is the defence for this reforging of old chains? Why, simply this, that if something be not done, the incumbered estates will bring so low a price that English creditors will often go unpaid. I will not enlarge upon the vast amount of mischief which may flow from that simple phrase—' something must be done,' but just ask to consider what the thing is that will be done by Sir John Romilly's scheme? A grand bulling operation will be set a-going in land speculations, to be very shortly followed by a bursting of the bubble to the ruin of a vastly multiplied body of speculators, like those who bought railway scrip at two or three, or more hundred per cent, after that imaginary mine of wealth had been opened by the silver spade at Tamworth? Who will now deny that few real capitalists were brought into a participation in the scrip mania, or that, when they were, it was but as a step to their ruin? Believe me, the case will be the same in reference to Sir John Romilly's land-scrip. Prudent men will not go into a rigged market to buy land. They will wait as they did in 1845 and 1846, in order to buy when the reaction that must surely come, and speedily, shall have reduced the price of land, as it has done that of railway shares, as far below as it was once above par. But, say some creditors and some incumbered proprietors, all this may be very true, yet still at the outset we shall get good prices for a few estates; and here, I really believe, is the germ of the project. It has originated in the idea of a few (perhaps I might say of one) sharp solicitors who have the carriage of the sales 817 of certain large estates that do not now seem likely to realise the amount of their debts. It is true that the Romilly kite may lift those concerns over the obstacles in their way, but will it sustain them at a safe elevation? I should say certainly not. The P—or the M—estates may be sold for paper money for twice their current value; but what will be the exchangable rate of discount of the bill-debentures a year hence? I will refer you for an answer to this question to the Stock Exchange list of this day, in which you will find London and North Western shares that in 1846 were bought at 250, quoted as sold for 102. I have already made this letter too long, and must abruptly conclude it with the expression of a hope that you will be able to bring the House to a deliberate consideration of this vital subject.Now, Sir, the statements contained in these letters are unquestionably correct; they are made by men thoroughly acquainted with the condition of Ireland; and, from my own personal knowledge of, and acquaintance with, different parts of the country, I have no hesitation in asserting that everything prophesied by the writers must, if this Bill is allowed to become law in its present shape, inevitably follow. My noble Friend, in his very able speech, alluded to what was formerly done in France; and I thought he was about to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to what (for it has been more than once done) was done under similar circumstances in Prussia. I will, therefore, describe the Prussian plan. I think—I am sure—that my right hon. Friend opposite does not intend to produce the effects we anticipate from this measure; but we all know it was panic that prevented him, and will again probably, from going so far as he intended. At all events I must express my deep regret at not seeing my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his place, because I should be glad to hear from him a defence, either as a matter of policy or as a matter of finance, of the course that is proposed to be taken. I will now just shortly run over the chief features of the plan adopted by the Prussian Government in 1772, when things had come there, as they have now in Ireland, to a dead lock. The owners of estates were allowed to hypothecate them to a joint-stock bank, receiving one-half or two-thirds of their value in notes of not leas than 75l. each, the value of the estates being ascertained by an official valuator. Interest was charged at the rate of five per cent, one per cent of which was to go for the payment of the expense of the transaction, and the balance to be applied to the reduction of the debt. In 818 the event of any irregularity in the payment of the interest, the estates were to be sold. Each proprietor was to employ the funds so received upon his own responsibility, and the responsibility of the estate, in the improvement of the property. Accordingly, in some cases, the proprietors applied themselves to the drainage of their estates; in others, to the building of farm houses, mills, manufactories, and the reclaiming of waste lands. In all cases these improvements were made at the expense of the estate; there was no attempt at interference on the part of the Government. They left the parties most interested, who were the proprietors, and who had most knowledge and experience of the land, to get through themselves. This policy was eminently successful. The confidence of the Prussian Government was well repaid, and the Prussian proprietors gradually worked themselves out of all their difficulties. The plan was so successful, and the bank so flourishing, that in a short time they were able to reduce the rate of interest to four per cent. In 1807 the bank had advanced eight millions, and in 1837, twelve millions; and then they further reduced the interest to 3½ per cent. The Government or the Bank of Prussia might cash these notes, but it was not incumbent upon them to do so; but the fact was, they were never called upon for that purpose. Three-fifths of the notes were, in a short time, either taken up by capitalists, or they found their way into the coffers of public or charitable institutions; the remaining two-fifths became a most popular currency; and, notwithstanding the reduced rate of interest these securities, through all the different fluctuations of the money market, ranked higher, and there was less fluctuation in them, than even in the Prussian State bonds. For instance, on the 1st of May, 1847, Prussian State Securities paying 3½ per cent were at 92, but the Great Prussian Land Bank, paying 3½ per cent was at 96, whilst Pomeranian Stock, paying 3½ per cent was at 94; Silesian, paying 3½ per cent at 96 three-fifths, and Posen, paying 4 per cent at 101. I stated just now that the attention of my right hon. Friend opposite had been called to this subject. A very able letter was recently published in the papers from a gentleman, whose politics cannot be objected to by my hon. Friends on the other side of the House—[Mr. French was speaking from the Opposition benches]—one of the 819 staunchest old Whigs in Ireland—I mean Mr. Prittie. This gentleman, for a Whig, writes with some little taint of bitterness, considering that he belongs to the political party from whom the regeneration of Ireland was to proceed. He feels some doubt as to the professions and the practices of those in power; and he asks why, under the present circumstances of Ireland, money cannot be had from the Government at a low rate of interest? "Why," he asks, "cannot the money be had at a low rate of interest, or a permanent arrangement made through the medium of the Government?" There is some bitterness as well as truth in the following:—In Ireland, certainly, our experience would make us look on so wise and liberal a measure with surprise; but in England, where they are not so enduring, where the people do not submit without a struggle, the Government have not only pledged the public credit, but have actually, in the space of twenty years, during the last half century, raised money to the extent of eleven millions, and lent it to traders, cotton manufacturers, and others, on perishable security, to help them over a crisis which, for intensity and duration, will bear no comparison with that through which Ireland is now passing.These are matters, Sir, which cannot be disputed—for I shall quote the Acts under which the money was raised before I sit down. Mr. Prittie then proposes—The commissioners shall have the power to issue stock, called 'Incumbrances Redemption Stock,' the interest, 3½ per cent, to be guaranteed by Government, to clear off the incumbrances on estates that do not owe to the amount of one-half their