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Lands Clauses Consolidation (Ireland) Bill

Volume 117: debated on Monday 23 June 1851

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Order for Second Reading read.

, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, he had explained on another occasion the object of the measure, which was to supply a cheap and summary method of conveyance of land in Ireland in the transactions of railway companies. It had been introduced in consequence of what he believed to be a prevailing feeling in Ireland, that it would be most beneficial to the interests of that country that some more summary and cheaper mode of valuing land for compensation, when taken for railways, should be substituted for a jury trial. Owing to the nature of the tenure of land in Ireland, the law which worked well in England was inapplicable to that country, and the expense and delay which attended the valuation of land there operated as a serious obstruction to the construction of railways, and consequently, to the development of the resources of Ireland. He had, in the present measure, adopted the course which was followed in the Shannon Navigation Bill, and constructed a system of arbitration. The arbitrator, after inquiry into the value of land, would in the first instance make a draught award, and after that was published he would at another sitting give his final award. He was aware that there was an opinion that the mode adopted in the Galway Act was preferable, which also established a system of arbitration, but allowed an appeal to a jury at quarter-sessions. He should be sorry to set any opinion of his own against that entertained by the gentlemen of Ireland. All he desired was, the opportunity of fairly considering the merits of the two systems with the gentlemen interested in the subject. He therefore proposed, if the House allowed him to read the Bill a second time, to put himself in communication with the Irish Members on both sides of the House; and, deferring the Committee on the Bill to a distant day, he should be willing to adopt whichever of the two modes had the weight of Irish authority in its favour. All he asked was an opportunity of fairly considering the remedy; and be believed that there would be no objection to the course he suggested, inasmuch as he believed the principle of the Bill was very generally approved of.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

said, that the speech just made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade appeared to him one of the most remarkable, and, indeed, one of the most dangerous, that he had ever heard in that House. The right hon. Gentleman, with all the authority of high official position, had introduced that evening a new method of conducting the business of the country. The Government were no longer to introduce their measures and to induce the House of Commons to support them by open discussion; but the right hon. Gentleman, in reference to this Bill, asked the House to approve of the principle of it, and then intimated that with regard to the details, he would settle them with the Irish Members on both sides of the House—wherever he might meet them, at whatever time, and under whatever circumstances. In other words, the discussion of the measure was not to take place in the House of Commons at all, but under circumstances over which the House of Commons could have no control. It might be doubtful, in this case, whether the right hon. Gentleman would have been justified in proposing a Select Committee; but that was a question which might have been fairly debated; and if such a proposition had been agreed to, and the right hon. Gentleman had come back to the House with the report of a Select Committee, and had thus attempted to influence the opinion of the House, it would at least have been apparent that the House would be influenced by a legitimate and recognised authority, and the right hon. Gentleman would have acted in the manner usual with Ministers and with Members of the House. What the light hon. Gentleman now proposed was to come back to the House to report that he had privately settled the matter with the Irish Members—it might be in an impartial, but certainly not in a constitutional manner. It was no longer a matter for the House of Commons to decide; but it was to be decided in another place, in another manner, and all discussion was now to be stopped as quite unnecessary. He begged the House to consider what would be the end of a system like that, and he entirely protested against the conduct which the right hon. Gentleman recommended them to adopt. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted a Select Committee, let him move for it; let it be formed in a proper and constitutional manner, and no doubt the House of Commons, without being bound by the decision of the Committee, would allow it to exercise that proper influence which was always willingly and gratefully accorded to the opinions of a Committee. But, for his own part, he entirely protested against this new system by which Government was to carry on business, and deprive the House of Commons of its ancient, proper, and constitutional attributes.

was disposed to meet the right hon. Gentleman in the spirit in which he had appealed to the Irish Members.

thought the question before the House was a great constitutional question, and that the Bill was a direct invasion of public rights. The Bill enabled any railway company wanting land to apply to the Railway Commissioners, who might appoint a single arbitrator to value the property, whose decision should he absolute and final. He could not consent to any Bill which made a single arbitrator the sole judge of the property of another without the right of appeal. He was quite willing to consider any Amendment which the Government might propose, with the view of modifying this objectionable provision, but he would never sanction the measure as it now stood.

said, that the principle of the Bill had been applied to the Gal-way Railway Bill, and some other private measures, and had given such general satisfaction in Ireland, that its extension was much desired.

agreed that the principle of the Bill had given great satisfaction in Ireland. He could not, however, agree to some of the details, more especially that which gave a single arbitrator the power of determining the value of another man's property. He begged to differ from the hon. Member for Bucks, who had charged the Government with consulting the Irish Members with reference to the Bill. He believed that the practice had always been to consult Scotch Members on Scotch matters, and English Members on English matters. Why then should not the Irish Members be consulted upon that which was a purely local matter? If the principle of consulting hon. Members on such matters were more generally adopted, it would much facilitate the business of the House, and tend to make legislation more satisfactory.

