HC Deb 29 June 1881 vol 262 cc1589-603

Clause 7 (Determination by Court of rent of present tenancies).


said, he had an Amendment which would strengthen the clause without altering its meaning. It was to strike out certain words in order to prevent misinterpretation of the clause, and to prevent unnecessary obstruction being placed in the way of those who sought to secure the benefits of the provision. A Judge might say to a tenant—" Have you any description under the Act? "and it might be difficult to answer the question.

Amendment proposed, in page 6, line 29, omit "to which this Act applies."—(Dr. Commins.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


pointed out that this form of language ran through the whole Bill. He trusted the hon. and learned Member would not press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he had an Amendment to propose in fulfilment of the pledge given by the Prime Minister that the landlord was to be admitted to the Court.

Amendment proposed, In page 6, line 30, after the word "applies," to insert the words "or such tenant and the landlord jointly, or the landlord, after having demanded from such tenant an increase of rent, which the tenant has declined to accept."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, the effect of the modification would be to give to the Court some indication of the limit beyond which the rent was not to go. If the landlord demanded an increase of rent, and the tenant refused to pay, there was some presumption for the Court that the rent was in excess of a fair rent. If the contention was that the landlord was to go into Court on equal terms with the tenant—and that he understood to be the pledge given by the Government—he could not understand what reason there was for any qualification whatever. They on that (the Opposition) side of the House had understood that the landlord was to have the same opportunity, without limit or qualification, of going into Court as the tenant.

Amendment proposed to said proposed Amendment, After the words "or the landlord" to omit the words "after having demanded from such tenant an increase of rent, which the tenant has declined to accept."—(Mr. Chaplin.)


said, he had put the following Amendment on the Paper:—In page 6, line 30, after "applies," insert— And the landlord or tenant of any future tenancy to which this Act applies, after demand of an increase of rent by the landlord from the tenant beyond the amount fixed at the beginning of such tenancy. When he had put down this Amendment the words of the clause were very different to those the Government had since intimated their intention of proposing. They then had limited the direct access to the Court to the tenant, and imposed on the landlord the invidious obligation of raising the rent, and being dragged by the tenant into the Court. He preferred the words of his own Amendment to those of the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but, at the same time, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that the proposal of the Government would effect a very considerable alteration in the clause, and would, substantially, concede the point for which he contended. His objection to the Government Amendment was that it did, in a round-about way, that which might have been done directly by such, words as he had proposed. But, at any rate, the necessary improvement would be effected. The Amendment would by no means be exclusively to the benefit of the landlord; but it would be beneficial, also, to the small tenant, who would, in many cases, be relieved of that which the Prime Minister had told them would be a great burden to him—namely, the cost of going into the Court, and secure, at the landlord's expense, the advantages of a statutory term.


said, he was one of those who, differing from many Irish Members, did not complain of the principle of giving the landlord access to the Court. He thought it just to do so. But what was the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Chaplin)? The effect of it would practically be to compel the landlord or the tenant, or both, to go to the Court, when that might be avoided by the landlord making known to the tenant what his demand was. [" No, no ! "] Yes, that was so; because, according to the Government Amendment, if the landlord made a reasonable demand, and the tenant thought it reasonable, the latter could accede to it without going to the Court at all; whereas, the effect of the Amendment to the proposed Amendment would be to prevent agreement between the landlord and tenant where the former was asking only what was reasonable. He wished to point out to the Government that if their Amendment was accepted there should be some modification of sub-section 7, which contained these words—"Where the judicial rent of any present tenancy has been fixed by the Court," &c. Where the landlord demanded an increase of rent, and the tenant did not object, there should be the same statutory rights as though the parties had gone to the Court.


said, the hon. and learned Member misapprehended the effect of the Amendment he had proposed. If the words he proposed to omit were struck out, there would be nothing to compel the landlord or tenant to go into the Court. The two could come to an agreement; but, according to the Amendment of the Government as it stood, the landlord could not go into the Court at all unless he had first demanded an increase of rent from the tenant which the tenant had refused. There was a material question bearing upon this point. In the Amendment of the Government there was a direction to the Court as to what was to be considered a fair rent. The matter was left entirely to the discretion of the Court; and what would be the conduct of the Court if the landlord had demanded an increase which the tenant had refused? The Court might say—"This is not a fair rent, because if it were the tenant would have accepted it." It would be a direct instruction to the Court to fix the rent at something less than the tenant had refused to accept. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland had given them no reason for the retention of the words he (Mr. Chaplin) proposed to strike out, and, if he wished to place the landlord on the same footing as the tenant, the Amendment ought to be accepted.