value. Any estate not paying its interest to be sold, and the proceeds applied to the extinction of stock. After Ave years, a sinking fund of 2 per cent to be established for the repayment of the principal. The stock to be general, secured on the entire of the properties, not on each particular estate.This, I think, would be a wise provision; and there could be no doubt of its final success. Mr. Prittie adds—This would render the stock as negotiable as consols. The security to the Government would be most ample—twice the value at least of the stock in land, with the power of selling by summary process if in arrear. The Government responsibility would be merely nominal, though of immense value in the eyes of capitalists.Yes, Sir, I repeat that the responsibility of the Government would be merely nominal. It would, in fact, be something less than nominal. When they have a security of double the amount of the money advanced, with the power of disposing of the estates immediately, if the interest be not paid, I do not see why there should be any hesitation on the part of the Government in giving 820 a guarantee; but I am as well convinced as Mr. Prittie himself, that Her Majesty's Government will do nothing of the kind. There are certain political dogmas in their faith which bear hard upon the material and social interests of Ireland, and they will now be adhered to; but I ask Her Majesty's Government this question—Why will you not treat our interests in the way you have treated your own? I hold in my hand a list of the Acts of Parliament passed during the last fifty years, under which in periods of crisis you have assisted your own interests. In 1793, you advanced 5,000,000l. to the merchants, traders, and bankers of Great Britain, on deposits or securities. By the 33rd George III., c. 52, the Irish Parliament advanced half a million "for the assistance of persons in trade, who had property more than sufficient to answer all demands on them, but who could not convert their property into money, and were not thereby capable of carrying on their business." In 1811, by the 51st George III., c. 94, 6,000,000l. of Exchequer-bills were advanced for the assistance of British merchants, bankers, and traders. By the 33rd clause, advances might be made on the security of real estates in Scotland, and by the 36th clause, the bankers of Scotland were permitted to borrow from this fund. In 1821, an advance of 500,000l. was authorised to the merchants, traders, and manufacturers in Ireland. In 1822, Lord Castlereagh stated that Government were prepared to issue 4,000,000l. of Exchequer-bills for the relief of agricultural distress in England. In 1823, the Government induced the Bank of England to advance 5,000,000l. at 4 per cent to the landed proprietors in England; the effect of which was an instantaneous cessation of pressure on them, and money which was not before to be had at any interest, offered in abundance at 3½ per cent, so that the advances made by the Bank were almost within the year repaid. Mr. Huskisson, who was originally opposed to the measure, declared there never was one that succeeded better, or conferred greater benefit upon the public. By the 6th George IV., c. 94, 5,000,000l. were advanced on bills of lading, for the relief of the shipping interest. In 1832, 1,000,000l. was raised by Exchequer-bills, to be advanced to the owners of estates in the West Indies, which had been injured by hurricanes, to enable them to resume the cultivation of their estates. It thus appears that very few advances have 821 been made during this period for struggling Irish interests. Why should not the Government give a guarantee in the present case? They have guaranteed it for other interests, and there are precedents for it in colonial guarantees—guarantees for loans to foreign Powers had been given to an enormous amount—indeed, I find Ireland is almost the only country for which the guarantee has been refused. By an Act of the legislature of New Brunswick, a minimum dividend of 6 per cent was guaranteed to the St. Andrew's and Quebec Railway Company. This Act was sanctioned by Her Majesty in Council, and it directs that, should there be a deficiency, it shall, for twenty-five years, be paid out of the revenue of the province. By the 10 & 11 "Vic. c. 130, authority is given to Her Majesty to guarantee 4 per cent on loans for the formation of railways in the West Indies and the Mauritius. The East India Company have guaranteed 5 per cent as a minimum dividend to the shareholders in the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. In New South Wales the Legislative Council have resolved unanimously that, in addition to a free grant of land, a State guarantee of 6 per cent shall be given to those who should construct lines of railway in that country, the guarantee to be for a number of years. These facts show the House to what extent the principle of a guarantee is gone. They show that the Government do not want precedents for such a course; whilst I have proved that, with respect to Irish estates, they will not want security. It is for the want neither of security nor precedent they refuse either advances or a guarantee. As I have said before, I do not anticipate that a guarantee will be given by Her Majesty's Government. I have some reason for knowing this to be the fact, because when a deputation from the Society of Friends had some communications with a Member of the Government upon the subject, informing him that the sum of 10,000,000l. could be obtained to promote the interests of Ireland, and develop her resources, at a low rate of interest, if the Government would guarantee the interest, they declined to do so. Under these circumstances, I have no hope of being able to induce Her Majesty's Government to alter their minds, nor do I see on their part any appearance of anxiety to carry out a resolution of that kind. Their debenture system appears designed for the benefit of landjobbers and speculators, and 822 not to serve either Irish landlords or Irish landholders. I shall, therefore, take the liberty of suggesting another means by which, I believe, the objects of the original Bill can be carried out effectually, without either advance or guarantee on the part of the Government. What I propose is, that Irish proprietors, no matter whether their estates were encumbered to the amount of half their value or not, or any mortgagee or judgment creditor, shall be enabled to apply to the Commissioners for a partition of the incumbered property. On the receipt of such application, the Commissioners, I propose, shall proceed to ascertain the interests of the different parties; and, instead of bringing the property to sale, as required by the Act of last Session, they shall make an equitable distribution of the land between the mortgagees or judgment creditors in proportion to their respective interests, giving to each a Parliamentary title for the portion allotted to him. If this is done, it will secure the object of the Bill with regard to the creation of an incumbered proprietary; whilst, at the same time, there can be no better means of breaking up large estates, and reducing them into something like practicable dimensions. I have had several communications from different parties on this subject, all of whom approve of it. His noble Friend Lord Monteagle had shown him letters from Sir R. Bourke, Sir David Roche, and others, calling, on the part of the mortgagees, for a measure of the kind. The advantages of it would be threefold. First, in the creation of a number of unincumbered proprietors, thus carrying into effect the leading principle of the Incumbered Estates Act of last Session; second, the division of large estates into properties of more manageable size; and, third, the partition being an equitable one between all parties, the interest of every creditor, no matter how low he may be on the schedule, will be protected, whilst the owner or landlord will be left his fair proportion, free from incumbrances. It is obvious that such a plan as this holds out a more advantageous and equitable mode of settlement to incumbered proprietors, and the mass of their creditors, than the present system. Under the present system the land is hurried to sale at a greatly depreciated value, and the amount realised