HC Deb 05 March 1895 vol 31 cc389-91

On behalf of the hon. Member for North Tipperary, Mr. William O'Brien, I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1) whether his attention has been called to the system of co-tenancy on the estate of the Marquess of Sligo, by means of which the landlord evades his legal liability for poor rates on holdings valued at or under £4 a year by combining a number of small holders in one tenancy; (2) is he aware that occupiers valued at less than £4 are thus charged with poor rates, from which the 6th and 7th Vic. c. 92 directed they should be exempted, and that they are at the same time declared ineligible to vote for Poor Law Guardians, and have no voice in the administration of the poor rates, which they are wrongfully compelled to pay; (3) are these co-tenants at present imploring the Government for assistance to save them from starvation; (4) whether the name of the Marquess of Sligo as immediate lessor appears on the face of the rate books as the person primarily answerable for poor rates in such cases; (5) will directions be given to the rate collectors to proceed against the immediate lessor for the future for the recovery of the rates; and will any provision be made in the forthcoming Land Bill to prevent evasions of the law in such cases by means of so-called "voluntary agreements?"


I am aware that the Poor Relief (Ireland) Commissioners in 1887 called attention to the system of co-tenancy and the payment of Poor Rates on the property of the Marquess of Sligo. As to the second and fourth paragraphs, the Local Government Board are informed by the clerk of the Union that there are yet a number of cotenancies on this estate, and in all cases where such holdings are valued under £4, Lord Sligo is rated as immediate lessor primarily liable for the rate. He does not, however, pay the Poor Rates. These are paid by the occupiers, who, being valued under £4 and not being rated, are not entitled to vote at Poor Law elections. Lord Sligo lodges a statement of claim to vote as immediate lessor liable for rates in respect of the holdings of these under-rated tenants. As to the fifth paragraph, directions have frequently been given to collectors to proceed against Lord Sligo for the rates due by him as immediate lessor. The guardians took proceedings by Civil Bill against him for the amount due, as a test case, in 1881. The case was dismissed at Quarter Sessions, and an appeal was then lodged by the guardians and heard at Mayo Spring Assizes in 1881. The appeal was dismissed and the occupiers declared liable for the rates on the ground that the townland was held in one letting as a co-tenancy, and that the valuation book did not show a separate area of holding for each tenant, although the valuation of each was given separately. Similar decisions have been given by Judges of Assize on two occasions since then, and, as Lord Sligo has therefore three decisions in his favour, the tenants continue to pay the rates for which he is rated as immediate lessor. The Poor Relief Commissioners reported that, although it is a fact that in some cases the rent has been reduced by the Land Commissioners in consequence of the arrangement between Lord Sligo and his tenants, still, as rates have a tendency to rise in these years of depression, it is likely that the tenant whose rent was reduced some years ago will bear an undue share of Public taxation. Regarding the third paragraph, applications for relief works have been receiver from the districts in which Lord Sligo's property is situated, and an inspector of the Local Government Board is at present engaged investigating the alleged distress. With respect to the concluding paragraph, the Land Bill does not provide for these cases. It would require new Poor Law legislation to make provision for the case of tenants holding "in co." under a landlord. Although each of the tenants contributes his quota of rent, the Judges on appeal have decided that these are not separate tenancies valued at £4 or under within the meaning of the Poor Law Acts. It is obvious the matter can only be remedied by an amendment of the Poor Laws.