If the hon. Member is right in saying this will be a direction to the Court as to what is to be considered a fair rent—[Mr. CHAPLIN": I say it may be.]—well, if it is a suggestion to the Court as to what is to be considered a fair rent, it is a strong argument against the proposal, and my right hon. and learned Friend would amend it. But this is not strictly relevant to the present question. Allow me to undeceive the hon. Member as to what fell from me on a former occasion. He says right hon. and hon. Members on the opposite side understood me to say that the landlord was to go into Court on equal terms with the landlord. Now, what happened as to that matter was, I think, this. My first mention of the matter was purely parenthetical. It was a question of admitting the landlord under a prior clause with which we were dealing, and I took occasion to intimate that we should be ready to make an access to the Court for the landlord; but I never said anything as to his going there in precisely the same manner as the tenant. On the contrary, I took the earliest opportunity—lest there should be any misunderstanding—of saying—and I am sure my words were reported—that the access we meant to give the landlord was an access after having demanded an increase of rent for the tenant and a difference arising between them. That is what we mean by the Amendment before us. Take the case stated by the hon. Member. He says— "Under the Amendment I propose it will be open to the landlord to go to the Court to demand an increase of rent." But our object is to arrange that it shall be equally open to him not to do so. The hon. Member wishes to put the landlord in the position of being able to say—"I must have my rent; I am not satisfied with the present state of things; I must take you into the Court." But the tenant may say—I will entertain any reasonable proposal; what rent do you want?" And the landlord may reply—" I won't tell you; I will take you into the Court." That would be a powerful instrument to place in the hands of the landlord, which might be misused, and might inflict great hardship on the small and poor tenant; therefore, we cannot agree to the proposal of the hon. Member. Having said that, I am bound to say that, so far as I am instructed in the matter, I think the Court may reasonably lay down a rule requiring the landlords to say what rent they want. In the case of considerable tenants, if they want a change of rent, is it right and fair that they should specify the change of rent that they demand? I am by no means sure—I do not want the Committee to rule it absolutely—but I am by no means sure whether in the case of all the very small holders of Ireland it would be equitable to require of them, under all circumstances, to specify the exact reduction they want. They are not persons in a position always to value scientifically the holding they hold. I do not say whether or not it would be right to require them to specify their demand, but I would leave the matter to the discretion of the Court. It would be better, if it is thought obviously right that the demand should be specified, that we should require that specification from both parties than to limit it to one of them only. The Government cannot, however, assent to omit from the Amendment the words which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Chaplin) proposed to strike out.


said, he was rather surprised that such an Amendment as that proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. Chaplin) should have come from that side of the House. He regarded the Government Amendment as a concession to the landlords; a boon had been thrown across the floor of the House, and he was astonished to see those to whom it was given cavilling about it. Before he had seen the qualifying words of the Government Amendment he had come down with the idea of proposing something of this kind— Any notice to quit used for the purpose of demanding an increase of rent from the tenant, if a present tenant, and which does not specify on the face of it some other ground shall, for the purposes of this Act, "be null and void.


