HC Deb 09 December 1890 vol 349 cc770-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising, do adjourn till Thursday, 22nd January, 1891."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)

(4.42.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

I would point out that great inconvenience will be caused to Scotch Members if the Scotch Private Legislation Bill is taken on the day of the meeting of Parliament. It has always been the custom to put off measures affecting the extreme parts of the Kingdom to some day after the day of the meeting of the House, Scotch Members have no sort of idea of offering undue or obstructive opposition to the measure. I think Thursday, January 29th, would be a more convenient day.

(4.43.) MR. A. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)

I consider it inconvenient not to go on on the earliest possible day with a measure we are interested in, and I may say, on behalf of the Scotch Members, that we have reason to feel considerable disappointment at no progress having been made with Scotch business before Christmas, seeing that there has been time and to spare. We could have made progress with Scotch business, and could have resumed the consideration of the Bills at the stage at which they were left when we met again after the holidays. I would protest against taking away precedence from the Scotch measure dealing with Private Bill legislation, as it is desirable that it should be passed with the utmost expedition. The Bill has been before the House year after year, either in the hands of private Members or in the hands of the Government, and yet we have made no progress with it. Scotland is anxious that the Bill should pass, and there are not many signs that it is likely to be opposed on its merits by Scotch Members; therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to keep the measure well to the fore, giving it the, earliest possible place on the Paper.

(4.45.) MR. COX (Clare, E.)

Before the House adjourns it would be satisfactory—to the Irish Members, at any rate—to know from the Chief Secretary whether he intends placing on the Table of the House the Reports of the two engineers he has appointed to make inquiries as to remunerative and useful works for the relief of distress in Ireland. I think it would be useful if he would state whether the Report will be submitted during the Recess or after the re-assembling of the House.

MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)

I think the Ashbourne Act has been more in operation in East Waterford than in any other district in the South of Ireland. I have received four large Memorials from tenants who have purchased on various estates. One Memorial is signed by tenants who purchased on Lane Fox's property, another by tenants who purchased on property owned by Mrs. Curtis, and I have an immense Memorial here signed by nearly all the tenants on the Curraghmore Estate. The tenants on the Marquess of Water-ford's Estate say they are in arrear. Many of them are very largely in arrear. Though the potato crop has not been a complete failure, the yield has been much below the average. The yield of butter, too, has been very small. There have been several sales on the Curraghmore property owing to the tenants' failure to pay their install vents, and in some oases the Marquess of Waterford has re-purchased the holdings. I take it that when the Bill became law it was intended that landlords should not re-purchase holdings. At a Board of Guardians' meeting last week a man who had purchased his holding at 18 years' value applied for relief. He was unable to keep up the instalments, and those conversant with the property say his is only a typical case, and that before many years pass many more men will be compelled to apply for outdoor relief. Some people will say they made the bargains with their eyes open, and they have no one to blame but themselves. But we must acknowledge that when a person is in arrear, and likely to be thrown on the roadside, he is not in a condition to make a fair bargain, and many men in that position will accept terms which conscientiously they cannot fulfil, in the hope of putting off the evil day. The prayer of those who have signed the Memorials to the Land Commission is that the term for paying their instalments should be increased from 49 to 69 years. Some may say that is a very unreasonable proposal. Yes; but I presume you want dual ownership to end. I submit that in the interest of the community, and of the carrying out of the spirit of the Ashbourne Act, the prayer of the memorialists is worthy of the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Government.

(4.49.) MR. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)

I hope sincerely the First Lord of the Treasury will not accede to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks) with regard to the Scotch Private Bill Procedure Bill. I trust that this Bill, which the burghs of Scotland are extremely anxious to see passed into law, will receive the assent of the House, but there will be considerable difficulty in attaining such, an object if the Bill is put behind other very important Bills with which the Session is already weighted.

(4.50.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I desire to refer to another Scotch Bill—the Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill. The other day the Lord Advocate renewed the offer of the Government to take the Bill if it could be taken unopposed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said the Government could not see their way to give any time for progress with regard to the Bill. I cannot help thinking that the Government are somewhat unreasonable. The Bill consists of 531 clauses, and therefore it is not unreasonable to expect the Government to give some time to its consideration. I wish now to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, if a private Member brings in this Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill, the Government will give him, some benevolent assistance, so that the measure may be passed if possible. It interests the whole of the smaller burghs in Scotland and some of the larger burghs too, and under these circumstances I hope more reasonable counsels will prevail with the Government.