is, in many cases, not more than sufficient to pay the first, and, perhaps, the second incumbrancer—whilst the property of the Other creditors, and the residue of the interest, 823 which, under ordinary circumstances, would remain to the landlord, are entirely confiscated. By this plan every creditor would receive his fair proportion of land; it would not he necessary for him to bring it into the market at a time when the market is glutted; and he can either dispose of it to the greatest advantage, or hold it for himself. The only objections I have heard against this plan are two. First, it is said, it would be unjust to compel any party to take land in the place of money, which, by his original contract with the proprietor, he is entitled to receive. But at the present crisis, when it is impossible for all parties to receive in money the precise amount they are entitled to claim, a lesser amount of injustice is inflicted by paying all parties in land than by paying a portion only in money, leaving nothing for the remainder. It should also be recollected, that every person to whom an allotment of land is made, and who gets with it a Parliamentary title, can choose his own time for disposing of it, should be not desire to keep it, and, consequently, that he will be certain to make a much more advantageous sale than, under present circumstances, can be made by the Encumbered Estates Commissioners. The other objection to this plan is, that it would be difficult to ascertain the value of the property without offering it for sale. But the court may easily adopt a better and more equitable test of value than the selling price of land under existing circumstances, than which I may fairly say, I know of no worse—the sales under the commission have realised only eight and nine years' purchase. Is it possible that any person who wishes to deal equitably and justly by the landed proprietors of Ireland, can talk of that being anything like an equitable value? Would it not be safer and better, with such a valuation as that of Mr. Griffiths, that the commissioners should take it for their general guidance? They would have it before them at least. They may base their calculation on the fact that there is no real change in the value of land since the time of the Ordnance valuation was made, although circumstances unexampled in the history of any country have contributed to create a temporarary depreciation at present; and, where the object is to make an equitable distribution between all parties, there is no just reason for the commissioners not being guided very much by that valuation in determining the equitable mode of distributing 824 estates. I have thus ventured to lay before the House this plan, by which it is possible, in two different ways, to effect the regeneration of Ireland, without any difficulty or injustice—how in fact it can be accomplished equitably towards the proprietors and their creditors, and how it is possible to make good use of the difficulties caused by the famine, and by the legislation of this House. If you will not allow us to avail ourselves of the credit of the united empire, of which we are supposed to form a portion, when other sections of it have frequently had recourse to it to enable them to realise their own means without any violation of justice—then, at least, deal equitably and justly with the proprietors of land in Ireland, as well as with their creditors. Under these circumstances, believing that the Bill is of the nature of those trifling and tinkering specimens of legislation which, in other matters, this House has tried, and believing, also, that so long as you give us paltry and peddling instalments of useful measures, there is no hope of justice being done to Ireland, I trust the House will agree to the Motion for rejecting the Bill.
§ MR. W. FAGAN
had not the advantage of hearing the statement of the noble Lord the Member for Kildare in introducing his Amendment. The debate had come on unexpectedly. In the early part of the evening he had understood that the Australian Colonies' Bill would have occupied the whole night; and besides it was the understanding that a day would have been especially appointed for the discussion of this most important measure. He was therefore absent when the noble Lord addressed the House. He was quite sure the noble Lord put forth the best case it was possible to make for his Amendment. But he (Mr. Fagan) was at a loss to understand how or on what grounds the Bill now before the House could be reasonably be objected to by Irish Members. He had listened with attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Roscommon, who seconded the Amendment, and he had failed to detect any good reason for this opposition. He considered, amongst the many excellent measures introduced by the hon. and learned Solicitor General for England, the present Bill was one of the very best. He did not speak his own sentiments alone. He had been lately in Ireland. He was there when the hon. and learned Solicitor General first propounded his measure; and he could assure the House that to all reasonable men who understood 825 the question, it gave the utmost satisfaction. It was an incontrovertible principle that all public good should be effected with the least possible amount of private injury. Now the Encumbered Estates Act of last year was a great public good. It tended to set free the land—to direct capital to the development of the resources of the soil—and to better the condition of the people. But that public good was accompanied by two acts of injustice to the encumbered proprietors. The first was, not limiting the amount of poor-rate—not enacting that there should be a maximum rate. The Government, it is true, were not to blame for that, they were anxious for such an enactment, but the House of Lords refused to pass it. Now that was clearly an injustice to the encumbered proprietors whose properties were by law forced into the market; because in the present condition of that country, with an unlimited rate as a liability attaching to land, no purchaser would be inclined to give an adequate value for property in Ireland. That was the first private injustice which accompanied the Encumbered Estates Bill of last year. The next was adopting a portion of the scheme of the right hon. Member for Tamworth, and rejecting the next. The scheme of the right hon. Baronet was, that Government should purchase at the sales under the commission all properties which were sold under a certain rate of purchase, so as to prevent the porperties from being sacrificed, and to resell them again in small parcels so as to reimburse the Exchequer. The Government, from financial considerations, he supposed, rejected that honest and bold proposition of the right hon. Baronet. Having so rejected it, the next best proposition was that of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for England, namely, to direct private property in aid of those encumbered properties, and thus by creating greater competition at the sales raising their value. What was the present condition of these properties now in the Encumbered Estates Courts, and of the encumbrancers? The law of the land forced them into the market for one encumbrancer, or the proprietor himself may bring any property to immediate sale. There is now, estimating it at its fair value, at least twenty millions of property for sale under the commission. There is, unfortunately, no disposition on the part of English capitalists to become proprietors of land in Ireland. He regretted to be obliged to admit that the 826 proceedings of the tenants in some parts of Ireland during the recess last year, together with the apprehension of poor-rates, tended to discourage them. Can any one imagine that, unaided by English capital in some form or other, this immense amount of property can be sold without ruinous sacrifice during the next two years—that is, during the continuance of the commission? How is this capital to be directed into that channel? Every one knows how abundant money is in this country—how anxious capitalists are for investment, and how great the apprehension is that it may result in speculations which, as before, would be ruinous to the country. The proposition of the hon. and learned Solicitor General would