HC Deb 22 July 1896 vol 43 cc377-91

(1.) Where an agreement has been made for the purchase of a holding, and the Land Commission consider that the purchase money is adequate in amount, and are satisfied that the person purporting to be the landlord or his mortgagee or has, by himself or by his agent, or a receiver, been, for not less than six years, in receipt of the rents of the holding, and have ascertained in the prescribed manner that the estate in respect of which such person claims as landlord is sufficient to constitute him a person having power to sell under the Land Purchase Acts, he shall be deemed to be primâ facie entitled to carry such agreement into effect; but if it appears to the Land Commission that the said estate is a leasehold for years not renewable for ever, they shall cause the proscribed notice to be given to the person who is entitled in reversion on the expiration of the lease.

(2.) Where the Land Commission are satisfied that the persons purporting to be the landlord and the tenant are primâ facie entitled to carry into effect an agreement for the purchase of a holding, they shall, as soon as may be, make a vesting order to the effect that the amount of the advance be paid into the High Court to the prescribed credit to abide the order of that Court, and that on such payment the holding shall vest in the purchaser.

(3.) The vesting order shall be effectual to vest in the purchaser, and charge the purchase annuity on the fee simple and inheritance of the holding purchased, subject—

  1. (a) to such exceptions and reservations (if any) as may be specified in the agreement for purchase and approved by the Land Commission respecting and right reserved to the vendor or superior landlord as to mines, timber, and fishery, or other rights; and
  2. (b) to any public rights affecting the holding: and
  3. (c.) to the provisions of this Act respecting the tenant's interest, and respecting easements, rights, and privileges;
but, save as aforesaid, discharged from all claims, whether estates, charges, reservations, covenants, conditions, interests or incumbrances whatsoever, as well of Her Majesty the Queen, and any superior landlord, as of all other persons whomsoever (except the tenant and person claiming under him) who are interested in the holding, whether as incumbrancers or otherwise, and all such claims shall cease as against the holding, and shall attach to the purchase money paid into the High Court in respect of the holding, in like manner as immediately before the sale they attached to the holding.

(4.) The money so paid into the High Court shall he distributed and dealt with by that Court in like manner as if it were the proceeds of the sale of an estate sold under the Landed Estates Court (Ireland) Act, 1858, and for the purpose of such distribution of or dealing with the said money, the High Court may, if it appears to such Court necessary, ascertain the amount or value of such claims as above mentioned, and cause that amount or value to be discharged, redeemed, or satisfied out of the said money.

(5.) The vesting order shall be an order securing an advance within the meaning of section eighteen of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1887, and that section shall apply accordingly.

(6.) The interest vested by The vesting order in the purchaser shall be deemed to be a graft upon the previous interest of the tenant in the holding, and shall he subject to any rights or equities arising from its being such graft: Provided that any then subsisting charge on such previous interest which was created under any Act in respect of some improvement on the holding, shall be a charge on the estate vested in the purchaser by the vesting order next after the purchase-annuity.

(7.) If any guarantee deposit is paid or retained, the amount thereof shall be excepted from the payment into the High Court, and held by the Land Commission, but the vesting order shall take effect and the right to the deposit be determined, as if the amount had been paid into that Court with the rest of the purchase money.

(8.) Where the Judicial Commission certifies that the estate is free from incumbrances (as defined by the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1887), and that the purchase money can be paid or distributed immediately, the advance need not be paid into the High Court, and this section shall apply in like manner as if it were so paid.

MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork) moved to omit the provision that before using the powers conferred by the clause the Land Commission must consider that purchase money agreed to be given for a holding was adequate in amount. He explained that hitherto the function of the Land Commission had merely been to guard the State against loss. It was not their business to ascertain whether the bargain embodied in the purchase agreement was a bad bargain for either the landlord or the tenant, and in fact there was a widespread opinion that the Commission had sanctioned a number of bargains which were unfavourable to tenants. The words which he proposed to omit from the clause directed the Commission to ascertain that the landlord was receiving an adequate price for the property sold. To agree to a provision of that kind would be bad policy in the interests of land purchase. Why, when a landlord was ready to sell his property at 15 years' purchase, should the Commission intervene and insist that he ought to get a higher price?