(4.52.) DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to yield to the appeal which has been made to him by my right hon. Friend. I do not do so on the ground of the convenience of the Scotch Members. The convenience of some of us must be sacrificed, and I should be sorry to find Scotch Members making more of their convenience than others. But the Bill is a most important one in view of the principle it involves. The question has never been threshed out in the House at all. It was the subject of debate last Wednesday, but has never been debated as a Government measure and in a full House. It affects not only Scotland, but every English Railway Company that has running powers over Scotch lines. I am as little enamoured of the system of Private Bill legislation as anyone in this House, and should be glad to see it amended, but I think that when the question is dealt with it should be discussed by all the Members of the House, as embodying a plan which, sooner or later will be extended to the other portions of the kingdom. It would certainly not be a wise thing to proceed with a measure of this sort in an empty House in the first days after the Recess.

(4.55.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

I so far agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that I think it would be a mistake on the part of the Government to insist on great haste in dealing with a Bill that is generally approved of in point of principle, but which it would be scarcely safe to pass rapidly in a very thin House. If it should be put forward on the first day of the resumed Session I intend to be in my place to take part in the Debate upon it. It is, however, a Bill that ought to be discussed by English as well as Scotch Members. With reference to the Burgh Police Bill, the City of Perth is much interested in its becoming law. It has been exhaustively discussed both in Parliament and locally in Scotland. The opposition to it is limited to a very few Members, and it appears to me that if Scotland is to have confidence in the Imperial Parliament for Scottish legislation the Government ought to make an effort in favour of a Bill so well supported by Scottish opinion.

(4.57.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)

I wish to support the appeal to the Government that the Private Legislation Bill should be postponed for a few days. I think the popularity of the measure is considerably exaggerated in the minds of those who have spoken in its favour. No doubt, a change of some kind is required, but the Bill deals with questions of great difficulty and importance, and it would be very undesirable to let it be rushed through a thin House. I should think the Tithes Bill will fully occupy the attention of the Government at the beginning of the next Sittings, and it is only reasonable to ask that the Bill to which I refer should be postponed for a week or so. As to the other measure, it is a Government Bill, and is almost unanimously approved in Scotland. It was considered for two months by a Select Committee, and when it was ripe for passing and ready to pass, it was only prevented from becoming law by a supporter of the Government putting down two or three pages of Amendments when there was only one day left. Under these circumstances, I think we have a somewhat special claim upon the consideration of the Government.

(4.59.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

There are two sides to the question of the Burgh Police Bill. I quite agree that it contains much valuable matter and many useful clauses. If the Government would consent to make the Bill permissive, as many people in Scotland meant it, I for one, and I think many of those who oppose it, would be inclined to withdraw our opposition. If, however, it is to be imposed on all the small burghs the Government must expect strong opposition to it.

(5.0.) MR. J. SEYMOUR KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)

I desire to elicit a piece of information from the Chief Secretary with regard to a very important matter raised to-day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). He has on the Paper a Motion in which he moves for a Return, and we have just heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer in replying to my right hon. Friend intimate that he would give some sort of Return, though I did not exactly gather whether or not it would, as promised, satisfy the terms of the Motion of my right hon. Friend. In this connection I wish to fortify the Chief Secretary in making this Return as full as possible, and in doing this I would remind the House of a circumstance which is not likely to be forgotten, namely, that, on the occasion of bringing in the former Land Purchase Bill last Session, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, or the leader of the House—I have forgotten which—gave a pledge in response to the request of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, who expressed the desire that the Government would, in asking the House to deal with such a complex measure, lay as many Returns and Papers as possible on the Table so as to enable the House to arrive at a correct judgment on the many involved and important points in the Bill. The Government gave the desired assurance, and produced certain Papers on the last occasion when this Land Purchase question was before us. Reminding the Government of this, I now beg them to give us an assurance that the Return the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised shall give information in full, so as to satisfy the terms of the Motion and completely meet all the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford.

