§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. G. A. HAMILTON
said, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, he felt it necessary to make a few observations. He was aware that, at the present period of the Session, when so many Members had left town, the Bill was at the mercy of the Government; and he feared, from the intimation just given him by the hon. and learned Attorney General, he had little consideration to expect from them. The principle of the Bill was to place some restriction, to put a drag, upon the operations of the Act of last year. Whatever might be the opinions held with regard to that Act, every one, he thought, would admit that nothing but strong considera- 911 tions of policy could justify it, and that its operation should be limited strictly to those cases which rendered it justifiable. And he further thought that no one could deny that, both in its operation and as regarded the nature of the property brought into market, it had gone further than even its framers contemplated. With regard to the extent of its operations, it appeared, from a statement recently made by a most respectable deputation of solicitors from Ireland, that, up to the 3rd June last, estates were brought into the court for sale, exhibiting a rental of no less than 625,000l., and subject to incumbrances to the extent of 10,100,000l. Since that period many other estates had been brought into court; and there was no doubt that, in October next, there would be property for sale under the Commissioners which it would require from 6,000,000l. to 8,000,000 to purchase. The obvious effect of such a mass of property being brought into the market, would be a great depreciation in its value, and ruinous in its consequences not only to the owners, but to many of the puisne creditors. With regard to the nature of the property brought under the Act, the object and policy on which the Act was justified, was the improvement of the social condition of Ireland, especially with reference to her agricultural population. But, on taking up the list of properties, he found that a great deal of house property in Dublin, Limerick, and elsewhere, were brought under the Commissioners. He could not conceive on what grounds house property in cities should be allowed the advantage of a Parliamentary title, and the owners and puisne creditors injured, and the mass of property in market thereby increased, inasmuch as property of that kind had no bearing upon the social improvement of the population. The provisions of the Bill were only three: the first clause went to repeal the provisions of the Act by which an estate, no matter how small the incumbrance, if under a receiver, might be sold under the Act. The House was aware that in all other cases a property could not be sold unless incumbered beyond half its value. This would be some restriction. The second provision was, that no estate could be sold without the consent of the proprietor, unless it should bring at least fifteen years' purchase. He would confess he had doubts as to this provision. He would prefer that of which his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portarlington had given notice 912 —that no estate should be sold without the consent of the owner, unless more than one year's arrear of incumbrances was due; and the third provision was, to enable the Commissioners to grant a protection against arrest to the owners of property while engaged in attending to the sale of their estates. In support of these provisions, he had received many communications. He would trouble the House with one out of many instances applicable to each. He held in his hand a statement of a case to the following effect: An estate worth 800l. a year; the rents paid regularly up to 1846; the only charge an annuity of 300l. a year for the life of an old person; the annuity paid regularly to 1846. Consequent upon the failure of the potato crop in that year, the rents failed. A receiver was appointed at the suit of the annuitant. The receiver was unable to collect the rents. Three years' annuity became due. The annuitant brought the estate into court, and it is now for sale under those circumstances. With regard to the justice of affording protection from arrest, he would adduce the following case: Some time since the solicitor of the petitioner, a creditor, applied to the proprietor of an estate with the full approbation of the Commissioners, for his assistance in dividing his property, and in making out a proper rental—the agent having absconded after embezzling a large sum, and keeping all former rentals, counterparts of leases, accounts, and all documents of importance—here was a case in which the attendance of the owner was actually indispensable both to the Commissioners and for the interest of the creditors. After much exertion, some of the creditors were induced to promise for a short term not to put the proprietor to prison; but others refused to give any promise, and some small creditors would not give him an hour; he was twice arrested, and lodged in gaol for small sums, at the very time he was doing his utmost to put the property into good order for sale; and though thus occupied, he at this moment is not sure of his liberty for one hour, and if arrested cannot now pay even the smallest sum. He (Mr. Hamilton) would not trouble the House further; he thought he had said enough to show that a case existed, in policy and in justice, for the second reading of the Bill.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