said that it was impossible to leave the practice relating to this subject as it stood at present, because the clause would introduce a change which would affect that practice radically. At present the Land Commission did not advance money until they had ascertained that the landlord had a good title, but this clause would sanction an advance before it was ascertained that the landlord had an absolutely good title. It might be that in some cases the title would be defective, and this provision as to the adequacy of the amount of the purchase money was necessary in order to safeguard the interests of the parties really entitled to the property.


said that of course he quite agreed that this clause enabled a landlord in possession of land to sell it if he could make out a good title, but his Amendment was intended to limit its operation to the case only of a man who was not entitled to land getting it into his possession somehow, and then attempting to sell it to the tenant. The words of the clause went a great deal farther than was necessary, because the intention of the Government must be that the clause was to apply to all transactions. As the clause stood it would only lead to doubt, difficulty, and embarrassment in cases where the landlord had a good title, because in such cases the Land Commissioner would have to take up the position of an inquisitor into the landlord's title before the completion of the purchase, and the delay would be a very serious matter indeed. In his view the proposal in the clause was not a reasonable one. He suggested that there was a possibility of devising some form of words that would limit the operation of the clause to the cases in which there was some doubt about the title of the landlord. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that he quite concurred that the operation of the clause should be limited to cases in which the landlord had a doubtful title, and might be seeking to convert into money the property of other people, but he thought that the clause was perfectly clear upon the point, and that the Amendment was therefore unnecessary. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that another reason why the words which it was proposed by the Amendment to omit should be retained was that they formed a protection to the landlords.


thought that the clause as it stood would place the Land Judge in a very invidious position as between the incumbrancer on the one hand and the tenant on the other. The Laud Judge would have to take alternately the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, having a double and conflicting duty to discharge. ["Hear!"]


said that it appeared to him that the words in question were of great importance and ought to be kept in the clause, otherwise a man with a shaky title would be able to sell the land to the tenants. It was necessary that the rights of the real owner should be protected.


remarked that the Judge of the Land Court had come to be looked upon as the agent for bankrupt estates in Ireland. If the hon. Member did not obtain a more satisfactory answer than he had received from the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, he shoud advise him to press his Amendment to a Division. The Land Commission ought to have a discretionary power to see that the landlord did not get more for his land than it was worth. If the Government would undertake to withdraw these words, and on Report substitute words which would provide against fraud or collusion, hon. Members on that side of the House would be satisfied, but they objected to words such as those they now sought to have deleted, and which were calculated to introduce a vicious practice into the whole system of the administration so far as it related to land purchase.


thought the case would be met if he accepted the following Amendment, to be inserted at the end of sub-section (1):— Provided always that, where the Land Commission are satisfied that the landlord has a good and marketable title to the holding, they shall not be required to consider whether the purchase money is adequate in amount.



Amendment suggested by the Attorney General for Ireland made.

MR. MAURICE HEALY moved to omit Paragraph (a), Sub-section (3). The hon. and learned Member contended that the sub-section introduced a new principle into land purchase transactions, so far as they were carried out by vesting order. Some years ago they were not carried out by vesting order but by conveyance from the vendor, and while that system was in vogue considerable discussion arose in that House about some transactions which had taken place on the Marquess of Waterford's estate, in which the landlord had agreed to sell to the tenants, but had made all kinds of reservations to himself, the matter afterwards leading to great difficulties. Up to the present it had been impossible to carry out any sale of that character, as, since 1887, the Land Commission had proceeded entirely by vesting order. But the Government now proposed to revive the vicious practice which prevailed prior to the system of the vesting order which was adopted by the Land Commission in 1887. The landlord would be thus enabled to sell his estate to his tenants, and at the same time reserve to himself the timber, turbary, mining, and fishery rights appertaining to any of the holding. When the landlord parted with the whole of his estate, he ought to be done with it. When fixing the purchase price he based it on the whole value of the estate, so that if the proposal of the Government were adopted he would be reserving to himself these rights for nothing. He thought it was only reasonable that when the landlord had parted with the whole estate and received its full value, he should not be hereafter entitled to step in and assert some rights because, say, some minerals had been found to exist on some holding, of which he had never known before or taken any steps to discover. In his judgment this clause had been put in the Bill to enable the landlord to sell his estate and reserve to himself the sporting rights, but the sure way to secure that sport should continue in the country would be to provide that the tenant should not be deprived of the rights of sporting. What interest had the tenant in preserving game if it was only for the landlord? He pressed the Government to accept the Amendment.