(5.2.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I wish to make an appeal to the Chief Secretary on the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Waterford (Mr. P. J. Power). He has informed the House as to the condition of the tenantry of the Lane Fox estate and Lord Waterford's estate, and what I ask the Chief Secretary to do is this. The right hon. Gentleman has assented to the Motion of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) for laying before the House the Judgment given by Chief Baron Palles in the well-known case of Mr. O'Brien Dalton. Will he also lay upon the Table of the House two Judgments of Mr. Commissioner Lynch in relation to certain of Lord Waterford's tenants, delivered a couple of years ago in the cases of "Welch v.Waterford" and somebody elsev.Waterford? These Judgments show the genesis of the difficulties on Lord Waterford's estate. I learn from a report in a local newspaper that one of the tenants on the estate has become a pauper a year after he became the purchaser of his holding. The man was made a freeholder, he was rooted in the soil, and in consequence of the manner in which this operation was carried out he became an applicant for Poor Law relief. He went into the Land Court to buy under crowbar pressure, and the Land Court Judge gave his Judgment that this crowbar pressure was not duress. Mr. Foley went before the Guardians of the Union for relief as a destitute and evicted tenant. He was evicted by the Land Commission, and observe, no sooner was he evicted than Lord Water-ford bought back from the Commissioners his own holding. Now, I call this "bulling" the market. The landlord having parted with his shares—I call the land his shares—his shares in Irish land at a high price, I will call it par; then, they having fallen in value, say 50 per cent., he purchases back the shares from the Commission, and pockets a handsome dividend by the transaction. Now this is a very serious state of things, and we prophesied that it would arise. We pointed out what would be likely to happen, and in the result you have the Waterford tenants evicted, and one of them appealing to the Carrick-on-Suir Board of Guardians for out-door relief. Is this not a painful position? Mr. Foley was asked several questions as to his tenure, and questions elicited the information that he purchased at 18 years on the old rent, which was reduced by £10. He was asked to purchase or to give up the land. Mr. Thompson, a Tory Guardian, asked how much rent was owing to Lord Waterford, and Mr. Foley said two years. Lord Waterford forgave him I suppose, as it is called, the 10 years' rent. He got 18 years' purchase on the old rent from the Land Commission. Now, I suppose the Chief Secretary will not pretend that it is acting from a statesmanlike view or from purely patriotic motives to conceal the truth upon these matters, and I ask him to lay on the Table the Judgment of Commissioner Lynch that it is not duress to compel a tenant, under threat of eviction, to buy at a given rate. I really cannot see the position of the Chief Secretary. He has struck out, I believe, all limitation of years' purchase. I understand in the old Bill the limit was 20 years, but now there is no limit, and we shall see the result. I beg of him, claiming conscientious motives as he does in forcing on this Purchase Bill—in forcing Irish tenants to buy at a rate fixed by the Land Commissioners under landlord pressure—I ask him, in the name of Heaven, if Ireland is to be a going concern under a Home Rule, Liberal, or Tory Government, not to load down under a horrible dead weight of debt miserable, impoverished tenants, forced to buy at a ruinous rate. Some of the Lane Fox tenants came to me and the late Mr. Biggar when we were in the district, and our advice was, Buy if you can get the land at a desirable rate. Mr. Biggar was most emphatic. You may say that dishonest motives prompt this begging for a reduction now, and that the tenants have money in the stocking or the Savings Bank, but I do not believe you have so demoralised the Irish people that a body of them would be guilty of such a course of conduct, except under the greatest stress of circumstances. The Chief Secretary is willing to lay before us a Judgment of Chief Baron Palles whenever it is in his favour, though he refuses it when it is against him; but will he lay on the Table these Judgments of Commissioner Lynch? That the right hon. Gentleman approves of the actions of Mr. Commissioner Lynch we know from the fact that that gentleman's salary is to be raised by £1,000 a year. I do not see my way to support the suggestion that the number of years over which payments should be spread should be extended. I would not recommend it, for this reason: the more the period is extended, and the smaller the payments, the greater will be the bait held out to the smaller tenants to buy on the landlords' terms. I know that on the Duke of Leinster's estates, Lord Waterford's estates, and other estates in which I am deeply interested, there is a feeling in favour of a term of 69 years, and I know this will be an additional inducement to tenants to come to terms with their landlords. I do not advise that now; later on, perhaps, matters may be regarded in a different light upon the general policy of purchase. We may now fairly ask that we shall have laid down and placed before us the exact principles upon which the Land Commissioners will work, and we can have no better guide than the result of the purchases by the Waterford tenants.