objected both to the principle and details of the Bill, and begged to move that it be read a 913 second time that day three months. It was founded upon a total misapprehension of the whole object and scope of the Incumbered Estates Act of last Session. When a gentleman mortgaged his property, he did it by entering into a contract, by which, if the money was not paid at the time and under the circumstances agreed upon, the mortgagee had the power to require the land to be sold for the purpose of making good the payment of the debt. A state of things, however, having arisen in Ireland to make it impossible to enforce this contract by the ordinary process of the law, the object of the Incumbered Estates Act of last Session was to introduce a new tribunal to give it effect, and to enable that to be done in reality which the ordinary law only did nominally. The present Bill seemed not only to proceed upon a different and opposite principle, but upon a total mistake as to the facts; and, moreover, it attempted to carry its object into effect in a ruinous manner, even if the principle were correct. It proceeded upon the assumption that sales took place at an under value, and it proposed to enact that no sales should be allowed to take place at less than a particular value. Now, he ventured to say, after the most careful examination of every particular case that had been mentioned, that no sale had as yet taken place at an undervalue. The rentals of many of the estates were fixed at considerably larger sums than the actual rental amounted to, and when an estate was sold under the Act, the number of years' purchase at which the property was sold was calculated upon this high, and not upon the actual, rental. A case had recently occurred in which an estate in Galway had been sold for 4.000l., the rental of which was stated to be 400l per annum, or only ten years' purchase, while the average rental of the estate for a number of years had not exceeded 150l., making the purchase money equal to upwards of forty years' actual rental of the estate. Another proof of the high prices at which estates were sold under the Act, was to be found in the fact, that many English and Scotch capitalists had refused to purchase property at the sales under the Commissioners, in consequence of the high prices which they realised. It had been repeatedly stated, that one estate had been sold at one and a half year's purchase. On a former occasion he stated the circumstances connected with that sale, and intimated his conviction that it was a dear 914 purchase. The circumstances which had since occurred had verified that opinion; for, upon the condition of paying the expenses connected with the sale, the purchaser had been allowed to get rid of it, and the estate had since been sold at a little less than two-thirds of the sum which he gave for it. When you talked of so many years' purchase, it was quite impossible, on the face of it, to know what was meant, whether the nominal rental, or the actual value. A most prejudicial state of things had grown up in Ireland in this respect, which the present Bill was eminently calculated to continue. No sooner had land presented itself for lease, than a host of tenants offered themselves, each outbidding the other, and all promising to give not only infinitely more than the land was worth, but infinitely more than they could ever pay; the result of which system had been the extension and perpetuation of pauperism for the tenant class, and for other classes an altogether erroneous notion of the value of property in Ireland. In its immediate results this system had, nr doubt, been advantageous to the landlords, for it had enabled them to borrow double the money upon land thus let at double its value; but the double value was never realised, for the simple reason that it was utterly impossible for the tenant to pay it, and landlord and tenant had thus hanging over them liabilities which neither could at all meet out of the land purporting to be the security. The system had been for the tenant to promise to give for the land anything that was asked, more than was asked, and then, himself and his family living upon the smallest quantity of the produce that sufficed for their sustenance, to pay all the rest over to the landlord, meeting, so far as this would go, the rent. The large nominal rentals placed against the announcements of sales under the Act, were a positive evil as regarded these sales. He was prepared, upon the best information, to state that estates of the value of, say, 1,000l. per annum, and which were let for 1,000l a year, produced as much as estates of the same real value, but which let for 2,000l. per annum. Where, then, estates in Ireland wore said to be sold for twenty years' purchase upon the rental set under the old system, the exceeding probability was, that the actual result of the sale had been forty years' purchase. There was one fact which he considered as a marked tribute to the value of the Act of last year, as now better under- 915 stood; that whereas at first the applications for sales proceeded principally from incumbrancers, almost all the more recent applications had emanated from the owners. He deeply regretted that so one-sided a measure as this should have been sent down to them from the House of Lords; and he still more regretted that, its whole object being the advantage of the Irish landlords, at the expense of their creditors and tenants, its author should have been an Irish landlord. He regarded the Bill as a Bill to repeal the Incumbered Estates Act. Pass the measure, and there would be no Parliamentary title for any estate sold under that Act, and there would be no purchaser for any such estate. The effect of the Bill would he to encourage the Irish landlords in their old system of letting their lands at impracticably extravagant rents, pauperising the tenants, and perpetuating a fictitious value of laud in Ireland; to enable them to avoid the contracts they had made for their own debts; and to give them more stringent means than ever for enforcing from the