HC Deb 21 July 1870 vol 203 cc661-9

Lords Amendments to Commons Amendments to Lords Amendments, and Lords Reasons for disagreement to certain Amendments, considered.

Now clause (A), (Permissive Registration of Improvements).


said, the Government regretted that the Lords had thought it necessary to insist upon the retention of this clause, and the Government had not changed their opinion as to its disadvantages; but, rather than risk the safety of the Bill, they did not propose to insist upon the Amendments made by the House of Commons.


said, the adoption of the Amendment was substantially a repeal of the 5th and also of the 4th clause. The Bill had been framed on the principle that the tenant was not a free agent and could not consent, and yet it was now proposed, if a landlord, with the consent of the tenant, registered any improvements as made by himself, the tenant should be deprived of all title to compensation. The landlord would be enabled to register improvements as his own which the tenant had really made, and the tenant must either allow the landlord to register them, or he must give up the farm, if the landlord was so bad as to insist upon it. If there were no bad or felonious landlords in Ireland the Bill was unnecessary; and if the Bill was necessary, this Amendment would defeat its object, and sanction the bad system it was intended to put an end to.


said, the Government agreed in many of the objections raised by the hon. Member; but it was not necessary for him to enter into arguments which had been fully discussed on many previous occasions. The Government adhered to the opinions which they had already expressed; but he wished to point out an overstatement of the case from the hon. Member's own point of view, and a material omission in his speech. He thought the hon. Member overstated the case when he gave the House to understand that under the operation of this Bill, if passed in its present form, such would be the condition of the Irish occupier that, however extraordinary or monstrous might be the claim made by the landlord, he would not venture to resist. Without going into the question as to how far landlords would be likely to claim to register as their own the tenants' improvements, he would remark that the Government believed that the restraints imposed on evictions by this Bill would give the tenant a position such as he had not before known, and one which would enable him to enforce his rights. The omission of the hon. Member had reference to an essential point in the argument. The question for him was not whether this was a good or a bad clause, but whether he would be content, upon the rejection of this clause by the House of Commons, to see the Bill lost in the Lords. They had now reached a point at which it would be unseemly and absurd to bandy the Bill backwards and forwards between the two Houses. Such a procedure would not be to the advantage of either, and nobody would derive an advantage from a prolongation of the controversy. The Government wished, therefore, to send the Bill back to the House of Lords, after the operations of that night, in a form to which they meant to adhere, leaving it to others, if they chose, to raise further difficulties to the passing of the measure. With that intention they could not piroperly—or, he would even say, honourably—insist upon anything which they did not consider to be of vital importance. Was the hon. Member prepared to say that rather than pass the Bill without this clause he would see the Bill lost? If he was, then he was consistent in the course he was pursuing; but if he was not, then he was raising an irrelevant issue. As stated by his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Government were unwilling to risk the passage of the Bill, and they therefore waived their objections to the clause.


said, his opinion had always been in favour of the clause, and reminded the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Synan) that the larger tenants were now excepted from the presumption of Clause 5, and it was chiefly with regard to the larger farms that the preservation of evidence would be important. He hoped the hon. Gentleman on reflection would not think it was really probable that Irish landlords would claim a right to improvements which they had never made.


said, he regretted that the Government had acceded to a clause which, in his opinion, would lead to much litigation. He thought also that they might have found a cheaper tribunal for registration purposes than the Landed Estates Court; the clerk of the Union might have performed this duty. Resolved, That this House doth not insist upon the Amendments to which The Lords disagree; and doth agree to the Amendments made by The Lords to the Amendments made by this House; and doth not insist upon its disagreement with The Lords in the Amendments as far as the Amendment in page 8, line 16. The Clerk at the Table then read the following:— The Lords insist on their Amendments in page 8, line 8 and line 16, to which the Commons have disagreed, for the following reasons:—Because it would be unjust to treat a landlord as disturbing a tenant in his holding who does no more than proceed to evict the tenant because the tenant makes default in the fulfilment of his part of the contract of tenancy—namely, payment of the stipulated rent; and because the clause, as altered by the Commons, would leave it virtually open to every judge, without any principle or rules being laid down to guide him, to determine arbitrarily what shall or shall not be a disturbance by the landlord.