I will first refer to the matters raised by the hon. Member for Waterford and the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken. I am asked to lay upon the Table a copy of the Judgment of Mr. Lynch in a certain case—


Two Judgments.


In certain cases connected with sales of Lord Waterford's property. Well, I will at once inquire from Mr. Lynch if any authentic report of his Judgment exists, and I shall be happy to lay a copy on the Table of the House for the convenience of hon. Members who may wish through this means to make themselves acquainted with the methods adopted by the Commission in settling the terms upon which purchases have been effected. The hon. and learned Member for Long-ford (Mr. T. M. Healy) seems to agree with the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. P. J. Power) in thinking that there was some undue profit given to Lord Waterford by permitting him to buy back land which had previously been sold to a tenant, subject, of course, to the annuity placed on the land by the process of sale. Well, if Lord Waterford gained by the transaction, it is evident that the terms were good upon which he sold to the tenant. He will not be able to sub-let without the consent of the Commissioners; and if Lord Waterford buys back the land, subject to the sale annuity, the tenant would pay, and, subject to the unavoidable difficulties of cultivation by the landlord, it conclusively proves that the tenant to whom the sale was effected must have had an uncommonly good bargain.


He captured the tenants' interest.


But I do not understand, so far as the facts have been laid before us, that there are any grounds for supposing this was a hard case for the tenant. We are informed that the sale was effected at 18 years' purchase, and, so far as my mental arithmetic goes, it will be found that involves a reduction in the previous rent paid by the tenant of 28 per cent. Now, I do not think the payment of rent reduced by 28 per cent. can be regarded as excessively hard upon the man who pays it. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. P. J. Power) pressed upon me the desirability of acceding to the terms of the Petition he read to the House, and of extending the term over which the payment is required from 49 to 69 years. The hon. Member for Longford objects to that proposal, and I agree with his objection; and, other terms of purchase being fairly settled, my own view is that the period of repayment should be adhered to. It will be noted by the House that I have no power to interfere. Nothing but legislation can effect the change, and I am sure the House will pause for a long time before making the alteration. Then the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. Cox) asks me to lay upon the Table the Reports of the two engineers in relation to such public works as are intended to be undertaken in the West of Ireland. These Reports are not, I think, of a character to be safely laid upon the Table, because they do not give a list of the works actually going to be executed; they consist of plans and observations on possible works that might, should necessity arise, be undertaken. It would be inexpedient to raise false hopes by detailing a large number of works only some of which, should necessity arise, are ever likely to be carried out. The hon. Member for Elgin (Mr. Keay) asks if I will lay on the Table a full table showing the financial scheme of Purchase Bill No. 1. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated earlier in to-day's proceedings that he would consult with me and endeavour to lay such a table before the House, and the hon. Member may be assured that the pledge so given will be fulfilled. We will do everything we can to make the working of the scheme perfectly clear to every hon. Member. I think I have dealt with all the points that have been raised.

(5.18.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

The Scotch Bill, so far as I can learn, seems to be a very suitable Bill to put down for the first business on re-assembling after Christmas, for the reason that it seems to have little interest to Members generally. But my object in rising is to try to extract from the First Lord of the Treasury a promise that he will show some respect to private Members' nights. During this extra Sitting we gave up our time to the Government in order that this ante-Christmas Session might come to an end as early as possible. But now I hope we may look forward to our Tuesdays and Fridays, and I hope we may have some assurance from the Government that our nights on those days will be respected. It is rather hard, after we have obtained an opportunity in the Ballot, carefully prepared our subject, and secured the assistance of our friends to keep a House, that we should suddenly have our opportunity taken from us at a very few days' notice. I hope also that when the Government do consider themselves under the necessity of asking for a larger share of the time of the House, they will take the whole of one private Members' night, and not as they did last Session— institute Morning Sittings at an early period, thus practically depriving private Members of both opportunities. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, after a Morning Sitting devoted to Government business, it is almost impossible to make a House at 9 o'clock except for a subject of the greatest interest. So far as I am concerned as a private Member, I desire to retain one night; and if the right hon. Gentleman finds he must infringe upon our time, let him lay hold of the whole of one of the nights—Tuesday or Friday—and leave us the other. I think we may fairly claim so much consideration having regard to the spirit we have all shown during the Sittings of the last few days, assisting the Government to make extraordinary progress with their Bills. The Government might, I think, reciprocate by some concession to the rights and privileges of private Members.