said, he thought there was nothing practical in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and was of opinion that the Government had, substantially, given the landlords everything they could ask for in this matter. He had placed his Amendment on the Paper quite as much in the interest of the tenant as the landlord, and he was glad that under the clause, as it would now stand, many small tenants would be saved the expense of going into the Court; because the landlords would be able to say—" I want an increase of rent, but I am prepared to allow you a statutory term, and, if you will go with me into the Court, I shall be ready to pay all the expenses." He thought the proposal of the Government was a great concession as it stood, and that only those landlords who wished to have their whole property valued at the expense of the country would be injured by the words which the Government proposed. He did not wish to see the Court blocked by these wholesale applications, and thereby the tenants who were rack-rented prevented from going into Court; and he thought it a wise provision that if the landlord went into Court it should be upon an increase of rent.


pointed out that there was nothing in the words proposed to compel the landlord to accept a specified increase of rent. The more words there were in the Bill the more the danger would be. Another consideration was that if a landlord accepted a specified rent, the Court must fix the rent above or below or exactly the same as the amount the landlord asked. If the Court should think the amount should be less than was asked, he supposed the landlord would have to pay the costs, and it would not be one case in 100 in which the Court would say the fair rent was exactly what the landlord asked. Then, again, what time was the tenant to have in which to decline the increase demanded? That was not provided for; and the whole thing would be left in confusion. It would be only fair to give the same rights to the landlord and the tenant.


entirely accepted the explanation of the Prime Minister, and was only sorry that he had misinterpreted what he had said on a former occasion; but that did not alter his views as to the propriety of this Amendment. The principle involved was a principle which ought to be in the Bill, and from which they should depart; a principle which had been accepted by the Prime Minister, and advocated by some hon. Members behind him, and he was surprised that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), who had been such a stout advocate of putting the landlord and the tenant on the same footing as to going into Court, should speak as he had just spoken. The landlord and tenant did not go into Court on the same ground, and it was important to have a clear and distinct understanding upon that point. The tenant was to go into Court when and how he pleased; but the landlord was only to go into Court on a qualification which, in his opinion, was likely to be very prejudicial to him. There could be no two opinions as to the fairness of admitting the two parties into Court on the same conditions. He would not delay the Committee by pressing the Amendment to a division; but that must not be taken as an admission of his non-adhesion' to the principle.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, In page 6, line 30, after the word "applies," to insert the words "or such tenant and the landlord jointly, or the landlord, after having demanded from such tenant an increase of rent, which the tenant has declined to accept."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)


proposed to add to these words, in consequence of what had fallen from the Prime Minister— Provided always, that any tenant of any holding of over ten pounds' valuation, shall, before applying to the Court, notify to the landlord the amount of decrease of rent which he claims. He thought the arguments of the Prime Minister against the Amendment of his hon. Friend were very striking and difficult to answer; but the thing cut both ways, and if it would be very hard on the tenant to give the landlord power to refuse to tell him what rent he claimed, it would be equally hard on the landlord if the tenant should be able to take him into Court without saying what decrease he claimed. There were many landlords who, after this Bill, and looking at the present agricultural state of the country, would make up their minds to a certain reduction of rent. He did not suppose it was the object of the Government to flood Ireland with litigation; on the contrary, he believed they would favourably regard all Amendments designed to diminish litigation. But he had no doubt there were many tenants in Ireland who, after this Bill had come into force, would think themselves entitled to a decrease of rent; and they ought to let the landlord know before going into Court what they demanded. The landlord, in many cases, might, rather than enter upon expensive litigation, ask the tenant to let him know what he demanded, and, if he could, he would agree to it without going to law. He took a limit of £ 10; but there was great force in what the Prime Minister had said as to the small tenants, and they must look upon the Court as a sort of protection of the small tenants. It was possible those small tenants might not be able to say what the value of their holding was; but the £10 tenants were substantial tenants, and knew what was the fair value of their land. So he took that as a fair limit, and he did not wish to ask too much; but he wanted the Committee to say that while it was reasonable that the landlord should specify the increase he demanded, it was equally reasonable that the tenant should specify the decrease he demanded. He could not help thinking, after what the Prime Minister had said, that he would accept, if not the words of the Amendment, the spirit of it, and allow something to be placed on record at this stage.