tenant the payment of his preposterous rent. Hon. Gentlemen talked of the enormous number of the sales that had taken place under the Act. When he considered the extent of Ireland, her population, and the circumstances of the country, he did not regard the number of sales as in any degree surprising; and, moreover, he did not consider that the prices realised were, upon the whole, under the real value, though even had they, so far, and under the circumstances, been somewhat under the mark, he should have urged the House to let things take their course, satisfied that this course would in no great time prove most beneficial to the country. As to the quantity of land sold, if all the land sold every year in England was sold by one set of persons, and the result placed in one document before the public, that result would represent a very large extent of sales indeed, and be made quite as much matter of surprise as the extent of land sales in Ireland. The protection clause in this Bill was peculiarly obnoxious: it amounted to this—that because a person had applied to the Commissioners to have his land in Ireland sold, he might have protection from his creditors, though all the while he might have 100,000l. in the funds, or any amount of property elsewhere, and live luxuriously, in utter defiance of his creditors. There was already an Insolvent Debtors' Court in Ireland, to which, persons there who de 916 sired honestly to make their property available for their debts might apply, receiving the protection of the court meanwhile in their ordinary course.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ MR. F. FRENCH
said, he had heard with extreme surprise the speech just delivered by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that that measure had been framed solely with a view to promote the interests of the landlords in Ireland; but he (Mr. French) felt persuaded that a more incorrect statement than that had never been made. He could not help believing that not the owners but the puisne creditors of the property submitted for sale in the Incumbered Estates Commissioners' Court had reason to complain that the sales had been pressed forward with a haste which had tended very much to diminish the amount realised by that property. The hon. and learned Gentleman was aware that in the property at present before the court, the owners could not be said to have any interest. The rental of the property advertised for sale was 625,000l. a year, the incumbrances on which were 10,900,000l. The price which that property might bring was to the owner of no moment, but was to the puisne creditors of vital importance, in many cases whether they were to be deprived of the hard earnings of their life; and for endeavouring to protect this class Irish Peers and Members of this House were to be vituperatively assailed by the first law officer of the Crown in statements totally destitute of foundation. The hon. and learned Attorney General had stated that the land hitherto sold in the Incumbered Estates Court had been sold at its fair value. But the hon. and learned Gentleman possessed no personal knowledge upon that subject, and could only speak from the information he had received from the Commissioners, who were naturally desirous of giving the most favourable colouring to the transactions over which they presided. In order to prove that the property sold in that court had not brought anything like its real value, he had only to appeal to the fact that it had been disposed of at an amount far below what might fairly have been expected under the 917 very moderate poor-law valuation. There had been repeated instances of estates having been sold in that court at less than one-half the amount of the sums which had been refused for them a few years previously. He believed that the Bill at present before the House would tend materially to counteract the evils of the system under which property was at present sacrificed in Ireland. The Incumbered Estates Commission was to last three years. The Commissioners had now nine-tenths of their whole business before them. All the estates that were in Chancery were immediately put under the commission by the solicitors in charge of them; and those not in Chancery, but within the operation of the Bill, were brought before the commission by the solicitors of the creditors, each struggling for the carriage of the sale for himself. It might, therefore, be asserted without fear of contradiction, that the greater part and the most important part of the business of the commission was now before it. The preliminary inquiries, surveys, valuations, &c., were all proceeding cotemporaneously, and in two months more estates of the gross value of over 1,000,000l. per annum will be ready for sale. It, therefore, became a matter of the most vital importance that the public and the profession should know what course the Commissioners intended to pursue in disposing of this vast mass of property. They seemed to consider, recently, that the course of preparation for a due and proper sale was too tardy for their views, and they intimated to several solicitors who were determined that no undue advantage should be given to speculators by having estates put up before ample inquiry and complete particulars of sale were prepared, that they, the Commissioners, wherever they conceived that proceedings were not carried on with sufficient celerity, would hand over the carriage of the sale to a solicitor appointed by the court. This determination was publicly expressed, and the fortunate gentleman who was to be selected, was publicly named. This gentleman was a near connexion of one of the Commissioners. Since the attention of Parliament had been called to the proceedings of the Commission, this plan, if not abandoned, had, at least, not