(5.22.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

I regret that the Chief Secretary is not now in his place, but I am glad to see the Attorney General for Ireland there, for I take advantage of the Motion now before the House to try and get some assurance in regard to two or three public works within my own constituency. I refer to the three light railway works mainly promoted by private enterprise, and in the present lamentable condition of affairs I trust we may have a full assurance that every possible assistance will be given towards the promotion of these works. Also I would invite an expression of opinion in regard to the lamentable condition of the poor in the Schull Union, upon which many representations have been made. Immediate action is necessary; the state of affairs does not admit of delay. The district is not within my own constituency; its Representative is absent through ill-health. Further—and I am putting these matters briefly as thus being more likely to get a satisfactory reply—I would ask that attention should be paid to the representations of Father O'Connor, the parish priest of Achill, as to the starving condition of the poor people there, and that the Government should provide some means of employment and assistance for this population.

(5.24.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)

In reference to what has fallen from the hon. Member who has just spoken, I have to say that my right hon. Friend and Her Majesty's Government are fully cognisant of their duty and responsibilities in the matters the hon. Member has alluded to. The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Sydney Buxton) has asked me to give a pledge in regard to private Members' nights, such as I think it would be scarcely prudent for me now to give. It is a very serious thing to give such pledges. We have the greatest possible regard for the privileges of private Members, and I desire that they should exercise those privileges to the fullest extent. Hon. Members have it in their power to give to the Government all the time that is considered necessary by facilitating the progress of Government measures, and by assisting the Government to pass those measures into law. If hon. Members opposite will assist the Government to the same extent as no doubt they have done in the course of the present Session, there will be little occasion to interfere with the privileges of private Members on the resumption of the Sittings after the holidays, but the hon. Member cannot expect me to make any engagement which would prevent the Government from carrying forward their own measures with reasonable speed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks) objects to the consideration of the Scotch Legislation Bill being appointed as the first business when we renew our Sittings, and I am always placed in a position of difficulty when these objections are urged—one portion of the House desiring progress should be made in one direction, other Members in another. Unfortunately, it is not in my power, much as I should like to do so, to meet the desire of every individual Member, but I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are only going to advance the Scotch Private Legislation Bill to the stage at which the other Bills in the programme of the Government have arrived. We want to get the Bill into Committee, and it will then take its place among our other Bills. The right hon. Gentleman says he and other Members concerned have no objection on principle to the measure, and it is the principle that has to be considered on the Motion for Second Reading. It is not a measure of the first importance, but it is one whose adoption has been urged on the House many times by hon. Gentlemen from Scotland. The Government, therefore, feel bound to make an effort in the course of the present Session to pass the Bill; and I think that, on the whole, I am consulting the convenience of hon. Members and the interest of the measure by asking the House to proceed with its consideration on the re-assembling of Parliament. As the right hon. Gentleman approves of the principle of the measure, he need not be put to the inconvenience of attending on that day. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Esslemont) has referred to the Scotch Burgh and Police Bill, and the Government have received information from the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy that if every clause of the 571 the Bill contains, to which he takes exception, were omitted, then there would be no objection to it.


I beg pardon; that is not what I said. I said that if the Bill were made permissive like the other Bill I would withdraw my opposition.


I hope that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and the one or two other Members from Scotland who object to the Bill may be influenced by their colleagues not to avail themselves of the power of obstructing this measure of great domestic interest and importance, so that it may pass into law during the present Session. If hon. Members from Scotland will come to an understanding with one another upon the subject, the Government will certainly afford them an opportunity of passing the measure, giving them that benevolent assistance which is asked for. The Bill has been before the House several times, and has been received on a previous occasion almost without opposition. It ought not to be met by obstruction, which would prevent progress being made not only with that, but with other important measures. I trust that now the House may be able to adjourn, and that we shall meet again in January determined to do our business as well and as efficiently as possible.

Question put, and agreed to.