The noble Lord's Amendment cannot be moved until the words of the Attorney General have been accepted. A convenient place to move it afterwards will be in line 31, because a Proviso coming in the middle of the sentence will break up the sentence.


said, he thought his Amendment might come in after the word "paid" in the Attorney General's Amendment.


said, he had intended to suggest that it would be better if the Attorney General's Amendment came in at the sub-section 2, because it would then read better.

Amendment (Mr. Attorney General for Ireland) agreed to.


proposed to move an Amendment with the object of bringing within the provisions of this Bill those tenants who had been forced to accept leases by landlords or their agents from the passing of the Act of 1870. It was, he said, a well-known fact that on the passing of that Act many people were induced to take out leases on misrepresentations, or were compelled to do so by threats. He knew, in moving this Amendment, that the sacredness of contracts would be argued on behalf of the landlords; but there could be no contract where one of the parties had it all his own way. The tenant, in such a case, had to accept a choice of evils. He would read some extracts from a lease which was in force on Lord Fitzwilliam's estate in County Wicklow. In this lease one of the covenants was this— The landlord accepts and reserves to himself, his heirs, and assigns, all mines, minerals, quarries, stone, sand, gravel, turf, turf-hog, and rights of turbage, and all timber and trees now standing and growing, or hereafter to stand and grow thereon, underwood and heather, and all game as defined by the 27 & 28 Vict. c. 67, rabbits, wild fowl, and fish, and the exclusive right of selling, and of following, and taking and killing the same. But that was not all. It was provided that the tenant should from time to time, and at all times, observe the rules and regulations of the landlord's estates, and, in particular, should not use, or permit to be used, the said holding, or any part thereof, for the purpose of carrying on a public-house, beershop, or lodging-house, or any offensive trade or business, or any nuisance whatsoever, and should not assign, mortgage, divide, or sub-let, or part with the possession of such holding, or take any grazing stock thereon without the consent in writing of the landlord, his heirs, and assigns. One would think that the part of the Bill dealing with this subject had been drawn up in an estate office, so closely did it follow the lines of the Fitzwilliam leases. It was no pleasure, but rather a pain, to him to mention names; but as Lord Eitzwilliam had been held up as a model landlord, it was only right to bring the matter before the Committee. It appeared from these leases that a lodger could not be taken into a house on that estate. A farm-house in a Wicklow valley or mountain glen was a great attraction to town people, numbers of whom flocked there in the summer time, and it was thus a cruelty and injustice to impose this prohibition. The lease also forbade grazing stock being taken in; and it was really very hard that a poor farmer, who in good seasons had more grass than he required, and had not money with which to buy additional stock, should be prevented from taking in grazing cattle. The lease also referred to the office rules. He would not trouble the Committee by reading all those rules; but he would give one or two as samples. Rule 2 was this— The tenant shall reside on the property; the land shall be cultivated in a proper, cleanly, and business-like manner. It shall be stocked by the tenant himself, and no hay, straw, grain, crops, or manure shall be sold or taken off the farm, or second-hand crops grown in succession without permission. Rule 4 provided— All the houses and buildings shall be maintained in good order, and shall not he let to lodgers. Rule 9 said— In case of change of tenancy a fair allowance will he made to outgoing tenants for improvements done at the cost of themselves or their families within a reasonable time, and with Lord Fitzwilliam's consent. Rule 11 was— No dogs except sheep or watch dogs, when necessary, shall be kept without permission as above, and no dogs of any kind shall he allowed to hunt or stray over the lands; and he had known an instance of a gentleman walking on the road with some dogs being challenged by a person connected with this office. He ventured to say, without fear of contradiction, that nothing could be more arbitrary or calculated to hamper the farmer in carrying on his business than rules of this character. As Edmund Burke had said of the Penal Laws— They are devised with singular ingenuity to paralyze a people, and to destroy their self-respect. He admitted that Lord Fitzwilliam was a kind and indulgent landlord; but only in certain cases. He was kind and indulgent to the sycophants and parasites by whom he had surrounded himself. In reference to Lord Fitzwilliam's treatment of his tenants, he would read a reply to a question in the Evidence before the Land Commission, given by a respectable Protestant tenant farmer on this estate—Mr. Dowling. Baron Dowse asked him—"Do you think Lord Fitzwilliam would do any wrong? "He replied— I think he has claimed all the rights of absolute ownership. He has without doubt introduced English ideas contrary to the feelings and views of the Irish people. I do not know any landlord who has with greater determination endeavoured to carry out English ideas on his property than he has. Lord Fitzwilliam was kind enough and indulgent to his favourites who throve and grew rich on the land from which the independent Catholic population had been driven to make room for them. In Question 34,540, Baron Dowse asked— Do you say in plain English that he is not a good landlord?" Mr. Dowling replied—" I did not come here to make a complaint of him, but his management of his estates, so far as he has attempted to introduce English rules and customs, has been unpleasant and unsatisfactory to the Irish people, and very loud complaints have been made with regard to some of the old residential occupants on the estate being turned away, and the friends of the persons in the office have largely benefited by this course. He had received a letter from a respected priest with reference to the sale of the interest of a tenant named Burke. He was permitted to sell, and he sold his interest to a respectable Catholic, but the office would not accept the person as a purchaser, and one of those persons to whom Mr. Dowling referred was given a preference. He knew of an other case—