meet the difficulty. Capital in abundance would flow into the channel which he was preparing, and the encumbered proprietors and encumbrancers would be saved from utter ruin. For it is calculated that unless some such measure as this were carried, nearly five millions sterling of encumbrances would be altogether lost. Now, the only feasible argument put forward, though not fairly an argument against the principle of the Bill, was, that other landlords less encumbered, or not encumbered at all, would not be able to borrow one single shilling so long as any investment could be made in these Parliamentary debentures. That proposition is true. But, at the same time, the House should bear in mind that this measure is intended for the relief of proprietors whose properties are forced for sale by the law of the land on the market. If the operation of the Act be not limited to these proper-tics, an injustice will be done to the proprietors and encumbrancers; because the capital which would be concentrated on these properties and produce competition at the sales, would become diffused over a larger amount of property. It is calcuculated that there are there millions sterling annually paid as interest by the landlords of Ireland: to enable them to borrow money on debentures to pay off the encumbrances for which this interest is paid, would require sixty millions. Where would one half that sum be obtained? Therefore without effecting its object—the proposition of extending the measure to all landed property in Ireland would only prevent its beneficial operation in raising the value of property now for sale. He could not conceive how such an excellent measure could be opposed. He could understand land-lords who hoped to purchase back their 827 estates for a song to the ruin of their honest creditors, being against a proposition which would raise the biddings. He could imagine a landed proprietor who owed some six or seven hundred thousand pounds, and who expected, by the pressure of sales on the market, and the absence of capital, to buy back his property for 200,000l., and thus get rid of 400,000l of debt. To such a person, this Bill would be a disappointment. It would spoil his speculations. But by the proprietor who is anxious to pay his debts to the last farthing, this measure will be hailed as a boon, and it will be by many an encumbrancer who would be sacrificed did it not pass into law. He therefore called upon the hon. and learned Solicitor General to persevere with the Bill in its integrity. Though the debate had come on unexpectedly, he could not avoid, however, unprepared, saying thus much in support of what he considered a great boon to the public, and an act of common justice to hundreds of persons.
§ MR. BAILLIE
said, the hon. and learned Member for Newark, on a former occasion, expressed his surprise that this Bill had not been introduced to the House by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland; but he thought he had more reason to express surprise that a Bill of such great financial importance should not have been introduced by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer—whose duty it usually was to bring in measures of finance—rather than by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, who had carefully abstained from giving any opinion as to what would be the probable result of the Bill as a financial measure. Let the House consider what this Bill really was. It was a Bill to convert a certain portion of the land of Ireland into a circulating medium of exchange; or, in other words, to give to certain proprietors of land in Ireland the power of issuing Exchequer-bills on the security of their property. This might possibly be a very advantageous thing for certain proprietors of land in Ireland; but it must be admitted to be at least a novel experiment, and one involving a principle of great importance, and therefore it was a measure to which the House should not give its assent till it had received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a full explanation of what its financial operation was likely to be. He should be glad to know the amount of this exchangeable paper which the Chancellor 828 of the Exchequer calculated was likely to be issued. They had been told that there was land to the value of 20,000,000l. about to be forced into the market by the Incumbered Estates Act. If this amount of property was to be sold, they might naturally calculate that the purchasers, who would have the option of purchasing with paper or with gold, would do so with paper, and therefore 10,000,000l. worth of paper of the nature of Exchequer-bills would be forced into the market. Then, what would be the effect of the measure upon the value of Exchequer-bills? At present they were at a high premium. Would they continue to be so? But, supposing the scheme turned out to be advantageous for the proprietors of land in Ireland, was the Government prepared to say that the principle would not be extended to Scotland and to England also? He could assure the noble Lord that there would soon be great necessity for a Bill of this kind in Scotland; for what with the pressure of the times and the circumstances existing on the west coast of Scotland, and considering the relaxation of the law of entail in that country, he apprehended that a largo portion of land would be forced into the market in Scotland. An hon. Friend had said that that was the case now; and he (Mr. Baillie) believed his hon. Friend was perfectly right, for there was at this moment upwards of half a million of acres in the market, and more was soon about to follow. Was the noble Lord at the head of the Government prepared to deny to the proprietors in Scotland a similar boon to that which he was about to confer on the landed proprietors of Ireland? [Mr. PAGAN: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman cheered that question; he supposed that the hon. Gentleman was therefore of opinion that the boon ought to be granted. If that principle should be adopted, what, he asked, would be the amount of these Exchequer-bills that would be thus thrown into the market? The hon. Member for Birmingham would, if that were the case, begin soon to see his schemes and anticipations realised; for though they were not exactly adopting the mode advocated by that hon. Member, they were evidently coming round to his principles. He very much feared that this Bill was a tacit avowal on the part of the Government of the utter failure of the Incumbered Estates Bill. Indeed, if all they heard with respect to that Bill were true, it was not only working very great injustice, but was 829 in many cages doing what actually amounted to a confiscation of property. Some of the operations of the Bill had been already stated, but there were others to which no allusion had been made. He had heard of one proprietor of large estates in Ireland whose property was encumbered to the amount of 600,000l. He was said to have become the purchaser of the first mortgage on his estates, which amounted to 300,000?.; but such had been the depreciation in value of landed property in Ireland, that he had eventually become the purchaser of the whole of the estate at that price; and, having obtained a Parliamentary title, he had thus at once wiped off no less than 300,000l. of mortgage debt. Such had been the operation of the Incumbered Estates Bill; and now, he would ask, what would be the operation of this Bill? Why, it would enable that very proprietor to borrow 150,000l. to carry out his purchase; so that on paying 150,000l. this party would get back his estates encumbered to the amount only of 150,000l. If this would really be the effect of the Bill, he thought hasty legislation was leading them into acts very like a confiscation of property. What was to become of the unfortunate mortgagees? If they found that hasty legislation was confiscating their property, how could the House be surprised at hearing that a school of repudiators was rising up in the country; or that there should be those who suggested that the fundholder was not to be the only person who was to be exempt by that system, which, as it seemed, was to attack all interests in their turn, and to which every class in the community appeared likely in turn to be subjected?