hoped the hon. Member would not persevere with the Amendment. It was desirable to proceed by vesting order, which was a process both cheap and expeditious. The hon. Member objected to a vesting order being made which simply carried out the agreement between the parties. It would be an extraordinary thing if they were to prohibit the landlord and tenant from agreeing to the purchase for a certain sum, reserving any rights to the landlord that the tenant might be willing to have reserved. If the agreement was unjust or oppressive, or did not give adequate security to the State, they had the Land Commission to guard against that. The Land Commission must approve of the agreement, and the vesting order was only to be made to carry out an agreement of which they had approved. ["Hear, hear!"] He was of opinion that the adoption of such an Amendment as this would have the effect of impeding land purchase more, probably, than any other provision which could be introduced. ["Hear, hear!"]

* SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

observed that the hon. and learned Member had dealt with the clause as if it referred to the case of a landlord selling the whole of his estate, whereas it did nothing of the kind. It had reference to the sale of a holding upon any estate. As showing the necessity for the sub-section, he pointed out that there might be, forming portion of a large estate, a particular holding the parting with the sporting, timber, and mining rights which might vitiate the whole property. If the words of the sub-section were not retained, a purchase might be prevented where both parties were willing to buy and sell on an agreement based upon the principle of excluding certain rights. ["Hear, hear!"] He would go so far as to say that great injury had been done to the interests of Ireland by the fact that these Purchase Acts had not in any sense properly dealt with these fishing and sporting rights. He would give the Attorney General a concrete case. A tenant agreed with his landlord to buy a farm. The frontage of the farm was a salmon river. The tenant and landlord agreed on the purchase money, but the Land Commission refused to sanction the purchase unless the landlord gave up his salmon-fishing rights also. In view of a case of that kind, he would like to know from the Attorney General whether he thought this sub-section would really be operative.


wished to make an appeal to the Committee on this subject. The object of the clause was merely to enable a contract between the parties to be made effective. The hon. Member for Cork was attempting to introduce a very fundamental change in the system of land purchase, and his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth appeared to desire to see another change introduced, but in an opposite direction. He would earnestly beg the hon. Gentleman opposite not to press his Amendment at this stage. He was very anxious to make rapid progress with this part of the Bill this afternoon, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not delay the Committee by a discussion which was really not quite germane to the subject of the clause.


considered that, where sporting rights were reserved to the landlord, there should be a provision in all such cases that the tenant should be represented by a solicitor. It was very desirable in many cases that Ireland should have preserves. It was a good marketable thing if they had a grouse moor, for instance. It brought an enormous number of people into the country, and they spent their money very freely. But the moment the tenant, who in many cases could not read or write, thought he was "diddled," he turned poacher. ["Hear, hear!"]


He does that naturally. [Laughter.]


Quite right too. [Laughter.]


said he did not want to go into the game question, but he did want to suggest that where these rights were reserved it should only be done where the tenant was advised by a solicitor.


said he could not accept that suggestion. He did not see how it was possible to include in the Bill such a provision as that. Their object was to promote purchase as far as possible. He was afraid that, if landlords were to be prevented from reserving such rights as were contemplated by the clause, in many cases they would refuse to sell. He therefore appealed to the hon. Member not to press his Amendment, which could only have the effect of preventing a sale in many cases. As regarded any protection required by the tenant, he would remind the hon. Member for North Louth that every agreement entered into between a landlord and a tenant had to receive the approval of the Commission before it became effective.


said a great I deal depended upon the contracting parties. The Land Commission would not see the man who was making the contract. They would only deal with the names, and he did think that, in those cases where the sporting rights were reserved to the landlord, the tenant should be separately represented.


said the First Lord of the Treasury seemed to think that by his Amendment he was seeking to introduce some new form of enactment, and a principle wholly new to the Purchase Acts. The fact was quite the contrary. It was the clause that was novel. He had no desire to lengthen the Debate or to press the Government unduly, but he would appeal to them to consider the matter in some way between this and Report. The matter plainly was one that required some consideration. In the majority of cases the agreement was entered into by the tenants without legal advice, and though he thought it would be an unfortunate thing for land purchase if a tenant were obliged to have a solicitor in every case, still they must face the fact that the tenants did enter into these, agreements without legal advice, and that in some cases, at any rate, injustice night be done by this Clause 7.