said, that this was the only point in the present stage of the Bill upon which the Government felt it to be impossible to agree with the Lords. The Government had already made considerable sacrifice for the sake of agreement at this final stage; but on this important clause they could not entirely concur with the Lords; on the contrary, they were obliged to differ from them to some considerable extent, though not altogether. The state in which this clause, now numbered 9, but best known as Clause 8, came before the Commons was this—The well-known words which enabled the Court to deal with certain cases of ejectment for nonpayment of rent as a cause of disturbance upon "special grounds" had been struck out—that was, the words "on special grounds" had been omitted by the Lords, for the reason that they would confer on the Judge a dangerously extensive and vague power, and would enable him to determine arbitrarily what should or should not be deemed disturbance by a landlord. After careful consideration, the Government had made up their minds to give up the words "on special grounds;" but, on the other hand, they could not concur in confining the clause to the single special case which had been substituted by the Lords for the wider discretion originally vested in the Judge; the special case being that of a tenant over whose head old arrears for rent were hanging. That case, no doubt, was an important one; but the Government were strongly of opinion that, considering the admittedly unprotected condition of the smaller tenants, and the numbers of them who had been obliged to submit to the rents they now pay, it would be unjust and impolitic to leave them without some protection from the clause. For that purpose the Government proposed—without striking out any of the words now in the clause—to insert, in line 34, these words— Of a holding valued at a sum not exceeding £15 per annum, if the Court shall be of the opinion that the non-payment of the rent is owing to its being excessive. By the adoption of this Amendment the operation of the clause would certainly be reduced to something narrower and more definite than was originally proposed; but it would at least provide for the protection of that class of tenants who most needed it, and he earnestly hoped that the clause, as thus amended, would meet with the acceptance of both of the Houses of Parliament. He moved that the House should agree to the Lords' Amendments, and should insert the words above mentioned.


said, that the case provided for by the Lords' Amendment of a tenant who owed three years' rent was a purely imaginary one. Such a provision might have been of some use in the years immediately following the famine; but everyone who knew anything of the present condition of Ireland was aware that you might go through the length and breadth of the land before finding a tenant who was three years in arrears with his rent.


said, it was not proposed to strike out anything which the Lords had put in, but to add the words alluded to.


said, that by the course now proposed to be pursued it was evident that all persons whose holdings were above the annual value of £15 were, at a stroke, deprived of the benefit of the clause. To that extent the Bill was rendered illusive. He also entirely agreed with his hon Friend (Mr. Downing) that tenants owing three years' rent might be searched for almost in vain all over Ireland. But, after what had been said by the Prime Minister, it seemed that the House must either accept the Lords' Amendments, or sacrifice the Bill; so that all he could do was to utter his ineffectual protest.


said, this clause, and especially the section of it now under discussion, had been strongly opposed when they were in Committee on the Bill, though no Division was taken, the fact being that the House was so thin, and so many of the Members of the Opposition were away, that it appeared to him to be useless to challenge a Division. The present concession of the Government was undoubtedly valuable, and took away the unlimited powers formerly given to the Judge; but the section still contained an objectionable element, because it allowed the chairman to be the judge of the rent—to say in the case of all holdings under £15 that the rent was too high, and that to attempt to enforce it would be equivalent to disturbance. The fact would not be confined to the particular cases adjudicated upon. For instance, if a tenant was considered by the Judge to be paying too high a rent for a particular piece of ground, it was clear that all the other tenants in the same district and of about the same sized holdings would take advantage of the decision, and that thus a readjustment of rents would virtually be the result. He should have greatly preferred the Bill if all reference to ejectment for rent had been omitted; but, at the same time, it would be matter for consideration whether, with the view to the success of the measure, the concession of the Government ought not to be accepted.


confessed that he was disappointed in all but the last sentence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He denied that when the clause was originally under discussion that the House was a thin one, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not entitled now to plead the absence of his friends as a reason why no Division was taken. Besides, other opportunities for raising the question had not been taken advantage of by hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite. The truth was, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was obliged to search far and wide in order to justify—not his own conduct, which needed no justification—but the conduct of noble Lords in "another place." The right hon. and learned Gentleman also misapprehended the nature of the clause. It would have no effect in determining rents. Whatever rent any peasant in open market was ready to offer, after eviction had taken place, might be received by the landlord, and no person could interfere, either directly or indirectly, with the contract. The whole operation of the clause was retrospective, and it was not even retrospective with regard to rent; but it only provided that where, in the opinion of the chairman, rent had been extortionate, he should be entitled to make an allowance to the tenant. The Government admitted that they attached great value to this clause. They had themselves done all in their power, and they had exerted their utmost influence with their followers, to avoid conflict, and to wash their hands of the responsibility of a confirmed difference of opinion between the two Houses. In order to bring about agreement, they had now given up a large portion of the clause, though it had originally passed through the Committee without a Division or serious opposition. He trusted, therefore, that they might accept the last sentence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite as the key to the intentions of the Opposition; for it would be painful to contemplate the breaking down of such a Bill as this, and there were other consequences of such a breaking down to which it was not now necessary to refer. They made with the greatest pain and reluctance this concession, because it was against their conviction of what the Bill ought to accomplish, and they only did it under a sense of the extreme responsibility that would rest on those who left anything undone that might avert a rupture between the two Houses. Government had not desired, and did not desire to go into any general discussion as to the course that had been taken in reference to this Bill in "another place," and they hoped they would not be driven into such a discussion, for he was sure that if they were the results would be painful and injurious. He hoped that the concession they now made would be met in a corresponding spirit, if not, they would feel that after all the pledges they had given, and the exhortations they had addressed to the Members on their own side of the House, the very ground upon which those appeals were based had been cut away under their feet.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman had said that the Amendment of the Government would not give the chairman power to lower the rent of a tenant; but as the right hon. Gentleman had admitted, in the next sentence, that it would enable him to grant a compensatory allowance to the tenant in instances where he considered the rent to be extortionate, it was difficult to understand the point of the right hon. Gentleman's denial. He strongly objected to the Amendment of the Government.