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he had not been a little struck with an inconsistency running through a large portion of the arguments which had been urged against this measure. A considerable portion of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen who had addressed themselves to this Bill, had been directed to pointing out what they conceived to be its defects; and yet those hon. Gentlemen contended that the measure should have still wider powers, and should be extended to other portions of the united kingdom, besides Ireland. The noble Lord the Member for Kildare, and the hon. Member for Roscommon, had declared their intention to move the rejection of the Bill, unless the Government were prepared to give it still wider operation. Now, without following the hon. Member for Roscommon into all the various cases 830 to which he had referred, or stopping to reply to the remark that no advances had been made to the Irish people—the hon. Gentleman seeming to forget the debates which had taken place in, and the Bills which had passed, that House—he would only say that he did not think those cases would have been adduced, if attention had previously been directed to the provisions and objects of the Bill. One of the Gentlemen referred to by the hon. Members, supposed that persons borrowing money would be guaranteed 6 per cent by this Bill. Now, the Bill did not guarantee such percentage, but only legal interest, and in that case the security must be good. The hon. Gentleman had also read a letter in which it was attempted to be shown that this measure was merely a revival of the system of judgments debts which existed before, with the exception that the debtor himself could not be taken; the fact being that it was expressly provided that an estate could not be taken by a receiver—a power which had been felt to be the great curse of judgments in Ireland—but that it should be sold. The objections taken by the noble Lord the Member for Kildare to the measure might be ranked under three heads: first, that the Bill was calculated to encumber the property over again; secondly, that it did carry out into full effect the Act of the previous Session; and, thirdly, that it would operate as an injustice to other proprietors in Ireland. Now, there was an apparent plausibility in the first objection, which upon careful examination would be found to have no foundation. Any person wishing to purchase land in Ireland, might borrow under the Encumbered Estates Bill, and it was obvious that by giving a Parliamentary title, facilities and encouragement were given for such an operation. If persons were desirous so to act, they would produce an encumbrance analogous to all encumbrances—namely, an encumbrance under which the creditor might take possession of the land by means of a receiver, and the person of the debtor might be taken in execution, and all those painful consequences incident to Irish encumbrances might follow. But if this Bill passed, a person would probably prefer borrowing money in the mode it pointed out, which was infinitely preferable to the old mode. There were two distinct classes of encumbrances which presented themselves to the view. The difference between a person purchasing partly with money, the proceeds of his own profession and calling, and one borrowing in order to keep 831 up a nominal appearance in the country, was clear. In the one case the purchaser was declining in his position in the world, in the other it was likely that out of his savings, and by the exercise of frugality, he might be enabled to pay off the encumbrance, and ultimately become an unencumbered proprietor. Some observations had likewise been made with regard to the working of the Encumbered Estates Act of last Session, for which, upon examination, he did not think any ground could be shown. When it was said that property was sold at certain years' purchase, it was essential that the question of rental should not he overlooked. On a former occasion the hon. Members for Portarlington and Roscommon spoke of an estate being sold in the county of Mayo at a year and a half's purchase, and they contended that that estate had been clearly thrown away by reason of the operation of the Encumbered Estates Act. But he had received a communication from one of the commissioners under the Encumbered Estates Act, which put the matter in a very different light. The property to which the communication referred, was one of seven lots, forming one interest, held under the Marquess of Sligo, at a head rent of 200l. a year, which, by the terms of sale, was to be paid out of this lot. The lot consisted of 7,878 acres, and it was said to be at a rental of 600l., so that after paying 200l. head rent, it would appear to leave a profit of 400l. a year. It was sold for 600l., being one and a half year's purchase. It was situate in two of the worst unions in Ireland, Westport and Ballina, and formed a sort of rocky promontory that ran into the Atlantic. It had been subject to the receiver of the Court of Chancery since April, 1845; and according to his last account, there were I26 tenants, whose nominal rents amounted to 280l., instead of 600l., but they never paid anything; not even the amount of the head rent. When the lot was sold, the number of tenants was reduced to fifty-two, holding 234 acres, at 178l. rent, leaving the remaining 7,600 acres untenanted; on which 7,600 acres the owner placed a supposed value of 434l.; and in this manner the rental of 600l. was made up. In the Ordnance valuation this lot was valued at 228l. 4s. 10d. a year, which, after paying 200l. head rent, would only leave a profit of 28l. a year. He would ask hon. Gentlemen whether they would give more than 600l. for these 7,878 acres of land in the west of Ireland, of which the highest valuation was 228l. a year, of which 7,600 832 acres were untenanted, and subject to a head rent of 200l. a year? Yet it was that piece of land which it was contended had been sacrificed to a year and a half's purchase.
