§ MR. ASHMEAD - BARTLETT
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government has been called to the statements in the "Freeman's Journal" and other Irish papers to the effect that the Arrears Act has proved a total failure; and, what steps Her Majesty's Government propose to take in view of so deplorable a result?
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
pointed out that now only a few days remained in which to make the payments required under the Act, and that it was to be feared that many people were holding back under the idea that the time might be extended. Under these circumstances, he hoped the Government would give the House an opportunity of discussing the whole subject that night.
In answer to my hon. and gallant Friend, and to the hon. Member opposite, I am bound to say that I have received information to the effect that many cases which might be brought under the operation of the Arrears Act are held back in consequence of the prevalence of an idea that Parliament may be asked to alter the provisions of the Act; and I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that it is desirable that there should be no doubt of our intentions on this subject. With respect to the statements in The Freeman's Journal, I do not think it is necessary to refer to that paper in particular; but we do not agree that the Arrears Act has proved a total failure. The Land Commissioners and some of the highest authorities besides the Land Commissioners are of opinion, in the first place, that the full effect, or anything near the full effect, of the Arrears Act cannot possibly be estimated with any justice until after the expiration of the month of December. They also believe that the number of tenants who will be incapacitated by the limitation of date from using the Act for the purpose of getting the benefit of the Land Act is a small minority. That is the best judgment at which they can arrive. I may add, that the Commissioners learnt with some satisfaction that there has been a marked falling off in the number of evictions during the last three weeks—the diminution of evictions being the aim with which the Arrears Act was passed.
§ MR. PARNELL
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether he will introduce a Bill to amend the Arrears Act, so as to extend the period within which the year's rent in respect of 1881 maybe paid for such time as may be necessary to enable the Court of the Land Commission to decide how much rent is payable in respect of that year on estates where the existence of a hanging gale is alleged by the landlord, and also to make provision for the payment out of the Church Fund to the landlord of the costs incurred in proceedings of ejectment, and for the recovery of arrears of rent which the tenant has proved his inability to pay?
My answer to this Question will, in effect, be a supplement to the answer which I gave just now to my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Colthurst). This Question inquires from the Government on two points—first of all, whether we are willing to introduce forthwith, during the present Sitting of Parliament, a Bill to amend the Arrears Act, so as to extend the period within which the year's rent in respect of 1881 maybe paid; and, secondly, whether we will make provision for the payment, out of the Church Fund, to the landlord of the costs of proceedings in ejectment, and for the recovery of arrears in rent which the tenant has proved his inability to pay. We do not intend to make any proposal for the extension of the time limited for payment. To this extent the hon. Member will probably agree with me—that when that is our view it is best for all parties that it should be at once clearly and definitely understood. It is most desirable that there should be no uncertainty as to the date up to which the rent must be satisfied, and before application can be made to the Court. As far as we can gather from the opinion of the Land Commissioners, the advantage to any number of tenants concerned—which I have already stated we believe to be small—from an extension of the time would be very slight compared with the injurious results from any extension of the date. It is from that comparative advantage and disadvantage that we have come to this conclusion, and that we desire that this conclusion should be universally known. As regards the subject of costs, it is not a new point. It was raised when the Arrears Act was passing 1936 through this House, and the House decided not to make any provision to the effect stated by the hon. Member. We believe that very serious questions would be involved by any relaxation on this point; and it must be remembered that we have already gone to very great lengths in the Arrears Act for the benefit, not of the whole, but of a particular portion of the population. I know when extraordinary measures have been taken in a particular direction they are always made a reason for further legislation. It is not our business to admit that reason. On the contrary, we think ourselves bound not to admit it; and we cannot, therefore, recommend Parliament to adopt the course suggested by the hon. Member.