suggested that the Government should insert in the subsection the words— and the Land Commission are satisfied that the purchaser understands the nature and character of the reservations. That would entirely obviate any suggestion that the man was being cheated, or of distress or fraud.


did not think that that would do, because it would involve an intellectual examination of the tenant on the part of the Commission.


said there would be no such difficulty. There might be an affidavit by the solicitor to the landlord, stating that the nature and character of the reservations were explained to the tenant.


said there could be no difference of opinion between the two sides of the House as to the desirability of a tenant and his landlord, too, understanding what was really the transaction in which they were engaging. It was not so obvious whether the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member was a workable suggestion. It required consideration and inquiry, and that consideration and inquiry would be given to it.


thought this was an important matter in which the tenants throughout the country were just as much interested as the landlord. The tenants had not themselves the opportunity of preserving game, but they desired that it should be preserved. What they objected to was to be taken advantage of. All that was required was a fair and clear understanding between the landlord and the tenant. Let the tenant know where he stood in the matter, and as long as the thing was straightforward and plain he believed that all over the country the tenants would endeavour to carry the clause out.

Mr. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, Huntingdon)

said he quite agreed that it was desirable that the tenant should know how he stood, but he could not help thinking that already machinery existed under which the Land Commissioners could find out what the circumstances were and whether the tenant understood the reservations or not.


remarked that, a good deal having been said about the landlords' rights in the matter of sporting, he hoped the Committee would allow him to say a word about another individual—the poacher. He maintained that the poacher represented the natural right of the whole community to fish in all rivers—[laughter]—and be denied the right of either tenants or landlords to impose a rent upon any man, woman, or child in Ireland who wished to fish or pursue game. [Laughter and cries of "Oh!"] He could scarcely imagine any thing more cowardly than the hunting of a timid hare or rabbit by either landlord or tenant. ["Hear, hear!"] He had no sympathy whatever with those so-called rights of sporting.


said that, if the views of the hon. Member were admitted and acted upon, game would soon entirely disappear from Ireland, ["Hear, hear!"]


said that in his opinion poaching in Ireland had cost the country tens of thousands of pounds a year.


And lessened the number of flunkeys.


said that, as to the remark just made by the hon. Member, his experience of sporting and shooting districts in Ireland was that large numbers of those whom the hon. Member called flunkeys obtained employment and considerable sums of money to which they looked forward every year, through the sporting, and which actually enabled them, in many cases, to pay their rent. [Cheers.] No sportsman would object to a man taking a hare or rabbit now and again for his own use upon asking for it. [Laughter.] The distinction he desired to draw would be rightly understood by every person. Where there was plenty of game it was a common practice during the season for people in Ireland to ask leave to obtain a hare or a little game now and then. He did not call that poaching. What he called poaching was a man snaring hares and grouse, killing them in large numbers, and sending them to market. He was in favour of sporting in Ireland, and he only wished there was more of it. [Cheers.]

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. J. J. SHEE (Waterford, W.)

proposed to add to the sub-section, as a protection to the tenant, the words— Provided that the separate consideration be specified in the agreement for purchase in respect of the said rights.


said the Amendment would give the tenant no further protection, and it was therefore unnecessary.

Amendment negatived.

*SIR JOHN COLOMB moved, at the end of Sub-section (4), to insert— Provided always, that, until such distribution as aforesaid (but without prejudice to the rights of incumbrancers), interest at the rate of four per cent. per annum shall be paid by the Land Commission to the person who for the time being would, but for the sale thereof, have been entitled to the rent and profits of the lands in respect of which the said money has been paid into court.


submitted that this Amendment was out of order, in accordance with a ruling which the Chairman had already given.


ruled the Amendment out of order.