The hon. Gentleman is now going beyond this Amendment, which is with refererence to a lease with unreasonable covenants.


said, he was endeavouring to show that unless leaseholders on Lord Fitzwilliam's estate were brought within the provisions of this Bill they would be in a very un- satisfactory and perilous position. He would not, however, proceed further, but begged to move his Amendment.

Amendment proposed. After the word "accept," at the end of the last Amendment, page 6, line 30, to insert the words "or any leaseholder who can show to the satisfaction of the Court that he was constrained or induced by a landlord or his agent, to take out a lease since the passing of 'The Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act, 1870,' at an unfair rent, or subject to unreasonable covenants."—(Mr. William Corbet.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I need not detain the Committee long on this Amendment, particularly on the latter part. The hon. Member has read a number of provisions, and I suppose he thinks very bad provisions, in the leases of Earl Fitzwilliam, and I am very glad to find that the leases contain nothing worse than he has stated. With regard to these provisions in these leases we must take them in connection with Lord Fitzwilliam's practice which we know to prevail upon his estate; and I am not prepared to say it is not necessary to landlords to reserve certain powers which they do not expect to put in force, but which form a simple and not inexpedient method of controlling the tenants. I think there is nothing in these covenants to derogate from the high character of Lord Fitzwilliam as a landlord. By the provision which is to follow the tenants may go into Court to obtain a fixed rent, but a judicial rent will not relieve them from unreasonable covenants; but if the hon. Member proposes to say that every provision of these leases shall be brought into Court, that is a proposition to which we are not prepared to assent. But with respect to what I think is the more important part of the Amendment I would say a single word, and it is this. We are not prepared, either for present or future leases, to lay down the principle that those who have consented to the terms of these leases with regard to rent shall be at liberty to question the terms before the Court during the currency of the leases. When we come to the operation of the Bill as to the conditions of leases it may be perfectly suitable to discuss this Amendment; but we are fixed in that view. We cannot make provision for establishing leases, and then to establish. provisions for altering the rents under those leases. That would nullify the whole idea of a lease. It may be that many farmers think it doubtful to contract; but if a lease was contracted it ought to be a real lease, and not an illusory lease. With regard to current leases in Ireland, what I have said with regard to rents in future leases of course applies with still greater force, because they were made under the stimulus of the Act of 1870; but there is a very important question, quite apart from the subject of rents under these leases, upon which the Committee and the Government are perfectly free to take their own course as they think fit when we arrive at the proper part of the Bill; and that is the question whether the present leaseholders ought, at the expiration of their leases, to be put on the footing of future tenants only, or whether they ought not, on the whole, to receive the present judicial rent. As regards leases we must be understood that there cannot be any interference by the Court with the rents stipulated in those leases, and I am not sorry the hon. Member has put this Amendment, because, probably, this is a convenient opportunity of taking the judgment of the Committee if he thinks fit to do so.