been acted on. The Commissioners were, he understood, about to continue their sittings during the months of August and September—a period when merchants, bankers, and all professional men, retire from business and go into the 918 country. The Commissioners should now regulate and control the vast mass of business they had before them, and settle at what periods and in what quantities they would bring the estates into the market. If their expressed intention of transferring any sales, which they considered too tardily conducted, meant anything, it amounted to this, that as soon as the preliminaries were settled, they would sell all the estates as speedily as possible. When the Legislature assigned three years for the duration of the commission, it never intended they should exercise all their powers in the first year of their existence: should they persist in so ruinous a course, it would amount to confiscation. Should they persist in their intention of sitting during the vacation, it would operate most injuriously upon the sales; for instance, what professional man, banker or merchant, would be found in London during the months of August and September, to whom the particulars of sale of any estate could be submitted? If they persevered in this course, whoever else might purchase, English capitalists would certainly not abandon the only season of recreation which they enjoyed, and which from long habit had become second nature, to attend the sittings of the Commissioners in Dublin. The only mode by which the Commissioners could be controlled in the exercise of the unlimited discretion which had been so unwisely given to them, was by a strong expression of opinion in Parliament, and bringing before the English Members such matters as no fair man could dissent from. He was happy to say the notice of prices which had been taken in that House, had already some trifling effect on the Commissioners, who had postponed some sales for want of anything like a reasonable offer. Precipitate as they were in selling land, they were altogether slow in distributing the money realised from these sales, although they must know that upon the speedy distribution of that money naturally depended the improvement of subsequent sales. Of the 525,000l. received by them, not more than 70,000l. had been distributed. They had, it was true, on account of the notice taken in Parliament, undertaken to distribute 525,000l. before their vacation, which would, probably, be of material service in the sales advertised to take place in October and November. Of this 525,000l.,one-half had been received for purchases in the city of Dublin, and the counties; of Meath and Westmeath— 919 districts, the social condition of which did not require a measure of the kind. In Clare, land to the value of 7,000l. only had changed hands; and in the entire province of Connaught the whole sum realised was about 70,000l. The Bill was essentially a remedial measure; and though he could not defend an attempt to effect an economical impossibility, by fixing a minimum price of land, still he thought it advisable to correct a literal error in the original Act, by which a forced sale of lands might be urged on, if the smallest part of them was subject to a judgment, and but reasonable to protect an owner of such land from arrest pending proceedings.
§ MR. SCULLY
would support the hon. and learned Attorney General in his opposition to this Bill, and he only regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not as earnestly and vigorously opposed Bills of a similar nature on former occasions. An attack had been made upon the Incumbered Estates Commissioners, on the ground that they forced the sales of land, but the fact was, that the owners themselves were the parties who sought to effect sales. The objection of the hon. Member for Roscommon as to the non-distribution of the proceeds of the sales, was answered by a statement which had been issued by the Commissioners, to the effect that an amount of from 360,000l. to 370.000l. would be distributed in the course of a month or two. It must be remembered by those who complained of the price at which estates were sold, that the value of the property might be affected by many circumstances, as the amount of rates, the number of tenants, the distance from market towns, and the nature of the roads His own opinion was, that many of the purchases would be found rather dear by the buyers. Ireland had suffered much from the system of absenteeism; but it was only just to say, that many Irish landlords resided upon their estates, spending their money in affording employment to their tenantry, and discharging their duties as magistrates and poor-law guardians most efficiently. He did not think, however, that this Bill would afford any relief to such parties. He considered that other measures ought to be adopted for that purpose, and no doubt they would be adopted were it not for the resistance of noble Lords in another place, who supposed themselves to be the true friends of the landlords, while they opposed measures 920 best calculated to afford them relief. He alluded especially to the Bill proposed by the Government for improving the Irish poor-law, which contained clauses that he believed would have been attended with great advantage to the resident gentry of Ireland. He did not think this Bill would be of any practical benefit to those classes, but it would prevent sales of property which he considered absolutely essential to the welfare of the country. He regretted the Government had abandoned the Securities for Advances Bill, for he believed if that Bill had been adopted this Session, leaving it to be amended if necessary next year, they would not hear the complaints made by hon. Gentlemen opposite that land in Ireland was sold below its value.