could say, as Chairman of Committees of that House, that it was time such a Bill should be passed. The principle of the present Bill was, to vary the law with regard to Irish railways, and not to bind down the companies to the Land Clauses Consolidation Act. The House would only affirm the principle of arbitration by agree- ing to the second reading. He (Mr. Bernal) dissented from the proposal to have only one arbitrator, and to make his decision final; but that was a matter of minor detail. He (Mr. Bernal) as Chairman of Committees had called upon his right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) to introduce such a Bill, because many Irish Members introduced Bills to depart from the Land Clauses Consolidation Act, on the ground that the holdings in Ireland were so small, and the tenure of land was so different from that in this country, that great and ruinous expense and delay would be caused if a different principle were not adopted. He had accordingly requested his right hon. Friend to address his attention to the subject, and not to leave it to each Committee to determine whether the Land Clauses Act should be departed from in that particular case. The present he regarded as a purely local matter, and one not affecting any constitutional right of the subject, and therefore the Government might very well derive assistance from the Irish Members on the question of details.

was not prepared to offer an opinion on the merits of this Bill; but he agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) that the Government had not adopted the best and most constitutional mode of proceeding. His hon. Friend did not object that the Irish Members should be consulted, but he objected that a part of that House should be consulted out of that House, and then that the House should be called upon to agree to what they proposed. Why had not the right hon. Gentleman consulted these Irish Members before he brought in his Bill.

had, in common with other Irish Members, been consulted by the Government, and they all agreed that some alteration of the law with regard to the assessing the value of land was necessary, because the system of juries had created great difficulties in carrying out railways in Ireland. By agreeing to the second reading, the House would not pledge itself to the details, or to the principle of arbitration; and he was grateful to the President of the Board of Trade for the course the right hon. Gentleman had taken.

said, that if the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had left any doubt on his mind as to the propriety of the course proposed, the hon. Member for Queen's County had shown that, at least, it was doubtful, if not altogether inexpedient. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had been censured from an entire misunderstanding of what he had said. The hon. Member had never said that the Government had no right to consult hon. Members; but he objected to the time and mode of consulting them. It was said they were called on now to pledge themselves to the principle of the Bill, and not to the principle of arbitration. But the principle of the Bill was arbitration by a single person, who was to be appointed by the Commissioners of Railways. That was a principle such as he had never heard of in any law; and it was one upon which English Members had a right to be consulted.

respectfully wished Irish Members to consider what the land clauses, and particularly arbitration clauses, were, because it seemed to him that if he lived in Ireland he should be very sorry to exempt his land from the operation of the Land Clauses Act, for by that Act the owner of land had the option of obtaining a valuation of his land either by a jury or an arbitrator. He thought that the principle of this Bill was altogether unconstitutional. The principle of the Bill was, that it should be in the power of the Commissioner acting under it—that was to say, of a Government officer, to appoint an arbitrator. The third clause declared that only two clauses, namely, the 16th and 17th of the Land Clauses Act, which regulate land in England, should be applied to Ireland. And to what matters did these two clauses refer? Simply to the capital subscribed. With respect to every other matter, the Irish landlord was left to the mercy of an arbitrator, to be appointed by an officer of the Government. In his (Mr. Stuart's) opinion, this Bill ought to be withdrawn, with the view of introducing another in accordance with the wishes of the Irish Members, and the rights due to the Irish landowner.

viewed with great distrust any departure from the English law in Bills relating to Ireland. They had already seen vast sacrifices of property under the operation of the Encumbered Estates Act, and he did not desire to see any further departure from the law which regulated land in England. He tendered his thanks to Mr. Disraeli for the candid manner in which he had endeavoured to submit this important question to the consideration of that great tribunal.

was greatly interested in the railways of the south of Ireland, and had found that Bills of this nature had worked admirably. He, there- fore, hoped that this Bill might be adopted without delay. He thought it would be a great pity to throw any obstacle in the way of Irish railways, and thanked the right hon. Gentleman for introducing it.

said, that the principle of arbitration had already been tried in Ireland, where it had succeeded well. In voting for the second reading of this Bill, he considered that he should be voting in favour of the principle of arbitration.

thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the introduction of the measure. Nobody could say that railways in Ireland were not most desirable; but he hoped a clause of appeal to a jury would be added, and another as regarded the rights of occupying tenants under the Land Clauses Consolidation Act.

said, he felt that he should be acting inconsistently with the general opinion of the House if he did not support the Bill; and he trusted the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire would not press his view of the question on the present occasion. He must also tender his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman opposite for this attempt to adapt the law to the peculiar circumstances of Ireland.

said, the Land Clauses Act did not work well in Ireland, but the clauses in the Galway Bill, subsequently introduced, had proved advantageous. He would not say he approved of all the details, but he certainly would vote in favour of the principle of the measure.

said, a remarkable misconception appeared to prevail in some quarters respecting the purport of the observations he had addressed to the House. The hon. Member for Galway supposed him to have said, that the Irish Members ought not to be consulted on Irish subjects. He said nothing of the kind. It was his opinion that the Irish Members might properly be consulted, not only on Irish, but other subjects; but then, their opinion upon measures before the House ought to be solicited, according to the custom and usage of Parliament, either by discussion or by investigation before a Select Committee.

The explanation of the hon. Gentleman made it necessary for him to explain, so that all misconception might be removed. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that I did not consult Irish Members until an advanced stage of the measure. Now, so far from this being the case, the Bill had its origin in consultations with Irish Members. In questions where party matters do not interfere, I shall never be ashamed of taking that course, for I think the Government and the public may be benefited by the experience of those best acquainted with what, after all, must form the groundwork of legislation. I would consult English and Scotch Members upon an English or Scotch Bill; and notwithstanding the rebuke this has brought upon me from the hon. Gentleman, I will take the same line respecting Irish Members of Parliament, and others, upon Irish questions.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°.