was very sorry the Prime Minister had led the Committee to the conclusion that the question of existing leases, where it was possible to show that those leases had been forced on tenants under circumstances of pressure or threat of eviction, had not yet been considered by the Prime Minister. It would be a great misfortune were they to precipitate now the discussion, which would come much more properly at a future stage of the Bill; but if the question was now to be dealt with, it was quite plain that a considerable time must be devoted to the consideration of this question before the discussion ended. There was hardly a question arising out of the present Bill which attracted more attention and was deserving of more consideration by the Government than this question. It had been abundantly proved before the Bessborough Commission that there were cases in Ireland in which gross injustice would be inflicted on leaseholders who had been forced to accept leases, unless it was open to them, where they were able to show that pressure had been exercised, to have the leases revised and so obtain the benefit of the Act. He could not have imagined that the Government would be prepared to indicate so far in advance the course they proposed to take. If the Government were prepared to stand by what the Prime Minister had stated, a considerable time must be occupied in discussing the question, for hon. Members would not be prepared to abandon the discussion because the Prime Minister had announced the decision to which the Government had come. As to why this right should be conferred on persons who suffered under the action of landlords who had forced them into an unjust position, the Committee, he hoped, would express its opinion sufficiently strongly to enable or justify the Prime Minister in modifying, to some extent, the position he had laid down. With regard to this question, in the North of Ireland there had been since 1870, and notably prior to the Bill of 1870, on the part of gentlemen and noblemen who anticipated the course of coming legislation, a strong desire, which was not only shown, but was carried into execution, to force on the tenants the acceptance of leases, excluding the benefit of prospective legislation. Probably that course was quite justifiable, for landlords, like other persons, had a right to look to their interests in advance; but if it was found that there had been a wide-spread course adopted to deprive tenants of the benefit of projected legislation under the threat of eviction, he believed there was not a Court of Equity which, if an action could be brought at the instance of a tenant, would not feel bound to relieve the tenant, under such circumstances, from his obligation. The Bessborough Commission took a large amount of evidence from respectable persons as to the circumstances under which this pressure had been put upon them. One of these persons, Michael Flynn, had stated—in page 446—that in 1875 his father died, and left him the farm; but when he went to pay the rent it was refused, until he would sign a lease depriving him of all claim for improvements. Being asked by the Commission whether he did sign, he said he was obliged to do so, unless he was prepared to turn his family out of doors. If that man, under similar circumstances, brought an action in the High Court of Justice in the Chancery Division, would not the Court give him relief? The witness was asked whether the landlord had said he would evict him if he did not sign the lease, and he replied that after holding back for some time he found he was at the landlord's mercy, and he had to sign. Another witness—in page 467—had also paid he knew of cases in which tenants were compelled by fear of eviction to sign agreements they did not approve of; and many other instances could be given. There was not a Gentleman from the North of Ireland who did not know that this course had prevailed since 1870. He held in his hand a copy of a lease on Lord Dufferin's estate which was executed before 1870. Lord Dufferin saw the direction in which legislation was going, and he prepared a lease which he required his tenants to sign, and one or two impressionable tenants having signed it, the other tenants followed like a flock of sheep. One of the provisions of this lease declared that on the expiration of the term no claim by a lessee or his assigns on any ground or pretence whatever should exist, or be Bet up, or entertained, in respect of the premises, save under the provisions of the lease for the then value of buildings "herein or hereon stated or endorsed to the credit of the lessee." That showed that in advance of the Act of 1870 landlords even in Ulster forced their tenants, under the threat of eviction, to contract themselves out of their tenant right and the benefits the Legislature intended to confer. He held another document in his hand—a notice to quit, served on a man who declined to sign a lease. The notice was accompanied by a letter stating that the notice was served for the purpose of forcing him to sign the lease, but that it would not be proceeded with if the tenant signed the agreement. That was in the county of Monaghan.

It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Chairman reported Progress; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.

House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock.

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