§ MR. STAFFORD
expressed his regret that the hon. and learned Attorney General had thought fit to censure the House of Lords for the course they had taken with regard to this subject. Such a censure was an unfortunate exception to the rule usually observed in that House, and it was, in his opinion, especially ill-timed when the Members of the other House seemed not disinclined to waive their own opinions on certain questions. After carefully considering the position of Irish landlords, and reviewing the whole question of incumbered estates, he had come to the conclusion that the best course would be to let the Incumbered Estates Act work as it now stood, and not by passing this Bill to increase the difficulties of carrying out that measure and diminish the small chance of success. He thought the provision contained in the 4th clause of this Bill relative to the fifteen years' purchase might he applied in a manner which the framers and promoters of the Bill had not contemplated; for, if they attempted to fix a minimum rate for the purchase of land, they might set a precedent for fixing the rent of land. He agreed in the observations of the hon. Member for Tipperary, with regard to the Securities for Advances Bill. He regretted that that Bill had not been passed; and he did not think the opposition with which the measure had been threatened was such as to justify the Government in abandoning it, backed as they were by so many promises of support, without reference to party distinctions, from both sides of the House. He understood, however, that it was the intention of the Government to bring that Bill forward again at the earliest possible period next Session, and to pass it through both Houses. He considered that there 921 were in the present Bill some very dangerous provisions, and he would therefore record his vote against it.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
explained that he had not meant to make any charge against the House of Lords when he expressed his regret that this Bill had emanated from that House. He might observe, also, that he had always entertained and expressed a high opinion of the exemplary conduct of Irish landlords generally under the difficult circumstances in which they had been placed.
§ COLONEL DUNNE
said, he had not been surprised at the attack which had been made by the hon. and learned Attorney General, though in no coarse or vituperative language, upon the landlords of Ireland; nor was he surprised at the opinion expressed by that hon. and learned Gentleman with reference to this Bill. He (Colonel Dunne) considered it most unjust to force the land of Ireland into the market at this moment, when the country was still suffering from the effects of a famine, and when an immense tax was imposed upon the landed proprietor for the support of the poor. He looked upon the Incumbered Estates Act as a measure of confiscation; and he thought its operation should be as much as possible restricted. With that view he supported this Bill. He had a Statement, from which it appeared that some estates had been sold at three, some at four, and others at five and at six and a half years' purchase. Was it right to sell these estates in such a time of depression? And then with regard to the poor-rate. He did not object to the support of the poor, but he did object to their support being thrown all upon one class, the mortgagee and the annuitant escaping. But this was not merely a landlord question, it was a creditors' question. He knew of an estate which produced 3,500l. a year—62,000l. had been advanced upon it, and it was sold for 45,000l., the creditors losing 17,000l. and the proprietor getting nothing. He had had communications with gentlemen who informed him that the property now in the hands of the Incumbered Estates Commissioners would hardly sell for the amount of the incumbrances upon it. He considered it preferable to fix the power of sale at a certain number of years' purchase, say fifteen, instead of leaving the value of an estate to be estimated at the caprice of any three Commissioners. He thought it had been admitted by the hon. and learned Attorney General that 922 the Incumbered Estates Act had been an utter failure. The promises held out, that under that measure English capital would be invested in Ireland, had not been realised; outrages had not diminished; and the hon. and learned Gentleman had introduced a Bill to enable new proprietors to incumber their estates. He would give his vote for the second reading of this Bill.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he was not surprised at the rebuke which had been offered by the hon. Member for Roscommon and the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington to the hon. and learned Attorney General for what they termed his attack upon the House of Lords. But with regard to the question before the House, it appeared to him that it would be impossible to state the facts of the case without expressing a strong opinion on the other branch of the Legislature, and especially with regard to the Bills which had passed with such unusual rapidity through the other House of Parliament. He was certain that if the House of Commons at an earlier period of the Session had had laid before it the various Bills which had come down to them recently touching the affairs of Ireland, there would have been an almost unanimous condemnation, at least on the part of those Members who represented Great Britain, of those measures. There were four Bills which had come down from the House of Lords recently, of which this was one. The whole of these Bills had one tendency. They were introduced by the same parties and with the same motives, and those were to get all that could be got