§ MR. J. STUART
What were the encumbrances upon it? It must have been encumbered for more than half its value.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
believed it was encumbered for more than its value; but it was sold free from encumbrances.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
suggested that the hon. and learned Gentleman should reserve his observations until the period when he himself addressed the House. The Incumbered Estates Act was intended to give facilities to the transfer of land, by giving a clear and indefeasible title, and as much as possible to give a fair value to the land. The hon. Member for Roscommon had contended that land to the amount of 20,000,000l. would come under the operation of the Incumbered Estates Commission, in the course of a single year; but he seemed to have forgotten that the commission had power to enlarge the time, and, if it appeared likely that an estate would be sacrificed by a precipitate sale, they would suspend such sale. The power of the commissioners to receive petitions extended to three years, and their other functions to five years. The sales which had hitherto taken place under the Act were much more advantageous than those which were made before the Act came into operation. With regard to the objection urged by the hon. Member for Inverness-shire, that this measure ought, as having a financial bearing, to have been introduced by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he confessed that he could see no validity in it, and he thought his right hon. Friend might just as well be required to express his views upon a private Bill of the North Western, or any other railway company, requiring to borrow three or four millions upon debenture, as upon the Bill now under discussion. Nor did he think that the illustration introduced by the noble Lord the Member for Kildare, with respect to the system pursued in France, or the passage he had read from Burke, was analogous to this case. The prophecy of Burke with regard to the situation of persons who purchased the Church lands had not been verified, as the purchasers were not in a distressed position, but were as well able to fulfil their functions as landlords 833 as any others. The system of assignats was also totally distinct from the present arrangement, as the holder of assignats had no right to sell the laud in case he could not get money as exchangeable value for what he held. Under the proposed system, on the contrary, there was the reasonable certainty that the property was worth the amount of debenture charged upon it. If, as the noble Lord who moved the Amendment contended, the measure would not tend to raise the value of land in Ireland, it would then simply be a measure which, if it produced no good, could entail no harm. If, however, the number of purchasers was increased, the land would rise in value; and if the Bill did not have that effect, it would be inoperative. As to the extent to which persons would be found to advance money for the purposes contemplated by the Act, it would be rash to attempt to determine. With regard to the objection that the Bill operated as an injustice to proprietors in Ireland, he presumed that it took this form: that, as the Encumbered Estates Act had engrossed all those persons who were desirous to purchase lands, so this Bill would engross all those who desired to lend, and thus an injustice would be inflicted upon those proprietors who had never incumbered their property, or who might be desirous to sell. Now, he really did not think that such would be the effect of the measure. For, in the first place, the operation of the Incumbered Estates Act was confined to cases of half value, and then only at the instance of the tenant; and, in the next, it would occasion a considerable influx of capital into Ireland. At present, there was a great overflow of English capital into all other parts of the world. Capital was traversing America, Belgium, and France, in search of investments, and yet it had hitherto not found its way into Ireland, although the opportunities afforded were unexceptionable. But he could see no reason why capital should not flow into that country, if once a fair and reasonable impetus were given. He did not think it necessary to go into the question raised by the hon. Member for Roscommon with regard to the Prussian Land Banks, or to consider the observation that objections to this measure would be waived if it were extended to every proprietor in Ireland. It had been objected that the Bill should be improved to the extent of enabling all persons desiring to borrow money to come to the Incumbered 834 Estates Commissioners, and under their sanction and investigation obtain a Parliamentary title to their land, and be enabled to raise money upon debentures. Now, he should be prepared to approve of any plan which, proceeding upon an intelligible principle, should be calculated to effect that object; but it would require a much larger machinery than was now in existence, and it was necessary to proceed by degrees. He denied that this Bill afforded undue advantages to those persons who had not conferrred a benefit on their country, and withheld them from those who had; and he did not think that the proprietors of incumbered estates ought to be treated less favourably than the more fortunate proprietors. By far the greater portion of them came into possession of their estates in an incumbered state, and so far from increasing their incumbrances, they did all they could to diminish them. They were a class who were likely to re-ward any favour that Parliament might show them in helping them to extricate themselves. The Bill, he thought, would be of great benefit to Ireland; although that it was not susceptible of improvement he was not prepared to say. He would be ready to receive any assistance in Committee in making the measure as perfect as possible; but, as far as he could judge from the communications received from Ireland, and the meetings that had been held there, it appeared to have met with peculiar favour, and to have been treated as the first step towards social amelioration and towards the regeneration of the landed interest.
§ MR. G. A. HAMILTON
was afraid that the vivid description given by the hon. and learned Solicitor General of the sale of an Irish estate under the Encumbered Estates Bill, was not calculated to induce English capitalists to invest their money in landed property in Ireland, as his description clearly showed the lamentable results that must necessarily flow from the system of forcing estates, under disadvantageous circumstances, into the market; and he (Mr. Hamilton) was informed that with reference to the very estate mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman, a considerable number of the puisne creditors would be completely ruined through the sale. But, he would ask, was it right to argue that any prudent or frugal man would avail himself of the powers given by this Bill to purchase an estate with borrowed money? If he did so, he was 835 likely very soon to fall into the same condition as the present proprietors, having property in their hands without being able to fulfil the duties attaching to its possession. Instead of inducing capitalists to purchase, he thought its effect would be rather to induce the present proprietors, who were so much condemned, to retain possession of the land they had now, and endeavour to acquire more if they could. The hon. and learned Solicitor General said now was a very favourable opportunity for the profitable investment of capital in Ireland. Then he (Mr. Hamilton) must ask, if that were so, why was it necessary to give the additional stimulus of this Bill to these investments? He objected to the Bill also, because it seemed to him reversing the policy of the Encumbered Estates Act of last year; and there was a general suspicion in Ireland that its object was not so much to change the condition of the present proprietors as to introduce a new set of persons. Now, it was unjust to act on any such principle, because the Irish landowners who had been guilty of misconduct were a very small section of the entire body; and the feeling of the people generally was adverse to any mere change of individuals without changing the condition of the proprietors. Various causes for many years had contributed to place every class in Ireland out of its proper position; but they ought to allow the social ranks to right themselves gradually by the natural means, instead of attempting to do so by any violent and artificial means. Again, this Bill, by creating a new security on landed property, would depreciate the value of loans on lands made in any other mode than under the Bill. He believed the motives of the Government were good in introducing the measure; but for the reasons he had assigned, he must oppose its further progress.