said, he thought it expedient, after all that had occurred, that the suggestion of the Government should be favourably considered. He must, however, correct the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown in the representation he had made as to the conduct of his right hon. and learned Friend near him (Dr. Ball) when he said that he had taken objection to this principle at the ninth hour. The fact was that his right hon. and learned Friend had continually, during the discussion, objected to this principle, and, although he did not consider it expedient to test the favour in which his views were held by the House—he would not go into the details to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—his right hon. and learned Friend did take frequent opportunities to reiterate his objection, He, therefore, could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this objection was now taken at the last moment. He thought if anything had distinguished the conduct of his right hon. and learned Friend in reference to this Bill, it was not so much the learning, eloquence, and readiness with which he addressed himself to every question—quite superior to all petty party considerations—but the fair and candid spirit he had exemplified throughout the conduct of the measure. He could not refrain, in justice to his right hon. and learned Friend, from making these observations against the attack of the right hon. Gentleman, which he thought was not well-founded. So far as this proposition of the Government was concerned, he should not oppose it or ask the opinion of the House upon it. He would leave those to deal with it who had recently considered it, and he had no doubt they would deal with it in the spirit of wisdom and patriotism.


said, he was willing as any other Member to bear his testimony to the ability and good feeling displayed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Dr. Ball), who, he was proud to say, had eminently upheld the fame of the Irish Bar in that House; but the question before them was not one of a compliment to that or the other Law Officer or ex-Law Officer; it was one of serious moment to the tenantry of Ireland; and in that sense he alone would regard it. The light hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury rightly appreciated the difficult position of those Irish Members who had given a consistent support to the present Bill in all its stages, and who, while endeavouring to render it more useful, never failed to admit the value and importance of its main provisions. It was hard enough for them to render their constituents contented with the measure, even as it left that House for "another place;" and therefore every attempt at curtailing its protective provisions, or in any way diminishing its value, enhanced the difficulty of their task. Admitting, as he must do, the critical position of the Bill at the present moment, and the absolute necessity of removing any serious impediment to its success, he could not but deplore the course the Government felt themselves compelled to take with respect to the Amendment now before them. In his opinion, the line was drawn too low down, and might have been placed at a much higher without alarming the susceptibilities of those who were ever in alarm about the so-called rights of property. There seemed no reason why it should not be raised much higher than £15 valuation. However, as the Government stated their determination to take that course, and adopt that figure, he knew it was impossible because useless to resist; and therefore he and his hon. Friends around him had no option but reluctantly to submit. But, now that the Bill was leaving the House, probably for the last time, he would say that he was anxious to render it as acceptable as possible to all classes of the Irish community—that it might be felt as a gift from Parliament to the people of Ireland—a gift from the English people to the people of the sister country. The Bill did not, it is true, realize all the hopes entertained of it; but no reasonable man could doubt that it contained in it enough to do great good, in developing by protecting the energy of the tenant, and promoting a mutual good feeling between the one class and the other. He regretted the decision of the Government in the present instance; but he felt, under the special circumstances in which the Bill was placed, there was no choice left to those who were responsible for its carriage, though in their anxiety to deprecate opposition he thought they had gone too far.

Amendment in page 8, line 16, upon which their Lordships insist, agreed to, with an Amendment.

Lords Amendment to Commons Amendment to Clause (D) disagreed to.


proposed an Amendment on the Lords' Amendment relative to the form in which the chairman's award should be given. The Lords had inserted a clause which required the chairman, in every case, to state in detail "the particulars and character" of the compensation awarded. This, it was thought, would tend to multiply appeals, and he now proposed to insert "the nature or particulars," &c.


said, the award ought to state the character of the loss for which compensation was to be given, whether it was for improvements or loss of occupation.


suggested that the word "character" should be retained as sufficient. Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing to the Amendment made by The Lords to the Amendment made by this House to Clause (D), to which this House hath disagreed:"—Mr. GLADSTONE, Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE, Mr. Secretary BRUCE, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND, Hr. ATRTON, The JUDGE ADVOCATE, Mr. GLTN, and Mr. ADAM:—To withdraw immediately; Three to be the quorum.