by any means for the landlords, and to pay nothing on the part of the landlords that could possibly be avoided. Now, he would take the Bills in order; and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin, who was taking a note, would, if he could, explain upon any other principle than that, the character of the Bills which he was submitting to the House. They attacked the hon. and learned Attorney General because he had been stating what he believed to be facts with regard to the House of Lords legislating in a totally different spirit when the landlord had to receive, and when the landlord had to pay. He was about to show that the hon. and learned Attorney General was more than justified in what he said. There were four of these Bills, one of them was called the Distress for Rent Bill, another had the title of the Landlord 923 and Tenant Bill; the third was the Small Tenements Recovery Bill; and the fourth was the Incumbered Estates Bill. Now he wanted to show that these four Bills were in reality all one in their object and tendency, and that therefore the observations of the hon. and learned Attorney General were more than justified. The Distress for Rent Bill was to enable the landlords to seize growing crops; and they hypocritically stated in it that they wished to remove the discrepancy that existed in the legislation between England and Ireland. He should be very glad if they would assimilate the laws of the two countries; but it was only when there was a bad principle in the law of England that they wished to remove the discrepancy. The Landlord and Tenant Bill they had discussed till half-past one that morning, and he would not enter into it further than to say that it was a law to increase the stringency of the law of distress, and to make an offence punishable with twelve months' imprisonment and hard labour in Ireland, which was not a crime in England. The Small Tenements Bill was a Bill for the more easily ousting the occupants of small tenements, as if the quarter-of-an-acre clause had not already produced sufficient devastation in Ireland. The object of all the Bills was to get rid of the occupier, or to get from the occupier as much as was possible for the landlord. He now came to the Incumbered Estates Bill which passed last Session. He need not say now whether that Bill had worked well or ill; but that Bill enabled the Commissioners to sell property for what property would fetch in the market, that was, the property brought into court in compliance with the restrictions and requisitions of the Act. Now the hon. Member for Roscommon contended that that Bill was a very unfair Bill, that there were clauses in it which were a mistake, and that this Bill declared that certain words in that Bill did not declare the meaning of the Bill. And he wanted to enact now that the Commissioners should not be empowered to sell an estate, on the ground that it had been placed under the hands of a receiver. The hon. Gentleman also wanted to leave out the words which rendered the adjudication of the Commissioners final with regard to the sale of the estate. Now, the hon. Gentleman must know that if there was any class of property to which more than any other it was intended the Incumbered Estates Bill should apply, it was a pro- 924 perty that was under the hands of a receiver. Even his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portarlington admitted that property in the hands of receivers was very badly managed. The Act declared that the fact of property being under the hands of a receiver should be a valid ground for bringing it under the commission, and Parliament decided that the decisions of the commission should be final. If it were not so the commission would be worth nothing; but, the decision being final, the Commissioners were enabled to give a title to the property and to free it from the complications which had arisen from neglect and other causes. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, the property should not be sold under fifteen years' purchase, unless the owner gave his consent. Now he should like to know what was to become of bankrupts' estates in this country or in any other country, if they could not be sold unless the bankrupt gave his consent, or unless they could not be sold at a higher price than the value of the property. They wanted to go back to the valuation of 1832—a valuation notoriously high as compared with the value of property in Ireland at the present time. What they wanted was, more law to get rent, and more law to prevent the applying of their rents in payment of their debts. The hon. and gallant Member for Portarlingtion called that confiscation. He hoped the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not represent the landlords of Ireland. If he did, he (Mr. Bright) should know by-and-by that what was meant by confiscation, was a man being obliged to pay his debts. They took the goods and chattels of a tenant, they did not divide them amongst his creditors, but the landlord, with a grasp apparently insatiable, took the whole, and then when he was asked to pay his own debts, when he had stipulated in his mortgage that unless the interest and principal were paid by a certain day, the estate was to be handed over to the mortgagee, he wanted an Act of Parliament passed to prevent his creditor having that for which he had stipulated. The hon. and gallant Gentleman pretended now that he is doing it from a love of justice to the puisne creditor. He wished to know what the puisne creditor got now? Nothing at all. It was because these estates had been embarrassed for a considerable length of time and beyond redemption, that it was necessary to come to this summary legislation. Some hon. Member, he thought