MR. KNOX moved to add the following new sub-section to the clause:— (9) The Land Commission or the High Court shall not in any case be empowered to mate any further requisition as to title than a purchaser would be entitled to make under the Vendor and Purchaser Act, 1874. He remarked that few people had any idea of the absurd abuses and the wanton expense that had been inflicted on Ireland under the rules laid down relating to requisitions as to title. He had, in regard to cases in his own experience, been horrified by the extraordinary, absurd, and stupid requisitions which had been made by the Land Commission, involving great expense. The Court had proceeded on the bad principles that had grown up in the Landed Estates Court in Ireland. The Commissioners thought they were at liberty to make inquiries about anything relating to an estate—inquiries extending as far back as the Cromwellian settlements, and even further. In a case in which he was himself concerned, they made inquiries about a supposed eviction for non-payment of lay tithes that took place in the early part of the last century. He had actually to go to the expense of obtaining affidavits from all those connected with the estate then living, to say that as far as they knew those tithes had never been demanded. That was all that could be done, because there was no record, and yet the matter in hand was delayed for three months by that absurd requisition. In England such a thing could and would be avoided by the vendor. This system had been kept up in the corrupt interest of those family solicitors who had been the bane of every attempt to improve the transfer of land. He strongly urged the Attorney General to accept the Amendment.


hoped the Government would not resist the Amendment, and pointed out that the Vendor and Purchaser Act was passed by a Conservative Government 22 years ago. The only persons concerned in the matter were the landlord on the one hand and the tenant on the other, and both parties agreed that this would be a very useful reform. At present an unfortunate landlord was, in order to make good his title, put to the expense of hundreds of pounds, all of which went into the pockets of the solicitor, and the interest of the tenant was hung up, sometimes for a couple of years, while the landlord was engaged in that process.


pointed out that the Vendor and Purchaser Act only dealt with private vendors and purchasers, and provided that the purchaser should be able to require the vendor to furnish only certain specified searches. The Government were anxious to cheapen and expedite purchase in every way possible, and, if the hon. Member would withdraw his Amendment, they would see whether anything could be done to meet his views.


hoped the Government would see their way to accept the Amendment, because without it the whole of the Purchase Clauses might just as well be put in the waste-paper basket.


said the Amendment only appeared on the Paper that morning, and therefore they had not had time to consider it fully. If they found it was possible to accept it they would do so.


in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, said that, unless the change he suggested were made, a landlord would be wise not to avail himself of the procedure under the clause.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On the return of the CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS, after the usual interval,

Motion made, "That Clause 25 stand part of the Bill."


said he did not think the intending selling landlord would be in the least encouraged by this clause. When they wanted to ascertain what was to happen when the money was not being lodged in Court, they found that the clause was really one which legislated by reference. The clause pro- vided that the money, when lodged in Court, was to be dealt with under the Landed Estates Court (Ireland) Act, 1858; he presumed the reference was to Clause 70 of that Act, and Clause 70 referred to two different Acts passed 10 and 11 years before the Act of 1858. He thought the Government ought to make it perfectly clear what they meant by this clause, and what were the prospects of the landlord who agreed to sell to the tenant under circumstances that made him doubt that he was capable of proving his title. Under the clause the purchase money for the holding was to be paid into Court, where it was to remain until title to the land had been inquired into. What he desired to know was what amount of interest, if any, was to be paid pending this inquiry into the title of the landlord. The landlord had entered into an agreement under which he was to get the purchase money in a lump sum, and, the money having been paid into Court, the Land Court absolved the tenant from his share of liability under the agreement. The question in these circumstances was what interest was the landlord to receive upon his own money which was locked up pending the inquiry into his title. It was said that the clause was not to operate in cases where the landlord's title was clear, but in that case the operation of the clause would be to deter any landlord whose title was open to the slightest doubt from entering into any agreement with his tenant for the sale to him of his holding. It was important that this point should be completely cleared up, because in the vast number of cases the title to land in Ireland was open to doubt. Unless he got a satisfactory answer from the Government upon this point he should be compelled to divide upon the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that he did not think that the title to land in Ireland was so much open to doubt as that when lawyers got hold of titles they always raised difficulties about them. Before a man could be said to have a good title he must show that every charge upon his estate since 1703 had been satisfied and cleared off. ["Hear!"]


said that the answer to the question whether any, and if so, what interest would be paid upon the purchase money paid into Court in respect of a holding during the period occupied in investigating the doubtful title of a landlord, would really depend upon whether the Amendment which had been adopted by the Committee early in the day was to form part of the Bill finally or not. If it did, then the interest paid on the money so lodged would be 2¾ per cent., whereas if the money were merely lodged in Court as a security in place of the land, the interest paid would be that which the money fetched.


said that he was much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation of the matter that he had given, and which he was glad to have elicited from the right hon. Gentleman.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26,—