§ MR. SADLEIR
would like to ask the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, what was the condition of Ireland anterior to the passing of the Encumbered Estates Act? Nothing could be more unjust than to ascribe the alleged ruinously low sales effected in Ireland to the operation of that Act; because the great calamities that had previously befallen the country had, in point of fact, contributed to the general depreciation of landed property; and it ought to be recollected that every sale yet effected tinder that Act was only the carrying out of a decree pronounced by the Court of Chancery 836 in Ireland. The property sold within the last few months had been the subject of suits anterior to the famine of 1846; but the effect of attempting sales under the Court of Chancery had been to check all competition, because the prudent man who had recently purchased under the Encumbered Estates Act would never have been so infatuated as to buy land with a dubious title, a long and complex conveyance, and a list of conditions of sale frequently unintelligible to the keenest lawyer. The opponents of this Bill should also bear in mind that it did not render it compulsory on the purchaser under the Encumbered Estates Act to borrow to the extent of one-half the purchase money, or at all; it was merely a Bill enabling him to do so; and they had a precedent for this principle in the power given to railways to borrow on debentures to the extent of one-third of their capital. And with regard to the necessity for a great influx of English capital into Ireland, many of the encumbrances in Ireland were owing to persons who were not in want of money, and who would be willing to have their encumbrances turned into the convertible securities on land (which were always the investments most sought after by capitalists) to be created under this Bill. He was present, only on Saturday last, at a sale by the commissioners of an estate in the county of Galway. Nine of the resident gentry attended to compete for the property. The valuation of this estate (with the circumstances of which he was familiar), under Mr. Griffith's valuation, was 287l. per annum. It was sold for 6,200l., and he (Mr. Sadleir) considered that to be a very fair price. He did not believe that this Bill would encourage undue borrowing, but that, on the contrary, it would have the very opposite effect. He conceived the manifest result of the proposed Bill would be to put a direct and positive limit to the extent of borrowers. It was also worthy the attention of the Government that before the failure of the potato crop the earnings of the small tenant class in Ireland were frequently lost by the rash confidence which they placed in some of those unprincipled and insolvent proprietors, who succeeded in sucking out of them the hard savings of a long life, and substituted for the poor man's money a worthless 10 U or bond. It would be for the benefit of a large portion of the frugal tenant class and traders in Ireland to know that they would have provided by the House a 837 simple and solid security for their savings. He must resist the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Kildare, because he could not allow the present Bill to be endangered. He desired to see it improved in its details; and if there was any pressure on the Government to extend the Bill for the purpose of assisting the owners of estates not excessively encumbered, he would most cordially concur in the movement. He would be the last man to libel Irish titles; but though they were inherently good and sound, they were complex, voluminous, and obscure, and consequently were not marketable. He thought the Irish Members should be unanimous in urging upon the Government the introduction of a Bill, having for its object the creation of a second Commission, the object of which should be to give to the owners of land in Ireland an opportunity of purging from the titles of those lands the legal obscurities that had accumulated upon them, and to vouch the validity of the title to the commissioners, so as to enable them to give to a purchaser a Parliamentary title. He regarded this Bill as furnishing a precedent for the second measure; and he felt that the purchasers of land in the Encumbered Estates Court had already obtained an advantage over the possessor of land placed in ordinary circumstances. He begged to call the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General to some of the defects in the Encumbered Estates Act. For instance, the excluding from its operation the recovery of the arrears of rent charges and annuities was complained of; because the properties charged with those arrears were continued in the Court of Chancery, and almost the whole of the proceeds was swallowed up by the enormous expenses of that court. According to the present Bill, when an estate was to be sold, the Encumbered Estates Commissioners called for the tenant's leases, for maps and surveys, and proposals, and every particle of evidence connected with the property; and where a receiver was appointed, the result was, that he was stripped of all the materials for managing the property, a scene of indescribable confusion ensued, and the receiver could not discharge the duties incident to his office. A simple and short Bill would remedy the evils to which he adverted, and give great satisfaction to the country.
The O'GORMAN MAHON
begged to say that he had been recently in Ireland, 838 where he had opportunities of conversing with numbers of persons interested in this question, to which especial notice had been attracted by the opposition given to the introduction of the Bill by the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington; and he found, upon examination, that the concurrent testimony of the great majority of the parties interested in the passing of the measure was most unquestionably in favour of its immediate application to the condition of things in Ireland. He might also remind the House that not a single petition against the Bill had been presented from any portion of the landed interest in Ireland; and if the noble Lord the Member for Kildare was sustained by the Irish people in his opposition to this Bill, surely they would have displayed some symptoms of that opposition. A number of Irish gentlemen, and persons interested in the management of land, had lately met in Dublin (at the Dublin Society's annual show); and he had made it his study to enter into conversation with the different classes, and he did not find amongst them, when speaking of this measure, one dissentient voice. On the contrary, it was considered as a boon, and the sooner it was conferred on the country the deeper would be the obligation arising from it.
§ MR. H. A. HERBERT
bore his testimony to the pains which had been taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General with regard to Irish questions; but though he hitherto agreed with him, he could not support this measure of the hon. and learned Gentleman, unless he gave them a stronger assurance than he had given with reference to the opinion that the principle of this Bill should be extended to unincumbered estates as well as to encumbered estates. There was one circumstance which had not been touched upon, namely, the change which recent legislation had produced upon landed property in Ireland. They were told that they should meet that change by increased energy on their part, and by the introduction of a new system of farming, but, at the same time, the power of raising money for that purpose was taken from them. The hands of the proprietor were tied; they were shut out from the market, and prevented from borrowing money upon reasonable terms, without selling their land. Upon these grounds he should reluctantly support the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Kildare, unless some assurance were given by the Government 839 that they would adopt the principle of the Amendment.
The O'GORMAN MAHON
explained, that the observations he had made did not apply to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Carlow, but that he had merely spoken of the general approbation of the measure which he had remarked during his last visit to Ireland.
§ MAJOR BLACKALL
said, it appeared from the statements of the hon. and learned Solicitor General, that owners being encumbered, their creditors not bringing them within the operation, might come in by their own desire. Now, if there were proprietors in that state, it would be hard upon them, with a view to prevent them from encumbering their estates, to refuse to pass a Bill which would be of such immense importance to the greater number of the proprietors of Ireland. A great deal had been said about forcing individuals into the operation of the Encumbered Estates Bill; but it appeared from the cases cited by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, and which had been confirmed by the hon. Member for the Dublin University, that so far from parties having been forced into the Encumbered Estates Court, they had come under their jurisdiction of their own free will, and sold for their own benefit. If the land was brought into the Encumbered Estates Court, various advantages would arise in the purchase of land which could not be secured in any other way; and, in his opinion, the value of land would be raised instead of being depressed. For these reasons he should give his cordial support to this Bill. He agreed that greater advantages would be derived from the extension of the Bill to other parties, and he should be happy to give the hon. and learned Solicitor General any assistance in his power in the Committee.