the Member for Roscommon, 925 had spoken ill of the character of the Incumbered Estates Commissioners. He thought that exceedingly unfair of the hon. Gentleman, He must say that the conduct of the three Commissioners had been consistent with the Act of Parliament, and that they had carried out the Act in the least offensive manner to those who came under its provisions. The hon. Gentleman had also attacked the hon. and learned Attorney General for attacking the House of Lords. He (Mr. Bright) had spoken of these Bills as being of a special character; but what did the House of Lords do with the Crime and Outrage Bill? They passed it without any inquiry. It was a Bill which Mr. Speaker had declared they had no right to pass at all. They could not originate it; they had no power. But because it was a Bill of aggression—because it was a Bill for obstructing the liberties of the people of Ireland, it passed almost without observation. But when they (the House of Commons) sent up a Bill to give increased franchises to the people of Ireland, what did the House of Lords do? They actually cut off one half of the proposed constituency, and when they made a concession in this House, and agreed to a 121. instead of a 151. franchise, the House of Lords made a great effort—he meant the party in harmony with hon. Gentlemen opposite—to prevent the 12l. being agreed to. In point of fact that Bill had now passed the House of Lords with a diminution of 94,000 in the constituency compared with what it would have been had it passed as it left the Commons. Having made these statements, he now asked whether the simple narrative of facts was not sufficient to damage the House of Lords? He said that the legislation of the House of Lords was most unjust to the people of Ireland, and it was marked with such an animus of insult towards Ireland as ought to make Government resist this legislation, and to make the House of Commons refuse to be parties to it. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundalk had referred to the animus which for years had actuated the majority of that House, and which actuated the minority of this House. It was a spirit that begat animosity between England and Ireland. He was gratified with the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, whose efforts from the time that he had had office, had been directed to improve the condition of Ireland by improving the Irish law. He believed there was no one connected with 926 Government to whom within the last four years Ireland was so much indebted as to the hon. and learned Attorney General.
§ MR. SOTHERON
trusted the discussion would not be so much prolonged as to prevent his proceeding with the Friendly Societies Bill.
§ MR. NAPIER
would not detain the House many minutes. The question was, whether the principle of the Bill was so vicious that it ought to be rejected on the second reading. Much had been said about the landlords. How were they to pay their debts unless they were armed with reasonable means for the recovery of their rents? Encouraging the tenantry to defraud their landlords was not maintaining the rights of property. Suppose the Lords had attended to the rights of landlords; had the Commons attended to the rights of tenants? What right had they to cast such a charge at the Lords? The impression as to the operation of the Bill in regard to Parliamentary titles was, he conceived, erroneous; but, if clearer words were desired, let them be introduced into the Bill. There was a great abuse existing now. At present a judgment creditor, for any sum over 150l., might take an estate into the Incumbered Estates Court; and he appealed to the hon. Member for Manchester, whether it was just that, under such circumstances, a creditor should have power to sell an estate, especially now that the value of property was so much depreciated. As for the fifteen years' purchase clause, without some limitation the rights of the puisne incumbrancers would be destroyed. He must deprecate the course of proceeding which had been adopted, raising a hundred collateral topics, attacking landlords and the House of Lords. But he would not trespass upon the time of the House. He endeavoured to observe two rules suggested to him by an old friend when he was returned to Parliament—he wished they were generally observed—never to speak merely for the sake of speaking, and always to endeavour rather to be useful than to be troublesome.
§ MR. HATCHELL
looked upon the Bill as condemned, but wished to bear his testimony to the high character and qualifications of the Incumbered Estates Commissioners. Baron Richards had spent his life in the consideration of titles, and in the practice of the equity courts. Dr. 927 Longfield's qualifications had been justly described; and from his being a gentleman of extensive connexions, and interested in very considerable property in the county of Cork, he might be supposed to be peculiarly acceptable with a view to the protection of the landed interest. It was of importance to have also an English barrister of high character and great acquirements; because there was an expectation of English capital being embarked in the purchase of estates sold under the Commissioners.
§ MR. TORRENS M'CULLAGH
said, as he might not have another opportunity, he wished now to tender his thanks to the hon. and learned Attorney General for having rescued them from this additional wrong; and he hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would give them the same assistance on other occasions as he had done on this. He thanked him for having prevented fraud from being perpetrated—he did not say intentionally—by one class against another.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for three months.