ENCUMBERED ESTATES IN IRELAND.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
Gokkee Hill, 29th March 1848.
DEAR SIR—I beg to enclose, for insertion in your journal, some observations on the Government measure for enabling owners to dispose of part of encumbered estates in Ireland.
The present state of Ireland is most alarming, not only to that country, but to the whole empire. Nothing can seriously affect Ireland without also affecting Great Britain.
The calamities that threaten will be caused by the vast number of paupers in Ireland, for whom no remunerative employment can be found. The mode of pro- curing such employment is therefore the problem to be solved. Colonization on a great scale has been suggested as a remedy. Upon that I shall say no more at present, but that, in my opinion, without it nothing effectual can be done.
It has also been recommended that the English mode of fanning should be adopted in Ireland, and the size of the farms increased. To this the answer is the fact, that under such a system, for five labourers now employed it would only be necessary to employ three. The people are in Ireland, and must be provided for if possible. It appears that the number of proprietors of land is comparatively very small. It is asserted, without contradiction, that there are numerous estates in Ireland so encumbered as to leave little or no revenue to the nominal proprietor. The proprietor has consequently no capital to expend for the cultivation of the soil; and he cannot give such title as would induce any prudent person to invest his capital in the farming of such a property. It has been suggested that it would be of the greatest advantage that the per- sons in possession of such estates should be empowered, and in certain cases com- pelled, to sell such part as would be sufficient to discharge the encumbrances. The objects sought to be obtained by such a measure are—as speedily and as cheaply as possible to divide the land, so as to increase the number of the pro- prietors, and thereby add protection to property; to improve the cultivation of the land, by taking it from persons who have not capital to till it properly, and giving it to those who have the capital, knowledge, and industry, necessary for the urpose.
It tap to me that it will be impossible to carry into effect these objects, un- less a speedy and cheap mode of ascertaining the title, and of making the con- veyances, be enacted by Parliament.
To effect this object, I would suggest, that in all cases where the tenant in fee- simple or the tenant for life of an encumbered estate shall be willing to sell part to pay off the encumbrances, he shall be entitled to do ao, under the sanction of Commissioners to be appointed. To prove that the encumbrances have been properly imposed, it shall be only necessary, in the case of a tenant in fee, to prove that the encumbrances have been registered, and that his title has not been dis- puted in any court of justice: in the case of a tenant for life, it shall only be ne- cessary to prove that the encumbrances have been registered, and that one year's interest has been paid by the tenant for life. That a short form of conveyance shall be enacted, and that such conveyance when signed by the tenant for life and the Commissioners shall confer on the vendee a valid title against all the world. When a portion of the estate is sold, and the purchase-money shall not be suffi- cient to discharge the whole debt, and the creditor is not willing to accept the amount in part payment, the produce of the sale shall be invested in the Public Funds, subject to the same limitations as the estate. In case the interest of en- cumbrances be not paid within one month after it is due, _the creditor shall hare the power to sell under the same conditions. The advantage to the tenant in fee or tenant for life will be very great.
For example—A man is possessed of an estate yielding 5,0001. per annum rent, out of which he has to pay 3,0001. per annum as the interest of encumbrances on the estate: in order to receive the 3,0001., he must pay 5 per cent for collect- ing it---1501.; he has also to pay poor-rates, say (at a low estimate) 25. Gd. in the pound, amounting to 3751.; besides the bad debts, which cannot be calculated at much less than 10 per cent, or 3001.; leaving him therefore only 11751. per an- num. From all these losses be would be relieved by a sale of part of the estate sufficient to discharge the 3,0001. It is difficult to imagine that a proprietor of land would object to an arrangement so highly beneficial to him and to all who might succeed to the property. If any could object to such an arrangement, it must either be those whose estates are hopelessly insolvent, and who therefore are living on the credit given to even the nominal holder of a large number of acres; or it most be those who are swayed by the foolish vanity of being supposed the owner of large estates, for which they are willing to give up the most solid advan- tages. To reason with either of these classes would be absurd; but the latter would not be in a worse position than they are at present. The amount of the interest of the encumbrances on estates in Ireland amounts to more than three millions per annum. If such estates could be divided into farms of 501. per annum each, it would produce 60,000,proprietors. It is unne- cessary to enlarge on the additional security that this increase of proprietors would afford to property in general.
It is also obvious that the public at large would derive the greatest benefit from the improved cultivation of the land, and additioual number of labourers that would be employed. But it will probably be said, a bill has been brought into Parliament for the purpose of facilitating the sale of encumbered estates; and that amendments should be suggested, if any are required. My answer is, that to amend the bill is out of the question with a view to any immediate remedy for the situation of Ireland. At present, if the person in possession and the encumbnuicers agree to sell a part of the estate to pay off the charges, there is nothing to prevent them, except the enormous delay and expense of a Chancery suit and of inquiring into the title: this bill does not lessen these evils, but in addition adds the expense of the attendance of the Attorney-General. The object principally to be desired is, that the land should be sold in small quantities: but the expense of making out titles, as the law is at present, would in most cases exceed the value of the land.
Before publishing these few remarks, I thought it right to speak to a variety of persons on the matter. Without exception, they all said, , We see no objec- tion toyour project, and believe it would have great effect in ameliorating the state of Ireland; but they also all said, " There is no chance of success, because the lawyers will all be against it." This is the only argument I have heard against the plan. But surely it is not possible that a measure likely to give re- lief to the whole empire should be defeated because its tendency may be to pre- vent the lawyers from further preying upon the proprietors of land?—because the misfortune might happen that the gains of lawyers would be lessened? I trust the misfortune to them, great as it would be, will not outweigh all the advantages likely to arise from the proposed plan to Ireland and the British empire.