§ MR. GROGAN
said, he did all he could to prevent the passing of the Encumbered Estates Bill of last year; but that measure having passed, in spite of his opposition, he felt compelled now to support the present Bill, with a view of preventing the former from being productive of the bad effects which he had anticipated from it. He had a choice of difficulties before him; because when he knew that the Encumbered Estates Commission would sell the estates which were entrusted to their care for whatever price they could get, if it was at all within reason, he was forced to decide between the alternative of opposing the present 840 Bill, and thereby leaving things as they were, or of supporting it, and thereby furnishing the means of inducing purchasers to give a larger sum for such estates than they would otherwise be induced to do. He would, however, strongly urge upon the noble Lord at the head of the Government to consider the propriety of readjusting the Bill, so as to extend its advantages to proprietors whose estates were partially encumbered, and who, as the Bill at present stood, would be placed in a worse position than they were in before.
§ MR. S. WORTLEY
said, that if this were a mere Irish question, it might be deemed presumptuous in him to offer any observations upon it; but as he apprehended it had a wider scope, and was of higher importance than an ordinary Irish question, he trusted the House would excuse him, especially as, although he had no personal connexion with Ireland, he had paid considerable attention to the working of the Incumbered Estates Act, if he ventured to express to the House the opinion he had deliberately and strongly formed respecting it. He confessed that he felt, as a Member of the House—and if he had been an Irishman he should have felt still more strongly—that they were all deeply indebted, he would say, to the Government, because they were entitled to the credit of it, but more especially to the hon. and learned Solicitor General, for having introduced the Incumbered Estates of last year. He (Mr. Wortley) had always considered that measure as one of very great importance, of very great difficulty, and as surrounded with very great doubts. He regarded it as applying an extraordinary remedy to an exceptional and overwhelming class of evils. His opinion was, that the measure had been successful to an extent which its authors had hardly contemplated. [A laugh.] That opinion might be ridiculed; but he repeated, that it had brought an amount of property within its scope and jurisdiction far exceeding what had been expected by those who introduced it. What had been the consequence? The consequence had been, that it had produced a state of things which required an additional extraordinary measure. A considerable portion of the land of Ireland was in the course of passing into the hands of small proprietors. It probably would surprise the House to learn the amount of landed property which had been brought into the market under the operation of the Incumbered Estates Act. It appeared from 841 a return which had been presented to the House of Lords, that up to February last the quantity of land brought under the control of the Commissioners was represented by an annual income of half a million, whilst its gross value was ten millions of money. It was impossible to bring so large an amount of property into the market without causing an exaggerated depreciation of its value, unless some counteracting remedy were applied. The question then arose whether this Bill was a remedy—not whether it was a perfect remedy, but whether it was a remedy to some extent—and whether it would be accompanied with such a violation of principle as to deprive it of all claim to the support of the House? He was aware of the difficulty of raising money in Ireland, for he was one of the directors of a society whose business it was to lend money on good landed security, and it was a recognised rule with them not to advance money on Irish land. The first time he attended a meeting of the board of directors, a proposal was made to effect a mortgage on some Irish property, which was rejected as a matter of course. Being struck by the decision, he ventured to intimate that landed property was usually deemed a good security. An astute judge, who was one of his colleagues at the board, said—None better; but this land happens to be in Ireland. If the interest of the mortgage should not be paid, we are at liberty to take possession of the land; but then we must proceed by ejectment, and we shall have to deal with an Irish debtor and an Irish jury, which is an ordeal we should not quite like to go through.The Bill now before the House would facilitate the purchase of small portions of land. The manner in which the measure would work was this:—If a person should purchase a property worth 1,5,000l., he would be required to pay 10,000l. into the Bank of Ireland, and the remaining 5,000l. would be left chargeable on the property on reasonable terms. At present an Irish estate, worth nominally 500,000l., might be so incumbered with debts as not to enable the proprietor to discharge the duties attached to his position; but pass this Bill, and they enabled the Commissioners to divide such an estate amongst several persons, who would have ample means for improving the property. It was urged that the measure would afford facilities for proprietors whose estates were not incumbered to avail themselves of the machinery of the Commission, whilst, on the other hand, 842 it would cause estates which were incumbered to be sold at a depreciated value; but he did not attach much importance to those objections, for it must be borne in mind that the Bill would facilitate competition. Believing that the Bill would materially assist the operation of the Incumbered Estates Act, and that it would be beneficial to Ireland, he felt bound to give it his hearty support.
§ COLONEL DUNNE
could not agree in the compliment paid to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General, because all his Irish Acts had, in his (Colonel Dunne's) opinion, failed. He thought the course of legislation pursued towards Ire-laud of late years was exceedingly defective. The Labour Rate Act, the Poor Law Act, and the Encumbered Estates Act, had all failed. It appeared to him that the Government had entered into a contract with somebody to make bad laws for the sister country', and that that somebody was fulfilling his part of the bargain to admiration. The Bill of last year had caused the perpetration of the greatest injustice, inasmuch as most of the estates had been sold far under their value. He had no doubt that the present measure would not raise the price of land, that it would overglut the market, and cause parties to purchase who would never afterwards he able to repay the purchase-money. This measure would not raise the price of property, or benefit Ireland in any way. He had seen it stated in a journal of that evening that some properties had been put up for sale which had brought five years' purchase in some instances, and only three years in others. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General did not seem to know much as to the effect of these measures; but an Irish Judge, of the Whig party too, had stated that they would sweep away the property of the country.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 186; Noes 41: Majority 145.
|List of the NOES.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Disraeli, B.|
|Baldock, E. H.||Dodd, G.|
|Bennet, P.||Dunne, Col.|
|Beresford, W.||Edwards, H.|
|Bernard, Viscount||Farnham, E. B.|
|Best, J.||Farrer, J.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Ferguson, Sir R. A.|
|Booth, Sir R. G.||Filmer, Sir E.|
|Christy, S.||French, F.|
|Cole, hon. H. A.||Gore, W. R. O.|
|Coles, H. B.||Gwyn, H.|
|Conolly, T.||Halsey, T. P.|
|Hamilton, G. A.||Stanley, hon. E. H.|
|Hodgson, W. N.||Stuart, J.|
|Hornby, J.||Sturt, H. G.|
|Hudson, G.||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Jones, Capt.||Verner, Sir W.|
|Mackenzie, W. F.||Villiers, hon. F. W. C.|
|Maxwell, hon. J. P.||Walsh, Sir J. B.|
|Meux, Sir H.||TELLERS.|
|Newport, Visct||Naas, Lord|
|Stanley, E.||Herbert, H. A.|
§ Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.